In contrast to most other countries who have chosen to adopt the terminology
‘creative industries’ – from the ‘Mapping Document’ issued by the UK government’s Department of Culture, Media and Sports – the Chinese government prefers the term ‘cultural industries’, emphasizing ‘culture,’ or wenhua, over ‘creativity’. The mission to develop cultural industries is necessarily for the enhancement of Chinese culture. Its ultimate goal is not only to resist the consumption and dominance of Hollywood or Western culture in the domestic market, but to export its own cultural products overseas and spread its influence. Thus put in terms of political economy, cultural industries in China can be understood as a combination of cultural nationalism and a form of nascent cultural imperialism.


1980 is the beginning of China’s economic reforming and opening up. Leroy
W. Demery, Jr. , an 27 years old American, decided to cross the ocean and
check out the mystery east. His first stop is HongKong. During the time in
HK, the tour guide asked him if he’d like to spend an afternoon in a place
next to HK but across the sea. And he said “YES”. The place he went to is
Sheng Zhen, the first city to start reform and open up in China in 1979.

Leroy recorded the original ShenZheng in the last minute, before all these
got replaced by factories. He came to China again in 1983, visited a lot of
other cities and recorded all of them. I am kind of curious why this old
country pick this young man from the west to record how this land looks like
before everything totally changed, but I am really glad to get to see these
treasure images today. Not only me, same as a lot of people. Leroy start
to put these photos on flickr since Dec,2008 and attract tons of viewers.
Among these viewers, there is a curator of ShenZhen & HongKong architecture
biannual, and the result is these photos will be exhibited in the show.

Check them out now on Leroy W. Demery, Jr.’s flickr album.


via Julia Liu of W+K Shanghai

Lately I have become interested in artists for whom collecting is central to their process. Dealing with taxonomies and systems of classification, their work is, at least in part, a critique of the activities of museums and collecting institutions or individuals. Fundamentally, these artists are exploring notions of identity through quantitative assessment. Here, identity is expressed through an ontology—a system of objects, representing a particular and unique perspective. A collection seeks to establish a framework by which to formalize, structure and express its content. Through their work, these artists critique that framework at different levels—relating to individual identity, the role of the institution, or society at large.

It seems that the need to categorize is a basic human trait. We cannot not categorize. The ontologies we create define cultures, as the result of processes by which we shape our lives. Museums fundamentally aim to document culture, and the systems of classification created within the museum context reflect those present within society. Art involved in a critique of these systems is therefore fundamentally also a critique of society at large—a particular society, that is—aiming in an almost scientific way to objectify the outcomes of those processes that manifest themselves in certain predictable or less-predictable forms.


When historians first began exploring the relationship between tradition and modernity there is little doubt that tradition always ended up the loser.  Many scholars strongly promoted modernity and the modern lifestyle, complete with science, democracy, capitalism, and the nation-state, as the ultimate aim of history.  In this linear vision, static traditions infused with the superstitious past constantly hindered the forward march of history, a history that would lead nations to an almost utopian vision of modernity.  Thus the modern condition was posited as a radical break from tradition.  Further, since Western nations constituted the supposedly objective default condition of modernity, to be modern was in essence to be Western.  After European and American reformers and translated texts reached China in the late nineteenth century, Chinese self-strengtheners from Yan Fu on reflected the ideology of modernity.  They too spoke of Chinese tradition as a unitary, unchanging, and resistant entity that must be conquered by modern practices, ideas, and material realities.  The result was that when Western scholars studied China they not only had to contend with their own prejudices, but also to question Chinese source material that seemed to almost perfectly reproduce their own conceptual framework.


The reviews and essays collected here were written by Ph.D. students in the East Asian history program at the University of California, San Diego from 2000 to 2006. Their writings seek not only to shed light on the books from the point of view of present day standards, but, perhaps more importantly, to appreciate the extraordinary contributions made by earlier generations of scholars who labored under a variety of difficult circumstances, some of which were political (Cold War imperatives), and some of which were professional (no research access to the People’s Republic). For this reason, the first fifty books reviewed were selected from among the “classics” published between 1951 and 1974.


How developments in transportation and communication are hastening globalization.


MM Lee greeting Deng Xiaoping during the Chinese leader’s visit to Singapore in 1978. Singapore was the only country clearly singled out by China as a model to be emulated in its 30 years of reform.

‘I can only guess what Deng was most interested in. I believe he was fascinated (by) how we used foreign companies to increase our economic activity, create employment and train our workers. And we were able to translate this economic growth into a fair and equitable society, with every family owning its own home, good medical care, good schools for their children, and good recreational facilities. He saw how we had used capitalist methods to produce more or less a socialist society.’

Yesterday, Guangzhou blogger Beifeng went hiking with a number of friends in Baiyun mountain. Some of them were wearing a t-shirt that carry a slogan from Xinhua Daily in1946 that says: one-party rule will bring disaster everywhere (一黨獨裁,遍地是災). It is a communist party slogan against the former ruling party Kuomingtang. The group of people were interrogated by six police and brought to the police station for further investigation. The tea-time lasted for more than eight hours and Beifeng reports on the process via twitter. Here is a translation of his tweets:


Some people with the t-shirts that carry the slogan of past “Xinhua Daily” are interogated by six police. They are on their way to climb Baiyun mountain.

HE WASN’T ALWAYS THIS WAY. SUELO graduated from the University of Colorado with a degree in anthropology, he thought about becoming a doctor, he held jobs, he had cash and a bank account. In 1987, after several years as an assistant lab technician in Colorado hospitals, he joined the Peace Corps and was posted to an Ecuadoran village high in the Andes. He was charged with monitoring the health of tribespeople in the area, teaching first aid and nutrition, and handing out medicine where needed; his proudest achievement was delivering three babies. The tribe had been getting richer for a decade, and during the two years he was there he watched as the villagers began to adopt the economics of modernity. They sold the food from their fields—quinoa, potatoes, corn, lentils—for cash, which they used to purchase things they didn’t need, as Suelo describes it. They bought soda and white flour and refined sugar and noodles and big bags of MSG to flavor the starchy meals. They bought TVs. The more they spent, says Suelo, the more their health declined. He could measure the deterioration on his charts. “It looked,” he says, “like money was impoverishing them.”

“When I lived with money, I was always lacking,” he writes. “Money represents lack. Money represents things in the past (debt) and things in the future (credit), but money never represents what is present.”


In The Smooth and the Striated, Delueze and Guattari talk of the constant shift from striated space to smooth space and back. Neither space can exist on its own, and one continually sets the stage for the other to spring up from within it. A rational, gridded city as an example of the striated, will always have in it the smooth space of organic neighbourhood growth, community groups and homeless drifters. The internet first serving as a point-A-to-B information exchange route (point-to-point movement being a characteristic of striated space as opposed to smooth space where points do not terminate a path), became a space for people to become producers, creating and sharing new information, activities and ideologies—Benjamin’s description of the ideal production apparatus in the hands of the proletariat. However, as prescribed of organic and planned forces intermingling, the smooth space of the internet has bred a new striated space of ’social networking tools’, tools which threaten the act of production.

With “social networking tools”, such as facebook, we have stopped communicating directly with each other and instead ‘update’ our ’status’ via ‘wall posts’. We do not personally invite our friends with a phone call or email, but create an ‘event’ in the confines of the ’social networking tool’ which our network of real-life friends may not learn of if they are not a part of that insular network. We don’t express grief or even news of losing a grandparent other than by creating a status update that you are ‘going to a funeral’. The empathic connections between members of a society are cut, and without the feelings of kinship, care, respect, etc. the human connections in a society are severed and social responsibilities to each other are lost.


Many Chinese working in Tibet regard themselves as idealistic missionaries of progress, rejecting the Western idea of them as agents of cultural imperialism. In truth, they are inescapably both


China’s “treasure hunting team” descended on the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York last week, and James C.Y. Watt, the patrician head of Asian art, braced for a confrontation.

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Uneasy Engagement

A Search for China’s Past

This is the seventh in a series of articles examining stresses and strains of China’s emergence as a global power.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

A Chinese team that toured the Metropolitan Museum of Art is seeking items that China lost.

Fred R. Conrad/The New York Times

James C. Y. Watt, head of the Asian art department at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, talking with the Chinese delegation.

For the past two weeks, the delegation of Chinese cultural experts has swept through American institutions, seeking to reclaim items once ensconced at the Old Summer Palace in Beijing, which was one of the world’s most richly appointed imperial residences until British and French troops plundered it in 1860.

With a crew from China’s national broadcaster filming the visit, the Chinese fired off questions about the provenance of objects on display, and when it came to a collection of jade pieces, they requested documentation to show that the pieces had been acquired legally.

But then, with no eureka discovery, the tension faded. The Chinese pronounced themselves satisfied, smiled for a group photo, and drove away.

“That wasn’t so bad after all,” Mr. Watt said.

Emboldened by newfound wealth, China has been on a noisy campaign to reclaim relics that disappeared during its so-called century of humiliation, the period between 1842 and 1945 when foreign powers subjugated China through military incursions and onerous treaties.

But the quest, fueled by national pride, has been quixotic, provoking fear at institutions overseas but in the end amounting to little more than a public relations show aimed at audiences back home.

At its core, such mixed signals are an outgrowth of China’s evolving self-identity. Is it a developing country with fresh memories of its victimization by imperial powers? Or is it the world’s biggest exporter, eager to ensure good relations with the outside world to protect its trade-dependent economy?

“China is like an adolescent who took too many steroids,” said Liu Kang, a professor of Chinese studies at Duke University. “It has suddenly become big, but it finds it hard to coordinate and control its body. To the West, it can look like a monster.”

Recounted in Chinese textbooks and in countless television dramas, the destruction of the Old Summer Palace, or Yuanmingyuan as it is called in Chinese, remains a crucial event epitomizing China’s fall from greatness. Begun in the early 18th century and expanded over the course of 150 years, the palace was a wonderland of artificial hills and lakes, and so many ornate wooden structures that it took 3,000 troops three days to burn them down.

“The wound is still open and hurts every time you probe it,” said Liu Yang, a Beijing lawyer and a driving force in the movement to regain stolen antiquities. “It reminds people what may come when we are too weak.”

Stoked by populist sentiment but carefully managed by the Communist Party, the drive to reclaim lost cultural property has so far been halting. While officials privately acknowledge there is scant legal basis for repatriation, their public statements suggest that they would use lawsuits, diplomatic pressure and shame to bring home looted objects — not unlike Italy, Greece and Egypt, which have sought, with some success, to recover antiquities in European and American museums.

“The ideal scenario would be for the holders of these relics to donate them back to China,” said Chen Mingjie, the director of the palace museum, whose grounds include a shabby exhibition hall and an evocative pile of stone ruins that are instantly recognizable to any Chinese elementary school student.

The Communist Party has long used the narrative of foreign subjugation as a binding force, one that has become especially useful in recent years as the credo of market economics overruns the last remnants of its Marxist ideology.

But arousing nationalist sentiment, Chinese officials have learned, is a double-edged sword. In 2005, officials allowed public ire against Japan, over territorial disputes and textbooks that glossed over Japanese wartime atrocities, to boil over into violent street protests. After some of the anti-Japanese slogans began morphing into demands for action by Chinese leaders, the authorities clamped down.

The delegation traveling to United States museums appears to have been caught up in a political maelstrom. The relics quest intensified this year after Christie’s in Paris auctioned a pair of bronze animal heads that had been part of a fountain on the palace grounds; the sale was met with outrage in China. In the end, a Chinese collector sabotaged the auction by calling in the highest bids — $18 million for each head — then refusing to pay.

The United States scouting tour — visits to England, France and Japan will come early next year — quickly turned into a spectacle sponsored by a Chinese liquor company. As for the eight-member delegation, a closer look revealed that most either were employed by the Chinese media or were from the palace museum’s propaganda department.

“These days even building a toilet at Yuanmingyuan would be front-page news in People’s Daily,” said Liu Yang, a researcher who joined the trip.

But the 20-day spin through a dozen institutions has not been especially fruitful. Wu Jiabi, an archaeologist and the leader of the delegation, said that meaningful contacts were made but acknowledged that the group had not discovered illicit relics.

The visit has had its share of mishaps. Not all the museums on the itinerary were prepared for the delegation. One stop, the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art in Kansas City, Mo., was scrapped after the group realized the museum was in the Midwest, not in the Northeast.

The art experts whom the group met along the way offered consistent advice: the lion’s share of palace relics are in private hands, including those of collectors in Hong Kong, Taiwan and mainland China. “The best thing would be to look through the catalogs of Sotheby’s and Christie’s,” said Mr. Watt of the Metropolitan Museum.

Although the Chinese public broadly supports recovering such items, a few critics have suggested that the campaign merely distracts from the continued destruction of historic buildings and archaeological sites across the country. A government survey released this month found that 23,600 registered relics had disappeared in recent years because of theft or illicit sales, while tens of thousands of culturally significant sites had been plowed under for development.

What’s more, said Wu Zuolai, a professor at the China Academy of Art, the obsession with Yuanmingyuan ignores the plunder of older sites that are more artistically significant.

“Chinese history did not start with the Qing Dynasty,” he said. “This treasure hunting trip is just a political show. The media portray it as patriotic, but it’s just spreading hate.”

Like many of the curators the delegation met last week, Keith Wilson, who oversees the Chinese art collection at the Arthur M. Sackler Gallery and Freer Gallery of Art, both part of the Smithsonian Institution in Washington, said that he was unsure what delegation members were really after. “They took a million miles of video, but in the end, I really felt they were not controlling their own destiny,” he said.

Mr. Liu, the researcher who was part of the delegation, seemed to admit as much, complaining that politics had upstaged scholarship. Even if he stumbled upon a palace relic, he said, he would be reluctant to take it back to an institution whose unheated exhibition space resembled little more than a military barracks. “To be honest, if you leave a thermos in our office, it gets broken,” he said.

“Maybe it’s better these things stay where they are.”

Li Bibo contributed research from Beijing.


1/12/2010 03:00:00 PM
Like many other well-known organizations, we face cyber attacks of varying degrees on a regular basis. In mid-December, we detected a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure originating from China that resulted in the theft of intellectual property from Google. However, it soon became clear that what at first appeared to be solely a security incident–albeit a significant one–was something quite different.

First, this attack was not just on Google. As part of our investigation we have discovered that at least twenty other large companies from a wide range of businesses–including the Internet, finance, technology, media and chemical sectors–have been similarly targeted. We are currently in the process of notifying those companies, and we are also working with the relevant U.S. authorities.

Second, we have evidence to suggest that a primary goal of the attackers was accessing the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists. Based on our investigation to date we believe their attack did not achieve that objective. Only two Gmail accounts appear to have been accessed, and that activity was limited to account information (such as the date the account was created) and subject line, rather than the content of emails themselves.

Third, as part of this investigation but independent of the attack on Google, we have discovered that the accounts of dozens of U.S.-, China- and Europe-based Gmail users who are advocates of human rights in China appear to have been routinely accessed by third parties. These accounts have not been accessed through any security breach at Google, but most likely via phishing scams or malware placed on the users’ computers.

We have already used information gained from this attack to make infrastructure and architectural improvements that enhance security for Google and for our users. In terms of individual users, we would advise people to deploy reputable anti-virus and anti-spyware programs on their computers, to install patches for their operating systems and to update their web browsers. Always be cautious when clicking on links appearing in instant messages and emails, or when asked to share personal information like passwords online. You can read more here about our cyber-security recommendations. People wanting to learn more about these kinds of attacks can read this U.S. government report (PDF), Nart Villeneuve’s blog and this presentation on the GhostNet spying incident.

We have taken the unusual step of sharing information about these attacks with a broad audience not just because of the security and human rights implications of what we have unearthed, but also because this information goes to the heart of a much bigger global debate about freedom of speech. In the last two decades, China’s economic reform programs and its citizens’ entrepreneurial flair have lifted hundreds of millions of Chinese people out of poverty. Indeed, this great nation is at the heart of much economic progress and development in the world today.

We launched Google.cn in January 2006 in the belief that the benefits of increased access to information for people in China and a more open Internet outweighed our discomfort in agreeing to censor some results. At the time we made clear that “we will carefully monitor conditions in China, including new laws and other restrictions on our services. If we determine that we are unable to achieve the objectives outlined we will not hesitate to reconsider our approach to China.”

These attacks and the surveillance they have uncovered–combined with the attempts over the past year to further limit free speech on the web–have led us to conclude that we should review the feasibility of our business operations in China. We have decided we are no longer willing to continue censoring our results on Google.cn, and so over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law, if at all. We recognize that this may well mean having to shut down Google.cn, and potentially our offices in China.

The decision to review our business operations in China has been incredibly hard, and we know that it will have potentially far-reaching consequences. We want to make clear that this move was driven by our executives in the United States, without the knowledge or involvement of our employees in China who have worked incredibly hard to make Google.cn the success it is today. We are committed to working responsibly to resolve the very difficult issues raised.

Posted by David Drummond, SVP, Corporate Development and Chief Legal Officer


Urban China magazine is a groundbreaking Chinese-language periodical about cities, architecture and urban issues.

Timezone 8 has published an English-language book called Urban China: Work in Progress, based on work from the magazine.

Below, with published with permission, is an excerpt from co-editor Brendan McGetrick’s introduction and an extract from the book.

The extract is about the role of family as a cultural and political organizing principle throughout Chinese history. It was written by Jiang Jun, the co-editor of the book and editor-in-chief of Urban China. Family is one of the the book’s three main themes (the others are village and education).

For more on the book, see this China Daily article.

Introduction to Urban China: Work in Progress

by Brendan McGetrick

For years, people around the world have strained to understand, emulate, and affect the modernization of China. It is an endeavor that unites scholars, merchants, missionaries, artists, and autocrats, each of whom can find in China’s social experiments the rationale for his or her personal vision.

