Tuesday, April 29, 2008

My Friend Alicia Gifford's Erotic Courtyard and Story

I figured if Susie Bright could publish Alicia's story "Surviving Darwin" in Best American Erotica 2008, I couldn't go too far wrong posting an analogous view of her gorgeous courtyard. The pictures themselves are more exotic than erotic, but I couldn't resist the title. :-)Actually, like the courtyard, "Surviving Darwin" doesn't exactly belong to the erotic genre. It is a much more complex personality story. The female narrator isn't your usual sympathetic character, and doesn't do much to make the reader sympathetic. Still, the protagonist and her brief redemption are treated so masterfully, I was completely drawn in. Alicia wields a poised pen with words flowing from an intelligent and nimble mind. As another writer friend puts it, "I wish I could write that well!"

My question for the reader: Would you like a story with a dislikable main character? Why or why not?

So, bring a cup of coffee, sit in Alicia's spring courtyard, enjoy the company of Jim the handsome dog, and get lost in "Surviving Darwin."

Monday, April 28, 2008

Chinese Cyber Nationalists Hit the West Where it Hurts

New America Media , News Analysis, Jun Wang, Posted: Apr 28, 2008

(This report has an interesting argument.)

While the Olympic torch may have lit the way for international anti-China protests, it was also the catalyst for Chinese nationalists to develop their voice – especially on the Internet. Now these Chinese cyber nationalists are flexing their power as a nation of consumers by calling for a series of boycotts – proving that the issues might be more about economics than Democracy. Continue to read >>

Saturday, April 26, 2008

Dialogue between Karl Iagnemma and Brian Knep

One is a fiction writer and a scientist at MIT; the other is an artist and a researcher at Harvard. The concept of a conversation between these two is particular attractive to me. I don't know Brian, however I have (sort of) known Karl since I first went to his reading at Newtonville Books in 2001. Karl's stories are often complex, and he has a unique way with language. He is one of the contemporary writers whose writing I truly admire – see my review for his debut story collection, "On the Nature of Human Romantic Interaction." I look forward to reading his new novel The Expeditions.

Karl is not only talented but also a very kind person. I remember when I first started writing in English after 9/11, I was clueless about story submission and publication, being trained as an engineer. I wrote Karl out of blue and asked many newbie questions, including how his first story was published. He replied to this stranger right away, in a very helpful long email.

One question I asked him was, "Which one do you like more, doing your lab research? or writing a story?" And he said, "Boy, the research/writing question is difficult. I suppose I like writing more, because it's it's just more _fun._ But research is satisfying in a very different way. . .it's a good feeling to solve a problem, and of course I've always been interested in science and technology, since I was a boy. . .which is probably why the characters in my stories are often scientists or engineers! But it's hard to compare the two, since they're very different things." It is hard to achieve excellence in either field alone, and he has succeeded in both.

MCC's idea for having dialogue between artists of different disciplines is a good one, and as the first installment, this one was interesting to read. However, there seems little interaction between the two. It is hard for a discussion to reach certain depth without an interactive discourse. #

Friday, April 25, 2008

Spring Is in My Yard

Does this have the flavor of a Chinese yard? A little bit? (We planted all those spring-flowering trees by ourselves, one or two every year.)

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Iconic Differences between German and Chinese Culture

I'm not sure if I agree with Yang Liu on all her interpretations, but some of these are quite funny. Frog in a Well is also an interesting China-focused blog worth checking every now and then.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

No Conversation on BBC

BBC's "World Have Your Say" called again this afternoon, inviting me to join a "conversation" between Chinese and Tibetan students, with Grace Wang's help in mediating. I was interested, but because they gave me only a 20-minute advance notice, I wasn't able to make it. I did try to listen to the recording on their website later. The program runs for 2 hours; I listened for about 45 minutes and gave up – there was simply no conversation whatsoever, albeit some good questions from the audience.

