Sunday, November 1, 2009

Flashback - The Convertible Capitol Building

Reading an old Robert Darton article in the NY Review of Books, "The Library in the New Age":
"Let's begin with the Internet and work backward in time. More than a million blogs have emerged during the last few years. They have given rise to a rich lore of anecdotes about the spread of misinformation, some of which sound like urban myths. But I believe the following story is true, though I can't vouch for its accuracy, having picked it up from the Internet myself. As a spoof, a satirical newspaper, The Onion, put it out that an architect had created a new kind of building in Washington, D.C., one with a convertible dome. On sunny days, you push a button, the dome rolls back, and it looks like a football stadium. On rainy days it looks like the Capitol building. The story traveled from Web site to Web site until it arrived in China, where it was printed in the Beijing Evening News. Then it was taken up by the Los Angeles Times, the San Francisco Chronicle, Reuters, CNN,, and countless blogs as a story about the Chinese view of the United States: they think we live in convertible buildings, just as we drive around in convertible cars."
Some criticism of Darton's account here, an original story in Wired, and from 2005 about another incident where bloggers cycled rumors that Google was preparing to purge all information it couldn't index...also from an Onion article. [via Danwei.] And the original Onion article here.

Related and separate, a story from two years ago here about Pasadena Now, which has outsourced local reporting to India [one staffer sits in Bombay on a $12K salary, another in Banglore on a 7K salary]. Maureen Dowd [ugh] last year wrote a foreign-local correspondent on the job:
I checked in with one of his workers in Mysore City in southern India, 40-year-old G. Sreejayanthi, who puts together Pasadena events listings. She said she had a full-time job in India and didn’t think of herself as a journalist. “I try to do my best, which need not necessarily be correct always,” she wrote back. “Regarding Rose Bowl, my first thought was it was related to some food event but then found that is related to Sports field.”

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Monday, September 28, 2009

GDYE 9/27

Quick Links, Grouped. More in depth on all of these eventually.

1. Visual Arts.
MOCA (The Museum of Chinese in America) had a grand opening earlier this month. The space - designed by Maya Lin - looks beautiful, though the opening exhibit seems to have garnered mixed receptions. I sympathize with the reviewer in the NYT:
"But the first-person stories here suggest that the dominant identity model has its own form of exaggeration, heightening trauma and minimizing promise. The hope is that over time this will be amended (and not just in this museum) with a fuller understanding of both sides of a hyphenated identity."
But the sentiment under-girding it is a much broader one - that Asian-American identity doesn't fit into the standard civil rights discourse... or its genre . "The dominant identity model" in this case must refer to the Af-Am model (yes, no?), and in many ways, the notion that the form "heightens trauma" is a elliptical way of hinting that there is not comparable trauma in the Asian context, or, that is is now erased because there are not comparable issues of endemic poverty, etc.

On another note, Wallpaper* and cognac house Courvorsier bumped heads to create a listing of peeps capturing the essence of the 21st century. Of note and new to me on there were architect Pei Zhu and photographer Li Wei.

2. Thuggery
A recent bust releasing five sex slaves in Changning revealed again the links between organized crime, prostitution, and kidnappings. Kerry Brown at OpenDemocracy spent a month traveling in rural areas of China, and fears that in many districts, local government has become hostage to the "hidden sector" of organized crime.

3. Lettres.
Via Paper Republic, Penguin is sponsoring a Lu Xun Translation Contest! Fears of 2046 begin - China attempts to bar publication of a book, Chinese History Revisted, in Hong Kong. The Guardian reports. Bao Pu, head of the Press - and also lead editor of the Zhao Ziyang papers (Prisoner of the State) that recently came out - ignored the suggestions and pushes forth today.

Sadder news: The Far East Economic Review is being wiped out into the fold of the WSJ as Dow Jones "reorganizes." And Time's China Blog is folding as well, though they've begun a Detroit blog to make up for it.

On good news, Evan Osnos reports via Guangzhou newspaper Southern Weekend of the awe of some Chinese denizens that fact-checking still exists in some venues, though ever rarer. See “I WAS FACT-CHECKED BY THE NEW YORKER.”

4. Migrant Workers
A film debuted at the New York Film Festival yesterday - Ghost Town - chronicling the lives of migrants from one small city in Yunnan. Trailer here.

In a New York Times piece on the film, director Zhao Dayong said:
Mr. Zhao, 39, said getting the approval of the censors was never a consideration. “It’s like asking to be raped,” he said this month in an interview here. “The government certainly has its own agenda. They want us to stop. But at the same time we know we’re doing something meaningful.”
See also Howard French's photos, and the Global Post's excellent web-portal (I know no other word for this.)

