Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Friday, December 17, 2010

Irritating Infatuations with Strauss and Schmitt: Mark Lilla New Republic


Mark Lilla has an amazing piece in the most recent ed. of The New Republic here (gated - I can e-mail to interested friends) that seizes on a tide of neoconservative thought among China's students/intellectuals. (This despite the magazine's own hawkish foreign policy turns in the last few years, under Peretz. Ugh, anyway. Lilla points to an excellent article by Evan Osnos two years ago. A key moment is probably his meeting Strauss disciple Harvey Mansfield on tour, baffled by why he is a big deal in China, but nevertheless wearing a "honey colored panama" and loving it.) 

There was a running joke when I was in Cambridge about working on Karl Schmidt, an obscure medievalist, as Carl Schmitt has also become mindlessly vogue among trend-driven, chain-smoking intellectual historians. (Or as Lilla says,"the short, elusive books by this once Nazi collaborator have attracted Western radicals too soft-minded for Marxian empiricism and charmed by the notion that tout commence en mystique et tout finit en politique.") So at first the title was funny for seeming somewhat obscure, then it wasdepressing.

Choice quotes:
Strauss and Schmitt are at the center of intellectual debate, but they are being read by everyone, whatever their partisan leanings; as a liberal journalist in Shanghai told me as we took a stroll one day, “no one will take you seriously if you have nothing to say about these two men and their ideas.”
"Students of a more conservative bent actually agree with much of the left’s critique of the new state capitalism and the social dislocations it has caused, though they are mainly concerned with maintaining “harmony” and have no fantasies (only nightmares) about China going through yet another revolutionary transformation. Their reading of history convinces them that China’s enduring challenges have always been to maintain territorial unity, keep social peace, and defend national interests against other states—challenges heightened today by global market forces and a liberal ideology that idealizes individual rights, social pluralism, and international law."
"...for the young Chinese I met, the distinction between sages and statesmen and the idea of an elite class educated to serve the public good make perfect sense because they are already rooted in the Chinese political tradition. What makes Strauss additionally appealing to them, apart from the grand tapestry of Western political theory he lays before them, is that he makes this ideal philosophically respectable without reference to Confucius or religion or Chinese history. He provides a bridge between their ancient tradition and our own..."
The core of it - how educated young intellectuals are, distressed with China's progress, whipping away from liberal ideas and seizing upon soveriegnty and "cultural nationalism" as an alternative- I see as intimately connected with two other debates. First, this background gives far more context to the "universal values" debate that was in the background of LXB's Nobel Prize, so I think its quite timely given the recent ceremony. What are the consequences of an rising Chinese intelligentsia that firmly holds political liberalization in opposition to sovereignty, and begins to situate that within the narrative of modern Western philosophy? Second is the public philosophy debate. I have been thinking (not alot but some) about Daniel Bell's work, which by some accounts has tried, in reaction precisely to this first question, to sketch out a sort of softer "neopaternal NeoConfucianism" as a public philosophy for China's 21c.  The last para from Lilla implies that that this little dance of proto paternalism isn't far off from proto fascism, whichever way you spin it.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

A Pattern Representing The Pattern of the Chinese Past

Economist's View via Daniel Little reviewed a new volume on visualizing economic data - Famous Figures and Diagrams in Economics  (Mark Blaug and Peter Lloyd) - and pulled out the following chart, presented by Mark Elvin "to represent his theory of a high-level equilibrium trap in agricultural development in The Pattern of the Chinese Past." The question - why was there no Industrial Revolution in China, given relative stability, prosperity, and advanced scientific methods? Elvin's answer, circa 1972 - there was enough cheap labor producing good enough yields, and there wasn't an impetus to pursue new technologies (and a bit of bad luck in the progress made generally not being disruptive technology.)

 Explanation below:
"This diagram represents several different kinds of historical change in one compact figure: gradual technical progress along a production curve, shift of production curves through technical innovation, and the maximum production possibility curve that lies above each of these. The axes represent "total output" and "rural population." The concave shape of each curve has a very specific economic and demographic meaning: as population grows within a given mix of techniques, output grows more slowly; so average output per capita approaches the subsistence line OS. The HLET is graphically and laconically indicated on the upper right quadrant of the graph; there is no further room for technical improvement, and population has increased to the point where there is no surplus to fund radical technological innovation. (Elvin's theory of the high-level equilibrium trap is discussed in my Microfoundations, Methods, and Causation; link.)"
 The theory has been well received by a number of economists, though many other explanations have been offered - I'm not that familiar with this but there's the "intellectual culture was hostile to rational scientific method" bucket (Joseph Needham), the more neoclassical "lack of domestic competition, property rights and all that free market love" bucket (which is closely tied to the "China was far away from everyone" bucket, Jared Diamond), the "silver drain and serial political instability" bucket, and a "Great Divergence AKA Europe got some colonies" bucket (Kenneth Pomeranz).