Among the participants, besides the BBC mediator and Grace Wang, there were two Chinese students, a half-Tibetan, and a Tibet-born Ph.D. student from India, all studying in London. From beginning the panel did not go well. Grace Wang spent too long trying to describe her ordeal, but after 10 minutes still hadn't got to the point how she and her parents in China were harassed. The BBC mediator had to politely (as far as I could tell, he was most polite to Grace) steer her to the point by interrupting and asking whether the Chinese government helped her parents defend themselves against attack. The answer was expected: No, the police knew there was damage done to her parents' house, but did not know who did it. A poor excuse apparently. And again the expected reaction from the BBC guy and the Tibetans – untiredly condemning "China has no basic human rights!"

Then Grace Wang tried to point out that China not only has no respect for human rights, it has no respect for its citizens' rights. She kept saying – whether because of her ignorance of the Tibetans' feelings or her insensitivity – that "We are all Chinese; Han Chinese and Tibetans are all Chinese," which was bound to make the exiled Tibetans furious. ("Well, no," the Tibetan, or the half one, protested right away.) It was so ironical that BBC invited this victim of her fellow Chinese to be the main guest in order to further bash China, though they claimed to have sought her help "for both sides to find a common ground," and ended up only widening the crack. Grace and the Tibetan student got into argument about the identity issue, and the BBC moderator had to interrupt again.

Next, the BBC guy wanted the participants to talk about China's blocking of foreign media, and one of the Chinese students made a stupid (really stupid) defense: "This is for the safety concern of the Western journalists!" (Couldn't the BBC find a more intelligent Chinese student? There are plenty of them.) The same student then began to list the benefits Tibetans received from the Chinese government, including a railway to Tibet. His way of arguing by ignoring the feelings of the other side is quite common in what I see from the Chinese internet.

The Indian Tibetan wasn't being any smarter. He claimed that the railway was built by prisoners of the Cultural Revolution. Such nonsense. Apparently he had no idea when the railway was built.

At one point someone mentioned how Tibetans suffered during the Cultural Revolution. Grace Wang made a good point that all people in China suffered then. "It was the Cultural Revolution," she said.

An audience called in and made comment on China's civil rights (don't remember what he said), and the BBC moderator asked Grace Wang to respond. Grace tried to say that there should be equal civil rights between the Han Chinese and the Tibetans (which I happen to agree), however she stammered and didn't finish the sentence, and the moderator came to her rescue by announcing a break. ("I need to improve my English," Grace tittered. "Your English is fine," the BBC guy said.)

After the break, the students got into arguments on who caused the riots, the Tibetan monks or the Chinese government. The Indian Tibetan (Ph.D student in Economics), who insisted many Tibetans got killed or beaten up by doing a peaceful demonstration, lost his temper and kept shouting, using his voice volume to suppress every feeble attempt at rebuttal from the Chinese student (poor guy, who did not have a higher voice, therefore). "You listen to only the Chinese government!" The Indian Tibetan roared. He didn't seem to realize that, by the same token, he only listened to the Dalai government.

The BBC moderator seemed to enjoy this one-side overwhelming scene for a while. He eventually raised his next question about Chinese's criticism on BBC's biases. "How did they even know we have biases? The Chinese government blocked us!" Well, that was again a stupid one. For a moment I couldn't figure out what was his real motivation – was it a rhetorical question trying to prove the BBC's unbiased? Or was he suspecting China did not succeed blocking the BBC? In any case, didn't this guy even know that there are a huge number of Chinese students studying all over the world, including London? And there are such things exist as email and the internet?

An audience called in and said that he visited China last summer and was able to download files from BBC site. This really annoyed the moderator. He shouted at the caller: "I'm telling you, I'm not asking you! It is a fact that China blocked BBC! Two weeks ago!" This anger took the poor caller by surprise and he mumbled, "Well…I only know about last summer…" and the moderator hung up on him.

Another caller asked about Tibet's serfdom before the 1950s and whether the serf's were better off because of China's action. (A very good question - I wanted to know the answer, too.) The Indian Tibetan replied, "Tibet wasn't perfect, but the Chinese replaced the Tibetan upper class with the CCP upper class!" He said if Tibet needed reform, it should be carried out by the Tibetans, in their own pace, not by the Chinese. That might be the best argument I'd heard so far, however he never did answer the question. But by the same token, if China needs reform on its human rights issues, shouldn't the West let it develop on its own pace as well?

