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Category Archives: Chinese and China

Tony Parsons “My Favourite Wife” (2008)

At one level this is a fairly generic love-triangle story, but in sharp contradiction to this reviewer I found the characters quite well developed and sympathetic. The great triumph of the book, however, is that it provides more understanding of contemporary China and Chinese than a thousand ponderous tomes and learned articles might deliver. Having been very close to a Shanghainese (and knowing quite a few others) I congratulate Tony Parsons on his depth of understanding. He is also remarkably aware of the paradoxes of the new superpower, that, for example, its wealth, while benefiting many, depends on even more people being held in poverty. True though that mass famine has become a thing of the past.

… Bill walked. He was hungry to see what he thought of as the real China, the China that was nothing to do with plasma tele­visions and Dom Pérignon. The real China was somewhere nearby. It had to be. There were blocks of flats as far as he could see in a bewildering jumble of styles, but broken up with patches of manicured green and oversized statues. There were strips of restaurants – he could see Thai, Italian, everything but Chinese – a Carrefour supermarket, and a couple of international schools, including the one that Holly would go to in the morning. Little parks. A nice neighbourhood. Gubei was greener and cleaner than the grimy, crime-ridden patch of London they had left behind. His family could live here. His wife and daughter could be happy here. He felt a quiet satisfaction, mixed with relief.

He glanced at his watch and decided he had time to explore before Becca and Holly stirred. So he walked towards the rising sun and as he left Gubei New Area behind, the streets quickly filled. Women selling bruised fruit stared through him from shaded side streets. Someone bumped into him. Someone else spat at his feet. There were men in filthy, dirt-encrusted two-piece suits working on a building site. On a Sunday. And in the streets there were people. A tide of people. Suddenly there were people everywhere.

He stopped, trying to get his bearings. The roads were wide and traffic flew by, horns mindlessly beeping, ignoring red lights and pedestrians and the rest of the traffic. He saw a chic girl in sunglasses with her hair up behind the wheel of a silver Buick Excelle. There were flocks of VW Santana taxis. A muddy truck piled high with junk and men. And more trucks, lots of them, with their strange cargo of cardboard or orange traffic cones or pigs or yet more cars, so new they still shone with the showroom wax.

As the sun got higher, and Bill continued to walk east, the city got noisier, adding to his sense of dislocation. A woman on a scooter mounted the pavement and just missed him, beeping her horn furiously. Schools of cyclists with giant black visors over their faces swarmed past. Suddenly he was aware of the time difference, the light-headedness that follows a long-haul flight, the sweat of exhaustion. But he kept walking. He wanted to know something about this place.

He walked down alleys where thin men shaved over ancient metal bowls and fat babies were fed, and where ramshackle buildings with red-tile roofs were draped with drying laundry and satellite dishes. Then abruptly the jumbled blocks with their red-tile roofs suddenly gave way to the new shining towers and shopping malls.
Outside Prada men with their skin darkened by sun and grime tried to sell him fake Rolex watches and DVDs of the latest Tom Cruise movie. Young women hid from the sun under umbrellas. Naked Western models advertised skin-lightening products on giant billboards.

And as Bill walked on, he felt something that he had never felt in his life, and it was an awareness of the sheer mass of humanity. All those people in the world, all those lives. It was as if he truly believed in their existence for the first time. Shanghai gave him no choice.

Bill hailed one of the Santana taxis, impatient to see the Bund, but the driver didn’t understand a word he said and dropped him by the river, glad to get rid of him. He got out next to a wharf with a ferry; not a sightseeing ferry but some kind of local public transport.

Bill handed over his smallest note, received some filthy RMB in return, and joined the milling mob waiting to cross to the other side. He tried to work out where the queue began. Then he realised that it didn’t begin anywhere.
And as the ferry filled with people, and then continued to fill even more until Bill was hemmed in on every side, and fighting back the feeling that the ferry was overloaded, he saw that here, at last, was the real China.

