Conflicts of Modernism

Posted in Uncategorized on March 22nd, 2011 by amodernselkie

“The divide between high and low art remains, literally, academic. For decades, elements of high art have been feeing the wellsprings of advertising cluture… [and] lowbrow or vernacular culture has often availed itself of gimmicks, techniques, motifs, subject matter, and styles from high modernism.” [Barme, Geremie. In the Red: On Contemporary Chinese Culture. New York: Columbia University Press, 1999. 248]

This is an aspect of China’s modernizing advertising industry that definitively parallels that of the American and European advertising industries. Since the 1950s and the invention of such standard Modern graphic design tools as Helvetica and block-text, these have been embraced by the rest of the world to the point of being almost cliche now. For example, Helvetica is both regarded as the perfect font, and the most obnoxious font – it is such a standard thing, it is impossible to escape from; it is a typographic monster. Much as China seems conflicted (should it embrace and rebel against the party adcult? When the best ads do both, what does that mean?) so too does the European advertising world seem conflicted about Modernist typeface and design. Are such definitively Modern typefaces as Helvetica and similar typefaces irrevocably tied to the negative connotations of the late-modernist period? Is modernism subversive, merely a representation of fascism, fanatic nationalism, and dictatorships? Can design and style be seperated from the ideas that flourished when those designs were created? I think that is the key question inherent to this quote. Understanding the use of party adcult by modern, ‘lowbrow’ culture is difficult because inherent to this is the question of reason.


One Country, Thirty-Two Economies

Posted in Uncategorized on March 11th, 2011 by amodernselkie

“Many provincial or municipal governments have erected protectionist barriers against investment from other provinces or cities. This has fragmented the national economy… creating a “one country, thirty-two economies” malaise. A survey finds that 85.8 percent of state-owned enterprises invested only in the same city and tat 91.1 percent invested only in the same province.” – Jozsef Borocz. China and the Transformation of Global Capitalism. Ho-Fung Hung,ed. Baltimore:  The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009. Pg. 192.

This was a completely fascinating realization for me while reading this particular section. While some Americans believe that China is more fragmented than the standard “all of them” view allows for, I think this survey shows how factionalized China is economically more clearly than almost anything else I’ve seen previously. Moreover, this adds a huge crack into the idea of China’s continued, unstoppable  economic success. If the country is so factionalized, how can it possibly be effectively ruled and viewed as a whole? And if China cannot be viewed as a whole, how can it stay together? China has a history of civil war and succession – starting in 1851, the Taiping rebellion established the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom, a large, separate country within the heart of southern China. It was in place for approximately 13 years. If this history of factionalization is allowed to continue, I feel that it could be one of the first things to fracture under social or economic duress.  Moreover, the current economica rules in place in China promote this nearly separatist approach – according to the chapter, it is extremely difficult for companies to divert savings to invest in new sectors. This seems like an odd policy at best – wouldn’t you want cooperation between localities? It seems to me that it would promote community.

Is the reason that China does not promote investment between localities because they want to make sure the industrial units state compartmentalized? In other words, are they trying to prevent things like migrant laborers, by making it more difficult to form economic ties with areas outside of one’s designated locality?


The Spacial Fix Problem

Posted in Uncategorized on March 8th, 2011 by amodernselkie

“… auto firms were establishing production units in new regions in response to both competition among local governments to attract auto-industry investment and (real or perceived) differences in the cost and docility of labor forces located in different areas of China.” – [1. Ho-fung Hung,China and the Transformation of Global Capitalism (Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009), 178.]

This entire section was extremely interesting to me. The idea of the spatial fix seems remarkably 1900s Industrial Revolution; a belief that workers hired in rural areas will not figure out that your paying them less because, haha, they are rural, and have no access to information. I understand that this is a variation off of the idea of outsourcing work to a cheaper part of the world; but in this model, you outsource to a different part of the country instead of an entirely different country. It is a model that, on a grand scale, seems to work well enough, but seems to inherently have problems. In fact, it seems to be a minor replication of China’s major problems as discussed in this chapter. In short, that workers inevitably rebel against being treated poorly, especially when compared to workers in different areas. This is sited within the spatial fix section; that workers from a small, country town where an automotive company built a second factory where they paid their workers less organized a strike for equal pay to the main plant (179).

