Saturday, February 16, 2013

Beijing Redux

We had a lovely trip to Beijing, though the housing situation was less than ideal. At first, the four of us were in one hostel, but Deborah and I decided to move to a (cheaper) hotel where the room promised to be a little warmer and the smell of sewage did not permeate the air. [The overall air quality of Beijing during our visit was tolerable. We really lucked out, in that respect!] Our two friends continued to brave it at The Three-legged Frog, where the people were very nice and the service was good. It was, in fact, a fairly charming place and would probably be wonderful in the warmer months.

We arrived in Beijing on the morning of February 9th. The TV show that the whole country tunes into begins around 8:30PM and goes well past midnight. We shivered in our room after a nice day of wandering about Tian'anmen Square and the Quianmen area.

The pictures below show Deborah and I in front of the Great Hall of the People, in front of Tian'anmen with Mao's mug betwixt us, in front of the first movie theater in China, and finally in front of the original Quanjude Peking Duck restaurant. We would eat there later that evening and one of our number won four boxes of monogrammed chopsticks by participating in a dumpling stuffing activity.

On the first day of the Chinese New Year (Sunday, February 10),we went to the Forbidden City. You could spend a year there and not see it all. I did not take many pictures, but will share one of great beauty, one of great symbolism and one of great humor:

It was very cold for Beijing and this cat had found a warm manhole cover seeping with steam.

On the last full day there, we also went for a swim in the WaterCube. There are no pictures of that (thankfully), but here we are standing in front of the Bird's Nest, designed by Ai Weiwei for the 2008 Olympic Games.

While our companions went to the most touristy, accessible section of the Great Wall at Baodaling, we toured the campuses of Tsinghua University and Peking University. This is me in front of the Peking University Law School.

Deborah and I were both impressed by the large number of bicycles. "It's like the olden days," she remarked.

The best part of both campuses were the lakes. I had seen the one at Peking University on my summer trip, but the skating scene at Tsinghua University was positively out of Currier & Ives. The red litter comes from the abundance of fireworks lit off at this time of year for celebration of the new year (look for a post soon on the Year of the Snake). 

We saw an amazing show of Chinese acrobatics called Legend of Jinsha.

The most impressive segment included five motorcyclists barreling around in a steel ball.

When we arrived on the 9th, Qianmen was dead. I felt sheepish that so many things were closed, but the days ahead saw an explosion of people and we estimated that there were 500,000 people in Tian'anmen on the 13th of February. With security such as it is in the square, I could not get enough height to really show the magnitude of humanity waiting in various queues.

A small section of Tian'anmen Square on Feb. 13, 2013.

The crowds at Qianmen (next to Starbucks) on 2.13.13.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

The Public Baths and Electric Showers

Many people in China have no shower in their apartment still so they make a weekly sojourn to the public bathhouse. As I have, for months, had the chance of getting a stream of electricity when taking a shower in my own apartment, I have "turned Chinese"  and last night I went to one of the finest bathhouses in the city. One must be careful in choosing a place, I am warned, but there did not seem to be anything shady about the place I went.

You walk through the revolving doors and are handed a key on a bracelet. You remove your shoes and tread gingerly in blue flip-flops (red for women) to the locker-room. Your key has a number on it which identifies the correct locker. You remove your clothes and place them inside and then proceed to the showers.

I had the chance to weigh myself first and was appalled at what I have gained over the last year. I am shedding it quickly now that I have given up wheat again, but as one of my friends asked when I posted a NYT article to Facebook, entitled Gluten-Free, Whether You Need It or Not: "What have we done to our wheat, Ma?" I think there are few ways to better sum up gluten-free living than a recent video from YouTube:

Anyway, I digress. Back to the bathhouse. You enter the humid shower room at this particular place, where everybody is naked, and there are nine or ten men lying face-down or face-up on tables being scrubbed by old men whose job it is to slough skin from the clientele all day. I skip this procedure, but avail myself of the shampoo and soap that is included in the 58RMB price.There are probably thirty showers. At any one time, five or ten men lounge in a couple pools of hot water and very hot water. After cleaning myself, I went immediately to the hottest one. I turned red like a lobster and my heart started to pound. I glanced around furtively to see if the other occupants were also turning colors, but I seemed to be the only one.

