Category Archives: Asian
I mentioned China’s ethnic and linguistic diversity in a comment on Multi-ethnic communities – history’s lessons on Jim Belshaw’s blog the other day. I referred to the list Wikipedia gives. There is a map there, which I reproduce below. Click to enlarge.
We often forget this complexity, not surprising in such a large area. We also forget that Cantonese, spoken, and Mandarin are mutually incomprehensible, as different as Spanish and English. The Chinese writing system allows, however, written communication between the two, pronounced differently in each case. Some of the other language groups are not Chinese at all.
Unity has always been important to Chinese governments, so while there is a degree of recognition of this diversity at an official level there is strong objection to nationalist aspirations or “separatism” by the minorities, some of which are very large. In Europe many of them would have become separate countries long ago. Traditionally, periods when China has divided into smaller entities are regarded as periods of weakness.
People in China talk of a “cold wind from the north” whenever the Chinese Government (formally/formerly Communist, still “totalitarian”) gets conniptions. They tend to wait out the storm and go, so far as possible, about their own business. There are winds blowing right now, principally over Xinjiang and Urumqi, but also over Chinalco and the “niceties” of foreign investment. Blustering from our opposition doesn’t help much.
Some good background pieces include:
1. John Garnaut in today’s Sydney Morning Herald.
… It is unlikely that the company (Rio Tinto) has created its own specific vulnerabilities to China’s harsh and arbitrary criminal system.
But in China, with its enormous system of laws that are seldom enforced, the specifics of Rio’s iron ore dealings are only the starting point in working out how things went so horribly wrong.
"There is always the question: why did they choose to go after these people at this time?" says Jerome Cohen, an expert on China’s state secrets laws at New York University. "Was there such hostility between Chinese and Rio Tinto iron ore that coloured this crackdown?"
The answer to that question is obviously "yes".
The bigger, geopolitical question is why China’s resource insecurity had grown so great, and Australia’s diplomatic leverage had been so diminished, that China’s top leaders saw fit to elevate the iron ore trade into a matter of national security in spite of the inevitable and substantial costs to China’s progress in the world.
The answers are complicated and begin with China’s leadership, who have been groomed and promoted on their readiness to see politics and security at the heart of any policy problem.
The security-first instinct repeatedly hurts China, as the detention of four Rio Tinto employees for allegedly stealing state secrets will also hurt China…
2. Isabel Hinton, “A Cold Wind in Beijing”, New Statesman, 5 February 2009.
…China presents its economic statistics with "Chinese characteristics". This past quarter the country posted 6.8 per cent growth, half the double-digit trend of recent decades and already worrying – but the truth is darker still. As the economics guru Nouriel Roubini points out, China publishes its quarterly GDP figure on a year-over-year basis, unlike the United States and most other countries, which publish their GDP growth figures on a quarter-on-quarter, annualised basis. When growth is slowing sharply, quarter-on-quarter growth may be negative, but the year-over-year figure looks positive. Converting the 6.8 per cent into the more standard annualised figure, according to Roubini, gives a truer picture of the Chinese position as close to zero. That bull might be a little shy of reappearing.
That this spells trouble is no secret in Beijing. The Year of the Ox is also a year of resonant anniversaries in China, many of them unmentionable in official circles. In March, there’s the 50th anniversary of the Dalai Lama’s flight into exile and the 20th anniversary of the imposition of martial law in Lhasa. It will also be a year since the biggest wave of protest across all the Tibetan territories. Spring will bring the 90th anniversary of the 4 May movement, under whose banner patriotic students and intellectuals, outraged that German concessions in China had been given to Japan at Versailles, marched to demand political and cultural modernisation. On 4 June, the 20th anniversary of the crushing of the student occupation of Tiananmen Square will be marked, and 1 October will be the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s Republic. In December will come the anniversary – all but forgotten in China and abroad – of the crushing of the Democracy Wall in 1979, when Deng Xiaoping turned his back on what the dissident Wei Jingsheng resonantly called the "Fifth Modernisation": democracy.