5. Human Flesh Engine Search Documentary.
I haven't opened it yet, but it seems worth it. As described by an old Forbes article, for explanation of this new form of frontier justice:
"A human flesh search engine is where thousands of volunteer cybervigilantes unite to expose the personal details of perceived evildoers and publish them on the Web"
6. Fashion Week
Pick up the new "Trand" - Warren Buffet's loving a new menswear brand from China. Yes. Called Trand. I don't think this detail made it into Ralph Nader's new utopian novel, starring in part the Oracle from Omaha.

And Louis Vuitton makes chopsticks now. Nice!

7. Intellectual History
The Global Times charted "60 foreigners who shaped China's 60 years" - I thought this list would be more revealing, but a lot lies between Isaac Newton (1) and Michael Jordan (60).

This beautiful feature allows you to scroll through the covers over 60 years the mag China Pictoral. Really, really amazing.

Lastly, Warcraft is back online in China after a temporary ban - more than half of that social imaginary is populated by PRCers, it appears. Also, in my browsing I came across an wild consulting company - CHINA YOUTHOLOGY. Friends at McKinsey take note.

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Monday, September 21, 2009

On Friendship - Matteo Ricci

From the Columbia University Press:
""On Friendship, with its total of one hundred sayings, is the perfect gift for friends."—Feng Yingjing, renowned scholar and civic official, 1601
Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) is best known as the Italian Jesuit missionary who brought Christianity to China. He also published a landmark text on friendship—the first book to be written in Chinese by a European—that instantly became a late Ming best seller. On Friendship distilled the best ideas on friendship from Renaissance Latin texts into one hundred pure and provocative Chinese maxims. Written in a masterful classical style, Ricci's sayings established his reputation as a great sage and the sentiments still ring true. Available for the first time in English, On Friendship matches a carefully edited Chinese text with a facing-page English translation and includes notes on sources and biographical, historical, and cultural information. Still admired in China for its sophistication and inspirational wisdom, On Friendship is a delightful cross-cultural work by a crucial and fascinating historical figure. It is also an excellent tool for learning Chinese, pairing a superb model of the classical language with an accessible and accurate translation."

Question: What does it mean to be a "late Ming best seller?"

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Monday, September 14, 2009

1626 Magazine - Very Punny

Via Danwei, fashion magazine 1626, teaches the masses to more accurately pronounce the transliterations of names in haute couture... so that they may "freely make the most of big-brand style, and if we use other brands we can still find a name-brand feeling." Iconic? Ironic? Hypnotic?

I've been long looking for a place to embed myself and do a wild experiment in internet ethnography. I'd never seen 1626, let alone logged onto its site, let alone seen its social networking side - "1626 Club." ("They have to be making these people up," I think, before I fabricate my own profile.)

I'm not sure if I should be telling American Apparel or Harajuku to be eating its/their heart(s) out. Either way I see trouble on the horizon.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Psychological Returns on Stamp Collecting in China...or Not.

Sometime last month I saw the following study on an SSRN's (the Social Science Research Network - where academic working papers go to procreate) Cognitive Science Network newsletter: "Does Psychological Return Matter? Evidence from China Stamp Market"

ABSTRACT: Previous literature has challenged the traditional claim that collectibles have high returns and expensive collectibles tend to return more. However, only financial returns were examined previously while psychological returns was completely overlooked, which may result in underestimation of returns on collectibles. This paper examines the returns from investment in China stamp market and the existence of psychological returns. The empirical results suggest that stamp returns in China stamp market are very dispersive and expensive stamps tend to have a low return. Potential psychological returns generators have negative effects on financial return of stamps, which implies the existence of psychological return.
After fond flashbacks to trolling around moving sales in St. Louis through childhood (dusty stamp collection were a staple of the event), the first few questions in my mind were
  1. Why stamp collecting? Don't behavioral economists at Peking University have something more...interesting to study? Like pornography or blood donations ?
  2. What are those most expensive stamps in China these depressed collectors are staring at?
So towards an answer this article in City Weekend Beijing describes the Yuetan Stamp and Coin Market in Beijing. Pictures above are: the one and two cent Mauritius stamps that sold for $3.8 million each in 1992. The rarest stamp in the world - the Tre Skilling Banco Yellow, first stamp of Sweden and one of a kind and sold for $2.3 million in 1996. The most expensive stamp of China was a 19th Century Qing stamp - "One-Yuan Red Revenue Surcharged Small Issue" (Red, Top). A "1897 Three Cents Red Revenue stamp" going to auction later this month may be the next catch though.

