One of the eight Wuhan whistleblowers, Li Wenliang (李文亮) died on February 7, Chinese time. Most of the posts to my friends’ circle (朋友圈) are memorials to him. In addition to pictures of Li Wenliang wearing a face mask, these posts include images of his police file for creating rumors about a SARS-like virus and screenshots of relevant posts, including international posts in English and German. In addition, essays about his life and the meaning of his death are starting to appear. The more ‘viral’ of these essays emphasize the fact that he was an ordinary person doing his job and that he had the courage to speak truth to power. These posts imply a relationship between Li Wenliang’s status and his courage; only the ordinary, it would seem, are able to tell the truth, affirming both the need for public intellectuals to watchdog the public realm and the public’s right to have intellectual watchdogs looking out for their interests. Continue reading
On June 22, 2019, Handshake 302’s visiting artist, Xiao An celebrated her 28th birthday by preparing a Singleton Lunch. To prepare for the meal, she shopped the nearby street market like a professional, prepared “Whole Tomato Rice,” in the rice pot, and served up eggs, potatoes, and batchoy—all in two hours. In fact, this was the first time that the food at a Singleton Lunch was ready before the guests arrived. How did the meal come together so smoothly?
“I’ve spent a lot of time in the field,” Xiao’an said as she efficiently pulled everything together.
For this conversation, Xiao’an chose the topic “A Single Woman’s Fear and Love.” Four women and one man joined Xiao’an and Mary Ann, sharing stories about how it feels to be an unmarried married woman in contemporary Shenzhen. As the conversation developed, we realized that other issues, such as hometown and generation played important roles in what participants feared and how they felt about love.
Everyone at the table had made unconventional decisions in order to create a better life for themselves. Yet, this decision to come to Shenzhen and pursue professional dreams extracts a greater cost from women than from men. After all, a traditional man is expected to meet challenges and provide for his wife and family. In contrast, many young women do not work for themselves, but work for their natal families and then, once married, they work for their new family. So we shared this story: standing up our dreams when they came into conflict with social expectations.
This contradiction between our individual dreams and social expectations meant that our most common fear was that we would loose love if we became too much ourselves. If we didn’t act like a Hakka daughter and sister and help our brothers purchase a house and get married, would our parents still love us? If we didn’t get married and have a child before we turn 30 years, would our village still accept us or would they call us “a chicken who can’t lay eggs?” If we were still unmarried at 40, would there be a place for us in society, or would people be wondering, “what’s wrong with you that no man wants you?”
Consequently, most of us experienced love in relationships where our dreams were recognized and valued. When parents accepted a daughter’s choice to earn money for herself, this was experienced as love. When a friend encouraged us to ignore cruel gossip, this was experienced as love. And when we accepted our dreams and our decisions, this too was experienced as love. In other words, the “love” we sought wasn’t a passionate affair, but shared values and dreams, where our partners saw us as individuals and not a social role.
At the end of the meal, it was clear that we had all suffered when our individual desires came into conflict with traditional expectations. We all wanted our families to understand and accept our decisions. Consequently, it also became clear that we all shared a common wish for Shenzhen; we want the city to be a place where everyone—regardless of gender, hometown, or generation—can develop themself as an individual and find life-giving forms of love.
In 2006, I visited Dafen Oil Painting Village for the first time. This was several years before Dafen became an important landmark–both in and outside China–in the Shenzhen imaginary. This was also over a decade before the metro system connected Dafen to downtown. In fact, even the road signs reflected the segregation between “Shenzhen” and the rest of the city. Consequently, the first time I visited Dafen I experienced it as a typical urban village that produced an atypical product.
“Singleton Lunch” is a thought experiment with food. Handshake 302 invites participants to prepare a meal for 4 to 6 people (the average size of a household). We provide rice, oil, seasoning, bowls, water and electricity. We give the chef five yuan per person to purchase ingredients anywhere in Baishizhou. The chef uses these ingredients to prepare a meal. During the meal, the chef leads a discussion about the challenges of making a home in Shenzhen. In other words, “Singleton Lunch” asks people to share their stories about settling down in a city, which is famous as a destination for unmarried migrants. Continue reading
—- 国民党税多，共产党会多 (“The KMT has high taxes and the CPC has many meetings” was popular description of the difference between the Nationalists and the Communists during the War Against Japan. )
On the morning of September 27, 2018, I attended the ten (!) keynote addresses of the International Think Tank Forum in Commemoration of the 40th Anniversary of China’s Reform and Opening-up (and yes, as far as I can tell, Shenzhen has shifted its translation of “reform and opening” to “reform and opening-up”). The Counsellor’s Office of the State Council and the Shenzhen Municipal Committee of the CPC and the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government hosted the event, which was organized by the Development Research Center of the Shenzhen Municipal People’s Government. So a big deal. And there I was in the midst of all those policy advisors wondering, what’s actually going on here? Continue reading
Today’s postcard is a bit of jump jump jump–from Hong Kong free traders to the rise of openly Nazi candidates in the 2018 midterm elections via a bodice-ripper or two.
Here’s the question: Is E.J. Eitel’s Europe in Asia actually a Victorian-era pirate bromance before the fact? That’s the question that keeps bubbling up when I read his characterization of opium pushers free traders like William Jardine and James Matheson. Compare, for example, how smoothly the prologue from a popular historical romance links up with a passage from Eitel: Continue reading
As I watch the US president scream and shout and justify his socio-pathologies, as I engage low-ranking officials who change their minds and force their subordinates to work unnecessary overtime everyday, and as I argue with parents who think that their children are not “strong enough (不够厉害)” to take what they want in life, I’ve been thinking a lot about bullies and institutional forms of bullying that are misrecognized as education or leadership or honor and virtue. Like many in the United States, a significant number of Chinese people accept social Darwinism as an accurate description of “the real world,” rather than recognizing social Darwinism for the self-serving misreading of evolutionary theory that it is.
Then, after a grumble about the normalization of bullying in everyday life, I continue reading E. J. Eitel’s Europe in China: the History of Hongkong from the beginning to the Year 1882, which compounds my frustration with righteous bullies and their inability to empathize with anyone’s pain, including their own. I manage three sentences before the arrogance, misogyny and general smugness of Eitel’s text force me to consider if I really want to read over 600 pages of what must have been considered “edifying” reading material. The text does make clear is the extent to which imperial bureaucracies, colonialism and some misplaced yearning for civilization continue to overdetermine the hierarchies and injustices that characterize contemporary societies. Continue reading