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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