China

An Anthropologist Explains the Bizarre Phenomenon of Funeral Strippers in Taiwan

Striptease isn’t something that I’d normally associate with funerals, but apparently it’s a thing in Taiwan. I recently came a across this interview with the anthropologist Mark L. Moskovitz where he explains the phenomenon:

Electric Flower Cars are large pick-up trucks that have been converted to stages so that women can sing and dance as a truck drives along with a funeral procession or a temple procession. […] Women will sing and dance, usually in bikinis or other skimpy attire. Sometimes, they will take off all of their clothes. […]

The stripping performances started out as something that gangsters did, but generally spread out to become common practice throughout Taiwan. They are primarily associated with the working class or poorer communities.

Before you notify your next of kin that you’d be like to be remembered in this way, be aware that the practice is illegal in mainland China. According to the Wall Street Journal, the phenomenon has received highly critical coverage in Chinese state media:

“This has severely polluted the local cultural life,” CCTV intoned at the time, marveling at the sight of one women gyrating out of her clothes mere steps from a photo of the deceased. “These troupes only care about money. As for whether it’s legal, or proper, or what effect it has on local customs, they don’t think much about it.”

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Beijing man prints erotic Ming novel, fined ¥10,000

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.

“Dschinghis Khan” – A Eurovision disco tribute to Genghis Khan

The 2016 Eurovision Song Contest is upon us! As usual, expect an orgy of hideous stage attire and even worse music.
The format is simple yet tedious: Each European country sends an entry into the competition, and after an evening of improbable performances, the continent gets to vote on a winner.
Certain nations with languages unsuitable for pop music obviously have a much harder time reaching winning the contest; the Finnish are a case in point, only able to win when they are dressed up as heavy metal monsters.
But there were better times – in 1979, Germany’s entry was a teutonic disco exotica tribute to the greatest conqueror the world had ever know: Genghis Khan. (Youku link to video here.)

The lyrics, albeit of doubtful historical accuracy, cover a wide range of topics from the great Khan’s life: conquest (“Genghis rode to race with the steppe wind, with a thousand men”); sex (“he fathered seven children in one single night”); drinking (“let us get some vodka, for we are true Mongols”); and of course the pure joy of living (“HOOOH HAAAH HOOOH HAAAAH”).

Sadly, despite having a dancing Genghis Khan impersonator in an outfit somewhere between Star Trek and Taobao, the song only reached fourth place in the competition.

German disco was big at the time in Asia, and the song even spawned a Cantopop cover version called《成吉思汗》by George Lam 「林子祥」. If you’re ever in need of belting out the lyrics in a group setting, both the German and Chinese versions can be found in any well-stocked Shanghai karaoke parlour.

The Briton who was a Red Guard in 1966

Shanghai boasts a few laowai who are truly old China hands – some have been here since the 1970s, and some of them were even born here before the communists took over.

But I had never heard of any foreigners who were red guards in 1966 until I saw a brief article about Beijing resident Michael Crook in the Daily Telegraph:

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.

David Crook’s autobiography From Hampstead Heath to Tian An Men is available in pdf format on the Crook family’s website.

Talk: Dan Washburn on “The Forbidden Game – Golf & the Chinese Dream”, Saturday 8 Nov @ M on the Bund

R.S.V.P. required to M on the Bund
4pm – ¥75 (one drink included)

On Saturday the 8th of November, journalist Dan Washburn will give a talk on the unlikely topic of the Communist Party and golf in China.

Being a bourgeois and counterrevolutionary activity, golf is officially banned in China; in practice, however, party officials play on and profit from the not-so-secret golf courses around the county.

Read a review of Washburn’s book The Forbidden Game: Golf and the Chinese Dream here.

Pingyao – the forgotten banking hub of the Qing dynasty

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.

 

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.