Not wanting to expire, I got out and went to a special shower, akin to what you might find in a laboratory, that rains cold water down on you for a few seconds. Then, in my flip-flops, I plodded up to the mezzanine where there are three sauna rooms. (It seems, at least, that saunas are safe for the healthy among us.) One room was dry; one, tolerable; and the other a steam room infused with the odor of a bag full of potpourri. I spent a few moments in each, more like a tourist than an experienced Roman. (My girlfriend and I had just watched Spartacus [1960] the previous night.) There was no clock in the place, which contributed to the pace with which I cycled through the various activities. I had planned to meet my girlfriend upstairs at 8:20 when she was done on the ladies side. To meet her, obviously, I had to put some clothes on. When you step out of the shower room, there are piles of brown towels and stacks of silk pajamas. I pulled on a set and clopped upstairs to wait for her. I was still red and my heart was still pounding so I asked an employee to open one of the locked refrigerators and bought some coconut milk to replenish myself.

She did eventually show up, but had been waiting for me on the third floor while I lounged on the second. We wandered around the rest of the premises. There were about five more co-ed saunas and oodles of tables with old people and twenty-somethings drinking tea or playing cards or chatting on their cell phones. You could get a full-body massage or a foot massage and watch a TV channel of your choosing while a man worked oil into your soles. You could eat a meal in a cafeteria and even buy women's shoes.

Altogether, it was quite an experience that will be repeated many times, because four electricians have not been able to discover why there is electricity in the water that comes from the shower. It is not the hot-water heater, which I leave unplugged when showering. It is not the fan, which I leave turned off. It may be that the building is not properly grounded or maybe just my apartment. Nobody seems to know. Another foreign tenant, who lives on the other side of the building and down a flight, also has periodic experience with getting juice (of the electron variety) in the shower.

Friday, January 25, 2013

The 嗡嗡 (wēng wēng) of Your Complaints

Over the last few weeks, I have had a wonderful time talking to Chinese friends about the differences in onomatopoeia (拟声) between English and Mandarin. 

I have never seen so much complaining about the cold weather as I have this week. People--not normal people, but New Hampshirites--are complaining that it is -10°F. Tonight it will be -33°F here in Changchun and the sky is not blue. In English, we might say, "Waaaaah." The weng-weng sound in my title is a droning, humming, buzzing noise.

Every post complaining about the weather is like a mosquito biting me, "." (Ding!)

Want to learn the other sounds of animals in Chinese? Visit my favorite Chinese language-learning website to quiz yourself:

In researching this article, I found a wonderful post from The Confused Laowei. In it, he reminds us that Snap, Crackle and Pop of Rice Krispies-fame have different monikers in various tongues:

English: “Snap! Crackle! Pop!”
Swedish: Piff! Paff! Puff!
German: Knisper! Knasper! Knusper!
Mexican: Pim! Pam! Pum!
Finnish: Riks! Raks! Poks!
Canadian French: Cric! Crac! Croc!
Dutch: Pif! Paf! Pof!
Afrikaans: Knap! Knaetter! Knak!

I hope the weather gets better, but at least the ice on Lake Winnipesaukee will be heard this winter, "轰隆 [hōnglóng]!" That is the rumbling sound of freezing lakes, distant battles, and far-off thunder.

Additional Sources:

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Counterfactual History Perfected

The librarian from my law school and another friend teamed up to send me a copy of Barbara Tuchman's Practicing History for Christmas. Sadly, as things have not reached me in the past, it is the only gift I received from America for Christmas. Yankees don't like to waste money on things like FedEx and UPS. Lest this seem like a complaint, rather than an observation about a situation that has caused me a little sadness, let me say that I have not sent anything the other way. I will come in May on my sleigh.

Anyway, the Twelve Days of Christmas concluded yesterday. I went to Mass at Saint Theresa's Cathedral for the first time, as I had my Sunday free for a change. I brought Deborah, my girlfriend, who is a Christian, but she had never dabbled in the dark art of Mary-worship before. I think she was a bit surprised by all the sitting down and standing up. The thing that she remarked on was how powerful it was to have three hundred or so people all praying in unison. For me, the remarkable thing is that in a city of four million, I think this may be the only place for an "above ground" Catholic service--one at 6:30AM and one at 8:30AM, as well as an English service at 2PM in the basement of an adjoining building.