To add to the giddy total, China has just celebrated 18 December 1978, the 30th anniversary of the beginning of Deng’s economic reforms, which launched three decades of industrialisation and double-digit growth. When Deng turned his back on political modernisation in 1979, and again in 1989, he locked China into a political pact that committed the government to delivering rising living standards at the price of continued one-party rule. It’s a pact that has held, more or less, until now, and that recession threatens to undo…
3. Isabel Hinton (2), “Desperately seeking democracy”, New Statesman, 28 May 2009.
…A few days ago a Chinese friend came to meet me, wearing a T-shirt on which were printed three two-digit numbers: 90 30 20. To anyone who has studied China’s century-long search for an accountable political system, the numbers will be familiar: 90 marks the number of years since the May 4 Movement and 30 pays tribute to the Democracy Wall movement of 1979. That year, Deng Xiaoping announced his list of “four modernisations”, all of them economic.
In the extraordinary weeks that followed, a stretch of wall near Xidan in central Beijing became the forum for a passionate debate about China’s political future. The hero of the hour was Wei Jingsheng, an electrician from the Beijing Zoo, with his now famous call for a fifth modernisation to be added to Deng Xiaoping’s list: democracy. Wei was to spend nearly 18 years in prison, writing a long series of closely argued letters to Deng before he emerged, still defiant, in 1997, and was sent into exile.
The last number – 20 – is, of course, the most immediate and most painful reminder: it commemorates the democracy movement that was crushed on 4 June 1989….
4. On Xinjiang: Report by Danny Vincent on the UAE site The National 11 July 2009.
…The riots in Urumqi erupted a week ago when demonstrators took to the streets in protest to ethnic violence which killed two Uighur in south China last month following rumours that factory workers had raped two Han Chinese girls. The riots in the resource-rich region forced Hu Jintao, the president, to abandon plans to attend the G8 summit in Italy. The unrest is comparable to unrest in Tibet last March.
Both are politically sensitive regions where the Chinese government blames external influences on the unrest, while playing down ethnic tension.
Beijing has blamed what it calls the Dalai Lama clique for the uprising 18 months ago in Lhasa. Officials are using increasingly strong language to denounce Ms Kadeer, linking her to the violence in Urumqi. “If Kadeer and the separatist ‘World Uighur Congress’ wanted to take ethnic relations as an excuse to sabotage China’s unification, we must be vigilant and firmly crush their plot,” Ismail Amat, a former official in Xinjiang told Xinhua news.
“How can such a person represent the Uighur people?” he said.
It isn’t very often that I recommend something in Quadrant, but I do recommend Justin Kelly’s How to Win in Afghanistan – even if the title is perhaps rather ambitious. What he says is certainly worth placing beside whatever other sources you may be following. “Kelly is a recently retired Australian army officer. He commanded the Peace Monitoring Group on Bougainville, was deputy commander of the peace keeping force in East Timor and was director of strategic operations in the US headquarters in Iraq from November 2006 until September 2007.” So it is frankly written from a military perspective, but he does get at least some vital facts correct.
Originally law belonged to a people. It was a common possession which defined the group to which individuals “belonged” and which was marked by their subscription to the weight of custom, ritual and obligation entailed. In return, membership of the group regulated the interactions between individuals and families within the group and offered advantages in dealings with other groups…
From this germ evolved the idea of the modern state as a geographically bounded area within which “a law” prevailed…
These two conceptions of law—as belonging either to a people or to a state—are irreconcilable and the conflict between them is being played out in domestic and international politics across the world. Insurgency and counter-insurgency is a competition to establish whose law will prevail in an area. The counter-insurgent force is attempting to establish its coercive authority in areas in which that authority is contested by insurgents. In Afghanistan, NATO forces are acting as proxies for the government of Afghanistan in the extension of its authority. The Taliban is resisting that attempt while also endeavouring to extend its authority over the remainder of the country.
Modern-day Afghanistan is largely a figment of the Western imagination. Its present boundaries emerged only during the nineteenth century as a result of imperial competition between Persia, Russia and Britain. It is the rump of a larger Pashtun empire (the term Afghan having its roots in the Persian for Pashtun) that had previously extended well into modern-day Pakistan and Iran. The northern boundary, only stabilised in the 1870s, was originally a zone through which Pashtun influence was in balance with that of the steppe-dwelling Uzbek, Tajiks and Turkmen, who remain ethnic minorities in northern Afghanistan today. Peshawar, in Pakistan, was until the early nineteenth century the winter capital and “pearl of the [Pashtun] Durani Empire”…
I still think a good case can be made that the whole Iraq thing – whatever you now think of it – was a terrible distraction from attending properly to the place where Al Qaeda really was, under the friendly shelter of the Taliban.
… and M was once thought to be a Chinese spy.
