Cogs and Wheels: The material culture of revolutionary China

April 22, 2007

我会说中国 (I can speak Chinese)

Filed under: Language — amyjaneb @ 9:45 pm

Thanks to this post from Sinosphere, I’ve finally worked out how to type characters on my laptop.  It’s fantastic!  What a shame I’ve already forgotten all the Chinese I learnt last term!


March 14, 2007

‘The Great Firewall of China’…

Filed under: Blog notices, Censorship, China, Language, Weblinks — amyjaneb @ 9:45 am

…as blog censorship by the Chinese authorities has become known.  Here’s a good overview of the current situation from The Peking Duck.  It seems that all wordpress blogs are currently blocked from China.  Damn!  I was hoping Cogs and Wheels had attracted the specific attentions of the censors.  Last Friday me and a friend and a friend of that friend went to an evening of Beijing Opera at the Richard Attenborough Centre.  The cultural attache (is that the right title?  Not sure) from the Chinese Embassy was in attendance.  I had visions of him having a list of enemies of the State with my name on it.  😉

(I’m addicted to smileys.)

Now my research seminar is done and dusted – as is my Chinese exam (as predicted, went horribly badly) – I’ll soon have more time for research and reading and intellectual business like that.  Just got a small backlog of admin-type tasks to clear first…

March 13, 2007

Chinese revision

Filed under: Language, Mandarin, Weblinks — amyjaneb @ 12:53 pm

At the moment I’m struggling to revise for my Chinese exam this evening.  I have an enormous pile of vocab cards sitting on my desk, and as I type I am trying to concentrate on some ChinesePod dialogues – again, with little success.  I’m resigned to the fact that I’m not going to do very well in this exam.  Though having said that, I’ve planned a kick-ass presentation!  😉

March 5, 2007

Quick update

Filed under: Language, Mandarin, My research, Writing — amyjaneb @ 11:59 pm
  • Research Seminar paper – drafted and sent to Supervisor
    It’s a long un’ – comes in at just over 6,ooo words, but seeing as I started with 16,000 I think that’s quite an achievement.  Just need to work on the PowerPoint presentation now; lots of lovely pics to distract my audience from the dullness of my paper presentation.
  • Chinese presentation – nearly finished (tomorrow hopefully).
    Need to check some vocabulary and make sure that it’s at least two to three minutes long.

I’m starting to see light at the end of that tunnel!  😉  Will hopefully get back to some ‘proper’ blogging soon.

March 3, 2007

Quick update

Not much to report.  Working on paper for research seminar.  Never doing it this way again.  Next time I’m writing something from scratch.  Started reading Mao’s Last Revolution, by MacFarquhar and Schoenhals and started to teach myself to meditate (need to cultivate some inner calm!).  Have been adding to and reorganising my web resources page tonight, in between watching and taking photos of the lunar eclipse.

My plan for tomorrow, apart from getting some groceries in, is to get to grips and hopefully finish my seminar paper and the presentation for my Chinese exam (nearly there).

March 1, 2007

Chinese Lessons

Filed under: China, Communist kitsch, Language, Mandarin, Mao, My research, Publications, Quote(s), Reading — amyjaneb @ 8:11 pm

I’ve finally finished reading John Pomfret’s Chinese Lessons.  I’m rubbish at reviews, so I’m just going to pick out a few points that interested me.

In his first chapter he mentions how he first experienced China: ‘through my belly’.  ‘As a child, Chinese food was one of the first cuisines I was willing to eat outside of hamburgers’ (p. 5).  I guess the same could be said about me.  My Mum recounts tales of me sitting in my high chair at a Chinese restaurant in Southend slurping noodles!  And I would imagine that it would be true to say that this is the way most westerners first experience China, through its food (or something vaguely resembling it!).  He then goes on to say how he could remember as nine year old hearing anti-Vietnam War protesters shouting ‘Mao, Mao, Chairman Mao!’.  And later how his interest expanded to Chinese history and current events. (p.5)  But crucially, he states that he never bought into the idea that Mao Zedong had created a utopian society, ‘then voguish on U.S. campuses.’  This is interesting, because for most part, the contemporary and reflective accounts written by westerners I’ve read, at least begin with an empathy for the Maoist regime.

Something else that struck me were Pomfret’s comments on p. 211 about how the Chinese language had evolved to reflect the changes in society in the 1990s.

