The new documentary film Diamond in the Dunes, directed by Christopher Rufo, tells the coming-of-age story of a Uyghur man named Parhat as he finds his way through college. It shows us how he and his Uyghur and Han classmates at Xinjiang University develop a passion for a game, for abilities and skills that don’t rely on ethnicity or Chinese business connections. It shows us how the citywide riots of 2009 shaped their life-paths and how they found ways to move forward despite the difficulties of their circumstances.
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.
It's been two weeks since the Uyghur rock star Perhat Khaliq took on The Voice of China, and the Uyghur Internet is still buzzing about the way he delivered his songs of loss and longing to a national audience.
Perhat surprised everyone with the painful tension in his voice. Strumming an acoustic guitar, he started his song in a low, almost spoken-word register that slowly evolved into a full roar.
On Friday, the first of August, we woke up to the sound of an explosion in the alley. It was a deep resonate boom: not a firecracker, not a gunshot. It was a window-rattling explosion. We knew immediately what it meant: mangled bodies, screaming women, terrified children, a suicide bomber. But when I leaned out the window, I saw a young man with a fire extinguisher putting out a few small fires next to a mangled three-wheel cart.
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.
A lot of people turned out for the final day of the Xinjiang Art Biennale on July 20 at the International Expo Center. The massive complex, situated next to a giant Buddha and Hilton Hotel in the city's northeast, echoed with the sounds of an original score by Philip Glass called “Encounter on the Silk Road.” Indeed, exhibition was heavy on spectacle. Giant video screens, paintings, and sculptures drew the largely Han crowd into massive spaces lit by natural light. Smartphone cameras were often raised at the mesmerizing objects, which called the viewer to contemplate Xinjiang as “a land of many colors.”
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.
Chen Guangbiao, fresh off handing out $100 bills "to suspicious New Yorkers," as the New York Post put it, has done a much greater, more charitable thing for all of us. Please watch the above video, in which he attempts to sing "We Are the World."
In 2012 Liu Xiaodong was named the “most socially aware figure of the year” by Art Gallery magazine. He had just completed his Hotan Project in the deep south of Xinjiang. Utilizing his famously “plein air” method, Liu set up his giant life-sized canvases in the middle of a Hotan river floodplain and lived with Uyghur jade pickers. He spent the summer with them in the dust and the heat; in shelters made of stones and earth. In Art Gallery’s assessment of his project, he attempted to capture “the rhythms of people’s lives and the status of their survival.”
Growing up, Driver Wang’s father thought him a momma’s boy. “Send him to play outside more,” he complained. “The kid needs to get into some scrapes.” Little did Wang Hu know, his son had been through six lifetimes of scrapes. He’d been castrated by a sorceress, strangled by a lover, beaten by roving pirates, and tortured by Red Guards. Yet in his current life as a Beijing taxi driver, Driver Wang is unaware of this -- until a mysterious letter falls from his taxi’s visor one day.