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Sunday, September 29, 2002

 

Beauty or Evil


I finished writing a very long essay on Gao Xingjian's Soul Mountain. "I can only recoil when confronted by beauty or evil," the narrator says.

While looking for commentaries, I found this excellent essay by Mabel Lee about contemporary Chinese Literature. Walking Out of Other People's Prisons: Liu Zaifu and Gao Xingjian on Chinese Literature in the 1980's .

While listening to the wonderful live365 Mandarin Chinese pop music radio station , I heard a delightful song. Unfortunately, I couldn't find a transliteration until I found a small personal site full of Chinese pop singers by Sarah Guo from Australia. The lovely index of singers contains more importantly, a listing of transliterated names with their original. (The singer I was interested in was Zhang Qian). Sarah also has a nice page about Chinese composers.

Monday, September 16, 2002

 

For Small Lobsters Only


Here's an interesting article by Robert Marquand about how Western influences are changing the Chinese language. Mandarin is quickly taking on Western idioms (xiaoxia, or "small lobsters" refers to an internet novice). One TV broadcaster was quoted as saying that the Chinese language is changing so quickly that it's the primary topic of conversation among his friends.

In earlier times, to say "I love you" was viewed by party officials with suspicion. Talk of struggle, revolution and battlefields were more acceptable. Says one student, "We can now say "I love you" every day."

Thursday, September 12, 2002

 

No Time to Remember


the lovely Zhou Ling, Miss Universe contestant

Zhou Ling, 2002 Miss Universe Contestant. Woman with an amazing story.


City Weekend has emerged as one of the most interesting English language periodicals in China. I have only started reading through the articles (a nice mixture of arts and feature stories). Perhaps the article on "la duzi" (diarrhea) in China won't win any journalism awards, but these sort of details are what interest the non Asian the most. Qiu An writes, "In the West, you'll be advised to eat a banana if you have la duzi; in China, you'll be greeted with a look of horror if you even suggest it. Many people believe ingesting such a high-fiber fruit will only aggravate your system; the opposition stands firm on the fact that bananas will slow down anything working its way through your system."

Seriously though, Katie Benner's introduction to “Scar Literature", (that's what they call memoirs from the Cultural Revolution) is one of the most interesting and informative pieces I'd read on Chinese literature in English. Although this literary genre has attracted a lot of attention from the West, these works are virtually ignored within China itself. When asked why, Shen Rui, a Western professor replies, "...with all the changes happening, it seems that there is no time to remember the Cultural Revolution."

What better way to learn about 3rd century BC China than by videogame? If Mark Prensky’s view about the value of game-based learning is right, then playing a game like Prince of Qin would seem to be a good vehicle for westerners to learn basic facts about Chinese culture. The game describes the period after the reign of the great emperor Zheng Ying (who is a historical figure), with a few embellishments. In history the rightful heir was tricked by his enemies into committing suicide. In an interview, game creators Liu Yu Bin and Liu Gang, (the game’s creators) say: “In history Fu Su did indeed commit suicide, but in the game, he lives on and seeks to discover why the edict was issued. Once he discovers the plot against him (the edict was a forgery) and his father (he was murdered), he launches himself on a mission for revenge against the plotters to avenge himself and his father, the Emperor.

I’m all in favor of learning by video games after having played a wonderful game a few years ago called “Yukon Trail.” Even if we agree that video games tends to stretch history a bit and emphasize the violent and melodramatic, it can still be a painless way for Westerners to be exposed to geography, names and the external attributes of the time period. Maybe games like Lineage won’t do this, but the medium holds a lot of potential. Mark Prensky's book calls attention to a game that does precisely that, Qin, Tomb of the Middle Kingdom, a Chinese archeology game, which according to Scientific American, "makes historical research into a labyrinth from which only the intellectually passionate can return." With the fast pace of game economics, I am happy to report that the game can currently be bought for under $6.

Few things surprise me anymore, but Elisabeth Rosenthal's account of Zhuo Ling's 2002 participation in the Miss Universe pageant is one amazing story. According to this article, after spending 4 years unsuccessfully trying to obtain a government permit, the promoter held an underground competition, only to have government officials raid the event and shut it down, telling the frightened girls that they had broken the law because they didn't have a permit. (I witnessed similiar absurdities firsthand while a Peace Corps volunteer in Albania. When my university students went on hunger strike against the Albanian government in 1997, the semi-repressive government also ordered them arrested because of lack of a permit).

