Yan Lianke on famine advice and today’s China

The New York Times recently published a short piece by Yan Lianke [ 閻連科 ], the author of Dream of Ding Village [《丁莊夢》] and Lenin’s Kisses [《受活》]. As you might expect, his description of modern China is rather bleak, even compared to the horrors previous generations in mainland China experienced – Yan was too young to remember much of the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward but recalls what his mother told him about survival:

Holding my hand, my mother pointed to the white clay and yellow earth of the wall, and said, “Son, you must always remember, when people are starving to death they may eat this white clay and elm tree bark, but if they try to eat that yellow earth or the bark of any other kind of tree they will die even faster.”

As many other writers who lived through the Mao era, Yan doesn’t have much good to say about contemporary China, but offers little in terms of solutions. For him, it might be about survival, though – the last writer to offer any alternative is still locked up in prison.

¥100 All-You-Can-Drink Lager, Saturday 18 Oct @ The Swedish Beer Club

7pm @ The Swedish Beer Club
700 South Huangpi Rd., Building A2 (Near Hefei Rd.)
黄陂南路 700號 (近合肥路)
All-you-can-drink alert: on Saturday the 18th of October, a Swedish beverage importer will host a glorious free-flow beer event here in Shanghai!

For a mere ¥100, you’ll have a chance to try out exotic beer brands like Arboga, Mariestad, Norrlands Guld and Spendrups, as well as talk to tall blond guys/girls with cute accents.

Australian Novelist Richard Flanagan wins Man Booker Prize

This years Man Booker Prize has just been announced. This year’s winner is the Australian novelist Richard Flanagan who was awarded the prize thanks to the the novel The Narrow Road to the Deep North, a multi-layered novel about a prisoner of war in wartime South-East Asia. There was a recent review of the book in The Economist that explained the author’s family connection to the war — his father had been a POW in a Japanese camp:

Arch Flanagan was an Australian soldier captured in Java by the Japanese during the second world war. He became one of “Dunlop’s Thousand”, a near-mythical group of prisoners led by Lieutenant-Colonel Edward “Weary” Dunlop, who were sent to build the “Death Railway” between Thailand and Burma.

According to the Guardian , the war and the subsequent novel became intimately connected to the son’s own life:

[Arch Flanagan] died aged 98 on the day Flanagan emailed his final draft to his publisher.
“I grew up, as did my five siblings, as children of the Death Railway,” Flanagan said. “We carried many incommunicable things and I realised at a certain point … that I would have to write this book.”
Over 12 years he wrote five drafts that he deemed deficient and burned, but he was intent on finishing before his father died.
He stressed that the novel was not his father’s story, although he had asked him lots of questions – “the nature of mud, the smell of rotting shin bone when a tropical ulcer has opened up, what sour rice tasted like for breakfast”.

By the way, the title of the novel is of course a nod to the The Narrow Road to the Deep North [《奥の細道》], which is a 17th-century collection of haiku poems by Matsuo Bashō [松尾芭蕉] — a zen-inspired work outlining the poet’s travels in Japan’s interior:


Green Initiatives: Saving Energy through Technology, 16 Oct @ Arup Associates

6:30 pm – R.S.V.P. required to greeninitiatives.cn/
Free Event

Local environmental network Green Initiatives (formerly Green Drinks) are having their monthly forum on Thursday. The topic this time is Saving Energy through Technology. The people who you meet at Green Initiatives events are a great bunch and the speakers are always really inspiring and knowledgeable; in short, it’s a great excuse to grab a drink and do some networking on a Thursday night! Some more information from the organizer’s website:

…in the day of smart technology, energy-saving solutions can quickly be implemented within any given space.

From smart thermostats to sensors, technologies are being innovated to truly change energy consumption patterns without compromising functionality. Nest Labs Inc. has designed a thermostat that learns the user’s schedule and can even detect heat differences between humans and animals. Developers in Sweden have become the first to create a ‘passive house museum’, using only the body heat of visitors and equipment located inside to effectively heat the facility.

This forum will talk about the various innovations, how these technologies are becoming mainstream, and how home and office owners can cut down on their energy consumption with some technological upgrades, equipments and data.

The Economist on India’s Chinese Minority

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.

Banksy Mural in Folkestone Defaced

I would normally not quote the Daily Mirror, but these are exceptional circumstances: “Banksy wall art vandalised with giant penis in overnight spray paint attack”. The work in question is “Art Buff”, a picture of a elderly woman looking at an empty plinth. This is what the mural looked like before:

And this is what it looks like now:

This is as conceptually convoluted as a Borges novel; some kind of contemporary art world version of a dream within a dream: before the mural was vandalised, the building owner had added a sheet of protective plastic sheeting to protect the work (how they knew it was Banksy in the first place remains unclear).

BBC Radio 4: The Battle of Talas (In Our Time)

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).