August 2010

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China Perspectives coverThe latest issue of China Perspectives focuses on the topic of “Gao Xingjian and the Role of Chinese Literature Today.” Below appears a slightly modified version of the issue’s editorial essay, written by journal editor Sebastian Veg. It is posted here with permission

By Sebastian Veg

Chinese literature and its significance or insignificance is a continued subject of heated debate in China. From May Fourth, when anti-traditionalist thinkers called on literature to assume a pioneering role in transforming subjects into citizens, to its use as propaganda during World War Two and on both sides of the Strait after 1949, it was seen as a crucial vector of political ideas. During the “Enlightenment” of the 1980s, literature was again called upon to play a central – though politically very different – role in helping society come to terms with the officially still taboo traumas of the Cultural Revolution. However, “Enlightenment” this time was not only synonymous with anti-traditionalism: critical reflection on the iconoclasm of the Cultural Revolution, emphasizing literature’s role as a moral conscience, also led to an enthusiastic rediscovery of cultural tradition, often against May Fourth ideals, among the writers of the “roots” (xungen) movement. It was only in the aftermath of the failed Tiananmen protests of 1989 that younger writers began to substantially question the need for literature to play a central role in society and in intellectual debate.

Perhaps inevitably, while its significant social role was extolled, debates about Chinese literature were routinely accompanied by anguished doubts about its intrinsic, aesthetic, or intellectual value, whether because of its alleged break (voluntary or as the result of an irresistible historical trend) with Chinese tradition or, on the contrary, because of its continued subordination of aesthetic autonomy – viewed as a defining aspect of the “high modernism” that ensures writers international recognition – to socio-political concerns. Soul-searching about why Chinese writers did or did not deserve a Nobel Prize for Literature took place throughout the 1980s and into the 1990s, with official organs such as the Writers’ Association actively lobbying on behalf of members such as Ba Jin and Ai Qing. Liu Xiaobo on the other hand, then the “angry young man” of Chinese literary criticism, in a talk at the literature Research Institute of the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (chaired by Liu Zaifu) in 1986 and several subsequent articles attacking “scar literature” and the roots writers, also called for an end to Chinese writers’ “childish” obsession with the Nobel Prize. [1]
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The Freshest Kids in China

R16 at the Shanghai World Expo

Zhao 1

By George Zhi Zhao

June 19, 2010 I hear the voice of the late James Brown shouting over the booming speakers, and I watch a crowd of dancers move and contort to every minute rhythm and sound that is being controlled and manipulated by the DJ. The energy in the air is tense, as different b-boys (breakdancers) take turns stepping inside a circle of bodies, all asserting themselves in back-to-back solo performances of gravity-defying sequences of dance movements. The competitive performance of breakdancing happens all over the world, in metropolises ranging from New York City to Tokyo, from Moscow to São Paulo. Today, it’s happening in Shanghai, China at the Korean National Pavilion of the 2010 World Expo, with seven of China’s best crews competing for a chance to represent China at the R16 World B-Boy Master Championships in Seoul, South Korea on the fourth of July.

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DJ Dong of South Korea on the wheels of steel

