Thursday, February 25, 2010

The other side of the artist demolition story

Scroll down in this Guardian article and read by LostInWonder has to say:

Almost all the "art areas" in Beijing are built illegally on agricultural land: when artists were looking for cheap studio space, they approached peasants, who would either put up basic buildings and rent them out, or allow artists themselves to build studios, signing leases for 3, 5 or 10 years. However, both sides knew that this was illegal as the land was only zoned for agriculture. Only land zoned for industry (usually land with abandoned factories) could be put on 30 year leases to the artists, and these leases are usually honored.


So, the situation is not at all black and white as the Western press generally presents it, of the evil or negligent Communist government, helpless peasants, wronged artists, and rapacious officials, although these all exist to some degree. Everyone is out for a good deal, and the outcome is generally decided on economics, much as in the West. The difference is that, since the laws are not set up for private ownership, there is a lot more chance of ambiguity, with much more maneuvering where each party tries to work out how to secure themselves, or to work things to their own advantage.

Also see: Andrew Jacobs's reporting in the New York Times.

Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Not exactly the way to go about evicting someone

Last night, artists in Zhengyang Creative Art Zone were attacked by a large group of men in what is believed to be an eviction-related assault. If you'll remember, the artists at Zhengyang have steadfastly refused to vacate the premises of their district despite repeated threats from developers and their goons. The artists "fought" back with exhibitions to attract media attention, which was strong at the outset but has dwindled recently.

About 20 artists took to Changan Jie yesterday in protest, drawing the attention of Global Times. According to the article,

The group began its march at Jianguomen, holding posters saying "Civil Rights!" and yelling slogans such as "Capital Beijing, brutal demolition!" Their posters were confiscated.


Li Jiemin, deputy party chief of Jinzhan Township, vowed that "a police investigation will find out who is behind the incident. I can assure you the township government had nothing to do with the incident."

Three of the assailants were allegedly captured by artists and turned over to police, which should lead to a quick determination of who the ringleaders were and swift but necessary justice absolutely nothing.

Imagine seeing your livelihood -- your life's work, including that which has made you immensely proud -- get pulled down from their shelves, from the walls, shattered on the ground without dignity or reason. And destroyed by a bunch of hoodlums adorned in symbols of incorrigible power, faceless hoodlums wielding clubs, who jumped out of the night from military trucks. How angry would that make you?

Monday, February 22, 2010

The most psychedelic spring festival gala performance, by far

In case you missed the annual spring festival gala on CCTV or any of its 500 subsequent reruns, don't fear: you can watch it all online, and for the Chinese deficient... with English subtitles!

With a running time that's just a shade under eternity, it was impossible for the show to not have at least a few interesting skits and dance/music performances, some that might accurately be described as "good." None of them, however, came close to entertaining me as much as this thing that happens at around the 11:30 mark of this video.

For those who don't have time to watch, here are two screenshots:

It's called "Night in the Toy Shop" and is based on a neat concept -- Toy Story meets Nutcracker. It starts out perfectly sane, but then stuffed pandas and scary clock faces and turtles get involved and soon we the kids begin sing-saying these words by Ren Weixin (and this is all from CCTV9's scrolling subtitle): "I like you / Do you like me / Let's play a game / Do you like me / I like you / I like you / Do you like me / Let's be friends / Do you like me / I like you / It's so wonderful to have more friends / I like you / You like me / Do you mind my slow react / Do you like me / I like you / Look, the shark is coming / I look ferocious / Do you like me / I like you / I like you / Let's comb your hair" [sic, multiple times].

WTF, mate? Seriously, WTF?

POSTSCRIPT 1: The musical performance just before this one was quite cool.

POSTSCRIPT 2: Fireworks are dangerous, kids.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Friday, February 19, 2010

Greetings from Zhangjiakou

My aunt (姑姑, gugu) and uncle (姑父, gufu) have lived in Zhangjiakou, Hebei Province, for as long as I can remember, and since my grandma (nainai) is living with them right now, a trip to this small (relatively) city of 4.8 million people. (The population figure is a bit misleading; many people, especially developers, have fled south, and now there's talk of Hebei Province handing Zhangjiakou over to Inner Mongolia, for reasons not completely clear to me.)

There are a few nice sites in this city, though, foremost being Dajingmen (literal translation: Big Border Gate; it's also the name of a TV series that aired on CCTV), which in ancient days was the gateway through Zhangjiakou City. Those who passed through were on a road (Zhangku Dadao, 张库大道, i.e. Zhangjiakou-Mongolia Expressway) that led straight to Moscow (see map, right). Lots of fur traders passed through this gate.

One of the side doors, West Border Gate, was small enough that only a horsecart could pass. With mountains on all three sides and a fortified wall with tiny openings, Zhangjiakou was shielded from invaders for much of its 600-year history. Historically, it was considered a northern last stand for China's armies, since anyone who got past Zhangjiakou had a straight path towards Beiping (now Beijing, of course). More recently, Sino-Soviet forces fought back Japanese invaders from this location. (Because of its military importance, only after the 1980s could foreigners visit this place.)

More pictures:

Gufu, nainai, gugu.

Inside a Daoist courtyard.

Looking south atop the city wall (城墙, chengqiang); remnants of Old Town fade into New Town...

View of the city wall, with condos out north (left) and flat-roof terraces to the south.

From left to right: old to new...

Thursday, February 18, 2010

A full day of fireworks

On the fifth day of the new lunar year, the Chinese celebrate by setting off firecrackers to welcome the God of Wealth, Cai. (In Chinese, 正月初五迎财神, zhengyuequwu yingcaishen). It's a tradition that leads to a mercilessly cool day of fireworks -- mostly the really noisy kind -- that doesn't end until you're drunkenly passed out.

Here's what it looked like from a fourth-story apartment building in Zhangjiakou in Hebei Province.

My dad's younger sister's husband, or gufu (姑父), holding the string of firecrackers. I took the picture standing in the cramped kitchen.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

The triumph of Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo

Congratulations go out to Shen Xue and Zhao Hongbo, who did just enough in their free skate last night to win pairs figure skating gold. Video here: watch how Shen beams after landing a whatchamacallit something or other.

I might not know figure skating, but it doesn't take much to relate to Shen and Zhao's story -- delaying retirement so they can get, after 12 years of competing, one last crack at Olympic gold.

ESPN has a nice recap:

The gold is the first in figure skating for China. The more shocking stat is that it's the first time since 1960 that a Russian or Soviet couple isn't atop the Olympic podium, ending one of the longest winning streaks in sports. Equally stunning, the Russians are leaving empty-handed, with no medals of any color.

AP recap here.

Monday, February 15, 2010

Qianmen temple fair (庙会 miaohui)

Now that we've survived the fireworks, it's time for miaohuis -- temple fairs -- which brings out the city's best lanterns, banners and kitsch. You can always tell you're nearing a temple fair when you begin passing people holding flywheels and stuffed animals. It's a commercial slopfest.

Earlier today I took these pictures at the Qianmen temple fair:

Qianmen was renovated last year and I now don't recognize it at all. (I went to six miaohuis last year, Qianmen included... unless it wasn't Qianmen but Chongwenmen.)

More images: