I’ve asked many people why Abdulla “Aka” (Older Brother) Abdurehim is the undisputed King of Uyghur music. It’s not that he has the gravitas of a young Elvis Presley, the steely resolve of Johnny Cash, the working-class poetics of Bruce Springsteen, or the song and dance routine of the trickster Bob Dylan. People talk about the catchiness of his melodies, the way the best song writers flock to him like pigeons to a master, and women flutter around him like moths to a flame. Yet these explanations always leave me unsatisfied. Abdulla is, after all, an average-looking middle-aged man from Kashgar. He’s average height. He has a moustache.
Within the marriage market of the urban Uyghur community it has almost become a cliché to discuss the moral aptitude of young men in terms of their frequency of prayer. When introducing a potential boyfriend, the line given is “he prays five times a day." Although this description often overlooks other moral failures such as drinking, smoking, and general carousing, the overall connotation conveyed is “this is a good, responsible guy.” In the short film With Me, Hezriti Ali, another self-made migrant actor-muscian from the southwest edge of the Taklamakan Desert, tackles this problem in an unusually subtle and implicit way.
The temptation, when evaluating a poet gunned down by his government, is to start there, with the politics that led to his murder. But Wen Yiduo (1899-1946) was much too complex and heterodox to comfortably wear the martyr's robe, his works too nuanced and unsettled to be a paragon of any revolution. His poems explore religion and rickshaws, contain the chrysanthemums of Chinese folklore and the mud of contemporary times, and dare readers to challenge prevailing conceptions, even to render their own cynicism as hope.
The ubiquitous red envelope may seem innocent enough, but accommodating a billion or so hongbao exchanges puts great pressure on the Chinese banking system. After experiencing several cash crunches in 2013, the People’s Bank of China very publicly injected 255 billion RMB (42 billion USD) into the system leading up to the holiday. You care, because the inflation this caused means your holiday (cash) bonus was just a touch undervalued.
Music envelops the tight confines of nightclubs in Xinjiang's urban centers, where the pageantry of movement brings friends and strangers to life. Uyghurs can dance. And since his very first cassette tape released in 1999, the singer Möminjan has been popular with Xinjiang's youth precisely because his songs are eminently danceable.
PBS has done all of us a favor by offering free streaming of the award-winning documentary Last Train Home on its website until February 11. You have to be located in the US, so fire up those VPNs and get watching.
Of all the performers in the upper echelon of Uyghur pop music, Möminjan is perhaps the most widely traveled independent artist. Möminjan and his brother, the famous composer Ablet Ablikim, grew up in the shadow of their famous uncle Abdulla, the King of Uyghur pop. He and his brother have been following in their uncle’s footsteps for more than a decade; they even recorded a song together called “We Brothers” (Qerindash Biz), which sounds a bit like a Uyghur version of the Everly Brothers.
This video begins with the text: "After his video 'Donnie Does Marriage Market' went viral in China, Donald Mahoney was invited to Beijing to be a guest on the popular Chinese TV show: My Oscar."
That's quite the set-up. But Donnie struggles, privately, with a crisis of confidence -- before finding himself amidst firecracker smoke. At the 10-minute mark, he goes on stage. It gets awkward real fast.
Ablajan Awut Ayup, the Uyghur Justin Bieber, is trending again in Uyghur cyberspace. Uyghur Weixin and popular social media sites like Misranim have amped up Ablajan’s meteoric rise in Uyghur pop culture, but this time it’s not just his highly orchestrated K-pop-style dance-ensemble performances, his catchy rhymes and bad-boy persona. Ablajan is crossing over. China, meet A-bo-la-jiang.
Xu Xin’s monumental 2010 film, Karamay (below, with English subtitles), is a meditation on the relationship humans have to failures within Modernist political projects in our current historical moment. Using long-takes and repetitive framing, Xu Xin draws out the long duration of trauma and feelings of injustice following a horrific fire that killed hundreds of children in 1994. With the exception of a minority of Uyghurs and Kazakhs, the majority of Mandarin speakers featured in this award-winning 356-minute film came from elsewhere.
Wei Gensheng is a professional crane operator. Maybe he should think about changing professions, because these pictures are breathtaking, probably the best we've seen of Shanghai's skyline. Wei won second prize at the Shanghai City Photography Competition with these, which were snapped 2,000 feet (610 meters) above ground on the Shanghai Tower. (The building will be the world's second tallest, behind the Burj Khalifa, when it's completed later this year.)
I've been interested in Chinese rap for a long time, not only because rap's traditional focus on social problems and dirty lyrics seem to clash with Chinese political constraints, but linguistically the Chinese language has so many homonyms and rhymes one would think rapping would have endless variety. Unfortunately, there hasn't been a rapper guest on The Sound Stage... until now.
Our friends at Beijing Today will sporadically swing by to introduce art and culture in the city. This week, a man who paints of and with love.
Sheng Tianhong’s heart is wholly devoted to painting. Born in Zhejiang Province in 1973 and a graduate from the Chinese Central Academy of Fine Arts, he moved to Dusseldorf, Germany at the age of 24 to travel and develop his career.