My main difficulties in this research project so far have been in narrowing and choosing sources that match my topic. Namely, how does one decide what is “cultural?” As culture is the unique way of living of a given group, unless one can shear down what ‘living’ entails, or where the group’s solidarity frays (i.e. cosmopolitan activities), this is impossible. I have had trouble deciding where among economic policies, museum articles, novels, or other sources i should look to best capture cultural expression. Namely, since my topic involves Mongolians of Inner Mongolia since the cultural revolution, my concerns are these: how to describe the critical changes in political rights, economic situation, and lifestyle without getting bogged down in history and statistics, and how to decide which new forms of dress, speech, and living are traditional/unique expressions and which are modern/conforming expressions without being familiar with either Mongolian or Han culture. Ideally I would describe to a already historically primed audience the clear-cut returns or abandonment of unique Mongolian dress, language, worship, jobs, buildings, literary styles, and so on. Instead I feel that I will have to admit that many Mongolians are joining the urban international culture melange in the cities, and that I do not know exactly where to find a Genghis-Khan looking Mongolian stereotypical and anachronistic enough for me to point and shout at.
This translated transcript gives good idea of both the time period in which and the degree to which the Inner Mongolia Autonomous region began devoting itself to ecological concerns. More importantly for my topic, this speech gives an idea of the Chinese view of the ecological problems in Inner Mongolia. This speech was given in 2002 and cites the 8th, 9th, and 10th five-year-plans as having been and planning to be involved in ecological preservation in inner Mongolia, that time period spanning 1991 to 2005. Outside sources can tell that it was the Rio Earth Summit of 2002 that drew international attention onto desertification around the world, but in East Asia mostly towards the Mongolia / Chinese Inner Mongolia regions.
The speech pushes three points forward very strongly. First, that ecological preservation is being and should be effected by large state run projects. While not surprising in and of itself within a communist worldview, the speech ignores mention of international sources of funding that poured into both the Inner Mongolia region and nearby desert areas (i.e. Mongolia, Russia, Manchuria, etc.) under similar risk. The speech implies a wholly nationalistic triumph in preserving its native beauty and wealth, rather than considering international repercussions of the moving desert border. A second implication of this approach is that it is sufficient given that progress is being made, though this can be hard to see given how many times the units used change (sq. km to hectares to mu, etc. ).
A second point pushed by the speech is a feeling of permanency; the “ecological protection demonstration areas” may need to be funded and held forever. The tone is upbeat however, as these new areas and institutions not only involve recovering and preserving usable land, but also are creating tourism locals and output optimization projects. What is not felt anywhere in the speech is any sense of budgetary unease. Either the speaker is convinced of continual funding, or that the work will be continually profitable. Regardless, ecology projects in Inner Mongolia will not be fading with speed or at all.
The third point the speech hammers home is the nature of the crisis. The crisis is important because it threatens economic development of both the Inner Mongolia region and nearby Beijing. This is felt throughout the speech as statistics, exploitable resources, and returns are discussed when considering nature and progress of ecological preservation in the area.
These three points illustrate well in first decade of the millennium how seriously ecology in Inner Mongolia has been taken by the Chinese Government. The state jumped immediately in to invest, and is planning to do so ad infinitum if it would help to prevent more serious loss. My ultimate goal in my project is to discuss changing Mongolian cultural freedom after the cultural revolution, and I think this speech marks perfectly the time period in which the government first begins paying economic attention to and altering policy in the Inner Mongolia region. I want to use this source to demonstrate two main things: first, the abrupt and strong interest shown in the region due to desertification, and second, the governmental and economic views shown of how exactly Inner Mongolia is being threatened and is to be saved. This source needs some follow up to finish the story I want to look at, as in the past two decades (early 21st century, just around the time of this speech) much of inner Mongolia begins to be exploited for coal and other natural resources at the same time as much overhead is poured into the region to hold the deserts back from the rest of China. The government and private companies are ecologically minded towards Inner Mongolia, but not to the exclusion of all else. The story of this more recent tension as well as the more nuanced benefits of ecological preservation funding to Han and Mongol citizens must be left to another source.
Fig. 1. “Thoroughly Smash the Dynastic Li Family!” circa 1967, poster. Available from: Chineseposters.net, http://chineseposters.net/gallery/e16-109.php.
Among all of the posters I looked through on Chineseposters.net most showed scenes that I took with passing interest – this one struck me. It portrays a ridiculous over the top masculinity which I really did not expect given the less striking portrayal of party members in other posters. As I searched, I quickly found that this poster was part of a class of what I like to think of as call-to-action posters. Others like this poster calling for criticism of the Bureau of Industry, or this one proposing to expel Liu Shaoqi from the party, or this more general one calling for the destruction of the old world, all share similar constructions. All share larger-than-life figures in the upper right, looking down upon and usually in the act of attacking, stepping upon, or otherwise destroying some small, marginalized and often caricatured object in the lower left. All have red backgrounds of course, but most also have images of marching or angry crowds in the background.
