Reviews

Four Young Chinese Artists, 25 Years On

Richard Kraus looks at two documentaries on Chinese art by Lydia Chen

In her spellbinding 1993 documentary Inner Visions, Lydia Chen interviewed three struggling, idealistic young Chinese artists. Twenty-five years later, the same profilees are back in Chen’s latest film, Art in Smog, to discuss their careers again – this time as mature artists who worked hard to find their places in China’s now prosperous arts scene. Chen’s long-term relationship with them is unique, and makes for two very special documentaries which anyone who cares about the evolution of Chinese art over the past quarter century should watch.

Essays, Reviews

Are the Confucius Institutes a Trojan Horse?

A documentary and an academic roundtable renew the debate – Frank Beyer

The amount of recent news in New Zealand and Australia about China’s influence in the region has been overwhelming. One of the threads, downunder and elsewhere, has been the Confucius Institutes – specifically, whether they are a Trojan Horse for Chinese state influence abroad. A dramatic and accessible entry into this debate is Doris Liu’s film In The Name of Confucius (2017), an exposé on the controversial presence of these Chinese language and culture centres that partner with universities all over the world – based on campus but funded by the Chinese state through the “Office of Chinese Language Council International” known as Hanban, affiliated with the Chinese Ministry of Education.

Oolong Podcast

Afra Wong on Podcasting in Chinese

AN EPISODE OF THE OOLONG PODCAST

Loud Murmurs is one of the only podcasts in Mandarin that discusses American pop culture. Run by a team of Chinese-American women, the podcast covers topics ranging from deconstructing Netflix shows to discussing Crazy Rich Asians. Afra Wong, one of the key members of Loud Murmurs, tells Lev Nachman what their podcast is about, how she and her team decided to start the podcast, and what some of the ins and outs of running a Chinese podcast are like.

Essays

Bare Branches

How Singles Day in China forgot its origins, and left singles in the lurch – Alec Ash


Every November 11th, while Brits wear poppies to remember the dead of WWI, the China news cycle [rotates] back around to [Singles Day] or ‘Double Eleven’: the online shopping bonanza, Black Friday on acid, pioneered by e-commerce company Alibaba. Last year, over [$30 billion] worth of goods were sold in 24 hours, and the early hours of this year’s discounts (sales start at midnight) are already 32% higher. But Singles Day hasn't always been about sales. The only figure worth crunching when it started was the loneliest number, number one.

In 1993, the story goes, four Nanjing University students were slouching on their dorm bunkbeds, slurping instant noodles, drinking beer, chain-smoking and complaining that the ladies weren’t falling over each other to get at them. They were ‘bare branches’, they grumbled, using a word for single men, guanggun, that still carried stigma. “From today,” one of them said, pleased by the recurring bare branch of the number one in that day’s date, “November 11th will be called Singles Day.”

Fiction

Going Home

Taiwanese fiction by Loa Ho, translated by Darryl Sterk

Editor’s note: Loa Ho (賴和), also known as Lazy Cloud, was a Taiwanese poet, born in 1894. A doctor by profession, it was his contribution to the literary republic – overlooked today – that led him to be hailed as the "father of modern Taiwanese literature." This 1932 story, translated and republished in the new collection Scales of Injustice, was first published in the founding issue of Voice of the South (南音), a literary journal where Taiwanese cultural elites hoped to communicate with the wider public.

If a product is not up to standard in the factory you still have the chance to fix it, but if it makes it all the way to the market and customers don’t like it, it’s useless and will get thrown away. That’s how I felt when I arrived home after graduating from university, like a reject. It was an unpleasant homecoming.

Several days after I got home I lost the courage to go out, because every time I did I met relatives or friends who would say, “Congratulations, you graduated!” Which I found terrifying, because it would remind me that I had left the factory and was en route to the market. In the first few days, of course, I was happy to be reunited with my family after a long absence.