Hm. Hmmmmmmmmmm.

Read Full Post

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Non-Profits, Civil Society, Expertise

Wanted to point to an excellent post by Guobin Yang at TheChina Beat contextualizing the career of one of China's pioneering environmental activists. Liang Congjie had founded Friends of Nature, the first recognized environmental advocacy group in the PRC, in 1994, battling against poachers and renegade loggers while mentoring a generation of younger scholars and activists.  (Photo caption for the left, aptly: ANTI POACHING SQUAD.)
Yang points to the post '89 crumbling of the Chinese academic world as the key background to this move - the turn towards NGO creation offered "a logical way of seeking meaning at a time of intellectual crisis" but simultaneously helped create a new class of public intellectuals more intimately connected with grassroots, civic movements. As Yang summarizes:
Perhaps more than anything else, the combination of the image of an active and participatory citizenry with the Confucian image of a world of human-nature harmony epitomizes Liang Congjie’s vision as a scholar-environmentalist in action.
The last three months in HK have pulled me into a number of conferences - on impact investing, social enterprise and philanthropy - all primarily revolving around the burgeoning civic sector of China. [An excellent and yet developing reference to social enterprises in the PRC here, btw.] Having somewhat settled down now, I'm trying to figure out the analytical lenses most useful for cutting into what I've been observing, and at least one rough dynamic is certainly the role that scholars play within the sector. I'd been coming from a group whose primary goal was to better integrate scholarship and policy,  so was somewhat surprised to notice that scholarly expertise was not only enlisted by every association in this tightly knit NGO community - but seemed a necessary prerequisite for any sort of legitimacy.

Also, re: the reading list, BUMP to the top Guobin Yang's The Power of the Internet in China: Citizen Activism Online (Columbia University Press, 2009) - which for all my talk of loving him, I haven't actually read yet.

Read Full Post

Monday, December 6, 2010

Hong Kong Street Art - Space Invaders

On way to lunch found this crucial 8-Bit addition to the street @ 2 Lyndhurst (look down, on the bottom of a step.) Tiled onto the concrete. Apparently put up almost 10 years ago! Ancient.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Reading List

During a small break from work I collated a fat stack of papers from The China Quarterly to read and save my brain, and hammered down a must read list for myself over the next few weeks. No, months. Book club, NEbody?
  • China's New Confucianism: Politics and Everyday Life in a Changing Society. Daniel A. Bell. Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2008. 
  • From Ah Q to Lei Feng: Freud and Revolutionary Spirit in 20th Century China. Wendy Larson. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2009
  •  Wandering Spirits: Chen Shuiyan's Encyclopedia of Dreams. Translated and with an introduction by Richard E. Strassberg. Berkeley, Los Angeles, London: University of California Press, 2008
  • A Cultural History of Modern Science in China. Benjamin A. Elman. Cambridge, MA and London: Harvard University Press, 2006
  •  Back Alley Banking. Kellee Tsai. . Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell University Press, 2002
  • China's Trapped Transition: The Limits of Developmental Autocracy Minxin Pei. Harvard University Press, 2008 
  • Sentimental Fabrications. Rey Chow. 
  • Neither Gods Nor Emperors:  Students and the Struggle for Democracy in China. Craig Calhoun. U of C Press. -> Craig Calhoun btw is an unstoppable BALLER. Big ups. 
 Two useful resources at Five Books, a critical cheat sheet to everything interesting:
Question: Why is Fredric Jameson the go to PoCo theorist in China?

Read Full Post

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Dream of Red Mansions

I was moderately humiliated after teetering to Central Library to pick up some materials related to Louis Cha for a piece I'm working on - everything I'd hauled from the Hong Kong Literature room was reference, and I was left checking out an illustrated version of Dream of Red Mansions that caught my eye among the children's books. Jing Yong FAIL, however I think I'm going to start collecting some key works from this genre of comic book literary canon classics and posting critical "stills" here."

