There’s a new Chinese movie out – Wandering Earth. Chinese people are pretty excited about it. It made a bajillion RMB during Spring Festival. It’s currently the second-highest rated film on Douban. It’s been written about extensively by Western media, which unanimously crowned it “China’s first sci-fi blockbuster”. It accomplished the rare feat of uniting both Western film critics and Chinese government officials in praise. Intrigued, I went to see it. I did find something very interesting in it, but not what you might expect.
I was depressed the other day. The kind of feeling where basically everything seems like shit and you don’t have any clue why you still live in China and, as a consequence, you are hateful toward everything. This is nothing to be alarmed about. It happens from time to time. When I fall into this state of mind, I know it is time to go back to basics and put some effort into remembering the good parts of being a foreigner here. In this case, that led me back to Edward A. Burger.
December 13, 2017 marks the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre. Not much noise about it so far, not even appreciable uptick in Baidu search, but that should change now that the Party Congress is over. At least there will be buzz surrounding the re-opening of the Nanjing Massacre Memorial Museum which has been closed the last four months for “renovations”.
I reckon by now pretty much everyone is familiar with the facts. Over the course of six weeks the Central China Area Branch Army of the Imperial Japanese Army sacked Nanjing, killing 40,000-300,000 Chinese civilians and perpetrating 20,000-80,000 rapes, depending on whom you talk to. Babies were bayoneted. Old people were slaughtered. It was a bad time, a grim time, a low point in a century not short of low points.
For shocking survivor stories check out this website. If that’s not enough, then watch Lu Chuan’s 2009 film Nanjing: City of Life and Death (it’s on Youtube). It’s fictionalised, but punches you in the gut. There’s a scene where, score by score, Chinese men, hands bound, are herded into a corral and machine gunned into oblivion. In another scene a little girl is tossed out of the window while her father watches. In another a woman is raped until she becomes a raving lunatic. It’s horrible, horrible stuff.
Despite all this, the Nanjing Massacre remains controversial. It’s not so much the facts that are in question – mainstream Japanese historians don’t dispute them – it’s their representation, or lack of, that causes the problems.
I have a confession to make – I hate Mobike. To be fair, I hate Ofo too, probably even more, because I end up using them more often. This feeling has been building for some time.
It’s not like I hate the idea of bike-sharing. No decent person is against that. Fewer cabs, fewer cars, better for the environment, cheaper – everyone wins. Except for the fact that everyone is actually losing. People use them, that’s for sure. Chinese people use Mobike as if they had never known a world without it. It cuts across demographics – the young, the old – and across use cases. The original idea may have been to solve the “last mile” problem, but I’ve seen couples on dates and grannies getting groceries. Heck I’ve even seen people in sports gear using them to do laps around Century Park. Nonetheless, I still hate them.
80 years ago this August the Battle of Shanghai began.
It wasn’t the first time war had come to Shanghai. It wasn’t even the first time that China and Japan exchanged blows in Shanghai. But it was the most devastating urban battle Shanghai – and the world for that matter – had ever seen. It was, as one historian remarked, as if Verdun had taken place in Paris just opposite a neutral Left Bank. It led directly into the Nanjing Massacre and kicked off a chain of events that culminated in World War II and ultimately the two nuclear bombs dropped on Japan. It was real bad news.
Why look back? Aside from the fact that the Chinese government is looking back (expect big time propaganda leading up to December 13, the 80th anniversary of the Nanjing Massacre), I don’t know, knowledge I guess. Before I read Peter Harmsen’s book Shanghai 1937: Stalingrad on the Yangtze, I had only the barest outlines of what went down. I was pretty shocked to realise that rivers of blood once flowed under our feet. It seems significant. Here’s what happened.
There are certain place that draw you in and don’t let you go and and you only notice it years later. Moganshan for me is one of those places. Here is my Moganshan story.
Recently I’ve been thinking about Macbeth. Mainly because back in March I went to see Sleep No More, a new play here in Shanghai, and I read somewhere that it was loosely based on Macbeth. Having seen it I can tell you that I don’t see much connection at all. But at least it got me back to Macbeth, which I consider to be one of Shakespeare’s most important plays and possibly his most puzzling.
Here’s my book! Okay it’s really a novella – a love story set against the backdrop of the Shanghai metro. I’ve already moved about 50 copies and the response has been satisfactory so far. It’s illustrated by photos from Tom Carter, photographer behind one of the my favorite China photo books, China: Portrait of a People. You won’t find any foreigners in this book, just Chinese people. And I wager you won’t look at the subway the same way again.
I’m selling copies for RMB100 – which is just enough to cover production costs – plus shipping if you need it shipped. There’s no e-version of this one. Each comes numbered and signed. Support your local arts!
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or you can message me through my Wechat OA – ConfuciusSez.
Uncanny silence has surrounded Scott Savitt’s memoir since it was published in November last year. Though National Geographic and Vice both recommended it, there was no New York Times review, no big book tour, no NPR interview, no Literary Festival headlining slot. The local expat rags didn’t even pick it up which is surprising considering Savitt was for many years a well respected foreign correspondent and afterwards basically started what we now know as expat media in China. Why the lack of attention?
A few weeks ago, a link went around to a Washington Post story with this alarming headline: “China’s Scary Lesson to the World: Censoring the Internet Works.” When I saw it I worried that someone had beaten me to the punch. I had been thinking of writing something along those lines. But then I read the story and was relieved knowing the Western media had gotten it wrong once again.