The family churches and underground places of worship must be everywhere, because China is home to an estimated 12 million Catholics, the majority of whom worship outside the official Chinese Catholic Patriotic Association (CPA). The State Administration for Religious Affairs states that there are 5.3 million Catholics belonging to the official Catholic Patriotic Association, which oversees 70 bishops, and approximately 6,000 churches nationwide.

The other thing that I did yesterday was finish my book. Barbara Tuchman's collection of essays is brilliant and most of them stand the test of time. The book is broken into three parts. In the first part she talks about the craft of being a historian. The second part is a collection of thirteen wonderful pieces that she calls, collectively, "The Yield." The final part is about learning from history. This final part also contains a not immodest, but fanciful proposal to eliminate the Presidency and replace it with a six-person Cabinet, where the chief member would get two votes. This seems to be the lesson that she gleaned from Watergate and all of the undeclared wars of the post-War era, which are certainly proof of the expanded power of the chief executive.

It is the middle section that has two essays pertaining to the Far East, which I would like to treat here, though. The first was published in April of 1936 when Tuchman was all of 24. She was writing for Foreign Affairs and her reflections about the Japanese boil down to two essential points. If I had to choose a sentence that encapsulates her thoughts it would be this:
More fundamentally troublesome to Japan's foreign relations than the disability or disinclination to use Occidental tactics in the practice of diplomacy [by which she means, in part, employing the art of compromise] is the combination of an inferiority and a persecution complex which she feels vis-a-vis the West.
In light of what is happening now, in this current time, I thought these words to be extremely prescient. Living as I do in the capital of the Manchurian occupation and with the clear distance provided by the almost eighty years that have passed since she wrote the essay, it is hard not to look with awe and disbelief at how Japan conceived of itself at that time--as a just nation protecting its reputation in the face of a world that misunderstood it. One wonders if buried in this essay is not a description of the root cause of all discontent between all peoples and all nations.

Before I go on, it is worth saying something about Tuchman herself. Tuchman was the daughter of the banker Maurice Wertheim. She was a first cousin of New York district attorney Robert M. Morgenthau, a niece of Henry Morgenthau, Jr. and granddaughter of Henry Morgenthau, Sr., Woodrow Wilson's Ambassador to the Ottoman Empire. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Radcliffe College in 1933. In other words, she was about as well-connected as they come. In no way did this diminish her scholarship. In the craft part, she insists strongly that historians of any worth must rely on primary sources and not the re-stated opinion of other historians. She seemed to scorn the field of sociology and had a love-hate relationship with Sigmund Freud...and all that followed from his efforts.

Anyway, in the course of her research she had de-classified a memorandum that Mao Zedong and Zhou Enlai had sent to FDR, but which never reached its intended recipient. In the chapter of this book, entitled If Mao Had Come to Washington also published in Foreign Affairs (but 35 years later in October of 1972), she participates in a wonderful intellectual exercise, where she imagines that there might of been no conflicts in Korea or Vietnam if this entreaty had not been held up by the pompous ass, Ambassador Patrick J. Hurley.

She describes in painstaking detail--having obtained a great deal of her primary material from John Service, a member of the Foreign Service, who was stationed in Chongqing--the terrible disregard of career diplomats, who suggested that the US ally itself with the ascendant Communists instead of arming Chiang Kai-shek. As we know, this was not the course taken. Those who advocated this position would later get caught up in the scourge of Joseph McCarthy.

This was the dispatch:

"Yenan Government wants [to] dispatch to America an unofficial rpt unofficial group to interpret and explain to American civilians and officials interested the present situation and problems of China. Next is strictly off record suggestion by same: Mao and Chou will be immediately available either singly or together for exploratory conference at Washington should President Roosevelt express desire to receive them at White House as leaders of a primary Chinese party."

Nixon went to China in the era of ping-pong to meet with Mao and Zhou Enlai, but it was not until then that this all came to light, thanks to Barbara Tuchman. A fascinating tale!

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

The Deadly Cost of Wars in China

One of the more fascinating discoveries I have made in the last few weeks is that when it comes to war deaths, internecine conflicts in China can account for more casualties than those from all other major wars. In Wikipedia, you may sort by high estimate and low estimate of casualties.