Second note is I was browsing through an excellent volume on the guaizhi (怪志) genre - a mostly Qing era short story genre employing Kafka-esque tales of the strange, Pu Songling being the most famous of this set - and came across this awesome improbably phrase:


Thirdly I'm trying to note some of the hideous deployments of sort of literary theory jargon, sort of butchered Carl Sagan half-thoughts that design stores around Hong Kong are especially guilty of. On the way from TST to East TST, there is a key one for K11, featuring a confused looking reindeer robot among plastic trees.

Read Full Post

Thursday, November 18, 2010

2015 - Chinese Cities, Metrics

One of the biggest factor's shaping China's landscape in the next dozen or so years will be the path that its second-tier cities take on development. (Second/third tier basically refers to any city of about 170 in China that have populations of over 1 million, but are not Beijing, Shanghai, Shenzhen or Guangzhou)...and a huge chunk of the money has flown into the architectural, urban, and economic development of cities like Chongqing (which on its own, had a GDP of $95.5 billion in 2009), Dalian and Wuhan.

Two pieces of recent news were therefore quite fun and heartening.  First, via Danwei, Chongqing is shooting to be one of the "happiest cities" in China by 2015.
"According to a new blueprint released at a government conference yesterday, in 2015, Chongqing's GDP per capita will reach USD 8,000, twice as much as current level; the city's regional GDP will by then reach 1500 billion yuan, surpassing Shanghai's current level; the income gap between urban and rural residents will be shrunk to 2.5:1. These projections, once achieved, will make Chongqing "one of the happiest regions" in China. Or at least the Chongqing government officials would like you to believe so."
The use of per capita GDP (instead of aggregate growth numbers) and reducing the urban-rural inequality gap is using metrics that do come much closer to more holistic indicators of well being. (Sidenote: China experimented with a "Green GDP" index in 2006 but abandoned it when it indicated a 3% drop in productivity.)

NEVERTHELESS, the second piece of fun news is that the National Development and Reform Commission (NDRC, not NRDC) has picked five provinces and eight cities as the first hubs for "greening" - by 2015 each will be used as pilots for significantly reducing carbon emissions and energy consumption. (They'll be Guangdong, Hubei, Liaoning, Shaanxi and Yunnan, and Tianjin, Chongqing, Hangzhou, Xiamen, Shenzhen, Guiyang, Nanchang and Baoding.) [via CommidityOnline]

Read Full Post

Friday, November 12, 2010

H-KAGE - City-O-Rama

Video installations through ten locations in HK,  buried in flower shops, butcher stalls, and nail salons alike. Running through the 18th!

14E Elgin St Elgin St (opposite of Chow Kee)Top of Pottinger St (opposite of Kila Bar) | 27B Stanley St | 20 Old Bailey St | 6A Gage St (Wet Market) | 32 Wellington St | 9, 11-13 Gage St (Wet Market) | 74-74A Hollywood Rd

Read Full Post


Public comments are apparently being solicited globally for feedback on the Next Five Year Plan? Is this a joke?
Comments from those who live overseas can be submitted to media organizations like China Daily and People's Daily Overseas Edition, Sun said.Over the next two months, individuals and agencies can send e-mails to 125@ndrc.gov.cn, preferably in either Chinese or English.
From the People's Daily November 3

  • On the appreciation of the RMB, most alarming indicators have included the rise of tea egg prices from 60 cents to 1 dollar on the street, and the doubling of cabbage prices. Above, NYT picture from feature on Korean panic over rising cabbage prices. Oh, the agony.
  • Goodbye Expo!
  • Statistics:

Read Full Post

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Romain Rolland/Jean Christophe in China

Need to be in office early and have been up too late tinkering with mixing software, but I am in the middle of trying to crack this mystery.
That is, not really any mystery, but the seeming centrality of Romain Rolland's Jean Christophe to a generation of Chinese intellectuals that came to age in the 60s and 70s.
Above,  RR chilling with Gandhi. Word.

Read Full Post

Sunday, October 24, 2010

"Government Waste", G20, Quantitative Easing

Quick note on a video that's been circulating the web. Citizens Against Government Waste portrays a Chinese professor lecturing in some not so distant future about the downfall of great societies, and lo and behold there's Lincoln and an American flag up there after Rome and Atlantis etc etc. The classroom titters as he pronounces that America now works for China. And the reason for the epic downfall? DEFICIT SPENDING. Oh right, duh.

