Search This Blog

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Thesis question revisited

Had a good chat with the thesis supervisor today, and the central argument's unfolding nicely.

The original idea first -
"The Imagination of China by overseas Chinese - The producers of Chinese culture - Did they get it wrong by over-representing just the Hans as the Chinese Identity. The Hans dominated China and of course, wrote its history. Are there dormant waves of representing China hiding under the weight of mainstream modern, possibly Communist China. The extra-sino nationalism wave - overseas chinese and chinese students overseas - using ‘culture’ as a symbol of unity"


And the new...
There has been government control over the mediated media messages regarding China's attempts to establish a cultural centre following the cultural revolution in 1966 with an overarching slogan of "Smash the old world, establish a new world". This was centered around abolishing the Four Olds: Old Customs, Old Culture, Old Habits, and Old Ideas. During this period cultural production was heavily skewed towards creating a socialist Utopian China.

Today, in light of the coming Beijing Olympics, China has taken control of its media vehicles with cultural production designed to place herself in a positive light. Two major blockbusters the USD$80 million "Red Cliff" and "Resurrection of the Dragon" both slated for release in 2008 coincidentally are stories on the Han dynasty, of whom the majority of Chinese are descended from.

This paper investigate if

1. This cultural centre has been essentially veered towards an over-representative Han culture. It is difficult to establish a homogenous cultural centre without ignoring and marginalising the other officially recognised 55 ethnic groups, and it seems the significance of this dominance is to be explored. Research will focus on how the Han culture came to be dominant, and will track its evolution from the Han dynasty (202 BC to 220 AD) to how it has become the world's biggest ethnic group today, numbering more than 1 billion.

2. The opening up of China's borders has resulted in an opposite flow of cultural influence, resulting in Chinese youths losing touch with their cultural roots. Inversely, the cultural production flowing out of China could be causing a rise in identifying with the Chinese race by the diasporic overseas-born Chinese. Note - It can also be argued if the Chinese identity today is the aftermath of the Cultural Revolution. - question to self - how much of this should I tackle?

The flow of the paper will be as such

Part 1 - China unpackaged
Chapter 1 - History of China - Ancient -> Imperial -> Modern -> Republican -> PRC (People's Republic of China) today
Chapter 2 - Defining China - the many faces - the modern political entity, OR Chinese civilisation OR a Cultural Region OR National or Multi-Ethnic entity occupying large tracts of land in East Asia?
Chapter 3 - Background and aftermath of the Cultural Revolution circa 1966

Part 2 - Cultural Production in China Today post Olympic announcement
Chapter 4 - Significance of 2008 Olympics, and media / cultural production changes post announcement in 2001.
Chapter 5 - Case Studies - the films "Red Cliff" and "Resurrection of the Dragon"
Chapter 6 - Reception/Influence by/on Overseas-born Chinese from Singapore, UK and the US.
Chapter 7 - Deconstructing what effects these films have on overseas born Chinese in terms of their imagination of China.

Part 3 - Conclusion

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Not alone

Looks like am not the only one peering inside and asking questions- Check out the American Born Chinese blog!

Here's the blurp -
"Welcome to my American Born Chinese (ABC) blog! I decided to start this journal because, just like many other ABCs, we have dealt with the constant issue of cultural assimilation in the United States. Many of us are second-generation Chinese U.S. citizens having had first-generational parents who immigrated here from mainland China, Hong Kong, or Taiwan after the U.S. Immigration Act of 1965 loosened its grip on enforced policies regarding immigration from East Asia.

The term “American Born Chinese” is commonly coined with the acrynom “ABC” just as “BBC” is a term for British Born Chinese and “CBC” for Canadian Born Chinese. Often, overseas Chinese labeled with these terms are regarded as individuals who are removed from their own culture as not having adequate understanding of Chinese traditions/customs and values and also not being able to speak the native tongue (Mandarin, Cantonese, etc.) very proficiently, much less read and write in the language. For ABCs particularly, the Chinese population living on the coastal regions of the U.S. have a greater tendency to attain a stronger connection to the Chinese culture and influence due to the continual immigration of Chinese to these areas, thus, leading to the expanding populations of Chinese communities in states such as California and New York.

