February 2008

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If I rode the subway to and from work, I’d be seriously addicted by now to the Oxford University Press “Very Short Introductions” series in which Rana Mitter’s next book is about to appear (it’s due out late in February in Britain, soon after that in the U.S.). This is because these slim volumes seem custom-made to be read over the course of a day-or-two’s worth of hour-there and hour-back train rides.

The best way to sum up the series is that it’s made up of little books on big topics. They are all short (100 to 150 pages of text). They all have the same subtitle—as in Architecture: A Very Short Introduction (a work I’ve come to rely on in my research on Shanghai, whenever I’m trying to keep straight which treaty-port era landmarks should be called “neo-classical,” which “art deco”) and Globalization: A Very Short Introduction (a book I wrote about for Newsweek International–fittingly enough, given the brevity of the book, in a mini-review that was only about 100 words long). And each VSI (easy to remember, rhymes with CSI: I’m not sure whether the publisher or the TV producers got there first with the abbreviation) is issued in the same attractive, shrunk-down format. They are just the right size to slip into the back pocket of your jeans. Unfortunately in one sense (but fortunately for my health and the health of my research account, lest I be tempted to squander too much of it on VSIs), I generally get to and from work by bike, so consuming them en route isn’t an option (though I suppose if they came as podcasts…).

Having grown fond of the series and liking Mitter’s earlier books, The Manchurian Myth and A Bitter Revolution, I was eager to get my hands on an advance copy of Modern China, but then found myself feeling a bit anxious about reading it once it arrived. After all, it seemed possible (maybe even probable) that I’d come away disappointed, less enamored of the series than I had been. I wondered if I would feel, after reading Mitter’s latest, that the VSI were fine when dealing with subjects one knew little about (the case, for me, with architecture) or had just a passing knowledge of (the case, for me, with globalization a few years ago), but not when they were right up your alley. As it turned out, though, I needn’t have worried.

This is because there’s a lot to like about this book, which covers a great deal of ground in a consistently engaging fashion and manages to remain accessible even when tackling complex issues. For example, the varied things that being “modern” has meant to Chinese actors of different generations—and the ways that the second word in the book’s title, “China,” can also turn out to have a far from simple and stable meaning.

One of the book’s many strengths is its catchy opening. Mitter begins with a quotation from a book called New China, which reads in part: “It is impossible to do other than assent to the unanimous verdict that China has at length come to the hour of her destiny…Even in the remote places we have found a new spirit—its evidence, strangely enough, the almost universal desire to learn English” (1). Mitter knows that his readers will find these lines familiar, as they come across ones like them in newspapers and magazines all the time in stories about the current phase of China’s history.

But, he stresses, the Westerners who wrote New China “did not pen their observations having landed back at Kennedy or Heathrow airports on one of the many Air China 747s that ferry thousands of travellers daily between China and the West. They wrote their book a full century ago” (2). New China, you see, may have been subtitled “a story of modern travel,” but it was published in 1910, while the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) still clung to power and the most “modern” routes from West to East and back again were by railway or steamship.

Don’t get me wrong: much as like this opening (the rhetorical device is a familiar one, but the source was new to me and seemed particularly well chosen) and other sections as well, there is a lot in Mitter’s account with which a specialist can quibble. Each of us—and I’m no exception—can find plenty of nits to pick. For example, especially if I were thinking of using this in the classroom, I would have liked to see it peppered by more quotations from Chinese sources.

In addition, though he is hardly alone in this, Mitter falls prey to the somewhat misleading tendency with both the May 4th protests of 1919 and the Tiananmen ones of 1989 of placing these upheavals into too intensely Beijing-centric a framework. Yes, actions by students in the capital were crucial in 1919. But the May 4th Movement peaked with a general strike in Shanghai. It is remembered now largely as a Beijing and student story, but without workers joining in (and merchants, too) and other cities being affected, it seems doubtful that it would have had the same impact. Would, for example, the three officials that Beijing students targeted for criticism have been dismissed from office if the movement hadn’t spread like wildfire across geographical and class lines?

Similarly, there is good reason to concentrate on Beijing when talking about 1989, but there is more to the story than just what was done by locals (again of many different classes, though students were key). It is worth remembering, for example, that the groundwork for the Tiananmen protests was laid partly by the 1986 campus demonstrations in Anhui and other cities. And that one thing that kept the struggle going through May was the steady influx into the capital of students from other provinces.