In the last decade, the growth of Chinese cities has inspired architects to join in. Having missed the modernization of their home countries, these professors, students, and professionals see in China a second chance to test theories, make proposals (and money), and possibly save a developing country from urban trends that originated elsewhere but show signs of reaching apocalyptic proportions in the land of 1.3 billion. In a short period of time they have produced an impressive amount of stuff - buildings, books, conferences, reports, recriminations… all offered in good faith and executed with the inevitable bias of the outsider.

At this point, there is little need for more Western commentary on the Chinese condition. To advance understanding, Europeans and Americans must now turn to primary sources. We must commit ourselves to understanding China’s modernization on its own terms, not as the adoption of our way of life but as the continued evolution of theirs.

Since launching in 2005, Urban China magazine has explored the world’s fastest urbanization from the inside out. Through field work and historical research, consultations and commissions, an organization of Chinese architects has created one of the world’s most valuable social documents, a study of urban change that combines a planner’s perspective with a neighbor’s concern.

Unlike other architecture magazines, Urban China places buildings in the background, focusing instead on the cultural phenomena that trigger their creation and justify their destruction. By emphasizing urban concerns over architectural creations, it has established an intellectual space capable of accommodating any imaginable subject. Over the course of more than thirty issues, Urban China has taken up many of the 21st century’s most urgent issues, including migration (Urban China #16), manufacturing (#7), climate change (#21), creativity (#33), and disaster (#31).

This book is drawn primarily from three issues, Building a Socialist New Village (Urban China #12), The Chinese Family (#19), and Chinese Education (#22). The three were originally created to coincide with Documenta 12, each responding to one of the exhibition’s three key topics. Issue 12 responds to the question “Is modernity our antiquity?” by examining the New Village, a stacked concept that implies both historical continuity and radical change. Issue 19 offers a response to “What is bare life?” by reducing Chinese society to its most fundamental social unit, the family. Issue 22 answers “What is to be done?” by declaring education the most vital component of China’s remaining modernization.

Chinese Pedigree under the Impact of Modernization

by Jiang Jun


Family is the fundamental unit of human group living. The traditional Chinese family and its genealogy contributed not only to vertical lineages spanning dynasties and eras, they also expanded a network of family members and acquaintances horizontally, and even more, as a greatly cohesive but exclusive community of common interests and a highly autonomous intermediate organization, the Chinese family balanced the interests between the state and individuals. It is only within the oriental context that the concept of “State” (in Chinese 国家 or “State Family”) could take a form of “Family-Governed State” - a term that implies “regarding the country as a family” and governing all the people with family regulations and rituals prescribed by the royalty. Top-down power and commands, as well as bottom-up loyalty and obedience, progressively penetrated sectors everywhere from the superstructure to the social foundations, structuring a hierarchical system extending from the “state” to the “family”, and the “king” to the “minister”, the “father” to the “son”. In this sense, Chinese families performed beyond their basic function as simple group living units, eventually growing into a successive Chinese cultural tradition and an administrative pattern. On the basis of this “Isomorphic State-Family” structure, traditional China can be read as an ideal model of pre-modern society: it tied the interests of family and the state together, maintaining the competition and alliance between blood and political relations.

Conflicts of interest between the central government and local clans run throughout Chinese feudal history. During booming economy periods, family prosperity is proportional to the capacity of its vertical structure: those who successfully embedded their own family into the national power structure became a “famous family and celebrated clan” and used their privilege to serve family interests under the table. But once the regime was in crisis, the discrepancy between social ambitions - “Nourishing the world and benefiting the people” - and family obligations - “Flourish and glorify the ancestors and clans” - was exposed. Resignation and a return to their hometowns was preferred by government officials once they realized that it was beyond their abilities to save the country. Families and clans, tied together by blood, seemed far safer and more stable than the turbulent world of politics. Due to the blood-determined system of property ownership, as well as the custom of sharing wealth and space between generations (commonly referred to as “Four Generations under One Roof”), family values transmitted through rituals like “ancestor worship” and “extending the genealogical record” were bound to produce a highly cohesive and stable intermediate organization immune to historic fluctuations, as a result of the family’s common economic interests and cultural beliefs. This is exactly the base to which the traditional Chinese society could quickly conform itself in hard times of dynastic change.

However, this self-organizing ability was a double-edged sword. In chaotic situations when the local authority was weak administratively, the country would have to rely on the local family or clan powers to realize reintegration. At the same time, the country also made great efforts to prevent the local government from being “clanized”, assigning officials to positions far away from their hometowns to reduce the risk of conspiracy between local government and native clans. On the other hand, the country was not against local wealth congregation, which added to the importance of the family, as it was the basic unit for gathering wealth. This consequently enhanced family members’ angst over their shared “ancestral property” and their sense of responsibility to the interests of the “community of clan”.

Because the highly centralized power appeared oppositional to the localized wealth, a system called “Lian Zuo” was introduced as a tool to intimidate and punish clan power. By distributing guilt throughout a family, it made self-supervision within the family possible and decreased the likelihood of wealth-centered “clan power” over-expanding and posing a threat to imperial power. The dialectical relationship between the country and clan in Confucian society is precisely underlined by the country’s method of simultaneously taking of and precautions against clan power. This sort of spontaneous and autonomous administrative model formed the basic social structure of traditional Chinese society, and initiated a ceaseless self-motivated impulsion.

Intermediate Organizations

The traditional Chinese society is not only a “family centralized” but also “clan-oriented” society. In Isomorphic State-Family structured traditional China, the upgrading of production modes and increasing complexity of social relations could easily transform the cohesive force derived from blood relations of “sib”, “clan” or “phyle” into a rallying point of “locals”, effectively turning the domestic vertical lineages to parallel connections among clans, breaking the “vertical integration” of interpersonal relationships and establishing a geographic relationship beyond blood links and an intermediate organization above family or clan.

The Town Fellowship Association is a clear demonstration of how the patriarchal clan system developed into a geographic force. It collected individuals from the same hometown together into groups which, through their credential chains and relationship networks, integrated into commercial organizations (for instance, the Hakka associations of different origins and guilds of various industries) as well as governmental bureaucracy (like Shaoxing Shiye, which means pettifoggers from Shaoxing).

As a new type of social relationship, “the community of locals” inherited the effects of blood lineage but simultaneously diminished the assumption of lineage as the only possible type of social relationship. More importantly, the Town Fellowship Association extended the town fellow relationship outwards and created a competitive force against local organizations through its trans-regional trade channels, while driving the majority of its income flow backwards into its “hometown”.

Another derivative of the clan system were the “secret gangs” formed by brotherhood or master-apprentice relationships. These groups simulated the organizational system of clans by forging blood lineage through blood oaths and other rituals, establishing strict generational hierarchies with varying levels of intimacy, and participating in well-organized instructional and social collaborations. In this ambiguous area beyond governmental control, gangs could either subvert social security and harm the government’s interests or act as defenders once a consensus between themselves and the government had been reached. More over, in certain circumstances a gang could grow into an informal force strong enough to rival clan or state power.

The influence of the Town Fellowship Associations and “secret gangs” in encouraging local solidarity ensured self-protection in a completely foreign environment, thus producing unique and lively urban spaces such as Chinatown. The magic of Chinatown was not only in the wide distribution of settlements generated all over the global coastline through thousands of years of Chinese migration, but also in the ways that overseas Chinese communities organized themselves through the clan system inherited from their home country. It was this system that allowed them, without the benefit of governmental measures, to penetrate various sectors of local society, such as production, logistics, marketing and services and, on top of that, generated a self-sufficient “micro-society” supplementary to the local society. Despite being far way from the imperial power and remaining marginal within mainstream Chinese culture, these mini “states within states” maintained virtual connections to their “home country” and “hometown”. When the “Celestial Empire” entered its old age and imperialist treaties constantly violated and reshuffled the international order, the united forces of family, clan, and hometown quickly upgraded into a trans-regional national force. At the same time, they produced a number of secret associations which were infused with an inherited “clan-oriented” genetic code fundamental to Chinatown. These associations joined together with domestic revolutionary parties motivated by foreign ideologies, and eventually forged a unified power that shaped the future of China.

The Big Family of Socialism

As one of the most important instruments of pre-modern society, Chinese families built upon Confucian traditions and contributed many defining elements of modern society, such as stratified social morality and ethics, a strict family law system, high education rates, and stable cultural continuity. However, China’s administrative system, with its emphasis on blood relations and hierarchy, was at the same time a congenital defect that hindered technology and institution transformation. The top-down “patriarchal politics” and patrilineal principles made the decision making procedure a “monologue”. Advanced technologies could be kept only within the family and were forbidden to spread out. Clashes among clans and between clans and the government produced intertwined factions and nepotism inside the national superstructure. This development is not only the key factor associated with the change in ancient social relationships, but also a fatal obstacle to the process of Chinese modernization. This type of family structure had once been positive in the pre-modern society in which strict contractual restrictions were lacking. It was built on a system of “folk contracts” expressed orally. Even though this kind of credential could only work in certain circles, after relationships had been established, being an internal social relationship, it allowed secret operations and blocked the development of more open and free external relationships. The “May Fourth Movement”, waving a flag of nationalism, started to deconstruct “clan authority” and “patriarchy” and raised the curtain on Chinese modernization, but the ingrained “family style organization” ideology made it impossible to separate the local tradition from the development of modernization

The “socialist transformation” carried out by the Chinese Communist Party in 1950s was the biggest social reorganization carried out in 20th century China. It penetrated directly into every family. In the Land Reform, the whole society was re-divided according to family origins: peasants, workers, soldiers, and cadres were assigned to farm groups, factories, armies, and government offices. Danwei and the Community Association, being intermediate organizations used by the government to execute basic administration, replaced the exclusive force of influential families or clans. The traditional family lineage through family names was replaced by class lineage defined by the “origins”. Important decisions like who and when to marry were no longer made by parents but subject to upper organizations. Replacing the standard of “the perfect match” in marriage was a system which wed members of the Five Black Categories (landlords, rich-farmers, anti-revolutionists, bad influencers, and right wingers) to the Five Red Categories (soldiers, cadres, workers, poor peasants, middle and lower peasants) which aimed to dilute all “inherited” class origins. The concept of class established through “robbing the rich and helping the poor” during the war was turned into a set of exclusive hierarchical standards thereafter, and the vertical relationships of traditional Chinese society were superseded by “the great union of proletarians” aspiring to solidarity within a class and among different classes. As a result the three-dimensional Chinese family tree was and pressed into a flat “big family of socialism”.

The sequence of mass movements that followed the “socialist transformation” revealed the potential for large scale social integration hidden in the legalism of pre-Qin period. However, this new type of organization, catalyzed by radical modernization, still carried the genes of a clan-based society and “Family Governed State”. In fact the collectivism advocated by China’s new society virtually sustained the restrictions on individuals and absolute obedience to the collective that originated from Confucian society. If traditional China was regarded as a clan-oriented cell society, then the new society after the 1950s was a “Danwei-oriented” cell society. The country attached its citizen’s entire life to a Danwei through a system of household registration and food quota distribution. The Danwei, as a relatively independent unit of production and accounting, became the first “big collective family” to which individuals must subject themselves. Although it maintained a flattened horizontal relationship among members within the Danwei itself, since Danweis had to follow the national plan in terms of raw material provision, production, and circulation, modern business to business operations among various Danweis were very rare. This sort of large-scale horizontal separation was even more severe than that of “cellular” traditional society. During the cold war in the 1960s, the country had to apply a strategy of dispersion in industrial configuration and urban planning, which further intensified the cellularization: numerous individuals were distributed among different “self-sufficient” communes, industrial districts, and Danwei yards, which never communicated with each other throughout their existences.

The Danwei system is actually a hybrid of Soviet national authoritarianism and Chinese family-governed administration, or a management model with “a Confucian appearance and Legalist soul”. Although individuals had to unconditionally obey national planning and institutional arrangement, there was still model performers among the Party members in the basic organizations. It was through the altruistic values spread by them that the ‘Great Socialist Family’ transformed from traditional Chinese society upon which it was built.

Nuclear Family

In the traditional Chinese family, population was not only an element of passing on lineage through generations, but also a vital factor in labor production. This mentality originated from labor-intensive agriculture that had dominated Chinese civilization for thousands of years. Because more people can cultivate and manage more land, family became a unity of both material production and human procreation. In this kind of poorly socialized labor work, people were bound together with the land, and became part of the household’s productive force.

Furthermore, in the pre-modern society, which had little social welfare protection, more children meant more security for the parents’ old age. Based on this, the importance of human procreation far outweighed one’s individual preferences in marriage, thus marital customs that disregarded individual preferences proliferated, such as “prenatal betrothal”, “child marriage”, and “blind marriage”. Keeping “four generations living under one roof” and “offspring crowded in the hall” became important criteria for ensuring family prosperity.

The process of China’s modernization coincided with the emergence of horizontal collaborations and the socialization of production, as well as the rise of guilds, chambers of commerce, companies, and other intermediate organizations that served to shrink Chinese “big families”. Since the big families had passed the contract, interests, and production relation issues to national planning, they became meaningless as independent production units and communities of shared interest. Starting in the 1980s, even natural procreation within individual families was brought into the planning system, consequently producing a generation of “standard families” with a minimal family population.

Just as in ancient China when the emperor built memorial archways outside of the homes of those who strictly abided by Confucian morality, the government in new times promoted its new fertility agenda by honoring “Five Virtues Families” and setting up models for the 421 family that was coming into being. The traditional Chinese family pyramid was reversed to an inverted pyramid, while the kindred lineage of a family was condensed into a single lineal consanguinity with the collateral line gradually withering away. After 1990s, when a great number of national enterprises went bankrupt one after another, the workers who “took the factory as their home” realized that their life-long contracts with the Danwei had been sold outright overnight. Hundreds of thousands of people became unemployed and wandered in a collective sense of loss; the huge tree of “the big Danwei family” collapsed, dispersing resident monkeys everywhere. As the localized Danwei system was taken over by trans-regional free employment, even the nuclear family lost its basic stability: hundreds of millions migrants produced more fragmented “separated families,” “concubine families,” “divorced families,” and so on…

The deconstruction process of the “big family” is also the deconstruction process of pre-modern social organization. Although in the time of Collectivism, the cell society and communities of acquaintance within the Great Socialist Family left some space to substitute the “big family,” it hardly left enough room for the up coming market economy, transferring autonomy gradually downwards with more socialized production. When the traditional structure has been broken and the mode of national planning is no longer sustainable, what kind of organizational measures can the new society provide to save the more and more fragmented family and interpersonal relationships? If “pedigree” and “household registration” are no longer valid, can a western approach to modernization be applied to an oriental context to help reorganize the social bases that currently constitute “a mass of loose sand”?


Modernization having destroyed the traditional organizations on which minority groups depend and the new society having not yet built up a relevant social welfare system, individuals that are unable to live independently now must turn backwards to a patriarchal clan system for help and self-protection. At the same time the contractual foundation and legal environment on which modernization relies is not comprehensive, thus essential components of the pre-modern clan system, such as “human rule,” “personal favors,” and “guanxi,” remain active in government and enterprises, and as a result have produced an unsaturated modernization with strong Chinese characteristics.

This “desaturation” of Chinese modernization can be seen as a reaction against the modernization process derived from the strong inertia of the thousand-year-long clan system. In the government, it appears in the monologues painted in patriarchal tones and the privileged “Crown Prince Party,” a product of the entrenched nepotism on all levels of government. In commercial enterprises, it takes the shape of “couple-managed businesses” and “family enterprises” applying familial employment relationships and designating “successors”. Management is similar “clanized” even in state-owned enterprises. In folk society, traditional clan organization has resulted in the formation of groups like “The Wenzhou Gang” - a group of real estate speculators coming from Wenzhou - and “The Chongqing Bang-Bang Army” - a crew of porters working in the mountain city Chongqing - both of which are mass organizations having considerable impact upon the city. There are also contractors who operate as 21st century squires, organizing their hometown farmers into construction teams…

China’s fundamental condition is precisely represented by the clash between patriarchy and modernity in different organizations, and the extensive infiltration of unofficial institutions into the official ones. Patriarchy provided a credit mechanism without expensive and complicated contractual procedures, and thus hindered the establishment of such a legal contract system. It is certain that until a healthy legal system, social security, and basic administration systems are well established, this kind of unofficial organizational mechanism will continue to exist like a phantom. The current modernization process in China will inevitably have to constructively integrate “pre-modernity,” which might lead to a more localized and more culturally contextual Confucian modernity.

“The Chinese Family” is the response of Urban China to the second topic of Documenta 12 - “What is bare life?” - considered from a typical Chinese context. The almost old-fashion, stereotyped paradox of the modern family states that when all family members seem to have more choices, the resulting decline in affection and strength of marriage causes the clan to lose its roots and become more fragmented, making each member live separated, in a form of virtual homelessness that eventually causes the family to lose power as a whole. Although having an exceptional heritage of family ethical traditions, we are facing the same global dilemma and its resulting problems: domestic abuse, extramarital affairs, feminism, divorce rate and population age imbalance, etc. At the same time, we are also interested in the formation of the traditional united force of Chinese family in the modern context, hoping to see this historical heritage transform into a constructive force for the future along with the process of Chinese systemic transition. In the flush of modernization, the Chinese family will become a mirror of modernization per se and, through various unprecedented variants, disclose how the fiercest revolution ever in human history impacts every one of us, forces us to reconsider ourselves, our families, and its history and, most importantly in this era of individualism, how to rebuild the traditions of ancestor worship and kindred affections of which the Chinese family was once so proud.

Translation: Zhu Fei & Mee Michelle Liu (Beijing)


Man walks past Google sign

Google’s change of heart over China raises wider issues, says regular commentator Bill Thompson.

Google has responded to what it terms “a highly sophisticated and targeted attack on our corporate infrastructure” aimed at getting access to the Gmail accounts of Chinese human rights activists by announcing its desire to stop censoring search results on its Google.cn website.

Writing on the official Google blog the company’s chief legal officer David Drummon says that “over the next few weeks we will be discussing with the Chinese government the basis on which we could operate an unfiltered search engine within the law”.

But there is clearly little expectation that this will be possible and Google has apparently decided that it will, if necessary, stop operating in China.

