Thursday, July 31, 2008
Tuesday, July 29, 2008
by Guo Xiaolu
Anchor Books, 283 pp., $13.95
A Review by Xujun Eberlein
BlogCritics, Published: July 28, 2008
About one third into Guo Xiaolu's novel A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary for Lovers, a man at an English pub says to the confused protagonist, a young Chinese woman named Z, "English is a bloody nightmare, isn't it?"
Sunday, July 27, 2008
I guess this email will be shorter than usual, but I often think that. Let's see! :-)
(Quotes from your post "The People's Republic of Capitalism = Chongqing (3)")
The Chinese government remains very strongly focused on urban development, and seems to think the way to help farmers is to make it easier for them to get to the city. To me, it is not at all obvious that this is true. It seems like redirecting just a small amount of the urban investment to rural areas could have a much more profound impact. This is clearly not a simple topic to come to grips with, but I do think it should have received more attention in the series.This is interesting. I went to an excellent conference on Inequality in China at Harvard Law School three of four years ago. There were several interesting presenters, including a professor of economics from MIT. I forget his name, but he was Chinese. Anyway, the main point of his research was that the rate of return on investment in the underdeveloped areas of China was higher than in the developed areas. If there was a truly free economy, you would expect the capital to flow to the areas where it earned the higher returns - in other words you would expect capital to shift from developed areas to underdeveloped areas. If this was not happening, it must be because capital was being channeled away from the underdeveloped areas to the developed areas by other factors. His argument was that this was being driven by government policy. He argued that the 1980s were much freer from an economic perspective than the 1990s. As a result, there had been a great deal of investment in underdeveloped regions (e.g. the west of China) during this period. However, in the 1990s, the state owned banks focused lending in the coastal cities, there were tax breaks for certain special development areas, etc. In short, government policy was clearly biased to promoting growth in the developed areas at the expense of the underdeveloped areas.
This is not exactly the same as your point as he was arguing at the regional level - e.g coastal versus central provinces vs west - rather than urban versus rural, but I think similar points hold. In fact, I guess the urban-rural difference maybe even starker than the regional difference.
Just to digress a little bit: From this point of view, the Beijing Olympics really are a big waste of resources and destructive to the environment. I understand the Chinese government and people who take the event as a way to boostI agree with this. I think if you look at democracies, there tend to be fewer "vanity projects". Projects that are spectacular but ultimately have small benefits to ordinary people relative to their costs. Of course, there are some such projects even in democracies - e.g. the Channel Tunnel for UK / France. Of course, you might argue that the ridiculous level of military spending in the US also falls into this category. But I think you tend to see more in non-democracies. Having said that, I am not sure if the Beijing Olympic investment is all vanity spending. Just this evening, I saw a brief news segment on London's preparation for the 2012 Olympics. Sebastian Coe who is organizing the London Olympics emphasized that they were following the Beijing example in making sure that all the facilities developed for the games would be designed to be useful after the games were over. He also mentioned that this has been a focus of the Olympic committee when choosing a city to host the games. I am not to familiar with the Beijing investment, but I guess some of it will be useful after the Olympics. For example, the improved subway infrastructure might help slow the growth of car ownership. I heard they are planning to turn the Olympic village (where the athletes will stay) into a hotel and conference center. Maybe that will not have direct benefit to ordinary people, but at least it will not be wasted. Hopefully some of the sporting facilities will be open to the public and / or used to host other sports teams or events. If so, maybe the Olympics investment is not too bad.
's international image and view it as a matter of national bride. But, while I was disgusted by those violent attempts to damage the torch relay, one good thing I learned from twenty years of living in America is a practical attitude over vanity. To me a better life for people is the ultimate way to improve a nation's image. China
That is it for now!
