Julie curates China 热风

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

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“Chinese cool” in ancient times

八雅

 

It’s “Chinese cool”, not Chinese coolie.

Being cool in ancient China means that one has acquired “eight graces”: 八雅。

Zither, Go, calligrapghy, ink painting, poetry, glass of something, flower art, tea tasting. These eight ingredients make you an ancient hottie.

Zither 琴

I strum an airy tune when I’m merrily drunk

How many strings shall break before I sober up finally?

This is not a poem promoting alcoholism but one advertising the ancient cultivation of zither. Zither, Go, calligraphy, and ink painting are four scholarly performances; four required talents for wannabes. Zither, 琴or 古琴 is the foremost skill and holds “nine virtues”. It is known as “gentleman’s instrument” and a symbol of fine taste and honour. Zither is synonymous to true music.

Go 棋

I dream of this life between my moves

I’m pleased to think three times before I act.

Playing Go is art. Go has been an important component of ancient cultural life and is different from any other recreational games because Go is believed to shape one’s moral views, day by day behaviour and aesthetic taste. It provides you with different ways of thinking.

Calligraphy 书

My strong strokes and elegant curves write timeless words

The past is hidden in one calligraphy brush.

It’s said that Cang Jie invented the Chinese characters, which are also pictograms. Chinese script contains both audios and visuals, which is why it’s still a significant medium to transfer human knowledge.

Ink painting 画

Who can make the spring stay?

Only my ink catches the perfume of her flowers.

Chinese ink painting tradition focuses on the beauty of nature and reflects only indirectly the social aspects of the ancients.  One dips a brush in prepared ink wash to paint on silk or paper. The topics can be landscape, flowers and birds either imagined or true-life, dream-like tableaus.

Poetry 诗

Spring flower and autumn rain compose my poems

Morning moon and night frost sing my songs.

The pictographic quality of Chinese writing makes classic poetry rich in imageries. These poems are more like moving pictures freed from grammar rules and allow the reader to enter the poet’s vision instantly without hesitation.

Liqueur 酒

I travel to the end of the world to find the way back again

But only my wine cup knows to love my native land.

Wines and liqueurs are as ancient as Chinese poetry. Chinese poets are often associated with witty, colourful, sometimes tragic, alcoholic anecdotes.

Flower art 花

The spring invites gorgeous splendour to my garden

A breeze stirs the land draped in a perfumed mist.

Better known as ikebana today, the ancient flower art was once considered a key element to improve one’s spiritual happiness.

Tea tasting 茶

With the essence of the sun and the moon absorbed in the tea leaves

I meditate in solitude while bathing them in silent, clear water.

Tea tasting equals artistic and aesthetic experience.  It is a life style that seems to believe in secluded, lonely appreciation.

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Julie curates China热风

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

Chinoiserie

此照片获中国新闻摄影奖

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“This patch of land belonged to my family during the Qing Dynasty. It was our family property during the republic time. It was still ours after the Little (Japanese) Devils came here! How come that our land suddenly became yours when you (communists) took over? I simply can’t follow your logics!”

In the wake of forced demolition and home rearrangement all over China, an old stubborn man has taken legal action against the local government three times. He won. The old man did not appoint a lawyer, but instead he decided to defend himself in the court. The picture shows the old man who walked to the front to face the jury and deliver his fiery speech. He wore rubber boots covered in mud. The photo received Photojournalism Award of the year (2015).

With its ample resonance both within China and internationally, the ‘rule of law’ (依法治国yifa zhiguo) is an expression that can justify the most disparate justice reforms. It is both a political value worth defending and a reason for consternation; it is an ideal that is inherently troubling and troubled by its interlocutors, advocates, and critics. For this reason, even the term ‘yifa zhiguo’ has been translated differently by different interlocutors, with ‘rule of law’, ‘rule by law’ and ‘ruling the country according to the law’ being the most frequent renderings in the English language.

While the rule of law has become a key component of the Chinese legal-political vocabulary since the onset of the reform period, under Xi Jinping’s leadership it appears to have increased in importance. Since Xi took the helm in 2012, he has chosen to adopt exactly this expression to shape his policy and justice agendas. But the authoritarian way in which the concept has been used thus far has, in many quarters, produced a palpable sense of surprise and dismay over the future of the Chinese legal system.