PS. Most predictable/hilarious instantiation of the state in the aforementioned study: "special stamps” (including "less serious topics, such as folklores, flowers, birds, vegetation, architectures as well as paintings of famous artists") have a significantly higher psychological and monetary return than "memorial stamps" (which cover political themes such as "the 50th anniversary of the foundation of the People’s Liberation Army, the victory of the Resistance War against Japanese Invasion and the opening of the 17th National Congress of CPC.")

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Monday, September 7, 2009

The Founding of the A Republic (建国大业)

So much has been written on film and the project of nation building - but the pending release of "The Founding of a Republic," to be released on the 60th anniversary of, (surprise), the founding of the People's Republic, makes the association all too obvious now. [I'm a bit slow on this, I realize.]

Anyhow, see a 2007 article in JumpCut, "Dialect and Modernity in 21st Century Sinophone Cinema," by Sheldon Lu, for a cool excursion on the general topic.

The New York Times story about the production is here, and the trailer is below. The original footage from the announcement of the PRC's founding below as counterpoint.

Key questions: will there be a resurgence of Mao suit chic? And was that soundtrack pulled from one of the Final Fantasy games?

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Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Green Dam Youth Escort Daily Log

After another period of delinquency, I have decided to update regularly at the cost of topicality. This blog now traces the madness cycling in the contours of East Asia writ large, for an audience writ large.

As broader background, the Green Dam Youth Escort was a content-filtering software mandatorily installed on all computers sold in Mainland China. One is not required to boot it, but the program (according to Colin Maclay at Harvard) does log all pages users access. To hold myself accountable, I now offer the panoply of links that the GDYE captures, though unfortunately it may reveal my more economically lilted day-job:

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Sunday, June 28, 2009

Imagined Battle for the Soul of Cosmopolitanism (Han Han vs. Guo Jingming, Queer Olympiad vs. V Monologues.)

Below, two fist-fights I would like to see. At stake is likely the future of Chinese cosmopolitanism. Judge as seen fit. 
1. Han Han (韩寒)vs. Guo Jingming ( 郭敬明)
Likelihood: Declared arch-rivals, making this somewhat possible.

These two sexy young men are among the best-selling authors of young China, continually wrestling for the top spot on paperback sales rankings (sweaty, sexually repressed tweens are an unstoppable market force worldwide now.) Han Han, semi-professional race-car driver and high school drop out [RIGHT, with razor to face], would unforgivingly wallop the effete and flamboyant plagiarist, Guo Jingming [LEFT, with hand sweeping through bouffant].  

Let it be said that I happened up this not-uncommon thought after MJ's death, first embarking on a many-hour'd long journey into the horrors of botched plastic surgery, into the prolific and totally hush nature of it among Asian idols [realizing in horror that Rain had holes cut in his skull to recede his eyeballs to allow for the normal double-eyelid procedure], then to suspected nose jobs among male idols.  

On this front, my verdict is that the all-natural Han Han would bust Guo Jingming's plastic nasal bridge. No proof, but will troll BBS forums if it is so requested. 

Potential Referee: Tie Ning, presiding ruler of the China Writer's Association. 

2. Participants in Shanghai Pride Weeks Queer Olympiad vs. Cast of the Debut of the Vagina Monologues 
Likelihood: Elbows get thrown on the Bund all the time, rendering this possible.

Pride Week in Shanghai wrapped up a few weeks ago, posing a funny counter-point to Tiananmen. Xinhua's coverage exposed the beautiful instrumental moral logic of tolerance

"Yet, if Shanghai cannot even show acceptance, understanding and tolerance for LGBTs, how can it expect it to attract and respect the diverse people coming to visit the Expo and develop in future the working environment for a global financial and shipping center."

Potential Referee: Cui Zi'en, Chinese activist who brought queer issues most outspokenly onto the scene from the 1990s to now.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

China Intangible Cultural Heritage - Hairy Monkey, Memento Mori

From the English language China Daily, a woeful catalogue of the aptly titled "intangible cultural heritage" of China:
1. A Shadow Puppet Family
2. Hairy Monkey
3. Dough Figurine Lang
4. Chinese Gourds
5. Hu Pengfei and his Rabbit God
6. A Clothname Card for China
7. Burning Picture
8. Yang Yingying and her Chinese Pictures
9. The Art of Paper Cutting
10. Hao Shaoxi the Artist
I challenge my five regular readers to use this list as a basis for a table of contents - novel, flash fiction, memoir, etc.

