Dispatch

A Mind Map of Beijing

A junkyard jaunt through an artist’s psychogeography – Robert Foyle Hunwick

UK artist Gareth Fuller calls his door-sized monochrome artwork, Beijing,  unveiled at the Art Beijing fair, earlier this month, a  “mind map.” Like his previous works, these psychic illustrations of physical spaces are drawn with whimsical detail, literary reference, and topographical disregard. Fuller’s version of the Forbidden City, for example, weaves in in a reference to China’s Belt and Road initiative and to its high-speed rail network.

Fuller’s reimagination of China’s capital speaks to its fraught history of hegemonic expansionism, cultural appropriation, ethnic strife and political correctness (at least no one calls it Peking any more), as well as good old-fashioned blood feuds, border tensions, and foreign and domestic plunder. A palimpsest of detail, Beijing reveals more with each viewing, from cultural allusions and jokes to an accident involving a seven-foot ditch, commemorated by an ankle with a question mark.

Dispatch

A Dream of Grey Mansions

Back to the land – Nick Holdstock

In 1979, 80 per cent of China’s population lived in the countryside; by 2010 this proportion had almost halved. Of all the convulsions that have shaken Chinese society in the last hundred years, the shift towards becoming a primarily urban society has arguably been the most revolutionary. Though the countryside witnessed huge upheavals during the Maoist era, first with collectivisation, then with the terrible famine that followed, neither of these led to the removal of almost an entire generation from rural communities. But the great rush towards the factory towns in south China has removed the majority of people of working age from the countryside. In many villages, the only people left are grandparents and their grandchildren.

I wanted to see how the continuing exodus to the cities had affected rural life in Hunan, so in 2014 I accompanied a friend of mine on a trip to his village.

Dispatch

Floor and Building

One word for two things, and two for one – Brendan O’Kane

I had originally meant to leave Beijing on the Friday after I arrived, but when I went to the main train station on Thursday to pick up a ticket, I was told that all the tickets had been sold, and that the next available ticket was for Saturday afternoon, and yingzuo.

Yingzuo means “hard seat,” and refers to a class of ticket that will get its holder a spot on a thinly-padded wooden bench with three other people. Yingzuo is considered uncomfortable by even seasoned travellers, ones who can understand Beijing cabbies and use Chinese-style squatter toilets without flinching.

Dispatch

Ghosts of the Eastern Capital

Trawling Chinese Bookstores in Tokyo – Dylan Levi King

The accounts of the life of an overseas Chinese student in Tokyo almost universally mention bookstores. But if you go to looking for traces of these early exiles, you will be disappointed. The Ginza cafes that Tian Han and Yu Dafu met in to drink wine and talk Ibsen and Hamlet disappeared not long after the Chinese students left. The theaters and bookstores that brought the Chinese students to Kanda are gone. The blooming banks of the Sumida River that Yu Mantuo wrote about in his poetry have been poured over with concrete. Not much is left standing in Tokyo that dates to before the Showa period (1926–1989) and most of the city was turned to rubble in the Second World War and then rebuilt in the 1950s and 1960s. But one place worth visiting, if you’re making a pilgrimage, is the cluster of bookstores in Jinbocho in Kanda.

Dispatch

Festival of Peace

Christmas with migrants in Beijing – Alec Ash

'Twas the day before Christmas, and all was calm. Shops were shuttered, homes were locked; the streets were full of lights and the sound of jingles. A winter chill hung in the air, and after a year of hard work, men and women of the village dragged luggage over the frost-bitten tarmac – going home for the holidays.

Yet these migrant workers, on the outskirts of Beijing, were not celebrating Christmas. It was not a holiday in China, and they did not want to go home, nor to shutter their shops and lock their doors. The lights were from police cars patrolling the streets, jingling their alarm bells, making it clear there was no other choice than to leave.