A number of basic elements of Xi’s ‘yifa zhiguo’ push may, in the future, become very helpful in improving greater transparency and accountability. But the concept of ‘yifa zhiguo’ will not promote an overall improvement in the relationship between the Party-state and society (or more precisely between the Party and ‘the people’). This is because the very purpose of ‘yifa zhiguo’ is to promote the idea that the law is a manifestation of the people’s will and interests, and that the Party exists in order to protect the people’s interests. Under the ‘yifa zhiguo’ ideology, the people cannot enjoy any rights and interests outside the leadership of the Party whose role it is to develop and protect (Party-initiated) rights and interests.

 

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Of snakes and men

Julie contributes a column to Hoje MacauVisit her website for more.

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Stendhal said, “Beauty is the promise of happiness”, but this didn’t get to the heart of the matter. Whose beauty are we talking about? Whose happiness?

Consider if a snake made art. What would it believe to be beautiful? What would it deign to make? Snakes have poor eyesight and detect the world largely through a chemosensory organ, the Jacobson’s organ, or through heat-sensing pits. Would a movie in its human form even make sense to a snake? So their art, their beauty, would be entirely alien to ours: it would not be visual, and even if they had songs they would be foreign; after all, snakes do not have ears, they sense vibrations. So fine art would be sensed, and songs would be felt, if it is even possible to conceive that idea.

From this perspective – a view low to the ground – we can see that beauty is truly in the eye of the beholder. It may cross our lips to speak of the nature of beauty in billowy language, but we do so entirely with a forked tongue if we do so seriously. The aesthetics of representing beauty ought not to fool us into thinking beauty, as some abstract concept, truly exists. It requires a viewer and a context, and the value we place on certain combinations of colors or sounds over others speaks of nothing more than preference. Our desire for pictures, moving or otherwise, is because our organs developed in such a way. A snake would have no use for the visual world.

I am thankful to have human art over snake art, but I would no doubt be amazed at serpentine art. It would require an intellectual sloughing of many conceptions we take for granted. For that, considering the possibility of this extreme thought is worthwhile: if snakes could write poetry, what would it be?

by Derek Halm

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Everyday philosophy: Death in the age of Facebook

Life, death, dream  written in Chinese calligraphy. In my opinion, this is Chinese A, B, C. — Julie O’yang

And nope, both Molli Bernstein and Jack Weinstein are complete strangers to me, just like Gypsy Rose Lee and Socrates are. They are not personal friends, but that’s exactly the point. JO’y

Death in the age of Facebook                 

 By Jack Russell Weinstein

Molli Bernstein died of a drug overdose this weekend; I didn’t really know her. She was one of the hundreds of Facebook friends I have acquired because of my radio show and blog. I was first connected to her via a mutual acquaintance—a young photographer—when they both started complaining about Facebook censoring their pictures.

Molli was a fashion model and she had posed for some test nudes, helping an inexperienced photographer-friend as they both learned their trade. She posted them on a blog, shared them on Facebook, someone complained about the nudity, Facebook took the link down, and eventually, I wrote a post exploring the tension between the idea of “art” and the pragmatic practice of labelling images. It was a totally unnecessary chain of events.

We only chatted a few times, via private messages, although occasionally I would PM her to ask if she were okay. She would respond about five percent of the time. She was struggling, very publicly, with a drug addiction, and you could see the effects on her face as she lost and gained weight, as she felt better, then worse, then better about herself. She would share these excruciatingly-long videos of herself detailing her struggle and laying bare her emotions. Once she recorded a monologue from her bathtub. I couldn’t watch more than a minutes or two of any of them. They were too painful. It is awful to watch someone commit suicide ever-so-slowly.

There was nothing I could do to help her, of course. I had no real relationship with her, and short of the butterfly effect, my intervention would have had no consequences. She had family where she lived—a whole community who knew what she was going through—and if those who were important to her couldn’t do anything, what could I do?

I periodically thought about inviting her to hang-out together when I visited Fargo, but I never acted on it. First off, I can’t remember the last time I hung-out anywhere, and second, I couldn’t manage what it might have seemed like for a 47-year old married man to invite a mid-twenties woman whom he’s never met and whom he only knows from often-provocative pictures, out for a drink or coffee.

This is the nature of relationships in the Facebook age: friends without contacts, intimate glimpses of people’s lives without true interactions, balancing what it means for someone to be a real person but only actually knowing her as an object on your screen.

Two of my dearest friends died in the last six months, Julius died of a heart attack a little more than a week ago and Brooke died from cancer in June. We were all so far away from each other that all of our interactions with each other were also on Facebook. Since I often thought of visiting them as well and couldn’t, since I didn’t even have the time to get to Julius and Brooke, how would I have had time for Molli?