Hairy Monkey (毛猴) to the right and below. These constructions, part of a broader miniatures art culture, are made from cicada extremities and magnolia buds, and often used to make humorous set pieces, tableaus, etc. But I ask - are these figurines "cute and lovely," or among the most terrifying memento moris around?

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Saturday, June 13, 2009

Also, Politically Charged Sunburn

Also, via Danwei, via Ai Wei Wei's blog -  the artist protests through the double-movement of (skin) exposure and (sunscreen) omission.  Delicious. And another pleasant view below. Is he echoing the fullness of maternity in an act of ultimate, subversive empathy? Can the politburo be destroyed through the inversion of the signification of Ai Wei Wei's belly, jiggling nakedly into the eye of the patriach? Evan Osnos' profile of some of his US photos from a few months ago here. (Swoon.)

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Monday, June 8, 2009

Branding Differences: Buick (2个男人之间的心跳)

I don't know much about cars, but as its been crashing, GM has apparently announced that the Buick will be the core part of its new American sales strategy

Again, I don't know much about cars, but....what? As car blogger Matt Stone (linked to above) comments: "A now-retired GM exec once said that Buick was going to become GM's Lexus. Has that happened? Don't think so."

Buick was for a long while the No. 1 selling car in China, it seems. (Puyi had two Buick's in his garage, according to the report - the model of one of the cars is produced left. Sun Yat Sen and Zhou Enlai too.) See also the rather depressingly titled article: "Take a Glimpse of What Pu Yi Once Cherished."

A popular video below - "HEARTBEATS BETWEEN TWO MEN/(2个男人之间的心跳" - is a Buick ad that begins with two men egging one another on to eat spicy noodles. (?!)Another article on the curious synchretism can be found here at

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Gaokao Exodus in Wuhan

Great picture in the English People's Daily today: 

CAPTION: "University aspirants walk out of the No 6 High School in Wuhan, Hubei province, after finishing the morning session of their college entrance exam yesterday."

See, of course, ChinaSMACK's photos from the deluge here - much paperwork thrown onto the street.  One of my favorite articles on the madness of the entrance exams from Time, last year, here

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Saturday, June 6, 2009

(All About Women/女人不坏): Tsui Hark + Sex And the City = ?

Originally pinned as Tsui Hark's big comeback film, and poised as a follow up to Peking Opera Blues, this film was panned, doing somewhat poorly in the box office despite lots of lead up.  (It looks like there is not a US distributor lined up.)

Now Tsui Hark comes from (or more adamant defenders would say defines!) that slapstick tradition of the Hong Kong action film where you often find the juicy combination of femme fatales, eunuchs, cross-dressers and other such gender-bending. [See Stephen Teo's treatment in the Film Cultures Reader, here.]

So, I was a bit shocked when the film was marketed as an analogue to Sex and the City. The Sex and the City  film release also released a deluge of somewhat stale commentary on how it fits into the general discourses on gender and feminism. [EG In the Guardian, Alice Wignall asked "Can a Feminist Really Love Sex and the City?" (I more or less fall on the side of finding it an "orgy of consumerism and triviality.")]

So whither the women in this film, particularly given that Peking Opera Blues and The Swordsman II have been read so positively by feminist film scholarship? 

In either case, the film ultimately loses any possible emotional content to the explosion of camp - one ultimately senses from viewing (as you do with Wong Kar-Wai) that the script was rewritten part because (as with Wong Kar-Wai), it was. Regardless, it is really, really fun to watch, with explosions of color, costume and stylized artifice giving the flat caricatures that run through the film a miasma of character. (Or, again, maybe just camp.) Based on just my limited knowledge, one could place it in an aesthetic category with with Tsai Ming Liang's A Wayward Cloud, in turn situated in earlier films like Tati's Playtime, Demy's Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Schraeder's Mishima. But where the gender politics goes is a difficult question, and (as with Wong Kar Wai), the ultimate destination may be the great revolving nebulae of Tsui Hark's ego. 


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Thursday, June 4, 2009

Where are the 21 Most Wanted Students from Tiananmen Now?