Back in 1990 when I first met M, then very recently arrived in Australia, I was living in Paddington at PK’s place – and a nice place it was too. The first morning M appeared at breakfast PK was quite nonplussed – being of Lithuanian background he had fairly strong Cold War views in some respects, though not in others. He did indeed suggest soon after that M may be a Chinese spy. He later changed his mind and may even deny the story today. 😉
No doubt among the very large influx of Chinese students at that post-Tiananmen time there would have been some spies, mostly there to monitor the other students. Chinese were used to being monitored. M solved the problem back home in China by joining the neighbourhood spooks – hiding in plain sight, you could say. The neighbourhood committee of spooks also had a benign role; as well as reporting suspicious activity they were agents too of social welfare. M claimed he was particularly lax on the reporting side, especially given his own association with quite a few westerners.
My students at the language college I then worked in more or less assumed someone could be a spy, or “a boss” as they tended to say, and sussed one another out before they started opening up about certain topics.
About a decade later I was offered a free trip to Shanghai by the parents of one of my SBHS students – and not to influence me, as it was offered after the exams. As M said, they were just being Chinese and were grateful I had helped their son. I found a face-saving way of refusing the gift.
Where I tutor in Chinatown there is a prominent display on the wall of photos of the principals in the company with leading pollies, including Mr Ruddock. This is part of the Chinese way of business – establishing your connections or guanxi.*
“Guanxi” literally means "relationships", stands for any type of relationship. In the Chinese business world, however, it is also understood as the network of relationships among various parties that cooperate together and support one another. The Chinese businessmen mentality is very much one of "You scratch my back, I’ll scratch yours." In essence, this boils down to exchanging favors, which are expected to be done regularly and voluntarily. Therefore, it is an important concept to understand if one is to function effectively in Chinese society.
The importance of "Guanxi"
Regardless of business experiences in ones home country, in China it is the right "Guanxi" that makes all the difference in ensuring that business will be successful. By getting the right "Guanxi", the organization minimizes the risks, frustrations, and disappointments when doing business in China. Often it is acquiring the right "Guanxi" with the relevant authorities that will determine the competitive standing of an organization in the long run in China. And moreover, the inevitable risks, barriers, and set-ups you’ll encounter in China will be minimized when you have the right “Guanxi” network working for you. That is why the correct "Guanxi" is so vital to any successful business strategy in China.
Although developing and nurturing the "Guanxi" in China is very demanding on time and resources, the time and money necessary to establish a strong network is well worth the investment. What your business could get in return from the favors for your partners are often more much more valuable, especially in the long run, and when you’re in need. Even domestic businesses in China establish wide networks with their suppliers, retailers, banks, and local government officials. It is very common for individuals of an organization to visit the residence of their acquaintances from other organizations, bringing gifts (such as wine, cigarettes, etc.). While this practice may seem intrusive, as you spend more time learning the Chinese culture, it will become easier to understand and take part in this practice that is so central to successful Chinese commercial activity…
We should keep this in mind as we contemplate the Joel Fitzgibbon affair and the activities of Ms Liu. Still, the narrative is very much, and not entirely wrongly, taking what I may call the PK route. See Greg Sheridan in today’s Australian.
NO nation makes a greater espionage effort directed at Australian military and commercial technology than does China.
It was because of China’s massively increased espionage activities in recent years that in 2004 the Australian Security Intelligence Organisation set up a new counter-espionage unit.
But the problems China poses for a country such as Australia in the security and espionage field extend far beyond what might be regarded as traditional espionage.
Beijing has the most unified and co-ordinated sense of national power of any big nation on Earth. Modern China is not a democracy, but it is a very effectively functioning modern state.
It has a highly competent bureaucracy that seeks to penetrate all sectors of Chinese society and serve what the ruling Communist Party regards as the broader national interest. This includes monitoring, and where possible influencing, Chinese business people and students in their activities overseas.
This is a highly elusive matter, extremely difficult to quantify.
The overwhelming majority of people of Chinese ethnic background living in Western societies such as Australia or the US have no relationship with the Chinese state.
And most of those who do have any relationship with the Chinese state have an entirely wholesome one, such as doing business with the Government or promoting cultural exchange.
But the Chinese Government seeks to use every resource it can to gain information and to exercise power. That includes, on the testimony of Chinese defectors and Western intelligence agencies, often using business people and students as agents where it can recruit them…
He isn’t entirely wrong, far from it in fact, and does at least qualify what he says; but the framing of what he says does tend towards suspicion of Fitzgibbon and Liu, and Fitzgibbon must have been especially dense not to have declared those two trips.
And of course they spy, we gather intelligence – but that is another matter.
Back in the mid 90s I had the opportunity to meet the former Minister of Culture Wang Meng who was visiting from Beijing. He was at that stage on the outer, as he had publicly refused to congratulate the troops after Tiananmen. He still had plenty of guanxi though, apparently. After all, he had been able to come to Sydney. I was interested because I had read some of his stories (in English of course) and they were rather good. M was not so interested and didn’t go, saying he simply didn’t trust anyone in a high position.
See also Australia China Connections.
* Helen Liu sure gets around.
Kind of relevant… See Strange Maps: 368 – The World As Seen From Chang’an Street.
Jim Belshaw has had a couple of interesting posts lately: Train Reading – J H Curle’s The Face of the Earth and Sunday Essay – Race, Eugenics and the views of J H Curle. The book was published in 1937.
In the first post Jim writes:
In some ways I got more than I bargained for.
The book is laced with comments about nationality, race and ethnicity expressed with a freedom that would not be tolerated today. I almost put the book aside after the first chapter with the thought do I have to read this stuff? I kept going because I had, after all, deliberately chosen the book as a window into a past world.
As I read I found that I could put aside my reactions.
In the second post he elaborates:
At the time Mr Curle was born, the British Empire was at its peak. It seemed natural to assume that the white race was by process of natural selection destined to maintain a dominant position. However, Mr Curle’s Social Darwinist views did not allow him to believe that any nation, people or race had an automatic God-given superiority. All three could rise or fall.
I also think it worth noting that Mr Curle had no belief in the “purity” of any race or people. He was not opposed to racial mixing so long as the mix raised the “quality” of the race or people.
In this context, Mr Curle supported the Nazi eugenics policy as it related to things such as sterilisation. However, he did not believe that there was such a thing as a German or Nordic race. He thought the Nazi expulsion of German Jews was unwise because to his mind the admixture of Jewish and German blood had done much to strengthen the creativity and strength of the German people. He still hoped that Germany would learn this and re-admit the Jews.
The reason for the desperation in Mr Curle’s writing is simple. By 1937 he had come to believe that in the absence of fundamental change, both the Empire and the current pre-dominance of the white race were doomed.
Mr Curle’s views strike us as in many respects most unfortunate, but had we been around at the time no doubt we would have found a range of views to the left and right (not taking those terms with their unfortunate linear and dichotomising effect too literally) of his. As Jim says, the fact he wrote in a certain matrix of his time and place does not prevent his being interesting. Eugenics is nowadays totally tainted, and discredited as gross oversimplification – and more, but it lives on in other guises and in other terms under the rubric of genetic engineering. I suspect we also have to thank our current so-called “political correctness” for inoculating us, if we are wise, against the racist mindset within which he was working even if at certain levels he was, as Jim mentions, reacting against it too. But even there much that he wrote seems to have been predicated on the idea of “race”.
Some of Mr Curle’s most scathing writing is addressed to what he sees as the unjustified racism of some of the working and middle class English throughout the Empire. He compares them very unfavourably with other peoples and races.
And who, in all this, are the races or peoples of the future?
It seems from The Face of the Earth that in terms of people at a purely personal level, Mr Curle is especially enamored of Chinese/Malay (this includes what is now Indonesia) or Chinese/European mixtures.
However, in the hierarchy of races or peoples driven by Mr Curle’s Social Darwinism, the future lies with the Chinese.
That idea of “quality” is itself racist thinking because it assumes that “race” is a relevant category. Culture may be; race is not.
One can go back even further. I am rather fond of a Victorian lady – she would have used the term – named Isabella Bird.
Bird was born in Boroughbridge in 1831 and grew up in Tattenhall, Cheshire. As her father Edward was a Church of England priest, the family moved several times across Britain as he received different parish postings, most notably in 1848 when he was replaced as vicar of St. Thomas’ when his parishioners objected to the style of his ministry.
Bird was a sickly child and spent her entire life struggling with various ailments. Much of her illness may have been psychogenic, for when she was doing exactly what she wanted she was almost never ill. Her real desire was to travel. In 1854, Bird’s father gave her £100 and she went to visit relatives in America. She was allowed to stay until her money ran out. She detailed the journey anonymously in her first book The Englishwoman in America, published in 1856. The following year, she went to Canada and then toured Scotland, but time spent in Britain always seemed to make her ill and following her mother’s death in 1868 she embarked on a series of excursions to avoid settling permanently with her sister Henrietta (Henny) on the Isle of Mull. Bird could not endure her sister’s domestic lifestyle, preferring instead to support further travels through writing. Many of her works are compiled from letters she wrote home to her sister in Scotland.
