May 2009

You are currently browsing the monthly archive for May 2009.

1. A very cool set of reports from 1949 on what happened in Shanghai sixty years ago when the Communist Party took control (Hat tip: Shanghaiist).
2. Alec Ash continues with brief insights on critical issues. Here’s a nugget on the Chinese “brain drain.”

3. A very smart review of Zhao’s memoir by Richard Rigby at East Asia Forum:

What was not generally known at the time to outside observers was Zhao’s determination, mentioned several times in the book, that he not go down in history as the General Secretary who approved unleashing the PLA against the demonstrators.

In so doing he sealed his political fate, but also ensured his name would be added to the (all too long) list of upright officials who throughout Chinese history did the right thing – to their cost, but to their own, and China’s, ultimate credit.

The fascination of the book, though, goes much further than Zhao’s account of the June 4 events.

It will be mined in great detail by many for the insights it provides into the evolution of the economic reform program, the twists and turns of internal party struggles, the paramount role of Deng Xiaoping (but even his power was not unlimited), the serious differences within the reform camp over political reform (and in Zhao’s case, the way his thinking on this issue changed, and continued to do following his removal from power), Zhao’s insightful pen-portraits of his erstwhile colleagues, and his frank admissions of various policy mistakes (in particular the mishandling of the price reform of 1988).

Most of all, the book stands out as the sole account of how things worked – and in some, but not all ways, presumably still do – at the very top of the Chinese political system, by one who was there.

(Go to East Asia Forum for more.)

4. Check out an intriguing new blog (hat tip: Victor Mair) called The China Society Pages that features translations of quirky Chinese new stories (some of which also appear at CNReviews), including recent entries like “Husband and Wife Sue His Former Mistress,” “Widowed Chicken Disconsolate over Loss of Rooster,” and “Man Stabs Father 6 Times Killing Him, Then Goes Back to Bed.” You get the idea.

5. China is trying to manage its international profile the same way it does at home: by creating media, this time aimed at foreigners. Hear the story at NPR.

This piece is excerpted from the manuscript of Philip J. Cunningham’s forthcoming book, Tiananmen Moon, part of an on-going China Beat feature of excerpts from Cunningham’s book. Interested readers can see more at Cunningham’s website. 
By Philip J. Cunningham

On the evening of May 22, BBC asked me to take one of the crews to the Square for a closer look at the protest, which was thought to be on the wane now that martial law was coming into force. We did the usual look-see, I conducted a few spot interviews and the talented camera crew captured ironic and iconic visuals. Then we took a break in front of the History Museum, parking the hotel van near the camp of the provincial students. 