Skipping right back into things today. Had been wondering whether there was a list compiling the 21 "Most Wanted" list after Tiananmen and where they are now, and it turns out there is quite a well done, comprehensive one done by the Human Rights in China group, compiled by one Stacy Mosher. The report - "Tiananmen's Most Wanted - Where are They Now?" - is at times heartening but strangely depressing to read. No 1, Wang Dan (pictured at the protests in 89 below), wrote a piece today that ran in the LA Times and HuffPo, and just finished up a PhD here in Cambridge last year. Most seem to have scattered, with some running "internet companies," at least one in a hedge fund, and two untraceable. Many of them, like Wang, have continued onto a life of activism abroad, and done quite well, particularly considering what they may have faced. Yet, reading it, I got the feeling that I suppose one might have when you go to a high school or college reunion, and nothing seems to fall in place, and you meet those bright young shooting stars that have hit the end of their burning light and fizzle out into mediocrity, and you suddenly see in a flash (cheaper yet, montage) all those wide-eyed days you wasted. 

As another note, the NY Times Lens blog surfaced a new picture of Tank Man.  The video (below), is mindblowing. I toyed with an entry tracing some of the various ways that Tank Man has gone viral, but the only entertaining and juicy bit I came across was a "Tank Man Tango" (described as "a memorial of dancing bodies") that went on this year in Australia to commemorate events. 

As child of the diaspora here, I primarily remember the set of events as a series of panicked faxes. The onset of the fax machine had been crucial in helping organize the protests, and getting a record of what had happened out of the country and out of sight of censors. (By one account, guards had been posted by all publicly available fax machines the morning of June 5.) I've yet to see [though I certainly haven't dug deeply] a good account that captures this dynamic though - there is not so much action, of course, in the clicking, whirring noises of a fax transmission. But to that nerve-wracking noise, many abroad received their handwritten notices sometime twenty years ago, far before the news stories broke, and anti-climactically felt the tide turn. 

Shepard Fairey's rendition of a picture by Ed Nachtrieb above. 

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Monday, May 11, 2009

Trek II: CNSA Logo, and "My Friend is Obviously Chinese"

So, two connected thoughts before my weird, re-invigorated Trek madness evaporates and I incriminate myself and this nascent blog further. 

1. "My Friend is Obviously Chinese" 

Episode: The City on the Edge of Forever (Aired April 6, 1967)

Spock: "You were saying you'll have no trouble explaining it..."
Kirk: "My friend is obviously...Chinese. I see you've noticed the ears. They're actually easy to explain...."
Spock: "Perhaps the unfortunate accident I had as a child...."
Kirk: "The unfortunate accident he had as a child....He caught his head in a mechanical...rice-picker. But fortunately there was an American...missionary living close by who was actually a ...skilled plastic surgeon in civilian life...."

2. Was Spock Obviously Chinese? 
After an embarrassing run through my Baidu skills, I was finally able to run searches on Spock [史巴克] and Vulcans [] "Live Long and Prosper"? "Only Nixon could go to China"? That Confucian combination of altruistic ethics and repression? Striking of the gong before Pon Farr? Plausibly impossible at the height of the Cold War, yet see The Journal of Cold Warstudies, even, for their treatment. 

3. Final exhibit of evidence, the Chinese National Space Administration Logo, as pointed out by this blogger
My mind is burnt from work - updates on thoughts on Ai Wei Wei and Mei Lan Fang ASAP.  

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Thursday, May 7, 2009

The World of William Shatner: Oriental Sex (Playboy)

After a terrible hiatus, and in celebration of the forthcoming disaster of the resurrection of the Star Trek franchise (sex'ed up Vulcan grips and all!), here is a tidbit from Playboy 1959 feature "Oriental Sex."

Covered are productions of The World of Suzie Wong - where Shatner headlined as the love interest of that hooker with a heart of gold (left, not looking so fun now) -  and the Flower Drum Song (below, Nancy Kwan singing in the 1961 film). The news hook
"Gone, happily, are the days when the showbiz idea of Asian beauty was Myrna Loy with upswept eyebrows as the Daughter of Fu Manchu. Now, the legitimate stages of Broadway and the desert casinos of Las Vegas have become truly oriented to the Orient and are featuring Far-East femininity which is (if we may be allowed to shift gears and invoke the name of another Irish gentleman) the McCoy."
Let it be said: UHURA HAD IT BETTER. 

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Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Cigarette Cards and Opera Masks

Waylaid without excuse (attempts: HBO, escalation of stress at work, Bonfire of the Vanities), but here are some cigarette cards from the New York Public Library's collection. The norm of including one of these tradable card series in cigarette packages was a gimmick thought up be James B. Duke in the late 1870s - I tried to dig around (lazily, albeit) but couldn't figure out the first appearances in China, where (I imagine) they must have represented some of those creeping innovations in modern advertising born from more familiar comic-like art (incursion of an internationally tradable unit of graphic design, or something of the sort.) Zhou Xun traces a cultural history of smoking during the early 20th C. in Smoke (one can never have enough cultural histories of single commodities, except, when one has had enough.)