As far as I understand it, the seeming reliance of the Fed now on quantitative easing - basically making more money - has been an enormous sore point for China in the middle of the heightened tension over RMB appreciation, and the "currency war" fear that looms at the core of the current G20 meetings. An article in the NYT last week explicitly pointed to the confusion and frustration of high level Chinese officials that direct stimulus programs weren't a stronger part of the American recovery plan. But, fiscal stimulus?! Off the docket of conversation as we face a hard wave of Democratic losses in midterms. [Detailed destruction of the ad from Matt Yglesias here.]

In short, the cutting irony for a lefty/Keynesian etc watching this is that the video's purpose itself (successful Tea Party and the likes rallying against government spending) is a far more likely cause of the dystopic future envisioned therein.

Read Full Post

Friday, October 15, 2010

GDYE October 16

Mild wonk alert.
  • UNIVERSE: Out of the many things to think about, one of the strands I've gravitated towards in the discussions of Liu Xiaobo's Nobel has been the resurrection of a debate on universality of values in the Chinese Academy. The Economist had a really excellent review of this, with many links to original Chinese language articles I'm hoping to go through this weekend.
  • FIVE YEAR PLANS: Everyone in their mid-20s needs one, especially me, but the CCP is putting out a new one soon. Between projects I finally read the big work of last year, Yasheng Huang's Capitalism With Chinese Characteristics, that deftly maps out rifts within the 80s and 90s party leadership. He marks the current leadership as much more in line with the 80's, rural-oriented reformists - consistent with many of the comments made by Wen Jiabao on CNN recently, which faced media blackout at home.
  • NOXIOUS FUMES: Ai Weiwei's sunflower seed exhibit  -awesome. Ai Weiwei's exhibit's noxious fumes leading to shutdown of said exhibit - not so awesome. He'll be speaking at Hong Kong University on October 26th, 6:30 PM.  

Read Full Post

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Things Which Have Eluded Me

Events I have sadly missed in Hong Kong so far:

Read Full Post

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Jia Zhangke - Beijing BC MOMA Speech Translation

While sick and dazed I read through the last few months of the Modern Chinese Language and Culture (MCLC) emails and found a Chinese transcript for a speech Jia Zhangke had delivered mid-July in Beijing, detailing some of his feelings about the Sixth Generation of filmmakers. An abridged version appears here in Chinese [Southern Weekly] and dGenerate films had translated excerpts here. I took a quick stab at translating the full speech, though it's a bit patchy and enigmatic at various parts. With The World, these were the precise sentiments that I think many saw him wrestling with - juggling multiple audiences, and the prerequisites for commercial appeal. There it was implicit in his stylistic transitions - here its quite explicit.

I Wish I Knew will be showing at the Hong Kong Asian Film Festival on October 29 and 31st. 

I Don’t Believe You’ll Predict Our Ending
Jia Zhangke
July 21, 2010

Personally, I hadn’t known what the category of “Sixth Generation” really marked, what it meant. Speaking purely in terms of age, I’m 7 years younger than Zhang Yuan, who released Mama in 1990. And I’m half a year older than Lu Chuan, who self identifies as a “Seventh Generation” director. It was after I directed Xiao Wu at the age of 28 that people gave me the tag “6th Generation,” and that was in 1998.

I’ve always thought that fervent emphasis on this generational affiliation and fevered opposition to it were in some ways one in the same. At core, its about wanting to avoid being labelled into a certain set, and of course to some degree, its about retaining your sense of individuality, or avoiding the negative connotations or what-naught carried by having such and such label. For instance, to be “Sixth Generation” was basically synonymous with having awful box office sales. But, I thought, if other people were willing to have that tag, I may as well too.


Read Full Post

Monday, October 4, 2010

Rare Earth Metals

As some readers will know, China recently successfully pressured the Japanese into returning a wayward captive sea-captain by threatening to withhold rare earth metals, which would have devastated the Japanese electronics industry.

My first point is that this seems like a scenario that I played once in Civilization IV or perhaps the subplot of a movie that also includes mega Gundams and space colonies.

My second point is that reading more broadly on the rare earth metal monopoly China's developed (nearly 97% of the global supply - link is to a Bloomberg piece), I asked myself who was in THIS meeting:
"A generation after Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping made mastering neodymium and 16 other elements known as rare earths a priority, China dominates the market, with far-reaching effects ranging from global trade friction to U.S. job losses and threats to national security."
It doesn't matter what color the neodymium is, as long as it helps power your laser mouse.