The judges hurriedly met in private to award Zhuo Ling the prize, and she prepared to go to Puerto Rico, site of the 2002 Miss Universe pageant. Rosenthal writes, "there have been no actual beauty contests in China since the Communist takeover in 1949, and that apparently makes some officials nervous when it comes to approving such an event. Some argue that modeling involves skill, while beauty is more superficial - a bourgeois concern - even though the Miss Universe contest involved speeches and other performances." Zhuo Ling was second runner-up at this year's pageant. (Thanks to Chinaweblog for this amazing story)

 

China, from the Outside


JIM LEHRER: But there are, there are some Americans, as you know, who believe there is something that America has to fear from China. What do you say to them?
PREMIER ZHU: I would say to them, what are you afraid of? President Clinton said the United States has about 6,000 nuclear warheads and that China has 20 or 30 of them. Actually, I honestly do not know exactly what number China has, but I would think that President Clinton may be clearer than I am about that number. So my question would be, what are you afraid of? China cannot possibly constitute a threat. And if you mean should you fear China as an economic competitor, then I should say your economy is 10 times the size of our economy. Your per capita income is 10 times our per capita income, and it would take a very, very long time for China to yet become even relatively a major economic power. And besides, even if China were to become an economic power, why should the United States fear it, because the stronger that China becomes, the bigger the market for the Americans? (From an interview with Zhu Rongji, 1999. You can interview an equally fascinating interview with Jiang Zemin in 1997).

Michael Ledeen has written a strongly worded opinion piece comparing the current Chinese government to other fascist governments. America's mistake, Ledeen argues, is in assuming that the government has the capability to reform peacably. He writes, "although Hitler liked to speak of himself as primus inter pares, the first among racial equals, he would not have contemplated the democratization of the Third Reich, nor would Mussolini have yielded power to the freely expressed will of the Italian people. It seems unlikely that the leaders of the People's Republic will be willing to make such a change either. If they were, they would not be so palpably concerned that the Chinese people might seek to emulate the democratic transformation of Taiwan." Such comparisons are certainly thought-provoking, but one could argue that a large number of Eastern European governments made peaceful transitions to democracy during the "Velvet Revolution," even though most of them were "bloodless coups." The difference between Eastern Europe and China is size and geography. China's vast size creates a heavy inertia on the political realm. Also, China did not have strong and powerful neighboring democracies to exert positive influence (although Japan is as close as you can get to this, and satellite TV means that "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" is only a channel away. What differentiates China from fascism is open acknowledgement by its leaders that the system needs reforming. Chinese leaders interviewed on American TV (see above) readily concede that China needs vast improvements on the realm of human rights, but simply ask for more patience about liberalization. First, let's solve the economic problems. When considering comparisons with fascism, it's important to remember how easily Germany and Italy could mobilize their citizens for military ends. People in these countries also shared a common heritage, language and religion. Although China does have the force to enact laws and to ask beauracracies to enforce them, it is always an iffy question about how well anything can be enforced in China. Secondly, Marxist-Maoist thought makes an implicit social contract with the people. Revolution is prescribed as the method for the exploited to unshackle themselves from their oppressors. If the people are exploited, then the right to revolution exist. The Chinese government may use censorship and propaganda to convince its people that they are not exploited or that the proletariats finally rule, but it cannot really disprove the same principle that Communists originally used to justify Communist revolution in the first place. Fascism doesn't really offer any convincing vision of what the government ought to do for its people, only what the people ought to do for their country. The danger of Ledeen's conclusion is that it discourages diplomatic engagement in favor of containment.

A fascinating, though misguided view of foreign correspondents by China's official newspaper, frets over the shallowness and sensationalism of articles by foreign journalists. Many of the foreign correspondents don't speak Chinese and rely on Chinese secretaries to find juicy stories. Many journalists are under commercial pressure to reveal scandals and to put China in a negative light in print. The article continues, "more distorted reports are from non-resident correspondents, researchers and politicians. They don't work and live in China so they have nothing to care about. Some journalists and researchers come to China under the identity of tourists so they can gather seamy-side materials and interview persons of different views with the government. Some politicians, in order to reap political capital, can even afford a deliberate slander on China, while the press pays more attention to their remarks because of their political status." The article contains legitimate criticism of foreign correspondents or even journalists in general. But it ignores China's regulation of the press which many have reported to be suffocating. In many cases, there are blanket bans on certain kinds of reporting, especially about such sensitive subjects like North Korean immigrants and Tibet. So people need a license from the government to write a newspaper article? Behind the reasonable tone of this article is a deep suspicion of what journalists do and a tendency to equate them to spies.