The numbers.

It was all about the numbers.

He knew that the numbers were why he would be starting his new job in the morning, why his family’s future would be decided in this city, and why all the money problems of the past would soon be over. They filled the dreams of businessmen from Sydney to San Francisco – the one billion customers, the one billion new capitalists, the one billion marketplace…

See also the author’s site and The Independent.

This is indeed popular rather than literary fiction, but for its insight I give it star_icons25 star_icons25star_icons25star_icons25.

I also wonder whether Parsons’ working class accent still arouses snobbery on the part of some English reviewers? Oxbridge he isn’t.

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Sunday is music day 25: Pachelbel’s Canon…

… played on the Chinese hammered dulcimer, an amazing instrument.

 
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Posted by on November 8, 2009 in Chinese and China, music, Sunday music

 

Something else to brag about…

… and other miscellaneous bits.

1. Something else to brag about

Australia ranked No. 2 for quality of life.

AUSTRALIA has the second best quality of life in the world and could pip Norway for top spot next year, the author of a UN report on migration and development says.

Australia was ranked second among 182 countries on a scale measuring life expectancy, school enrolments and income in the United Nations Development Program’s Human Development Report 2009, published yesterday.

The US slipped a spot to 13 and Britain was steady at 21, based on the latest internationally comparable data from 2007. Niger ranked lowest, followed by Afghanistan and Sierra Leone…

2. Who’d be Malcolm Turnbull right now?

The latest Newspoll isn’t good news for the Libs.

octpoll

3. Gerard Henderson gets it right!

In my opinion anyway, and I quite often disagree with Gerard Henderson.

… The 60th anniversary of the Communist Party victory in the Chinese Civil War was celebrated last week with an ostentatious display of military power of weapons and personnel.

Contrary to some views, the Rudd Government’s 2009 defence white paper is not directed at China. Yet the Chinese leadership should not be surprised if nations such as Australia focus on the possible reasons for China’s military build-up.

Australia’s one-time infatuation with Mao’s China is a thing of the past – as is evident in Bruce Beresford’s fine film Mao’s Last Dancer.

It should not be replaced by passion born of China’s wealth and the business and cultural possibilities this provides.

So far, despite criticism from the likes of Palmer and Hanson-Young, Rudd has got Australia’s China policy about right.

4. Local but global: October’s South Sydney Herald.

Nothing by me in this, but many good articles as usual. It’s been getting better, the old SSH.

Here is your copy: SSHOCT09.

 

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A week for mixed messages from China

… or “We’ll decide who comes into this country” – John Howard.

So we’ve had a record deal with the Chinese on the one hand for natural gas into the future, and a rather heavy diplomatic cooling on the other. What’s new?

The Opposition did their best to behave like an Opposition on issues they fundamentally agree with the government on. Clarke and Dawe captured that beautifully on The 7.30 Report last night.

KERRY O’BRIEN, PRESENTER: Time now for John Clarke, Bryan Dawe and Joe Hockey, giving credit where it’s due.
BRYAN DAWE: Joe Hockey, thanks for your time.
JOHN CLARKE: It’s very good to be with you Bryan and good evening.
BRYAN DAWE: You’re pleased at the announcement of this big new gas deal off the West Australian Coast, weren’t you?
JOHN CLARKE: Yeah I’m delighted, Bryan I’m always very keen on anything that goes to the benefit of Australia and Australians, I don’t apologise for that Bryan, neither do I resile from it. I don’t apologise for that at all.
BRYAN DAWE: This is the biggest business deal in Australian history?
JOHN CLARKE: It is, it’s great for the West Bryan, It’s great for business and it’s great for Australia.
BRYAN DAWE: Also, you said it was organised by the Howard Government?…

The Chinese have been particularly miffed by our giving a visa allowing what they see as a “Muslim terrorist” and “splittist” into the country. As The People’s Daily reports:

001aa018f68c0bf5897031 China canceled plans for Vice-Foreign Minister He Yafei to visit Australia earlier this month, reportedly due to Canberra granting a visa to Rebiya Kadeer, the mastermind of the July 5 Urumqi riot.