Read Full Post

Saturday, October 2, 2010

The Treacherous Treis, A Treacherous Move

1. Relocated to Hong Kong, so as I hope to start posting regularly again, they'll likely be crass commentary on local exhibits, shows, and films peppered in.  文化沙漠?(A prominent Chinese scholar spat that Hong Kong was a "cultural desert" a few years ago, which has prompted countless millions of dollars being injected into "cultural" events throughout the city, special immigration schemes for artistic talent, and of course, the hype around the mega development the western parts of Kowloon.)
2. Edison Chen has bounced back from a rocking sex scandal and gone the way of James Franco, attempting to restyle himself as a pop artist. A choice work from his exhibit, "The Treacherous Treis," showing now in Singapore, Maona Lisa. I want to see him climb through the ranks and get caught in flagrante behind the curtain at some Sotheby's auction.
3. Delicious pop-up books as profiled in the New York Times. See and touch Yunnan in three dimensions, and also two dimensions, then three again.
4. Takashi Murakami X Versailles!
5. Matt Yglesias has quite a good post that ties together two recent pieces of major news in the Asian philanthropy  world (my new world) - first the seemingly enormous failure of Warren Buffet and Bill Gates' recent trip to China (where they hoped to bring a good slice of wealthy PRCers into their  donating pledge). Second is the recent set of rumors that Jet Li's ONE Foundation may pull out from operations from the Mainland, given the series of administrative and bureaucratic trip wires they've run into in their tenure.  As Yglesias points out, charity is in some senses illegal in China - only a very small percentage of organizations can formally fund-raise at all, which is often forgotten when people discuss the seemingly vibrant sector of civil society constituted by an emerging network of grassroots NGOs.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Wallpaper* Taiwan - Decoding a Menace

I went bonkers when Wallpaper* highlighted Taiwan in their last issue, with the following blurb:
"Asian hipsters have long flocked to Taiwan for its unbeatable combination of jaw-dropping scenery, culture, retail therapy and addictive food culture -- something the West has only belatedly come to appreciate. And good timing, too, as Wallpaper* recently pitched up in this gem of an island for Operation: Taiwan Revealed."
I went more bonkers when there was a link to the tourism bureau, which for years had been touting an ugly motto of "TAIWAN: TOUCH YOUR HEART." Were the heartstrings of a generation of Americans still remembering Taiwan as Cold War ally the intended audience? Or was there some other island fever brewing in the minds of tourism bureau peeps? Taiwan needed to be branded as hyper-chic, wrenching back the spot Japan has long had and Korea is now inching towards! Pop music could not be where the dreams of cultural hegemony ended!

But my question - what is this logo? What is this menacing madness all my semiotics training can't unfold? Is that a cardboard box with an umbrella stuck to it? HELP ME JESUS WHAT AM I MISSING?!

Read Full Post

Monday, June 14, 2010

Lu Xun X Jules Verne

Here's a link to a fab. piece at the China Beat - a group of academically minded wonks blogging on China coverage in US media, and nearly always fab. - on science fiction in the Chinese imaginary! A choice tidbit:

"A young Lu Xun, later the greatest writer of 20th century China, translated Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon, and wrote an unforgettable slogan in his preface, “Leading the Chinese people forward begins with science fiction!” (导中国人群以进行,必自科学小说始)."

This is a pretty great Wikipedia entry on science fiction in China to accompany your thoughts. One of the first early 20th C. pieces was a vision of settlement on the moon colony...written in 1904. Illustration from the piece above.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Green Dam Youth Escort! June 1!

Read Full Post

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Ulysses S. Grant and Noh Theater

"Noh might actually not have survived if General Ulysses S. Grant had not arrived in Tokyo on a goodwill tour in 1879 and declared that this fine art should be preserved.”

Grant was in fact one of the first foreigners to see Noh theater, traveling for two years after resignation as US Prez. in 1877 - by 1879, he arrived in the court of Lord Iwakura Tomomi (in the course of a few meetings with the Meiji emperor). The man was a noh patron, and, lo and behold, Grant's praise motivated him to be much more of one, establishing the Noh Society and building the first permanent noh stage for the general public in Tokyo's Shiba Park.