The thing that I learned from Molli above and beyond everything else is that modelling is a creative activity. We are encouraged to think of models as blank canvasses for photographers to pose, for designers to dress, and for make-up artists to alter. But Molli was quite explicit about how she expressed herself through her modeling, how she communicated her own look through the shoots, and how working satisfied her creative needs. Molli articulated well how models are not passive but integral to art and was the first to make me really understand why some models are good and some are bad, independent of whether or not they are “pretty.” I am including much more photography on this blog entry than I usual do because only then can you really see her the way I think she wanted herself to be seen. Undamaged. Theatrical. Brave. A force to be reckoned with.

Molli was born Molly. She changed the spelling of her name, although I don’t know why. I don’t know if she liked to read, or what movies she enjoyed, or what her favorite food was. I knew she had a boyfriend whom she loved but I also knew their relationship was complicated. I know another person overdosed with her, someone named Patrick with whom I never interacted. But, that’s all I know about Molly with a y, even though I spent two and a half-years responding to pictures, sharing one liners, having brief chats, and looking at images shared by Molli with an i. Both are dead now.

Did I have a responsibility to try to help either of them even if I couldn’t? I guess I tried a little by asking how she was and having a few brief encouraging chats with her, but I don’t know if I was morally obligated to do so. Her death doesn’t make me feel guilty; it just makes me really really sad.

I firmly believe that we are our brothers’ and sisters’ keepers, but the internet keeps so many people at such a distance that it is hard to know when it is proper to try to make that divide smaller. I was just one of Molli’s many appreciative audience members. I thought she was a great, interesting, and challenging model. But her sharing her pictures was not an invitation for any and every person to get involved in her life. Many men don’t seem to understand this about women. Just because they perform for an audience doesn’t mean they want to talk to you. If Molli wanted to be my friend she would have told me so. If she wanted my help, she knew she could ask. In fact, the last thing she wrote to me was that she always appreciated me asking how she was. She was rarely on Facebook chat even when it said she was (her phone was wonky), she told me, but she always got my message.

Others will mourn Molly with a y. I know all too well the pain of loss by addiction, a pain that never goes away. I lost many dear friends to its darkness. So, to those who survive her, my heart goes out to all of of you. I am truly sorry your loss.

But I am who I am and our relationship was what it was, and I only knew the tiniest speck of her existence. So, with all of that said, and for the sake of symmetry, I shall end my friendship with Molli the same way I started it, by writing about her.

Molli Bernstein died this weekend. I just wanted you all to know.

 

This article is re-blogged from PQED. Jack Russell Weinstein is the Director of the Institute for Philosophy in Public Life, the host of Why? Philosophical Discussions About Everyday Life, and a Professor of Philosophy at the University of North Dakota.

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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.

Visit Julie’s website for more.

 

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A vision of the male-chauvinist hell plus a poem

“我是武则天。”

“She killed her sister, butchered her elder brothers, murdered the ruler, poisoned her mother, and choked her own son to death,” so the chronicles write.

Is China’s only female emperor Wu Zetian 武则天unfairly maligned? The short answer is: yes. Why? Because official history writing was done by men. After her death, her successor organised Emperor Wu’s systematic black washing.  Of all the female rulers in the world, perhaps none has aroused so much controversy, or wielded such great power, as a monarch whose real achievements and character remain obscured behind layers of obloquy. In the seventh century A.D. she became the only woman in more than 3,000 years of Chinese history to rule in her own right.

With exceptional wisdom and great talent, Wu was most certainly a complicated heroine. Fearless and confident, ruthless and decisive, she stabilized and consolidated the Tang dynasty at a time when it appeared to be crumbling – a significant achievement, since the Tang period is reckoned the golden age of Chinese civilization.  She would reach her goals by fair means or foul in the intrigue-filled imperial palace. Nevertheless, she made great political and diplomatic achievements and China gained global power. Being a devoted Buddhist, she also adopted liberal and benevolent ruling systems, including selecting talent on a large scale, conducting economic development and responding positively to criticism and dissident voices. The stable society and booming economy during her reign laid a foundation for “the Kaiyuan Flourishing Age” later in the Tang Dynasty. During her rule, Chinese women enjoyed unprecedented independence and freedom and in her capital, women took part in state exams, rode horses and wore men’s clothes. The great poet Li Po of the Tang Dynasty listed her as one of the “Seven Sages” of the dynasty probably because she promoted printing, which greatly benefitted the spreading of poetry.  Wu also introduced Panda Diplomacy, which is ever popular with the communist leaders.

