Chinese “Ink Art” at the Met

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On the last day of 2013, I hurried my husband and children through the bitter, late afternoon cold and up the sweeping outdoor staircase of New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art.  We were going to see “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China,” the august American museum’s first major exhibition of contemporary Chinese art (which runs until April 6). Snow-laden clouds brooded overhead and the tantalizing aroma of roasting chestnuts and steaming hotdogs wafted from silver food trucks clustered at the base of the stairs.  Stalwart, I … [Read more...]

The Anti-Corruption Drive Hits Classical Music

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Jindong Cai conducting New Year's Concert at Stanford University In late November of 2013, I sat chatting in a California concert hall with one of the PRC’s most famous first-generation pianists. Normally at this time of year, the pianist told me, he would be heading off to China to perform multiple New Year’s concerts with orchestras around the country. The New Year’s concert season in China stretches from Christmas through Chinese New Year and is a vital one for Chinese classical musicians. Just as American ballet companies sustain … [Read more...]

Pearl Buck’s Final (?) Novel

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When I first heard that The Eternal Wonder, a new novel by Pearl Buck, was scheduled for publication by Open Road Media on October 22 of this year, I assumed the announcement was either a mistake or a joke. Buck, of course, is the author of The Good Earth, the tale of a Chinese farmer named Wang Lung that was the bestselling novel of 1931 and 1932. It won the 1932 Pulitzer Prize, was made into a Broadway play and a Hollywood film, and was cited in the decision to award Buck the 1938 Nobel Prize in Literature. I am one of the millions of … [Read more...]

Fu Lei: A Spirit for the Ages

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A Spirit for the Ages   On a chilly day at the end of October, the cinerary urn that holds the ashes of Fu Lei – one of 20th century China's great intellectuals – was moved from a cemetery in Shanghai's Xuhui District to another in Nanhui, Pudong, where Fu was born. There it was reburied alongside the urn that holds the earthly remains of Fu's wife and intellectual partner, Zhu Meifu. The posthumous reunification of the devoted couple is especially fitting because they chose not only to live together, but also to die together, by … [Read more...]

Wang Luyan and the Power of Paradox

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Exploring All of Life’s Paradoxes By SHEILA MELVIN BEIJING — “Diagramming Allegory,” the Wang Luyan solo exhibition at the Beijing Parkview Green Exhibition Hall, occupies an enormous space divided into two long galleries. While one is configured to resemble a shooting range — with a giant brushed stainless steel handgun, far taller than any man, and an oversize target — the other resembles the nave of a cathedral, including a crucifix and a confessional. At first glance the two galleries, covering 43,000 square feet, or 4,000 square … [Read more...]

Best of Times, Or Worst of Times?

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What Tiny Times Says About Our Times The summer box office hit "Tiny Times " ( 小时代) – directed by celebrity author Guo Jingming, and based on the first volume of his fictional trilogy of the same name - stunned many film critics and analysts when it earned more than US$ 43 million its first week and beat the Hollywood blockbuster "Man of Steel" at the box office. Once they had flocked to see it, "Tiny Times" shocked the critics even more with its "unconditional indolence," "materialism," and "hedonism" (People's Daily); "shallow … [Read more...]

Old Shanghai Loses a Living Legacy

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Teacher Gui – Gui Biqing (桂碧清) – was my Chinese teacher during the years I lived in Shanghai. When I first met her, in 1997, she lived in a tumbledown old house in a quiet lane in the French concession. Twice a week, I would exit the cacophony of cars and bikes on Eternal Happiness Street and enter the skein of ageless alleys where laundry flapped languidly on bamboo poles, katydids sang fiercely from tiny woven cages, and itinerant hawkers called out wares and services in the sibilant, sonorous tones of Shanghainese; one time I even saw a man … [Read more...]

China Invades Contemporary Fiction

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Upon learning that the novelist Mo Yan had been awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2012, Chinese leader Li Changchun penned a jubilant letter that said, according to Xinhua, "Mo's victory reflects the prosperity and progress of Chinese literature, as well as the increasing national strength and influence of China." Chinese literature is certainly prospering and there are many who would agree with Li's statement that the prize reflects China's power and influence; indeed, it is often argued that the Nobel Prize is awarded for … [Read more...]

The Diaries of Chiang Kai-shek

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Years ago, in the late 1980s, I found myself stranded at the station in Taian, Shandong Province after I missed my train because I was unaware that China had implemented daylight savings time and the clock had moved ahead an hour. The first ticket I could get back to Shanghai was for the next day, standing-room-only in hard seat. So, with a night to spend on a train station bench, I did what any good traveler would do: wrote in my diary. The station was packed to the rafters with other travelers who had made the same mistake (problems with … [Read more...]

“Old Bei” in China

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The first time my husband, Jindong Cai, heard a Beethoven symphony was as a child in Cultural Revolution (1966-76) Beijing. His close friend, Wang Luyan, had somehow got hold of an old wind-up phonograph and a complete set of 78 RPM records containing Beethoven's "Fifth Symphony;" each record held about five minutes of music per side. Because music by "Old Bei" was deemed subversive – all Western composers were lumped together as "bourgeois capitalists" and Chinese traditional music was banned in favor of "model revolutionary operas" – the two … [Read more...]