The protesters around us didn’t seem to mind our presence, until we decided to crack out the beverages. It was hard to enjoy the hotel-bought drinks we had kept stored in an icebox in the back of the van while in the midst of so many under-nourished, homeless students from the countryside. 
The problem of eating well in front of people who had less access to food was a familiar one, something I had experienced on the set of The Last Emperor and Empire of the Sun. We almost had a riot one day on the during a location shot on the Bund for the Spielberg film, as the cast and crew ate a hotel-catered lunch in the midst of 5000 hungry extras whose food had been duly paid for but never arrived, due to some sticky-fingered comprador or official intermediary. 
Thus it was with some reluctance that I extracted a can of iced cold soda from the icebox. Just then I noticed a young man in dusty clothes staring at me through thick black-rimmed glasses, eyeing the Coke I had in my hand. He had a wiry build and sported a flattop crew cut that made him look more a police cadet than student. But there was something extremely sympathetic about him too, he had a wide-eyed but vulnerable expression on his face, as if he wanted to talk but was afraid. I offered him a can of soda from the BBC icebox. 
“Thank you, man!” he said nervously in English. He smiled like a baby who had just gotten his bottle. He downed the bubbly drink so fast I felt sorry for him. 
“Here you go, friend.” I said, tossing him another. 
“Do you know about the fighting outside the city?” He asked, face drawn with earnest tension until he burped. 
“What? Fighting? Tell me about it.” 
“The troops starting beating the common people,” he said, rushing into a description of the incident. 
“How do you know about this?” 
“I was there!” he said authoritatively. “Do you want to know about it? Are you a reporter?” 
“Sort of. An interpreter. A freelancer, actually. For the BBC. That’s the crew,” I said, pointing to the tailgate party. 
“Nice vehicle, what model is that?” he asked. 
“I don’t have the slightest idea,” I answered honestly. He looked me over from head to toe as if to say how could you not know what model of car you have? 
“I’m Wang Li,” he said. “I’m from Xian. I give you this information.” He handed me some scribbled ideographs on a crumpled sheet of paper. 
“Listen, little Wang, you can call me Jin, ‘jin’ as in gold. Jin Peili,” 
Taking a closer look at his notes, I could barely make out his writing, but there was a list of some place names, times and dates. 
“Thanks for the information, but the BBC probably won’t have the time to look into such a specific incident, even recorded in detail such as this.” 
“But isn’t this news?” 
“It may be,” I said. “But TV news is, um, different. There’s a lot of information that never makes it on air.” He looked as disappointed as a puppy that had just returned a stick that its owner didn’t want to throw anymore. 
“This might be useful for a newspaper, but TV news is, well, forget it.” 
“Do you want more information?” he asked. 
“Sure, let’s keep in touch,” I said, not sure if I meant it or not. I had met too many unusual characters lately, and some of them were so weird I had lost confidence in the cliché that a stranger was a friend I hadn’t met yet. 
“Okay, I tell you what,” I said, trying not to sound too encouraging, “if you have some interesting news, you can call me at the Beijing Hotel, my room number is 1413. And how can I get in touch with you?” 
“I am always here, on Tiananmen Square, with the provincial students,” he said. “Just ask for Wang Li from Xian.” 
Later that evening he telephoned my room, waking me up. 
“I’m Wang Li,” the husky voice says, “I met you on the Square, I have something very important to tell you.” 
“What time is it now?” 
“12:15, I’m in the downstairs coffee shop waiting for you.” 
“Okay, okay, I’ll be right down.” 
Coffee shop? At this time of night? Not in the Beijing Hotel. This place closes down early. So what does he want? Food, I could offer him, a place to stay? Well. Anticipating his request, I opened the refrigerator and stuffed all the food and drink I could squeeze into my shoulder bag.
The lobby is dark and forbidding. The red carpet is inky, almost black. There are no attendants anywhere in sight. When I pass the decorative screen that is designed to keep ghosts out of the lobby I can see some people sitting in the empty coffee lounge. Four young men, no, it’s three men and a woman sitting around a low round table masked in shadow. At an adjacent table I can make out the silhouette of two young men. One of them leaps up and waves me over excitedly. It is Wang Li. 
