Monthly Archives: October 2016

Julie curates China热风

Julie Curates China appears every Wednesday in Hoje Macau. Visit my website for more.


Drawing by novelist Eileen Chang 张爱玲

A fair and chaste lady is the ideal spouse of gentleman


Water fowl are tweeting on the shoal;

a fair and chaste lady is the ideal spouse of gentleman.


This love poem is almost 3000 years old, it comes from The Book of Odes, one of the Four Books (and Fives Classics) edited (read: censored) by Confucius. Confucius is a man who devoted his life to telling the world to believe how importantly Chinese people attach to moral character. And in the end, we do.

China has been home to a myriad of beautiful women throughout the ages, and differing standards of beauty account for its wide aesthetic scope. Some women were lauded for their dancing and singing skills, others for their virtuous nature, and still others for their involvement in political intrigue.

Xishi 西施 , Wang Zhaojun 王昭君, Diaochan 貂蝉 and Yang Yuhuan 杨玉环 are the so-called Four Beauties, four ancient women who stand out being “Beauty for the Good of the People”.

These women are still remembered today for their significant roles in history. When her state of Yue faced aggression from the state of Wu, Xishi accepted an assignment to seduce the king of Wu and make him kill his marshal. Her patriotic efforts helped Yue win the war against Wu. Diaochan is a fictional character from Three Kingdoms. She beat a treacherous warlord at a badger game, ensuring the safety of her people. Wang Zhaojun volunteered to marry the barbarian Khan in the north for the sake of her country’s peace, and Yang Yuhuan hanged herself to quash a mutiny.

They are heroic women, but most of all, they are tragic women. Chinese literati cried for them and admired them because they were “good women”, and a good Chinese woman was characterised either by her heroism or her bitter loneliness.

In Chinese aesthetic conceptions even today, virtue seems to outweigh appearance.

No less beautiful are Daji 妲己and Baosi 褒姒. These two names invoke aversion rather than admiration. Daji, the concubine and accomplice of tyrannous King Zhou of Shang, was cruel to the people. The story of Baosi, concubine of King You of Zhou, is that she seldom smiled, and the king was eager to make her happy. One day he ordered a beacon fire to be lit at the defence posts, sending his dukes a false enemy invasion signal. The dukes and their forces rushed to the capital, only to find they had been fooled. Baosi was amused at the chaos she had caused, and grinned. Later the enemy state did launch an attack, but because the king had “cried wolf”, no duke sent troops at the sight of beacon fires, and the king was killed.

These two women were considered a scourge on their country and people.  They were probably not “Beauty for the Good of the People”, but they at least had good fun.

From the etymological point of view, Chinese character for beauty is 美 – which is made up of two parts: 羊 + 大— meaning a “big sheep”. This character probably means “a delightful taste” in its original shape.  Confucius didn’t bother to tell us.


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Julie curates China 热风

Julie Curates China appears every Wednesday in the Portuguese language newspaper Hoje Macau or read a selection of articles here 


A rare poster of actress Lan Ping aka Jiang Qing or Madame Mao from 1930’s Shanghai. Co-initiator and architect of the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution.


Distant greetings: China’s political music



2016 saw the 50th anniversary of the movement, formerly called the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution, which lasted for 10 years.

The Cultural Revolution formally kicked off in May 1966, when Mao Zedong attacked rivals in the Communist party leadership and endorsed a wave of student criticism against teachers. The anarchic and bloody decade that followed discredited Mao in the eyes of many Chinese and paved the way for Deng Xiaoping’s market reforms after Mao’s death.

Chairman Mao’s last revolution is one of the most controversial events in modern Chinese history. The nationwide political campaign calling youth and working class to rebel against the state apparatus resulted in violent factional struggles in late 1966 and 1967. To restore order, Mao brought in the People’s Liberation Army and waves of repression followed. Many Mao-supporters of the early Cultural Revolution were victimized in the later stages.

The Cultural Revolution left deep wounds and trauma. It is not until 1980’s that a huge number of victims from among the political and intellectual elites were rehabilitated by the Communist Party and court verdicts against ordinary people were revised. Nevertheless, many people from all former factions feel mistreated by the CCP today, which is why talking about the Cultural Revolution is still a taboo. The Party avoids the heated subject and prefers mention the opening of China, Deng Xiaoping’s economic reforms, and so on. For the Chinese people, the censorship makes it hard to discuss it freely in public or they are simply ignorant (youth) or too apathetic (new middle classes). Criticizing sensitive issues in public is not tolerated. However, in private, mouths may open more easily.

