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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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Euro(trash) Book Marketing

So BRS had mentioned to me a funny book marketing escapade of Time reporter Alex Perry, who had his book, Falling off the Edge: Travels Through the Dark Heart of Globalization, sell modestly here and fairly well in Europe (where the subheader was changed to "Globalization, World Peace, and Other Lies.) The book cover contrast is pretty amazing, along the same lines, he pointed out: cosmopolitan, safe, in the Thomas Friedman genre here, and dystopic, furious, in the Guy Debord genre there. 

Now below note the same phenomenon with Simon Winchester's recent book, in the UK titled Bomb, Book and Compass: Joseph Needham and the Great Secrets of China, and in the US, titled The Man Who Loved China: The Fantastic Story of the Eccentric Scientist Who Unlocked the Mysteries of the Middle Kingdom. [Cool review in LRB by Eric Hobsbawm! here.]
Almost as amazing as the transformation of the Rock into "a down-on-his-luck cabdriver who inherits the super twins as his magical fare."

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Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Wang Qingsong's "Dormitory"

The browser cannot contain its fully glory in this form. See Dormitory here   lso see his triptych  "Past, Present and Future" and  China Mansion - all bizarre and somewhat mesmerizing panoramic, staged tableaus. 

The movement of these from his earlier work is pretty phenomenal. See Adam and Eve (97?) left: 

From a 2004 NYT article, The Venus de China

"Mr. Wang has turned his own case of cultural whiplash into very large-scale photographs of dazzling beauty, present-day equivalents of history paintings packed with whimsical details and dramatic effects. ''Romantique'' (2003), measuring 4 feet by 21 feet, presents a garden of earthly delights -- orange groves, lush green grass, cobalt-blue sky -- filled with more than 50 live models, all Asian, re-enacting poses found in Western art history. On the far left are Michelangelo's Adam and Eve and the quartet from Manet's ''Déjeuner sur l'Herbe.'' In the center, Botticelli's Venus rises from her clamshell, surrounded by voluptuous bathers and lounging maidens reminiscent of paintings by Ingres, Velásquez, Matisse and Gauguin.

But off on her own at the far right, a nude woman sits in a rickshaw. She is a concoction not found in the Western canon, yet she stares directly at the audience with all the forcefulness of a modern-day Olympia. Her presence adds a cautionary note to this otherwise bucolic scene, a warning that the new China might not be simply a picturesque paradise ripe for exploitation by foreign investors or for total immersion in Western influences."

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Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Book Review Binge This Week

The Death and Life of a Great Chinese City, Richard J. Bernstein

The Last Days of Old Beijing: Life in the Vanishing Backstreets of a City Transformed, by Michael Meyer. Walker, 355 pp., $25.99
Out of Mao's Shadow: The Struggle for the Soul of a New China, by
Philip P. Pan. Simon and Schuster, 349 pp., $28.00

Serve the People: A Stir-Fried Journey Through China, by Jen Lin-Liu. Harcourt, 341 pp., $24.00



By YU HUA, Reviewed by JESS ROW
A popular Chinese epic about growing up during the Cultural Revolution and chasing love and fortune in the new market economy.
First Chapter Sunday Magazine: A Profile of Yu Hua

'The Vagrants'
By YIYUN LI, Reviewed by PICO IYER
Centered on the aftermath of a young woman’s execution in a desolate part of China in 1979, Yiyun Li’s grieving and unremitting first novel examines the costs and consequences of a society gone mad.
First Chapter

'China Witness: Voices From a Silent Generation'

A Chinese journalist coaxes reminiscences out of Cultural Revolution survivors.


Gish Jen, Yu Hua, Ha Jin, and some prominent translators will be talking in Cambridge Thrusday at 5:30, at the Northwest Building, 52 Oxford Street, B103.

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Sunday, March 8, 2009

The Black Book on Red China, and the Origins of Brainwashing

Picked up a few books in front of the Cambridge post office today, including a copy of Sade's Dialogue Between a Priest and a Dying Man that turned out to be worth a bit - [my amateur antiquarian book hunting continues!] - but more directly relevant to the blog, there was a review copy of The Black Book on Red China, written in 1958 by Edward Hunter for The Committee of One Million, which protested the admission of China into the UN quite successfully for nearly two decades.

Turns out Edward Hunter [all the while a CIA operative. Manchurian Candidate indeed.] was the first person (as credited in the OED) to introduce the term "brainwashing" into the US. From Wikipedia:
"The term xǐ năo (洗腦, the Chinese term literally translated as "to wash the brain") originally referred to methodologies of coercive persuasion used in the "reconstruction" (改造 gǎi zào) of the so-called feudal (封建 fēng jiàn) thought-patterns of Chinese citizens raised under pre-revolutionary régimes; the term punned on the Taoist custom of "cleansing/washing the heart" (洗心 xǐ xīn) prior to conducting certain ceremonies or entering certain holy places, and in Chinese, the word "心" xīn also refers to the soul or the mind, contrasting with the brain. The term first came into general use in the United States in the 1950s during the Korean War (1950–1953) to describe those same methods as applied by the Chinese communists to attempt deep and permanent behavioral changes in foreign prisoners, and especially during the Korean War to disrupt the ability of captured United Nations troops to effectively organize and resist their imprisonment. The word brainwashing consequently came into use in the United States of America to explain why, unlike in earlier wars, a relatively high percentage of American GIs defected to the enemy side after becoming prisoners-of-war in Korea."
Will dig around for the article in 'The New Leader" mentioned - and will be trouncing through this book in the coming week. Also, in another post [trying to establish mini-research projects for myself], will blog up some of this moment of UN representation changing hands from the Republic to the People's Republic, with a focus on the trauma to the Isle Formosa.

