Tuesday, 29 January 2013

Guangdong - The Final Word

It's time to say joigin to Guangdong - it's been a really interesting learning experience - slightly longer than usual, because of the Christmas vacation!

A summary of the themes

During the two months that I've been blogging about Guangdong, I've tried to get my head around the sheer size of Guangdong's population and that of China in general. I also grappled with some comparative linguistics, in an attempt to understand how close (or not) Cantonese is to Mandarin.  I did some research into Guangdong's toy industry as I learned how to make Stir-fry Beef with Oyster Sauce.  

Tools for research

I read three books during my research about Guangdong:

Research on Guangdong, China
China: Culture Shock! by Angela Eagan and Rebecca Weiner (2007) which gave me a good overview of Chinese culture.

Modern China: A very short introduction by Rana Mitter (2008) - part of my favourite series of books by Oxford University Press.

I also read Fan Wu's beautiful novel, February Flowers (2006) set in Guangzhou. 

The movies I watched as part of my research included:

Happy Together (1997), dir. Wong Kar-Wai and starring Leslie Cheung (the famous Cantopop star) and Tony Leung Chiu-Wai, about a gay male couple who are trying to get by in Argentina. 

Jet Li in Once Upon a time in China
Once Upon a Time in China (1991), dir. Tsui Hark and starring Jet Li.  I never imagined I would enjoy a martial arts movie, but this movie was both funny and interesting to watch.

And I absolutely loved Ip Man (2008), dir. Wilson Yip and starring the rather gorgeous Hong Kong actor Donnie Yen. The martial arts scenes in the movie were beautifully shot and the story was incredibly moving, being mostly based on the famous master of wing chun, Yip Man (who also trained Bruce Lee)

Other Themes

If I had time to continue blogging about Guangdong, I would be interested in the pursuing the following themes:

Chinese Protestants
The Taiping rebellion
The demise of China's nationalist party, the Kuomintang
The growing African population of Guangzhou
Ching Shih and female pirates
The Dynasties of China
Wedding photography
Chinese football
Chinese surnames
The Canton Fair - China's biggest trade fair
The exotic animals of Qingping Shichang
China in the Olympics
Kwang-Chou-Wan (Guangzhouwan), the 'French Hong Kong'

Dinner Party Trivia

As usual I learned some trivia about Guangdong which, I'm sure, will come in handy for dinner party small talk:

- Guangdong's economy is equivalent to the economies of Indonesia or Turkey
- Guangzhou is known as 'the flower city'
- Overseas Chinese are called Huaqiao 华侨
- There is a 7th century mosque in Guangzhou - Arab traders settled in Guangdong 1,000 years before Europeans arrived on the scene
- Chinese law stipulates that all citizens must be cremated after death - however, exceptions are made for ethnic minorities, eg. Tibetans.
- Although only 1% of China's population is Christian, that still amounts to approximately 1.4 million people
- In 2012, Ireland helped China establish its first national equestrian facility

In the News

I've also been keeping an eye on news stories related to China over the past two months and there's been quite a lot going on, including:

- Protests in Vietnam over the Chinese Navy's activity around the disputed Spratly Islands, which both countries claim as part of their sovereign territory
- The 75th anniversary of the Nanking Massacre
- A knife-wielding madmen who stabbed children in Henan province - although this happened around the same time as the terrible shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary school in Newton, Connecticut, I wouldn't have been aware of the stabbings in China, if I hadn't been following Chinese news
- A craze amongst China's nouveau-riche for European-style butlers
- Panic-buying of baby milk in Australia, as Chinese visitors stock up on the Australian brands, not trusting baby milk produced in their own country
- Demonstrations in Guangzhou about press freedom
- A landslide in Yunnan province
- Coastal China's lowest temperatures in 28 years
- Chinese workers kidnapped in Sudan's Darfur region
- Another year of slow growth in China's economy - 2012 saw the lowest level of growth in 13 years

The Final Word on Liberty

I was really interested to read about Isaiah Berlin's 'two concepts of liberty' in Rana Mitter's Modern China: A very short introduction.  According to Mitter, China scores very low in 'positive liberty', which would include things like press freedom, the right to demonstrate and form political parties opposed to the governing party.  However, arguably, when it comes to 'negative liberty', ie. the right to be left alone, China might score a bit higher, in the sense that the state in 21st century China doesn't tend to interfere in the personal choices of its citizens (marriage, fashion, access to music etc) in the same way as in, for example, Saudi Arabia.  I thought this was an interesting theory and it reminded me a lot of how the state operates in Russia - I guess there are many similarities.  Whilst I think Mitter might be on to something, I can't help thinking that China's one-child policy and state control of the Internet constitute restrictions on its citizens' negative liberty. 

A Cantopop Swansong

And, of course, I've been listening to lots of Cantopop.  I listened to Hong Kong stars like Sammi Cheng and Leslie Cheung.  Leslie was a great artist in many ways, an actor, as well as a singer, he did a lot to challenge Chinese preconceptions on sexuality, starring in ground-breaking movies like Farewell my Concubine (1993).  He suffered terribly from depression and tragically killed himself on April Fool's day in 2003, by jumping out of the window on the 24th floor of Hong Kong's Mandarin hotel.

But I'm going to leave you with a Youtube video by one of the most famous Cantopop singers of all, Roman Tam, whose music I've grown quite fond of.  Unfortunately, I can't find my favourite Roman Tam song, World of Love on Youtube, so I'm posting another really beautiful song, so you can get an idea of what his music sounds like.

Image credits:

The photo of the books was taken by me.   

The image of the still from the movie, Once Upon a Time in China is from a photo taken by me. This image is being used to illustrate this blogpost and promote Tsui Hark's film. By publishing this image, I'm not condoning or encouraging reproduction of this image on the Internet or anywhere else. This image is not meant to bring the actors into disrepute or suggest their endorsement of this blogpost, but is meant to highlight the performances of these actors in this movie.

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