Monday, November 26, 2007

Hong Kong Turkey

Well, I missed out on Thanksgiving dinner since I'm here in Hong Kong. Turkey isn't extremely popular in China although chicken is extremely popular. Anyway, Happy Thansgiving to all.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Chinese Hip-Hop?

Last week, Lingnan University hosted a Mass Dance competition with all 8 Hong Kong universities sending dance teams. Since I'm living on campus, I couldn't avoid the event since it drew a large crowd. Now, don't be mistaken - I'm not talking about any type of traditional Chinese dance - this was Hong Kong hip-hop_dance style. It was admittedly quite entertaining and obviously the dance teams put a lot of effort into their performances since they were all very well-rehearsed. While I have no problem with Chinese students dancing to hip-hop or any other music they want to, I found it slightly ironic that there wasn't anything the slightest bit Chinese in this entire performance which included lots of music, dance and costumes.

Anyway, this made me wonder where Chinese culture has gone. With 5000 years of musical history, is there not one Chinese rap song that could have been included in this performance. So I did what any inquisitive individual would do in this modern day and age - I googled. There is of course Jin, a Chinese-American rapper who's had at least some degree of commercial success who's had some degree of commercial success. But I didn't find much so I went to a deeper research source - Youtube. Not too much there either, but I did MC HotDog 姚中仁, a Taiwanese rapper who (based on my comprehensive Internet research) seems to be the closest thing China has to a rap star. So as they say in rapspeak- Yo! - check it:

Although I felt a little bit old watching all these young, energetic college students bustin' their moves (can you say that anymore?) to all the modern hippity hoppiest tunes, I felt better when the event ended with a dance to Earth Wind & Fire's hit Boogie Wonderland which goes back to my early youth.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Too Much Caution over "Lust, Caution"?

I haven't seen it yet, but "Lust Caution" (色戒 - Sie Jie), the latest film directed by 3-time Oscar winner Ang Lee, has become very popular in China, especially here at Lingnan University since the story features Lingnan students who plot to assassinate a Chinese officer collaborating with the Japanese during Japan's WWII occupation of parts of China. The film apparently features some steamy sex scenes which China's morality protectors at the State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) found to be too explicit for Chinese audiences. As a result, a censored version is being shown in Chinese movie theaters (although I'm not sure if the uncensored version is allowed here in Hong Kong since it has its own spearate censorship laws).

Anyway, a few days ago a student at China University of Politics and Law, Dong Yanbin (董彦斌), sued the SARFT claiming that the censored version of the film (which cut 7 minutes of sexual oriented scenes) infringed his consumer rights to information and fair trade (see this article about the lawsuit). Apparently he's doing this to make a point rather than for money since his suit only requests 500 yuan (about U.S. $67)for emotional damages, as well as an apology and making the uncensored version of the film available to adult viewers.

Unlike the United States, China does not have a movie rating system. The SARFT decides what films are allowed to be shown in theaters and has the authority to censor films, as it did by ordering director Ang Lee to edit scenes found objectionable. Although Lee agreed to edit the film for Chinese theater exhibition, he claims that the sex scenes are a crucial part of the story rather than merely gratuitous. Lee says the relationship between the male character (played by Tony Leung) and the female character (played by Chinese newcomer Wei, Tang) "is like occupying and being occupied, prey and predator, under the backdrop of China being occupied by Japan" and "the irony is that you don't know who the occupier is, the man or the woman." In the U.S., you can see the unedited version, but its rated NC-17.

Reportedly, the court will not hear the case unless Dong provides an uncut version as evidence. If you like irony, you'll appreciate that the uncut version is illegal in China. Here's a promotional trailer for the movie.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Barbeque Hong Kong Style

Last night I got to experience Hong Kong style barbeque. While Americans love to barbeque as much as anyone, Hong Kong people have a slightly different sytle. They have large open areas, often in parks, where you pay a fee which gives you access to a barbeque grill and all the food you can cook and eat. Each person gets a two-pronged fork and you load up each prong with food of your choice then grill away.