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Friday, March 6, 2009

Reconstruction, the Mississippi, and the Orient

I: Missouri and China

Came across a fun article - "From the Midwest to the Far East" - tracing early connections between my homestead, Missouri, and the happy Orient. Connections range from exceptionally sad (The "New Shanghai Theater" in Branson) to ambiguously "good" (MO Born Edgar Snow, Red Star Over China.)

Excerpt of interest: 

"The originator of the lineage can even be said to be none other than Mark Twain,
the first Show Me State citizen to gain global renown as an author. Though he
never made it to China on his travels, Twain was fascinated by the country, and
he wrote everything from an epistolary tale about a Chinese immigrant
(“Goldsmith's Friend Abroad Again”), to a newspaper editorial denouncing the
“unequal treaties” that the West had forced upon the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) in
the mid-1800s, to essays sympathetic to the anti-Christian Boxer insurgents
(since, in his mind, any foes of missionaries couldn't be all bad).

I hadn't been familiar with any of these pieces, and will be digging through soon. 

I add one, the newest development - the midwestern hub for Chinese airlines will be, yes, drumroll, St. Louis! Who knows what the long term economic consequences of this corn-field diplomacy will be - for now, I expect the plans to create a veritable Chinatown on Olive will get fast tracked. Also, please imagine Chinese Ambassador Zhou Wenzhong, Kit Bond, and Claire McCaskill on the BEIJING-ST.LOUIS Hub Commission. 


Just got this in the mail, will try to go.

"For the Equality of Men---For the Equality of Nations": Anson Burlingame and China's First Embassy to the United States John Schrecker, Professor of History Emeritus, Brandeis University, and Associate in Research, Fairbank CenterIn 1861,

President Lincoln appointed Anson Burlingame, an anti-slavery leader, minister to China. After Burlingame had served in the post forsix years, Beijing selected him as its first ambassador to the Westernpowers. The Burlingame Mission came to America in 1868. The talk willfocus on (1) how the politics of reconstruction determined attitudestoward the mission; (2) Burlingame's presentation of China as a nationthat wished to be treated equally, was modernizing, and could both learn from and teach the West; and (3) the famous Burlingame Treaty with America---the first equal treaty between China and a Western power since the Opium War."


Twain to Burlingame in 1868 [Citation and more on the friendship here]

"Don't neglect or refuse to keep a gorgeous secretaryship or a high interpretership for me in your great embassy... I would like to go with your embassy as a dignitary of some kind or other... I want to be a mild sort of dignitary... Pray save me a place."

"....with God's help we will lift Shanghai up and up, ever up, until it is just like Kansas City.” -Attributed to Senator Kenneth Wherry (R-Nebraska) 1940, though reliable citations seem yet to be found.

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Wednesday, March 4, 2009

"You commie homo-loving sons of guns"

So, this is a bit late to count as Oscars coverage, but CCTV's translation of Sean Penn's acceptance rant was quite funny. "You commie homo-loving sons of guns" went through the Chinese Room (take that Searle) to become a "You guys are TOOOO generous!"

One blogger imagines the sad plight of the employee charged with the task of translation: 
It’s quite possible that the subtitler didn’t understand what Sean Penn had said and didn’t have time to find out. But supposing he/she did understand. Imagine you’re this poor CCTV employee and your ultimate boss is a senior member of the politburo. You’ve got very little time to decide what to do with a phrase that links communism with “homo-loving.” Your decision may not be appreciated by the leaders. OK, just make something up. [via Black and White Cat]
Left is a picture from a gay pride parade on Qianmen Ave. in Beijing this last Valentines Day, covered in (surprisingly, the WSJ). As far as I've read (which is admittedly very little), public attitudes have been a mingling of passive distaste and active neutrality, with few hate crimes reported, and with sodomy decriminalized in 1997 and homosexuality removed from the rolls of "psychological disorders" in 2001. The media censuring would likely be cited not as active homophobia, but processed merely an attempt to "not encourage" gayness (a tangled cognitive position I've heard echoed by one a many Asian parent too). I haven't read much at all on how gay rights movements are progressing in HK/Taiwan, or even Japan and Korea - is the coalition building at all analogous to US movements? Are they part of a new "left" (though left and right are fairly useless in the Chinese context) harboring purportedly cosmopolitan values, including democratization and visions of ethnic pluralism? (These somewhat asinine thoughts emerged when I was about to title the post something like "Human Rights Incursion/Hilarity", but realized I hadn't a single clue whether the rights movements there situated themselves in a human rights discourse at all.)

In any case,  HuffPo and Shanghaiist describe some other censured caesuras in previous Oscar runs. Obviously, previous news bulletin titles have failed to hit the screen, eg: "Homosexual film fest to open in Beijing" (Xinhua covering PKU's Gay and Lesbian Film Festival in 2005)?

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