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.
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.
Hong Qi discovered Bob Dylan in 2001. That was the year he heard "The Answer Is Blowing in the Wind" for the first time. Speaking in an interview a decade later, he said he liked Dylan's confidence -- the feeling he evoked with his broken voice. Although Hong Qi says his English is "very bad," the imagery in Dylan's lyrics touched him deeply.
Over the past decade, he says he has become a Dylan fan. “I like all his songs, his fascination with all images. I respect his political stance. My songwriting is influenced by him.”
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.
The Uyghur Chinese musician and poet Hong Qi celebrated his 41st birthday on May 6. He doesn’t know if that day was really his birthday. He said his mother just guessed. There is a lot that Hong Qi doesn’t know about his origins: he is one of those rare Uyghurs who grew up thinking he was Han.
Found on Ai Weiwei's Instagram feed, here's what some cool kids are up to: "hand-held guns," they call it. There are some uncanny resemblances to The Red Detachment of Women, the famous Chinese ballet that debuted in 1964...
China won’t be playing in Brazil – they have appeared at a World Cup just once and failed to score a goal – but millions will stay up late to watch the games, probably starting this Friday at 4 am when Croatia kicks off against the host nation in São Paulo. Here are 10 things in this year's World Cup with a Chinese connection.
In commemoration of the 100th anniversary of World War I, Penguin China has released a seven-book series on China-focused Great War history. It tabbed Paul French, author of the popular and award-winning Midnight in Peking: The Murder That Haunted the Last Days of Old China, to contribute Betrayal in Paris: How the Treaty of Versailles Led to China’s Long Revolution.... I sat down with the author (over Skype) to talk about the "betrayal," Japan's role in it, and how it might have been tipped by -- of all things -- America's Jim Crow laws.
There are those moments when you feel the weight of history pressing on you -- that awestruck realization that a great moment happened here, and now you're bearing witness. Maybe you've ducked into a tower while on the Great Wall. Or you're standing just inside the Lincoln Memorial. The thing is, I never expected to have that feeling while standing in my basement, squinting up at an unidentified roll of film. But that's what happened to me last Sunday, as I was searching through an old shoebox from my parents labeled "photos."
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 a recent discussion held as part of the inaugural Lean In Beijing Mentorship Event, a college student in my circle noted, “In China, it’s so difficult to stand out sometimes. We all pursue the same goals, we all do the same things, we all study hard and we all have similar experiences and ideas. In order for us to stand out and be unique, I really think we have to be unafraid to be different.”
It’s true, especially in a country of 1.4 billion people. But it’s not common to see young Chinese doing what's necessary to stand out: pushing themselves to their limits and going beyond their comfort zone. Which is why Ivan Xu's project, the Ultimate Ride, is interesting:
Because it's politically expedient to do so -- proven by Ronald Reagan, Bill Clinton, etc., to work -- Beijing conducted a drug investigation that recently culminated in a bust of street-level slingers in Sanlitun. This news doesn't affect the vast majority of Beijingers, foreign or local, which is to say, there's little reason any of us should cheer. If anything, we should cringe, knowing these "crackdowns" almost always disproportionately affect those on society's fringes who are most powerless to defend themselves.
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.
Laowai Comics is a periodic webcomic. Beijing Cream is proud to debut its Thursday comic every week. Our intrepid artist is taking the rest of the summer off, so enjoy this one for a while! Full archives here.
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!