Any how, there was shouting but no conversation, and there were more stupid arguments than intelligent ones. I lost patience and could not go beyond 45 minutes. I do hope the second hour went better, but I doubt it. Good that I wasn't there. #

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Extinguishing the Olympic Torch of Hope

by Larry Mongoss, guest blogger

It is often said that all effects are side effects and that seems to be true for the passage of the Olympic torch. The tradition of running the torch through different countries is intended to promote the games, show the inextinguishable nature of the Olympic spirit and, of course, promote the host country. I have never followed the torch relay very closely in the past, but was still struck by how worrisome it must be for those bearing the torch to not let it go out. I picture myself doing it, falling face first in a mud puddle valiantly holding up the torch only to have it put out by the water splashing up as my face goes under. The whole world gasps and I am the link that breaks the chain that holds together the games.

The pressure, it turns out, is not quite so great. There is a backup plan, a “real” torch that is kept burning in a nice dry place just in case the bearer has a mishap. Likely the backup has been invoked before, but it was not until the recent chaos in France that I found out about the dirty little secret. Symbolism – if it is going to be real shouldn’t it have to be fragile too?

That is a different topic, the side effects I am talking about relate to the goals of giving voice to the “Free Tibet” movement and embarrassing the Chinese government. By striking at that oddly honored Olympic symbol, this primary goal did meet with some success. The embarrassment, however, was not restricted to the Chinese government and the International Olympic Committee. Many people in and from China, especially young people, have taken these statements very personally. Intended or not, they see the whole thing as an attack on their motherland, not just the government that controls it. The words “Shame on China” go directly to the heart.

Worse still, and I think this is one reason the anger is so great, they see it as racial statement against Han Chinese. Though many were hoping that the Olympics would be an opportunity to increase freedom and curtail human rights abuses in China, that inclusive goal has been lost. The loud voices no longer carry a global message. Instead, what comes across loud and clear to Han Chinese is that they are being blamed for the conditions of other ethnic groups within China. When perceived in this way it suggests that the rights of those groups, especially ethnic Tibetans, trump any claim that Han Chinese have on free speech or other civil liberties. Given this interpretation, I am not surprised that so many people in China seem to be so mad.

Some, presumably a small portion, of young Chinese activists have become quite extreme in voicing their anger. They are hunting a particular protester and declaring people (including some of their own) enemies in a manner reminiscent of the Cultural Revolution, an event they are too young to have any firsthand knowledge of. Whether this worrisome behavior is condoned by their majority remains to be seen. Still, the young people of today are the rulers of tomorrow and the attitudes currently being engendered will be with them when they come into power.

So far, the anger generated seems to be directed at those directly involved in helping mire the torch in the mud. I am relieved at this; the scale of suffering that ethnic retribution within China could cause is overwhelming. But that anger, and its focus on outside influences is still troubling. The Olympics may indeed be the catalyst that aligns the attitude of the Chinese government with that of the Chinese people. Unfortunately, the emerging alignment is that the people are remonstrating against the rest of the world with exactly the same voice that the government has had for decades.

There is a tendency, especially prevalent in America of late, to label countries as good or bad. You can try to finesse that by saying what you will of the people making up that country but what comes across is: America (or substitute your country name) is evil! It is kind of hard not to be upset by such a blanket statement. Such absolutism, absolutely is bad.

I am not sure who will bring home the Golds at the upcoming games, but I have a feeling many of us have already lost. #

Also by Larry Mongoss:

Finding Silver in the Cloud of CO2
Paterson the Blind New Governor
Also on Literal and Literary Truth
Disagreeing with Smart People
Decreasing Readership among the Corn-Fed

Saturday, April 19, 2008

Discussion about the New Generation of Chinese

This generation of Chinese students, both inside and outside China, is very different from mine. Because they hold China's foreseeable future (they have already played a predominant role in recent political events), the West should try to understand them in order to learn how to peacefully co-exist with each other on the same earth. The following NY Times article and a reader response present two different views. While my own view is with Daniel A. Bell, it is important to hear from different sides.

"China’s Loyal Youth” (Op-Ed, April 13) by Matthew Forney
Daniel A. Bell's Letter to the Editor (April 19)

Thursday, April 17, 2008

VSC Open Studios: Artwork-in-Progress

One thing I enjoy the most about a residency is the interaction between writers and visual artists. The visual artists never fail to impress and inspire me with their sheer creativity. The variety in their choice of art form is so great, it makes me wonder why they have larger freedom of choice than us writers.