The decision was the latest sign that ties between the two countries are strained.

"Australia very much regrets that China decided to take that response," Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith told Parliament yesterday.

China’s Foreign Ministry yesterday refused to comment.

Kadeer, who lives in exile in the US, was allowed to visit Australia, despite strong protests from Beijing…

Opposition leader Malcolm Turnbull accused Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, a Mandarin-speaking former diplomat to Beijing, of bringing bilateral relations to "the lowest ebb that they have been for many, many years".

"He obviously has no leverage with China left at all," Turnbull said.

Chen Fengying, an expert at the China Institute of Contemporary International Relations, said it was "natural" for China to have made the move because it was dissatisfied with Australia granting Kadeer a visa…

On Rebiya Kadeer see Amnesty International.

Since the late 1980s, Chinese government policies and other factors have generated growing ethnic discontent in the Xinjiang Uighur Autonomous Region. In the past few years, thousands of people there have been the victims of gross human rights violations, including arbitrary detention, unfair political trials, torture, and summary executions. These violations, suffered primarily by members of the Uighur ethnic group, occur amidst growing ethnic unrest fueled by unemployment, discrimination and restrictions on religious and cultural freedoms. The situation has led some people living in the XUAR to favor independence from China.

Crackdowns in the region intensified after September 11, 2001, with authorities designating supporters of independence as “separatists” and “terrorists.” Uighurs, most of whom are Muslim, have been the main targets in the region of the Chinese authorities. Authorities have closed down mosques, detained Islamic clergy, and severely curtailed freedom of expression and association.

 

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Instead of the planned post

Being at M’s waiting for his new water heater, I haven’t had time to write the deep and meaningful post I planned. 😉

Instead, reflect on what this tells you about cultural adaptation in our wonderfully cultural plural country Australia:

msplace 008

M grew up in Shanghai. See also Memorabilia 20: M and William Yang.

 

Just a note on China

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.

china_ethnolinguistic_83

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.

 
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Posted by on July 21, 2009 in Asian, Chinese and China, Jim Belshaw

 

Oh dear, I agree with Peter Costello!

Peter Costello, Treasurer in the Howard Government, is famously about to drop out of parliamentary politics, even if the majority of voters would have him rather than Malcolm Turnbull as Opposition Leader. Nowadays he writes regularly for The Sydney Morning Herald. Today he weighs into the China syndrome. I am sure many Costello-haters, and there are many, would love to pin “racism” on this article, but I don’t believe that would be fair. What he says, based on my own limited experience of doing business with China, is actually true.

…Stealing state secrets is not a common crime in Australia, and it is certainly not a crime to obtain information about your customers and how they might approach a commercial negotiation. If you do obtain such information, it cannot be a state secret because companies are privately owned.

In China, where the state owns so many companies, commercial information becomes a state secret, which tells you that these are not corporations in the way we understand them.

Supporters of the Chinalco proposal argued Chinalco was just like any other corporation. However, Chinalco was even more intertwined with the Chinese Government than other companies, as its chairman was an alternate member of the Central Committee of the Communist Party.

We should remember that the Australian Government did not rule that the Chinalco bid was contrary to our national interest. It never expressed a view about the application.

Rio pulled out of the proposal under pressure from its shareholders. As it turns out it could raise money elsewhere, and it recognised there was more benefit from an association with the Australian producer BHP than Chinalco – an association it had previously spurned…

As I found, only in China can you get copyright clearance for a whole group of authors by approaching the Department of Culture in Beijing. The state, rather than the authors, controls the copyright.

 
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Posted by on July 15, 2009 in Chinese and China, current affairs