Bird finally left Britain in 1872, going first to Australia, which she disliked, and then to Hawaii (known in Europe as the Sandwich Islands), her love for which prompted her second book (published three years later). While there she climbed Mauna Loa and visited Queen Emma.
There was a copy of an 1877 Leisure Hour in our house when I was a child which contained a serialised version of her Australia Felix – but unfortunately this is long gone. I do have a cheap reprint, however, of her The Golden Chersonese (1883) and even if she finds a Chinese dragon dance may be “devil worship” she can also be very observant. She writes well. Read an extract on Singapore.
…Here is none of the indolence and apathy which one associates with Oriental life, and which I have seen in Polynesia. These yellow, brown, tawny, swarthy, olive-tinted men are all intent on gain; busy, industrious, frugal, striving, and, no matter what their creed is, all paying homage to Daikoku. In spite of the activity, rapidity, and earnestness, the movements of all but the Chinese are graceful, gliding, stealthy, the swarthy faces have no expression that I can read, and the dark, liquid eyes are no more intelligible to me than the eyes of oxen. It is the "Asian mystery" all over.
It is only the European part of Singapore which is dull and sleepy looking. No life and movement congregate round the shops. The merchants, hidden away behind jalousies in their offices, or dashing down the streets in covered buggies, make but a poor show. Their houses are mostly pale, roomy, detached bungalows, almost altogether hidden by the bountiful vegetation of the climate. In these their wives, growing paler every week, lead half-expiring lives, kept alive by the efforts of ubiquitous "punkah-wallahs;" writing for the mail, the one active occupation. At a given hour they emerge, and drive in given directions, specially round the esplanade, where for two hours at a time a double row of handsome and showy equipages moves continuously in opposite directions. The number of carriages and the style of dress of their occupants are surprising, and yet people say that large fortunes are not made now-a-days in Singapore! Besides the daily drive, the ladies, the officers, and any men who may be described as of "no occupation," divert themselves with kettle-drums, dances, lawn tennis, and various other devices for killing time, and this with the mercury at 80 degrees! Just now the Maharajah of Johore, sovereign of a small state on the nearest part of the mainland, a man much petted and decorated by the British Government for unswerving fidelity to British interests, has a house here, and his receptions and dinner parties vary the monotonous round of gayeties.
The native streets monopolize the picturesqueness of Singapore with their bizarre crowds, but more interesting still are the bazaars or continuous rows of open shops which create for themselves a perpetual twilight by hanging tatties or other screens outside the sidewalks, forming long shady alleys, in which crowds of buyers and sellers chaffer over their goods, the Chinese shopkeepers asking a little more than they mean to take, and the Klings always asking double. The bustle and noise of this quarter are considerable, and the vociferation mingles with the ringing of bells and the rapid beating of drums and tom-toms–an intensely heathenish sound. And heathenish this great city is. Chinese joss-houses, Hindu temples, and Mohammedan mosques almost jostle each other, and the indescribable clamor of the temples and the din of the joss-houses are faintly pierced by the shrill cry from the minarets calling the faithful to prayer, and proclaiming the divine unity and the mission of Mahomet in one breath.
How I wish I could convey an idea, however faint, of this huge, mingled, colored, busy, Oriental population; of the old Kling and Chinese bazaars; of the itinerant sellers of seaweed jelly, water, vegetables, soup, fruit, and cooked fish, whose unintelligible street cries are heard above the din of the crowds of coolies, boatmen, and gharriemen waiting for hire; of the far-stretching suburbs of Malay and Chinese cottages; of the sheet of water, by no means clean, round which hundreds of Bengalis are to be seen at all hours of daylight unmercifully beating on great stones the delicate laces, gauzy silks, and elaborate flouncings of the European ladies; of the ceaseless rush and hum of industry, and of the resistless, overpowering, astonishing Chinese element, which is gradually turning Singapore into a Chinese city! I must conclude abruptly, or lose the mail.
Given her always uncertain health she was one very feisty woman, and it is good we have her work. But we also see time and again that the past is indeed another country. We enter it at a certain peril. We can’t possibly say “heathenish” today in quite the same assured way, can we?