Here is a small sample of work-in-progress I saw in VSC's open studios last week.

Right: Laura Scandrett's black dogs (painted with ink on paper)

Left: G Todd Haun's landscape painting

Right: Shari Schemmel's collage

Left: Chihiro Ito and his face on the wall

Below: Cathryn Aison's block print with a real wasp

Below: Lalie Schewadron's digital projection with enamel on clayboard

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

In Taipei, Chinese Writers Debate about Misery Literature

by Din Wenling (news.chinatimes.com, April 11, 2008)

[In translation]

TAIPEI – What is the definition of "misery literature"? What form of literature can best convey misery? What belief should be upheld by exile poets and misery literature writers? The "Writers at Taipei" event, led by exile poet Bei Ling, invited Chinese writers from Australia, America, and China to discuss and debate on the topic of misery literature.

"Misery literature shouldn't be grievances only. If a writer has political or ideological mysophobia, is unwilling to gamble his own fate, or is unprepared for exile at any time, then he doesn't deserve to be called a misery literature writer," said Inner Mongolian novelist Yuan Hongbing, author of Freedom in Sunset and Premature Death of Literature.

Yuan said he always reminds himself of such. He fiercely oppugned writer Meng Lang, founder of the Independent Chinese PEN Center, because two years ago, while in exile in Boston, Meng Lang dared to publish a book in mainland China.

In response, Meng Lang said he never considered himself to have the status of a writer-in-exile, and called himself only "a writer with an exile flavor." Meng Lang said: "Although mainland China does not have freedom of speech, I am willing to use whatever means, including publishing books, to broaden any crack in thought control. I also don't think a dissent writer should relinquish opportunities to publish books in the mainland."

Bei Ling then slammed the Chinese government's literature policy that lauds some writers. He believed that "besides Wang Anyi, Mo Yan etc, there are many excellent writers with free souls. The mainland government's approach is to marginalize those unconstrained writers."

Poet Yan Li, who has been operating an underground literary magazine in China for decades, asserted that "Insistence on independent writing is the most necessary attitude for an intellectual. Literature should not be kidnapped by political interest, much less by the capitalist market economy." He revealed that many excellent poets in mainland China couldn't join the Chinese Writers Association, because the authorities only liked writers who didn't write about contentious subjects.

Fu Zhengming has been concentrating on Tibet issues for a long time, and edited Selected Poems by Tibetans in Exile and Poems from the Snow Land. He jeered at those writers and scholars who frequently showed up in China's TVs as the government's propaganda tools.

The participating writers gibed each other, so sharply it accelerated the pulse. Interestingly, the poets and writers originally planned to walk to Freedom Square and recite their work aloud on the way, interacting with passersby, even intending "not to exclude naked running." However, this interaction did not happen, perhaps because of their introverted personalities. Only their heated arguing attracted some sidelong glances. After arriving at Freedom Square, they read their work for about half an hour and did nothing surprising.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Johnson, Vermont: War Dilemma

The slogan on the flag reads: "WE SUPPORT OUR TROOPS / Hang a Yellow Ribbon for Your Soldier"

I asked a few writers and artists if they thought supporting our troops was the same as supporting the war. The answers were divided.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

On a Poet's Door

Okay, enough politics. I'm glad the Olympic torch relay in San Francisco changed route yesterday (because the supporters outnumbered protesters?), thus avoided bigger violence.

Here at VSC writers and visual artists are working peacefully, many productively. Below are photos of a poet's door in the writers studio. The poet puts a note on her door every morning. When I pass by, I take a photo, but sometimes my mind is too occupied and I forget - the reason for the time gaps.

Day ?

Day 4

Day 3

Day 2

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

What Will Happen to the Olympic Flame in San Francisco

A friend suggested me to report the "spontaneous reaction from oversea Chinese in San Francisco." She pointed me to a post on a popular American Chinese website, mitbbs.org. The post, titled "April 9th, Flags Flapping, Sacred Flame Glows in San Francisco," is time-stamped 15:09:25 today:

----------------------------------[in translation]

Yesterday afternoon, I got some of the flags made by volunteers.

