Apologies Forthcoming has a central theme, or perhaps a central reef onto which all the stories are somehow driven - and that theme is the Cultural Revolution and its effects on Chinese society. Many Westerners, myself included, have had a one-sided view of this amazing social phenomenon. How much did it affect you, growing up in China?Read the complete interview here.
Tuesday, September 30, 2008
Monday, September 29, 2008
(Photo by nikok)
Everyone keeps talking about the bailout, but it is interesting to me that nobody continues with the analogy to talk about the leaks in the boat. On the water, when you bail out a boat because something has gone wrong, it only makes sense to do so if you can get the water out faster than it is coming in. If that is the case, you get to keep bailing until the boat gets to shore, or it can be repaired. So, if we are going to have to keep bailing in order to forestall catastrophe, the real question people should be asking is how long that 700 billion will last.
On and off over my lifetime I, like many other people with a background in economics, have spent a great deal of time thinking about the great depression, its causes and ways it might have been avoided, even the desirability of avoiding it. On the financial side, some of these are obvious and fairly well understood. Large scale insider trading, which was business as usual at the time, loose credit, and a general adolescent feeling of invulnerability caused a remarkable run up in stock prices that eventually collapsed. On the real side – what politicians are calling
The bailout is, to my mind, an absolutely fascinating, and incredibly expensive, test of the theory that there was not enough money. A long time ago, back when Paul Volker was heading the Fed, there was a great headline in the wall street journal that read something like “What happens if you throw a credit crunch and nobody comes?” The reigning assumption then, as now, was that easing credit will allow people and businesses to borrow money and get things moving. But really, beyond a few anecdotal assertions, there has not been much evidence presented that those who want to borrow money can’t. Just listening to the radio, and the ads from banks that want to lend me money, seems to suggest otherwise to my simple mind. If credit is eased, and still nobody borrows, what then?
While people in
Stepping out of slavery, all this boils down to less going into the hands of those that do the work. While this effect can be lessened, potentially even avoided, by rapid changes in technology, there is no guarantee, or evidence, that this will be sustained. In fact, if you look at the last 20 years in
So perhaps the bailout can be paid for by the Chinese who are now rich because land, in fixed supply, is getting progressively more expensive while labor, with unlimited supply, is relatively cheaper and thus Wall Street can keep itself intact while the residents on
A postscript on this. After reading through the proposed bailout bill, the whole activity is being put under the acronym TARP for Troubled Asset Recovery Program. I am not sure if the new metaphor is intentional. But if it is, apparently those in the know think all of this is simply the result of too much rain, and has nothing to do with a leaking boat. Funny though, I did not see anyone named Noah involved in writing the bill.
Saturday, September 27, 2008
Then, as if an after-thought, Schell hesitantly adds a footnote:
While I must give him credit for including this footnote, Schell's convenient presumption that today's students in
Of course, Schell is not alone. As recent as last week, during the Q&A session of a book event, a woman asked me, "Do the Chinese know about things outside their country?" "Oh yeah," I replied. Such a question came often, and it is understandable, and reasonable, when it comes from someone who doesn't follow
Which reminds me last summer when I toured a mountain in
If you skip this small disappointing spot, Schell's essay is well worth reading. I was particularly drawn to his analysis of the Chinese people's cultural insecurity caused by the continuous "large-scale, but never definitive, makeovers" occurring in
By the way, Schell's article makes me really want to see Dark Matter. If any of you have seen the movie, would you please tell me what you think of it?
Friday, September 26, 2008
Tuesday, September 23, 2008
He obviously does not think people in
Well said. I must say Wuming's comment resonates with me on the personal level. I had been a sincere believer in communism during my childhood and youth – not much different than the way an American child from a devout Christian family becomes a sincere church goer. But my re-education in the countryside after high school changed all that. For a number of years after I abandoned communism, I felt a sort of spiritual barrenness, as if my soul no longer had a settling place. On the other hand the breach of a deep belief was like the most effective vaccination – nothing could make me a believer again. And after a while I got used to my incorrigible soul.