At the same time it has announced that all access to Gmail will now be over the more secure encrypted https protocol by default instead of the usual http standard that sends data as clear text.

It’s a move that is clearly being made in response to the hacking and makes a lot of sense.

The censorship goes back to January 2006 when Google launched its Chinese search engine to widespread criticism.

Building a service around the restrictions insisted upon by the Chinese government meant that searches for topics like Tiananmen brought up very different results when carried out in China, with no images of the student protests or their violent suppression coming up.

Rising pressure

The company defended its approach at the time, arguing that it was following local laws and that the benefits of bringing information - even censored information - to the people of China outweighed the need to hold to the corporate motto “don’t be evil”, because sometimes a little bit of evil was unavoidable.

It also made good business sense, of course.

Other Western search companies were already operating in China and local search engines were acquiring users in one of the fastest-growing internet markets in the world, a market that no western company could afford to ignore.

Google may believe its services are a force for good, but they are also, and must be, a force for profit too, even if they are free at the point of use.

Bill Thompson
Threatening to pull out of China is like threatening to spit on a whale
Bill Thompson

But now things have changed, and the attacks on Gmail accounts of human rights activitists seem to have tipped the scale back to the side of being good

Google now apparently recognises that its presence in China has not encouraged openness or built pressure on the authorities to reduce the degree of control and censorship and that its support for the current system may in fact have given it credibility.

Yet the attack on Gmail cannot have come as a surprise, and even though Google is careful not to accuse the authorities of direct involvement the implication is clear.

Groups such as Students for a Free Tibet are being hacked all the time, and the US government has acknowledged that China is a main origin of attempts to infiltrate and disrupt US government websites.

Of course liberal democracies do the same, passing laws like the US Patriot Act or our own Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act that legalise interception and provide a framework for spying and snooping.

Chinese attempts to break into the Gmail accounts of human rights activists are as legal as attempts by the UK secret service to infiltrate the e-mail accounts of religious extremists who are considered potential terrorists.

Google’s search results are filtered and censored here in the UK to take account of legal constraints such as laws against images of child abuse.

Google and other webmail providers also routinely provide access to customer data when the authorities require it under the law, both in the UK and elsewhere, and European ISPs are obliged to retain and turn over details of our online interactions if needed to investigate crime.

‘Wrong way’

Here in the UK, Peter Barron, former editor of BBC Newsnight and now Google UK’s head of communications, has been all over the media giving their side of the story.

I haven’t seen any response from Chinese government spokespeople, and doubt one will be forthcoming.

Google may be big news in the west, but the decision of one search engine provider to renege on its agreement to follow local laws and ask for an exemption is unlikely to merit a formal response.

Threatening to pull out of China is like threatening to spit on a whale. It may make Google feel better, but organisations working to open up China and change its policies know that threats are simply not going to work.

Perhaps the senior management team at Google are simply guilty of believing all the stories in the media that paint them as all-powerful and supremely important, or perhaps they just don’t know as much about real politics as they do about building better search or targeting adverts.

When Google went into China I wrote that it was making the right choice and that a policy of constructive engagement was the only effective way forward.

Even though it has clearly failed in this instance I still believe that we will only make progress if we talk to those with whom we disagree, and if we try at least to understand the complexities that face us as different cultures try to find ways to use the technologies that underpin the global internet.

Google’s approach is not the way to effect change.

Bill Thompson is an independent journalist and regular commentator on the BBC World Service programme Digital Planet. He is currently working with the BBC on its archive project.

from http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/technology/8456622.stm

New research on young Chinese shows they are modernizing but they are not Westernizing

Visit a Chinese city today and you would assume that China is Westernizing. Young people sit in Starbucks (SBUX) drinking lattes, texting friends, and playing online games. However, don’t be fooled. In China, 240 million young people are certainly modernizing, but they’re also holding tight to Chinese values like responsibility for the extended family, adherence to the middle way or harmony, and care of relationships. Despite surface appearances, China’s Generation Y is not becoming Western.

Generation Y (Gen Y) most commonly refers to the demographic cohort born in the 1980s to mid-’90s. Gen Yers are generally assumed to be reliant on new media and digital technology, have short attention spans, and demand entertaining and fast-paced information. Chinese refer to the post-1980 generation as clearly distinct from the post-’90 group. Accordingly we have focused on those born in the 1980s but use the global term “Gen Y.”

Understanding Gen Yers is important because they make up almost 50% of China’s workforce. As they have moved from school into jobs, organizations have noticed that this generation makes different demands and needs to be motivated in new ways. So we began to research what Gen Y values and what they expect from their careers and their lives. Our work is based on interviews and surveys of Gen Y Chinese and Westerners who have lived, studied, and/or worked abroad. These are urban youth, well-educated and with work experience. Altogether we have almost 200 data points.

A Global Culture?

While it might seem that we are experiencing global cultural convergence, let’s take a deeper look. Young people everywhere use the same technology and wear similar clothes. But some similarities are superficial. Look beneath the surface image of Asians playing the same games as Westerners, and you will still see recognizably different cultural patterns. Chinese are among the highest users of online games, for instance, but even when they play through avatars and artificial names, experts can easily identify them as Chinese by their behavior online.

Our evidence suggests these international cultural artifacts, such as video games and skinny decaf lattes, are the currency of modern culture. Like the pidgin languages developed by early traders to make communication possible across regions, the artifacts have common usage but do not deeply change either side. In the urban Chinese Generation Y, we see this clearly. While their behavior is modern, their values and patterns remain deeply Chinese.

So what are traditional Chinese values? Ancient Chinese philosophers, writers over centuries, and modern cultural experts agree on the core themes. This has been confirmed by our work over the last 15 years with groups of Chinese managers, asking them to define “Chinese-ness.” According to all these sources, traditional Chinese values focus on family, relationships, achievement, endurance, and sacrifice of one’s self for the group. They also include the ideal of the golden mean or harmony, and hierarchy as the basis for social structure and interaction.

Gen-Y Chinese have high expectations for their careers and expect to work diligently to achieve these. However, despite their popular image as the “Me Generation,” we find that they hold up traditional family values. Asked “what is really important to you,” 45% said “family,” with “friends” following at 17% and “career” at 12%. Gen Y feels keenly responsible both for their nuclear family and their grandparents, even for aunts and uncles. They feel responsible despite the fact that there is little personal communication; most say they cannot ask about details of family history or discuss personal subjects with their elders.

We also asked young Chinese to choose one wish that would make their life happier. Surprisingly, 82% chose to do something for their parents, most commonly to provide them an easy life.


The massively discussed “Green Dam – Youth Escort” Censorship Software is the hottest topic on Chinese Internet during this week.

Spoofing is a very classical Chinese Internet culture. Netizen absolutely won’t let the disgusting Green Dam off. Thus, the “Green Dam Bitch” has been created by netizens.















The “alpaca” in the pictures refers to the “Grass Mud Horse“, a very popular dirty pun on China Internet.

The “crab” logo in the pictures refers to “harmonize”, a term directly derived from President Hu Jintao’s regular exhortations for Chinese citizens to create a harmonious society. In spoken Chinese, “river crab” sounds very much like “harmony”, which in China’s cyberspace has become a synonym for censorship.

via http://www.chinasmack.com/more/green-dam-girl-chinese-netizens-art-ridicule/

Green Dam Girl was the Chinese netizens’ Moe anthropomorphic response to the release of the Chinese government-developed content control software Green Dam Youth Escort (绿坝·花季护航; Lǜbà·Huājì Hùháng). Under a directive from the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology (MIIT) that took effect on July 1, 2009, all computers in mainland China were required to have the software pre-installed.

The Software

The Green Dam Youth Escort software is designed to mainly filter pornography, however it has been found to filter political terms as well. After spending 41.7 million yuan ($6.1 million) on the project, the MIIT announced on May 19 that manufacturers are required to ship computers with the software “in order to build a green, healthy, and harmonious online environment, and to avoid the effects on and the poisoning of our youth’s minds by harmful information on the internet”.


The software itself has many defects. To filter pornographic images, it analyzes skin-colored regions of the picture. However the software could not filter red or dark skinned nude pictures, but was able to censor pictures of Garfield. It also introduced a security hole that internet hackers can easily exploit to steal personal information. The program itself can also be easily hacked; the master password of the MD5 checksum is in a simple text file with a .dll extension slapped on the end.

Public Response

The public responded negatively. Over 70% of users in online polls voted they have absolutely no interest in using Green Dam Youth Escort, and many said they think it will not stop minors from browsing inappropriate websites.

Green Dam Girl (绿坝娘)

One of the responses by Chinese internet users was to satirically create an Moe anthropomorphic version of the Green Dam Youth Escort software. While there are several derivatives to the character’s design, they all contain common elements: She is usually dressed in green, wearing a river crab hat and an armband with the words “discipline” on it, and carrying a rabbit (Green Dam mascot, a paint can and paintbrush to paint over explicit content.

The Green Dam Girl was very popular among Chinese netizens, later evolving into more fan art and a song. Some depict her with the OS-tans, usually sexually harrassing them.


Wishing the best for Yushu in Qinghai, Netease BBS Discussion Forum netizens share “Qinghai jia you!” signatures。



Journalist-turned-digital-media-man Thomas Crampton speaks to Ai Weiwei, one of the most outspoken critics of the Chinese government in the art world, about social media and the impact that it’s having on contemporary China. Ai Weiwei is the son of Chinese poet Ai Qing (艾青) who was denounced during the Cultural Revolution and sent to a Xinjiang labour camp. He is known most recently for the investigation of the Sichuan earthquake student casualities.



Jeroen de Kloet is the author of China with a Cut, which looks into the dakou culture and then the ensuing commercialism of China’s music market.

The book is available directly on the Amsterdam University Press website.

China with a Cut; extract from pp. 17-25

by Jeroen de Kloet


In 1999, China’s most prolific rock critic, artist and entrepreneur Yan Jun published, together with Ou Ning, an overview of the bands he considered emblematic of what they coined as the Beijing New Sound movement (Yan & Ou 1999). Their book is dedicated to the dakou generation of China. At about the same time, Fu Chung, manager of the small Beijing record label New Bees, dedicated his first release of poppunk band The Flowers to the sellers of dakou tapes at Zhong Tu Men – one of the spots in Beijing where they are sold. Among many other meanings, da stands for strike, break, smash, attack, and kou stands for opening, entrance, cut. Together, dakou stands for the cut CDs and tapes being sold in urban China, often along with pirated CDs, on a bustling black market.

Dakou CDs are dumped by the West, intended to be recycled, but instead are smuggled into China. Dakou CDs and tapes are cut to prevent them from being sold. However, since a CD player reads CDs from the centre back to the margin, only the last part is lost. Not only have these CDs been tremendously nourishing for Chinese rock musicians in the 1990s, as they opened up a musical space that did not officially exist in China, they have also come to signify a whole urban generation. As rock critic Dundee explained (Dundee 1999: 28):

This plastic rubbish dumped by foreign record companies becomes a major source of pleasure for those discontented youths after they switch off their TV. When this plastic rubbish started flowing from the south to Beijing, it actually heralded a new rock era. All the new rock musicians in Beijing have grown up with dakou tapes.

It is remarkable that an urban generation chooses to name itself after an illegal product dumped by the West. On one Internet discussion site, You Dali presents a description of the dakou generation that is worth quoting at length. He writes:

Dakou cassette tape, dakou CD, dakou video, dakou MD, dakou vendors, dakou consumers, dakou musicians, dakou music critics, dakou magazines, dakou photo books; this is a dakou world, a new life where you don’t even have to leave the country to realise your spiritual adventure. When Americans fiercely give themselves a cut, they also give the world a possibility of communism and unity. The Government doesn’t encourage 1.3 billion people to listen to rock and roll. A small bunch of them therefore secretly look for offerings to their ears, to their eyes, to their brains, and to their generation. If you can’t do it openly, do it secretly! (…) It enables not only part of the population to become rich first, but also another part of the population to become poor first, and it also enables part of the population to become spiritually strong! Dakou products have ushered 1 million Chinese youths into a new wave, a new listening sensibility, a new awareness, a new mind and a new set of values. Whether the dakou generation is a jinkou [import] generation or a chukou [export] generation confuses quite a few social observers.3

This is a parody of propaganda talk, such as the reference to Deng Xiaoping’s famous defence of his reform policy, in which he declared that one part of the population should be allowed to become rich first. There is a certain critical irony toward the US, which ‘gives itself a cut’ and thereby supports a communist world. At the same time there is a critique of the Chinese state, which, according to this author, restricts the sound of rock. Also, the text evokes feelings of excitement and energy: The idea of being dakou seems empowering enough to build one’s life upon. It is not just a cut in a CD, but an identity bordering on the permissible.

According to Yan Jun, the dakou generation ‘represents a generation that refuses to be
suppressed, that seeks unseeingly, that connects to the underground, that creates marginal culture and lifestyle, that grows stubbornly, that resists and struggles.’ (Yan 2004: 176) His reading presents one side of being dakou, as it celebrates the rebellious. As this book will show, dakou culture is more diverse and more ambiguous. It is important to note that the label emerged at a time when youth culture – and Chinese culture in general – was critiqued for having lost its political zeal. Yan Jun’s claim to subversion can be read as an attempt to recuperate the marginal in a time when many observers flattened Chinese realities out under a singular blanket of alleged commercialization that was assumed to co-opt and silence any potential for critique. As Wang argues rather belittlingly, ‘The 1990s was actually an era that threw people into illusions, blindness, and horror, but this new thought appeals to shallowness and arrogance, exerting itself to cover a chaotic, bitter reality and at least to temporarily relieve anxieties.’ (2003: 602) Probably even more nihilistic, if not cynical, is Geremie Barmé’s In The Red – one of the most comprehensive overviews of the cultural field in the 1990s. Unfortunately, his overview comes with a wide array of unqualified and undertheorised adjectives to pigeonhole Chinese artists and dissidents. For example, in his view, ‘The quality of [Cui Jian’s] later work and the corpus of his music probably would have condemned him to a short-lived career in a normal cultural market, but the unsteady politics of mainland repression lent him a long-term validity and the appeal reserved for a veteran campaigner.’ (1999: 131)4

This book will show how developments in music culture over the 1990s up to today challenge cynical accounts and easy generalisations. By now, dakou has also become a label of the past, of a time when, according to rock musician Feng Jiangzhou, people still had the ability to focus, to concentrate on and indulge fully in music. Now, with the emergence of the Internet, people live, in Feng’s nostalgic view, in an utterly fragmented attention economy, and music is at most one of the many activities in which young people indulge:

I used to buy a lot of dakou cassettes. I studied the music carefully with all my heart. I conducted very detailed work. Part of the reason was that my source of information was simply limited and detailed work was my only solution. I benefited a lot from this work style. Now there is a vast sea of information on the Internet, people listen to music casually. You just have so much information to receive that you don’t know what one to choose. It has become my habit that I’m very selective in information, unlike the young people today, they know everything, but only a little.5


With the digitisation of music, the abundance of impulses has amplified. The current availability of sounds all over the world, where the most exotic or obscure sounds are just one click away on the Internet, has rendered the dakou market nearly obsolete. By the same token, beginning bands can easily upload their work. MySpace offers ample opportunities for Chinese bands for promotion and distribution – circumventing the music industry as well as the censors. In a country that seems particularly keen to periodise, these developments have given birth to yet another term for a generation conveniently classified by a decade: the 1980s (balinghou). This new generation of ‘little emperors,’ as they are often cynically referred to, all come from one-child families, born after the Cultural Revolution. For them, China has always been a country which is opening up, a place of rapid economic progress and modernisation, a place of prosperity and increased abundance, in particular in the urban areas. For this generation, ‘June 4th’ – the term commonly used to refer to the Tiananmen student demonstrations of 1989 – is an event of a long forgotten past, if they remember it at all. The Chinese Communist Party is a tool for networking; becoming a member facilitates one’s career. Different labels are used, besides balinghou, for this generation, like ‘linglei’ (alternative), ‘the birds’ nest generation,’ and the ‘zhongnanhai generation,’ named after a cigarette brand name. Zhongnanhai – also the central headquarters of the Chinese Communist Party, close to the Forbidden City – is the song title of one track by Carsick Cars…

* * *

‘Everyday I am somebody else,’ sings Shen Lihui in one of his songs from 1997, an apt
prediction of the spirit of the 80s generation, a spirit which became increasingly important in order to keep in tune with a post-socialist China of the 21st century. The celebration of agency as evoked by the references to individualism tends to ignore the more structural conditions that contain, steer and produce subjectivities like ‘the 80s generation.’ On a par with the assumed relation between modernization and individualisation, this generation is often accused in public discourse of being selfish and overtly materialistic, a generation driven by pleasure rather than politics, for whom ‘being alternative’ – linglei (other species) – has become merely a lifestyle choice (J. Wang 2008: 228). A generation for which life has to be niubi – literally, a cow’s vagina, metaphorically standing for cool and exciting.


  1. At www.guangzhou.elong.com/theme/themei48.html, accessed 12 July 2000.
  2. Other examples in which he all too sweepingly critiques Chinese artists are, for example, his critique of writer Wang Shuo (1999: 97), of film director Chen Kaige (Barme 1999: 194) and of film director Zhang Yuan: ‘… Zhang Yuan’s work, with unswerving entrepreneurship, had hit on an issue [homosexuality] sure to appeal to the international art-house world and its attendant critics. (…) [The gay scene] was being depicted partly for its sensational value by a director who had an established record of overcoming his filmic deficiencies by pursuing the controversial.’ (196) Unfortunately, he fails to make explicit what precisely, for example, Zhang Yuan’s ‘filmic deficiencies’ are.
  3. Qiu Ye speaks with a likeminded nostalgia about the dakou era: ‘The mid-1990s were really exciting, I felt very fulfilled at that time, now the cultural environment is much better that those days in terms of material conditions. My personal feeling is that the environment of rock music is more embarrassing than Chinese soccer. The latter is too lazy, they go to sleep after dinner, the former was too hungry, it pleases whoever serves food.’ (in Anonymous 2008: 107)

Bibliography for this excerpt

  • Barmé, G. (1999). In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture. New York: Columbia University Press.
  • Dundee, (1999). ‘Beijing Yaogun: Smells Like Teen spirit (Beijing Rock: Smells Like Teen spirit)’, Yinyue Tiantang (Music Heaven), 31, 26-28.

via http://www.danwei.org/china_books/jeroen_de_kloets_china_with_a.php

Chan Koonchung Interview from Danwei on Vimeo.

