Until this week, the social critic Sima Nan was best known for getting his head stuck in an escalator at Dulles Airport. That moment was particularly precious because Nan, a devoted neo-Maoist, had just posted another of his anti-America screeds on Sina Weibo before flying to DC.
But China’s most famous wumao is now back in the news for a more impressive reason: as an impassioned defender of free speech.
I knelt at the top of the hospital escalator, partly from exhaustion, mostly out of surrender. My moans and cries recalled childhood Halloween nights spent puking up entire plastic jack-o-lanterns of candy. My tears blurred reality. Loud, distracted, exotic shapes and figures brushed past me, unimpressed by my misery, misery unlike any I'd felt before.
This wasn't how I imagined my first week in China would go.
On Monday morning, Hong Kong media reported that the barricades around Admiralty would be removed after two-plus weeks of bulwarking pro-democracy protesters in their concrete campground near government offices. The evidence was right there on the tele: moving pictures of police clearing the roads! And so, after lunch, I found myself in a friend's dad's car going from Wan Chai in the direction of our final destination in the western Mid-levels. We had just gotten onto Queensway and could see Pacific Place, a luxury complex of business and commerce, when we encountered... a barricade.
When John Ross,“former director of London’s Economic and Business Policy to ex-Mayor Ken Livingstone and current Senior Fellow with the Chongyang Institute” at Renmin University, was approached by Chinese tabloid Global Times (GT) for a profile about foreign China Watchers, he was, no doubt, expecting a nice soap-job.
I work for a sub-branch of CCTV geared toward international video news, and we have several TV screens in the office that run 24-hour feeds of CNN, MSNBC, Fox News, Al Jazeera and others – ostensibly to keep up with the competition. But I returned from our canteen this past Sunday evening to find six or seven of my Chinese colleagues glued to a screen showing a live-feed from CNN.
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.