Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Someone I follow on Twitter (I can't remember who) linked up to a great website a couple weeks ago. The website is It features Chinese posters from throughout the 20th century up to today. My favorites are the iconic propaganda posters from the height of Maoist era in the 1950s - 1970s.

Hold high the great red banner of Mao Zedong to wage the Great Proletarian Cultural Revolution to the end - Revolution is no crime, to rebel is justified - link

You'll see these sorts of Mao-era posters at antique markets or at youth hostels and bars. But there really aren't too many remnants of these posters, or this era as a whole, in China today.

As a student of Chinese history, I find these posters so interesting. The height of Mao Zedong thought and the campaigns carried out during that era continue to fascinate me.

I'm going to post a few more posters from the site here. Go check out the site to see the wide array the authors have collected.

Study the Soviet Union, to advance to the world level of science - link

Fully engage in the movement to increase production and to practice economy to set off a new upsurge in industrial production - link

It's glorious to take part, to oppose America, support Korea, protect the home and the nation - link

Sunday, April 24, 2011

A Walkabout With Hopfrog

Anyone who's ever read the comments section of this blog knows who Hopfrog is. Hopfrog has been the most frequent commenter on here for some time.

It's funny, when I came back to the US from China in 2009, a long-time friend of mine who'd kept up with me in China through my blog asked me when I'd met/become friends with Hopfrog in Xi'an. I laughed. Hopfrog was never in Xi'an and I'd actually never met him in person. Hopfrog and I developed our friendship completely through our writings/back-and-forths on this blog.

Hopfrog and I still have never met in person. I consider him a good friend, though. He always adds thoughtful and high-level discussion to this blog. And, as I said when talking about another of my favorite commenters, Ramesh, he sports a refreshingly positive and constructive attitude, which is such a rarity here on the interwebs.

Hopfrog has started his own blog - Hopfrog's Walkabout. It is a chronicle of his hike on the Pacific Crest Trail from the US border of Mexico to the border of Canada. Hopfrog is several posts into his preparation for the hike. His writings definitely look like something readers here would enjoy.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Socialism is Great!

Socialism is Great! A Worker's Memoir of the New China by Lijia Zhang has a great cover.

The book is quite good too.

Socialism is Great! begins as Zhang's mom, a factory worker, has been offered ding zhi, an opportunity to retire early and give her teenage daughter her factory job. During the time of "iron rice bowls" and the relative uncertainty after Mao's death, being able to give her daughter a stable job (and getting out of the factory herself) was not something she could pass up. Thus, as China began its reform and opening in 1980, Zhang, a budding intellectual and book worm, found herself dropping out of high school early at the age of sixteen to begin a dirty government factory job.

The book is largely about Zhang's struggle with the hand she was dealt at her mindless factory job on the outskirts of Nanjing framed during a time of great change in China.

China had transformed almost overnight after Chairman Mao's death. Over were the days of memorizing the little red book. Replacing cultural revolutionary dogma was the opportunity for higher education, studying foreign languages, and the ability, to a greater degree, to choose one's own path.

Zhang was born with a free spirit and wanted more than anything to take advantage of the newfound freedoms afforded to her and the rest of her countrymen. But because of her circumstances, she was largely stuck while everyone and everything around her blossomed.

Zhang found plenty of adventure in time, though. She slowly broke free from the shackles of her factory and developed quite a nose for trouble and excitement. Her numerous romantic endeavors were pretty wild. I was shocked at some of the the tawdry affairs she describes with young bohemian men. Her entry into China's mid-1980's underground sub-culture is fascinating stuff.

Socialism is Great! is a really nice exploration of the bubbling intellectual movement that began in the early 1980s. It's a portrait of a China that I have not read much about. Zhang is a good writer that takes the reader through many unexpected twists and turns. It's a fun, fast read.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

A Day in the Life of China

I bought a coffee table book about China a few weeks ago at an antique store in Weston, Missouri. The book, A Day in the Life of China, is a really interesting premise: sixty western photographers and thirty Chinese photographers were dispatched throughout China on April 15, 1989 to take photos. The resulting book is over 220 pages of pictures taken between 12AM and 11:59PM on that one day.

The book has a nice blend of urban, rural, factory, everyday, and scenic shots. One thing I like about it as that there are people in nearly every shot. The 老百姓 (old hundred names, common folk) of China are prominently featured.

The China of 1989 is very different from the China I was introduced to in 2006. It's pretty wild to see how fast the country developed in those seventeen years. There are so many bicycles in the book, exponentially more than you'd see on the streets of China today!

I was able to find a few of the photos from the book scanned online here. The scans are not of the greatest quality, but they'll work for this post:

April of 1989 is a very noteworthy time in contemporary Chinese history. It's just as the historic student protests began in Beijing. Being a snapshot of China just before one of the most important events in its recent history is just another reason that this book is worth checking out.

This book can be purchased for a couple bucks on Amazon used. It's been a great add to my library.

Thursday, April 7, 2011

The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land

The Uyghurs: Strangers in Their Own Land by Gardner Bovingdon is an in-depth study into one of China's most unique and interesting ethnic minorities.

The Uyghurs are an ethnic group living throughout central Asia largely concentrated in Xinjiang Province, China's far west. They are predominantly Muslim and culturally distinct from the Han majority of China. The Uyghurs, like another ethnic group in western China - the Tibetans - have a very tenuous and, in many cases, tragic relationship with their own country.

Bovingdon's book began as his dissertation in graduate school. It turned into a larger project. He lived in Xinjiang for years in the 1990s and put in over twenty months of field research into the writing of the book. The interviews conducted and the research put into the book are impressive.

Bovingdon begins The Uyghurs by framing the Uyghurs' story with the deserts that they inhabit.

From page 23:
There are a lot of ideas and topics explored in the book that I enjoyed. I particularly liked the discussions of 20th-century Sinification of Xinjiang, the effects of decolonization after World War II and how that affected Beijing's views of how to handle Xinjiang and the Uyghurs, "everyday resistance" that present-day Uyghurs direct towards the Chinese system, and the divisions amongst Uyghurs living abroad and the effects that such disagreements have on the world's attitude towards the Uyghurs (the Uyghurs' plight has never gained traction abroad like Tibetans' has).

That being said, I wish Bovingdon's personality would've shown through more in his book. There were scores of interviews and several stories told from the first-person perspective. But instead of expounding upon those experiences, Bovingdon used them and then quickly moved on adding very little flavor to the text. Bovingdon's (surely) amazing experiences seemed under-utilized to me. Maybe I'm too used to reading journalists pour their hearts onto the page instead of a more strictly academic approach, but I found this book to be drier than it had to be.

The Uyghurs deepened my understanding of the Uyghur ethnic group and the Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region a great deal. I'd recommend it those wanting a serious examination of one of China's least-understood groups of people.