I do not think that any of the posters show real figures in the upper right; all are merely representations of the approach and action the posters beg the people or the party to take. The lower left always has a real world object however, usually a public figure being bashed in the poster. In the given poster, the sprawled figure in the lower left is Li Jinquan, party chief of Sichuan who was accused of being revisionist and against the party. He was publicly dismissed of all of his party functions in the year the poster was put up, and he avoided public office until the early 70s, after which he had a minimal role until the cultural revolution had passed. Clearly neither Li Jinquan nor his family was “smashed,” as he would eventually return to considerable public position. The poster however was likely printed in the midst of his dismissal and public shame, and obviously tries to draw public opinion further against him, using his family role as the son of a landlord to draw as much ire against him as possible in the brief poster space. The purpose of the poster then seems clear.
Two things puzzle me about the presentation of the poster. The first is entirely academic: cineseposters.net gives translation of the main script on the poster, but not the hulk’s nametag. If he is supposed to be a representation of the people/the party, I have to wonder what his nametag is. The second is the portrayal of the hulk. I do not feel it odd in the least that the target of the poster is caricatured and marginalized in the lower left, in fact it would be odd if he had a more flattering or central portrayal to draw the eye. But why does the smasher of Li Jinquan have to be such an over masculine behemoth? Looking at the other posters in the series, most take up a large amount of room on the posters, but all are regularly apportioned. What’s more, the other posters often include multiple figures and women, as well as almost all figures in communist uniform, doing the smiting. The given poster instead has an un-uniformed man who, though I have not looked through a large set, I would say has an uncharacteristic facial style and build. It was the dramatic scale of the action in the poster that first caught my eye, and I wish I knew enough about the poster’s circumstances and politics to figure out why Li Jinquan should deserve such an executioner when similar posters spread out the role among, proper uniformed red guards, men and women, who generally adopt less prominent roles in the poster overall.
I have been digging around recently for articles like this or perhaps this discussing the Chinese efforts to reform their treatment of minorities for the U.N. councils. The grumpiness in the U.N. seems to be from the way in which this reform is carried out; China has been setting up bilingual schools, allowing ethnic radio and T.V. stations, and in generally attempting to raise the standard of living and justice for large bodies of the 50-some major minority groups in the country. While China has been taking steps in the past several years towards supporting minority groups economically, socially, and legally, there does not seem to have been any reduction of arrests or crackdowns among outspoken ethnic groups. In addition, there seems to be little evidence that such humanitarian and reform efforts towards various groups have allowed non-Han Chinese to enter the government in greater numbers, or even reduce the number of arrests that take place in ethnic enclaves. I would be greatly interested in looking deeper into the legislation recently drafted for minorities in China, whether or not there has been any change in province-level oversight for major ethnic provinces like Tibet or Xinjiang, and whether or not other ethnically-impacted social practices like religion or local government have been reconsidered. In short, I hope to be able to write more soon on the nuances in Chinese reform, and whether it has simply been a humanitarian money dump to please the U.N. or to what extent there is serious recognition of non-Chinese social practices within the country.
While looking through the list of sites available, I was struck by the general failure of the site to be multicultural. That is, many sites failed to provide translations for the western reader, and many sites failed to provide working links. Many were also quite dated, being weekend projects or small private pages instead of archives available to the interested reader. Its lack of useful links argued persuasively for a failure of Chinese-American interaction. That being said, the exception proves the rule and there were a few sites that I found very impressive in accessibility and scope. Of these, I found Chinavitae. It was an archival site which added links and updates daily to its stores of of news and events, including events as petty as plane flights of government and business officials, dating back years. Besides its large archives, tailored search engine, and extensive community including a newsletter, and connections to dozens of news sites through their articles, the site acts as an hour-by-hour updater on news in China. Though there are a number of other sites which offered English discussions of recent trends and activities in China, this was the only one that I saw which was all of modern, English, professional, and integrated both with other sites on Chinese news and with a body of people who would be interested in modern Chinese events.
I feel after watching the first two hours of Frontline’s “Young China” documentary that the only thing that really caught my attention as foreign was the role of women in the stories told. Perhaps also the fervent money culture and the ominous role of government seemed unique, but the former was born in the United States and the latter was very vaguely described. Honestly, when hearing about the “corruption” of officials, who lacked interest unless you invested time and effort to meet and speak with them, struck me as a time-saving and rewarding lack of bureaucracy. Obviously there is more to it than that, but these as well as many other themes struck me as very familiar.
Characters are coming home from abroad, dealing with long-distance relationships, are part of a rising middle class, are starting independent businesses, are involved in seasonal farm work, are migrating between major cities, and so on. None of these themes are strangers to modern American life. Such phenomenon might vary a bit by state and race in the states, with different immigration/emigration ratios and issues like migrant farm workers being distinct geographically and racially (southern and mexican), but these are recognizable themes. Nor were new cultural vistas explored when the video revealed that the rap artist had tattoos; this was familiar territory.