陈冠中是在香港创办《号外》杂志的文化人,跟陈冠希老师没啥关系。《盛世:中国,2013》不知道算不算是一部政治寓言小说,讲的是到了2013年,全球 经济由于金融海啸进入冰河期,而中国却安然避过劫难,反而开始步入千年一遇的盛世,取代美国成为全球政治、经济和文化的核心国。由于我刚看了个开头,所以 到底陈冠希,噢不,陈冠中老师想反映个什么问题,还没看出个端倪。等看过之后,咱再交流。



In the traffic congested city streets, an advertiser was busy handing out flyers for the newly constructed condos. “Beautiful homes, starting at 29,800 yuan per square meters”, one flyer ended up in the hands of a cab driver who was waiting in traffic. He looked at the flyer and thought “It takes 125 years in order to buy this home”. That made his nose bleed.

A young man got into the cab and picked up the flyer on his way to work. Up in the elevator, punched his time card at exactly 9 am, he rushed into his cubical to start his day of work. Then he read the flyer and thought “It takes 87 years to buy this home.” Foaming at the mouth, he threw the ad into the trashcan.

With Chinese universities dropping down the Asian University Rankings, one university chancellor sounds off on what’s holding schools back
By Xing Zhao 25 June, 2010

Chinese universities Is this Chinese university professor lecturing to China’s future academics or should he just save his breath?

The gaokao may have finished for this year, but the spotlight is back on the Chinese university system as British career and education research company QS releases its report of Asian University Rankings. Hong Kong has a strong showing, with three of the top four spots, as does Japan with five of the top 10. But China’s top two universities have fallen in the rankings compared to last year. Peking University (aka Beida) dropped two places to 12 and Tsinghua dropped one place to 16.

This has set many tongues wagging about the state of China’s higher education system. One prominent member of the ‘establishment’, Yang Yuliang, chancellor at Fudan University, has lambasted those who expressed outrage at the QS report, claiming that the poor results from China’s universities simply reflect reality.
A systemic problem
Chinese universities are just a big joke. They don’t work on art or science, but only fight for power.

Xiao Luobotou, Chinese netizen

Yang told China Youth Daily in a recent interview that the major reasons that China does not have first-class universities is because its higher educational system does not give universities enough autonomy, and the schools’ lack ‘real’ academic, intellectual and moral spirit.

“The university spirit in China is really lost,” says Yang. “It’s a reflection of the whole society, which has gotten lost in utilitarianism. It’s in a state of spiritual dehydration.”

Yang claims that professors at Chinese universities are low on academic spirit. “They only teach how to pass exams and how to find jobs after graduation, rather than academic research,” says Yang.

Even in today’s economy, Yang says that universities need to go beyond training people to find an entry level position in the job market.

“Universities are not job training centers,” he argues. “Although universities are partly responsible for the jobs the students take in the future, a university education should not be completely for jobs.”

Additionally, Yang criticizes the system saying that Chinese academia is about money instead of the pursuit of knowledge for its own sake, thus universities cannot nurture intellectuals who have a sense of social responsibility.

“Universities need people who are in academia for the academic, not for something else,” Yang says. He also alleges that universities are responsible for fostering generations of elites who will influence the direction of the nation, and “thus you cannot judge them by simply giving exams.”
The kind of talent that China needs

Yang predicts that the kind of people that China needs in the future will have a deep understanding of Chinese culture but also an understanding of world culture. “We need someone who’s open and has a global perspective,” says Yang. “Unlike American politicians who think the United States is the best [nation] and would send an army to destroy those that disobey them, China needs people who understand that every culture has its own history and ways of living. Chinese universities need to foster that kind of environment.”

Yang also says China needs to develop experts — instead of relying on outside talent — who have a high moral standard, good communication skills with people of different backgrounds, and have a solid understanding of both natural and social sciences.

A pretty hefty wish list.
The university spirit in China is really lost. It’s a reflection of the whole society, which has got lost in utilitarianism. It’s in a state of spiritual dehydration.

Yang Yuliang, chancellor at Fudan University
Chinese netizen’s place blame

While many netizens agree with Yang’s argument, especially in light of the QS rankings, they also feel helpless about the situation.

“China doesn’t have real masters in academia. Is that because we cannot produce them, or we dare not produce them?” asks Caocao Yao from Ziyang. “People who do politics and work for money in universities do well, while the real academics are poor.”

An Internet user from Guiyang who claims to be an educator says, “Academic level never improves at our university, while the level of faking has improved.” He continues: “Authorities always want to check things that irrelevant to academic, and everyone ends up faking to pass those checks.”

Xiao Luobotou from Pingxiang agrees, “Chinese universities are just a big joke. They don’t work on art or science, but only fight for power.”

Rather than expressing their opinions about the quality of Chinese university education, more reactions on the Internet are looking for the ones to blame for the high unemployment rate of university graduates.

“With many graduates unemployed while there isn’t enough labor workers, but are the university graduates willing to do labor work? They paid so much money to go to university, of course they won’t want to work as cheap labor. That’s a wrong investment,” comments netizen Zhuyu Wusheng.

It looks like Chinese higher education meets no one’s satisfaction, and Chinese netizen Jiangta Tuhei from Zhejiang ruthlessly concludes the system is “completely rubbish.”

Read more: What has gone wrong with the Chinese university system? | CNNGo.com http://www.cnngo.com/shanghai/life/what-has-gone-wrong-chinese-university-system-430702#ixzz0tpQfIOHm

The following content is translated from an article in New Weekly, a Guangdong based magazine.

Chinese are always in a hurry. They love pressing “forward”, crazy clicking “reload”. To comment, they rush for the “couch” seat; to send package, they go with express delivery; taking a photo, they want it to be ready while waiting; to travel, highway and high-speed railway or high-speed magnetic levitation will be perfect; starting a business, they want to get rich overnight; getting married, there should be house and car first; when lining up, jumping the queue sounds necessary, otherwise they wonder to themselves: why is the other team always faster than mine?

Chinese who used to have no sense of time, have become the most hurried and impatient ethnic in the world – ten thousand years is too long, let’s fight for day and night.

Chinese hate waiting, but there are desires unsatisfied so they have to wait, they are restless with a quiet conscience.

But what has all the rushing brought to us? We are actually having more disasters and accidents, lower efficiency and worse results. We are wearing ourselves out more quickly in this hurried country. When we do come to realize the philosophy of fast and slow, lose and tight, give and get, success and failure, maybe everything’s too late already.

Who press the “forward” button for Chinese?

People get all fretful because the society is unease. No matter you are lining up or jumping the queue, it is all for fear of being left behind by the society.

We like to cut in line, pretending the one-meter yellow line inexistent; we spring cabs; we drive through yellow light at full throttle; we climb the railings in the middle of road to save 5 minutes; we make a scene at airport check-in; we yell at the customer service center on the phone “fix it, NOW!!”; we rush through the scenic spots, hurry taking photos, hurry leaving for the next stop; we go in backdoor, we bribe.

We are always in a hurry, but we are also the most patient group on the earth. We used to line up in stock exchange, waiting patiently for ratification; now we line up to buy house with the whole family taking turn to queue 3 days before the opening; we like things on sales, no matter how long the line is; the more crowded the restaurant is, the more we like it even if it means sitting on the front for 2 hours cracking sunflower seeds; now we are willing to stand for 9 hours in line for the 3-D show at Shanghai Expo.

This is Chinese, whose traditional mindset interweaves with modern circumstances, restless and justified.

As American missionary Arthur H. Smith put it in his book “Chinese Characteristics“, where he spared a whole chapter to talk about Chinese’s disregard of time:

“To the Chinese the chronic impatience of the Anglo-Saxon is not only unaccountable, but quite unreasonable. It has been wisely suggested that they consider this trait in our character as objectionable as we do their lack of sincerity. In any case, appreciation of the importance of celerity and promptness is difficult to cultivate in a Chinese.”

Smith concluded his observation of Chinese disregard for time like this:

“Chinese histories are antediluvian, not merely in their attempts to go back to the ragged edge of zero for a point of departure, but in the interminable length of the sluggish and turbid current which bears on its bosom not only the mighty vegetation of past ages, but wood, hay, and stubble past all reckoning. None but a relatively timeless race could either compose or read such histories.”

The most interesting thing is that Smith considered Chinese’s disregard of time was manifested in their industry, they kept working and working but in fact wasting time constantly with no worry of idle work or redoing.

Smith had a point there of course. But decades later, the impetuous energy that Smith thought Anglo-Saxon borne have come into Chinese too. Ever since the May Fourth Movement, the more the enlighteners resent the chaotic situation, the more people anticipate it to change faster and faster. To accomplish what takes the western world a century to achieve in a short time, we are inevitably rushing too fast, and often in a fierce and harsh manner.

When we finally make it through the reform and opening-up period, “grabbing the detained time back” (due to cultural revolution) becomes the ethnic echo. Down to nowadays, resource scarcity gives rise to competition, unequal distribution brings about strife, speed comes with dysphoria and convenience promote it, the overall mindset of this age is no more waiting.

When do we lose the ability to slow down?

Chinese’s value of time has been accelerated 3 times since our contemporary age, we can hardly stop. What we need is keeping track with the clock, planning out our life: get there at one time, gain fame and wealth, marry to rich, get rich overnight and retire at the age of 35……

Technology makes us impatient

Wired magazine once made a list about the 33 things that make us crazy, and air travel came in the first place, followed latter by credit cards, customer service, medical records, office copiers, printer cartridges, roads, teleconferencing etc.

Wait, aren’t all these stuffs mean to make life easier for us? Don’t they reduce repeat labor and simplify things up? How come they make us more impatient?

We invent a lot of things trying to reduce the fret, but actually we are inventing new frets.

The guy who develop phone connecting music must be deaf. He worries that people may get mad after listening to 10 minutes of “doo doo doo” sounds during connection, so he replace the “doo doo doo” series with sprinkler music. The thing is nobody will hold on for 10 minutes of “doo”, we hang up; but people who patiently listen to the sprinkler music to the end still get no answer, and the sprinkler music jingle up all over again, that is what really driving people crazy.

And whoever invented service smile and PR language must be prosopoplegic and stutter. He thinks customer service personnel’s smile and well-knitted answers will help ease customer’s anger. But the truth is when you really need something to be fix quickly, you hope to see that the personnel are as concerned as you instead of showing you 8 teeth in perfectly tender way and saying “we will follow it up”.

Follow up? Who on earth invented this?

Impatience is the social psychology

The more modernized our life is, the more we have fretful emotions. Before the generalization of telephone, no one mind if it takes months to get a letter. Nowadays we call those who won’t reply a message lacking in mobile ethic. In the time when we dial through phone line to get to the Internet, nobody fret over the 56 K/s speed because we are content with what we have. But now with broad band connections that measure in megabytes/s, the first thing we do when the pages open a little bit slower is clicking reload from time to time, sometimes we just want to smash the computer for not loading faster.

This is the anxiety strengthened by the advanced era if faster is possible, why slow down. Where there is comparison there is anxiety.

There are a lot other things that can trigger our anxiety, most significant of which is inequality. You can skip the 33 liner before the bank counter as long as you are VIP, which give you the privilege to walk up to the counter directly. Isn’t there any chance for non-VIP to get comfortable basic service too? Yes, our basic service is letting you sit for 2 hours on the cold iron bench

You can save the time and energy of waiting half day just to get hospital registration as long as you know any stuff in there, up to director of the hospital down to daily executives who can lead you direct into professor’s clinic. Couldn’t everyone get the same kind of convenience? Yes, but there are only couples of hospitals around, pick whichever one less crowded.

You can forget waiting all night for train ticket during spring rush if you book a air ticket already. Isn’t there any other way where underdogs can also afford to go home without going through all those troubles? Of course there is, you can buy from scalpers at the train station plaza paying more that takes up your salary of the month.

You can choose not to line up buying house, you have no place to stay anyway when you sell it at good time. You can spare yourself the trouble of getting married, you don’t have a house anyway.

People are anxious because of unstable society structure. You have to worry all the time for fear of missing any opportunity that can get yourself dumped by the society; when you be good to line up, there surely someone else to cut in before you. That is why we get fidget, ignoring the rules – there is no rules anyway, only the bird in hand is yours, line up and waiting can only give you vision.

We are like shoppers in front of the supermarket cashier, lingering between several lines with our shopping carts, meeting the dilemma of line up or not. We restlessly jump the queue, cut others in, there is no way to wait for one more minute.

Plus, we always know the other line is faster than the one we are in.


A book is a sequence of spaces.
Each of these spaces is perceived at a different moment - a book is also a sequence of moments.
A book is not a case of words, nor a bag of words, nor a bearer of words.

A writer, contrary to the popular opinion, does not write books.
A writer writes texts.
The fact, that a text is contained in a book, comes only from the dimensions of such a text; or, in the case of a series of short texts (poems, for instance), from their number.

A literary (prose) text contained in a book ignores the fact that the book is an autonomous space-time sequence.
A series of more or less short texts (poems or other) distributed through a book following any particular ordering reveals the sequential nature of the book.
It reveals it, perhaps uses it; but it does not incorporate it or assimilate it.

Written language is a sequence of signs expanding within the space; the reading of which occurs in the time.
A book is a space-time sequence.

Books existed originally as containers of (literary) texts.
But books, seen as autonomous realities, can contain any (written) language, not only literary language, or even any other system of signs.

Among languages, literary language (prose and poetry) is not the best fitted to the nature of books.

A book may be the accidental container of a text,. the structure of which is irrelevant to the book: these are the books of bookshops and libraries.
A book can also exist as an autonomous and self-sufficient form, including perhaps a text that emphasises that form, a text that is an organic part of that form: here begins the new art of making books.

In the old art the writer judges himself as being not responsible for the real book. He writes the text. The rest is done by the servants, the artisans, the workers, the others.
In the new art writing a text is only the first link in the chain going from the writer to the reader. In the new art the writer assumes the responsibility for the whole process.

In the old art the writer writes texts.
In the new art the writer makes books.
To make a book is to actualize its ideal space-time sequence by means of the creation of a parallel sequence of signs, be it linguistic or other.


The ghost of Mao can certainly be divined in China’s current anti-vulgarity campaign, but he may have to take a back seat to capitalist-roaders Chiang Kai-shek and Lee Kuan Yew.
By Jeffrey Wasserstrom

China’s crackdown on vulgarities — like wearing PJs in public — can seem rooted in the Communist campaigns of the era of Mao Zedong, center, but it’s just as likely derived from the Confucian-inspired reigns of Chiang Kai-Shek, left, or Singapore’s Lee Kwan Yew.

“One can imagine Chiang Kai-shek’s ghost wandering around China today nodding in approval, while Mao’s ghost follows behind him, moaning at the destruction of his vision.” — Rana Mitter, Modern China, Oxford University Press, 2008

“The communist leaders of the world’s most populous nation are taking lessons from the small city state of Singapore. …” Asahi Shimbun, China’s Top Officials Study at Singapore’s Knee,” June 2010

For someone who’s been dead almost 35 years, Mao Zedong (1893-1976) has been getting a lot of attention lately.

In 2005, Jung Chang and Jon Halliday’s Mao: The Unknown Story, which presented Mao as a demonic figure, became an international bestseller. It generated enough controversy for Routledge to publish an edited volume last year, titled Was Mao Really a Monster?, made up exclusively of academic responses to it. This year’s crop of English-language Mao publications includes another edited volume, Timothy Cheek’s A Critical Introduction to Mao, plus a pair of accessible but otherwise very different kinds of books by academic historians: Rebecca Karl’s Mao Zedong and China in the Twentieth-Century World: A Concise History and Frank Dikötter’s Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958-1962, a much longer and much darker work.

In part because of this attention, it is hardly surprising that allusions to the lingering influence of Mao’s thoughts and policies crop up routinely in Western news reports. In television coverage of the 2008 Olympics, for example, shots of the giant portrait of Mao were often shown as a shorthand method for reminding viewers that, all the megamalls and McDonalds notwithstanding, the People’s Republic of China was still a country governed by a Communist Party. And a recent Los Angeles Times story about media censorship includes a reference to parallels between the current drive to purge popular culture of the “three vulgarities” (salacious, mindless and tasteless content) and “the elaborately named campaigns extolled by Chairman Mao.” One cheeky Australian writer, who also alluded to Maoist parallels, has suggested President Hu Jintao can now add the title “chief prude” to his CV.

There’s no question that Mao left an indelible mark on China (this may be the only point of agreement among the authors and editor of all the recent books about him), but as the quotations provided above and much recent scholarship suggests, the current consumerist PRC 2.0 should not be viewed solely through the lens of Maoist legacies.

To make sense of the anti-vulgarity drive, as well as the campaign-like aspects of recent mass spectacles, such as the Olympics and the World Expo underway now in Shanghai, it is useful to look back to what two other authoritarian leaders did in their heyday — Chiang Kai-shek (1887-1975) and Lee Kuan Yew (1923- ). Recent Chinese campaigns are similar to those that Chiang launched in the 1930s, when his Nationalist Party controlled the Chinese mainland. They also resemble those that have taken place in the Republic of Singapore, during the years that Lee formally ran that city-state as its first prime minister (1959-1990) and the period since he has retired from office (yet continues to exert a strong influence on the country). And the parallels with Singapore are hardly accidental, since the strategy of its ruling elite — who have found a way to combine one-party rule and rapid development, while stressing the importance of traditional values — has been of great interest to various post-Mao Chinese leaders, beginning with Deng Xiaoping (1904-1997).