Brad Yu from Brandrecon has noted, as I did before, that very little content is emerging from China, partly for economic reasons, partly for political ones. After the closing down of Internet cafes and the blocking of google.com, one can see the difficulty in trying to create and distribute content from within China and why such software like blogger haven't yet become popular within China (although curiously blogger has not yet not blocked). Brad writes, "In a few years, China will become the largest Internet market and supply the largest chunk of Internet users and sites online. Until then, much of the personal insight into life will be supplied from outside."

Monday, September 02, 2002

 

Testing the Chinese Firewall


After reading about China's blocking of google.com and a web application that determines whether the Chinese firewall is blocking your site, I decided to put up my own controversial page to test the Chinese firewall. On another note, China's unsuccessful attempt to pressure Ukraine to punish Falung Gong adherents reveals how difficult it can be for a small country to oppose the most populous nation in the world, even when the cause is just.

Another excellent guide: Asian Cinema Weekly

 

Phone Books in North Korea


In a bizarre twist, analysts learn about the North Korean power structure by studying its phone book.

I just wanted to say that Brad Yu's Brandrecon newsletter is one of the best things I've seen on the net. The link on the left goes to the archives of its email newsletter. Highly recommended!

After removing a bad music link on the India side, I added three more, a great Indian song database, a music site with singer-specific radio stations. Great! Lots of banners ads and pop ups, but no audio advertisements.


 

The Indifference of a City


Note: I have been away for a while, but now that I am gainfully employed in Houston, Texas, I expect to be posting more regularly. Also, as luck would have it, I discovered an Indian cinema very close to my job, so I'll be posting a lot more film reviews.

Goolam E. Vahanvati, Advocate General of Maharashtra, writes some fascinating pieces for Asian Age . Note that the articles on Asia Age are below the table of contents, a really stupid layout if I ever saw one. Writing about the joys of solitude , Vahanvati says, "To my mortification, people drifted from conversation to conversation. The level of concentration depended on the status of the person they were talking to. The moment somebody more important came into the room, the conversation was terminated. Sentences were aborted midway." . In another article on famous con-men, Vahanvati tells of a master con man who dupes people into thinking he was from Russian royalty. " They invited the Grand Duke Dmitri of Russia to a function and to confront the conman there. The Grand Duke spoke to Harry rapidly in Russian. People waited with bated breath for the impostor to trip and fall but Harry rose to the occasion. He raised his hand and solemnly told the Grand Duke Dmitri of Russia, "I don't think that we should insult our hosts by talking in any language but theirs." And then he coolly walked out of the function."

Arnab Guha writes a piece about the indignities India faces in international organizations. He writes, "Fifty-one years after the adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the United Nations has not yet found the will to relocate a single global head office of some 13 major UN organisations from Western Europe or North America to an Asian, African or Latin American state." I should point out that international conferences on population, woman's issues, development and AIDS are frequently in third countries.

Frontline, which seems to have more articles on international affairs than Indian affairs, published an article by Usha Ramanathan on American opposition to the International Criminal Court. The article mentions the proposed" American Servicemembers' Protection Act (ASPA), a law which would authorise the use of military force if U.S. citizens are held in the ICC in The Hague. The law, which has passed Senate scrutiny, advocates the use of "all means necessary" to retrieve its citizens from the court." Please note that Ramanathan mistakenly uses the word "law" to mean a proposed bill.

“While India will keep struggling with its stupid communal and geo-political problems, China will become a developed country with world-class infrastructure.” Ashu Kumar writes an article on the IT world of India v. China.

Although my first source of India news has been Sulekha, I've been recently reading a lot of pieces on rediff . This link, by the way, goes to the index of columnists, not the main page, which is just a bland portal page. A journalist eyewitness account of a rape at a train station leaves people outraged . Syed Firdaus Ashraf writes that the real problem is indifference of bystanders and police. Although Mumbai remains relatively safe for woman (according to the article), the amount of “eve teasing” has been increasing. It's worth remembering that there are costs associated with mass transit and public spaces; you come in contact with people of all walks of life. In a typical American city, a person rarely encounters or even sees strangers except in parking lots or supermarkets or nightclubs. This is good or bad, depending on one's perspective. In Mumbai, you have more encounters with complete strangers in public spaces, but also more possibilities for bystanders to witness. In US, victimization strikes in complete solitude. Is that better or worse?



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