On a related note, I was curious if this belief in the spatial fix might explain, in some way, why the Chinese government has been building major roads and airports and the like in rural towns. Is this a side effect of a fervent belief in the spatial fix? That if the government provides access to areas that are otherwise rural and un-industrialized, companies can build factories where they can hire cheap labor?


Neoliberalism and the Effects on Modern China

Posted in Uncategorized on March 6th, 2011 by amodernselkie

Quote – “The Chinese state has actively mobilized the ideology of nationalism and defines itself as carrying out a national project to make China strong and powerful… [but] the Chinese state knows well that excessive nationalism might not only undercut the Communist Party’s ability to rule but also disrupt China’s paramount foreign policy objective.” [1. So, Alvin Y. “Rethinking the Chinese Developmental Miracle.” China and the Transformation of Global Capitalism, 58.]

It was interesting to see someone so clearly state that China can no longer simply legitimize itself by claiming to follow Marxist theory. It is something that is clear to most (if not all), but it something few rarely say so openly. Moreover, the discussion of China’s re-evaluation of itself (promote nationalism!) and the drawbacks of this are fascinating. The control inherent to the Maoist state is used to redefine China in a modern age, to manipulate the media in an attempt to sway public opinion. The issues of too much nationalistic ferver, though, are not really delved into here, but are something we have discussed in depth in class. Issues of supporting the country over the party, epitimized in the Tiananmen Square Incident, seem to be a fairly common issue in modern day China.  The economically driven foreign policy is also interesting from the perspective of the evolution of the Chinese nation – to characterize those who in Mao’s time were  so derided as good friends, to the point of trying to tone down attacks made against the county is a dramatic change indeed.

One of the things discussed in this section was about anti-Japanese sentiment in China. They referred to one specific incident, but I was unfamiliar with it.  What is the ‘incident of the shrine’ that the essay refers to on page 58? Clearly, it had a significant effect on the Chinese perception on Japan, enough so that the Chinese government felt compelled to try and negate the effects for fear of damaging China’s political relations with Japan.


That Is Just How It Is

Posted in Uncategorized on February 6th, 2011 by amodernselkie

“… Chinese revolutionary rhetoric has often used bodily injury to invoke a sense of reality. Violence signals the place where where history hurts, and engaging in violence is tantamount to making history. In the restaurant scene, however, the bodily injury does not materialize.”

–Yomi Braester, “Memory at a Standstill: From Maohistory to Hooligan History”, 196.

The creation and presentation of violence in historical film is not the sole provence of Chinese Revolutionary cinema. Most violent action movies try to impart a sense of realism through physical sympathy – when someone is being physically brutalized, the viewer usually draws away slightly, instinctually repulsed. To use this to a films advantage is no new trick. However, I think that violence as it relates to the Cultural Revolution is complex. As Mary Ann said, no two people in China had the same experience of the Cultual Revolution. It  was a surreal experience for many, and one with many painful and confused memories attached to it. As such, I find the  breakdown of violence to manipulate the emotions of the audience in “In The Heat of the Sun” a fitting spin on the presentation of the Cultural Revolution. No one seems entirely sure what happened – it almost seems as if all of China went mad, only to wake up in a disillusioned daze a year or so after. The truth is more complex, of course, but nonetheless one that is just as hard to understand. For such a violent time, violence is a necessary method of portrayal. And yet, the chaos and instability of the time cannot be represented simply through violence. It is an ironic twist that turns such a standard presentation of Chinese revolutionary film into a comment on the period itself.

My question is, how do most people process the violence of the Cultural revolution? In the documentary we watched, most people seemed shocked and horrified witnesses. These was an unspoken understanding, often, that only so much could be talked about. “That’s the way it is.” Is idealism of this time common?


The Future is Bright & You Should Make Money

Posted in Uncategorized on February 1st, 2011 by amodernselkie

“The Gods of wealth enter the home from everywhere, wealth, treasures and peace beckon.” Zhongguo huabao chubansheg. 1993.