This was the woman as a politician. But how did she (or any Chinese ruler in the past) exercise power? One thing we know is that being an educated ancient Chinese means you are a poet. Wu was no exception. We shall take a close look into a fragment of her writing.

Tomorrow morning I will make an outing to Shanglin Park,

With urgent haste I inform the spring:

Flowers must open their petals overnight,

Don’t wait for the morning wind to blow!

The poem has an almost conversational tone. Emperor Wu discusses her plans for a walk in the park. It has irregular meter and no rhyme scheme, which underscores its informal nature. This is in sharp contrast with the primary style of the time which clearly preferred tightly regulated verse.

It has been speculated that the Emperor had enjoyed creating myths about herself in order to manipulate public opinion. The imagery of the Emperor informing the spring is similar to the mythical hyperbole of a rhapsody. It is likely that the Emperor intended to use this poem to indicate her power was not just over the human realm but also over nature and she demonstrates her supreme confidence in her power with the casual tone of a poem, implying she possesses powers beyond mere mortals. Her patronage of Buddhism and work through religion to strengthen her political position support the possibility that she was using this poem to add to her reputation as a divine leader.

After her death, she had a “Wordless Tablet” erected in her name, as if to tell us: It is fine to pass judgment on me and demonise this woman, I know you would.

 

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Wordless tablet and Emperor Wu’s tomb

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Top Belgian photographer Filip Naudts transforms author/artist Julie O’yang into albino

Filip Naudts is currently working with Europe-based Chinese writer/artist Julie O’Yang on a phiction – a photo-novel which will be published by an international publisher of art books in Singapore. The intellectual centipede Julie O’Yang is Dutch with Chinese roots. She has lived in England and the Netherlands and stays in Denmark at present. For the cover shoot, Filip invited her over and her entire transformation took place at De Cliént in  Lochristi close to his Flemish studio. Nieuwsblad reports.

>>You can read original Dutch language publication here <<

Naudts and O’Yang met each other in 2008 during Antwerp Book Fair, at which occasion Julie held a book burning ritual to launch her new novel China Noir. “Ladies and gentlemen, dear arsonists, this burning is a memorial (rooted in the ancient Chinese tradition, J Oy) to those who have died for a free and modern China,” she spoke to the audience. “Now they have something to read in the heaven.”

Filip first contacted Julie back then. He was considering to take his daughter Yang who was born in 2005 and adopted by him and his wife in 2006 on a journey to look for her roots. Filip: “I was trying to find good advice and was convinced that Julie could help me. Out of our first contact an idea grew to make a documentary film together about our searching and all. We still want to make this project real at a certain point. In the meanwhile, creative chemistry is boiling and I’m also making other plans with Julie.”

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Filip Naudts: paparazzo series (c)2015 Guarda La Fotografia

Julie: “On 25 May I received an email from Filip. He asked me whether I was interested in making a photo-novel together. I know Filip’s work quite well. I sat down at my desk immediately to concoct an idea. I wanted to invent a fictional character with strong references to art history, but also I must speak to the urgent, contemporary issues. The story is set in an unknown time in the future, on an unknown planet where people are shadows of themselves. I will be a future dictator, there and then. The story is also a homage to Oscar Wilde’s philosophical novel the Picture of Dorian Gray and yes, there is going to be a murder or double murder on that alien planet.” O’Yang is particularly interested to find out how Word and Image work against each other or embrace each other. “This is a hot subject. Our story is a relevant Romance Noir, but more explosive. Speaking of creative chemistry.”

According to the current plan, the book will be launched in the summer of 2017 and there will also be a travelling exhibition.

To complete Julie’s transformation for the cover shoot, Filip made a call on the hair studio De Cliént. Julie was made as pale as possible, but finetuning will be done through PS. Bleaching Julie’s dark hair appeared to be less optimal, Filip wasn’t disspirited either. He knocked on his neighbour’s door, knowing Carine Stevens’ house is filled with dress material for her various cabaret shows, and then Carine dug up a blonde wig at once.

For their second phase shoot in the coming spring, Filip and Julie are looking for a perfect location. A house with atmosphere and authentic details and lots of daylight pouring through many, large windows . If you know such a place or if you are interested to offer yours, please contact: filipnaudts@telenet.be

 

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80 years of Antwerp Book Fair in 8 images: 2016 special

 

 

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Julie curates China热风

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

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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 

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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

遥远的呐喊

 

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:

Lyrics:

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 

 

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“Why do foreigners kiss a lot?”:

A brief history of kissing

“吻”之影史

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 

 

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

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

Believe in your humanity, against all the evidence

一堂歷史課

 

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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