You go up to a counter where all the food is stored and take your pick, from a variety including hot dogs, sausages, chicken wings, beef, pork, chicken, sardines, fishballs, meatballs. There are even some not-meat items available such as sweet potatoes, corn, eggplant and bread. Anyway, in addition to eating, its a good way to socialize while sitting around the BBQ cooking your food. I went with some of my friends from the Toastmasters group at Lingnan. Needless to say, a good time was had by all and a lot of food was consumed.

Sunday, November 11, 2007

John Rabe - China's Schindler

Last summer, I visited several cities in China as part of a summer study abroad program with Belmont University. One of the cities we visited was Nanjing, an important city in many parts of Chinese history. One of the darker parts of its history occured when the Japanese invaded in 1937 and brutally massacred several hundred thousand Chinese residents which became known as the Nanking Massacre or the Rape of Nanjing (the title of the book by Iris_Chang). I was shocked, not only by the atrocity itself, but also by the fact that I'd never really heard much about it and didn't realize the extent and exceptionally barbaric nature of the Japanese troops which rivaled if not surpassed the worst atrocities committed by the Nazi's. None of the American students in our group had heard of it at all which seems to illustrate the overly Westernized version of history in the U.S. education system.

I bring this up because I just read about a movie being produced in Shanghai about John_Rabe, a real-life hero who most Americans have never heard of. Rabe was a German engineer (and Nazi party member) working in Nanjing when the Japanese invaded who refused to leave i n order to help organize a safety zone which protected a quarter of a million civilians. He also appealed to the Japanese and wrote to Hitler trying to stop the brutal treatment inflicted on the Chinese. The photo below shows members of the Belmont group at the Nanjing Memorial Hall.

The German/Chinese co-produced film, The Diaries of John Rabe is being shot in Shanghai as well as Nanjing and features an international cast including German actors, Steve_Buscemi (playing American doctor Robert Wilson), Chinese star Zhang Jingchu and Japanese actors Teruyuki Kagawa and Akira Emoto. It is scheduled for late 2008 release in Germany and China (American release not yet known). There are several other films dealing with the Nanjing massacre also being produced so it looks like this chapter of Chinese history may finally get some more international publicity.

Friday, November 9, 2007

China's NBA Championship

The NBA season has just started, but in China the championship is tomorrow when the Houston Rockets play the Milwaukee Bucks. More importantly (to the many Chinese NBA fans), China's Yao Ming goes up against China's rookie sensation Yi Jianlian. American basketball fans know that both are Chinese and both are tall although Yao has 6 inches over his younger compatriot Yi, who's only 7'0". Yao also has more experience and has proven himself to be one of the top centers in the NBA. Yi has just begun his first NBA season, but is off to a very good start. While the two Chinese players will be opponents tomorrow, they will be teammates next summer on the Chinese national team in the Beijing Olympics and should be a formidable frontline. The game will be televised in China at 9 a.m. and is predicted to be watched by over 200 million Chinese viewers. The audience will be much more than most of the world's biggest sporting events and I imagine the NBA is saying China, its 意想不到 (Fantastic)!

Thursday, November 8, 2007

Hollywood Tries to Curb China's Movie Piracy

I found an article, Hollywood Tries to Curb China's Movie Piracy, about an effort by 2 of the major movie studios to offer low-priced DVDs legally in China. While creating a legitimate market is crucial, it will be very difficult to compete pricewise with pirate DVD sellers who have next to none of the costs that legitimate film companies have to incur.

The article also mentions that "film piracy in China is believed to have cost American studios US$244 million and Chinese studios US$2.4 billion in lost potential box office revenues in China in 2005." While these figures are merely estimates, if they're anywhere remotely close to accurate, it does show that the biggest loser the Chinese film industry rather than Hollywood which I think is believable since most Chinese people prefer Chinese movies due, among other things, to the language difference.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Holy Hong Kong Batman!

