Angel in America

The Year of the Monkey begins in 11 days. I’ve been thinking about Angel Island, San Francisco Bay. Our kids study U.S. social history, reform and rights struggles, but not yet the Chinese-American story. America detained 500,000 immigrants on Angel Island, about half from China, 1910 to 1940, during the Chinese Exclusion Act . Some were solo children under 10. They were interrogated, inspected, often deported. A woman detainee without her husband saw her baby die, and was refused release to attend the baby’s funeral. A graphic novel tells these stories: Angel Island: The Chinese-American Experience, recently released by Stanford (buy one).

Detainees who’d fled famine and the fury of armies local and foreign (sound familiar?) carved hundreds of poems on Angel Island barrack walls. A park ranger discovered them in 1970.

angel island image

This is a message to those who live here not
to worry excessively.
Instead, you must cast your idle worries to
the flowing stream.
Experiencing a little ordeal is not hardship.
Napoleon was once a prisoner on an island.

*

The sea-scape resembles lichen twisting
and turning for a thousand li.’
There is no shore to land and it is
difficult to walk.
With a gentle breeze I arrived at the city
thinking all would be so.
At ease, how was one to know he was to
live in a wooden building?

*

In the quiet of night, I heard, faintly, the whistling of wind.
The forms and shadows saddened me; upon
seeing the landscape, I composed a poem.
The floating clouds, the fog, darken the sky.
The moon shines faintly as the insects chirp.
Grief and bitterness entwined are heaven sent.
The sad person sits alone, leaning by a window.

*

America has power, but not justice.
In prison, we were victimized as if we were guilty.
Given no opportunity to explain, it was really brutal.
I bow my head in reflection but there is
nothing I can do

(Credit: Lai, Him Mark, Genny Lim, and Judy Yung, Island Poetry and History of Chinese Immigrants on Angel Island, 1910-1940, Seattle: University of Washington Press, 1991)

You can hear the Angel Island poems read (via KQED), and visit the Angel Island Immigration Station.

Happy Year of the Monkey.

monkey-year_character

 

US-China Cooperation: Restoring Qianlong’s Secret Garden

Thirty women, China’s best embroiderers, in Nanjing, worked for one year to embroider the richly brocaded upholstery. Papermakers, working with a traditional and especially tough pulp from the mulberry tree, recreated the paper strong enough to support the Italian trompe l’oeil ceiling painting, from their papermaking studio in rural Anhui. Bamboo craft masters, recruited after a national search, prepared inner skin bamboo carving and bamboo thread marquetry with their grandparents’ tools. During the Cultural Revolution, many of these craftsmen’s parents, or grandparents, had their tools smashed. Some buried them and they survived. Many tools had been handed down for generations.

They chosen to were repair the emperor’s secret garden, Juanqinzhai. (The book🙂

juanqinzhai book

I learned about the project from a lovely documentary, The Emperor’s Secret Garden (by Mandy Chang and Zhou Bing, 2010, BSkyB Masterpiece productions). The Qianlong Emperor, who ruled around the American Revolution, was the richest and most powerful man on earth. As a highly cultured man, Qianlong wrote calligraphy, and we actually saw his handiwork on auction in NY a few months ago:

At Sotheby's Chinese calligraphy auction, NYC, Spring 2014

My son and I pretending we could afford Sotheby’s Chinese calligraphy on auction, NYC, Spring 2014. A few of Qianlong’s panels were set to fetch half a million dollars.

Qianlong, already living in earth’s largest palace, having sucked (as emperors do) the continent’s wealth, commissioned a secret garden where he envisioned retreating for a fashionable, scholar-monk-style retirement: 27 buildings, grottos and rockeries, a garden, and interiors of textile, friezes and woodwork, silk brocade so delicate it’s transparent, woven on looms 2 storeys high; a level of craftsmanship that blows the mind. Somehow, the retreat was locked up, and discovered dusty and crumbling in the early 2000s. It had been undisturbed since the 1700s. As WMF explains, it sparked one of the most awe-inspiring international  restoration projects ever.

From the World Monuments Fund slideshow on the project: A painting of the garden complex itself, and of one mural, of the royal family:

the emperors garden painting

wood panel showing royal family

The work was part of Forbidden City’s first international collaboration — and China’s first large-scale interior conservation project. The effort became a lab, and a classroom for training a young generation of Chinese conservators. But first, restoring the emperor’s secret garden required searching for what had  nearly disappeared: highly skilled traditional craftsmen and women.

Together with architects, engineers, scientists, archaeologists and curators, conservators and conservation scientists, helped by the World Monuments Fund, the hideaway was restored. Cultural heritage was strengthened. Traditional craftspeople fired up their shops. And the prestigious Tsinghua University in Beijing created, through Jinqinzhai, China’s first degree program in interior conservation. Which means preservation according to international standards, can begin to take hold here.

 

To see, as we have, the scale of destruction (even to this day) of the treasures scattered across mainland China is to understand what a huge big deal it is. The project also forged new levels of cooperation and trust between U.S. and China preservationists, a positive part of this emerging, fraught relationship. I expect it won’t be the last: Large sections of the Forbidden City are still in disrepair.

Qianlong Emperor (reign 1735-1799)

Qianlong Emperor (reign 1735-1799)

If you’re in China, you can go and visit, though the rooms open only part of the time.

“You Can Call Me ‘Mr. Wong’ “

kenny with hisBeats by Dr DreThere is no photo of ‘Mr. Wong.’ Not his real name.

He does have a business card (black). Black card, black market.

His stall in Qingdao‘s largest indoor flea market sells counterfeit electronics. China, yes it’s true, is home to rampant illegal trade in counterfeit goods. Violating copyright is illegal & I’m totally against it. But — yes. My son bought some fake beats by Dr. Dre headphones in China. They retail in the U.S. for $250. Worn around the neck, I am told, beats are the ultimate (middle school) status symbol.

At his market stall, “Mr. Wong” said he’s got “real” ones. They will run you RMB850 (about $120). What he calls “class C” copies will run you RMB150 (about $20–choose from red, black or white). He also has what he calls “class A copies” that will run you about $60. You can listen to the difference, feel the leather vs. plastic. They were indistinguishable to me. (Apparently there is no class B copy.)

I actually think “Mr. Wong” made up this A/B/C copy classification system so we’d pay $60 for the $20 ones…(but who knows?)

He ships to America, he says.

He sells without U.S.-to-China customs fees/import tax: they come from Canada, he says. Uh, that makes sense… (?)

My Qingdao business students wrote, one night this summer, on “Will China move from copycat to global high-tech power” and if so, when and how? We discussed a new ebook, excerpted here (“Beta China: The Dawn of an Innovation Generation,” by Hamish McKenzie, a PandoDaily contributor). McKenzie is very optimistic about China’s emerging high-tech future, citing the success of (cult) mobile handset maker Xiaomi, which makes China’s homegrown answer to the iPhone and is run by 43-year-old Lei Jun, called “China’s Steve Jobs.”

Students’ consensus: China is great. So it will get beyond copycat to real tech leaership. But first, they wrote, education has to change, to nurture creativity rather than memorization. And some wrote, too, that financing (start-up funding) and legal mechanisms (copyright protection) — basic manufacturing infrastructure — must mature, to fund and protect inventors.

The students all seemed to conclude that there’s reason for optimism, but China also has a long way to go.

 

The Rape of Nanking, Remembered

Massacre Musuem, Nanjing

Massacre Museum, Nanjing

China has its Yad Vashem. Nanjing’s Memorial Hall of the Nanjing Massacre is experiential architecture. You are funneled through tight spaces, traped in black granite chutes. (Architect Qi Kang is one of the leading figures in Chinese architecture).

Exterior, memorial hall to the victims of the Nanking Massacre

Exterior, memorial hall to the victims of the Nanking Massacre

It’s an immersion in nationalism and grief. And most noticeably, in insistence — there hasn’t been widespread acceptance that the massacre here in 1937 occurred — particularly by the right-wing in Japan, which denies the massacre vehemently, including in court, and has attacked (even murdered) those who’d tell their stories. Such as remorseful Japanese veterans, whose testimony is moving here. And Chinese memoirists, sued for libel.

nanking rape 300000

This is the “wall of witnesses” — as if they need to be documented as much as the victims.

Wall of witnesses

Wall of witnesses

You ponder the monstrousness that overtook invading soldiers, who gang raped and then mutilated — the bestial madness, and the uniquely vicious victimization of women (estimated 20,000 rapes, from children to the elderly). And then one thinks of Japan. I’ve spent a few weeks there, and love so much about it. Not to dwell on cliches but there’s no denying the often exquisite aesthetic and manners and cleanliness and love for beauty and so many cultural heights. And then you struggle to comprehend what occurred in this dark time.

Kenny in Peace Park, outside Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, Nanjing

Kenny in Peace Park, outside Nanjing Massacre Memorial Hall, Nanjing

And one thinks: The day will come when China honors the victims of its own (domestically perpetrated) atrocities.

And the day will come when the U.S. does.

Nanjing massacre hall Japanese solidarity

Nanjing massacre hall Japanese solidarity

Many Japanese figures — authors, industrialists, and trade unions (and presumably the Communist Party, on the plaque pictured above) have expressed solidarity, memorialized and honored the victims. A manufacturing family gathers flower seeds from Nanjing and has planted them all over Japan in an act of honoring the victims.

One last haunting aspect: I read Iris Chang’s The Rape of Nanking, a breakthrough book that for perhaps the first time really told the story, as late as 1997 (compare that to Holocaust commemoration.). Her book recapitulates (and enlarges) the museum’s messages, reproducing many of its photos and testimonies. Chang, a Chinese-American journalist from the midwest, committed suicide a few years ago at the age of 36. And another heroine of this place– known as the Living Buddha of Nanking, American missionary Minnie Vautrin, a girls’ school director in wartime Naning who protected and hid tens of thousands of innocent civilians, also (after returning home to Illinois after the war) took her own life.

Some things are too great to bear.

(The Vautrin link above is to the extensive Yale Univ archives on the massacre, the most important repository of its kind.

Peace.

China Books for Kids

 

Year of the Tiger by Allison Lloyd

Year of the Tiger by Allison Lloyd

Before we went to China, we started purchasing books to read (& to bring, English kids’ books are hard to find — and if you can, they’re expensive in China). I’ve wanted to share this list for a long time.

Picture books: Nonfiction

A Time of Golden Dragons by Song Nan Zhang & Hao Yu Zhang, ill. A picture book about the millennial year coinciding w year of dragon, most powerful sign

 Chinese New Year Tricia Brown photogr Fran Ortiz. Preparations for, & meanings of, new year in US Chinatowns. Colorful.

Picture books:Fiction (mostly reinterpreted folkore

Little Plum by Ed Young – a Tom Thumb tale.

All the Way to Lhasa A tale from Tibet by Barbara Helen Berger. We enjoy this.

The Hunter A Chinese folktale retold by Mary Casanova Illustrations Ed Young. Love folk tales.

The Beggar’s Magic A Chinese Tale retold by Margaret & Raymond Chang Ill David Johnson

Red Thread written/ill Ed Young.Great one.

The Magic Horse of Han Gan by Chen Jiang Hong. An animal tires of war. A favorite.

Lon Po Po A Red-Riding Hood Story from China (Caldecott medal) Ed Young. Another enjoyable one.

The Terrible Nung Gwama A Chinese folktale adapted by Ed Young from the retelling by Leslie Bonnet Ill Ed Young.

 

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai, a graphic novel (& an animated film)

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai, a graphic novel (& an animated film)

Middle-grades Fiction

A Jewish Girl in Shanghai by Wu Lin We got this graphic novel in China, at the synagogue-museum in Shanghai. (Speakign of graphic novels: highly recommend the award-winning American-Born Chinese, which takes place in America; we read it later). A great book.

Shen and the Treasure Fleet  Ray Conlogue. Kind of slow.

 The Golden Key (Tangshan Tigers)   Dan Lee. I think an Australian series. Not bad.

Young Adult Fiction

Spilled Water  by Sally Grindley–Modern Yong Adult fiction, girl indentured, compares t Hunger Games. Enjoyed this. I think you can call it middle grades.

 Year of the Tiger  by Alison Lloyd– historical adventure like Percy Jackson. Really loved this. I actually would call this middle-grades.

 Dragon Horse  Peter Ward, 10th century China fantasy & adventure, catalog compares to Eragon. We found it slow and decided not to continue. Too many time, place- and flashbacks to ancient times, or myth, too soon.

 Golden Rat   Don Wulffson- Young Adult, dark adventure.

 Dragonwings  Laurence Yep*- Boys’ historical adventure like Percy Jackson. Part of Yep’s wrote adventure series, Golden Mountain Chronicles. The best. We couldn’t put them down. Set in America, mostly.

 The Serpent’s Children: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1849 Laurence Yep

 Mountain Light: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1855 by Laurence Yep

 Dragon’s Gate: Golden Mountain Chronicles, 1867 by Laurence Yep

 The Traitor: Golden Mountain Chronicles: 1885 by Laurence Yep

Memoir & Nonfiction

Brothers: A Novel  Da Chen — Moving.

Colors of the Mountain  Da Chen – award-winning memoir. Moving and lovely writing. More so-called “scar literature” which some Chinese today find unbalanced and overly negative. We found it useful to understand earlier generations’ experience, even if it’s not what’s happening right now.

Red Scarf Girl: A Memoir of the Cultural Revolution  Ji-Li Jiang.My middle schooler read this. I’d say it’s appropriate for middle grades. Excellent, searing, unforegettable “scar” literature about the damaging experience of growing up during the Cultural Revolution.

Revolution Is Not a Dinner Party  Ying Chang Compestine, modern young adult set in 1972, teen & Maoism, Cultural Revolution. Everythign I said above. Hard to put down.

The Tao of Pooh is good for older kids, not just adults

The Tao of Pooh is good for older kids, not just adults

The Tao of Pooh by Benjamin Hoff: both kids (middle grades) read it & really enjoyed it. Very simply written even though it’s an adult book on a complex topic.

Lecture-Circuit Lessons

Lecture trip - Urumqi


I’d never “lectured”–teaching doesn’t count. Fulbright requires it, to spread widely whatever we know. I’m on a tear while David (through April) covers at home. When not traveling or teaching my own 60 students–grading-arm cramp!!–I just sleep. (Or watch Breaking Bad, our post-Downton Abbey obsession.)


I’m grateful for the challenge: Figuring out what I could offer a given group, & packaging it right. In Urumqi, the far-western capital of Xinjiang province (of Turkic, and other minorities, bordering Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Pakistan, Kazakhstan), I talked to a College of Foreign Languages that doesn’t have one native English speaker on faculty. I also lectured to ed majors there–future English teachers. The ad was a crazy big 10-foot billboard!

The hall of 250 filled. It was optional, so apparently they value the topics, communicating better in written and spoken English (with lots of Q&A). I also donated journalism books, in a nice ceremony. Shipped by the State Department, donated by New York friends in publishing. English journalism textbooks are impossible to come by here. Too subversive.


It’s a huge blessing reaching people who want, need what we have to give. And of course getting, in return, the connection — “Only connect” — across culture, language, the globe, and the rising, angry superpower-rival ignorance and blind prejudice (See: Mike Daisey). (Had we a basic level of respect, understanding, accurate information, our many legitimate human-rights criticisms would have far more power and credibility.)

Another lecture was at Shanghai’s University of Finance & Economics, for all their economic journalism MA students. Lecturing is an intensely focused few hours, almost performative. Afterwards we take pictures.

I really appreciate what journalism gives us–at the intersection of news, economics, the digital revolution, language, communication. My Shanghai talks were ‘Future of News,’ and ‘Why Business Journalists Missed the Financial Crisis.’ Yeah — 20/20 hindsight, shooting ducks in a barrel. Still, juicy.

The Bund

David came. It was a whirlwind day and a half.


Coming next: lectures in coastal Qingdao (of beer fame–Germany’s old concession), Guangzhao (1.5 hours from Hong Kong; I’ll bring the boys), and possibly elsewhere. Fulbright organizes many invitations.
I’m also guest lecturing around Beijing’s universities, and at the embassy’s cultural/education office (the Beijing American Center–the nice tables below). Last night: For scholars hoping to get into U.S. grad schools, on writing their personal statements (a foreign concept here!). The next will be better English writing for Chinese businesspeople. Huge demand.