“Jin, ni hao,” Wang Li says in greeting, approaching me with outstretched hands. “This is my friend Hu, he is also a student from Xian,” he says. Hu and I say hello and shake hands while Wang Li fumbles nervously in his pockets for something. “Here are our student ID cards, I want you to trust us.” 
I scan the cards briefly in the dim light and give them back. I put the fruit juice and snacks on the table and take a seat. 
“Jin, there is so much I have to tell you,” Wang Li erupts, as if we were old friends. 
“Have something to drink first,” I insist, trying to pre-empt his request. I hand him some food and drink. He hands me a jagged piece of paper with notes scribbled on it. I can’t help but notice that the coffee shop menu that lay open on the table had part of a page ripped out of it that matched the angular shape of his note like a jigsaw puzzle piece. 
Written in the coffee-stained margins next to “CHILLED LYCHEES IN SYRUP” and “YOGHURT WITH HONEY” are scribbled the words: “Liuliqiao, army troops, 70 civilians receive injury, tomorrow huge demonstration in protest.” 
Wang Li and Hu gulp down the juice and ravage the snacks as if they had just ended a private hunger strike. While they eat, I look at the other table where a group of four young people are talking in low whispers next to the ornate ghost screen that blocked view from the entrance. 
“Listen, troops have arrived northeast of Beijing. There are thousands of soldiers, tanks, and I heard there are trucks full of ammunition,” Wang Li says, as if trying to earn his keep. 
“How do you know?” 
“We were there,” he says with a hint of pride. And then anticipating further questions, he adds, “We know a journalist needs evidence, so we want to go back and take pictures.” 
“Isn’t that kind of risky?” 
“No, we must do it, Jin. Can I borrow your camera?” He reads the doubt on my face. “You can keep my ID card until I return with the camera.” 
“No, no, that’s not necessary. I trust you,” I respond, using the immortal words of someone about to be conned. Actually I didn’t trust him. If anything his offer of the ID made me a little suspicious. If he were really a student why was he flashing his ID around? No one else did that. 
“Thank you,” he says, looking greatly relieved. “You are a friend.” 
“Where have you been sleeping?” 
“On the Square,” he answers. 
“What about tonight?” 
“No sleep. We will be out all night looking for troops.” 
“You have to get some sleep some time,” I answer, playing the role of older brother. I didn’t have that kind of stamina or drive. 
I was starting to admire this guy’s dedication to the cause. 
“I’ll tell you what, tomorrow you can shower and nap in my room if you want, okay?” 
Even as the words left my mouth I wasn’t sure why I made the offer, but it got me off the hook tonight. And I did feel for these ragamuffins. We shared a powerful curiosity in common; we were interested in finding out what was really going on, but we weren’t journalists, not them, not me. I couldn’t forget how I was almost reduced to sleeping on the streets during the early vigils at Tiananmen. 
“Can you give me some film, too?” he pleads, revealing sharper bargaining skills as my skepticism softened. 
“Yeah, okay. By the way,” I ask, pointing to the figures in the shadows about 20 feet away, “Who are those people sitting at the table over there?” 
“They’re our student leaders. That’s Wang Dan, Wuerkaixi, Chai Ling and Feng Congde.” 
“The student leaders?” I ask in disbelief. Isn’t this a government hotel? 
We got up to leave. I walked past the other table to get a closer look. The quiet conference in progress momentarily went silent as we walked by. On the way out, I give my camera to Wang Li, not sure if I’d see it or him again. Even so I felt a pang of guilt. Is it right for me to encourage him to go running after troops? 
And what are the student leaders doing in the Beijing Hotel in the middle of the night? Is someone protecting them, do they have a powerful benefactor in the building? It’s close to Tiananmen Square, and in a way, it’s a good hideout. After all, who would expect to find them here? Like Shanghai in the ‘30s where the underground communists frequented the same bars, brothels and hotels as the anti-communist city bosses, Beijing was becoming a city of shadowy intrigue.