Luckily, I had the opportunity to compete at the event as the organizer of one of these seven crews. Being a Chinese-American b-boy who came out of the Boston and Washington, DC dance scenes, I have been blessed with the opportunity to live and study at Shanghai’s Fudan University over the course of the past year, all the while being immersed in the street dance community in Shanghai and meeting dancers from around the world. My crew, the Art of War (named after Sun Tzu’s book on military strategy), consisted of a mixture of foreigners and native Chinese, with Bureheine from Ukraine, RW from the Netherlands, Jingyu from Shanghai, as well as four members from Beijing’s Forbidden City Rockers. I had met Bureheine and RW at practices at Caster Dance Studio in Shanghai, and the Forbidden City Rockers on a previous trip to Beijing. The Forbidden City Rockers had been trained in part by another Chinese-American b-boy named Ticky from an internationally renowned Boston crew named the Floorlords; the four of them joined our crew at the last minute, only meeting the other three members of our crew on the morning of the competition. Lastly, Jingyu, a slightly overweight b-boy that I had met during my first weeks in the Shanghai scene, had been featured under the name Kung Fu Panda (功夫熊猫) on the nationally televised song and dance competition 全家都来赛 (Quan Jia Dou Lai Sai), and will be featured on this season of Shanghai Television’s 中国达人 (Zhong Guo Da Ren). A language barrier did exist, and I found myself constantly translating so that my crewmembers could communicate with one another.
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Shanghai seems to have turned into a massive game of “Where’s Haibao?” as the image of everyone’s favorite Expo mascot pervades the city, in places both expected and not. Gina Bock, an entering student at Pomona College, recently returned from her first trip to China and shared a few photos of her Haibao sightings with us. They’re now in a Picasa album (link below, and also accessible through our “Media” page). If you have Haibao photos of your own to add (the more unusual, the better!), let us know by writing to thechinabeat[at]gmail.com. Though we suspect Haibao will be only a memory after the Expo ends, we’d like to document the various ways in which the Gumby-like mascot was deployed during his brief lifespan, and we need your help to do so.

Where’s Haibao?

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Anthologize logo

We wanted to alert readers who are fellow WordPress users to the arrival of a cool new WordPress plugin that has just been unveiled. Anthologize is the product of the “One Week | One Tool” program, a summer institute funded by the National Endowment for the Humanities and held at the Center for History and New Media at George Mason University. The plugin — conceived, developed, and released in just one week! — enables bloggers to grab online content, edit and organize it, and produce an electronic book. Read more about Anthologize, and some ideas about how it can enhance your blogging experience, at The Atlantic and The Chronicle of Higher Education.

Here at China Beat, we’re looking forward to playing around with Anthologize in the coming weeks, and will let you know how our experiments go. We’re also proud that a longtime friend of the blog, Jana Remy, was one of the 12 “One Week | One Tool” team members. Jana is a UC Irvine grad student and the force behind Making History Podcast; she helped us out a lot this year by recording and editing two podcasts for us (find them at our “Media” page), and was also the one-woman focus group who assured us that The China Beat was the right name for this blog. Her excitement about Anthologize is infectious, and we hope that many China Beat readers/bloggers will catch the bug.

Before we fully embrace the arrival of August, a bit of housekeeping from July . . . some stories that we noticed during the past month and wanted to share with our readers:

• Xujun Eberlein has been busy lately, and two of her recent pieces of writing have overlaps with topics we’ve discussed here at China Beat in the past few weeks. On the matter of Wang Hui and plagiarism, see her post at Inside-Out China; for her review of the “social science fiction” novel Shengshi: Zhongguo 2013, head over to Foreign Policy.

• If you’re in Beijing and looking for something to do with the kids, we don’t recommend the place that’s been dubbed “the world’s worst theme park,” otherwise known as Green Dream Park. Gady Epstein discusses it at the Forbes China Tracker blog; for a more extensive (and damning) review, with pictures, check out this post by Marc Beck at The Beijinger.

• While we know we’ve talked a lot about Peter Hessler’s Country Driving, we recommend reading this review of the book — offering a Chinese perspective on Hessler’s work — posted at Jottings from the Granite Studio by Zhang Yajun.

Also at Granite Studio, Jeremiah Jenne takes a look at coverage of Aftershock, the new blockbuster movie about the 1976 Tangshan Earthquake.

• David Moser of CET Academic Programs alerted us to a series of interviews he did for the Chinalogue talk show about music in China. The segments include Moser speaking with Abigail Washburn about being an American music in China (Part 1, Part 2), with guzheng player Wu Fei about traditional Chinese music (Part 1, Part 2), and with Andrew Field about underground music in China (Part 1, Part 2).

• In the mood for more Expo? Check out pictures at Michele Travierso’s image gallery, read an extensive Expo report with photos by Jeanne Lawrence at New York Social Diary, and, for a darker look at some of the effects the Expo has had on Shanghai, see Sue Ann Tay’s photo essay on “Another Side of Shanghai” at Foreign Policy (h/t Paul French at China Rhyming).

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