But, away from the personal, what about at the society level? Does a society need an ideology or not?
Recently, after my book was published, I found it interesting many interviewers took notice on the following passage, a question asked by a character in one of my stories:
And readers too. People asked me about this passage on various occasions. Evidently, this character's question touched on a common concern. Yet I don't think as the author I have a sure answer to it.
A novel I read years ago, The White Mandarin by Dan Sherman, made interesting observations on what had led to the defeat of the Chinese Nationalists (or KMT) by the Communists in 1949. Among other things, one reason identified was that the Communists provided Chinese intellectuals an ideology that was lacking in the Nationalist's appeal. I think this is a pertinent point. The experience of my parents and their friends who joined the eastern
On a related note, a few years ago in an on-line writing forum I posted a question, or a hypothesis: what if no one believed a religion? What would the world be like then? Some American writers took offense and accused me of wanting to suppress religions. But, I asked again, what if no one wanted to believe in a religion? Then a writer pointed me to a book of academic research – the title of it now escapes me – which I did find and read. Based on biologic research, the book concluded that the need for a religion exists in human genes, which effectively destroyed the basis of my hypothesis.
Perhaps people like Wuming, Demin and I don't need a belief or religion to live well. But we are probably a small minority; many others do. Without a dominant and "legal" (I find this word very ironical here but nonetheless necessary) ideology or religion to hold a society's spirit, many will either get lost or seek refuge in a foolish cult like FLG.
More thoughts from you wise people?
Monday, September 22, 2008
We learn to recognize paraffin in rice,
to recognize DDVP (dichlorvos - an insecticide) in ham,
to recognize Sudan Red in salted duck eggs and hot pepper sauce,
to recognize formaldehyde in hot pot,
to recognize sulphur in tremella (yin er) and candied dates,
to recognize copper sulphate in edible fungus (mu er).
Today we learn the chemical effect of melamine from Sanlu milk.
外国人喝牛奶结实了，中国人喝牛奶结石了Foreigners drink cow milk to be strong;
Chinese drink cow milk to have stones.
Japanese slogan: a cup of milk a day, invigorate a nation;
Chinese slogan: a cup of milk a day, eviscerate a nation!
(Note: I'm not satisfied with the last translation. Improvement anyone?)
Friday, September 19, 2008
China’s moral crisis exists not only in marriage, but also in business practices. A representative case is the so-called “dark-heart milk powder” incident. In April 2004, the media exposed an infant food business in Anhui Province that had been selling counterfeit milk powder causing the deaths of 13 babies and permanent illness in 171 others. The incident enraged the entire nation, but unfortunately it was not an isolated case.
A fundamental question begs to be answered: why is
The Chinese expression “quede” (缺德) , meaning “short of virtue,” used to be one of the most vicious insults in verbal arguments. Nowadays, the expression seems to have lost its admonishing power and has simply become a portrait of reality. Last year, a Chinese blogger cyber-named “David” attempted to analyze this. In his widely read article “Why have Chinese become ‘quede’ now?” he lists a few representative views on the Chinese moral sphere: all citizens worship money; no more baselines exist for minimal morality; today is the worst time of moral degeneration in China’s history; China should return to its traditional values.
“David” has his own ideas on the reasons behind the moral degeneration: while China imports the Western-style market economy, it fails to establish corresponding ethics, and the traditional Chinese moral principles no longer apply in the completely new economy. He recommends Adam Smith’s “The Theory of Moral Sentiments,” but fails to suggest how to carry out such a theory.
An influential contemporary Confucian, Jiang Qing, has a more appealing proposal. To him the essential problem is the lack of state ideology and a corresponding political system. Since the Cultural Revolution led to the self-destruction of Communism, that once ideological monopoly has lost its past aureole, and common Chinese have been unable to find the ultimate meaning and value for their individual lives.