These kinds of quibbles aside (and I have no doubt that had I written the book instead, some would have felt that Shanghai showed up too often in its pages), it would be wrong to end this review (or perhaps I should say “preview,” given the “Coming Distractions” title of this feature) on a critical note. Instead, I’ll close by drawing attention to something I find appealing: the stress Mitter puts on continuities as well as ruptures between the periods of Nationalist Party rule (when Generlissimo Chiang Kaishek held power) and of Communist Party control of the country.
While well aware of the differences between the Nationalists and Communists that need flagging, one of his chapters does a nice job of showing how appropriate it can be to treat Chinese “politics since 1928 as a changing of the baton” between two parties that shared many fundamental beliefs, including a conviction that China’s best shot at becoming strong and modern lay with top-down rule by a tightly disciplined Leninist organization (73). He is not the first to make this argument, but he puts it forward very nicely indeed.

For example, while many people (myself included) have played with the idea of pondering what Mao would make of twenty-first-century China, with its many capitalist dimensions, Mitter puts a novel twist on the notion by bringing the Generalissimo as well as the Chairman into the picture. After pointing out that “the Communist Party of today has essentially created the state sought by the progressive wing of the Nationalists in the 1930s rather than the dominant, radical Communists of the 1960s,” Mitter leaves us with this compelling image (particularly apt at a time when there is talk of transporting the Generalissimo’s body from Taiwan to the mainland): “One can imagine Chiang Kaishek’s ghost wandering around China today nodding in approval, while Mao’s ghost follows behind him, moaning at the destruction of his vision” (73).

This week, The China Beat interviews Catherine Sampson, former BBC journalist and The Times correspondent, as well as the author of four mystery novels (see below). You can learn a lot more about her on her website, which also includes an exciting blog.

NB: What was the most intriguing, amusing, inspiring, or eye-opening story that you covered in China?

CS: I worked as a journalist in Beijing for The Times of London between 1988 and 1993. Both the most inspiring and then the most awful was 1989. The student demonstrations went on for 6 weeks and drew in all sorts of other people. It was an exhilarating time, a gutsy, good-natured, hopeful, time. It all came to a horrible end on June 4th, and the next few years in China were bleak ones. I haven’t worked as a journalist here since 1994, and it’s June 4th that stays with me, the political intrigue that surrounded it, and the myriad stories of bravery and tragedy. I think we’re wrong if we believe people have forgotten about 1989 in the excitement of economic activity that has swept the country.

NB: How has your “previous” life as a journalist impacted your work as a novelist?

CS: My ‘previous life’ as a journalist reminded me to keep my sentences short, my storyline clear, and to deliver on deadline. I think it also made me a good editor of my own writing. But starting to write as a novelist I also had to learn how to leave journalism behind, and to shift stylistic gear entirely. My ‘previous life’ as a journalist in China also taught me a lot about the country, so that when I started writing about it in fiction, it felt like a natural step.

NB: Tell me about your books and their settings—Beijing and London.

CS: I started writing my first novel, Falling Off Air, set in London, when I was living in London from 1998 to 2001. We moved back to Beijing in 2001 because my husband, James Miles, was taking up a job as Beijing correspondent for The Economist. At that point I had a draft novel but no contract. In 2004, Falling Off Air was published in the UK and the US (Mysterious Press), and my next book, Out of Mind had to be set in London also because I was contracted to write a series. I found it hard to live in Beijing and write about London. So, when it came to my third book, I was determined that I should write a mystery set in Beijing, and that’s how The Pool of Unease was written. It is set in Beijing, in Anjialou, a neighbourhood just down the road from where I live, and has a Chinese protagonist, private detective Song Ren. (It has no US publisher as yet. But the Macmillan edition can be bought on UK Amazon). My next book, The Slaughter Pavilion, is also set in Beijing, and Song Ren is once again my hero.

NB: What was the most difficult thing about being a foreign correspondent, or a foreign author in Beijing? What has been the most exciting or rewarding aspect of your work?

CS: Way back in 1988 to 1994, when I was working as a foreign journalist, the most difficult thing was the harassment of Chinese friends and contacts by the police and by the state security apparatus. We were followed, our phones were bugged, and friends knew that they were running a risk by seeing us. On a less important level, believe it or not, at that point in history, even after June 4th, it was still difficult (in the UK anyway) to interest editors in China stories. I think that has probably changed… The most rewarding part of my work, whether as a journalist or an author, has always been the opportunity to travel and to meet people in all walks of life. The best part about being a journalist is being able to ask questions.