A good place to start a comparative look at the influence on contemporary China of the Mao era, the period when Chiang was the authoritarian modernizer running the mainland (1927-1949) and Singapore in the decades shaped by Lee, is with the Olympics.

Several people living in China’s capital in 2008 have told me that they felt as though their city was in the midst of a campaign that year, thanks to such things as the constant repetition of a basic slogan (“One World, One Dream”), the continual exhortations for people to work together to achieve a goal (that of mounting a world-class spectacle), and the media’s effort to change the way people behaved (for example, the calls for an end to public spitting). Mao’s China was defined in part by periodic mass drives, and the mobilization and propaganda associated with the Olympics can be fit into a lineage that goes back to such early PRC events as the “Three Antis” and “Fives Antis” campaigns of the early 1950s.

Campaigns, moreover, have never ceased to be part of the Chinese Communist Party’s political repertoire — though, to borrow a useful distinction from a recent conference paper by Harvard political scientist Elizabeth J. Perry, there’s been a notable shift over time from “mass campaigns” (that could easily spin out of control) to “managed campaigns” (that are more disciplined and top-down in nature).

In many ways, however, as Susan Jakes pointed out in a blog post at the time, the preparations for the Olympics were equally or more reminiscent of the most famous Chinese national campaign of the pre-Mao era, the New Life Movement of Chiang Kai-shek. Beijing in 2008 also had many features that would have seemed familiar to a past resident of Singapore, a metropolis whose 1960s cleanliness and courtesy drives and their sequels earned it the nickname “campaign city” (a catchy phrase, albeit not as catchy as “Disneyland with the Death Penalty,” which sci-fi writer William Gibson used as the title of his 1993 Wired magazine account of the “clean dystopia” of Southeast Asia). To note one specifically, both the New Life Movement and some Singapore campaigns also tried to put an end to public expectoration. More importantly, the Opening Ceremonies of the Olympics, a peak moment in the 2008 Beijing campaign, began with Confucius being quoted and a large contingent of performers dressed as the sage’s disciples taking the stage. Appeals to Confucian values were central to the New Life Movement and are commonly made by Singapore’s leaders, but the only way that Confucius figured in Maoist campaigns was as a vilified figure, blamed for promoting “feudal” values (such as prizing age over youth, men over women, tradition over innovation) that had held China back as a nation and caused great harm to its people.

Having recently spent a month in Shanghai, while the expo was taking place, I can attest that this mega-event is also giving the Chinese city a campaign-like feel. The slogans are different and a new wrinkle has been added to the call for a change in public deportment, with authorities targeting as immoral the tendency of some locals to wear pajamas on the streets of their neighborhoods. Still, there are many similarities with the Beijing case. And once again, New Life and Singapore analogies seem at least as apt as Maoist ones.

The anti-vulgarity drive, though, with its call for all Chinese, and particularly Internet users and popular entertainers, to eschew crass modern forms of entertainment, create art more in line with classical traditions, and value social harmony, provides an even more compelling present-day illustration of the phenomenon under consideration here.

This drive echoes nicely one aspect of the Singapore model, for the country’s ruling elite has long made “social harmony” one of its watchwords and was an early adopter of high-tech strategies for controlling the Internet and guiding popular use of the Web, in ways that resemble what the astute Beijing-based media analyst Jeremy Goldkorn has referred to as China’s “net nanny” system. And while there’s a semantic parallel between the current attack on the “three vulgarities” and campaigns of the 1950s-1970s that included numbers and the word fan (anti), there are features of it that, to borrow Mitter’s imagery, would likely make Chiang’s ghost smile but Mao’s ghost shake his head. In his 1934 speech on “The Essentials of the New Life Movement”, after all, Chiang referred to the damage that “rudeness and vulgarity” and also “social disorder” could do to a nation. This language is very similar to that used by China’s current leaders, who have jettisoned completely the strain of Maoism that insisted on the need to break from all longstanding traditions and valued struggle, not harmony, as the key to progress.

Mao, in the same famous essay which included the memorable line that “revolution is not a dinner party,” mocked the very notion of promoting “refined” forms of behavior. Now, though his successors share his desire to keep a lid on dissent, as shown by the fact that targets of the latest censorship drive have included not just tacky television shows but a famous comedian known for poking fun at officials, they’ve taken a very different approach to topics such as refinement and traditional values.

There’s a cultural conservatism among the leaders of PRC 2.0 that makes them, in some ways, more like the non-Communist authoritarian modernizers of China’s nationalist era and the people running Singapore when William Gibson visited it than they are like Mao, with his penchant for iconoclasm and fondness for campaigns that could, and sometimes all too tragically did, spin wildly out of control.

The longstanding Cold War assumption was that to understand the policies or think about the prospects of one set of Communist Party leaders was to place them analytically beside other past or present heads of Marxist organizations. This is one reason so many people predicted, erroneously, late in the last century that the Chinese Communist Party was certain to lose it grip on power in the same way that its Central and Eastern European counterparts had in 1989 and their Soviet ones had in 1991. The analysis provided here, which presents Hu Jintao and company as sharing important traits with not just Communist leaders of the past but also figures such as Chiang and Lee, will not tell us what will happen next in the protean PRC 2.0. It can, though, do a bit to help us shed some useless Cold War baggage and protect ourselves from falling into the trap of assuming that China’s political future must lead in any given direction.


Following is the transcript of a speech given in May 2010 at Xiamen University in China. Adapted from a translation by Annie Lee.

Hello everyone. This is my second time in Xiamen, the air is so clean here, no wonder everybody likes to go for walks. (translator’s note: a reference to a large street protest which took place in Xiamen in 2007, and attracted national media attention.)

Just now, when Mr. Deng mentioned patriotism, two quotes came to mind, not from me though, from others. The first one is “patriotism is the last sanctuary for scumbags”, and the second one is “real patriotism is to protect the country from any kind of government persecution”.

Today I’ve prepared for the speech, I brought a script, to restrain myself in case you guys get persecuted because of my irresponsible remarks.

Here we go.

Leaders, teachers, and students: greetings! Do you know why China is not a cultural power? Because in most of our speeches, “leaders” always come first, and our leaders have no culture. Moreover, they are scared of culture, but their job is to censor it, so they can control culture. How can a country become a cultural power like that? What do you say, leaders?

Actually China has the potential to become a big cultural force. Let me tell you a story. I serve as editor in chief for a magazine that couldn’t get its publishing license until now. The constitution bestows us with press freedom, on the other hand our laws bestow our leaders with the freedom of preventing you from exercising press freedom. Some of the magazine’s content didn’t pass censorship — e.g. because there was a cartoon of a man in it with no clothes on — obviously not acceptable, because relevant laws and regulations specify that we cannot put private parts on public magazines. I understand this, so I covered the illegitimate part with a big logo of the magazine. Then the publisher and the people from the censoring department turn around and say: no can’t do, you can’t obscure the Party’s Central Committee. (translator’s note: 党中央 Party’s Central Committee and 挡中央 obscuring the center, are homophones) My reaction was just like you guys: dumbfounded. I thought to myself: “Gee, it would be so much better if you’d invest such brilliant imagination into literary and artistic creation instead of censorship.”

This story tells us that people are full of imagination. Of course lots of things can only exist in our minds, we cannot carry them out, we cannot write about them, most of the time we can’t even talk about them. Too much restraint is required from us. Just as there are rated movies, there are also rated countries. We live in a rated country. How can a rated country foster an abundant culture? I exercise relatively little self-restraint, however when I write I still cannot help but remember to avoid writing about this policeman, that leader, this policy, that regulation, and this piece of legislation. Skipping many stories about Tibet, Xinjiang, demonstrations; not touching on fads, pornography, boycotts, arts. But elegance is what I am incapable of. I am really at a disadvantage in that area, I am not Yu Qiuyu.

On the Internet on the other hand I enjoy somewhat more freedom, relatively speaking. Many playwrights I know, like Ning Caishen, they suffer a lot. So I keep wondering how a country with such a cultural environment can ever manage to become a cultural force. Maybe if only China, North Korea and Afghanistan are left on Earth. North Korea is a cultural no-fly zone, no question about that. Afghanistan cannot spare to manage culture as long as they have plenty of other worries. Even so, there is a writer who published a book called “The Kite Runner“, but regretfully that book isn’t published in Afghanistan either. I think it is not impossible for Afghanistan to exceed China once they clean up their domestic mess.

We can’t forever keep talking about the Four Classics or Confucius’ Analects during exchanges with people from other nations. It’s like when your date asks you about your financial situation, and you say your ancestors several generations ago were really rich. Pretty useless.

The making of this tragedy has nothing to do with you guys. The road to North Korea is built by everybody’s silence. But on the one hand we are much stronger than North Korea, because we all know what it looks like. On the other hand, I believe most of you guys are not silent, you are just harmonized, that’s all. In the history of China’s campaigns against pornography, I think most of you know – you are college students after all, though these contents have disappeared from today’s textbooks — that Teresa Teng and Liu Wen Cheng were considered pornographic, low and obscene. But as the number of people who listened to their music increased, suddenly when the whole country started listening to them, they were no longer considered low nor obscene.

Only when we fight against cultural censorship, when we liberate phrases and words from the “sensitive words database“, with the exception of inhumane words, only then will China stand a chance to become a cultural power. Even if your and my name go into that database for a while, I believe there is a ceiling to the number of words the database can contain. Every time a new one goes in, it pushes the whole thing closer to its ceiling until one day, it comes crashing down.

So I hope our press people, our students and teachers, everyone who loves and engages in culture, including every webmaster, can make an effort to decrease the amount of censorship and bring down the number of blocked words and blocked websites. I also hope that our leaders and our government can be confident enough to set culture free. I know that our leaders like to export our culture, as this is the hallmark of a powerful country.

Unfortunately, the amount of available culture is too humble to go abroad. When our writers write, they are constantly self-censoring. How can any presentable works come to life when they are born under such environment? You castrate all of the works like news reports and present them to foreign audiences, hoping it would sell. Are foreigners aliens then?

Whether China is a strong economic player I don’t know, no conclusion can be drawn until our real estate market comes back down to Earth; but when a country grows big culturally, then it is a powerful country indeed, and I see no risk of it ever crashing for a country like this.

Now let me come back to the blocked words database. The more entries it has, the weaker the country’s culture becomes. But our government can justify itself; they tell you it is to protect our teenagers, to maintain social stability. Culture is boundless, so they have the right to block any information and culture that harms our teens and threatens social stability. If you consent to this, then sooner or later when you complain about your own mistreatment, you will find yourself blocked, and charged with threatening social stability yourself. In the end, whoever poses threats to the ruling class or their interests will be condemned with the charges of harming teenagers and threatening social stability.

If we become supporters of the Green Dam Project, we will find culture is not the only thing dying. So guys, we can’t let this day come, otherwise we will all become jokes in the e-history books our grand children download by satellite.

Thank you all.

via http://www.hanhandigest.com/?p=84

“We are the masters now.” I wonder if President Barack Obama saw those words in the thought bubble over the head of his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, at the G20 summit in Seoul last week. If the president was hoping for change he could believe in—in China’s currency policy, that is—all he got was small change. Maybe Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner also heard “We are the masters now” as the Chinese shot down his proposal for capping imbalances in global current accounts. Federal Reserve Chairman Ben Bernanke got the same treatment when he announced a new round of “quantitative easing” to try to jump start the U.S. economy, a move described by one leading Chinese commentator as “uncontrolled” and “irresponsible.”


Illustration by Harry Camp

“We are the masters now.” That was certainly the refrain that I kept hearing in my head when I was in China two weeks ago. It wasn’t so much the glitzy, Olympic-quality party I attended in the Tai Miao Temple, next to the Forbidden City, that made this impression. The displays of bell ringing, martial arts and all-girl drumming are the kind of thing that Western visitors expect. It was the understated but unmistakable self-confidence of the economists I met that told me something had changed in relations between China and the West.

One of them, Cheng Siwei, explained over dinner China’s plan to become a leader in green energy technology. Between swigs of rice wine, Xia Bin, an adviser to the People’s Bank of China, outlined the need for a thorough privatization program, “including even the Great Hall of the People.” And in faultless English, David Li of Tsinghua University confessed his dissatisfaction with the quality of Chinese Ph.D.s.

You could not ask for smarter people with whom to discuss the two most interesting questions in economic history today: Why did the West come to dominate not only China but the rest of the world in the five centuries after the Forbidden City was built? And is that period of Western dominance now finally coming to an end?

In a brilliant paper that has yet to be published in English, Mr. Li and his co-author Guan Hanhui demolish the fashionable view that China was economically neck-and-neck with the West until as recently as 1800. Per capita gross domestic product, they show, stagnated in the Ming era (1402-1626) and was significantly lower than that of pre-industrial Britain. China still had an overwhelmingly agricultural economy, with low-productivity cultivation accounting for 90% of GDP. And for a century after 1520, the Chinese national savings rate was actually negative. There was no capital accumulation in late Ming China; rather the opposite.

The story of what Kenneth Pomeranz, a history professor at the University of California, Irvine, has called “the Great Divergence” between East and West began much earlier. Even the late economist Angus Maddison may have been over-optimistic when he argued that in 1700 the average inhabitant of China was probably slightly better off than the average inhabitant of the future United States. Mr. Maddison was closer to the mark when he estimated that, in 1600, per capita GDP in Britain was already 60% higher than in China.

For the next several hundred years, China continued to stagnate and, in the 20th century, even to retreat, while the English-speaking world, closely followed by northwestern Europe, surged ahead. By 1820 U.S. per capita GDP was twice that of China; by 1870 it was nearly five times greater; by 1913 the ratio was nearly 10 to one.

    Despite the painful interruption of the Great Depression, the U.S. suffered nothing so devastating as China’s wretched mid-20th century ordeal of revolution, civil war, Japanese invasion, more revolution, man-made famine and yet more (”cultural”) revolution. In 1968 the average American was 33 times richer than the average Chinese, using figures calculated on the basis of purchasing power parity (allowing for the different costs of living in the two countries). Calculated in current dollar terms, the differential at its peak was more like 70 to 1.

    This was the ultimate global imbalance, the result of centuries of economic and political divergence. How did it come about? And is it over?

    As I’ve researched my forthcoming book over the past two years, I’ve concluded that the West developed six “killer applications” that “the Rest” lacked. These were:

    • Competition: Europe was politically fragmented, and within each monarchy or republic there were multiple competing corporate entities.

    • The Scientific Revolution: All the major 17th-century breakthroughs in mathematics, astronomy, physics, chemistry and biology happened in Western Europe.

    • The rule of law and representative government: This optimal system of social and political order emerged in the English-speaking world, based on property rights and the representation of property owners in elected legislatures.

    • Modern medicine: All the major 19th- and 20th-century advances in health care, including the control of tropical diseases, were made by Western Europeans and North Americans.

    • The consumer society: The Industrial Revolution took place where there was both a supply of productivity-enhancing technologies and a demand for more, better and cheaper goods, beginning with cotton garments.

    • The work ethic: Westerners were the first people in the world to combine more extensive and intensive labor with higher savings rates, permitting sustained capital accumulation.

    Those six killer apps were the key to Western ascendancy. The story of our time, which can be traced back to the reign of the Meiji Emperor in Japan (1867-1912), is that the Rest finally began to download them. It was far from a smooth process. The Japanese had no idea which elements of Western culture were the crucial ones, so they ended up copying everything, from Western clothes and hairstyles to the practice of colonizing foreign peoples. Unfortunately, they took up empire-building at precisely the moment when the costs of imperialism began to exceed the benefits. Other Asian powers—notably India—wasted decades on the erroneous premise that the socialist institutions pioneered in the Soviet Union were superior to the market-based institutions of the West.


    Beginning in the 1950s, however, a growing band of East Asian countries followed Japan in mimicking the West’s industrial model, beginning with textiles and steel and moving up the value chain from there. The downloading of Western applications was now more selective. Competition and representative government did not figure much in Asian development, which instead focused on science, medicine, the consumer society and the work ethic (less Protestant than Max Weber had thought). Today Singapore is ranked third in the World Economic Forum’s assessment of competitiveness. Hong Kong is 11th, followed by Taiwan (13th), South Korea (22nd) and China (27th). This is roughly the order, historically, in which these countries Westernized their economies.

    Today per capita GDP in China is 19% that of the U.S., compared with 4% when economic reform began just over 30 years ago. Hong Kong, Japan and Singapore were already there as early as 1950; Taiwan got there in 1970, and South Korea got there in 1975. According to the Conference Board, Singapore’s per capita GDP is now 21% higher than that of the U.S., Hong Kong’s is about the same, Japan’s and Taiwan’s are about 25% lower, and South Korea’s 36% lower. Only a foolhardy man would bet against China’s following the same trajectory in the decades ahead.

    China’s has been the biggest and fastest of all the industrialization revolutions. In the space of 26 years, China’s GDP grew by a factor of 10. It took the U.K. 70 years after 1830 to grow by a factor of four. According to the International Monetary Fund, China’s share of global GDP (measured in current prices) will pass the 10% mark in 2013. Goldman Sachs continues to forecast that China will overtake the U.S. in terms of GDP in 2027, just as it recently overtook Japan.

    But in some ways the Asian century has already arrived. China is on the brink of surpassing the American share of global manufacturing, having overtaken Germany and Japan in the past 10 years. China’s biggest city, Shanghai, already sits atop the ranks of the world’s megacities, with Mumbai right behind; no American city comes close.

    Nothing is more certain to accelerate the shift of global economic power from West to East than the looming U.S. fiscal crisis. With a debt-to-revenue ratio of 312%, Greece is in dire straits already. But the debt-to-revenue ratio of the U.S. is 358%, according to Morgan Stanley. The Congressional Budget Office estimates that interest payments on the federal debt will rise from 9% of federal tax revenues to 20% in 2020, 36% in 2030 and 58% in 2040. Only America’s “exorbitant privilege” of being able to print the world’s premier reserve currency gives it breathing space. Yet this very privilege is under mounting attack from the Chinese government.

    For many commentators, the resumption of quantitative easing by the Federal Reserve has appeared to spark a currency war between the U.S. and China. If the “Chinese don’t take actions” to end the manipulation of their currency, President Obama declared in New York in September, “we have other means of protecting U.S. interests.” The Chinese premier Wen Jiabao was quick to respond: “Do not work to pressure us on the renminbi rate…. Many of our exporting companies would have to close down, migrant workers would have to return to their villages. If China saw social and economic turbulence, then it would be a disaster for the world.”

    Such exchanges are a form of pi ying xi, China’s traditional shadow puppet theater. In reality, today’s currency war is between “Chimerica”—as I’ve called the united economies of China and America—and the rest of the world. If the U.S. prints money while China effectively still pegs its currency to the dollar, both parties benefit. The losers are countries like Indonesia and Brazil, whose real trade-weighted exchange rates have appreciated since January 2008 by 18% and 17%, respectively.

    But who now gains more from this partnership? With China’s output currently 20% above its pre-crisis level and that of the U.S. still 2% below, the answer seems clear. American policy-makers may utter the mantra that “they need us as much as we need them” and refer ominously to Lawrence Summers’s famous phrase about “mutually assured financial destruction.” But the Chinese already have a plan to reduce their dependence on dollar reserve accumulation and subsidized exports. It is a strategy not so much for world domination on the model of Western imperialism as for reestablishing China as the Middle Kingdom—the dominant tributary state in the Asia-Pacific region.

    If I had to summarize China’s new grand strategy, I would do it, Chinese-style, as the Four “Mores”: Consume more, import more, invest abroad more and innovate more. In each case, a change of economic strategy pays a handsome geopolitical dividend.

    By consuming more, China can reduce its trade surplus and, in the process, endear itself to its major trading partners, especially the other emerging markets. China recently overtook the U.S. as the world’s biggest automobile market (14 million sales a year, compared to 11 million), and its demand is projected to rise tenfold in the years ahead.

    By 2035, according to the International Energy Agency, China will be using a fifth of all global energy, a 75% increase since 2008. It accounted for about 46% of global coal consumption in 2009, the World Coal Institute estimates, and consumes a similar share of the world’s aluminum, copper, nickel and zinc production. Last year China used twice as much crude steel as the European Union, United States and Japan combined.

    Such figures translate into major gains for the exporters of these and other commodities. China is already Australia’s biggest export market, accounting for 22% of Australian exports in 2009. It buys 12% of Brazil’s exports and 10% of South Africa’s. It has also become a big purchaser of high-end manufactured goods from Japan and Germany. Once China was mainly an exporter of low-price manufactures. Now that it accounts for fully a fifth of global growth, it has become the most dynamic new market for other people’s stuff. And that wins friends.

    The Chinese are justifiably nervous, however, about the vagaries of world commodity prices. How could they feel otherwise after the huge price swings of the past few years? So it makes sense for them to invest abroad more. In January 2010 alone, the Chinese made direct investments worth a total of $2.4 billion in 420 overseas enterprises in 75 countries and regions. The overwhelming majority of these were in Asia and Africa. The biggest sectors were mining, transportation and petrochemicals. Across Africa, the Chinese mode of operation is now well established. Typical deals exchange highway and other infrastructure investments for long leases of mines or agricultural land, with no questions asked about human rights abuses or political corruption.

    Growing overseas investment in natural resources not only makes sense as a diversification strategy to reduce China’s exposure to the risk of dollar depreciation. It also allows China to increase its financial power, not least through its vast and influential sovereign wealth fund. And it justifies ambitious plans for naval expansion. In the words of Rear Admiral Zhang Huachen, deputy commander of the East Sea Fleet: “With the expansion of the country’s economic interests, the navy wants to better protect the country’s transportation routes and the safety of our major sea-lanes.” The South China Sea has already been declared a “core national interest,” and deep-water ports are projected in Pakistan, Burma and Sri Lanka.

    Finally, and contrary to the view that China is condemned to remain an assembly line for products “designed in California,” the country is innovating more, aiming to become, for example, the world’s leading manufacturer of wind turbines and photovoltaic panels. In 2007 China overtook Germany in terms of new patent applications. This is part of a wider story of Eastern ascendancy. In 2008, for the first time, the number of patent applications from China, India, Japan and South Korea exceeded those from the West.

    The dilemma posed to the “departing” power by the “arriving” power is always agonizing. The cost of resisting Germany’s rise was heavy indeed for Britain; it was much easier to slide quietly into the role of junior partner to the U.S. Should America seek to contain China or to accommodate it? Opinion polls suggest that ordinary Americans are no more certain how to respond than the president. In a recent survey by the Pew Research Center, 49% of respondents said they did not expect China to “overtake the U.S. as the world’s main superpower,” but 46% took the opposite view.

    Coming to terms with a new global order was hard enough after the collapse of the Soviet Union, which went to the heads of many Western commentators. (Who now remembers talk of American hyperpuissance without a wince?) But the Cold War lasted little more than four decades, and the Soviet Union never came close to overtaking the U.S. economically. What we are living through now is the end of 500 years of Western predominance. This time the Eastern challenger is for real, both economically and geopolitically.

    The gentlemen in Beijing may not be the masters just yet. But one thing is certain: They are no longer the apprentices.

    —Niall Ferguson is a professor of history at Harvard University and a professor of business administration at the Harvard Business School. His next book, “Civilization: The West and the Rest,” will be published in March.

    via http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052748704104104575622531909154228.html#articleTabs%3Darticle

    Posted by Joel Martinsen, November 21, 2006 6:00 PM

    A Japanese production team was granted authorization by SARFT to film in Ningxia, Hunan, Gansu, Anhui, Guangxi, and Inner Mongolia for a new big-screen adaptation of Journey to the West. Like Japanese adaptations of the past, the role of Xuanzang, the monk who is escorted through 81 trials to obtain scriptures from the western heaven, will be played by a woman. There are even rumors of a romantic subplot between the monk and Sun Wukong, the Monkey King.

    Not everyone is pleased by this, though reaction has been muted by the fact that (a) the adaptation is nowhere near as insulting as a recent Japanese game that took the cast of A Dream of the Red Mansions and turned them into sex slaves; (b) the movie hasn’t actually come out yet, and when it does, it probably won’t be shown in the mainland, anyway; and (c) people find it hard to get excited over Xuanzang, not the most charismatic character in the novel, as demonstrated by last year’s disappointing A Chinese Tall Story, which focused on Nicholas Tse’s monk.

    However, two people involved with the classic 1980s TV version of Journey to the West have made vocal objections. Zhang Jinlai*, the actor who played the monkey in that series, has been speaking out for quite some time against the indiscriminate adaptation of China’s great novels. Here’s what he said to The Beijing News last week:

    I have been giving lectures at universities, with the topic being a call to enact national law protecting traditional Chinese culture. Journey to the West is undoubtedly the soul of China’s traditional culture; the attention toward Journey to the West on the part of foreign countries is a good thing, however you want to call it, but we must also prevent malicious spoofing of our traditional culture under the banner of “fashion” or “subversion”. Actions such as these will hurt the feelings of the Chinese people. Some people say that today’s Chinese youth and college students enjoy that sort of “comic” stuff; giving speeches at all those universities, I have found that this is an entirely mistaken claim. Our most traditional things remain what our college students.

    Actually, I have reflected on this myself - why do we always say that we have a responsibility to protect traditional culture, but we never shoot anything? Next year I will shoot the movie Handsome Monkey King, still playing the role of Sun Wukong. Currently there is a Japanese film version shooting that has plans for a romance between a female Xuanzang and Sun Wukong. China’s Hansome Monkey King is unique in the world - not just anyone can put on monkey fur and play his character.

    Today, when this sort of international film company shoots this kind of material inside our country’s borders, how are our administrative departments monitoring and controlling things? The US has a legal framework concerning famous works; if you wish to film their famous works, they will first look over the script, and you cannot violate the spirit of the original. If, as some adaptations of Journey to the West have done, you exaggerate Sun Wukong’s devotion to love so that it far exceeds his conviction to obtain the scriptures from the west, then what is shot on film is not Journey to the West. American parents even tell their children that the story of Journey to the West is a vacation to the west taken by two monks and their pig and monkey; American children will believe that the Chinese were the first to have pets. You can film King Kong or Tarzan of the Apes - those are good and moving - but you can’t spoof such a character as Sun Wukong, whose Chinese heroic character is so deep.

    The scriptwriter and director of the 1980s version, Yang Jie, had this to say:

    I have watched the previous television adaptation of Journey to the West from Japan, and in fact it was very far off the mark. This time, they’re filming a movie, and it will definitely have its own perspective. Expecting fidelity to the source is not likely; we can’t do anything about it.

    Actually, the key point here is ourselves - why, for so many years, have Chinese people not treated their own famous works earnestly and seriously? Back when we shot Journey to the West, conditions were far more difficult than they are today, not to mention special effects, but we put effort into the script and story, so it should be said that the outcome was not too bad. Today, the country does not do much to protect its famous works: society is fickle, everyone has been dazed by their faith in money, and too many people try to entertain with junk. I truly fear that the next generation will completely misunderstand the true meaning of Journey to the West. Those who have the will to shoot Journey to the West have not the funds, and those who have the funds are unwilling to treat it seriously, leaving such a great story to go to waste!”

    In past interviews with the media, Zhang has brought up French law as an example of what he’d like to see in China. He’s mentioned Les Miserables as a book that requires permission to adapt, probably referring to a suit brought by Victor Hugo’s heirs against the author of a sequel to the novel. In 2004, a French court of appeals decided that Hugo would not have authorized a sequel to his finished work and fined the author 1 euro, reversing a lower court decision.

    Zhang’s on less firm ground when he brings the US into the picture, since American copyright law does not have much to say about the moral right of the author. In addition, Journey to the West draws its material from earlier sources as well as folk traditions, meaning that Zhang’s imagined law would be much broader in scope than even French moral rights. A Dream of Red Mansions could conceivably be protected from more extreme forms of adaptation by appealing to Cao Xueqin’s right not to have his reputation impugned; would it be possible to pass a law saying that it is illegal to write a work that adapts traditional Chinese culture in a way that causes harm to China’s reputation?

    And if so, would such a law result in the banning of works of traditional Chinese culture that insult other works of traditional Chinese culture? Xu Lai, entertainment critic for The Beijing News, takes a look at how adaptation has been done throughout Chinese history:

    Retelling need not be “not serious”

    by Xu Lai / XJB#

    SARFT authorized the Japanese film version of Journey to the West to shoot inside Chinese territory; the crew has already arrived in Ningxia. Reports swiftly attracted widespread attention on the Internet, and a significant proportion of netizens disagreed. In interviews with the media, the creators of the 1987 TV version* of Journey to the West, Yang Jie and Zhang Jinlai, said that it was obvious that the Japanese Journey to the West was maliciously spoofing an ancient classic; Yang Jie said that “currently, those with the finances are unwilling to give this topic serious treatment.”

    Actually, pulling out plot elements from Journey to the West for adaptation, or even changing the gender of characters in the original novel during the course of adaptation, is nothing too shocking. An example of the former is China’s first paper-cut cartoon, Zhu Bajie eating watermelon; its plot was not directly connected to Journey to the West, but rather was taken from a folk tale. An example of the latter is Supplement to Journey to the West, written by the late Ming/early Qing novelist Dong Shuo. In this book, the author has the heroic Sun Wukong fall into the “Hall of 10,000 Mirrors,” transform into a woman, and consort with the King of Chu. If this sort of stuff was made known to some online extremists, no doubt it would be called an act of malicious spoofing, and would be used as an example to demonstrate that Chinese people do not treasure their traditional culture.

    The greater online population does not fully understand cultural history and the principles of artistic creation, so pointing to adaptations as malicious spoofing is still pardonable. But you’d think that the creators of the 1982 TV version of Journey to the West would be very familiar with the cultural history of Journey to the West; who would have thought that they’d say things like this - it truly has me flabbergasted.

    As an important product of popular culture, production of television dramas has its own unique methods and rules. Adaptation of the script comes in just two ways: one strictly follows the plot of the original, proceeding through close adherence; the other picks out representative characters and plot elements, which are then adapted according to the demands of the creators. The goal of the former is to accurately reflect the classic story contained in the classic work, while the goal of the latter is to provide enough space for new creativity to take flight.

    The process of retelling is, to a large degree, a process of subverting classic characters and classic scenes. It is because classic works are so familiar that they invite reasonable exaggeration of classic character traits, extensions in opposite directions, to further expand the structure of the work. More importantly, this type of modification gives the adapted work a sense of novelty in the eyes of the audience, leading to better results. This technique appears in movies and television, and it is not rare in the literary realm, either. Romance of the Three Kingdoms “tries to show off Liu Bei’s generosity to the point that it seems fake and plays up Zhu Geliang’s wisdom so much that he seems like a demon”* But this is within the framework of literary creation, the result of the retelling of that classic of history, Records of the Three Kingdoms. Shortly after that, Lu Xun in his own stories extended the images of Nuwa, Chang’e, Laozi, and Zhuangzi. These works are all adaptations, and some of them are not short of heterodoxy; written intentionally to shock, they have entered the literary canon a hundred years later, and may even have surpassed their “originals.” It is obvious that this type of retelling cannot be dispatched simply by labeling it “malicious spoofing.”

    As for “unwilling to treat seriously,” this is an even stranger matter. According to standard creative principles, adaptations largely increase the dramatic conflict of the original and augment the consequences of the drama; this type of activity is clearly more difficult than simply reading from the text. And if you say that people who engage in this sort of activity are not serious, you probably will have a hard time convincing anyone. Besides, even the 1982 version of Journey to the West intentionally played up everything from “comic Chang’e” and the “spiderweb cave” to the “bottomless pit” and the “Kingdom of Women.” At the time, if I recall correctly, these scenes stirred up a debate over whether they were “serious,” did they not?

    Then there’s this:

    Where did Sun Wukong come from?

    by Meng Xiaoshe (ferocious little snake)#

    The always-peculiar Master Ke Yunlu* has once again taken flight, saying things like Sun Wukong’s father was Buddha, and his mother was the Bodhisattva Guanyin. And there’s someone who has proven that Sun Wukong was originally from Gansu - truly, in these cool autumn days, as snakes and insects take to their nests to sleep and create the next generation, the monsters and demons come out to write blogs.

    So where did Sun Wukong come from? To use a really crude expression, he popped out of a crack in the rock. When I was young, one of my neighbors was the 90-something Old Grandma Jin, whose blind eyes did not prevent her from becoming a famous master storyteller in those parts. Our school even invited her to tell her stories to the entire student body. At that time, the school often had people come to give all kinds of presentations - things like the heroic warriors from Mount Faka, or excellent teachers - the most absurd was a professional speaker from out of town whose topic was “Climbers in Chains,” but none of these people had as much of an effect on the assembly as did Grandma Jin.

    According to Grandma Jin, in those days, Guanyin traveled about on her propitious cloud - that is, “cloud-sailing.” When she arrived at the eastern seashore to look at the ocean, she carelessly fell asleep on a rock, and flew off once she awoke. The bodhisattva took a female form at the time - or more correctly, in order to investigate the conditions of the local monkeys, she took on the form of a female monkey. Bodhisattvas have substantial magical abilities, and can transform into thousands of things - transforming into a female monkey, or even a female louse, is nothing special. So as the bodhisattva was sleeping away, her “auntie” made a visit, and the blood ran onto the surface of the rock. She probably did not notice, since otherwise she probably would have wiped it clean before flying off.

    With the bodhisattva’s blood, the rock was no longer a common rock, but rather a magical stone.

    Everyone knows the rest of the story - the magical stone took in the essence of heaven and earth, absorbed the radiance of the sun and moon, and eventually that stone tossed out a monkey.

    The story of Journey to the West is actually quite simple; it reflects reports of official actions, or more specifically, the bitter history of the struggles of an official working in the ministry of foreign affairs. I own a dozen or so versions of Journey to the West, and I make annotations as I read them. My greatest stroke came when I realized that Journey to the West is a natural script for a role-playing game. If you’ve never played an RPG before, then perhaps you’ve read Lord of the Rings; Rings-like bands typically have the following characters: wizard, knight, warrior (strongman, barbarian), archer, mascot. Take another look at the five characters in Xuanzang’s band of disciples: the pale, fat Xuanzang is just like the wizard-leader; however, he is an official master with substantial backing - the Tang emperor’s sworn brother - and though he has no magical ability, he is imperially-authorized spiritual leader, similar to a chairman of the board or party secretary; the knight is the administrative leader, like a CEO, and this role is Sun Wukong’s; the warrior’s role naturally falls to the scruffy Sha Monk; the white dragon horse, at times the third son of the dragon king, at times a horse, could be the mascot that runs with the squad, but he also has fighting ability. So what role is lacking in this Journey to the West squad led by Xuanzang? Naturally, that of the incomparably handsome elf prince in Lord of the Rings, the archer. The squad’s last remaining slot - that of the archer - falls to Zhu Bajie. But as everyone knows, Zhu Bajie uses a nine-toothed rake, so how is it that he can become an archer?

    “God helps those who help themselves” - I found in Journey to the West the following description of when Zhu Bajie first comes on the scene:

    Knotted and rolled his guts hung from his mouth,
    His ears like fronded fans, his eyes flashed gold.
    Ferocious teeth as sharp as steel files,
    His open mouth as hot as brazier fire.
    His golden helm hugged tightly to his cheeks,
    A silken cord bound python-scale mail.
    His hands held out a rake like dragon claws,
    A half-moon bow circled about his waist.
    Massing his might, he threatened Jupiter,
    His towering will put challenge to the gods.

    Do you see it? “His hands held out a rake like dragon claws, a half-moon bow circled about his waist.” Zhu Bajie had a bow at his waist - he is the only bow-carrier among those in the band. Naturally, he is much uglier than the elf prince, but why is it that the elf prince’s ears are so large and pointy? It’s like an imitation of Zhu Bajie’s big ears. From this we can see that source of the rules of AD&D in the west probably can be found in an eastern source. The great Tolkien perhaps found his inspiration in Journey to the West.