Before hitting Japan, Grant hit up India, China, Russia and others on a grand world tour -- below is a restored photo from the same year (1879) that catches Grant eerily floating in a background-less setting with Chinese Viceroy Li Hung Chang. The photograph's restorer points to JF Packard's 1880 account of Grants trips, describing the scene:
"The visit of the Viceroy to the General was returned next day in great pomp. There was a marine guard from the Ashuelot. We went to the viceregal palace in the Viceroy's yacht, and as we steamed up the river, every foot of ground, every spot on the junks, was covered with people. At the landing, troops were drawn up. A chair lined with yellow silk — such a chair as is only used by the Emperor — was awaiting the General. As far as the eye could reach the multitude stood expectant and gazing, and we went to the palace through a line of troops, who stood with arms at a present. Amid the firing of guns, the beating of gongs, our procession slowly marched to the palace-door. The Viceroy, surrounded by his mandarins and attendants, welcomed the General. "

Read Full Post

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Revivification: Johnnie To

Weekly post-rate here finally leveled out to zero, so here's a brief set of ramblings

1. Exhausted Diligence has been battered by Chinese-language link posts in comments, which is simultaneously awesome and discouraging. In my very brief entertaining of the comparative structure of spam-botting, it does seem marginally better than some English counterparts, though (a) differences in labor structures could mean human spambots are cost effective, or (b) that grammatical ellision actually makes Chinese spam easier and perhaps French spam least believable or that (c) sheer numbers of native Chinese language spammers and users means that the evolutionary learning curve of the programs (which iterate themselves, at times, and obviously, are iterated by spam progenitors) has been more steep than the English. An easy answer is also that my English is superbly better than my Chinese.
2. Tumblr has been eating my online life, as a primary goal of this whole thing had been to more effectively bookmark my own readings and give a little structure to my Asia-web wandering. But that turned out to be so much better with a bookmarklet!

3. There has been a major Johnnie To kick in my household(s). And Johnnie To is producing Jia Zhang-ke's next film -- his first big-budget piece -- which both terrifies and intrigues me. But more importantly
via Paper Republic here is an old FBI guide by one agent Fritz Chang to Canto gang slang.
4. Two fantasy lives of intrigue -- photographer Jing Quek is looking for a production assistant, Imagine living the world he tags Jingapore (below), and getting coffee for it.

5. One of the articles that has stuck in my mind -- this is not arts -- is a recent piece by Steve Walt in Foreign Policy -- "China's New Strategy." I'm repelled in many ways by realism (rational-choice applied to IR, positing nation-states as black-boxes motivated solely by their "interests"), but the arguments he lays out rattled me. As he puts it

"On one side are realists who believe that if China continues to increase its economic power, then significant security competition between the two countries is virtually inevitable. On the other side are those (mostly liberal) theorists who believe that the potential for trouble will be muted by economic interdependence and the socializing effects of China's growing participation in various international institutions. (This was Bill Clinton's rationale for getting China into the World Trade Organization, for example). And if China were to make a gradual transition to democracy, so the argument runs, then democratic peace theory will kick in and there's nothing to worry about.

On Saturday, the New York Times published an important story supporting the realist view. It described the rapid expansion of China's naval capabilities (a classic manifestation of great power status), as well as the more ambitious new strategy that this growing capacity is designed to serve. Briefly, as China's economic power and dependence on overseas raw materials (e.g., oil) has grown, it is seeking to acquire the ability to protect its access. In practice, China's new strategy of "far sea defense" means acquiring the ability to project naval power into key ocean areas (including the Indian Ocean and Persian Gulf), while denying other naval powers the ability to operate with impunity in areas close to China."

Read Full Post

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Google, Isaiah Berlin, Guobin Yang

I've been posting much to a
tumblr - EXCURSUS II -- for ease of access, esp. since the interface makes it easier to pop on links or images I find interesting during the course of the workday. While browsing the Social Science Research Council's mash of articles, I came across a great article on Google's projected China exit by Guobin Yang (one of the real academic leaders on the political implications of networked communications there.) "Why Google Should Not Quit" makes an interesting pivot on the ways in which the exit would shift both positive ("to do", capabilities) and negative freedom ("freedom from", non-interference) in the PRC, arguing that the censorship landscape would essentially not change (negative freedom won't be affected) BUT that the reduction in competitiveness may lead to a more impoverished internet landscape generally (reducing positive freedom.) he says:
"It is hard to imagine Google continuing to operate in China by censoring its search engine as if nothing had happened. But neither can I imagine Google retreating into its inner citadel. I find it unlikely, as Isaiah Berlin might put it, that when faced with two methods of freeing itself from the pain of a wounded leg, one of difficulty and uncertainty of finding a cure, the other of cutting it off, Google will opt for the second. Perhaps we will soon see another moment of Google creativity."
More potently, I do wonder whether this is the beginning of a great divergence in global information landscapes.