Seal of the Taiping Heavenly Kingdom
While the Second World War is usually considered the most deadly of all wars, with somewhere between 40 million and 72 million killed, the Taiping Rebellion (1851-1864) is thought to have accounted for somewhere between 20 million and 100 million deaths so it may be the "winner."

Warfare during the late Yuan Dynasty and transition to the Ming Dynasty accounts for some 30 million lives lost and the Qing dynasty conquest of the Ming Dynasty between 1616 and 1662 cost another 25 million lives (high and low estimates are the same for both these dynastic transition periods).

General An Lushan
The Mongol Conquests killed around 30 to 60 million people between 1207 and 1472 AD--a 265 year period, and, then, even earlier between 13 and 36 million people died in the An Lushan Rebellion (755 to 763 AD).

Also, a mere 8 to 12 million lost their lives in the Dungan revolt, which was set off by a pricing dispute over bamboo poles which a Han was selling to a Hui, who did not pay the amount the Han merchant demanded. The Dungan Revolt and Panthay Rebellion, of which the Dungan Revolt is sometimes considered part, took place between 1862 and 1877. They are separate from the Taiping Rebellion, mentioned earlier, which partially overlaps.

Finally, we ought not to forget the Yellow Turban Rebellion, which accounted for another 3 to 7 million between 184 and 205 AD--known in China as the opening event in Luan Guanzhong's historical novel The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

Last night I watched Red Cliff (2008), which deals with the Battle of Red Cliffs. From the plethora of arrows, the wanton use of explosives and fire, and the swaths of people cut down with swords, this too seemed like no trivial matter. In fact, in the minds of the modern Chinese, this event is paramount. The movie is the only one to have grossed more than Titanic in China.

Goat Cheek for Lunch

This is me this afternoon at one of my favorite restaurants in Changchun, which serves food from ethnically Chinese Muslims, or Hui zu. We ordered meat-stuffed bing (greasy pancakes) and each had a bowl of rice (size: er liang, which means 0.2 jin or 0.1 kilograms). We also had qie zi, or eggplant, with suan, or garlic. It was the final, main dish that prompted me to write this post, though. We had the cheek of a goat!

Here I am, pictured eating cheek, thus the cheeky picture.

Finally, a close up of the dish:

Both pictures were taken with the ZTE V955, which was my Christmas present to Deborah. We cannot stop playing this "detective" game where you have to get into the next room (level) by collecting items, inspecting them, properly deploying them, and breaking codes.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Seven Sages, Six Arts, Five Punishments, Four Novels, etc., etc., and so forth

Everything Important is Countable in China

Seven Sages

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove were a group of Chinese Taoist Qingtan scholars, writers, and musicians who came together in the 3rd century CE. They are depicted in dozens of important paintings and became symbols of high culture for the remainder of the imperial age.

By Qingtan scholars, I mean that these men engaged in witty back-and-forth about metaphysics and philosophy. The Seven Sages stressed the enjoyment of ale, personal freedom, spontaneity and a celebration of nature.

These men of intellect were exasperated with the intrigues, corruption and rigidity of court life during the politically fraught Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history. They gathered near the home Xi Kang (also and usually, Ji Kang), perhaps their most illustrious member. Xi Kang was highly critical of Confucianism and challenged many social conventions of his time. As such, he was considered scandalous and seditious. Three thousand university students signed a petition to release him after he was sentenced to death by Sima Zhao, but the appeal was denied. Before his execution, Xi Kang asked for his zither and played his swan song, the famous guqin masterpiece Guangling san, which music is presumed to be forever lost.

The Seven Sages of the Bamboo Grove (with boy attendant), in a Kano school Japanese painting of the Edo period


Six Arts

The Six Arts formed the basis of education in ancient Chinese culture. During the Zhou Dynasty (1122–256 BCE), students were required to master the "liù yì" (六藝) (Six Arts):
  1. Rites (禮)
  2. Music (樂)
  3. Archery (射)
  4. Charioteering (禦)
  5. Calligraphy (書)
  6. Mathematics (數)
Zhou Tong teaching Yue Fei archery.
Men who excelled in these six arts were thought to have become perfect gentlemen. One example from Chinese history of a famous archer was Yu Fei, picture here as the family tutor schools him in the Eighteen Arms of Wushu, or the primary weapons of Chinese martial arts.