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By Gina Anne Russo

In my first post on the “Better City, Better Life” Expo promotion campaign, I focused on the centrality within it of visions of Shanghai as a special sort of distinctively modern and distinctively international Chinese metropolis, but here I’ll emphasize the second half of the slogan, which draws attention to the quality of urban existence. Expo public advertisements don’t just glorify Shanghai’s place in the modern world, they also strive to present Shanghai as a place where good behavior is on display. For example, on the subway one day I ran across a person dressed up as Haibao, and he was surrounded by people in vests that read “Make this city better, be a loveable Shanghaier.” Along with being cute and loveable, however, the most common adjective connected with expected “Expo” behavior is wenming I have been in Shanghai now for nine months, and within those nine months more and more small signs, specifically in very public places, have popped up, telling people how they should be behaving. For example, most escalators now read “stand on the right, walk on the left, use the escalators in a wenming way.” Or, “Don’t spit on buses, be more wenming.”

Wenming is difficult to define. Most dictionaries say it means “civilized,” but this definition carries as many problematic connotations in Chinese as it does in English. Leo Lee, in his book Shanghai Modern, traces the development of this word in modern Chinese. The term was originally borrowed from the Japanese, who used the same characters (pronounced differently of course) in the late nineteenth century to define behavior that was specifically “modern” and “Western,” thus maintaining the same connotations as “civilized” in English. This was picked up by China at the beginning of the twentieth century with similar effect.. The Nationalist government in the 1930s emphasized wenming behavior; it was often used in publications promoting the New Life Movement put forth by Chiang Kai-shek, a movement which encouraged people to be more hygienic and well mannered in terms of clothes, food, behavior, and deportment.. If we look at textbooks affiliated with the drive to improve weisheng (hygiene or health)—another complex term, whose links to visions of urban modernity are the subject of an important recent book by Ruth Rogaski we see them using similar language: calling on readers to raise the level of China’s weisheng by being wenming in the way they use the bathroom, stand in line, and so on.

According to Lee, this word shifted in connotation after 1949 to mean “manners” rather than “Western defined behavior.” However, it seems to me that in today’s usage, the meaning still carries this kind of “civilized” meaning. The term tells people not to do things that are considered uncouth or uncivilized by the international community, and by “international community” the reference remains Europe and North America (with Japan or Singapore getting an occasional look-in as perhaps honorary members of the Western modernity club) In this sense, the Expo is connected with making the lives of Shanghai people better, (hence the “better life”) which is inextricably tied with a population that maintains “modern” and “civilized” behavior.

Other public advertisements emphasize Shanghai’s “coming of age” as it becomes a modern part of the Western world in 2010. At Hongqiao airport, for example, a large mural depicts Shanghai (represented by the Oriental Pearl Tower) as it is connected with the rest of the world. Representations from outside China include the Eiffel Tower, Big Ben, the Coliseum, and the Empire State Building. A friend from Hong Kong with whom I was traveling bitterly commented, “So I guess Africa and South America don’t count?”

While this may seem a somewhat simplistic way to read these advertisements, representation of the third world are almost always absent in images of the “global community” (and you’ll look in vane in such visual representations for any sign of India, which constitutes ¼ of the global community). And a final illustration of this phenomenon brings us back to one place you see Haibao, which is on the interactive TV screens located in many Shanghai taxis. While riding in these cabs, people can watch sponsored advertisements (including ones for the new Barbie Store) or play “Expo” games, ranging from a Dance-Dance-Revolution-like one featuring a gyrating Haibao to trivia quizzes that test (and thereby try to increase?) your knowledge of the “world,” via answering questions like “What utensils are used to eat pizza?” and “What type of wine is served with fish and spaghetti?” I’ve only seen one non-Western country even mentioned in these games, and it was Japan, and it only figured in one of the many trivia games on offer in the taxis. The message that this sends is that modernity the West, and Shanghai is ready to become a major player in the modern global community. And this will happen with the Expo, the ultimate symbol of Shanghai’s crossover.

With the Expo less than a year away, Shanghai has a lot of preparation still ahead of it (the most pressing of which are the massive building planned in Pudong). But philosophically, Shanghai has been waiting for this opportunity to regain its status as the center of gravity for China’s modernity for decades. To Shanghai people, this has always been Shanghai’s legacy, and current advertisements feed this sentiment by both naming Shanghai as China’s most modern city and tying it to the Western world, creating, in a sense, a two-dimensional modern identity, both national and international. And while these messages include a certain amount of nationalistic fervor, the real star of the show is not China, but China’s most modern city, its gateway to the rest of the world. 

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By Susan D. Blum

In recent years, articles have appeared from time to time in the Western press that deal with cases of plagiarism in China and speculated on what these incidents may reveal about how academic life and the educational system in the PRC work.  When we learned that anthropologist Susan Blum, one of the contributors to China Beyond the Headlines, a book that was co-edited by a contributor to China Beat (Timothy Weston) and in a sense was trying to do in print form some of the things that this blog now tries to do online, has been combining writing about various aspects of Chinese culture with writing about plagiarism in the U.S. (and elsewhere), we thought it would be great to get her to reflect for us on what is and is not unusual about the situation in the PRC.  Here’s what Blum, the author of a new book called My Word!: Plagiarism and College Culture as well as an earlier work on deception and truth in China, Lies that Bind: Chinese Truth, Other Truths (Rowman and Littlefield, 2007), had to say in response our invitation:

Plagiarism. Doesn’t the very word send chills down your spine? It resembles plague, after all (even though it has no genetic connection to it), and a plague must sicken us all. So the cases of plagiarism and academic misconduct, fraud, copying, and misrepresentation that are the latest ills to beset China make for great journalistic stories. China should, by some accounts, take its lead from the “West,” and especially from the United States.

In case you haven’t noticed, the United States too is consumed by worries about plagiarism and violations of academic integrity. But we have the sense that things are worse in China.

The whole topic of plagiarism depends on related ideas of originality. By a certain logic, developed in Western Europe in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, an author should write original works (Woodmansee 1984, Rose 1993), and should be paid—in both money and “credit”—for that contribution, especially because the best authors were seen as geniuses, inspired by their Muse or by God. The unique work of each of these geniuses should be acknowledged. And paid.

Thus was born the notion of copyright, which is connected with but not identical to the admonition to give credit to our sources.

Academic writing, which is not always—to say the least—touched by genius, borrows from this sense that the author has made a unique contribution and should be gestured to. But it also has a professional scaffolding, the guild rules, if you will, that uses a person’s prior learning to demonstrate proper deference and training. We do that, as Anthony Grafton showed in his book The Footnote, in our footnotes. They give credit. They allow readers to pursue our line of thinking. And they show that we are following the rules.

These are the rules we teach our students and these are the rules we follow, at least when we do follow them.

In the United States college students fail to follow these rules sometimes; in surveys about 66% of our students admit to using uncited material. They do so for a variety of reasons: The rules are extremely subtle and difficult to master properly. The students are busy with a variety of other compelling activities and don’t want to take the time on a particular assignment. The assignment is meaningless to the student. The student has waited until the last minute and just needs to fill up pages, with anything. Some of these reasons may have to do with integrity and some with failed education.

But you can imagine a different notion of writing, a different path in history that does not regard writing as an individual possession. (Many of our students do, in this age of collaboration and Wikis.)

You could imagine a notion of writing where sharing was more important than hording.

You could imagine an academic system where people were hired and rewarded on the basis of contacts, seniority, and cooperation rather than publication and competition.

You could imagine a notion of education where quoting authority showed the proper deference of youth.

You could even imagine a place where a culture hero claimed “I transmit, I do not invent (or create).” (This saying is attributed to Kongzi, known as Confucius, in The Analects.)

Such a place would have a different set of rules about what is supposed to be found in footnotes and in papers, and writing in this place would not be seen as violating universal morality, but rather as following its own logic.

Until very recently, these have been some of the rules governing academic writing in China.

Now, of course, China has left behind its twentieth-century academic isolation and would like to make intellectual contributions to the global academic world. China is now producing more people with higher education degrees than the U.S. and India combined, according to the BBC.  China is investing heavily in tertiary education. China’s faculty are no longer rewarded simply for loyalty.

So new rules are evolving.

And like all social change, it is clear that it happens unevenly. Now that several Chinese universities are ranked in the top 100 in the world, and collaborations between Chinese and foreign scholars are common, Chinese universities have agreed to follow “international” notions of academic integrity, meaning that all work must declare its origins. (Never mind that there is great variation among nations in how this is regarded.) Deference has given way to the confident claims of invention.

As in any high-stakes system—the SAT, Wall Street, publication in prestigious fora—one finds some individuals willing to take enormous risks. Some are sociopaths, such as journalist Stephen Glass who fabricated an entire story in The New Republic. Some claim sloppiness, such as Doris Kearns Goodwin. Scientists wishing glory may also write fraudulent papers, such as three recent professors at Zhejiang University. He Haibo copied and fabricated results published or submitted to eight journals; two colleagues were implicated with him. China Daily called it the “biggest-ever academic scandal.”

Here we have a case with several possible explanations:

–Chinese people cheat.

–Some Chinese people cheat.

–Some people cheat.

–China follows imperfectly international guild rules about academic practices.

–China’s acceptance of the rules of academic citation are in flux and so far have been mastered imperfectly.

Which answer is preferable may depend on whether you want China to be similar to or different from people elsewhere, and whether you believe in an enduring Chinese essence.

I believe that in some sense the rules of academic conduct are arbitrary, but like any game, the players must follow the rules. Violations occur occasionally, both in the West and in Asia, and are rarely caught or punished. The American Historical Association recognized its powerlessness in enforcing rules against plagiarism in 2003, though it encouraged historians to follow and teach students about proper rules of conduct.

There are some traditional practices that may endure in China, such as having novices quote from authorities as part of their education, and there is a tendency to regard communication as effective based on the results it produces.

But there are also new forces at play in China, having to do with the way academics are compensated for speed of publication and uniqueness of contribution.

In this sense China is copying the economic structure of the Western academy. And in this sense the temptations for cutting corners in order to “scoop” everyone else or at least to pile on publications are just like ours.

In this sense, imitation may be the best form of flattery, but both the source and the copier would profit from a different model.

Sources Cited
Grafton, Anthony. 1997. The Footnote: A Curious History. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Rose, Mark. 1993. Authors and Owners: The Invention of Copyright. Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press.

Woodmansee, Martha. 1984. “The Genius and the Copyright: Economic and Legal Conditions of the Emergence of the ‘Author’.” Eighteenth-Century Studies 17: 425-48.

Susan D. Blum is Professor of Anthropology at the University of Notre Dame. She is the author of the recent works Lies that Bind: Chinese Truth, Other Truths (Rowman and Littlefield 2007) and My Word! Plagiarism and College Culture (Cornell University Press 2009).


By Gina Anne Russo

This month began with the countdown clocks ticking away the time until the start of the 2010 Shanghai Expo hitting the one-year-to-go point, and the weeks that have followed have seen the international press pay a good deal of attention to this upcoming event, which had gotten relatively little media coverage in the Western media. There have been a flurry of op-eds (including this one by China Beat‘s Jeff Wasserstrom), reports on the question of whether the U.S. will have a national pavilion (such as this one by Shanghai Scrap‘s Adam Minter), and feature stories on the city of Shanghai that highlight the build-up to the Expo (such as this one in the Washington Post). In addition, while Shanghai-based publications had long been trumpeting its importance, the focus on it in major Chinese national press organs also increased last month, with Beijing Review, for example, devoting several articles to it in a recent Shanghai-themed issue (particularly noteworthy is this one by Fudan University historian Li Tiangang).

In light of this, we thought this was a good time to ask Gina Anne Russo, a Fulbright scholar based in the city that is gearing up for the Expo, and someone whose “Gina in Shanghai” blog had caught our attention, to fill our readers in on the publicity campaign under way to whip up enthusiasm for an event that has been called an “Economic Olympics” and also “China’s First World’s Fair” and will run from May 1-October 31 of 2010. We’ll be running her response in two parts, which focus on different aspects of the “Better City, Better Life” slogan that is being used to promote the extravaganza:

Shanghai has had a history of personality cults that permeate the visual landscape of the city. However, today, Mao’s presence, ubiquitous only 40 years ago, has all but faded —though you can still find some reminders that he was once omnipresent, such as the big statue of the Chairman that continues to stand on the East China Normal University and the kitsch items for sale at Shanghai souvenir stalls (though these are aimed largely at foreigners). Even the pervasive symbols of American consumerism Colonel Sanders’ and Ronald McDonald’s are not as common as they once were—though each of them have some statues as well, standing (the Colonel) or sitting (the clown) near the entrances to venues selling buckets of chicken and Big Macs, respectively. Today, the latest personality to overcome Shanghai’s visual landscape is quite different, a symbol of neither Communist Revolution nor capitalist consumer culture. His name is Haibao.

Haibao, a bright blue wave with a face, is in constant public view. His animated likeness looks out at you from TV screen advertisments in subways, his picture looms down on you from the walls of construction zones, his statue is an even more popular photo subject at the Yu Gardens than the Ming architecture, and he is even often seen dancing on a giant LCD screen that moves slowly up and down the Huangpu River on a barge.

His cult of personality displaces all others, including those of the Olympic Friendlies (not so last year) and Barbie (whose pink allure is celebrated in the city now that it is home to the world’s first megastore devoted to the doll), and he brings with him a simple message: the World Expo is coming to Shanghai, and with it a new chance for Shanghai to become internationally recognized as China’s most progressive and global city. The important word in that last statement, the one that draws the distinction between the message of the Expo and of the Olympics (mega-events that have been linked in various ways, including similar roles for countdown clocks and promotional videos featuring Jackie Chan), is the word “city,” not “country,” and this distinction illustrates a lot of underlying issues regarding Shanghai’s own self understanding.

The slogans for both events, the Olympics and the Expo, illuminate this distinction. Whereas the Olympic slogan reads “One world, one dream,” connecting China to a world of nations, the Expo slogan reads “Better city, better life,” putting Shanghai on the map of globalized cities, not countries. Creating this type of identity for Shanghai is not difficult either, as Shanghai historically has always seen itself as connected, yet separate, from the rest of China, a gateway through which China connects with the rest of the modern world.

This is similarly emphasized in academic discourse. It is no accident that many books about China’s search for modernization are almost entirely concerned with Shanghai and present the city’s modern history as unique (though other treaty-ports sometimes get a look in as well). Leo Ou-fan Lee and Yeh Wen-hsin, along with countless others, have demonstrated that Shanghai was the birthplace of the modern Chinese nation because of its unique cultural connection with the outside world at the beginning of the twentieth century.

I did my senior thesis research about the magazine Ling Long, a Shanghai women’s magazine from the 1930s. The layout and message of this magazine very clearly demonstrated the way that modern people, specifically modern women, should look and act. These modern Shanghaiers lived a unique lifestyle of “East meets West,” a lifestyle that could be lived in Shanghai but no other Chinese metropolis. At the same time, Shanghai’s city landscape and unique institutions gave way to this lifestyle, and also fed the belief among Shanghai people that they were the leaders of the modern world in China, and even in Asia as a whole.

The current campaigns for the Expo play upon this Shanghainese notion that it is the center of Chinese urban modernity. One particular advertisement that seems to run on constant replay on twenty meter high screens on the sides of skyscrapers depicts Haibao’s journey through China. He first stops in Yunnan where he is greeted by the Miao people, in traditional costume (the Miao costume includes a very large and distinct white and red headress), who offer him local gifts. He then moves onto Xinjiang, where Uigher girls in flowing country dresses offer him grapes (a regional specialty) and play traditional Uigher instruments around him as he smiles and dances. Then, suddenly, we see a man in a light cotton button up shirt and slacks and a girl in a Western sundress, and they run along a road lined with modern skyscrapers and they take pictures of Haibao with their digital cameras.

The distinction between the “traditional” and “modern” is accentuated by the fact that our modern Shanghairen (Shanghainese) actually watch the “traditional” scenes on a TV screen on a skyscraper (where, in real life, this whole advertisement is played), making the “traditional” elements seem like a movie, not the real and modern Chinese world (in Shanghai). This advertisement sends a clear message: Shanghai is the end of the natural progression from traditional to modern, and therefore the logical place for the world Expo—the contemporary counterpart to the World’s Fairs of old, the first of which were held in London and Paris when those cities represented state-of-the-art modernity.

Furthermore, while also making the dichotomy between a traditional lifestyle and a “modern” lifestyle, the advertisement also implies that all of China’s elements, its diversity, celebrates Shanghai’s greatness. The advertisement actually ends not in Shanghai, but in Hong Kong, as Hong Kong people wave and welcome Haibao. While this could be interpreted in many different ways, what it seems to symbolize in this context is Hong Kong recognizing Shanghai as the new urban center of China, just as all of China’s different minorities recognize it as well. In a sense, there are many forces at play here: the dichotomy of tradition and modernity, the stark contrast between China’s minorities and Shanghai’s urban elite, and even competition among China’s urban centers. But as all of these places and peoples greet Haibao, they are in fact greeting Shanghai’s coming of age. China is essentially centered around Shanghai.

To be continued in Part II.

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