(posted with permission )
Friday, July 25, 2008
- Beijing Coma by Ma Jian
- Please Don't Call Me Human by Wang Shuo
- A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li
- The Uninvited by Yan Geling
- The Crazed by Ha Jin
- The Last Empress by Anchee Min
- Serve the People by Yan Lianke
- I Love Dollars by Zhu Wen
- The Dragon's Tail by Adam Williams
- Beijing Doll by Chun Sue
Actually, I'm not sure why The Crazed is recommended. Any of Ha Jin's other novels would have been a better choice.
Following my previous post, there was curiosity on how I "got that American professor sacked." Actually, he wasn't a professor. He was an elementary schoolteacher in
* * *
The head of the Education Office at my graduate school, Boss Yang, was himself uneducated. He had come to his position, elevated by his lack of education, during the Cultural Revolution and there he stayed. Rumor had it he was a relative of General Yang Shangkun, soon to be
Apparently, Boss Yang believed that the only qualification required of a graduate school English teacher was nationality. He hired an American, Gene, to teach us. A gangly man in his late-thirties, Gene the erstwhile elementary school teacher walked into our classroom twice a week and hung a white flipchart on the blackboard. On each page of the flipchart were simple English words that we had learned in middle school. Each word, hand-written in large black ink block letters, occupied a line. His pointer crossing the letters, he would read humorlessly aloud, "Hello" "World", and wait for us to repeat after him. Whether this was his way of teaching elementary school in
Then one day a fellow student told me Gene had invited our entire class for lunch in his apartment. I couldn't believe it – that meant anywhere between 10-20 people, and I had heard that Gene was stingy. "Maybe he wants to buy us back to his class," my roommate said. In any case, we were curious to see what an American ate for lunch, or what he would make for us, so the whole class went—not a single absence.
We jammed inside, near the door of Gene's apartment, which was quite spacious, the envy of his Chinese colleagues. "Please sit and help yourselves," Gene said to us, and began to eat his peanut butter sandwich. None of us sat down – there were only a few chairs in his room. Nor did we help ourselves to lunch – there was only a cold loaf of sliced bread on his coffee table, sitting beside an open photo album flaunting his water skiing youth. No dishes. No rice. No bowls or chopsticks. Not even a jar of peanut butter. Gene bit his bread leisurely, ignoring our silent existence. Frustrated and insulted, we quietly left his room one by one and he made no attempt to persuade anyone to stay.
Gene's reputation of stingy evilness ran apace; soon his classroom was as empty as the wilderness. Gene complained to Boss Yang about us not attending his class, and my roommate and I were summoned for questioning. We sensed an opportunity to get rid of the incompetent American teacher. My roommate, Wang, was a conservative
Gene did have followers, three of them, all girls in their final year of graduate school. The girls were pretty; their behavior was not. They followed Gene everywhere like his dogs, while Gene barely spoke to them. According to gossip, all three girls wanted to marry Gene so he could take them to
Gene took none of his entourage with him; instead, he married a classmate of mine, a newly divorced
Little did I know that I myself would one day fall in love with an American.
(Excerpted from "On Becoming an American,"
Tuesday, July 22, 2008
Well, since there is some interest in knowing why I came to
"On Becoming an American" (Excerpt)
I went to graduate school in the Chengdu Branch of the
It should be explained here that at the time, among mainland Chinese people, any balanced attitude toward foreigners, especially Americans, was rare, and I was not an exception. The veneration of white foreigners for their superiority was as common as the revulsion for their vile actions, and the roots of both could be traced back to the Opium War. I was in the latter camp, a heritage from my parents whose hatred toward
Studying the work of American and other western scholars and scientists had given me respect for their intellectual achievement. Still, my attitude toward Americans was recalcitrant, and it was only reluctantly that I agreed to go and listen to a foreigner's lecture on a warm spring afternoon in April 1987. The lecture, at a neighboring university, was on System Dynamics, a subject I was studying.