“The problem isn’t that people don’t follow moral standards; the problem is that there no longer exist moral standards,” says Jiang Qing. He attributes the loss of morality to five decades of atrophy under Communist political power, plus two decades of corrosion under the money and wealth brought by the Western market economy.
After many years of research and various attempts at commitment to promising ideologies, including Christianity and Buddhism, Jiang Qing concludes that Confucianism is the only ideological solution for Chinese people. He and his followers are pushing to restore Confucianism as China’s state ideology. There are signs that China’s national leaders are also increasingly promoting Confucianism, albeit for considerations different from Jiang Qing’s. How far the government is willing to go in this direction remains a big question.
Thursday, September 18, 2008
For now, anyone who is interested in the relationship between China's economic growth and its political future might want to take a look at the discussion that took place on TPMCafe Book Club. Note: read the posts from bottom up.
Wednesday, September 17, 2008
In February of this year I analyzed the case of Anna Mae He with sympathy to the He family and hoped their return to
Half a year later, one day in August while I browsed the Chinese oversea students and immigrants forum, mitbbs.com, I was surprised to see a post that reprinted a report from wmctv.com, "Anna Mae He: Coming Home?" That Chinese post itself was titled "给挺贺绍强的爱国人士一记耳光" – A slap on the face of patriotic supporters of He Shaoqiang [Jack He]. Under the post were quite a few comments that derided Jack He's "shameless" behavior. (Now the link to that post no longer works.)
If memory serves me right, early this year when the He family was about to leave for
Still, at the time I regarded what Jack He was doing as an individual affair. Just as I thought my personal curiosity was waning on this subject, two weeks ago the Chinese Y-Weekend interview brought another twist to the case, in which Jack He categorically announced that "I definitely don't want to return to the
On the other hand, Jack He's criticism of Americans as "megalomaniacs" and "psychologically unbalanced" could easily resonate with many Chinese. "In their [Americans'] eyes," Jack He said, "
Two days after the Y-Weekend interview appeared, a journalist blog in
Meanwhile, on September 11th, Chinanews.com published a commentary titled "看美媒如何导演罗生门" or "Look How American Media Directed Rashomon", in which the commentator claims that, after reading the Y-Weekend interview, he found the wmctv video indeed had traces of editing and agenda setting. The article, in turn, echoed Jack He's accusation of how "American media" distorted the story and on purposely changed the complaint about an international school to the complaint about the country (
At this point it occurred to me, now that the media in two of the world's largest countries were running in circles painted by one man named Jack He, or He Shaoqiang, the case no longer belongs to the category of personal life style choice. Rather I wanted to know what was really going on, and who was reporting it correctly. I decided to contact Ann Marie Curling again in search for the truth.
And here is one of Ms. Curling's emails (quoted with permission) in response to my question whether it is true that Jack He was trying to bring his family back to the
Consequently, Ms. Curling forwarded me her email correspondences with Jack He, who wrote Ms. Curling 5 times between June 3rd and August 4th. In four of his emails Jack He requested Ms. Curling's help to return to
I must point out that Jack He did express his motivation as the concern of his American-born kids. In one of his emails, Jack He wrote: "My kids miss
However such genuineness was all lost when he lied to the Y-Weekend reporter by betraying his American sympathizers, including Brook Sanders and Ms. Curling. This way he effectively burned the bridge for his kids to return to the
Ms. Curling later wrote me again: "The more I think about this now (that you’ve brought it to my attention again) this guy is definitely a media hog. It just doesn’t make sense to me. How he would say that a reporter is mischaracterizing what he said when he was actively asking me to help him find work in the
Jack He's motivations for lying could be anything; it could be for media attention, or for saving face (as Mediaverse reasoned), or even for fear of practical or political consequences. But at this point I'm less interested in that than in how he has so easily fooled the media – apparently reporters in both countries had bought into his sincerity.