Read Full Post

Wednesday, March 3, 2010


"Americans saw China as a great future trade partner and President Franklin Roosevelt himself had family business connections in China. Americans applauded the advances that American Christian missions seemed to be making in the country. China would one day be the United States of Asia: prosperous, Christian, and free."

-From Chris Bayly and Tim Harper. Forgotten Armies: The Fall of British Asia, 1941-1945.

Read Full Post

Monday, March 1, 2010

The Chinese Embassy in Paris, 1900

I was browsing The Commons on Flickr, where the Library of Congress and tons of other museums/collections have uploaded their public collections. There's a scant East-Asia related set, but I found this treasure in the George Eastman House Collection. Author of "Imperial Masquerade: The Legend of Princess Der Ling" a biography of the lady in waiting to Empress Dowager Cixi, explains in the comments that the boy striking the Napoleonic pose is in fact Xinling, member of the Manchu royal family and elder brother of the aforementioned Princess Der Ling. Chinese Embassy in Paris, taken around 1900.

PS: [I think I may be assaulting the RSS feed of this blog with false-starts on entries. Never again!]]]

Read Full Post

Friday, February 26, 2010

Yang Yang (b. 1969) -- 命题游戏之一 (?A Game of Fate Pt 1?)

What I thought was a striking piece from painter Yang Yang. Not much on her in English but I was really rapt by these baroque riffs on Botticelli that seem to run through her work. Some more of it here (a compendium of prominent female painters) and here (which has some bio information too.) It also rang a bell and then it struck me! Porcelain bust on cover of the NYRB ed. of Eileen Chang's "Love in a Fallen City."

Found after browsing Art Scene China's site -- they have I think one of the biggest showrooms in the 798 space, though I may be wrong. [[798 is a Bauhaus-era textile factory abandoned then transformed into the art district of Beijing. My lasting impression when I went -- via motorcycle the summer after my freshman year, due to some botched directions -- was some artist who was popping EEG headgear onto unwilling participants and asking them to use their beta-waves to paint lotuses with lasers on the warehouse floor.]]

Read Full Post

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Bucky Fuller and the Chinese Secretary of Communications, 1979

"In 1979, Fuller was invited by the Chinese Secretary of Communications for a three week visit. On arrival in Peking, Fuller was asked by his host: "How low would it take to make a complete disclosure of your general philosophy of the grand strategy of problem solving?" Fuller replied: "Sixteen hours."

"...according to a recent report, Fuller's 1963 book Operating Manual for Spaceship Earth is number one on the list of the ten most widely read American books in the People's Republic of China today."

- From Introduction to Humans in the Universe. R. Buckminster Fuller and Anwar Dil. 1983

Search prompted by latest issue of Volume, which included a project set up as a tribute to Fuller: "Buckminster Fuller showed us how minimal energy domes could open a way to a more environmentally sustainable future, could an umbrella dome lead the way to a more socially sustainable future? The Bucky Bar is a full-scale model of such a future."

Above is "Tensile-Integrity Structures Tensegrity from the portfolio Inventions: Twelve Around One."

Read Full Post

Monday, February 22, 2010

"Locked Out -- Beijing's Border Abuse Exposed" Perry Link in NYRBlog

"On February 12, Chinese human rights campaigner Feng Zhenghu was allowed to return to Shanghai after a 92-day stay in diplomatic limbo at the Tokyo Narita airport. Having left China last April to visit family in Japan, Feng, who is a Chinese citizen, was repeatedly denied reentry by Chinese immigration officials; when he was sent back to Tokyo last November, he remained in the Tokyo airport in protest, waiting for the Chinese government to change its mind. The international press has portrayed Feng as a solitary figure, pursuing an admirable if somewhat flamboyant quest for his personal rights. But the point of Feng’s protest goes much, much deeper than the fate of one man, and Feng hopes that the world will understand why."

Read Full Post

Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Ink Mountain":: via NeochaEDGE

I think I've posted briefly about NeochaEDGE's consultancy wing before -- but the core of the group is their successful launch of a MySpace for Chinese hipsters.(More properly -- a social networking site for creative artists in China, and hugely popular.) But also they have a great blog. A featured piece from the other day by Shadow Chen from Ningbo above. They posted a set of animated shorts from promising artists that I LOVED earlier this year/late last year.

