Borderlands

The Toisan Shout

Coming to terms with a stigmatic linguistic identity – William Poy Lee

Suey Wan is an innocuous farmer’s village nestled among remote hills in the backwater heart of the fertile Pearl River Delta in Guangdong Province. My people’s six counties are collectively known as Toisan. Toisan’s origins are more legendary than historically established, but the first Chinese settlers are said to have arrived here during the chaotic last days of the Tang Dynasty, hoping to find peace in this then far-off corner of the expansive Chinese empire.

For a millennium, my forbears lived relatively unperturbed, rarely traveling farther than 20 miles away from their village, and eventually evolved their own version of the Cantonese dialect – the rustic, rough-sounding and salty jizz-juice tongue of Toisanese.

Q&A

Stories of the Left-Behind

Mengyu Dong talks to Scott Tong about A Village with My Name

Part of the challenge of writing a family history is that the people in the story, or their direct descendents, might still be alive. And they may not want the story to be told. As a journalist, you don’t let a source decide what goes into your reporting. Is it more complicated when the subjects are your family?

Yes. The part about my maternal grandfather was particularly challenging because he was a wartime collaborator and that was obviously shameful for the family. My mother didn’t remember him because they were separated when she was young. But she did remember the pain of growing up without a father. And the family never talked about him. Before I started researching for the book, all I knew was that he worked for the Wang Jingwei government in Shanghai. Then as I started to research and found more about him, things weren’t  that black and white anymore. They start to enter the grey area. You know, as a father, he was trying to put food on the table for his family. He took care of his brother’s widow and his niece. I think during wartime, people face a lot of tough choices, and can end up on the wrong side of history.

Review

Palimpsests of Propaganda

Yifu Dong reviews Curating Revolution by Denise Y. Ho

Propaganda is a concept that refuses to translate smoothly between English and Chinese. The English word “propaganda” seems to have a direct counterpart in the Chinese word xuanchuan, but the connotations diverge: in English, propaganda means Orwellian doublespeak, whereas in Chinese, propaganda is the carrot of persuasion that often precedes the stick of coercion. The differing perceptions of the same word stem from the varying degrees of tolerance for the distortion of truth, because propaganda not only aims to persuade and agitate but also does so by using alternative versions of the truth, such as untruths and half-truths.

Dispatch

Mining the Zeitgeist

Thomas Bird excavates the Lianzhou photography festival

I follow the map on my phone as it leads me into the backstreets of Songzhuang Art Colony, the world’s largest art village, located on the eastern fringe of the Beijing municipality. Just when I think I’ve been lured into a labyrinthine trap, the unmistakable bald head of Shanxi-native Luo Dawei (罗大卫) emerges from a doorway and beckons me in from the cold.

“Sorry about the mess, we’re just moving in,” he says as I watch computers and office furniture being delivered, unpacked in a tempest of cardboard and dust.