“Language had evolved, too.  When I first came to China in the early 1980s, pusu (frugal) was a compliment.  Now it had become a put-down, implying poverty and stupidity.  Kaifang no longer meant “open-minded”; it meant “promiscuous.”  Xiaojie no longer meant “Miss”.  It meant “hooker.”  Most notably, the all-purpose Communist greeting tongzhi (comrade) had all but disappeared from everyday speech, replaced by formal titles like Mister and Doctor – underscoring China’s new obsession with class and rank.  The only place Comrade still flourished was among the Bohemian demimonde in Beijing, Shanghai, and Guangzhou; it was what homosexuals called each other.  New words appeared.  Little honey meant “mistress.”  Ku, an import from Taiwan, meant “cool,” and hei ke (black guests) meant “hackers.”  On the streets of Shanghai, people bumping into each other said “Sorry,” in English, not duibuqi.  A popular book posed the question “Are You Middle Class?” employing another new term in a society that just a few years ago had fancied itself classless”. (p. 211)

Well, I’m glad I found all that out now – I’d been taught xiaojie for ‘Miss’.  It’s already easy enough to make a faux-pas in Mandarin by confusing tone marks.  The last thing learners like me need are double-entendres to wrestle with!

The other thing that caught my attention was his discussion of his classmate Song and his Italian-born daughter visiting Shaoshan, Chairman Mao’s hometown, in Hunan province.  He describes the town as ‘a capital of Chinese kitsch’. (p. 267)  It’s interesting to me that the Chinese are responding to Cultural Revolution era material culture in some respects in a similar way to how they are ‘dealt with’ in the West.  But, I’m sure there are different reasons behind it.  I like the idea Mary came up with in her comment on my recent post about the reinvention of relics of communism, that these seemingly trivial things are seized upon as a way of blocking out more negative memories and experiences.  Definitely some things to think about…

February 26, 2007

Nixon in China

Filed under: China, Language, Mandarin, Publications, Reading, Useful links — amyjaneb @ 10:54 pm

Not much time, nor energy for blogging today.  Have spent most of the day trying to learn Chinese vocab and working on the three minute presentation for the exam in a couple of weeks (which is going to be about the part of the country from which I hail – allows me to talk about directions, weather, types of buildings, etc) and working (all too briefly) on my research seminar paper. 

But, I have had time to check out my feeds on Google Reader. 

This – Nixon in China « History News – is a good roundup of reviews and discussions about Margaret MacMillan’s new book Nixon in China, which – for some reason I dismissed, when I had the opportunity to buy it over Christmas (I think the blurb on the back cover might have put me off for some reason?).  Anyway, having had a quick read of the collected links (though not in depth – suffering from ‘woolly brain’ tonight), I think it is something I should have a look at.  Will work well as a companion piece to Isaacs’ preface to the 1972 edition of Images of Asia, which discusses changing perceptions of China and the Chinese in America immediately in the wake of Nixon’s visit:  contemporary assessment versus historical study.

Oh, and this Dokuticker thing that John Russell mentions looks interesting too…

February 22, 2007

Chinese: a break through!

I wrote about the difficulties I’ve been having learning Mandarin the other day and how my goal was to be able to read and understand slogans on propaganda posters (and how I thought that was a long way off).  Well, this morning, I received a new book through the post that I ordered from (I love Abebooks – not sure what I’d do without it): Paint it Red by Stefan Landsberger – a collector and recognised authority on revolutionary posters.  And guess what?  I realised that I could pick out several characters.  The key ones (rendered in pin-yin and without tone marks – sorry) are ren (people/person), da (big/large), xiao (small/little), xue (study) meiguo (America) and zhong guo/ren (China/Chinese people).  I reckon all I need do is learn the characters for ‘Lei Feng’ and ‘Mao Zedong thought’ and I’ll be laughing.  😉

Seriously, it’s a big confidence boost and given me the necessary motivation to get on with revision for my exam in about a fortnight’s time.

February 20, 2007

My attempts at learning Chinese

Filed under: Language, Mandarin — amyjaneb @ 1:31 pm

As my previous post may have hinted, my Chinese-language skills are next to nothing.  (I think) they say you need only know around 3,000 characters to read a Chinese newspaper – I can recognise less than ten!  But as I’ve only been learning Mandarin formally for around eighteen months, perhaps I should cut myself some slack.  I’m never going to reach an adequate level of fluency – starting to learn a new language at the age of 29 is really difficult, and it’s not like I have a natural aptitude for languages anyway.  I’ll be happy if, in a year’s time I can just about get the gist of a slogan on a propaganda poster (I can already recognise the character for people (ren)!) and perhaps, write basic sentences in characters.   Watch this space!

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