Assimilation into the mainstream culture is often the typical commonality prevalent among Asians or any other ethnic groups that have been born and raised in the U.S. for the majority (if not all) of their lives. Therefore, many have blended into the societal values and culture of the “host” country, and some have been viewed as seemingly having denied their heritage identity as a result. The derogatory terminology “banana,” and “Twinkie” are the common characteristics that reflect the “white-washed” tendencies of these ABCs - yellow on the outside, yet white on the inside."

Source: (Date of Access 29 July 2008)

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Tea Houses in Sichuan

This I found particularly exciting to hear about. Teahouse culture. I guess whilst the after-work nightlife type pub culture exists in many parts of the world, this is quite a different story. Definitely on my list of to-dos when I eventually get over to China for my great quest to traverse the Great Wall. Now why's this different - always thought the Chinese to be absolutely hardworking industrious people. But reading this shed some light - they're quite professional at slacking and taking a chill pill too. Love 'em ear-pickin'.


Teahouse culture

Drinking tea is not the exclusive pleasure of going to the teahouse. Other leisure activities include reading newspapers and playing Chinese chess or majiang (mahjong). Sichuanese people flock to teahouses to chat and exchange news and gossip. Before the era of television, teahouses were the first places where one could gather some information on the latest events.

Some people earn their meagre income in teahouse: blind people offering massages, shoe-polishers, fortune-tellers, musicians, singers, portrait painters and a variety of peddlers selling snacks or bric-a-brac. But the undisputed most original characters are the ear-pickers, the 'first character' in many scenes of local life. Wandering around the teahouses with ten kinds of ear-picking tools and making noise with his clips, the car-picker picks scrapes and scratches. Chengdu people are fond of ear-picking not because they want to have their ears cleaned but because it gives them a lethargic feeling which leads into a little nap. It suits very well the ideal of a quiet and nonchalant life many Sichuanese seek.

In traditional Chinese culture, tea-sipping was considered as a refined activity and tea-culture was synonymous with elegance. Nowadays, Sichuan teahouses display many elements of this earlier tea-culture, but they also have a 'vulgar' side to them. They are pleasant environments where people relax and chit-chat but, at the same time, they also gather many petty criminals. They are the reflection of society at any given time, and have always followed the evolution of local life. Despite a break of 15 years during the Cultural Revolution and the appearance of new leisure activities stemmed by consumer trends such as gambling and video projections, they are still standing in the whole province. Sichuan teahouses are definitely worth a visit!

Source - Society for Anglo-Chinese Understanding (1999)


Also overheard in a short doco on China's preparation for the Olympics, apparently some ear pickers even carry a tuning fork that's struck on the earpicker in an up-down swinging action that apparently stimulates the ear drums. Nice.


The Significant Figure of this blog entry is - - -
9.6 million square km. The land size of China. Compare that with Singapore and our humble 640sq km. Hmm.

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

Hokkien, me?

Chanced upon this timely article from Singapore's Straights Times. A real big question of who am I. I used to imagine that i knew what it meant to be who I was until I realised that I could try asking myself that question in Chinese. Then I tried. And I found a radically different person.

Read on!


Hokkien, me?
By Stephanie Yap

published on Asia1 website July 21st.

WHEN I went to replace my lost identity card recently, the officer at the Immigration and Checkpoints Authority took the chance to update my particulars in the Government's database.

Besides asking me for the usual biodata, such as my marital status and education level, she also asked me to verify that my dialect group is Hokkien.

Though I admire the rich diversity of dialects in the Chinese language, I find this categorisation quite meaningless in my situation. After all, only one of my parents has ancestors from Fujian province and I don't speak Hokkien anyway.

At any rate, when I collected my new IC, I found that my dialect group did not appear on the card. What is listed however is my race: Chinese.

I am not against racial categorisation per se. If I were to commit a crime and go on the run, it would help the authorities somewhat if they knew which race I belong to.

However, this incident did start me wondering about such ethnic categorisation and how little it says about an individual's self-identity. For example, I am officially classified as Chinese and thus Mandarin is considered my 'mother tongue', even though my ethnically Chinese mother speaks English and Hainanese and not Mandarin.

I picked up Mandarin only in primary school. And since scraping through my Chinese exams, I have had limited contact with the language, as I don't read Chinese newspapers, listen to Chinese music or speak to my family and friends in Mandarin...

Eager to read more? Click here.