Back at my own university, we’ve begun (nearly) weekly class lunches at the faculty canteen, where I can host a banquet for 10 for about $30. Another time for sharing, interaction, in an informal setting to break through their classroom shyness. Knowing I love and miss my garden, they gave me a teeny potted plant seedling — one delicate stem with 3 tiny leaves.

A good metaphor for our relationship, we Chinese and Americans.

Rescued by the CCP

Big in Changchun!

I was crying in public (2nd time), sick, at an airline counter with a feverish kid. Needing to leave a frigid northern city, & they F -ed up our reservation. No one spoke English. SOS call to student and the line was busy. No plane seats for us, sick kid or no.

Suddenly, concerned and gentle eyes. Square face, black v-neck sweater, a guardian angel of a G-man in his 50s–and somehow I knew he was, from the first instant, but how??! the 6 guys identically dressed behind him with similar briefcases?? what do Party bigs carry??–loomed above us at the counter: “Is there some way I can help you?” he asks, in perfect kindest English.

More tears, soothing v-neck interventions, a lucky flight delay (smog in Beijing) and $600 later (refunded today), we were saved. Homeward bound.

Talking at the departure gate, the boys’ old-style People’s Liberation Army winter hats (the current weird China-tourist-souvenir fad) spur him to recall that those were the hats they wore when he was 11 in 1966, the year the Cultural Revolution began. (I feel vaguely panicked at the semiotics, the potential ideological echo, the kids may be broadcasting wearing these hats.)

His father was a poor farmer, “so I was a poor farmer.” I shush the boys to listen, hoping for a long recollection, but the G-man’s not a talker. All he’ll say is the universities were closed. “When they opened them again, I took the test and entered university.” He’d rather talk about America — New Jersey! He’s been to 25 U.S. states. His sister lives in South Carolina. How do the boys pursue their education here? he asks. Why was I in Changchun? (Motor City, home to China’s automotive plants, and several gigantic universities.)

“You’re a businessman?” the kids say.

“What makes you think so?” he answers, bemused. “I’m a servant of the public. I’m with the government.”

And not that a t-shirt would show, because we’re layered up, as if for skiing. But Kenny recognizes, in a whisper to me, it’s a good thing he’s not wearing his kitschy-wry-making-fun-of-Mao t-shirt that I have, against his opposition, banned within China as inappropriate.

Students arriving for one lecture

It was my first lecture tour that took us to Changchun, up in Jilin province where it’s 10 degrees F, near Korea, and they eat this delicious soup made with meat and sour fermented cabbage. I experienced my 15 minutes of fame, as students rushed the stage for photos, and to cop my PowerPoints off the PC. When I gave prizes to a few volunteers who helped during a writing exercise–journalism textbooks donated at home, shipped here by Fulbright–others in the audience swarmed, fought to handle & admire them. English books aren’t only costly, they’re almost impossible to find.

Our (kind, generous) hosts, professors of media, were surprised to learn we don’t have (aside from CSPAN, I suppose–I tried to explain that!!) an official, state media. Surprised at how deep the newspaper crisis is, as China’s print readership (like India’s) is still growing, with new readers rising in waves of rising income, education & literacy.

Student questions: “What do you think of our lack of youth freedom?” “How can I get real information for my stories?” “Do you believe in advertorials masquerading as news?” (not quite in those words)

Our host, professor Bao


Pu Yi, the last emperor, born in unimaginable continent-sucking wealth in the Forbidden City, lived here, too, in his 30s and 40. After the Japanese invasion during WW2, Changchun was a war-time capital of Japan’s Manchukuo state. Pu Yi lived here much lower on the foodchain, as a Japanese ‘puppet’ ruler.

The last emperor


After Hiroshima & Nagasaki, Pu Yi tried fleeing to Russia, but was captured & imprisoned.

Pu Yi's prison uniform


Quite a book-end to the Imperial dynasties’ glories. The Chinese eventually pardonned his treason; he ended his life as a Beijing gardener, happy, at least in a few pictures. Here’s his bike.