The answer seems: by combining lies and truth. When part of what he says rings true, we tend to believe in the entire thing and ignore the false part. We believe what we want. For Americans, and American reporters, it is obvious he should want to return. For Chinese, and Chinese reporters, it is obvious he should want to stay. What he really wants, who knows, but we should not give much credence to the words he says, much less tie his words to our feelings toward either country.
Tuesday, September 16, 2008
Pantheon, 672 pages, $26
(cover image from Amazon.com)
A book review by Xujun Eberlein
A couple of weeks ago a Chinese friend – an IT professional and an avid reader of fiction – dropped by and saw Ha Jin's A Free Life open on my kitchen table. "I couldn't even pass 30 pages," she commented on the 670-page novel. When I asked why, she said, "It lacks taste - no salt, no flavor (无盐无味)."
I could hardly blame her. I missed the days when I immersed myself in Waiting, which has one of the most captivating openings of all novels: "Every summer Lin Kong returned to
But gone is the beautiful language; gone is the emotional depth. The now Ha Jin is no longer the then Ha Jin.
"I honestly wanted to write a letter to tell Ha Jin – you need an editor!" my friend later added another comment on A Free Life.
I had started reading several months ago with the intention of writing a thorough review. Soon I found it hard to will myself to turn the page. I don't believe in reviewing without finishing a book, and I had every intention of writing a positive review. Perhaps the book would get more interesting next page, I kept telling myself.
To make the laborious reading a bit more bearable, I placed the book in a fixed position on my kitchen table and set my eyes upon it for 15-20 minutes every day while eating lunch. It took me three months of eating to finish reading the book. When the obligation finally ended, it came as a true relief.
As I began to pen a review, I realized there weren't many positive things I could say. What could I praise, really? That at least half of the 670 pages could have been easily cut? That after a while you got eye sore seeing Nan Wu's bad pronunciation such as "zer" and "zat" repeated on every page? That, after you've read four or five of Ha Jin's novels, you finally realized all his male protagonists have exactly the same weak boring personality, as if cast from the same mold despite different names, and you began to wonder if the author is capable of creating anything new? That when he uses the same sentence pattern such as "if only he had…" on every other page, you can't help but wish if only the famous author were able to write with a bit more sentence variety? And if only the characters had not been so flat and fragmented, and if only the plot had not been so dreary…
Two questions have been bothering me since I finished reading the book two nights ago. One, why such deterioration in Ha Jin's writing? Two, what made the characterization in A Free Life a failure?
I suspect the answer to the first question is a simple one: success has overwhelmed the author. In A Free Life Nan Wu, the protagonist, thought of an artist friend's new work: "They reminded
And the characters in A Free Life – "none of which was refined."
Years ago a writer friend recommended the National Book Prize winner Three Junes by Julia Glass to me. I asked my friend why she liked the book. She gave that some thought and answered, "I just really cared about Paul." Paul McLeod is one of the main characters in Three Junes. I thought that was an excellent reason.
Borrowing my friend's reasoning, A Free Life failed to make me care about any of the characters. Using the author's own words on a character's paintings, "They don't have enough life in them." You would've thought 670 pages would provide enough space for in-depth characterization, especially when the entire book is focused on one man.
The protagonist, Nan Wu, is a boring yet judgmental and selfish character who does not love anyone in his family – not his parents, not his wife, not his son. And there is no friend he doesn't disdain in someway. But a character full of flaws is not the problem. My own characters are full of flaws. The problem occurs when Ha Jin tries to make Nan Wu a more sympathetic character than he actually is, and provides justifications for him on conceptual basis rather than using in-depth depiction. In the novel Nan Wu is artificially given high moral grounds: despite his unloving nature, he is dutiful to his family; despite his indifference to anything but his own desires, he chose to make "honest living" by running a restaurant; despite his deep grudge toward his native China, he maintains the traditional Chinese virtue by being a responsible family man. Those high moral grounds, however, come without roots or basis and thus are not convincing.
And consistent with the protagonist's self-centered characteristics, none of the supporting characters are shown with any depth. All fall flat to the floor.