Hong Kong is China'a psuedo-equivlaent to the USA's Hollywood and one of the moviemaking capital of the world. Unlike other cinema genres, Hong Kong's action-themed movies were also able to achieve popularity in the West and stars such as Jackie Chan have found worldwide celebrity status as a result.

However, Hong Kong's film industry has experienced a downturn since the mid-1990s due to various factors including rampant piracy of movies and increasing competition from mainland and foreign films.

One of the ways the Hong Kong film industry hopes to reverse this trend is encouraging production of more foreign films in Hong Kong. That brings us to Batman who is currently flying around Hong Kong harbor (Warner Bros sent Hong Kong residents a warning notice of aerial filming). Despite his superhero powers, even Batman seems to be having a hard time with the Hong Kong air and water pollution (Warner Bros. decided to cut a scene due to pollution in Victoria Harbor), but the local film industry hopes he'll be able to breathe some light into the local film production inustry. Scenes are currently being filmed in Hong Kong's Central, Wanchai, Western and Tsim Sha Tsui districts.

The Dark Knight, the latest sequal in the Batman franchise is being filmed here in Hong Kong as well as many other locations around the world. This sequel, to be released in 2008, continues the vigilante plot developed in the 2005 sequel, Batman Begins, and stars Christian Bale as Batman and Heath Ledger as his wickedly humorous nemesis, the Joker.

Monday, November 5, 2007

What's in a 名字 (name)?

Next summer, the Olympic Games will be held in Beijing and China is understandably very proud and excited to be the host country. This sense of national pride is reflected in a news article I saw today which says that about 3500 Chinese kids have been given the Chinese name for Olympic - "Aoyun" which I think looks like this in simplified Chinese characters - 奥林匹克 (although I could be wrong).

Additionally, many Chinese have named their children after the Beijing Olympic Games mascots, known as the "Five Friendlies." These cute characters (and the corresponding number of people names after them) are: Bei Bei (880 people), Jing Jing (1,240), Huan Huan (1,063), Ying Ying (624) and Ni Ni (642). When the Five Friendlies names are combined, the phrase means "Beijing welcomes you!"

To the Chinese, names are very important and usually have some meaning associated with the person. Traditionally, certain surnames have been very common and it is estimated that about 87% of China's 1.3 billion population share just 129 surnames. That's why there are so many people named Li, Chen and Wang among other common names. Interestingly, there are about 5600 Yao Mings (姚明) in China due to the popularity of the NBA baskletball star. However, Chinese are increasingly trying to come up with unique first names (which come last when written or spoken) for their children in order to express more individuality.

On a more local note, I am one of 2 David Mosers at Lingnan University. In addition to myself, there happens to be another unrelated David Moser (also from the United States) who is an English tutor here at Lingnan this semester. This has been a source of confusion for both of us as students and faculty get us mixed up. I don't think its too likely that many Chinese people are going to start naming their babies after us though.

Friday, November 2, 2007

Bredesen on China

Tennessee governor Phil Bredesen recently returned to Nashville from a 9-day trip to China with about 100 Nashville business leaders to promote trade between China and Tennessee. On his flight home, Bredesen wrote an article for The Tennessean, Nashville's main daily newspaper, to tell Tennesseans about some of his opinions of China.

"First, an insight about America: The Chinese are willing to do big things; we need to rediscover that audacity here at home. I've felt for a long time that we confine ourselves far too much to frittering around the edges of opportunities — in infrastructure, in transportation, in health care. This trip has crystallized this feeling. Hong Kong has 7 million people, a little larger than Tennessee; I flew out of a new Hong Kong airport this morning that cost $8 billion to construct. Can you even imagine an $8 billion public infrastructure project in Tennessee? With even bigger ones on the drawing boards?"