The Significant Figure of this blog entry is - - -
1500 BC -

first recorded history of China during the Shang Dynasty, perhaps the earliest of all the Chinese dynasties, as they were the earliest one that could archaeologically accounted for, or perhaps not. There is growing evidence of an even precursor dynasty before it, The Xia, which some argue (I like this) is a myth. Have always enjoyed myths. Myths. More hugging than legends, more departed from facts.

Friday, July 18, 2008

And here's my research question off the top of my head.

The Imagination of China by overseas Chinese - The producers of Chinese culture - Did they get it wrong by over-representing just the Hans as the Chinese Identity. The Hans dominated China and of course, wrote its history. Are there dormant waves of representing China hiding under the weight of mainstream modern, possibly Communist China. The extra-sino nationalism wave - overseas chinese and chinese students overseas - using ‘culture’ as a symbol of unity.


The Hans are descendants of the Han dynasty which ran the course of 400 years (pretty respectable), considering the all-uniting Qin dynasty (responsible for the first phase of the Great Wall of China) lasted all of 20 before the Hans took over. They were ruled by the Liu clan. Those familiar with the Romance of Three kingdoms will recall one of the protaganists Liu Bei as one of the family. It is during this period that Confucianism became the official state consciousness. They also extended the empire to include present day Xinjiang, Korea and virtually touched Europe - laying down the early paths of the Silk Road.

Fast forward to today, and most Chinese are descendants of the Han. This makes the Han the world's single biggest ethnic group. Do the math. 95% of Chinese are Han, and there are 1.3 billion Chinese in the world today. So. Big numbers to consider.

The Significant Figure of this blog entry is - - -
95% of 1.3 billion Chinese are Hans.

I could be part of one of the world's biggest problems.


Please feel most free my friends, to contribute, add or critique the research question thus far. I was massively influenced and touched by Jet Li's Fearless, without realising the nationalistic (well, more ethnic) spur of an effect it had on me. It brought about an awakening of my Chinese-ness. And that's where my journey of pondering began. With Fearless about 3 years ago.

Thursday, July 17, 2008

Wandering China pioneering log and China Blue.

"Close your eyes and it will come to you."

This pioneering entry marks the beginning of Bob's scratchpad on researching the imagination of China. Will greatly appreciate all comments, critiques and honest truths. So, here it is, the beginning of a trip over 18,000 words, dreams and schemes and difficult truths.

Attended a class on contemporary China at uni today, conducted by PhD student Alexander Lugg. The seminar involved an hour-long documentary by Independent Lens (I like the idea behind the name) called China Blue chronicling the journey of an 18 year-old Chinese girl from Sichuan province, which they described as Central China.

Geographically, and in today's context of the People's Republic of China, it is indeed Central-ish, but in the context of China proper, i.e. without the Tibet and Xinjiang Autonomous Regions, it's really south-west China. Sichuan is described as a friend (who's from Chengdu, the capital of the province) as the land of plenty, good food, good environment, and well, peace & love. But I digress. The protagonist in the doco had to leave Sichuan for Shenzhen (like 130 million other Chinese who're involved in the world's biggest human migration within a country or otherwise to date) , a predominantly Cantonese-speaking area in the South-east, which has been the catalyst (some argue) for China's prosperity (both economically and intellectually) for some time now.

Here's the blurp on the film -
"They live crowded together in cement factory dormitories where water has to be carried upstairs in buckets. Their meals and rent are deducted from their wages, which amount to less than a dollar a day. Most of the jeans they make in the factory are purchased by retailers in the U.S. and other countries. CHINA BLUE takes viewers inside a blue jeans factory in southern China, where teenage workers struggle to survive harsh working conditions. Providing perspectives from both the top and bottom levels of the factory’s hierarchy, the film looks at complex issues of globalization from the human level."

What was particularly engaging about the film was this simple premise - the poor conditions are really the result of a greedy mind - capitalist-minded Western big corps wanting the highest margins for their products as possible, and forcing ridiculous whole-sale prices from the Chinese. And how do the Chinese make their products cheaper? Make their workers work harder, and pay them less and less. And of course, profit driven bosses have little choice. If they don't beat the stick, they'll simply lose business to other companies more willing to whip their employees and pay them even less.

More to come!

This will be a regular feature.

The Significant Figure of this blog entry is - - -
130 million
economic migrants moving around in China