It's not that Ha Jin did not have a chance. There is one powerful scene, the only one that actually touched me. After Nan Wu had beaten up his young son he became ashamed and asked the boy to call police to arrest him for child-abuse. The boy refuses by holding the telephone tight while crying. Reading that scene made me want to know more about the boy and his true feelings toward his father, however the boy virtually disappears from Nan Wu's (thus the author's) sight and thoughts after that. Then, when the author mentions the son again in passing, the boy has become a remarkably good young man. Except we readers are deprived of the joy of knowing how that has happened.
A Free Life has been named by reviewers as Ha Jin's most autobiographic novel. Ha Jin has also mentioned in various speeches that much of the details, with the exception of the restaurant experience, are based on his own life. The author's motivation to justify Nan Wu is, thus, somewhat explicable. However, one would expect an accomplished novelist like Ha Jin to know better than to impose forced virtues on a flawed character. As a result, even though most of the details of Nan Wu's life ring true, the character is dead flat. As another friend commented, "Nan Wu is selfish, yet not selfish enough to be interesting."
A final note just for your amusement: Last November, the
The reviewer's baffled pleasure becomes more understandable after you read a character's assertion – apparently echoed by Nan Wu and Ha Jin throughout the novel – that "
Does anyone think it is a bit too soon to declare the rotten death of
By the way, among the nearly uniform odes from the media, I found one dissenting voice: "Tongue-tied: Neither the author nor the protagonist in 'A Free Life' has what it takes." And I hope my own view above also helps a bit on balance.
Sunday, September 14, 2008
Saturday, September 13, 2008
"Sometimes producers are too literal and don't bother with originality and respectful updating. Sometimes they don't show enough respect to the originals and create parodies." Read the English report in Shanghai Daily.
Friday, September 12, 2008
I don't know about the Olympic food, but last time when I brought my American-born daughter to
Once, a dish of meatless, egg-fried rice came garnished with chopped pork. To our inquiry the waitress replied, "Our chef said it won't taste good without any pork." Another time our daughter ordered an olive-and-pineapple pizza in a Pizza Hut in
Shahar Zubari's small-minded animosity notwithstanding, if
Just another ironic twist. The Israeli Olympic Committee Chair promised an apology, but the Chinese Embassy in
Monday, September 8, 2008
Business Republic of China
Tales from the front line of China’s new revolution
by Jack Leblanc
Blacksmith Books, 248 pages, HK$118 / US$14.95
What do an academically oriented young man from
Jack Leblanc’s book
There are two threads that run through Leblanc’s book. One is very intentional and in the forefront, and that is the vast cultural and practical differences that exist between business in
Of course it never hurts to have both of these, but there is enough variety in the stories Leblanc tells that in most cases the dominance of one over the other does come out. Mr. Li, the motorcycle magnate, presumably the same person that Ted Koppel interviewed in The People's Republic of Capitalism, stands out as superbly capable. So does Mr. Zhang, the widget maker, who manages to buy the brand of the German make previously dominant in his market. On the other side, Ms. Luan, the party secretary turned public relations head mentioned above, and Smile, who got Leblanc into all of this in the first place demonstrate that connections can be enough.
The book itself is written up almost as a series of informal case studies. While the writing is not quite what could be called literary, several of the cases could belong to the mystery genre and I enjoyed greatly watching the cases unfold. Leblanc is called in to troubleshoot a number of joint ventures that have not worked out as expected. He typically starts by trying to get to know the management team on the Chinese half of the joint venture. He seems to be surprisingly successful in doing this, so I suspect he understates his own personal charm in the telling of his stories. Whether from frank conversation, or just checking to see how the numbers add up, he uncovers some interesting activities. The great delight is just how varied these activities are. I won’t spoil the endings by reveling them here, but the pipe factory, and a bottled water factory are especially interesting.