In November 2015, on a Reality TV-show, a grey-haired man picked up a guitar and crooned about the death of his father and the dissolution of his family during the Cultural Revolution. Yang Le楊樂, dubbed China’s Johnny Cash gave a live performance, which was a rare public expression of sorrow for one of most tragic episodes in China’s recent history.

Yang Le’s song Ever since then從那以後 sounds like this:


When I was small
A family of six
Older brothers and sisters, I was the youngest
Dad was handsome and brave
Mom was young and beautiful
They worked earnestly, and were kind-hearted

After the Cultural Revolution, only five were left.
Dad suffered a wrong, he passed on first.
Mom had no choice, she married someone from a different place.
My siblings went up to the mountains and down to the countryside.

From that time on, our family was dispersed.
Brothers and sisters to the four corners of the earth.
At each holiday, we could only send distant greetings
Distant greetings
Distant greetings

Many years later, looking back again,
Brothers and sisters, no need to comfort each other
We all remember, Dad wanted us to be honest and kind
We should never change
We remember, Mom wanted us to be strong
And happy
Even today
We sing Dad and Mom’s favorite song
Strong and happy
Kind and honest
We sing Dad and Mom’s favorite song
Good and kind
Living happily

It should be mentioned that Yang Le was discovered for the popular TV-show by Godfather of Chinese rock-n-roll Cui Jian, who in 1986 stirred the indolent quiet unequivocally and expressed the private feelings of an entire generation through his iconic song Nothing to my name 一无所有, which you can listen here:

(Lyrics inside the youtube link)


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Julie curates China 热风

Julie Curates China appears every Wednesday in the Portuguese language newspaper Hoje Macau or read a selection of articles here 



“Why do foreigners kiss a lot?”:

A brief history of kissing


Surfing the Internet today, I came across the longest kiss in film history. In Late Autumn (2010), Hyun Bin, Korean actor, and Wei Tang, Chinese actress, kissed over a long take of 2 1/2 minutes.

China produced its first film in 1905, 10 years after the Lumière brothers projected a moving picture to a paying audience for the first time. In the intervening 100 years, at least 7,000 movies have been produced in China, some deeply affecting people’s lives and outlooks. Around 1909, China with its population of 400 million began to be recognized as the world’s largest cinema market, which myth persists.

In Shanghai, American-Russian businessman Benjamin Brodsky established Asia Film Co., China’s first film company. With the capital and facilities provided by Asia Film Co., Zhang Shichuan and Zheng Zhengqiu, two figureheads in early Chinese cinema, directed The Difficult Couple (1913). It is considered the first Chinese fiction film. At the time, women were not allowed to star alongside men in plays and movies. But less than one year later, Yan Shanshan turned China’s arts community upside down by performing in a male-dominated film, playing the role of a maid in the Hong Kong movie Chuang-tzu Tests His Wife. Brodsky later took this film to the United States, making it the first Chinese movie played in a foreign country. It is a fact that women continued to stir Chinese film audience’s heart, not Kong Fu or panda.

But when a boy named Long only saw kiss scenes in Eastern European films as a child, he asked his father: “Why do foreigners kiss a lot?” His father replied impatiently: “Because they’re foreigners. Only foreigners do that.” Times were special when Long asked his question. Of course, people kissed in Chinese films as early as the 1930s; people kissed in classical literature. In the 1960s, the notion of “class struggle” was paramount. Kissing and hugging were considered capitalist and degenerate.

Today I would like to remember a few moments of Chinese people kissing on the silver screen.

In 1936, Fang Peiling directed A girls metamorphosis. In this film, the female lead was a girl who grew up dressed like a boy because of her grandfather’s gender preference. Then one day a girlfriend fell in love with “him”. The two girl’s kiss was a only a light peck on the cheek but it was the monumental first in Chinese cinema.

Romance on Lushan Mountain, produced in 1980, was described in an Agence France-Presse article at the time as being representative of a new trend in Chinese fashion and moviemaking. In fact, this movie was not a great breakthrough, but in the eyes of China’s culturally starved audiences, Romance on Lushan Mountain was a feast. The heroine in the movie changed her clothes dozens of times on the high mountain.

Apart from clothing, Romance touched the heart of the people by way of a little kiss. Dressed in bathing suits, the young female character, with a wild look in her eyes, said to the young man, “You are such a fool, but so adorable,” and pressed her lips slightly onto his face. It was breaking news at the time, for while kissing had been prevalent in the movies of the 1930s and 1940s, after 1949, when the People’s Republic of China was founded, kissing became extinct from the screen. Romance brought it back. 30 years later, lead actress Zhang Yu confessed: “I was so nervous I couldn’t find his lips. I meant to kiss him on the lips!”