NB: What first drew you to China, and how have your interactions with Chinese people and culture changed your life in ways that you never imagined?

CS: I can’t pinpoint what it was that first drew me to China – whatever it was, it’s lost in the mists of time… I think my parents’ interest must have played a part. Anyway, I was interested in languages and interested in politics, and that inclined me to study either Chinese or Russian. I was part of a group of Leeds University students who came to Fudan University [in Shanghai] way back in 1981-2 at the age of 19, and a lot of us have kept coming back to China time and again. I have spent a total of 15 years in China, and a further 2 in Hong Kong. I count myself immensely privileged to have witnessed history unfold here, and immensely privileged to have met brave and gracious people who have lived fascinating lives often in the most difficult of circumstances. Looking out my window at the New Year fireworks, I’d say this is also a very optimistic culture, and that is good for all of us.

(Posted by the China Beat on behalf of Jeffrey N. Wasserstrom)

One thing that American newspaper readers can’t help noticing—no matter which section matters most to them—is that people, objects, and images are circulating between China and the West at a dizzying pace. In 2007 alone, business reporters told of tainted food and dangerous toys coming from East to West, while their colleagues covering entertainment reported that film crews were heading in the opposite direction to shoot “Survivor: China.” Sports fans got reports of U.S. athletes preparing for the Beijing Games as well as articles about Yao Ming moving back and forth across the Pacific, to shoot baskets in Houston and get married in Shanghai.

What’s more, on a single recent Sunday (December 2, 2007), the Los Angeles Times greeted subscribers like me with not just one but two headline-grabbing stories about 21st century tourism with Chinese characteristics. On the front page, a story titled “Opening the Door for China” described changed visa rules that are likely to “unleash a new wave of tourism,” bringing Chinese visitors streaming into Southern California in record number to go to theme parks, stay at hotels and shop in the heavily Mandarin-speaking San Gabriel Valley, and buy herbal medicines and brand name luxury goods (confident, as they wouldn’t be at home, that they’ll get the real things, not fakes). The cover of the Travel section, meanwhile, showed snowcapped mountain peaks topped by large white lettering spelling out “REVVED UP for the SILK ROAD,” with smaller type above reading “Countdown to the 2008 Olympics” (a reminder of the media frenzy and big upsurge in West-to-East tourism predicted for this year).

The increasing intertwining of China and the West—and the excitement and anxiety it’s generating—has inspired breathless forward-looking commentaries about things like whose century this young one will be, as if it has to belong to either Us or Them. But what really seems in order during this countdown to the Olympics is slowing down and trying to catch our breath. Instead of peering anxiously ahead into the unknown, we would do well to pause, look back over our shoulders, and ask: Can we learn something useful from revisiting past moments when East-West exchanges increased? And those interested in the topic have some attractive places to turn just now, thanks to the recent appearance of four books and the mounting of two new exhibits.

A good place to start a backward look is with two books that shed new light on Chinese ties to Europe in the 1600s. One is Vermeer’s Hat: The Seventeenth Century and the Dawn of the Global World, an elegantly written book by Timothy Brook, a leading China specialist making an assured foray into world history. His organizing conceit is simple: the objects in Vermeer paintings (articles of clothing, maps, etc.) can serve as “doors” that open to reveal surprisingly global dimensions of the Delft painter’s time. Vermeer’s Hat has much to recommend it to those interested in everything from art to colonialism, but its biggest pay-off here has to do with fakes. In Vermeer’s time, as Brook notes, European imitations of high quality Chinese porcelain were far more common than Chinese imitations of any Western good.

A second book, China on Paper: Chinese and European Works from the Late Sixteenth to the Early Nineteenth Century, which is linked to an exhibit by the same name running at the Getty Research Institute, provides a different sort of new perspective on the same period. One thing it highlights is China’s long history as an appealing destination for Western armchair travelers. (This is an important group of travelers, since it has always far outnumbered that comprised of Westerners who actually made it to Asia—and this will surely long continue to be true, since, after all, the premiere episode of “Survivor: China” alone was watched by more than 15 million Americans.)