Doing research for Joyce Chaplin, J. Specht discovered a highlight of American cigarette slogans in the 50's: "Blow on her face, and she'll follow you anywhere."

Chinese opera faces (masks) Digital ID: 1184032. New York Public Library
Chinese opera faces (masks) Digital ID: 1183876. New York Public Library
Chinese opera faces (masks) Digital ID: 1183890. New York Public Library

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Sunday, March 29, 2009

"Who After Mao" Foreign Affairs 1973

Also, blast back to the Cold War. From a Foreign Affairs article, "Who After Mao," Mark Gayn, Jan. 1973;

The great hurrahs of the Cultural Revolution, the slogans, the messianic fervor, the public humiliation of the heretics are all gone. A visitor to Peking is impressed by nothing so much as by the return to normalcy, by pragmatism and-if one could imagine it in a Spartan land-a feeling of relaxation. Indeed, one might easily think that there had never been the awesome upheaval of 1966-69 "to change men's souls." Human frailty is once again understood, and there is at least an implied recognition that man does not live by faith alone.

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Friday, March 27, 2009

Sino-African "Relations" - The Chafrica Epic Continues

The string of stories about Chinese investments in Africa that began to perculote out three years ago into the mainstream media continues. Yesterday's story in the NYT, "As Chinese Investment in Africa Drops, Hope Sinks,"describes the usual hawkish investment tactics of Chinese companies waning in the crisis (Breakoff from a major hydroelectric dam project in Guinea was the center of the story.) Photos (which revolve around Jinya Group employees, it looks), here.

Stefan R. Landsberger at Leiden University, The Netherlands, has quite a collection of propaganda available online (most published in a book Chinese Propaganda Posters—From Revolution to Modernization). One page of his site deals particularly with representation of Africans in early PRC materials (posters Landsbergers' scans)- from Landsberger:

"The appearance of colored peoples, and blacks in particular, in Chinese propaganda posters always has been problematic. Before the CCP grasped power, the only attention devoted to colored peoples in Chinese art was of a negative tone. Once the PRC was established, however, this attitude changed. Now that racial problems were seen as class problems, China increasingly discovered similarities between its own traumatic experiences with ‘white imperialism’ and those of other victimized ‘colored’ people in the world. It was time to downplay the traditional and deeply ingrained feelings of superiority. One of the first official steps to gain credibility as a supporter of the oppressed was taken in September 1950, when the Chinese lodged an official protest against the policy of apartheid in South Africa. Africans soon became regular guests in Beijing, where they were entertained at parties and met with the highest state leaders. By the late 1950s, many delegations had passed through Beijing and Zhongnanhai. But the Chinese did not actively spread the gospel of revolution and national liberation yet. They merely positioned themselves as a model that needed to be followed to gain independence."

So thus from the international struggle for rights to the neoliberal imperial clamour.

Evan Osnos in the New Yorker on Guangzhou's Canaan Market and African merchants -"Nigeriatown" (Audio Slideshow) and "The Promised Land"

And a from "the ground" article translated from the Southern Metropolis Daily: "“Chocolate City” - Africans seek their dreams in China"

And lastly, a story that (I think? Perhaps I was off the beat) was not on the radar of mainstream media during the Olympics as much but was a buzz on the blogosphere - police allegedly told bars to not serve "black people or Mongolians." (Original Shanghaiist piece.)

Later reports contended that "black" may have meant triad members (literally the "black society") - "Mongolians" had few homonyms to fall back on.

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Saturday, March 21, 2009

Dramatic Capital - 戏剧资本论 - and other incarnations of Das Kapital

So Danwei had a brief feature about a new (not the first) attempt to bring Das Kapital onto the stage. Snaps of the original article on Sina were translated as such: 

"To director He Nian, Das Kapital and the theory of surplus value are serious issues, yet he wants to make them fun to watch. He will set the play in a business. In the first half of the story, the employees discover that their boss is exploiting them and learn of the "surplus theory of value." However, they react differently to the knowledge of their exploitation: some are willing to be exploited by the company, and the tighter they are squeezed, the more they feel they are worth. Others rise in mutiny, but this ruins the company and leaves them out of work. Still others band together and use their collective wisdom to deal with the boss....He Nian said that due to the different points of view held by the boss and the workers, he would borrow the structure of Rashomon to show things repeatedly from different viewpoints."

Above and around are images from the Japanese manga adaptation mentioned too, released just winter of last year - see coverage at Japan Probe, the Times, a blog titled "Hungry for Words", and Rachel Maddow

How will the elements collide?

