We were hit by the sudden cold and absolute blackness. The only light came from our torches. Not a drop of sunlight penetrated the silt and algae above us. It was like entering another world, with all our senses altered -- until we spotted the Wall.
Chairman Mao once said, "Without destruction there is not construction. The destruction is the criticism, the revolution. The destruction comes first, it of course brings the construction.” In recent years this quote has been taken literally, and the character 拆 (chāi), which means to "tear down," adorns the entrances of many-a-doomed domiciles. The phenomenon has evolved so that the Chinese have nicknamed their country 拆那 (chāinà - get it?), referring to the daily razings that make way for growth.
The giant 41-meter Buddha faces due west. It seems to embrace the construction on the other side of Bright Red Mountain on the northeast periphery of Ürümchi. Behind him, the constant ring of hammers and the roar of Bingtuan Construction Engineering Company trucks rise from the still-unfinished wing of the new Hilton hotel and the alien-looking international expo center. Every few minutes the low industrial roar is punctuated by the “dong” of a giant bell. Chants of A-mi-tuo-fo are carried intermittently on the breeze.
Han Han, the poster child of 90s youth, is feeling his age. The 31-year-old calls his debut film effort, The Continent, a “road comedy,” but it has little in common with The Hangover, unless Han thought up the plot while suffering one.
The arrest of another journalist in China is normally cause for concern: as the news is shared across social networks, tweets of sympathy accumulate, human rights groups and lawyers protest, and diplomats may even issue statements of public concern.
But the detention of economics anchor Rui Chenggang (pictured), reportedly “dragged” from his offices by investigators just hours before his show was due to go live, has prompted almost the opposite – the overwhelming response, as the NY Times’s Ed Wong noted, has been one of schadenfreude (xingzai lehuo, “feel happy about someone’s disaster”).
Thank you to all who attended Flash Fiction for Charity on July 13 at Great Leap Brewing. We collected 2,450 RMB for Educating Girls of Rural China.
We'll be posting our five readers' entries this week, culminating in a podcast of the full event on Friday. To start, here's Daniel Tam-Claiborne, author of the novel What Never Leaves, with his short story "If Not for the Melon."
A rifle and sword tied with a red flag over a meter of Gobi sand welcomes visitors to the Xinjiang Production and Construction Corps Museum in the city of Shihezi, 136 kilometers northwest of Ürümchi. This museum, filled with patched and dented artifacts and hundreds of large-scale historical photos, is the premier monument to the Han experience of the recent past in Xinjiang. It shows us the narrative of experience necessary to understand the history of the people who self-identify as “constructors” (jianshezhe) of Xinjiang.
Editor’s note: Empires of the Deep, with a budget exceeding $100 million, was supposed to be China's Avatar. But as our correspondent, Dale Irons, found out on set, this extravagant 3-D epic was plagued from the beginning by incompetence and misfortune -- to say nothing of dangerous working conditions, a rampaging horse, and the tide. Five years after production began, there's little reason to believe this film will ever see a big-screen release.
This is Part 2 of Dale's two-part diary from the set of what might be China's most expensive -- and worst -- movie ever. --RFH
Editor’s note: Empires of the Deep is a much-delayed 3-D epic film that seems destined to disappear forever. Neither the film -- known rather generously as "China’s Avatar," starring Bond girl Olga Kurylenko (Quantum of Solace) -- nor the full story may ever be officially released. It’s now been five years -- an appropriate anniversary -- so, tired of waiting, we here publish the “production diaries” of a young Australian-British man, Dale Irons, who found himself back in 2009, for various reasons, on the set of allegedly the most expensive Chinese film ever made -- and possibly the worst. Big words? Read for yourself. --RFH
Last September, when Literary Death Match swung through Beijing, I performed a poem called Things That Taste Like Purple about the devilry of baijiu, a.k.a. sorghum liquor (dust of the attic, wine of the gutter... with a long finish into the fetor of fragrance). Unbeknownst to me, one of my friends in the audience, the artistic and talented Amy Sands, would go on to create a series of watercolors to accompany my words. The video, which she shot, I post here with deepest gratitude and humility.
The people huddled at the front gates of the US Embassy in Beijing last November were not there to protest the flight of US bombers over contested islands in the East China Sea. Instead, they chanted slogans such as, “Beat down corruption!” and, “The Communist party doesn’t care about the common people!” Plainclothes police officers stood nearby, conspicuous in matching black and gray sweatpants.
Perhaps you've heard, but we're organizing a community flash fiction event on Sunday, July 13 at Great Leap Brewing's Original No. 6 location, and we're seeking writers who want to read their work. All you have to do is submit an original piece of fiction between 500-700 words on the theme of "Beijing" to email@example.com before July 4; we'll pick at least five people to read. How easy is this? Let us demonstrate.
Today marks the 25th anniversary of a turning point in modern Chinese history. In the run-up, around 20 key intellectuals and campaigners have been been detained, and security around Beijing heightened. And who knows how many warnings and threats have been issued to the family and friends of conscience-driven citizens across the country.
In 2020, almost one of every 10 people in the world will live in a Chinese city. Every year from now, an estimated 18 million Chinese will move to urban areas. That's like taking the population of Tokyo and adding it to the nation’s urban centers every year.
Attention, writers of Beijing: we're holding a flash fiction reading on Sunday, July 13 at Great Leap Brewing's Original No. 6 location (Doujiao Hutong No. 6). Space is limited, so we're asking those interested to register by emailing us -- spots will be reserved on a first-come, first-served basis. The cost is 50 RMB, which includes a select GLB beer, with all proceeds going to the charity Educating Girls of Rural China. Also, importantly: we're seeking readers!
On April 16, Alec Ash of the Anthill gathered eight writers (technically nine) to read stories at Cu Ju, a rum bar in the hutongs owned by the somewhat legendary Badr Benjelloun, who paired each writer with a rum. The result was glorious. Alec graciously allowed us to record the entirety of that event, which we now present to you as an episode of The Creamcast.