As I skimmed through the posters hosted on Chinese Posters site, this poster immediately caught my eye. It is exceptionally brightly colored (even among its primary-heavy compatriots) and the combination of dancing babies and old Confucian men made me look twice as I scrolled by. This poster was certainly good at making the viewer notice it. And once I’d started looking, the imagery kept me looking. This poster harkens back to the “old, confucian ways” – the old men in the background are smiling and happy, and also clearly well off.  All three men have Fu Manchu beards and are wearing clothing representative of Qing Court robes. The three men seem to represent the three stages of being a man; a young man to the left, a middle-aged man in the center, and a old man to the right. All hold fancy-looking objects, and all are smiling towards the viewer. Their bright colors lenda festive air to their countenance, and the middle-aged and older man both are wearing red robes; red is lucky, but also, in this case, might also be trying to lend a communist air to these overtly confucian men. The babies in the center also seem to symbolise prosperity; they are fat, smiling, and jolly. More importantly, they also carry money on top of a  pot of what appear to be jewels in their cubby little hands. Yen are placed on top of the American Dollar, and Chairman Mao’s face is in the center of the image. All of this points to prosperity – making money will gratify your ancestors, and make you a good communist and chinese citizen. Moreover,  wealth is being bestowed bestowed on China. The Gods of Wealth, the three men, are smiling down on China. China shall be prosperous, the poster says, and this is a good thing. To be rich is glorious, Deng Xiaoping said. This poster heartily agrees.

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Mao the Scholar in the Cultural Revolution

Posted in Uncategorized on January 30th, 2011 by amodernselkie

“During the cultural revolution period, poster artists were required to produce representations of the leader in his many pastoral and international guises: the young scholar turned international savior, the Great Helmsman, the inspiration to the new, young, revolutionary generation, and so on, ” – Evans and Donald, “Introducing Posters of China’s Cultural Revolution,” 9.

The cultural revolution, for all of its grand promises of equality, resulted in a mass attack against the intellectuals of Chinese society. “Better to be red than expert” Mao famously said; this, not equality, became the heart of the revolution. Expert was bad; only Mao’s most ardent followers, the new generation, could fully understand what was necessary to live in a country of constant revolution. Mao was so ardently admired and idolized by the Red Guards, pillaging and killing in his name; can you even imagine the chaos that would have ensued if Mao had died before he basically “called off” the Red Guards? In a culture that became so actively against intellectualism, and so passionately for Mao’s “common people” revolution ideals, it seems exceptionally ironic to me that one of the common portrayals of Mao was as “the young scholar”. In the documentary by Carma Hinton we watched last week, there were several photos of young Mao that we saw that fit this Maoist archtype; Mao sitting in a study filling out paperwork, and Mao reading Marx in a large chair. Was this stereotype ever used as a way to support intellectualism? Or was it simply the transition – that Mao, who was once a scholar, could forgo his study and lead China to ‘peace’?

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Project & Topic Ideas: Movies! Food! Pop Culture! Etc.

Posted in Uncategorized on January 27th, 2011 by amodernselkie

While looking around JSTOR and MCLC, I came up with several potential paper topics that I thought would be really interesting to research. The first I came up with was “Representations of Martial Arts in Chinese Historical Films”. I’d want to discuss the various methods popular in showcasing martial arts in Chinese Film. I’d also talk about the origins of Chinese Martial Arts films, classic examples, and then try to discuss the reason behind the style of presentation. At this point in time, I’m not entirely sure what my thesis would be. I want to see a larger variety of films, and read more texts, before fully committing to a research question. Thankfully that should not be hard. I have found a large number of secondary writing on the subject, and using a combination of yesasia and amazon, I don’t think I’ll have any trouble getting my hands on the movies themselves.

Another possible topic I came up with would focus on Chinese food blogging. I know of a small number of Chinese food blogs written in english, and if I used TasteSpotting and similar sites, I could probably manage to find a few more. I must admit that I have not looked into this topic as much as I have the other one; I thought of this much more recently. But I think it would be extremely fun to research, and is certainly something that I very much enjoy. I would be limited in my research by my inability to read Chinese (cutting out, I’d imagine, a fair number of Chinese Food Blogs), but I think that there are enough multi-language food blogs that I think the topic is worth proposing. As far as secondary resources is concerned, I can think of several generic blogging articles and books, but none offer a specifically Chinese perspective. However, given the number of blogs and online journals available, I don’t think I’ll have much trouble with finding material for this topic.

Let me know what you think!

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Chairman Mao Wants You to Marry (Or At Least To Move In Together)!