According to a chapter by Marcia Reed, one of China on Paper’s two co-editors, the most popular books about China circulating in the West a few centuries ago presented themselves as offering practical guidance to those bound for mysterious Cathay. But they were mainly intended to serve a different purpose. They were “books of wonder collected for—and sometimes by—armchair travelers.” These European readers were invited to pretend to follow in the legendary Marco Polo’s footsteps by reading the text and looking at the pictures, the same kind of invitation travel writer Susan Carpenter recently offered Los Angeles Times readers in her “REVVED up for the SILK ROAD” piece.

Moving forward to the late 1800s and early 1900s, we come to another pair of books, one again linked to an exhibit, that help place current phenomena into historical perspective. The first, Picturing China: 1870-1950: Photographs from British Collections, accompanies an exhibit by the same name that recently ran at London’s Brunei Gallery and is now traveling to other UK locales. (Alas, the book, which shows an arresting shot of a Chinese woman with a camera on its cover , is currently available only at museums, but armchair travelers who want to see the images in the show and others from the same digital archive project can do so without leaving home via the click of a mouse.) Of special interest here are the book’s arresting shots of Chinese and Western individuals, as well as Eurasians, who moved between different cultural worlds. In straddling divides between East and West, some of the subjects of these photographs, like today’s Yao Mings, went back and forth across oceans (albeit carried by ships, not jets). Others, though, navigated borders within a China that, at the time, had many divided cities, designated “treaty ports,” that contained foreign-run sections. This allowed people to move, in a single day, from an enclave like Shanghai’s International Settlement (the landmark buildings of which contained clock towers and other Western features) to a Chinese-run part of that same metropolis (where different design features, like curving tile roofs, topped the finest structures).

Last, but I hope not least (for obvious reasons), there is a fourth recently published book to consider: my own China’s Brave New World—And Other Tales for Global Times. Many of its sections deal with East-to-West or West-to-East flows. But perhaps the most germane to focus on here are a playful pair of chapters on globetrotting in the era of Jules Verne’s Around the World in Eighty Days, “Traveling with Twain” (a chapter in which China only comes in indirectly, via such things as the author’s virulent disdain for missionaries and imperialism), and “Around the World with Grant and Li, (which looks at the global circuits of a famous American and much less well-known Chinese traveler who met briefly at the 1876 Philadelphia World’s Fair).

One topic I addressed in both of these chapters is, once again, armchair travel—this time taking the story beyond the realms of the books and visual representations dealt with in China on Paper. Yes, Twain was a wildly popular writer of books about his foreign travels. Yes, there were books published about the trip to China and other distant lands that Ulysses S. Grant took after his presidency. And, yes, Mr. Li, the Chinese globetrotter who met the General-turned-Statesman at the Philadelphia Fair wrote a travelogue to let his fellow countrymen know of the technological wonders he had seen in America and Europe (telegraph and train systems particularly impressed him). But written records of this sort were by no means the only devices that people turned to when hoping to experience far-off places vicariously in the late 1800s. Then, as now, there were many other ways to venture imaginatively to the other side of the world.

Americans and Europeans interested in getting a feel for the “East,” for example, could go to World’s Fairs, like the 1867 Parisian one) whose Middle Eastern displays Twain took in while en route to the Holy Land (and wrote about in Innocents Abroad) or the 1876 Centennial Exhibition where Grant met Li). According to an illustrated history of the latter World’s Fair, upon entering its Chinese Pavilion visitors could “for a moment imagine” that they had “put the sea” between themselves “and the Exhibition and had suddenly landed in some large Chinese bazaar.” (For an extended discussion of this kind of imaginary travel to China by Americans during the first century of U.S. history, see the fascinating 2006 book by John Rogers Hadded, The Romance of China). As for Chinese of the same era who wanted to vicariously experience the “West”—they could simply go to Shanghai’s International Settlement, which provided a living and breathing display of Western lifestyles more immersive than any Epcot Pavilion or Travel Channel program.

Of course—to point to a final present-day echo of bygone days that helps us place a story about a twenty-first-century trend into a long-term perspective—what Grant liked about the International Settlement was surely not its whiff of the “exotic” West. Rather, stopping at Shanghai’s famed Astor Hotel, with its Western meals and English-speaking staff, doubtless gave him a comforting sense of familiarity in an alien environment—something that contemporary Chinese travelers who end up spending some of their time in the U.S. in places like the San Gabriel Valley would surely appreciate.

* A shorter version of this piece appeared in the St. Petersburg Times (Florida), January 13, 2008; the Twain chapter alluded to above is adapted from a piece that originally appeared in the online journal Common-Place.