I've had the same type of observations during my experiences in China. The Chinese have probably become the greatest entrepreneurs in the world. They're willing to take chances and make major investments in projects they believe are worthwhile even though substantial risks are often involved. Americans, on the other hand, seem to have become complacent and sometimes even lazy, willing to blindly rely on the mantra that the United States is (and always will be) the most economically powerful nation in the world. While the United States certainly is still the world's biggest economy, China is gaining rapidly and its annual growth is about 3 times that of the U.S. China takes education seriously and is making an concerted effort to provide better educational opportunities while the quality of the American education system is stagnating if not declining. While I don't think its productive to view China/U.S. relations as an economic race or a competitition to see who can be best, I do think that the U.S. needs to get back to what made it such a successful country - motivation, serious work ethic, serious commitment to education, pride, innovation, etc.

"Second, China is enormous; 1.3 billion people is a quarter of the world. The refrain repeated over and over by our Tennesseans: "You just have to see it to believe it." There are cities in China you've never heard of that are bigger than any city in the U.S. And with that size, there is an astonishing amount of money in China. Shanghai defies description. A lot of what is going on right now has to be a dot-com-like bubble — but it's the underlying wealth to buy these assets that is the real story, and that wealth is definitely there and growing exponentially. China is having its coming-out party."

The enormity of China is one of the first things that hits you when you visit China, especially if you have the opportunity to travel around a bit. China and the United States are about the same size in terms of land mass. However, China has 1.3 billion population compared to The United States' 300 million (world population statistics) and there are many more big, highly populated cities in China than in the U.S. (world's most populated cities) The pace of growth in China is staggering with huge construction projects are going on all over in major cities.

"Third, the political system in China is unique and defies labels. It's not the gray communism that I knew in the 1970s in Eastern Europe; it's not Western-style capitalism either. My best one sentence description would be, "A one-party capitalist country with no Bill of Rights."

I agree with Bredesen that China's political system is unique and defies labels, but I don't totally go along with his description of China as a "one party system with no Bill of Rights." China is technically a one-party system. The Communist Party (CPC) is the sole party in China and, as a totalitarian form of government, clearly exercises a great deal of control over the country's affairs. However, this doesn't necessarily mean that the CCP) always acts as one cohesive political party. From what I've been told by some Chinese colleagues, the CCP is somewhat divided into liberal and conservative factions. Also, while China does not have a Bill of Rights like the United States, it has become increasingly (albeit slowly) more inclined to recognize and protect human rights. China has joined various international human rights conventions although China has its own views on exactly what rights should be protected and to what degree. Although he may not have intended it to do so, Bredesen's description seems to imply that the human rights guaranteed by the U.S. Constitution should be universal which would be a very arrogant assumption. From talking to many Chinese people, especially college students (who tend to generally have more liberal views than older people), I've found that the Chinese have slightly different ideas about what rights are most important and the extent to which government should protect or restrict those rights.

"And fourth, we need to work hard to open more doors to China. I want more trade missions, and I especially want more Chinese students here and more American students to go to China. For the past century, America has been the higher education destination of choice in the world. After 9/11 and the massive visa restrictions that were put in place, Chinese students looked elsewhere. Places like Australia and parts of Europe are now where many of them go. We lost an invaluable franchise, and we need to regain it."

I absolutely agree with Phil on this one. Educational exchange programs should be expanded since this is one of the best way for young people from both countries to learn more about the other. The Chinese want to learn about America. When you visit China, you'll find Chinese people who want to talk to you to practice their English. Students I've met while teaching here at Lingnan University tend to be very inquisitive about the United States and I've heard some very perceptive non-critical comments from them about differences in culture which American students are not likely to be aware of since most know next to nothing about China and its culture. We need to do more to encourage interaction, exchange, learning and cooperation. The United States and China are likely to be the two most dominant nations of the 21st century and the more they can learn from each other and act cooperatively, the better off both (as well as the rest of the world) will be.