The Six Arts grew out of the Confucian philosophy. As such, Xu Gan (170–217 CE) discusses them in the Balanced Discourses. Eventually they evolved to just four arts. Math was replaced by the Game of Go or weiqi, about which quite a bit has been written on these pages. Music was limited to the playing of a specific traditional Chinese instrument, the qin. Calligraphy was retained and painting was added. Manners or etiquette ("rites") went the way of chivalry in the West and mastery of the outmoded transport (chariot) and weaponry (bow and arrow) was abandoned.


Five Punishments

A Wikipedia entry tells us that The Five Punishments in Ancient China evolved into The Five Punishments in Imperial China and that there were also The Five Punishments for female offenders. The “Five Punishments for Slaves” were abolished during the reign of Emperor Wen of Han following a petition from a female subject Chunyu Tiying (淳于缇萦), and replaced by the “Five Punishments for Serfs”.

These are the ancient ones:

  • (墨), also known as qíng (黥), where the offender would be tattooed on the face or forehead with indelible ink. (1,000 crimes)
  • (劓), where the offender's nose was cut off. (1,000 crimes)
  • Yuè (刖), also known as bìn (膑/臏) during the Xia Dynasty and zhǎnzhǐ (斩趾) during the Qin Dynasty, involved amputation of the left or right foot or both. Other sources claim that this punishment involved removal of the kneecap, which is claimed to be the source of Warring States Period military strategist Sun Bin’s name. (500 crimes)
  • Gōng (宫), also known as yínxíng (淫刑), fǔxíng (腐刑)[7][8] or cánshì xíng (蚕室刑), where the male offender’s reproductive organs were removed.[9][10] The penis was removed and testicles were cut off, and the offender was sentenced to work as a eunuch in the Imperial palace.[11][12] Gōng for men was applied to the same crime as gōng for women, namely adultery, "licentious" or "promiscuous" activity.[13] (300 crimes)
  • Dà Pì (大辟), the death sentence. Methods of execution were quartering, or cutting the body into four pieces (fēn wéi lù 分为戮); boiling alive (pēng 烹); tearing off an offender's head and four limbs by attaching them to chariots (chēliè 车裂); beheading (xiāoshǒu 枭首); execution then abandonment of the offender’s body in the local public market (qìshì 弃市); strangulation (jiǎo 绞); and slow slicing (língchí 凌迟). Other methods of execution were also used. (200 crimes)


The Four Classic Novels

Not be confused with the Four Books and Five Classics, the Four Classic novels are:

English Simplified Chinese Author Date
Water Margin 水浒传 Shi Nai'an[2] 14th century
Romance of the Three Kingdoms 三国演义 Luo Guanzhong 14th century
Journey to the West 西游记 Wu Cheng'en 16th century
Dream of the Red Chamber 红楼梦 Cao Xueqin 18th century

I have not read Water Margin, alternatively called Outlaws of the Swamp, nor have I cracked the Romance of the Three Kingdoms.

I am currently mired in The Dream of Red Mansions, variously called Dream of the Red Chamber. It competes with Tolstoy in terms of the introduction of a large number of different characters. It dwarfs War and Peace with its 120 chapters. I will not participate in the absurd reductionism that would be required to offer a synopsis of the story, but rather simply recommend it to one and all. It is widely read here and there are questions on the national college entrance examination that require recitation of the characters. It is filled with elegant, masterful poetry that in my translation is still superlatively elegant.

I have written about the Journey to the West previously, I think. It is the tale of a Taoist priest and monkey--the Monkey King-- and their fellow travelers. It was the source of a vintage television classic, produced in the 1970s by the Japanese, called Monkey, and had continued to be the source of TV dramas.

Finally, a fifth book bears mention, The Plum in the Golden Vase. It is banned in China as a piece of pornography, but is recognized by the Princeton University Press as "a landmark in the development of the narrative art form – not only from a specifically Chinese perspective but in a world-historical context...noted for its surprisingly modern technique" and "with the possible exception of The Tale of Genji (ca. 1010) and Don Quixote (1605, 1615), there is no earlier work of prose fiction of equal sophistication in world literature."

Most of this information has been lifted from the font of all knowledge (Wikipedia) and carefully picked-over by yours truly. There are some segments that I have not even bothered to re-write. It is