Imagine my astonishment when the lecturer jumped down from the stage, walked against the dissipating crowd toward a back seat in the auditorium, and spoke tender English to me. In instinctive panic, I ran away from the tall American, who wore a shy, childish smile. But the determined man found me again the next afternoon, and, as we toured downtown
In retrospect, it was love at first sight, despite politics, despite nationality, despite myself. But I wouldn't admit it. I did not trust my intuition. A classical dogma I’d adhered to from birth, whether I realized or not, was die-hard.
Two months later, in June, my institute sent me and a classmate to Shanghai to attend the International System Dynamics Conference, which Bob was helping organize. One day after dinner Bob asked me for another chat. We were in
Before I recovered from my discovery, a new couple climbed up the hill. They paused briefly when passing us; I could feel their inquisitive eyes. Even in the dimness, a foreigner, especially with Bob's big puffy beard, was easy to distinguish. Did they think I was dating an American? I began to panic.
At that moment Bob said, clear and calm, "I love you."
"But you are a foreigner!" I burst out. "I'm a man. You are a woman," he said, a bit surprised by my reaction, with his charming ignorance of my crisis. It was a genuine shock, what he just said. For the first time I became aware of the sharp difference in our way of thinking: growing up as Chinese I had always placed political identity ahead of gender, ahead of the person. He was himself and I had not been. And that was the turning point for me to begin separating the individual identity from the political identity—the country, the race, or the religion.
The first time I told my mother about Bob, she was shocked. Her shock quickly turned to a deep worry. "American men can not be trusted," she said, "he is playing with you!" Her inveterate opinion had probably been formed from her early experiences, but by then I knew Bob well enough not to listen.
Bob proposed a year later, after a long and winding underground courtship, after my parents had gradually altered their view of him from that of an abstract American to a dear person, a handy young man who could fix their broken shower head and leaking sink. My Communist father's condition for allowing him to marry me was "do not let my daughter get involved in any politics
After being married in
Update: A related story -- Boss Yang and Teacher Gene
Friday, July 18, 2008
The Second Episode
Tuesday, July 15, 2008
Despite Koppel's obvious disapproval of Alan's view, he nonetheless includes the conversation in the program, which, in my opinion, shows his quality as an honest journalist who respects a variety of viewpoints, and such respect precedes his own opinion.
Somehow, those who think as long as China has democracy then everything would be fine and everyone would be happy remind me of a Cultural Revolution slogan: "We would rather have socialist weeds than capitalist seedlings" – in other words, a correct political system is everything.
In any case, Koppel is certainly not satisfied with the answers related to this question he has heard in his interviews. Toward the end of the program, after a businessman says that the Chinese government is the most pro-business government in the world, Koppel voices over the segment closing - "But pro-business is different from pro-democracy."
Later Vincent Lou again says, "I've studied and lived in the Western world for about 40 years. Democracy, of course, it sounds good. But in practice it doesn't always bring the results. A lot of criticism has been put on
Speaking of human rights, here is another dialogue between Koppel and the young artist, Alan, after a crashing Falun Gong scene:
In his narrative voice, Koppel then comments Alan's belief as "blind faith." He continues in a mocking tone, "Things in
Monday, July 14, 2008
Friday, July 11, 2008
(Note: Maple, an avid traveler and photographer, just sent me another interesting travelogue. It makes you wonder how many mysteries exist in Chinese cultural history, just like the Yuyuan Taiji Celestial Village she wrote about last time. – Xujun)
I was young and couldn't understand why Francesca would choose to stay instead of go with Robert. I felt sad and dejected for Robert. I took the novel as a true story, and wanted to go look for that covered bridge with blooming butterfly flowers at its foot.
Three years ago when I traveled to Nanxi River, two backpack travelers from Beijing told me there were over a hundred covered bridges in Taishun County (泰顺县), located on the border between Zhejiang and Fujian provinces. This information gave me palpitations; for a while I was speechless. I couldn't imagine what the landscape would look like with so many covered bridges scattered in the fields. Would there be butterfly flowers blooming by them? Would Robert's love be there waiting? Even though this is a different country, covered bridges are covered bridges, right? Their existence itself suggests romanticism more than utility.