Still, my favorite chapter was actually the first, in which Leblanc goes to
His drift into business is unplanned, and does not seem particularly well executed. But that is the beauty of the story. Leblanc, like most Chinese at the time, did not really know what made sense, and just hoped for a good outcome. In this case he got one, making a big sale of European glass for a new hotel. From all appearances the result was largely luck, but may have been related to Leblanc’s own likability. Either because he did not have a real preconceptions of business, or because of a natural empathy, Leblanc learned early on to simply go along with the way people around him did things. That is an important lesson.
Not all of the mysteries facing a person doing business in
My biggest complaint about the book is the continual reference to those from outside
All in all, I would have to say this book is both entertaining, and informative. It is not a complete guide to doing business in
Saturday, September 6, 2008
Directed by John Woo, Red Cliff reportedly cost US$80 million. As a fan of the classic novel Three Kingdoms, I was very eager to see what a difference such a big budget could make on a repeatedly filmed story. Adding to my eagerness was the fact that one of my favorite actors, Tony Leung, plays a starring role, Zhou Yu.
Because (a shortened version of) the movie for the
I couldn't connect the notion of "do laughter" with the grand war scenes of Red Cliff. On the other hand, I have seen how some
Impatient, I ended up buying the DVD from a Chinese online store in the
I of course have no objection to jocular treatment of any subject. The problem is that the director (and playwright) obviously did not mean to make the movie as a joke. The money, intent and effort were dead serious. Why it has resulted in such a laughable effect can only be explained by two things: one, the director and actors were unfamiliar with the history (I wonder if they have read any books about it other than the screenplay); two, with a long oral story-telling tradition of the Three Kingdoms, we Chinese audience can no longer accept a stupidification of historical figures. At least not Zhu Geliang!
I suppose the silliness in dialogues will be less a problem to American audiences. After all, the unintended effect might be lost in translation. Further, someone has made a wise decision to cut the length of the original film from 4 hours to 2½ for American theaters. I hope this will help improve the attractiveness of the battle scenes and also eliminate some "do-laughter" elements.
To be fair, there are also some creative and fun details in the movie, for example the association between a turtle's shell and Zhu Geliang's "eight trigram" battle formation. Zhou Yu, who was known in history to be proficient in music, stopped in the middle of training his army to tune a flute for a village boy. Still a bit overdone, but at least for a reason. And IMO Tony Leung did a better job acting Zhou Yu than Takeshi Kaneshiro acting Zhu Geliang, though my impression is that, judging by the two actors' appearances, switching their roles would better match our images of the historical figures. I heard that Tony was originally assigned the role of Zhu Geliang, but he refused, citing that he was not familiar with the role.
Overall I felt director John Woo had a tendency toward overkill, which resulted in humorless exaggeration in the acting. He needs to exercise a bit more control and incorporate a bit more subtlety next time.
Wednesday, September 3, 2008
Three years ago, after reading Rittenberg’s book The Man Who Stayed Behind, I posted a review on Amazon. To my surprise, three months later, just before Christmas, I received an email – in Chinese – from Rittenberg, who not only read my review but also one of my short stories online. In his email with the subject "谢谢" (thank you), he called my review 公正 ("fair-minded") and generously praised my story "Second Encounter" as 诚实而深刻 ("honest and profound"). Rittenberg compared the story to He Dong’s Ask the Sun, also about the Cultural Revolution.
From our correspondence I learned that Rittenberg, already 84 years old in 2005, and his wife of 50 years, Wang Yulin, had been working as business and cultural consultants for several
And again I highly recommend The Man Who Stayed Behind for anyone who’s interested in learning about
Monday, September 1, 2008
My husband W and a friend H went to see the closing ceremony of the Olympics, and their conclusions were unusually uniform: it was fun and playful.
Though the closing ceremony was broadcast at , on site the programs began about , so-called "stage warm-up." Chen Peisi, Yang Lan, Zhou Tao etc. were performing. And, while the broadcast finished at , on site people kept boisterous until after - Chen Long, Liu Dehua and a bunch of Chinese singers bounced and sang.