Last night courtesy of Surry Hills Library I was transported back to my earliest years through a double bill DVD of I’ll Be Seeing You (1944) and Since You Went Away (1944). The second is the better movie, but both have fine performances and some lovely black-and-white visuals. The music on the remastered sound-tracks is also really good. Both movies offer much to think about in terms of the world-views they partake in, not all of them worse than our own, I should add. For their time both movies are in some respects rather enlightened. I enjoyed them, but was reminded of my own age and that, again, the past is another country.
I have added relevant video to the side-bar VodPod.
Day after day – as all users of WordPress.com will have noticed – the top blog post tends to come from one Alvin Lim whose Coolsmurf Domain is dedicated to East Asian pop culture, Korean especially.
Alvin is certainly prolific. The latest to hover at the top of the WordPress hit parade is 15-Year Old Park Seo Jin Semi-Nude Photoshoot Draws Controversy. The range of comments (also prolific) includes some that go beyond airheadedness. Here, of course, one immediately thinks of the Bill Henson controversy of 2008 and the panic ensuing which in turn has affected the Australian government’s approach to Internet censorship, a matter much debated, as mentioned in the previous post. One of the offending images is on the right; all rather Calvin Klein.
I should add that Alvin does not have to have words like “nude” in his titles to attract readers. Clearly Korean pop culture is a very big phenomenon.
I find all this fascinating as evidence both of the amazing diversity of our world and its opposite tendency towards homogenisation. Or perhaps of the hybrid world we are seeing emerge.
Beijing Olympics: ‘Ethnic’ children revealed as fakes in opening ceremony – Telegraph. Now that we are shocked by this…
…and the fake firework footprints and the lip synching little girl, let’s all pause and consider…
…and dressing kiddies up as ethnic minorities…
No fakery among us, eh!
The Opening Ceremony was an outrageously extravagant show when all is said and done, put together by a great movie director, Zhang Yimou. Now we may well question the extravagance, and have no doubt about the propaganda purpose of the whole thing. On the other hand, the 5,000 years of tradition we saw displayed so proudly and so brilliantly is no fake, and that we do well to recall.
We would never orchestrate “reality” for the TV, would we? Make sure you visit the site linked to the following…
Of course, the contrived passage of the Olympic Torch through a sanitised, cordoned off, and beaten down Lhasa was, no doubt, an obscenity…
Played on the guqin, pronounced goo tchin.
That’s a 3,000 – 5,000 years old tradition you are seeing there. In other words, instruments like these were around before David was playing his harp, and even before when Tutankhamen was still alive…
Think about that.
The following video also features the Chinese zither, or gu zheng (goo djeng).
Poem of the peaceful garden.
Mind you, here in Oz we may even go older, back to before Noah, before there was even a Creation, if you are silly enough to believe some fundamentalists…
You did see them in the Olympic Opening Ceremony the other night — all of the above in fact; the instruments, if not the individual artists.
Yes, out there beyond the politics the world’s real problems go on, don’t they? Just happened on Glue Sniffing Among Street Children | The Pakistani Spectator.
What can you say? Of course it is brilliant, but also such a study of how mores and class attitudes have changed since it was made. I thoroughly enjoyed seeing it again.
This Billy Wilder movie was made the year I was born, so that is kind of appropriate.
A British tank commander (Franchot Tone) survives a battle with Erwin Rommel’s Afrika Korps in the North African desert. He finds sanctuary in a small desert hotel owned by Farid (Akim Tamiroff). The staff consists of just Mouche (Anne Baxter), but is augmented by “Davos”, the identity that Corporal John Bramble assumes. At first hostile and cynical, Mouche gradually falls in love with the newcomer.
Complications arise when the Germans take over the hotel to use as headquarters for Field Marshal Rommel (Erich von Stroheim). Davos is mistaken by the Germans for one of their local spies and he makes use of this fortuitous mistake to steal some vital military information, the locations of the “Five Graves to Cairo”, hidden buried fuel dumps prepared before the war for the conquest of Egypt. He takes that knowledge to the British, who use it to thwart Rommel’s plans.
When Bramble returns in triumph to the hotel, he is devastated to learn that the Germans had executed Mouche in his absence because she wouldn’t stop saying that the British would be back. He takes the parasol he had bought for her, something she had always wanted, and uses it to provide shade for her grave.
A contemporary review from The New York Times (May 27, 1943) is rather amusing.