I also came across this London-based group of designers recently - Chinese Design Region -- but haven't dug much.

Given the much spoken significance of Obama's meeting w/ the Dalai Lama taking place in the map room, I've been cobbling together a post on old maps from the Tibeto-Sino border. Secondly I've been thinking recently about how much of a cultural arbiter Howard Goldblatt has been, and how awesome he is generally.

Read Full Post

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

NYT - "Tracing the Path to Chinese Finesse "

Posting a NYT review of a new exhibit at the Met -- “Mastering the Art of Chinese Painting: Xie Zhiliu (1910-1997)." The review points to a "curiously dispassionate, not to say bloodless" feel to the work, but emphasizes that the exhibit's worth is largely in its revelation of method:

"... it is not for artistic merit that Xie’s work is on view. Maxwell K. Hearn, the exhibition’s organizer and a curator of Chinese painting and calligraphy at the Met, explained in an interview that the show’s main significance is in what it reveals about methods used by traditional artists. It turns out that the kind of graceful naturalism that Xie achieved in his best works came not from extensive study of nature but by tracing over and over the works of other artists on sheets of semitransparent paper.

If Xie’s procedures typified the way artists had been working for centuries, as Mr. Hearn said they do, then it challenges the idea that Chinese art is as deeply grounded in real-life experience and observation of nature as is commonly believed. Copying was the royal road to aesthetic perfection."

Read Full Post

Monday, February 15, 2010

Hello Kitty Instantiated

I saw these two Hello Kitty related pop-ups in Shanghai mentioned on the Asian Art Museum blog recently, and the magnetic pull of Sanrio pulled me further. I was pulled back to some of the most pleasant flights I've ever had, on EVA Air, which happened to be on EVA's "Hello Kitty Jet" (left).

  • Shanghai's No. 6 line, which is the only to run only in Pudong, is named the "Hello Kitty Line" -- all accents are a happy shade of pink. [Pictures via Wangjianshuo's blog]
  • Listed as one of the "most bizarre hostels in the world," the Hello Kitty Houses -- also in Shanghai -- offer luxury amid cat-shaped chairs and lots of pink ribbons. [More photos here.]
  • But forget not Bank of America's recent launch of Hello-Kitty themed debit accounts. And the MAC makeup line? And the Hello Kitty Parachute Paradise iPhone game?
  • The question on the mind of every 11 year old in Sanrio Puroland: How can Sanrio have so effectively leveraged their brand to move from fast moving consumer goods (FMCG) to full blown infrastructure projects?
  • Scholarship holds the answer. Perhaps we may find the key in this business case study on SUPERbranding. Or this one, which guides the young entrepreneur through Hello Kitty's move towards unisexual appeal. See also "Hello Kitty and the Identity Politics in Taiwan" for a post-colonial perspective. Or "Japan's Gross National Cool" (Foreign Policy) for an international relations perspective. "Hello Kitty Items a Global Rage in “Zen cuteness” (Japan Times) may touch on problems of religious syncretism as well. Hello Kitty Darth Vader has a magnum opus cooking on this one.

Read Full Post

Thursday, February 11, 2010

Artspeak China - Rauschenberg

A fantastic new bilingual wiki for contemp. Chinese art - Artspeak China. The easy interface organizes information by major artists, events, institutions and movements. Already, according to Shanghaiist, garnering tens of thousands of hits per day.

My first dally in - Rauschenberg's 1985 exhibit at the Beijing National Gallery - the first officially sanctioned American exhibit since the 30s. [[ Purchase Rauschenberg's piece, left, "China Tour, 1985" here.]] From the article:
"Author Zhang Zhaohui recalls: “The exhibition halls were crowded with people who felt refreshed by a totally new form of art that they did not quite yet understand. It served to excite young Chinese artists' enthusiasm to learn from him, and the show proved a stimulant to the nascent avant-gardemovement. Overnight, a number of Chinese artists began producing 'ready-mades' and installations, and hundreds of avant-garde art groups and experimental art exhibitions appeared.”
The moment was a decisive game-changer for the direction of modern Chinese art. And there is likely no shortage of commentary on how Rauschenberg's ready-mades may have, to the bureaucrat charged with the thumbs-up or down, seemed like innocuous objects properly flaked off of the great stream of capitalist production slowly opening to the PRC. (Coded in there, too, I bet, is a sophisticated albeit unconscious theory of the political limits of irony.)

Further Reading I hope to wade through:

Read Full Post