    Note 1: When Zhang Jinlai is mentioned in the Chinese press, he is invariably called 六小龄童; his real name is rarely used at all. Since the stage name is awkward to translate, English-language reports typically use Zhang Jinlai instead. See his Wikipedia entry for more details.
    Note 2: Shooting and airing of the pilot began in 1982, but it was only in 1987 that the series was aired in its entirety.
    Note 3: 欲显刘备之长厚而似伪,状诸葛之多智而近妖. This assessment is from Lu Xun’s critique of Romance of the Three Kingdoms in A Concise History of Chinese Fiction.
    Note 4: The article by Ke Yunlu that Meng Xiaoshe refers to is here - a lengthy explication of the story of Sun Wukong as an allegory of human growth and maturation. The relationship between Monkey, Buddha, and Guanyin in the book is seen as representative of the typical relationship between a child and his parents. Monkey learns about life, throws tantrums, and receives both indulgence and punishment from his ‘parents’.

    Links and Sources

    While foreign media companies continue to struggle in China, the last ten years have seen the development of a few independently operated Chinese media companies that are starting to produce profitable, high quality products that do not rely on content licensed from foreign publications.

    Modern Media Group is one of these.

    The founder and CEO of Modern Media, Thomas Shao (邵忠) is a fascinating character: a home grown media tycoon in the making. All of his magazines are in original, slightly quirky formats, and while there are plenty of foreign influences, none of them are modeled on a foreign title. A little like the man himself: dressed in understated designer clothes, he is elegant and cosmopolitan-looking, but he has never lived outside China.

    Below is a Danwei TV episode, featuring an interview with Shao. You can also watch the video in a larger format at the Youtube website or on Revver.com

    Shao is from Guangzhou. His parents were both government cadres. His mother worked at the Guangzhou Daily. As a youngster, he used to visit the printing presses with his mother, and he attributes some of his interest in media to his early experiences.

    In 1983, Shao joined the Guangzhou City Government Planned Economy Committee. In 1988 at the young age of 27, he became a department head of the Village and Town Enterprise Administration.

    In 1993, he left the gold rice bowl of his government job and went into business. That year he started the company that is now called Modern Media Group (现代传播), launching Modern Pictorial magazine (现代画报), a glossy lifestyle magazine that was the only serious local competitor to Elle China, launched in 1988 and Trends (now (Cosmopolitan China).

    He was involved in other businesses at the same time, but his passion for media eventually convinced him to drop everything else and focus on magazines. In 1997, he launched Modern Weekly (周末画报), a weekly news magazine with information about business, current affairs, fashion, culture and entertainment. It made an immediate impact on the drab newsstands in Guangzhou, Shanghai and Beijing with its bright colors, and eye catching design.

    There was a certain genius in the format that Shao likes to call ‘paperzine’: it is the size of a tabloid newspaper but printed on glossy paper. The combination of glossy paper with a low price (5 yuan compared to 15 yuan and up for most fashion magazines) helped make it one of the best known magazines in avery short space of time. Modern Weekly now prints nearly half a million of each issue and is an established market leader in the Chinese print media, attracting advertisements for luxury and fashion brands, mobile phones and high-end consumer products.

    Another strategy that Modern Weekly pioneered in China was targeted free distribution: the company installed small racks in upscale shops and restaurants all over their target markets. These racks ensured that the emerging middle class — people who work in high-end office buildings and dine in smart restaurants — very quickly had a high awareness of the magazine, and read it even if they did not buy or subscribe.

    Since 2000, when Modern Weekly started to leave serious amounts of black ink on the company’s spread sheets, Shao has been putting his energy into new ventures.

    In 2002, he launched The Outlook Magazine (新视线), a monthly glossy about design, designers and the creative industries.

    The next year, Modern Media Group also recently acquired Hong Kong’s City Magazine (号外), which has been one the territory’s leading magazines since the 1970s. This was perhaps the first time a PRC media company had bought a magazine outside the Mainland, although it is certainly not going to be the last time.

    In December 2005, Shao launched China City (生活) magazine. It’s a large format glossy that costs 50 yuan. It looks similar to the Hong Kong City, but the content is completely different. The articles are essays, profiles and features about a variety of subjects from architecture to travel. The magazine even has music and art directors who contribute to each issue: Tan Dun the Chinese composer who won an Oscar for his Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon score, and McArthur Genius Award winner, New York-based artist Xu Bing.

    In the future, Shao hopes to continue expanding his print media business, but also has plans for the Internet. He defines his products as “non-mainstream mainstream media”, which means that all of his magazines are aimed at niche markets: he is not interested in making mass media. He will pursue the same direction online: looking for small groups of readers and users with similar interests and incomes, rather than pursuing the bigger mainstream groups that newspapers and celebrity magazines go after.

    Links and Sources

    Thanks to all the readers who have commented on my previous article in the Stone “Kung Fu for Philosophers.” I found many comments thoughtful and inspiring, for which I am deeply grateful. Instead of trying to respond to all, as it is obviously impractical, I would like to offer some additional remarks to supplement my previous article as my response.

    Peimin Ni“Kung Fu”

    Several years ago, I was invited for lunch by a man named Wu Bin, who was the former martial arts coach of the kung fu movie star Jet Li. Mr. Wu and I did not know each other, and I had no idea why he invited me for lunch. I was more puzzled when I got there — Mr. Wu insisted that I be seated in the most prominent spot, and placed himself and all his associates at the table in lesser positions. With the ritual setting in order, he then humbly presented me a classic martial arts manual, and asked if I could explain the introduction of the book for him. “It is full of philosophical terms,” he said. “I have trouble understanding it.”

    I looked at the manual. It was on a martial arts style called xingyi quan. While the main body of the book was about postures and movements of the body and energy, which Mr. Wu had no trouble interpreting, the introduction was basically a treatise about metaphysics. It contained views derived from the Song dynasty neo-Confucian scholar Zhou Dunyi, in which an abstract concept, calledwuji, the ultimate non-being, takes a central role as ontologically prior to taiji (t’ai chi), or “the primordial ultimate.” Oddly enough, the author offered no indication about how the ideas should be translated into the martial arts, as if it were all self-evident.

    Thanks to Mr. Wu’s practical background and drawing on my own philosophical training and experience in the practice of Chinese calligraphy art — a form of kung fu which is deeply influenced by traditional Chinese philosophy — it did not take me long to convey the basic ideas to him and help him see the intellectual connection between the metaphysics and the martial arts, though we both aware perfectly well that it would take lots of cultivation for the connection to be embodied and manifested in the practice. The point is basically to empty oneself (including the metaphysical idea), so that, paradoxically, one can achieve unification of the self and the world! Mr. Wu sighed, regretfully, “Today’s martial arts practitioners focus too much on the surface performances. That is not real kung fu!”

    I  share this story here is because a few commenters raised the question of whether my original post was denouncing the practical significance of the theoretical pursuit for truth, despite the fact that I wrote, “Philosophers’ ideas, even when theoretical, have never stopped functioning as guides to human life.” The misreading, however, made me aware that I need to give the other side of the practical-theoretical coin the weight that it deserves.

    Even though, as I wrote in the first post, a menu should not be mistaken for food, this does not mean that the menu is worthless for getting food, nor does it entail the demand that everything that can serve as a menu must be created for the sake of getting food. What is “alarming” is not that some people like to think for thinking’s sake or purely for the search of truth; it is rather that when this way of doing philosophy becomes dominant, we tend to forget that there can be other ways of thinking and other values or implications of philosophizing. Just as Zhou Dunyi’s metaphysics can be taken as a guiding principle for xingyi quan, calligraphy, or any other kung fu defined in the broad way and not merely as a mirror of reality, virtually all philosophical ideas can inform human practice and have practical implications. Hence the relationship between kung fu and philosophy goes both ways: As much as we philosophers need to open our vision for the kung fu perspective, all forms of kung fu depend on philosophical ideas, one way or another. Whether good or bad, theories mold our patterns of behavior and even transform us. While attachment to conceptual truth will block one’s path toward higher levels of kung fu, so will a kung fu practitioner have trouble reaching higher stages of perfection if they lack good philosophical guidance, including proper conceptual resources.

    Trying to obtain the truth and yet frustrated by the postmodern deconstruction of the project, many people today find themselves facing the dilemma of either embracing relativism or falling back to dogmatic absolutism. The kung fu approach helps us to see the instructional value of our apparently endless philosophical disputes. This is exactly why I propose the term “kung fu,” understood properly, as not only a guide toward more fruitful reading of traditional Chinese philosophy but also as an approach (though obviously not as the only approach) through which we can evaluate philosophies of all traditions.

    We philosophers are proud of discovering hidden assumptions and often feel that we have beaten every bush and asked all the perennial questions that philosophers care to ask. But it does not take much reflection to realize that we devote a lot of attention to the pursuit of propositional truth and very little toward exploring the the transformation of the human subject. We have fields of study that bare some proximity to the subject, such as action theory andpraxiology, but one thing that may push these fields of study further is for us to move our focus from mere actions or praxis to kung fu — namely to the transformation and enabling of the human subject. Could the concept of “kung fu” link the practitioner to action in such a way that actions would no longer be treated merely as the result of rational choices or impulses or technical/managerial procedures, but also as the result of cultivation? Could it lead to a shift in our study of human actions and praxis similar to the one in ethics that resulted in a renewed interest in the moral agent? There is a lot of work to do.

    Perhaps I did a fine job in helping Mr. Wu, but I can’t help feeling uneasy about the prominent seat that Mr. Wu had me sit in. We philosophers are wise more in the sense of knowing that we don’t know, but on the other hand, people like Mr. Wu look up to us for our guidance, and they have a good reason for that — because our philosophical ideas do matter.

    Peimin Ni

    Peimin Ni is professor of philosophy at Grand Valley State University. He currently serves as the president of the Society for Asian and Comparative Philosophyand is editor-in-chief of a book series on Chinese and comparative philosophy. His most recent book is “Confucius: Making the Way Great.”

    via http://opinionator.blogs.nytimes.com/2010/12/21/philosophers-for-kung-fu-a-response/

    Posted by Joel Martinsen on Thursday, February 10, 2011 at 11:12 PM


    China’s national language is known by a variety of names. Called “Mandarin” or “modern standard Chinese” in English, it is officially known as Putonghua (普通话, “common speech”) on the mainland and guoyu (国语, “national language”) in Taiwan. Chinese in general is called hanyu (汉语, “Han language”), which in casual speech often refers to mainstream Mandarin.

    The identification of this term with the Han, China’s majority ethnic group, is detrimental to national unity, argues Zhang Wenmu in an essay published in the Global Times last October. The author, a professor at the Centre for Strategic Studies, Beijing University of Aeronautics & Astronautics, studies national security strategy and writes frequently for the Global Times on national security issues. He proposed that China abandon hanyu in favor of a broader term that will better represent its status as the country’s “national strategic language.”

    The essay, translated below, is one preliminary result of a grant program at the Shanghai International Studies University to study foreign language development strategy.

    Fashioning China’s National Strategic Language

    By Zhang Wenmu / GT

    An important mark of a modern state, once its peoples have agreed to join together to establish a state, is that from a legal standpoint, clan authority is subordinate to state authority, ethnic self-determination is subordinate to state sovereignty, and ethnic dialects have given way to a national language. A national language is the language in common use by the citizens; dialects are languages in common use by different ethnic groups or regions within the country. Elevating the language of the public from a dialect to a national language is an important sign of the existence of state sovereignty.

    The destiny of the state determines the destiny of its people, and the destiny of the people is the destiny of their language. Many languages have been buried in history, and if our focus in language studies is only on details like phonemes and syllables, if we do not pay attention to the life of the language and related political factors, then our research has lost all genuine meaning. If we wish for the world to know and understand China, as we promote the national language, we must step up the formation of China’s strategic language and its use on a world stage.

    Here, I would recommend that the concept of a “Chinese language” (中国语, Zhōngguó yǔ) be used in place of “Han language” (汉语, Hànyǔ), and with this as a starting point, shape a national strategic language that occupies a higher position than other ethnic and regional dialects. My reasons are as follows:

    First, the use of “Chinese language” is advantageous to national identity. For China’s social governance amid periods of national transition, it has a particularly large and crucial political significance. During the Republican period, the national government once promoted a “national language” (国语, Guóyǔ); after the founding of New China, the central government promoted “common speech” (普通话, Pǔtōnghuà). These were all effective practices that shaped a national strategic language and elevated the national identity of all citizens. “Chinese language” is of course the strategic language that contemporary China must devote major efforts to shape.

    Second, the traditional Chinese concept of “Han language” gives prominence to ethnic identity but lacks a national identity. Before the founding of the People’s Republic of China, ethnic languages of particular regions did not possess an inevitable political connection; however, once a People’s Republic of China recognized by all ethnic groups was founded, different communities needed to have a unified national language, a “single script.”* Today, the term “Han language” is on equal footing with “Tibetan language,” “Uyghur language,” and other ethnic and regional languages too numerous to mention. This is at odds with the principles of national identity unanimously agreed upon when the country was founded by a multi-ethnic coalition. Under these principles, non-uniform national self-determination and ethnic identity gave way to unified state sovereignty and national identity. A “Chinese language” based on the “Han language” family can be fashioned to occupy a higher position domestically than the “dialects” of ethnic groups, and to express a uniform national strategic language recognized by all the people of China internationally.

    Third, an excellent context already exists within the international community for the shaping of China’s national strategic language. For quite some time now, English has generally used the term “Chinese” to express the notion of the “Chinese language” for which ordinary Chinese use the term “Han language.” Chinese is defined in English as “the standard language of China, based on the speech of Beijing.” And for the terms “Han language” and “standard speech,” which are nearer to dialects in meaning, English uses “Mandarin” which is defined in English as “the major dialect spoken by a majority of the Chinese people.” Hence we too ought to use “Chinese language” in place of the “Han language” concept in mainstream TV, newspapers, and magazines for both domestic and foreign consumption.

    It must be pointed out that fashioning a national strategic language elevated above the dialects does not imply that dialects must be wiped out. Corresponding language policies should include the preservation and enrichment of the diversity of dialects, and the protection and elevation of the primacy of the Chinese language.

    When a country is founded, the creation of a principal language helps prevent domestic ethnic diversity from dissipating the unity of the country, an important experience that developed western countries have gained through their highly successful domestic governance. Just as the emphasis in “The United States of America” (美利坚合众国) is on “united” (合众), not “states” (众国), the emphasis in China’s concept of “ethnic regional autonomy” (民族区域自治) lies not in “ethnic” (民族) but in “regional” (区域). Modern state theory demonstrates that once sovereign states have been established, ethnic diversity exists only on the level of culture, not politics, with ethnic differences then falling under the scope of regional differences in geographical economics. In the scope of politics, civic principles replace ethnic principles, and diverse ethnic identities are transformed into an undifferentiated civic identity. By the same token, fashioning a strategic language for China—an undifferentiated “Chinese language”—does not imply eliminating diverse domestic ethnic characteristics, but means enhancing national unity upon a foundation of guaranteeing and further enriching ethnic diversity.

    Zhang’s proposal was picked apart by Wang Dechun (王德春), a linguist and rhetorician at the Shanghai International Studies University, in the November 15 issue of the university’s newspaper. Wang took issue with Zhang’s brush-off of the linguistics discipline and his reference to a “Han language family,” and cited examples from the Soviet Union and the English speaking world to illustrate how a national language need not be artificially distinguished from ethnic languages.

    Wang also questioned the importance of the national strategic language (国家战略语言) concept. Indeed, there do not seem to be many references to such a thing available online. Do other countries have national strategic languages which they deploy to promote national unity within the country and soft power on an international stage?


    • Terms that appear in English in the original text have been rendered in italics in this translation.
    • 书同文shū tong wén: The Records of the Grand Historian lists this, along with unifying axle widths, as one of Qin Shi Huang’s achievements, but it turns up in the earlier Doctrine of the Mean ascribed to Confucius (who adds a line about unified standards of conduct): “今天下车同轨,书同文,行同伦。”
    Links and Sources

    via http://www.danwei.org/language/chinas_national_strategic_lang.php

    In 2006, Oracle Bones was selected as a finalist for the U.S. National Book Award. Ultimately it did not win, but the author, Peter Hessler, should not be the only one to feel disappointed.Oracle Bones contains the essential elements to elevate Hessler to fame – the book covered the U.S. bombing of Chinas embassy in Yugoslavia; it talked about preparations for the Beijing Olympics; and it touched on that Square with ‘strong political connotations. Even if the content, which was full of symbolism and convenient political labelsperhaps the style best suited to aNew Yorker Beijing correspondent – did not manage to penetrate deeply under Chinas skin, it was the only proper way to attract a large Anglo-American readership.

    By contrast, Country Driving, published in the U.S. in 2010, is more natural, unadorned and restrained. On the whole, it skirts the dirt of politics, dealing instead with issues that strictly speaking arent considered to have traditional news value. Hessler relentlessly explores Chinas depths, where the silence is so profound it is deafening. It is precisely because he uses no convenient labels or signposts that the essence of this book, which was originally written for the English-speaking world, can perhaps ultimately only be appreciated by a Chinese readership.

    After reading reviews of this book in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Guardian, The Economist and more than a dozen other media, I felt that I might as well not have read them at all. When you first pick up Country Driving theres the danger that you might mistake it for a book about driving culture or a “road trip” book. One by one, those foreign book reviewers fell into this trap. Peter Hessler himself participated in setting it up. At a lecture for the Asia Society in the U.S., Hessler selected some Chinese driving test questions, featured in the book, and turned them into slides for the talk. For example:

    352. If another motorist stops you to ask directions, you should

    A not tell him.

    B reply patiently and accurately.

    C tell him the wrong way.