It was always the women who had startling revelations for me, usually in the form of conservative holdovers or abuse. The story of the mother kidnapped, beaten, and sold as a wife was frankly horrifying. Many far lesser offenses existed as well: women had to work harder in school to avoid discrimination, women faced sexist questions in interviews, women faced arranged marriages, women struggled with both relationships and jobs. I make no argument that chauvinism was overtly displayed in the film or is necessarily lacking elsewhere in the world, but the recurring frustrations of the various women described in their personal lives and their jobs bind them together painfully, whereas the men shared fewer themes of distress or success.
The entrepreneurial spirit of the money culture displayed and the rising middle class likewise both put a positive and thus foreign spin on business that has been lacking in the depression of the last few years in America, but then again the film was made several years ago. Here’s to hoping that we can borrow that feeling again.
When looking through the most recent articles of the China Digital Times (CDT) in an attempt to familiarize myself with events in modern China, I was immediately struck by the division of articles. The site lacked many recreational sections one might be familiar with: there was no Sports, Style, Fashion, or Media sections, and only a Science section tucked away under the miscellaneous “more” tab. The non-miscellaneous sections available for immediate browsing are only Politics, Economy, World (each of obvious relevance to almost any international), Society, and Culture. The last two sections have different articles, but it is hard to distinguish why a given article might go under one category and not the other.
Shortly after looking through the categories, I was struck next by the scarcity of articles, lengthy or otherwise, to the extent that many articles are shared between multiple sections to fill out a page. But this is less surprising than the lapse of recreational discussion; the site might merely be host to a small newspaper. Still, both discoveries struck a sour note for me, to be reinforced by the articles themselves.
On Thursday (Jan 16th) the “Political” and “Society” sections headlined the same article of crackdowns on activists, the “Culture” section headlined an article on unanswered riot grievances, and the “World” Section headlined an article on governmental training of Chinese journalists. The “Politics” and “Economy” articles detailed additional articles on corrupt officials. The whole trawl through the site was highly depressing for me given the class goal of understanding Chinese culture from a distance; if a newspaper’s main message is “we can only write about what we cannot write (and complain) about” how is a student to read on or trust reports from China? Admittedly, the Newspaper had less troubling articles from the “Economy” section (including a foray of apple smartphones into China) which speak in far more promising terms of the integration of the country into the wider world. Many (depressing) articles on public and governmental affairs also existed. Still, the lack of larger bodies of cultural/recreational articles, and the presence of articles detailing information suppression, made me question the main goal of the course.
If I had to describe what I think is most important in understanding modern China, I would not say Economics. Simply put, I think that China has been successful in opening its borders economically already, and I don’t have to read much more on China specifically to understand the supply/demand and cheap labor questions that allow southern China to break into the world market. Rather, I wish to understand better the extent and nature of information suppression in the Chinese state, as demonstrated in articles like the following:
Maybe once I understand through what mediums and what topics I can’t learn about Chinese society, I can better narrow down those through which I can.
p.s. On an unrelated note, I am glad that the Chinese and Japanese have broken through that western aversion of serious Harry Potter discussion in international policy debates; see http://chinadigitaltimes.net/2014/01/newsnight-unaired-voldemort-debate/.
My name is James Adams Eichner II, and I have lived in Virginia all my life. You might remember me from our first class as the guy who introduced you to the best dogs in the world:
My family has included three generations of basset hounds in my life time, and I regret that our dogs are not on Flickr to share with you. At the moment I am working towards a history major at UMW, in which I have dealt minimally with China or East Asia as a whole. Earlier in my life I, like many another teenage boy, was compelled to research (or watch movies about) Ninja and Samurai:
I have some knowledge of Japan from the Sengoku through the Meiji era, or from the Samurai flick through the Pacific-Front World War 2 action flick. I have also spent some years playing Japanese board games, namely Shogi and Go:
My main experience with Chinese culture is that I often score my Go games (called Weiqi with Chinese transliteration, I think) with the Chinese scoring system. I have had a class on Buddhism at UMW, have read several works of Mencian Confucianism and Taoism as well as three of the four great Chinese classical novels, the latter mostly for kicks:
But all of the above deals with ancient Chinese history or culture. I have encountered more modern Chinese history only indirectly, through classes dealing with European colonialism, World War 2, or the Cold War. I would not have minded taking a class to round out my knowledge of Chinese history generally, but my schedule disallowed such a traditional study. I am interested in modern Chinese culture as an inverted stepping stone to approach the past; I am interested in rounding out my knowledge of Asian history generally, and I can think of no time easier to start with than the present, and no better starting place than the biggest country (barring Russia) on the continent. With that in mind, I look forward to working with you all.