Today I'm in Taishun. Traversing the quiet villages one after another, looking for the different charming bridges one after another, I am baffled. Why has this remote, rather poor countryside assembled the largest number of covered bridges in
Records show that, fleeing from disasters or war, bit by bit many historical figures and worthy people had migrated to Taishun, an unfrequented area with undulating mountains, a utopia. They created many pastoral local cultures, and the covered bridges are representative of those.
Here what amazes me the most are the flying wooden arch bridges built without pillars. They are constructed of relatively short pieces of wood, horizontally and vertically woven, with beams interpenetrating and pinned to shape the arch. The ingenious structure is simply marvelous!
I run into several old men sitting sunbathing on the stone steps of
One of the old men, with an expression resembling a smile yet not smiling, asks me, "Is the bridge good to look at?" "Yes!" I answer. "Nothing that good," he says. I want to question more, but he turns his head and says nothing further.
I think he means NOW the bridges are no longer good. Long, long ago, when there was no highway, the air was clean and fresh, the mountains were bright, the water was beautiful, the woods were lush, and the meadows were green. It was to this other-worldly place the covered bridges added rosy color.
Now the covered bridges are beaten and mutilated. The branches of the old camphor tree at the bridgehead are wizened and the leaves sparse. The most sorrowful scene is the assortment of plastic garbage thrown in the river under the bridges, and the white ceramic tile walls of the cement houses surrounding them.
Wednesday, July 9, 2008
So here's the news, and I would look forward to seeing this if I had a TV with the Discovery Channel.
Starting tonight, and continuing for 4 nights, the Discovery Channel will show Ted Koppel's documentary on China, The People's Republic of Capitalism. Filmed almost entirely in Chongqing over the course of a year, the series consists of four one-hour-long programs in which Discovery Channel Managing Editor Ted Koppel and his team of producers explore America's economic relationship with China as well as capitalism's effect on the Chinese people.
KOPPEL ON DISCOVERY: THE PEOPLE'S REPUBLIC OF CAPITALISM, Discovery Channel, Wednesday July 9 at 10 PM (ET/PT) through Saturday, July 12.
Here are some clips from the program (looks familiar):
Cultural Revolution Dinner Theater: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MsSXwNxp-9I
The People's Republic of Choreography: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-yjHoAIuSdM&feature=user
More Here: http://www.youtube.com/user/DiscoveryChannel12
Monday, July 7, 2008
So what does this have to do with the price of gas in
When the Chinese government recently announced that gas prices were going up, I, like many people, was surprised. Mostly, cynics that we are, we didn’t expect something that might anger people to happen before the Olympics. But I guess, when the alternative is long lines at the pumps, and taxis that won’t go, the early price increase seemed reasonable.
Taking a longer term perspective, which is what I am more interested in talking about anyway, gasoline and diesel prices are on the rise. This recent 20% increase is pretty muted relative to what we have seen in the
High energy costs are not new to
Most likely, though, that flirtation with cheap energy is coming to an end. In
So – and this is a question I have been pondering for the last five years – what happens when gasoline finally reaches $10/gallon in the
The real question, then, is whether the leaders of
Check out LanceReviews' 1st Anniversary Contest. LanceReviews is an ads-free site, a labor of love that is applauded by movie fans. Check it out – you might be surprised.
Thursday, July 3, 2008
Earlier this week, I was searching Amazon.com looking for good new books about
I had to create my own list of best China books to include
Once, before I quit my high tech job, the company's president, a Jewish businessman with a Ph.D. from
My American husband, Bob, absolutely loved Three Kingdoms as well – I guess our marriage is indeed well founded. :-)
And, had I not stolen the book (a Chinese edition of course) from a sealed library during the Cultural Revolution, I would never have gotten my Ph.D. from MIT.
It was 1970 when I entered middle school. Schools had been closed for several years before they reopened to a different authority—the Workers’ Propaganda Team. Red banners hung everywhere in the schoolyard: “The Working Class Rules Everything!” They marked a new era in which books were burned or sealed instead of being read.
Master Yoe, a taciturn lathe worker in his late forties, was the WPT member stationed in my classroom. Without notice, he would randomly walk into our chatty classroom holding his hands behind him and sauntering around between desks. Wherever he stopped, the noise in that corner also stopped. Whenever I asked a teacher about anything, class schedules or other activities, the answer was invariantly, “Ask Master Yoe.”
I had never seen Master Yoe read anything, not even a newspaper. I suspected that he was illiterate. Until I was caught by him one day, that is.
I had had no books to read for several years. As soon as the Cultural Revolution began, my mother, the superintendent of a school district, sold all her books (except the works of Marx, Engels, Lenin, Stalin, and Chairman Mao) as waste paper to a salvage station. If we did not get rid of the books, the Red Guards would come to raid our house. Those books were “four olds”—old thought, old culture, old tradition, old custom—and must be swept out.
One day during my first year in middle school, I noticed a crack on the seal across a library door. This one-room library was on the second floor of the office building at which my father, before his disgrace, had been an institute head. Like all other libraries then, its door was sealed by two diagonal strips of white paper with black dates and red stamps on them. But for some reason, there were still shelves full of books inside—that much I could see through the chink in the door. Every once in a while, I would peek inside when no one was watching and fantasize about owning all those books.
When I noticed the tear appearing on the sealing strip, I told myself it wasn’t because my forehead pushed it. The tear grew wider each day. I “accidentally” passed by the door more frequently and stole glances at its slow evolution. At last, one day, I saw that the sealing strip was about to snap. With a little extra push surely it would.
I don’t remember providing the push. It must have been a natural force that finally tore the seal. In any case, I found myself inside the dim, dusty library, standing in front of a spider-netted bookshelf. Not daring to stay long, I grabbed a thick, tattered book from the nearest shelf—it must be an interesting book if so many people had read it, I thought. Hiding the book under my shirt, I snuck out, heart pounding, and ran home.
The book was Three Kingdoms. While virtually all books belonged to “four olds,” this was their epitome—one of the oldest classic novels. Before the Cultural Revolution began, I had heard fragments of the novel in teahouses, told by folk storytellers holding a short piece of wood board, used to strike the table and make a loud noise whenever the story was approaching a climax. For several afternoons after school, I was immersed in the novel.
I laughed when Zhu Geliang, the greatest war strategist, tricked his enemy with “Empty City Ruse” and “borrowed” the enemy’s arrows using straw boats; I cried when he died of sickness on an autumn night with his army’s victory in arm’s reach. I saw nothing but the ancient regiment flags and shining spears, I heard nothing but the beat of battalion drums and the neighs of armored horses. I wished I had been born in that heroic time. My dream was broken only by my parents’ return home from their work units each day, at which point I quickly stashed the book under my quilt. My parents, laden with their own burdens, noticed nothing.
Against my better judgment, I brought the book to school a few days later, spellbound by the final chapters. I knew very well that the book had the stamp of my father’s work unit on it. If caught by the WPT, I would not only bring disaster on myself but also impose a new crime upon my father’s name. But I was dying to know if Zhu Geliang’s chosen successor, Jaing Wei, had won the war. Sitting down, I opened the book in the compartment under my desktop. I kept my head up, lowering only my eyes to read. Every few moments, I glanced around to see if anyone was watching. But the classroom was the ruckus of a hornet’s nest—all my classmates were chatting, kidding, throwing chalk around, and no one paid attention to the poor teacher writing whatever on the blackboard, let alone me. More reassuring still, Master Yoe wasn’t in.
I could only stay alert for so long when reading such an enticing book. After a dozen pages I forgot everything else, until the blue veins on a big hand filled my eyes and took the book, almost gently, away. I looked up, panic stricken, meeting Master Yoe’s serious gaze. God knows when he had walked in.
One day a year later, a bunch of men arrived in green military dress. With their arrival, new slogans appeared on the campus walls: “Station troops to guard the frontier and cultivate the borderland!” The “troops,” it turned out, meant us middle school students. We were being recruited to go to
My best friend and I hit palms pledging to go together. We applied enthusiastically, as did many of our friends. Every regime has its own politically correct terms. What we did was politically correct, expected, and honorable, in our time.
When I handed my application—one page full of vehement words—to Master Yoe, he said, “You are not sixteen yet.”
“In three months I will be. Revolution does not discriminate by age!”
“We’ll need your parents’ agreement,” he said. His swarthy face showed no smile.
I was confident that my mother, a Party member, would support my correct decision. But she turned out to be tough. She said I was too young,
In a few weeks, the list of approved students was announced, both in broadcast and on a big wall, the names studded the papers like ants. Everyone I knew who applied got their wish, including my best friend, but I did not find my name. Did this mean I was not trustworthy?
Master Yoe wore a sly smile when I confronted him. “Shhh. You are not going to
That was the first time I heard the news that high schools would reopen as well. High schools had not been needed because universities admitted only factory workers, peasants, and soldiers by recommendation, many of them semi-literates. Now, Master Yoe told me secretively, Premier Zhou Enlai had instructed an “experiment” (as if it were a novelty): to admit a small number of students to high school, and after graduation send them directly to university. (The second half of this plan, as it turned out, was never realized before Premier Zhou’s death in 1976.) As such, my school was in the process of selecting one student from each class to go on to high school. And Master Yoe singled me out from thirty-plus classmates.
That fateful day when Master Yoe seized my Three Kingdoms, I did all I could to plead with him to give it back to me. I vowed to become the most obedient, disciplined, and well-behaved student, and do whatever he asked me to do. I begged him not to implicate my father.
“I’ll tell you my decision in three days,” he said.
It was an odd thing to say. What would take him three days to decide? But a delayed decision was certainly better than an immediate execution. I nodded meekly, as if in a position to agree.
There is no need to describe how heavily time hung during those three days; it taught me the meaning of an old adage: “Live a day as if it were a year.” The third afternoon, I followed Master Yoe to a quiet corner in campus and timidly reminded him of the deadline. He handed me the book rolled in a newspaper and said, “Nice, nice. I’ve been looking for this book for some time. Never thought it could arrive so easily.” He smacked his lips like a glutton. “Here you are, girl, don’t let me see it again.”
He had taken the novel for three days to read himself.
Afterward, we discussed Zhu Geliang, the embodiment of Chinese wisdom. I believe this was why he wanted to see me go on to high school: for our shared secret love of Three Kingdoms.
That was how my infatuation with books frustrated my political correctness. With the help of a worker whose duty was to demolish old books, I went to high school instead of a rubber tree farm. Luckily, my high school years overlapped with Deng Xiaoping’s short-lived “second time up” as China’s vice-premier, and, under new policies issued by the practical leaders Zhou and Deng, I had an almost normal education in the sciences and literature. That is, if you discount my school’s relocation to the mountains for one year, hiding in preparation for the Third World War that Chairman Mao knew the American Imperialists would soon start.
Years later, after the Cultural Revolution ended and universities finally reopened to the public, in the winter of 1977, I went to the largest national college entrance exam in history, taken by a decade’s accumulation of wannabe students, many of whom had never set foot in high school. As it turned out, I was the sole person from my middle school class who got into university. Only then did I realize what a great favor Master Yoe, whose full name I did not even learn, had done for me.(This post contains an excerpt from my personal essay, "Turning My Back on the Well," first published in Prism International.)