    The U.S. audience saw this and burst into laughter. Civilized people are generous and, in situations like these where a little goodwill isnt going to make anyone uncomfortable, they laughed, finding humor in the overly-analytical eastern mind. Nonetheless, this kind of humor which stems from cultural differences, however innocuous, is still shallow and, ultimately, unnecessary. On the whole, it distracts from the focus of the book. Its flippancy dilutes Country Drivings deeper undertones. I dont believe that I am totally incapable of understanding and appreciating humor. Hesslers deadpan sense of humor, the so-called dry sense of humor, is clearly evident, but shouldnt we expect all American non-fiction writers to have this sense of humor? The difference between Hessler and those other now well-known travel writers is not Peter Hesslers sense of humor, but rather the degree to which he gets entwined with Chinese people, on both a practical and an emotional level.

    Indeed, once the car has completed the long, dusty journey that is Country Driving, it would be better described as the thread rather than the theme of the book. Its a little bit like a necklace: the focus should be on the beads that make up the necklace, rather than on the string that holds them together. If everything that is written about the car is nothing more than the lid of a trap then what is this book really about; in other words, what exactly are the beads that form the necklace? This question is not as easy to answer as it might first appear.

    From a structural point of view, the three sections of Country DrivingThe Wall, The Village, and The Factoryseem to be in balance, but actually there are enormous differences between the points of departure and the degree of emotional investment in each one. The first part, Hesslers expedition along the Great Wall, is written using a similar architecture to that of Oracle Bones. Both books employ symbolic Chinese cultural objects as a medium, hoping to use these to measure the evolutionary pulse between the ancient and modern, and add the dimension of time to observations on China. The problem is that these over-simplistic attempts cannot find an echo in the realities of contemporary China. In fact, as Hessler heads west along the ruins of the Great Wall, his experiences lack consistency because his route is mechanical and pre-determined. At Genghis Khans tomb he encounters three inebriated cadres who had been at a luncheon banquet and observes them as they tenaciously try to bargain with the ticket collector at the door; at a cheap hostel for truck drivers in Gansu province he learns that in an upstairs room there lives a “post-Soviet version of Sister Carrie”a Russian prostitute; and at a roadside restaurant in Zhangjiakou he meets a female boss who claims to be the “United Sources of America Inc., Deputy Director of Operations.”… and while these may still be considered interesting snapshots of contemporary China, they have no essential connection with the Great Wall. If Hessler were to arbitrarily choose another route from Beijing to Gansu, he would be just as likely to encounter many of the same things. The Great Wall, this important symbol of Chinese culture, is already entirely disconnected from the realities of todays China. Country Driving expresses this point fully and convincingly, but surely its not worth spending 100 plus pages doing it?

    Even though the objectives he sets up may not be practical, Hessler relies on his sharp observation to overcome limitations. The observations he makes, or more accurately, the observations he makes of society, are of two kindsthose that are evident and those that are hidden from view. For an example of the first kind, we can turn to the section where he discusses hiring a car from ‘Capital Motors: “They never asked where I was taking the Jeep Cherokee. The rental contract specifically forbade drivers from leaving the Beijing region, but I decided to ignore this rulethey wouldnt figure it out until I returned the jeep with a loaded odometer. In China, much of life involves skirting regulations, and one of the basic truths is that forgiveness comes easier than permission.” On the original English edition that I read on a Kindle, 59 people had already underlined that last sentence. Clearly, those readers were deeply impressed by Hesslers ability to grasp social norms and models. However, I am more interested in his more subtle observations, which cannot be upheld as judgments, or classified as aphorisms. While driving through Shanxi and Inner Mongolia, it becomes Hesslers habit to pick up hitchhikers, who turn out to be mostly young women: “… girls who had left the village and were on their way to becoming something else. They were well dressed, often in skirts and heels… They wore… cheap perfume… Invariably they were migrants on a home visit. They worked in factories, in restaurants, in hair salons, and they didnt say much about these jobs. At first, I couldnt figure out why there were so many women because in fact the majority of Chinese migrants are male. But this wasnt a peak travel season… The people I met generally worked closer to home, in provincial cities or good-sized townships. For them, village trips were feasible, and women were more likely to make the effort, because they were attentive to parents and grandparents. When I asked about their packages, they said: ‘Gifts.” Actually, Hessler blends some explanation for this phenomenon into his narrative. For example, if we go one layer deeper we can analyze further. Firstly, the adult male labor force is extracted from rural areas and this causes a gender imbalance in the countryside; secondly, because of ethical considerations, some young female migrant workers choose to work at a location not too far from their home village; thirdly, the nature of their employment offers the women the chance to visit their families during those holidays other than Spring Festival; fourthly, these women choose to walk at least a part of the journey back home because transport is inconvenient or because of economic considerations. Perhaps we could carry on and analyze this still further, right down to dissecting Chinese society to the most fundamental and microscopic level, but actually this is already deep enough. The observation of these female hitchhikers, seemingly unremarkable in itself, brings together and intertwines many significant and disparate facets of society, from the flow of Chinas migrant population, family ethics, working traits, to transportation choices. Because of this, it is very difficult for us to draw a simple conclusion from this observation. Compared with those sections where Hessler discusses why Chinese drivers drive so willfully or why parts of the ruins of the Great Wall are now buried under dirt, his observations of the hitchhikers is a much richer source of information for a Chinese urban readership. This is inevitably the result of a difference in focus between Chinese- and English-speaking readers.

    Its inevitable that, while on the road and following a fixed itinerary, experiences tend to flash by; the traveler doesnt have time to build up close emotional connections with the people he meets along the way. However, once we get to the second part of Country Driving, the emotional intensity rises sharply. This is because Hessler chooses a fixed location and, with enormous patience, cultivates and maintains a relationship with the place. Later on, this relationship is turned rapidly on its head, with an intensity that probably even surprised Hessler himself.

    In 2002, Hessler and an American female friend, Mimi Kuo, rented a country home in a village called Sancha in the foothills of the Yan Mountain range. Although it was only about an hour or twos drive from Beijing, it was surprisingly behind the times. Some of the books richest and most lyrical passages come from his descriptions of Sancha. Among these is an entrancing paragraph, where Hessler recounts how he went picking walnuts with some villagers, lashing the trees branches with sticks: “theres a beauty to the shifting sound and light: the whistling sticks, the fresh leaves floating through the air, the walnuts thudding heavily into the dirt. After its over the trees seem to sighbranches hum softly, still vibrating with the memory of the assault.” However, such tranquility and harmony was to last for only a brief interlude. Just then, Hessler witnesses the petty wrangling of village politics; the enormous impact of the rising tourism on villagers lives; and the intense effect of urbanization on the way the villagers thought. “It was all but impossible for people to keep their bearings in a country that changed so fast.”

    The story of Sancha revolves around a middle-aged villager surnamed Wei. This intelligent man, dissatisfied with his situation, employs a highly individualistic approach, seizing business opportunities, joining the Party, buying a second-hand car, and fighting for an allowance for his mentally-retarded older brother, although in this he is finally defeated by the village party secretary. Hessler uses Wei and his family to paint an exquisite portrayal of the economictransition, social conflicts, the politics, customs, religion, and emotional relationships in Chinasrural north. From some angles, it can be regarded as an anthropological study. Its only when he is with Weis young son that Hesslers feelings begin to seep into his writing, causing him to transgress the detachment required of an anthropologist. The little boy suffers from idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura and Hessler does everything in his power to help him. He consults with three U.S.-based specialists on the boys diagnosis; asks Mimi Kuo to organize for a bed in a top Beijing hospital; and discusses buying blood for the boy via an American contact who works for a pharmaceutical company in Beijing. Hessler angers the doctor in the Beijing hospital by querying the safety of the blood. When he suggests that the blood should be tested for viruses, the doctor replies: “Believe me, you cant!” Hessler writes: “It disgusted me to hear a doctor say such nonsense.” He shakes with anger. In the books entirety, this is the only time that Hessler loses control of his emotions. From this, we can infer the depth of feeling between Hessler and this little boy. However, even more than this, at the exact moment he loses control, we are given the chance to read a realistic account of how an American would handle such a situation, and at the same time it allows us to see to what extent Hesslers outsider status influences the fate of the people he writes about. This child is very lucky, not only because there is a person who cares about his health, but because that person has the ability to mobilize resources which the average person cannot. The issue is that at that critical juncture, Hesslers first thought is to use his contacts instead of following the rules. Of course, such a kind impulse is understandable, even moving, but when Hessler mocks drivers on wChinas highways who do not obey traffic regulations, does he ever consider that there might be a deeper institutional background as to why Chinese people are unwilling to follow rules? In China, what determines whether someone decides to first use their connections rather than abiding by regulations? Why, at that critical moment, does Hessler fail to follow the sacred American value of integrity? These questions are more worthy of our serious thought than the spontaneous expression of one persons kindness.

    If we say that the Sancha narrative is closer to Hesslers style in his first book, River Town, then Country Drivings third part, namely the section that centers on Lishui in Zhejiang province, allows Hessler to really bring his strengths into play. On one level, he acts just like a novelist, choosing a base from which to build up close relationships with other people, and meticulously describing everything. On another level, he is like a journalist, traveling all around the area, capturing fragments of life in order to substantiate and enrich his partial understanding of the place and, to a certain extent, to build and perfect a bigger picture from these snapshots.

    It is on the side of a road that Hessler first meets the boss of a private enterprise in Lishui specializing in making bra-strap adjustment rings. Thereafter he often visits the factory, eating and living with the staff. He gets involved with the factory preparations, the installation of equipment, the production launch, and the factorys relocation. His intense level of interest in the factory even causes the boss to go so far as to suspect at one point that Hessler is “an undercover competitor”. Hessler gives his readers, as The Economist book review puts it, the chance to be “a fly on the wall” and observe their every move and word. Here, Hessler takes our breath away by recounting the subtle twists and turns of human nature and the different shapes and shades of that society. We cannot help but admit that this is the first time we have read such a profound depiction of factory workers in contemporary China.

    Whatever way we choose to summarize this section, it is inevitable that we will sacrifice some richness of detail, and its precisely that detail that is the most precious component of the narrative. I would just like to talk about what struck me the most, that is the alienation of workers from their work, and how work has become disassociated from the worker. Fifteen-year old Tao Yufeng, a female employee at the bra ring factory, is very nimble with her hands. She handles the bras underwire. “She wore a thimble on her left thumb, and the metal clicked each time she inserted another wire into the spring. Clickclickclickclickthe sounds came steady as a metronome, as fast as I could count. One afternoon, I watched Yufeng prepare thousands of wires… often she worked 10 hours straight on a single breast size. She could answer my questions without pausing or looking up.” Tao Yufeng says: “To be honest, I often have a peaceful feeling. I work alone and theres nobody to bother me. I dont think about anything in particular. If I try to think about something specific, then I dont work as fast. So I just try to keep my mind empty.” It is difficult to say exactly how bad these working conditions are, but I feel that there is something suffocating behind the serenity. At a local artists workshop which copies American and European paintings and exports them overseas, Hessler asks a female painter: “Did you like to draw when you were little?” She curtly replies: “No, I didnt like it one bit.” Hessler writes: “She never painted anything for funwhen I mentioned the possibility, she looked at me like I was crazy… I asked which of her paintings she liked best, and she said, ‘I dont like any of them. She had a similar response when I inquired if she admired the work of any famous artists, like Monet and Van Gogh. ‘I dont have a favorite, she said. ‘That kind of art has no connection at all with what we do.” There is no more vivid expression of “alienation” than this. There has been a great deal of discussion on the many different costs incurred during the course of Chinas modernization, but one cost, the alienation of people, has seldom been raised. If emptiness is the result of modernization then what is the point of modernization at all?

    Hessler paints many delicate portrayals of this emptiness in peoples lives and in society. His conclusions are frequently so accurate that they are heartbreaking. “In a Chinese boomtown, though, its all business: factories and construction supplies, and cell phone shops… entertainment options appear instantly but social organizations are rare. No private newspapers, no independent labor unions… Religion might flourish at the individual level, but institutions are weak… There werent any law firms or nonprofit organizations. Police and government cadres were almost as rare… ” Hessler points out that some Chinese people have become good at making plans and adjusting their lives “but it would take another major step for such personal lessons to be applied to society-wide issues,” “often I sensed that China needed to reach a point where the middle and upper classes felt like the system prevented them from succeeding.” Is China anywhere near to developing to this point? Do the middle and upper classes already have this feeling? Perhaps its not difficult to answer this question; we just need to understand that it wont necessarily do any good to speak it out aloud.

    The Pareto improvement may be considered the ideal model of social evolution. This is one where any change benefits at least one person in society and harms no one. However, Chinas many changes, especially those that have taken place in the countryside, are not the kind of changes to inspire optimism whatever way you look at them. They have harmed many people while the minority, who have benefited, dont live in the countryside. No one but the company bosses and the developers is clapping for joy, while the rural population physically shoulders these almost unendurable tumultuous changes. Who should be made accountable for these developments and provide proof of their legitimacy?

    Sometimes Hessler cant help a certain dispirited tone: “In a drive-by town, I felt like a drive-by journalist, listening to sad stories before I got back on the expressway.” The problem is Hessler can leave, whereas we cannot. When we read Hesslers book is it in order to comprehend this place, understand this place, change this place, or to say, dont let this place change in the same way?

    Even if you know that in the Chinese translation almost three pages of content beginning with the second paragraph on page 194 has been deleted; even if you know that much of the books language has been quietly made more moderate; even if you know that several of the sentences have been translated incorrectly; you should still be thankful that this book was published in China. Our first thanks should go to the authorPeter Hessler, a great China watcher and a long-time friend of the Chinese people. As for who is included and who is not included by the words “Chinese people”… I think you know.

    Translated by Lucy Johnston

    via http://en.chutzpahmagazine.com.cn/EnMagazineTextDetails.aspx?id=62

    I underline the government’s determination that nobody should use dialects. Indeed wise parents will never let their children speak dialect at all . . . The more one learns dialect words, the less space there is for Mandarin words or English words, or multiplication tables or formulas in mathematics, physics or chemistry.
    - (Speech on ‘Mandarin must replace dialects as the mother tongue’ on 25 October 1981, by Singapore’s Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew, Singapore Chinese Chamber of Commerce 1991)

    According to the Government, Singapore’s lack of progress, particularly amongst the Chinese Community, was largely due to the use of dialects creating an incoherent and divided society. To tackle the problem, the Government introduced the Speak Mandarin Campaign (SMC) in 1979, which effectively signalled the beginning of the death of dialects.


    One of the many Speak Mandarin Campaign slogans


    Singapore’s many Chinese dialects (Hokkien, Cantonese, Hakka etc.) came about as a result of early settlers arriving from various provinces in China.

    In the 1950s & 60s, Singapore, like many de-colonised countries, began a search for an independent national identity. The Chinese in particular, turned to the cultural products of film and music from Hong Kong as a source of inspiration. The fascination with Hong Kong was also seen as a reactionary and feudal ‘Yellow Culture’ that was set out to oppose the ‘Red’ culture still apparent in Communist China.

    Canto-pop in particular, boomed because of its apparent lack of censorship and ‘sexy songstress’, and made its way to the hearts of Singapore with popular Hong Kong singers taking centrestage at the Republic’s newly established culture centre, the National Theatre.


    Cantopop made its presence felt in Singapore even before the Four Heavenly Kings.


    However, Singapore’s continued emphasis of bilingualism upon independence was becoming more apparent in both schools and the media, and this led to ‘actively discouraging’ the use of dialects championed through the Speak Mandarin Campaign, with then PM Lee going as far to say that ‘ Chinese Singaporeans below the age of forty who speak dialect will the last in queue (in government departments)

    Some slogans throughout the years of the Speak Mandarin Campaign include

    华人讲华语,合情又合理 (Mandarin’s In. Dialect’s Out – 1983) and
    (More Mandarin, Less Dialect. Make it a way of life – 1989)

    Some of the first steps on the emphasis on Mandarin by the Government included the removal of popular Cantonese programmes from television and radio stations, most of which were state owned. By 1981, they were phased out, much to the displeasure of even non-Cantonese Singaporeans.

    Even up till today, the Media Development Authority(MDA), states that on National Television,All Chinese programmes, except operas or other programmes specifically approved by the Authority, must be in Mandarin. Dialects in dialogues and songs may be allowed provided the context justifies usage and is sparingly used.

    None of this is more perhaps more apparent in the movie Army Daze, where Malcolm and gang frequently tell the hokkien spewing character Ah Beng to ‘讲华语‘ (speak Mandarin).


    Dialects however received some reprieve in 1991 when the PAP lost four constituencies during the General Elections. One of the reasons cited for poor results being the use of dialects by Opposition leaders reaching out to the Chinese voters.

    Many also saw the Speak Mandarin Campaign as a propaganda effort to alienate a large section of the working-ethnic Chinese who still predominantly spoke in Dialects.

    The Government then stepped it and although they never actively promoted the use of dialects, they stopped shoft of discouraging it and even allowed TVB, the Hong Kong Cantonese station to be shown on cable television in 1995.

    Even the Prime Minister himself has been seen using dialects phrases in many National Day Rallies, none perhaps more famous than his statement one should order mee siam mai hum.

    The effects of the Speak Mandarin Campaign were however already evident, with the population of households now increasingly using less dialects and more Mandarin.

    Language Spoken at Home Among Chinese Resident Population in Singapore[30]

    Predominant Household Language

    1957 (%)

    1980 (%)

    2000 (%)

    English 1.8 11.6 23
    Mandarin 0.1 10.2 35
    Chinese Dialects 97 81.4 30.7


    Dialects however represent a truly cultural link and experience for many, the deterioration of which has led to a comprehensive lack of communication between the elderly and their grandchildren.

    The beauty about dialects, just like any other language, is that it is able to emote a certain feeling through it words that no dubbing or subtitling is able to accomplish.

    It also surprising that the Government, with its constant strive for racial harmony, actually saw the Speak Mandarin Campaign as a way to improve cohesion in the community and not a tool for economic progress and trade relations with the increasing power that was China.

    Nothing really beats walking into a dim sum restaurant and hearing the waiters shout to each other in Cantonese, trying to understand what your grandparents say, or simply even telling the coffeeshop uncle that all you want is a nice cup of ‘teh siu dai (tea with milk but less sugar). Dialects should be here to stay and is one of the few things we should not let any form of education or state run campaigns intervene in.