By Kate Merkel-Hess

After Jeremiah Jenne recently posed a question about “the most important Chinese historical figure most people have never heard of,” I got to thinking about the vast expanse of Chinese history that is so often neglected in favor of the (admittedly sometimes more-relevant) post-49 events. In chronological order, here are my five nominations for Chinese historical events I wish were more often talked and written about. What events make your list?

1. The An Lushan Rebellion
Led by the rogue general, An Lushan, the civil war that riled the Tang Dynasty from 755 to 763 caused death by violence and famine of over ten million people. But the An Lushan Rebellion is not on this list because of its high death toll. The rebellion also destabilized the Tang political regime and the aristocratic clans who supported it, reshaping a system that relied heavily on pedigree for advancement. Histories of China’s imperial exam system often note that it existed (in some form, though off-and-on) beginning in the Han. But until the An Lushan Rebellion, hereditary position mattered more than merit. In the post-rebellion upheaval, however, the state centralized the process of appointing officials, a process that would become increasingly regulated and transparent in the following centuries (and particularly with the reforms of Zhu Xi in the 12th century). Until the end of the Qing (and beyond, but that’s another story), most officeholders were, indeed, from the wealthy families that could afford to support their sons as they studied decades for the exams (exam passers were often in their 40s or even older), but there was the possibility—and some famous examples of—poor men who rose to high position. China’s meritocratic officialdom—the world’s first meritocracy—had enormous ramifications for the bureaucracy itself, but its greatest impact was to create a national elite culture whereby well-educated men from around China, despite linguistic tradition or family background, participated in a shared intellectual tradition. Notably, this intellectual life took deepest root in the wealthy southern Yangzi Delta, an area whose population and economy grew rapidly after the An Lushan Rebellion as a direct result of the southward migrations that resulted from the rebellion’s upheaval. The nouveau riche landlords who emerged in this area found the revised exam system a particularly effective way to convert their wealth into officially-recognized status.

2. The Founding of the Yuan Dynasty
Most people even a little familiar with Chinese or world history have heard of Kublai Khan (grandson of Genghis), the founder of the Yuan Dynasty, which ruled China from 1271 to 1368. The Mongol conquering and governing of China, however, had more implications than just the spread of the plague and the introduction of new warfare techniques. Sinologists have traditionally seen the Yuan as an exception in Chinese history—foreign, nomadic rulers who practiced Tibetan Buddhism (as well as their own animist traditions) who were not, unlike the Manchus, successfully “sinicized.” Recent revisitations of this history, however, have provided new ideas about the legacy of the Mongols. On the one hand, there are the accidental implications—the incursions of northern nomadic peoples, even before Genghis’s military sweep, sent many northern Chinese south during the preceding few centuries (as did Mongol clearing of lands in northern China to make room for more pastureland). These settlers not only turned southern wilderness to arable land, but established the cultural and economic heartland of China. Politically, the Mongols centralized power, strengthening the control of the emperor over the bureaucracy and over local elites. Perhaps most importantly, the Mongols in many ways set a model for the Qing dynasty—not only as nomads governing an agricultural empire (as Mark Elliott argued in The Manchu Way, the ruling Manchus—rightly or wrongly—used the weakening of Mongol nomad customs as the explanation of their downfall, and used that fact as a rallying cry to maintain their own culture against the incursions of the attractive, but supposedly soft Chinese culture), but also as a unified multicultural empire that encompassed under a single state structure a variety of religious and ethnic groups. These geographic boundaries and ethnic diversity were ideas that early twentieth century reformers worked hard to maintain, and homages to them can be readily seen in today’s Chinese culture and politics.

3. The Single Whip Reforms
Arguably of greater importance to world history than Chinese history, the Ming Dynasty Single Whip Reform of 1581 ordered that all land taxes in China be paid in silver. One in a series of reforms (referred to in their entirety as the “Single Whip Reforms”; 1581 is perhaps the most important of them) that increasingly monetized the Chinese tax system, the changes impacted even the lowliest Chinese peasant—who could no longer pay his taxes in kind, but instead had to purchase silver in order to do so. The reform could not have been implemented without the large amount of silver pouring into China from Spanish Empire (South American) mines, and the resulting domestic need for silver pushed up its global price. It has even been argued by Dennis Flynn that without Chinese demand pushing up silver prices, the Spanish crown would not have earned enough from its New World possessions to keep governing them, much less finance decades of warfare in Europe itself. And it’s also worth remembering that under the Song and Yuan Dynasties, China actually had a functioning paper currency system—the world’s first. Had the Ming restored that rather than following the private sector’s turn to silver (after the late Yuan and especially the early Ming destroyed confidence in paper currency by over-printing it) both Chinese and global history might have been quite different.