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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Science and Chinese Secularism

Wanted to just post a few thoughts on the review of the Joseph Needham biography by Eric Hobsbawm in the London Review of Books. [Caution - I've not read Winchester's book or Needham's Science and Civilisation.]

Much of the review focused on the intellectual richness layered around the natural sciences during Needham's time and place - Cambridge, the 1930s. Not merely "A Man Who Loved China," Hobsbawn seems to say, Needham's project revolved around a dialectical materialism that had melded into materialism proper ("organic Marxism"), and a fascination with the seemingly casual monism of Chinese cosmologies. From the article:

The whole organism, [Needham] argued, could not be fully grasped at any one of the lower levels of increasing size and complexity – the molecular, macromolecular, cells, tissues etc – and new modes of behaviour emerged at each level which could not be interpreted adequately in terms of those below or at all, except in their relations. As he wrote in Order and Life, ‘The hierarchy of relations from the molecular structure of carbon to the equilibrium of the species and the ecological whole, will perhaps be the leading idea of the future.’ Process, hierarchy and interaction were the key to a reality that could be understood only as a complex whole.

And – though one would not discover this from Winchester’s book – thisview drew him towards the country and civilisation to which he devoted the rest of his life. China was the dialectical home of Yin and Yang, of an ‘extreme disinclination to separate spirit and matter’, as Needham put it, of a philosophy which, it has been well said, saw the cosmos as a vast symphony that composed itself and within which other lesser symphonies took shape.

[...] Needham loved and admired China and the Chinese but, oddly, his heart went out to the imperial past rather than to the revolutionary present to which he was committed and which he defended (though he seems to have become a critic of Mao’s policies in the 1970s, even before the death of the Great Helmsman). He felt at home not only with the Chinese view of nature so lovingly reconstructed in Science and Civilisation in China but with a civilisation based on morality without supernaturalism, a great culture where the doctrine of original sin didn’t prevail and a country where no priesthood had ever dominated.

[Above, an image from a chapter in Needham's book on "Civil Engineering and Nautics."]

This brought to mind a few posts I'd seen on one of the many interesting SSRN blogs, "The Immanent Frame" (which largely is an expanding set of commentary revolving around Charles Taylor's The Secular Age. Disenchanting, ey?). Three posts by Richard Madsen (UCSD, Sociology) on Chinese secularism were very interesting , but I wasn't quite sure what to make of them (all drawn from a forthcoming chapter in a SSRN edited volume.) Examples of statements that I didn't feel like I agreed with but didn't have a basis for objecting to: 

Discerning the religious spirit of secular states in Asia
"But the secular form of Asian political institutions often masks a religious spirit. Some examples: Japan has a secular constitution, but many of its government leaders have felt compelled to pray for the spirits of the war dead at the Yasakuni shrine." 

Embedded religion in Asia

"However, this dynamism is of a different kind than that found in the United 

States, and it cannot be explained in terms of the narrative Taylor uses in the North Atlantic world.

 Asian religious developments are often misread by both Western observers and Asian scholars trained in the Western social sciences. When Western scholars have looked for religion in Asian societies, they have often looked for it in the form of private faith. But in most Asian societies, much of religion is neither private nor faith."

Hybrid consciousness or purified religion
"Taiwan’s state has taken a secular turn with democratization, but it still relies on religion to provide public stability and generate international recognition."

My quips probably lie with the analytical categories at play, and their usefulness - measuring degrees of embeddedness also, in some way or another, forces one to gauge the veracity and typology of belief. Embeddedness, in this context, may be a way of expressing what Needham had seen - a tendency not to see "spirit and matter" as radically separated, thus rendering secularism a somewhat sterile concept, a matter of institutions and practices rather than belief. Food for thought, in either case. 

Other articles of interest:
"The Public Sphere, Civil Society, and Moral Community: A Research Agenda for Contemporary China Studies", Modern China 19:10 (April, 1993).

"The Spiritual Crisis of China's Intellectuals" in Ezra Vogel and Deborah Davis, ed. The Social Consequences of the Chinese Reforms (Harvard University, 1991)

Also, I had seen that Du Shu magazine (Readings) had, in their June-August 1995 editions, played out a series of essays under the title "Why Not Collectively Build a Spiritual Homeland?" Perhaps of interest. 

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Monday, March 16, 2009

Little Reunion (小团圆) - Eileen Chang

Roland Soong's amazing blog EastSouthWestNorth has recently been jammed up due to a considerably large event - the publication of a posthumous, autobiographical manuscript of Eileen Chang's. (Free international shipping of the volume on YesAsia - what YesAsia is, I'm not quite sure. )

According to his recent post, it's already gone through FIVE PRINTINGS in the last month since its release in HK and Taiwan. 

