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.

Reviews

The Thugs of Tiananmen

Grace Jackson reviews Bullets and Opium by Liao Yiwu

“Thugs” was how Hong Kong Police Commissioner Stephen Lo described demonstrators who gathered in historic numbers on June 9 to protest against a bill that would allow for extradition to China, at the outset of a wave of protests that have roiled the city ever since. That word is one of several threads connecting Hong Kong in 2019 to Beijing thirty years earlier. Prior to this year, the last time Hong Kongers took to the streets in such numbers was in solidarity with the student protestors who gathered in Tiananmen Square in 1989. In the aftermath of that democracy movement in Beijing, “thugs” (baotu 暴徒) became a buzzword too. It was the PRC government’s designation for all non-student protestors: the workers, shopkeepers and bystanders who felt compelled to put their bodies between soldiers and students.

Reviews

Rewriting History

Ting Guo reviews Women and China’s Revolutions by Gail Hershatter

Despite its revolutionary and socialist origins – as women in the garment industry marched through New York City in 1908 demanding shorter hours, better pay and voting rights – International Women’s Day on March 8 has become a rather commercial holiday in many places around the world. That includes China, my socialist motherland. Taobao, the world’s biggest e-commerce website, uses the day as a shopping festival, and was able to hit 30.8 billion yuan (approximately $4.5 billion) in gross sales for women’s fashion, accessories and cosmetics in 2017. This year, however, a 1949 speech delivered by the socialist writer Ding Ling (1904-1986), a winner of the Stalin prize for literature in 1951, went viral on Weibo.

This speech, entitled ‘Thoughts on 8 March’, was delivered in the Communist heartland of Yan’an on August 3, 1949, a few months before the founding of the People’s Republic of China. As Ding Ling wrote:

“Aware, modern women should identify and cast off all their rosy, compliant illusions. Happiness is to take up the struggle in the midst of the raging storm and not to pluck the lute in the moonlight or recite poetry among the blossoms.” 

Reviews

Home is Everywhere

Rachel Leow reviews Home Is Not Here by Wang Gungwu

“No matter where you live in the world, we all share one origin. There is a place for all of you here at home.”

In so many words, this is the single message which the People’s Republic of China’s Overseas Chinese Office (Qiaoban) channels to ethnic Chinese across the world. It is a relatively new sentiment. The idea that ethnic Chinese of foreign nationality (huaqiao) are not ‘blood traitors’ (hanjian) but patriots-in-potentia – talent (rencai) to be lured ‘back home’ to contribute to China’s wealth and power – has not long been in gestation. But since the 1980s, it has been written with ever more depth into the PRC’s long-term visions. Conceived under the KMT and established by the new PRC in 1949, the Qiaoban languished in the Cultural Revolution and was revived by Deng Xiaoping, who saw in the huaqiao a source of support for reform and opening. 

Three decades later, Xi Jinping’s ‘China Dream’ counts huaqiao, not just Chinese citizens, among its dreamers; his One Belt One Road strategy is designed with huaqiao in mind, as business collaborators with critical local knowledge.