4. The White Lotus Rebellion
Arguments about China’s nineteenth-century “dynastic decline” often begin with the White Lotus Rebellion, a sectarian uprising from 1796 to 1804, arguing that the rebellion exposed the inherent weaknesses of the ruling Manchus and the Qing dynasty. While it is true that there were a range of symptoms that, retrospectively, indicate the coming problems for the Qing (the increasing neglect of the waterways over the course of the nineteenth century, for instance), the Qing response to the White Lotus Rebellion was not one of them. Recent research (for instance, the doctoral research of my colleague, Wensheng Wang) argues that the Qing government dealt effectively and flexibly with the White Lotus Rebellion, countering the notion of a static, out-of-touch court too steeped in tradition and luxury to respond to contemporary events. In this reading, the White Lotus Rebellion becomes instead an example of the continued vibrancy of Qing rule into the nineteenth century, and raises further questions for Chinese historians about what events were most important to the “downfall” of the Qing.

5. The 1911 Chinese Revolution
Overshadowed in twentieth century history by the 1949 Communist Revolution, the 1911 Chinese Revolution proceeded from a remarkable series of localized events. It was not the result of an inevitable march towards “Westernization” as it is sometimes portrayed in shorthand, but rather reflective of two strong late nineteenth century trends: increasing nationalism and increasing localism. Both were extensions of shifts grounded in the elite efforts to suppress the Taiping Rebellion in the mid-nineteenth century. As Philip Kuhn described in his 1970 landmark book, Rebellion and Its Enemies in Late Imperial China, the central government’s inability to suppress the Taiping rebels forced local (mainly southern) elites to band together their own militias to protect their cities and counties. These militia, in turn, became the recruiting grounds for full-blown armies (which unlike militia, would fight away from home for long periods) under regional commanders; this was an important step toward the warlordism that would wreak havoc in China in the 1910s and 1920s. This tendency, which grew into a full-blown self-government movement in the first decade of the twentieth century, moved alongside a growing fin de siècle Chinese nationalism (exemplified, for instance, in the Boxer Rebellion). Both came to a head over a nationwide push to repurchase railroad rights (which is one of the primary issues around which the Wuhan New Army member, who actually touched off the Qing overthrow, had organized). In the wake of that event, local elites—some military leaders, others old-school gentry—declared their independence from Beijing. The resulting tensions of growing nationalism but also militarized localism plagued the young republic and reverberations of these tensions can be traced down to the present day.

Images:
“Tang Scholars,” by Han Huang, active 723-787
Portrait of Kublai Khan.

(Posted by the China Beat on behalf of Nicole Barnes)

I live in Southern California where I always have to look my best, so I get my eyebrows threaded at Vinita’s Beauty and Threading Studio in Tustin. Vinita’s is owned and largely patronized by South Asian women. I’m frequently the only white woman in the place, but I get a sweet deal: a full eyebrow threading for only 5 minutes and 6 bucks! In case you suffer through waxing, you really need to know about the wonderful process of threading. It’s literally done with a sewing thread: the “threader” holds one end of the thread in her mouth, wraps the middle around two or three fingers in her left hand, and manipulates the other end like a pair of scissors in her right hand. This way she can grab a whole row of eyebrow hairs and yank them out before you even notice; it’s only a little bit painful.

Although in the US and UK most enterprising eyebrow threaders are Indian women, in India the work is done mostly by Chinese immigrants. Still, there is virtually no consensus on its exact origins; there are claims that it originated in Iran, India, China, and Egypt, and it is practiced all over the world, on both male and female clients. It seems that, no matter our nationality, we are all obsessed with shedding our simian roots through depilatory arts!

Perhaps eyebrow threading does in fact allow us to change our very nature. Sohu.com has a feature that describes your personal character and destiny according to the shape of your eyebrows. So when you get tired of your Big Dipper brows (beidou mei) giving you an overactive libido, or when your Rebel brows (luohan mei) are making it hard for you to find your soulmate, you can go for a threading and adopt the forthright friendliness of Sleeping Silkworm brows (wocan mei).

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