The flags are small, only 8"x10", and the poles are two feet long. A phoenix fire ball on the white background is especially eye-catching. Volunteers in San Francisco made the flags through the night by their hot blood.

I held several tens of the little flags, feeling like a general on a Beijing Opera stage. Wouldn't tomorrow's San Francisco be like a battlefield without gun smoke?

This evening I watched TV news. Once again the Western media disgusted me. In Paris, the violent protesters kept attacking the Olympic torchbearers. They even attacked a handicapped female athlete on wheelchair! …Yet the media is still burnishing up the image of those ugly terrorists.

Friends, give up delusion! Wherever you are, whatever dialect you speak, come to San Francisco, shout with us in the cold wind by the seaside, and let our voice spread! We Chinese have been silent for too long…


Below the post are comments from about 80 supporters. The continuing support has kept the post on top of the page.

On a related note, this morning a CNN news alert titled "Protesters warming up as Olympic flame arrives in U.S." hit my inbox at 10:53 am. (The title has been changed at the time of this writing.)

The agitated voices from both sides are really worrying me. I heard from the AP that IOC was considering ceasing the relay. I think that will be good for everyone. Here's to hoping that IOC will do one thing right and carry through with the idea!

Monday, April 7, 2008

An Effort to Understand More about the Dalai Lama

This book, The Open Road: the Global Journey of the Fourteenth Dalai Lama by Pico Iyer, is on my immediate reading list. My interest is raised by a book review in the New Yorker titled "Holy Man," and also the radical actions of the protesters in London who tried to douse the Olympic flame. I question how much those protesters knew about the Dalai Lama or Tibet. They certainly had no respect for the Dalai Lama's position on the Beijing Olympics or Tibet autonomy.

Read "Holy Man" here.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

"How To Find The Truth About Lhasa?"

In these two articles, a Chinese journalist and a blogger speak out against the nationalism fervor and media blockage in China. This voice is like the sound of footsteps in a deserted valley. Their courage is especially admirable not only because their view dissents from the government's, but because it is against the rising sentimental tide of the Chinese masses. For the former the authors might have a chance for the Nobel Peace Prize, for the latter the only reward they get is drowning in a sea of people's angry saliva. The journalist, for example, was condemned as a "traitor," not by the government but by readers of his article.

Sometimes what is important is not the exact view of a dissenting voice, rather it is the fact that you can hear such a voice.

I don't mind repeating what I said in another post: Propaganda works by providing one and only one view to the audience. In China it is achieved through government censorship. In the United States it is propagated by people who pick a side first then choose to eschew any other point of view.

If you are hearing one and only one voice without any dissenting view, in the media or in your community, it is time to question if you are receiving propaganda. Sadly, oftentimes it is much easier and more comfortable to accept than fight it.

Friday, April 4, 2008

DON NOBLE: "Short-story collection is a winner"

Today Google alert brought me a pleasant surprise: a review for Tartts Three, a short story anthology that includes my story "Pivot Point." Here is what the reviwer, Don Noble, has to say about it:

"Xujun Eberlein is a story writer who grew up in China and came to the United States in 1988. Her collection won the Tartt Award. Her story in this volume, 'Pivot Point,' has the wonderful, nearly invaluable advantage of having a setting unfamiliar to the reader and dealing with issues unknown to the reader. (Hemingway was similarly lucky, or wise, when he set stories in East Africa and on charter fishing boats in the Gulf Stream.) Eberlein's protagonist is a 26-year-old single Chinese woman who had been sent to the country for 're-education' at the tail end of the Cultural Revolution. She is in love with a married man — not a rare situation — but in China conditions for romance are claustrophobic and stultifying. The young woman, living in a tiny room in her parents' apartment, cannot get housing of her own; there is no privacy to be had. The affair takes some predictable turns but ends, as a story titled 'Pivot Point' should, with a twist. She will go west, not to die — as the folk adage has it — but to study philosophy in America."

It is also interesting Don Noble says later in his review that "There are no bad stories in this volume, amazingly, but there are some problematical ones." Continue to read the review here>>

Thursday, April 3, 2008