It feels like China’s obscenity laws are ready for a challenge like Lady Chatterley’s Lover. However, a sudden overhaul of this antiquated legislation doesn’t seem likely – to this day, people still get punished for printing 《金瓶梅》(The Plum in the Golden Vase), an erotic Ming dynasty novel that is considered a literary classic. According to Shanghaiist, a man with the surname Zhou was fined ¥10,000 for illegally printing this notorious work:
According to The Beijing Cultural Law Enforcement Agency, our man Zhou set up his own super-secret publishing house in Tongzhou district, and printed over 2,000 copies of a Qing dynasty version of the book (believed to be a more complete version than the current abridged one) between March and April. All the copies and a stapling machine have since been confiscated, Sina reports.
Zhou has also been fined 10,000 yuan (around $1,535) for his crime, and his actions are the first to be punished under amended regulations that took effect in January, which ban individuals from printing or publishing materials without legal permission.
Michael Crook, a Briton whose Communist father moved to China before the Second World War, was one of a handful of foreigners living in the country when Mao launched an all-out class war.
In May 1966, Mao ordered the young to rebel against the “four olds” – old customs, old culture, old habits and old ideas – and 15-year-old Mr Crook took the message to heart.
Far from worrying that he too could come under suspicion because of his Western background, he was among the first of his classmates to sign up for the Red Guard – the fanatical student group that became the revolution’s most devoted enforcers.
If you don’t mind reading in Chinese, there’s a longer article about Michael Crook here.
His father David Crook was an interesting character in his own right – he was a British communist who came to China after the Japanese invasion and stayed on after 1949. Crook senior’s belief in communism did not protect him during the Cultural Revolution, though; he was captured by red guards in 1967 and sent to Beijing’s notorious Qincheng Prison 「秦城監獄」– a fate that also befell other Mao-era foreigners, like Sidney Rittenberg.
How things change. The places we associate with finance in today’s China are Shanghai and Hong Kong, but in the first half of the 19th century, the finacial centre lay was Pingyao [平遙], a town in Shanxi: it was here that Rishengchang Draft Bank [日昇昌票號] issued China’s first cheques in 1823. For a brief moment, Pingyao was the Qing Empire’s financial hub. Last week, The Economist published an article about the town then and now:
The city lay on the path of a lucrative trade route. The bank’s manager spied a business opportunity when he saw silver shipments passing each other in opposite direction. He replaced pricey security, wagons and pack animals with a clearing house.
The bank spawned around 50 competitors across Shanxi (nearly half in Pingyao) with hundreds of branches across the empire. At the time Chinese bankers were held in lower esteem than peasants and tradesmen. They tried to keep staff honest by making them pledge their homes and even to surrender their families as slaves if they committed fraud; investors had no control over the banks’ daily operations.
Pingyao’s old town centre is now listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site.
Nowadays, China–India relations are awkward at best, but it wasn’t always that way: Asia’s two giants used to be intimately linked together through the trading network of the British Empire. For instance, there used to be a sizeable minority of Indians here in Shanghai back in the day. And The Economist ran an interesting little piece on the Chinese minority in India in their latest issue:
Georgie Ling, a chef, says that when his father arrived in Calcutta in the early 20th century, Chinese “lived like kings”. Chinese migrants had begun coming to India in the late 1700s, setting up the first sugar refineries. Then the British, who pressed exports of Indian opium on China in order to pay for purchases of tea and to plug a huge outflow of silver to China, brought back carpenters and tea-plantation workers to Assam in India’s north-east. Most Chinese were Cantonese-speakers from Guangdong in the south. A century ago, they numbered about 100,000 in India. Calcutta’s Chinatown won fame for its red lanterns, exotic food and drug dens.
Now, there are only about 4,000 Indians of Chinese descent left.
For those of you who are interested in Chinese history, you might want to check out the latest episode of BBC Radio 4’s In Our Time, hosted by Melvyn Bragg: this week’s topic is the Battle of Talas in AD 751 – when the forces of the Arab Abbasid Caliphate defeated the Tang Dynasty’s army. On the panel are Hilde De Weerdt (Leiden University), Michael Höckelmann (King’s College London) and Hugh Kennedy (SOAS).
In Our Time is minimalist live talk radio – no music or edits, just a forty-minute introduction to a given topic by experts in the field. Best of all, the entire archive of this excellent radio programme is available as a free podcast (both iTunes + Android/RSS).