It’s a good thing the German armies and Field Marshal Rommel in particular had been chased all the way out of Africa before “Five Graves to Cairo” opened at the Paramount yesterday, else the performance by Erich von Stroheim of the much-touted field marshal in it might have been just a bit too aggressive for the comfort of most of us…
Completely out of key with the performance of Mr. von Stroheim is the rest of “Five Graves to Cairo.” For otherwise it is simply an incredible comedy-melodrama—yes, comedy is what we said—about a British tank-corps corporal who gets left behind in Sidi Halfaya (when the British retreated last June), poses as a loyal German agent in the flea-bag hotel which Rommel’s staff occupies, learns the amazing secret of German supply depots set lip before the war across the desert—and then escapes with that secret back to the British lines. This remarkable information (it says here) permitted the rout of the Axis forces at El Alamein.
As though this fanciful story weren’t sufficiently hard to take, Charles Brackett and Billy Wilder, a couple of old-hand Paramount wags, have dressed it up with shenanigans which have the flavor of fun in a haunted house. Akim Tamiroff plays an Egyptian innkeeper broadly and strictly for laughs, and Fortunio Bonanova is rung in as an Italian general of the opéra-bouffe type. With those two clowns in the picture, fetching laughs with smoke-house burlesque; with Franchot Tone playing the British corporal in a taut and muted style and with Mr. von Stroheim playing Rommel with a realism that chills the bones—not to mention a little side issue between Peter Van Eyck as a Nazi officer and Anne Baxter as an expatriate French maid — “Five Graves to Cairo” is probably the most conglomerate war film to date. It has a little something for all tastes, provided you don’t give a darn.
Today we might note the postcolonial aspects of the characterisation of “others”, especially the Egyptian, which while actually quite well done in its way (in my opinion) does bear some resemblance to the comic black people who populated movies in those days…
Nonetheless, it is a movie worth seeing.
3. The Crossing
This 1990 Australian movie is not half bad, actually. It features a much younger Russell Crowe (aged 25) and Danielle Spencer, whom he went on to marry in 2003. That’s them in a still from the movie. The other male lead was Robert Mammone, last seen on TV in Underbelly.
I found the fact it was filmed in Condobolin and Junee most interesting, as it was a reminder of how those towns looked just before the years of drought, especially the countryside around Condobolin.
The movie is set in the Vietnam War era (late 1960s) on Anzac Day. It certainly took me back to the way people looked, dressed, and thought at the time I began my teaching career.
The Sydney Morning Herald critic Linden Barber reviewed it in 1990:
JUST lately, teen films seem to have been raised as the standard bearers of the mainstream end of the Australian film industry. It would be easy to construct a theory about this, arguing that it subconsciously reflects the nation’s own adolescence, its alliance of painful self-consciousness and freshness-cum-naivety.
On the other hand, perhaps a few producers have simply decided that teen movies are surefire earners.
The romantic drama The Crossing is certainly a noble effort, coming in several furlongs ahead of the artless The Delinquents, but its falls some way behind The Year My Voice Broke, the film with which it invites the most obvious comparison. Set over a period of 24 hours in a country town on Anzac Day, it’s based around a young lovers’ triangle, and nearly comes off. What prevents it from doing so is its erratic casting and a certain stylistic over-ambition.
Danielle Spencer and Russell Crowe display a touching tenderness as the lovers (along with the sophisticated pop soundtrack, they’re the best thing about the film), but Robert Mammone is shaky as Spencer’s ex-boyfriend, who has just returned to town, and some of the supporting roles are unconvincing. And while Jeff Darling’s AFI award-winning cinematography has some impressive moments (the opening scenes, filmed at a dawn Anzac service, are stunning), it soon becomes irritatingly over-stylised, too often flooding the action in the golden glow of a sugar cane commercial.
The Crossing, then, is a little too eager to impress. Take the way it works in elements from Rebel Without a Cause and High Noon – a chicken-run car chase (done better in John Waters’s Cry Baby), an over-abundance of lengthening shadows and shots of clocks. It keeps drawing attention to its own cleverness.
Everything in the film is orchestrated to build to a grand climax, but director George Ogilvie doesn’t quite get the film’s rhythms right. A pity, because there’s a good-natured centre to The Crossing that makes you want to like it, despite the flaws.