Posted in Uncategorized on January 20th, 2011 by amodernselkie

The Li Fengjin: How The New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up comic presents the purportedly true story of Li Fengjin and her quest to escape an arranged marriage. Fengjin is from the country side, and lives in a rural area where it seems that nothing has changed for generations. Her mother is given 20 Dan ( 1 Dan equals approximately 120-160 pounds) of rice when Fengjin is eight as payment for the marriage. Upon marrying her husband, she is constantly beaten, abused, denied food, and verbally insulted until she is forced to run away from home on several occasions to avoid starvation and death. She goes through much trouble to escape her husband with no help from the government. It is only when her husband and a gang of their friends tie her and her romantic interest to two trees and attempt to beat them to death that the CCP interferes.

The CCP functions as a deus ex machina in this story – they descend and bring order to the chaotic feudal structure of Fengjin’s rural hometown. However, what I found interesting was the portrayal of the local cadre. In this story, the cadre, while technically Communist, does not read the laws he is supposed to enforce. Moreover, he continues to let the community deal with problems the way it always has, without any challenge. This is not a positive light the pamphlet is shining on local cadres. What made this catch my attention is that this view of local CCP cadres does not seem to have changed in any real way. In almost every personal account or article I’ve read about China today, most say that local cadres are extremely corrupt and ineffective at enforcing the laws set in place by the CCP. The cadre in this story apologizes, saying “Only after study did I finally understand the bondage woman previously suffered under feudalism. Under the policies of the new democratic movement, we must smash feudalism.” Susan Glosser, ed., Li Fengjin: How the New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up. (Opal Mogus Books, 2005), 29. He is also punished for his role in this saga, though the reader is never told how. How would a cadre in this situation be punished?

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China Candid: The Prodigy & The Orphanage

Posted in Uncategorized on January 13th, 2011 by amodernselkie

The two stories I read in China Candid were about children. I picked them because I wanted to know how children were dealt with in a Modern China. Children are often considered the future of a culture or nation – so, I wondered, what is the future of China like?

The main thing I gathered from the text was that life was just as difficult for children in China as it is for everyone else, if not more so. China idealizes it children (much like the USA), but life is no less demanding for them. Moreover, children are without voice. As the child in the story Shine said, “if you don’t work hard, you’ll be a complete failure,” (121). Moreover, in Looking Ahead, the head of the orphanage, Xu Yongfu, talks about how the government refuses to give heath insurance to the kids he takes care of. This is because, even though several important officials approve of his orphanage, local officials refuse to put the paperwork through (99). Due to biases towards Yongfu, a large group of orphans are left without insurance or healthcare by the government. Yongfu is forced to pay out of pocket for any doctors appointment or hospitalization for any of the kids he takes care of, something he shouldn’t have to do (and wouldn’t, if the paperwork got processed). The child in Shining, on the other hand, has no problems with the government. His problems stem entirely from his family. His father (and, presumably, also his mother) demand absolute excellence for him. This is at the sacrifice of play, fun, and freedom.

The theme that both stories share is that hard work – extreme hard work – is the only way to be successful in Modern China. Yongfu runs several businesses (a tea house, a game lending business, and a garbage disposal company) just to keep the orphanage open (102). The child in Shine, similarly, works exceedingly hard to appease his parents and meet the expectations of being a child prodigy. He has no free time – “every day is the same. And they still say I’m not working hard enough. ” (122). The difference, though, is that the child in Shine has no say in his occupation, whereas Yongfu does. Yongfu is annoyed by, but simultaneously at peace with, the difficulties of being successful in Modern China. “There is no reasonable explanation for the way things are done, it’s just the way it is, and somehow, for better or for worse, it works,” (105). The child prodigy, however, is not so at peace with his situation. He is clearly angry with his situation, but can do nothing about it. When asked about why he studies piano, he said, “don’t ask me. Ask my dad” (122). He does not enjoy his life, but he has been told all of his nine years that living this way is the only way he can survive.  When talking about his life, he says, “If I mess things up now, I won’t achieve anything,” (122). He is trapped in an endless routine of practice to achieve his parents dreams, forced to jump through hoops he sees as meaningless to appease them.

The stories were remarkably similar, but depressingly so. Both stories tell of hard work, and a general dislike of the status quo. But both storytellers seem to feel that, while they dislike what is happening, there is nothing they can do about it. The child progeny says, “But what can I do?”(122). Yongfu has more say in the world around him, but still thinks that the governmental organization, and their treatment of him, is senseless. All you can do, it seems, is work as hard as you can, and keep your fingers crossed.

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