Before Romance, the movie Reverberations of Life, released in 1979, had tried to break the taboo of kissing in movies after the Cultural Revolution. However, the director didn’t dare to let the kiss be fully exposed to the audience. As the two young characters are about to kiss each other goodbye, the director deliberately arranged a scenario in which the mother of the young woman suddenly opens the door, putting an abrupt end to any kissing. By doing this, the director also avoided criticism.

And finally, here is the longest ever kiss scene. Enjoy!

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Talk of the Town —热风 — Julie curates China

Julie Curates China appears every Wednesday in the Portuguese language newspaper Hoje Macau or read a selection of articles here 



artistic duo RongRong & Inri in front of their home in Chaochangdi, Beijing


artistic duo RongRong & Inri and their kids in front of their home in Chaochangdi, Beijing

Believe in your humanity, against all the evidence



A few days ago I discovered an album from 2004 by artistic duo RongRong(China) & Inri (Japan), 榮榮&映里, the influential photographic husband and wife team who have shaped contemporary photography in China and around the world.  OK, go back and read the sentence again and tell me what the unusual bit is. Yep, that’s right. He is Chinese and she is Japanese.

My memory flashed back to a haunting night in a south-Chinese metropolis not so long ago, an event that still puzzles me until this day.

I was visiting my family at that time. One evening a school friend phoned to invite me to a dinner party with more friends from our shared past. After the dinner, my friends encouraged me to go to a night café with them despite the curfew at the compound where I was staying. I followed them. At the café I suddenly realized there were only men left. What happened next was bizarre to say the least. My old school friends asked me if they could gang rape me. Well, I’m glad you asked. No, they were not drunk. The reason for their perplexing request arose from the knowledge of a novel of mine, in which I treated the Rape of Nanjing in a “morally ambiguous” way. I didn’t choose the Chinese side, and that is  wrong. That night I had had “eye-in-eye” contact with my nation’s past and for the first time I felt that history walked around in flesh and blood. Justice is revenge. After nearly eighty years, for the Chinese men the only possibility to maintain their male pride is to make the guizi pay back by raping their women, every single one of them, including me the anti-patriotic.

How I got out of the weirdly fascinating as well as threatening situation that night is not our topic today, apparently. Instead, I would like to invite you to watch a goosebump movie.

Nanking! Nanking!, or City of Life and Death, is the 3rd feature by Lu Chuan. Lu is independent and courageous. He never flirts with Zhang Yimou-ism (Raise the Red Lantern). He is brutal and brilliant and his cinematic narrative offers a lifelike, provocative ride.

The background of Lu Chuan’s story is World War 2, which started in Asia. Troubled by a long term economic slump, Japan’s military regime sought a solution and found a problem. The deluding oxygen was to subjugate China in order to propel the country into a future of expansionism. In 1931, Emperor Hiroshito bypassed the parliamentary procedure and gave direct order to the Japanese army to invade Manchuria. However, Japan would still wait until July 1937, when the carefully staged Marco Polo Bridge Incident took place near Beiping. Japan officially declared war against China and the rest of the world. In November the Imperial Army took Shanghai. One month later, Nanking, the then Chinese capital was abandoned by the Nationalist government.

Nanking! Nanking! follows the days of life and death of several people, including fictive characters and the historical “Good Nazi of Shanghai” John Rabe. But this film is not meant to be Chinese Schindler’s List. Lu Chuan opted for a brave perspective to tell a story never told before. Through the eyes of a young Japanese soldier, “everyman” Kadogawa, we are taken to the macabre killing field of the Massacre of Nanking, a.k.a. the Rape of Nanking. The camera work is intently sober and sedate with a larger purpose in mind, importantly and impressively transporting the helpless, horrified onlookers to another time and place where everything is so UNBEARABLY “real”. Murder, theft, arson, mutilation, gang rape, stabbing bayonet and long bamboo stick into infants…But then, all of a sudden, the camera cuts to the military camp on the bank of the River Yangtze. Young men, hardly men but boys, singing and dancing and talking about their home. “My mom’s o-mochi is delicious,” tells a soldier bathing at the river. “And Tokyo is so damn nice!” answers his friend washing his mate’s back with cherry blossom-sweetness in his voice. These are man killers, slaughterers we eyewitnessed at work just a minute ago. How does o-mochi taste to them!?

When released in 2009, Nanking! Nanking! turned out to be a massive success – much to the surprise of the director. Shortly afterwards Lu received death threats via email intended for him and his family. His fault was he dared to make a Japanese soldier feel like a human being.

Is history clear? Yes, it is. Is history useful? It’s a hard thought.

 Watch a fragment: 


南京! 南京! (City of Life and Death)

Lu Chuan

132 min

Drama, History, War

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