I first discovered Soong was the executer of her literary estate when I came across these archives of letters, commentary, and other resources when I was doing dinky research for my dinky project on Ang Lee. It seemed like a funny venue to be discovering these (I wondered why I wasn't stumbling into NTU or HKU's websites), and the rich and luminous commentary was a welcome medium of transfer.  A sort of sad and hilarious passage he's recently translated on Lust, Caution (which apparently contains a number of factual mistakes, esp - the story was shipped to Roland Soong's father, not the poor publishing house manager described.)
At the cocktail party for the Taipei premiere of . I saw my old friend Kao Hsin-chiang come in. I asked him what he came. He said that his son Kao Ying-hsien had a role in the film (as the chauffeur and landlord) and therefore he came from Beijing to attend this premiers. I told him that I have a series of essays critical of which United Daily published without my permission. He said that his wife showed him the clippings as soon as he came back. His wife is a devout Christian who read the essays and she "promised to close her eyes and pray whenever there is any sexy scene during the movie."

I said: "You're the one who created the problem." I object to because of the story. It is based upon an Eileen Chang novel published while Kao Hsin-chiang was the chief editor of the China Times supplement section.

Kao Hsin-chiang said: "Chang's story was turned over to me in 1978 by the Hong Kong literary expert Tang Wen-piao. Tang is the initiator of the Eileen Chang craze and edited the published by China Times. When Eileen Chang saw the book in the United States, she was very angry because she felt that Tang had violated her intellectual property rights. So China Times had to stop distribution. In June 1985, the China Times Publishing House general manager called Tang Wen-piao in Taichung and told him that there were 400 more copies of the book in the warehouse. 'If you like, I will rent a van and shipped them over to you; if not, I will destroy them.' Tang said that he wanted them. So the driver brought the books over to the door of his house, and Tang had to carry them to his first-floor apartment by himself. Tang had nasopharyngeal cancer for years already, and the effort caused him to bleed to death. A friend in the Taipei literary circle cried when he learned the news: 'Sigh, Tang Wen-piao, you loved Eileen Chang to death!' In modern literary history, Tang is the only person who died as a result of loving Eileen Chang."

Of those I have read, one of my favorite posts on his Eileen Chang blog is on her bilingualism, with one tracing a discovered English language version of her essay, "A Return to the Frontier", chronicling a trip to Taiwan in 1961, and an expanded Chinese version, and another English story "Stale Mates." A second contains three English to Chinese translations of Thoreau poems, and a Chinese version of an introduction she wrote on Thoreau in a compilation of American poetry translations. 

And a last treat I found last night was a flash feature in Tofu Magazine ("mini-tofu no. 6") that plays with Eileen Chang's drawings. 

And above, a painting by Chinese artist Liu Ye, of the writer ("Zhang Ailing"), which auctioned off at $34 USD.

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Shibboleths of the The Gowned Brotherhood

Reading an article by Texas A&M Professor Di Wang, "Mysterious Communication: The Secret Language of the Gowned Brotherhood in Nineteenth-Century Sichuan", tracing the specialized code-switching of one anti-Manchu/Qing secret society (published in the June 2008 ed. of Late Imperial China.)  BRS had stumbled on to Di Wang's book on street culture in Chengdu, and we became engrossed in his faculty page.

One practice described is clandestine tea-ware arrangement paired with recitation of poetry - the graphic below, from the paper, illustrates a few for the budding revolutionary. A sample exchange may proceed as Wang describes:
If a member went to another lodge to ask for help, he would set up a “single whip formation” (danbian zhen), a teacup facing the mouth of a small teapot. If the host agreed to offer help, he would drink the cup  of tea; if not, he would spill the tea on the ground and then pour new tea into the cup, drink it, and recite the poem, “A whipping horseman is running on the horizon, / Who’ll clear all clouds and come here alone. / Changing golden dragon shows fortune / And help our lord mount the throne.”(Wang 92)

William Stanton's The Triad Society or Heaven and Earth Association, full text online via Google Books, describes some of the other interactions you may see between lodge brothers loafing in wait for one another in the teahouse:
“Why is your hair so unkempt?/I was born under a peach tree”; “Why is your hair so ruffled?/I have been to extinguish a fire”; “Why is your hair so wet?/I have not long been born”; “Why has your hair got so many cobwebs in it?/They are not cobwebs, but five-colored silk.”

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