“…But the true revelation is Crowe, in his first major film role. In most movies like this one, the boyfriend/fiancé/husband is usually either an overbearing jerk who causes the heroine much unhappiness, or an annoying sap whose constant declarations of love sound laughingly hollow. But when Johnny professes his love for Meg, it’s clear that he means it. And when he is threatened with losing her, he reacts not with physical violence or menace, but instead seems to unravel at his own emotional seams. Crowe takes a character that could have been one-note and creates one who is masculine and practical, yet sensitive enough to know that his way of life is in danger and there’s really nothing he can do about it.”
That’s a pretty fair review, especially the paragraph I highlighted. Nonetheless, I am glad I borrowed it.
To quote Wikipedia, linked at the title above: Read the rest of this entry »
As I mentioned last week, ABC1 on Sunday nights is showing the BBC series Wild China. Last night:
Programme 5: Land of the Panda
A panda walking through the snowy bamboo forest ©Gavin Maxwell China’s heartland with its Han people is the centre of a 5,000-year-old civilization. This land contains the Great Wall, the Temple of Heaven, and Beijing’s Olympic Stadium and is home to some of China’s most charismatic creatures such as the giant panda, golden snub-nosed monkey, and golden takin.
China has undergone significant development in the past 50 years, bringing many environmental problems. The programme explores the deep, complex and often extraordinary relationship between the Chinese peoples, their environment and its creatures, and finds out what it means for the future of China.
So many of the places mentioned in this series M has been to; he has this deep trait where he needs, like his ancestors, to go to the mountains or the wilderness. I think he has been to almost all the holy mountains of China — not to mention Everest.
Otherwise a quiet one in a fairly damp Surry Hills.
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Most others will have forgotten, such is the short-term memory loss in our world of blogs and instant media and information overload, but less than a year ago we had a Prime Minister named John Howard, a Foreign Minister named Alexander Downer, a visit from George W Bush, an Immigration Minister named Kevin Andrews, and our very own international Islamist Terrorist investigation into one Doctor Haneef. My memory is online and uncensored of course: here.
Now we open up the Sydney Morning Herald to read:
Which is pretty amazing, when you think about it.
The Indian doctor, who was arrested and then cleared of terrorism charges last July, told young Muslims across the world to beware, because they have been typecast as terrorists.
“I am a living example of how the menace of terrorism has affected innocent lives and the phenomenon of how Muslims are stereotyped as being terrorists or sympathisers of terrorists whether they are guilty or not,” he said.
Dr Haneef was a guest at a conference in New Delhi on Sunday organised by the Jama Masjid United Forum, an Islamic organisation in India that aims to “eradicate the root cause” of terrorism.
It was also addressed by Islamic leaders and Indian ministers and MPs.
Dr Haneef told the conference that the “entire world” was watching Muslim youths. “I am here not as an individual but as a representative of innocents who are victims of terrorism,” he said…
The Dalai Lama used his speech to strongly condemn terrorism, but called for “unbiased initiatives” to combat it. He said it was wrong to malign any one religion because of terrorist acts. The Tibetan spiritual leader also said India’s tradition of religious tolerance was a role model for the world.
However, that tolerance has been tested by a devastating terrorist bomb attack in Jaipur, the capital of Rajasthan state, three weeks ago. The series of blasts, which killed 60 people and injured about 200, have been blamed on Muslim extremists.
After the attack an influential conservative Muslim seminary in India, the Darool Uloom Deoband and its political arm, Jamiat-i-Hind, issued a “fatwa” against terrorism. The 150-year-old institution, which influences thousands of smaller Islamic schools across the subcontinent, issued the fatwa at a meeting attended by thousands of clerics and students in Delhi.
Moving on to China, we may reflect that this being June it is nineteen years since the events of Tiananmen Square. Much has changed in China since then, but much hasn’t. As I have mentioned before, I have met quite a few people who were in China at that time, including eye witnesses of Tiananmen, and of related events: M was such an eye witness in Shanghai where he saw the once almost equally famous events that occurred at Shanghai railway station. I have met one of the leaders of the Tiananmen protests. So I think I know about it, and I know the Chinese government continues to lie about it, and continues to have a bad record in many areas. On the other hand, I know also that the actions of the Chinese government (and people) in relation to the recent and ongoing earthquake tragedy in Sichuan have been utterly commendable, especially in contrast to the uniformed dickheads who run Burma — though we must question whether the system, or corruption, subverted building codes to make the Sichuan tragedy worse in the first place. (By the way, I still say “Burma” because the name “Myanmar” is the brainchild of those uniformed “leaders” and excludes parts of the Burmese population.)
The Sydney Morning Herald remembered today: