On Friday, about a quarter of the world’s population will sit down with their families, eat a good meal and celebrate the most festive of holidays in Asia: the Lunar New Year. While most associate the holiday with China, various other countries and cultures also celebrate it – South Korea, North Korea, Vietnam, Taiwan, Hong Kong, the Philippines and Asian communities throughout America.
But Friday does not just usher in a new year, it also brings in a new animal in the 12 animal zodiac. And with the new animal, a new year of speculations and predictions. This year is the Earth Dog which, with the earth element, is particularly auspicious since the dog’s internal element is also earth. With earth reinforcing earth, it will reinforce the good. But it will, unfortunately, also reinforce the bad.
If you are having a baby during this Earth Dog year, well then, lucky you! A dog is loyal, compassionate, and values morality and justice; an easier kid to raise than a dragon or a tiger. But a dog can also be “highly dependent, suffer from imaginary fears, and sometimes self-reclusive and silent.”
Thus, it should come as no surprise that the current U.S. president is a dog. And that is the greatest fear for most Chinese feng shui masters for 2018. In general, it is not good luck when the year matches your sign. For dogs, to ward off the bad luck during this dog year, you should look to wear something red for most of the year – a red bracelet, red underwear, red socks – as red is seen to drive away bad luck. But for Donald Trump, that likely will not be enough. That is because Trump is a Fire Dog, and fire and earth clash. According to Feng Shui Master Thierry Chow, “The elements are too much fire [in Trump] and too much earth [in 2018], so that’s going to be causing him imbalance in his fortune.” According to Chow, expect Trump’s fiery rhetoric to bring about “real problems” and tangible consequences. Chow didn’t say if that also includes his tweets.
Trump aside, the question still remains – what about your horoscope for the year? That is dependent on how your birth sign deals with the Earth Dog. Check out your personal horoscope here (note you may have to do a Bazi test to determine the strength of your birth year element. You can do that here).
But no matter what the future may hold, may you spend Friday ringing in the new year with family, good friends and delicious food! To our Chinese friends who celebrate the new year,新年快乐 (sin knee-an k-why le)!
In October, the Guggenheim’s show, Art & China After 1989: Theater of the World, opened to a flurry of criticism, with the museum capitulating to animal rights activists and online protesters by pulling three pieces that involved – and in some cases abused – animals. But after seeing the show this past weekend, one has to wonder precisely when the Guggenheim first started on its path of censorship in creating Art & China as self-censorship appears to permeate the first half of the show.
Art & China covers what was perhaps China’s most innovative artistic time period – the two decades covering 1989 through 2008. With 1989 being the start, one would assume that the focal event would be the students protests at Tiananmen Square in spring 1989. Much of the art included in the first half of Art & China, with its darkness and dystopian feel, is a result of those protests. But Art & China makes little mention of the Tiananmen massacre, an event that caused artist and the art movement in China to radically change; many of the artists featured in the Guggenheim’s retrospective left the country as a result. But instead, the Guggenheim merely equates 1989 with the end of the Cold War. That might be true for the West, but for China, the Tiananmen protests and massacre was likely a more influential event. But Tiananmen – a seminal moment for many of the artists featured – is shortchanged. In fact, it is whitewashed. One slide shockingly describes the Tiananmen massacre as a simple clearing of the Square:
Back in Beijing, in the early morning of June 4, soldiers cleared demonstrators from Tiananmen Square, marking the end of a democracy movement to which advanced art had been closely allied. In the months that followed, the publications and institutions that had catalyzed artist discussion throughout the 1980s were reined in or shuttered. . . .
There is no mention of the fact that the Chinese government ordered the massacre of hundreds to possibly thousands of unarmed civilians the night of June 3 into the early morning of June 4, 1989 on the streets surrounding the Square. Even the pieces that directly address the Tiananmen massacre, choose not to explain it. Wang Xingwei’s painting of a cyclist ferrying two bleeding penguins does not mention that the painting is a reference to a tragic photo from that night where the penguins were dying people. It does not even show the original photo. Similarly, Zheng Guogo’s sculpture of a line of deep fried toy tanks makes no mention of the iconic photo of Tank Man – a Chinese man stopping a line of tanks after so many civilians were killed by those same tanks only hours earlier. Again, the original photo is absent. And as Jane Perlez points out in her New York Times piece, even for those artists featured, the Guggenheim chose not to include more powerful and artistic pieces likely because they more honestly and precisely addressed what happened on June 4, 1989 and would arouse the ire of the current Chinese government. There is one piece at the end of the exhibit- Yang Jiechang’s Lifelines I – where the wall plate goes into a little more detail, acknowledging that this piece reflects the zigzag paths that volunteers carried injured protesters to hospitals and to safety.
But the Guggenheim should not assume that the people visiting the show will already know the history. This past weekend, much of the crowd appeared to be average tourists, not necessarily people who are China watchers. With many looking like they were below the age of 40 who likely didn’t personally experience the events of 1989. Without putting these early works from 1989 and the early 1990s into the proper historical perspective, these visitors lose the true meaning of not just the works, but what these artists were doing with their movement.
Chen Zhen’s “Precipitous Parturition”
The Guggenheim does a bit of a better job explaining the next major event that impacted these artists – the rapid economic development that took China from a poor country to the second largest economy in the world. But again, the description of these events presupposes a knowledge of China. The enormity of this transformation – in a night, entire neighborhoods were razed, with new buildings being built a week later; in the spans of 10 years, China’s urban population would grow from 26% to 50% of the total population – is not fully developed. But that massive societal shift is never put in any type of measurable perspective which makes it difficult to truly understand what these artists were responding to.
Finally, Art & China only features avant-garde, conceptual art from 1989 through 2008. Most of China’s famous artists from 1989 to 2008 who practiced in more staid mediums like oils or watercolors are not featured. But many of the conceptual pieces that the Guggenheim chose to feature were some of the most important from the time period and heavily influenced not just artists in China but also abroad.
Yang Jiechang’s Lifelines I, one of the few pieces where there is a little more description about the Tiananmen massacre.
Art & China is in its final week, closing on Sunday, January 7. But given the whitewashing of the Tiananmen Square protests and massacre, an average visitor likely will not fully comprehend the depth of what these artists were doing in the early 1990s. It is true that many Western observers seek to view Chinese art through a political perspective and that has, rightfully so, frustrated many of China’s newest artists. But for the artists of the early 1990s, their art was a reaction to the Tiananmen massacre. So it is essential to explain their work through that lens. That fact that the Guggenheim chose not to raises the question as to why. What audience were the curators seeking to serve with their show? Certainly not the visitors, who are left with looking at political art and understanding a movement without any perspective; and certainly not the artists from the early 1990s whose work was completely altered by Tiananmen. It is unfortunate that the Guggenheim – in a show that starts with 1989 – chose not to fully explain or address Tiananmen. it does a disservice to the featured Chinese artists and their impressive work.
Art & China After 1989: Theater of the World Through January 7, 2018
1071 Fifth Avenue
New York, NY 10128
Sundays through Wednesdays & Fridays: 10 AM – 5:45 PM
Saturdays, Pay What You Want After 5:45 PM
Otherwise $25 adult; $18 students and seniors; children below 12 free
Skip the line and purchase online: https://tickets.guggenheim.org/Info.aspx?EventID=3
Ai Weiwei’s public art installation, Good Fences Make Good Neighbors, may be the talk of New York right now, but it is the recently-opened exhibit at New York’s Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA) that, if you want to see a subversive take on the current Administration’s immigration policy, is not to be missed.
MOCA’s exhibit, FOLD: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures, focuses on an event that ushered in a radical change in the United States’ immigration policy: the 1993 shipwreck of the Golden Venture in the Rockaways, Queens and the 281 Chinese undocumented immigrants, mostly men, who emerged from that cargo ship. While 10 drowned trying to get to shore and another 190 were deported back to China and other countries, approximately 80 sought asylum and thus could stay in the United States pending a decision on their applications.
But unlike previous asylum-seeking immigrants, the Golden Venture men were not permitted to remain free. Instead, for almost four years, while their cases were pending, they were held behind bars, mostly in a detention center in York, Pennsylvania. With nothing to do, the prisoners began making shapes out of paper in the traditional Chinese folk art of papermaking, known in Chinese as zhezhi and popularized in Japan as origami. But these artists took their papermaking to another level. By tightly folding thousands of pieces of papers, the men were able to make large, beautiful paper sculptures. Some were of things that they knew – the ship that brought them to America, the Statute of Liberty, eight-story pagodas. And some reflect more their emotions – birds trapped in cages. Or their playful side with cats fishing for fish and cartoon characters playing with each other.
One of the paper sculptures in MOCA’s FOLD
With over 40 of these sculptures, FOLD showcases these artists at the forefront of a folk art revolution, with a creation of a new type of art – qianzhi, now known in English as “Golden Venture folding.” But more importantly, this section of FOLD reflects these immigrants’ humanity, something that has been too easily lost in the past year as rhetoric surrounding immigration takes on an increasingly cruel and callous tone.
And it is the second half of FOLD that brings us back to the unpleasant reality of the United States’ severe immigration policy over the past 20 years, culminating with the current Administration. In a 20-minute documentary that runs in a continuous loop in another room, FOLD places the Golden Venture in its historical context. Even under a Democratic President – in 1993, Bill Clinton – the idea of an immigrant as a person, as a family, as an artist began to be replaced with the fear of an immigrant as a security issue or worse, a negative political poll.
MOCA’s FOLD Exhibition
With discussions about the “bed quota” – a Congressional mandate that requires 34,000 immigrants to fill beds in immigration detention facilities not because there is a need but because the contracts with private prison companies require it – and the recent reversal on the Deferred Childhood Arrivals Action (DACA) program, where many of these DACA recipients now face the very real possibility of deportation solely because they trusted the government, FOLD sadly makes clear that the United States’ immigration policy is no longer a policy. Instead it is a program that is used to feed corporate interests and nativist political whims. Immigration has always been a difficult issue in America since essentially our founding. But FOLD reminds us that there was a time before the Golden Venture when it wasn’t always like what it is today and our laws and regulations were shaped by policy, a policy that reflected our immigrant roots and sought to balance the interests of America with the humanity of the individual.
FOLD: Golden Venture Paper Sculptures Through March 25, 2018
Museum of Chinese in America (MOCA)
215 Centre Street
New York, NY 10013
Open Tuesday through Sunday: 11 AM – 6 PM
Open Late on Thursdays to 9 PM
Free the first Thursday of every month
Otherwise $10 Adult; $5 Senior, Student, Children (includes permanent exhibits on history of NYC Chinatown)
On Saturday, the world will awake to the crow of the rooster as most East Asian countries mark the beginning of a new year: the year of the rooster. But this is not just any old rooster; instead, it is the year of the fire rooster and it is that fire rooster that is causing many Chinese Feng Shui masters to predict that 2017 will be a tumultuous year.
Asian lunar new year, also known as the Spring Festival in China, doesn’t just usher in a new animal in the 12 animal zodiac, it also brings forth a new element. In addition to being associated with an animal, each year is also associated with one of the five astrologic elements (metal, wood, water, fire and earth). For 2017, that element is fire. But at the same time, each zodiac animal is independently associate with one of the five elements. And a rooster is metal.
So, you have a metal animal in a fire year. According to Feng Shui master Raymond Lo, this just produces all sorts of ugly as fire conquers metal, making for a destructive relationship and causing disharmony in the year to come. For Lo, “it will not be surprising that there will be serious explosions, fire disaster and war in 2017.” Noted Feng Shui master Joey Yap is also on the same wavelength, remarking that with a metal rooster in a fire year, 2017 will be “dominated by challenges, fierce competition and scarcity of resources.” As if on cue, the PBS Newshour just ran a story that water may soon become unaffordable for one-third of Americans.
But just because the world might be going to pot doesn’t necessarily mean that your life will. How you fare in the fire rooster year is dependent on how your birth sign deals with the rooster. Check out your personal horoscope here (note you may have to do a Bazi test to determine the strength of your birth year element. You can do that here – note that birth date is entered day-month-year).
But it might not all be bad. In past fire rooster years, good things have happened. In 1897, aspirin was invented; 1957 saw the production of West Side Story as well as the formation of band the Quarryman with John Lennon and Paul McCartney, essentially the predecessor to the Beatles.
For those having a baby in year of the rooster, expect a faithful, reliable yet ambitious child, quick to speak and express his opinions. But budget a lot for clothes. Roosters are known to dress up and be meticulous about their appearance. Elton John, Bette Midler, Kate Middleton – all roosters
Whatever Year of the Fire Rooster may bring, may you celebrate the new year with family, friends and good food! To all our Chinese friends who celebrate the new year, 新年快乐 (sin knee-an k-why le)!
Happy Lunar New Year! (courtesy of the Int’l Business Times)
Seven years ago today, China Law and Policy (“CL&P”) was born. With Chinese language skills, a knowledge of Chinese history and an understanding of law, our goal was to offer a nuanced perspective on China, in particular its legal development and how that development shapes the rest of the world.
In the past seven years, many of our blog posts have focused on the growth, and recent retraction, of China’s human rights attorneys. We believe that legal development does not happen in a vacuum. While the most recent crackdown on human rights lawyers appears limited to just these lawyers, it is not. It reflects a ruling party ideology that is uncomfortable with – if not completely hostile to – a rule of law. Especially when that rule of law seeks to constrain the unbridled actions of the Chinese Communist Party, or more aptly, the actions of its chief, President Xi Jinping. The western public should not be surprised that China has no interest in abiding by the Permanent Court of Arbitration’s South China decision if it willy-nilly violates its own domestic laws, holding human rights attorneys in detention without access to lawyers and charging them with subversion.
As a result, CL&P’s mission is even more important now than when we first started. But since it is CL&P‘s birthday, it is time to take stock. Our reach continues to grow. We have over 5,500 followers over all of our platforms (twitter, facebook, email and RSS feed) and our posts continue to be cited by journalists, Congress, academics and other bloggers. Our most popular posts this year deal with issues that China is grappling with in its relationship with the rest of the world. Our post on the expulsion of French journalist Ursula Gauthier was by far the most popular post this year. But Anatomy of a Crackdown: China’s Assault on its Human Rights Lawyers, was a close second. Also in the top five were our analysis of China’s first gay marriage case and our review of Wang Nanfu’s movie, Hooligan Sparrow, a documentary on the life, times and adversity of feminist advocate Ye Haiyan. Our annual Lunar New Year greeting, a playful post in our “Just for Fun” category, again rounded out the top five.
Where is the cake? Happy birthday China Law & Policy!
While CL&P continues to thrive, I will admit that over the past few months, balancing this blog with other life events has been a challenge. Hence, a decrease in the level of posting. But going forward my commitment remains strong to continue this blog and to find even more voices to publicize through our podcasts and guest blogging program. So if you are interested in writing for CL&P or you have an idea for a blog post or podcast, please reach out: email@example.com.
Again, this year, I want to thank everyone who reads this blog and who has given me much needed comments, edits and information. But in particular, I want to thank a few individuals who have provided support, encouragement, and ideas that have sustained me through this year: Jerome Cohen, Amala Lane, Jeremy Daum, Andrea Worden, Edward Wong, Eva Pils, Tom Cantwell, Madhuri Kommareddi, Elise Brown and Jerome Lynch.
Finally, I want to thank the hundreds of Chinese public interest lawyers who continue to fight for the rights of China’s most vulnerable, even in the wake of the Chinese government’s efforts to end their work and obliterate their lawyering. From your practice of law and your tenacity I have learned much that I seek to apply in my work as a legal services attorney. I continue to be humbled by all that you do.
Thank You and Happy Birthday to China Law & Policy!
One of the cave replicas at the Getty’s Dunhuang exhibit
For close to 1,000 years, Dunhuang, an oasis town in western China, served as the crossroads of the world, with art that reflected its cosmopolitan nature. Much of that art is found in the Mogao Caves located just outside of the town and reflect the development of Buddhist art in China from 400 AD to approximately 1400 AD. Fast-forward to today and Dunhuang is a virtual unknown to most Americans. Its hypnotic cave art completely forgotten by the world at large.
But starting this Saturday, the Getty Center will change this status quo, bringing the jewels of Dunhuang to North America in a magical exhibit that is not to be missed. Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road contemplates the Getty’s 25-year history conserving this amazing art and supporting the Dunhuang Academy, a Chinese-based organization created in 1944 to preserve the Buddhist cave art of Dunhuang.
A westernized figurine in one of the earlier caves
Cave Temples of Dunhuang is broken down into three parts. The first portion is a perfect replica of three caves – Cave 275, Cave 285 and Cave 320. Surrounded by imposing Buddhist statues and with walls covered with Buddhist art, together these caves show the development and siniciziation of Buddhist art. In Cave 275, western artistic influence is apparent, with one statute displaying clear Western features. Cave 285 includes Hindu deities as part of the Buddha’s court. But by Cave 320, the art is clearly Chinese. It is also the height of Chinese art.
After visiting the caves, you are escorted to the second part and it is likely this part that will serve as the biggest draw. It is probably the reason why the Getty is extending its weekend hours. Instead of physically replicating the caves, the Getty commissioned yU+co to create a 3-D, immersion copy of one of the Mogao Caves. After donning 3-D glasses, you are escorted to a dark room and soon, you are flying around Cave 45, stopping periodically on a statute or painting on the ceiling, with the narrator explaining the religious significance of each piece. It is a fun way to see this art and an amazing experience. It is also likely the way of the future for museums shows. Or at least those that can afford it.
But it is the third part – the most traditional – that truly showcases the gems of this exhibit. After 1400, the Mogao Caves were largely closed, forgotten and covered by sand. But in the early 1900s, western explorers re-discovered this area. With China in the throes of dynastic decline and revolution, these explores absconded with some of the best art – paintings on silk, ancient manuscripts, instructions on how to paint the caves – all of which had been perfectly preserved in a sealed up cave known as the Library Cave. These masterpieces largely sit in storerooms of British and French museums. The British Museum, which has the most artifacts from the Library Cave, has none of these pieces on permanent display. The French museums also rarely show their Dunhuang pieces. While these museums argue that exposure to the light would destroy these delicate artifacts, one wonders if, in 2016, that is still the real reason why only a select few are permitted to see these amazing pieces of art and important relics of world history.
How did all those tiny Buddhas get to the ceiling? The Getty explains
Fortunately, the Getty was able to borrow many of the treasures of the Library Cave and has displayed these for visitors to see. The Diamond Sutra, the world’s oldest printed book, is on display, as are writings reflecting the various religions practiced in Dunhuang – Hebrew scripture, a Christian psalm translated into Chinese. But the paintings on silk are truly mesmerizing, with bold colors and patterns that hold your attention. One painting on silk seems more like an art deco piece of the 1920s than a piece from 700 AD, making one realize that some conceptions of beauty never go out of style. Once the Getty closes this show and returns the art, these are pieces that will likely never see the light of day again which is truly a travesty. This alone is a reason to see this show. But the final part of Cave Temples of Dunhuang ends with an explanation of how these caves were built, the lives of the artisans and how exactly they did all of this, allowing the visitor to better understand the people who commissioned
1920s Art Deco or 700s Tang Dynasty?
and built these caves.
Through Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road, and the care that went into creating such a breathtaking show, the Getty Center’s dedication to preserving this important world cultural site and sharing its beauty is clear. And unlike its British and French museum counterparts, the Getty understands that this important art must been seen by the world at large. Cave Temples of Dunhuang also does a wonderful job of explaining the religious and historical significance of the art and perfectly captures why Dunhuang is still an important site. If you are in Los Angeles this summer, be sure to put this at the top of your list. You won’t regret it.
Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road
May 7, 2016 – September 4, 2016
The Getty Center
1200 Getty Center Drive
Los Angles, CA 90049 ***During the Exhibit, the Getty will stay open late on Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays***
Note that tickets for the physical and immersion caves are timed but the exhibit of artifacts can be seen at any time.
The thing about Chinese food in California is the vegetables. With cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco only a stone’s throw away from major agricultural areas, “fresh” takes on a whole new meaning there. When you mix that with the fact that Chinese cuisine really plays up vegetables and lets them stand on their own, you can find some of the best Chinese food in America.
And some of the best Chinese food in America is exactly what I found last Friday night in a tiny little restaurant called Tasty Noodle House located in a nondescript strip mall in San Gabriel valley, just outside of LA proper.
With three other friends, one who is a vegetarian, we ordered large with a total of eight dishes. While the waitress told us at dish six that we over ordered, the food is so amazing that, by the time we were done with our meal, not a single scrap was left. Some of this had to do with the fact that we were starving after a day of hiking, but also Tasty Noodle House goes light on the oil, allowing the flavors of the food to stand on its own. But even without the heavy oil, the food is authentic and the place is perfectly Chinese – a bathroom that can only be found by walking through the narrow kitchen and Mandarin soaps on the flat screen TV.
The first dish to arrive was the sautéed green beans. Ordinarily, this is a dish with pork but Tasty Noodle House does a different take: thick, succulent string beans, flavored with garlic and ginger with tiny little shrimps. The ginger addition and shrimp were a pleasant surprise and really made this into a light, delicious dish.
Amazing Scallion Pancakes
But what came next is what I would term a little piece of heaven: the scallion pancakes. These were thin little things, perfectly crispy and soft, and with only a hint of scallion, not the overpowering flavor that usually fill the pancakes in less refined Chinese restaurants. These pancakes also did not have the grease of a takeout joint and instead appeared to replace traditional Chinese cooking oil with what my dining companions could only conclude was butter. While not traditional, this addition of butter made these pancakes irresistible.
But the highlight of the meal was the Sichuan eggplant (鱼香茄子). This is by far the best Sichuan eggplant I have had in a long while. The tough purple skin was not to be found on this eggplant, allowing the eggplant itself to take on the flavors of the sauce which was exploding with flavor. Although slightly oily than other dishes, this was eaten quickly by my dining companions. If you like eggplant, this is a must order dish.
World’s best Sichuan Eggplant? Yes!
And while Tasty Noodle House does amazing things with its vegetables, its meat dishes are not to be overlooked. Because we were only ordering one meat dish, the waitress informed us that the best meat dish on the menu is by far the sliced lamb pan fried. She was right. The lamb, a good, lean cut, was delicately balanced by the very fresh vegetables that also came with the dish. All too often lamb dishes in Chinese restaurants are nothing more than a vehicle for cumin, with the cumin overpowering all other flavors. But not at Tasty Noodle House. Instead, the chef truly understands subtlety and allows the flavors to work with each other.
Finally, while Tasty Noodle House has pretty amazing dumplings for a restaurant that is not a dumpling house. These are not store bought dumplings either. The waitress informed us that all dumplings are made on site, even the skin of the dumpling is made there. We ordered the leeks and fish boiled dumplings and the filling to dumpling skin ratio was almost perfect, with the filling bursting with fish meat and skin adding only a supporting role.
Our other dishes were also all pretty amazing but these few stand out as truly spectacular. Tasty Noodle House is one of the best Chinese restaurants in America with an all around amazing menu. This isn’t a place that specializes in one dish or a place where the heaviness of Sichuan’s “mala” flavoring is overly relied on to mask otherwise
flavorless dishes. The chef – from the Dalian region of China – truly understands how to play with flavors, allowing each to play its role in the carnival of flavors in your mouth.
Tasty Noodle House is a small space, with about 7 tables. I would recommend going during off hours to ensure that your wait is not too long. But if it is, that just means you will be even more hungry and will order more. And that over ordering will not break the
Plates almost all clean
bank. For my three friends and me, the total bill with tip came to about $84. Note that Tasty Noodle House does not serve alcohol and from what I could see from others, does not allow BYOB. But you don’t need it here.
I will be returning to LA in the spring and rest assured, there will be another trip to Tasty Noodle House so I can order the rest of the menu. I can’t wait to see what else the chef has in store.
Tasty Noodle House
27 W Las Tunas Dr.
San Gabriel, CA 91776
If last year’s Year of the Sheep was a little too sleepy for you, have no worries because Monday, February 8 ushers in the more exciting, flamboyant, roller-coaster ride known as Year of the Monkey.
For those born under the monkey sign, you are considered clever, energetic, playful, rarely embarrassed and the life of the party. With the desire to lead, sometimes the monkey can be self-centered and bossy, and at times arrogant. Monkeys always believe that they are right. Which can be dangerous as such a winning personality can often convince others to follow along even if it isn’t the best idea. But with a monkey, you will always have a lot of fun. Some famous monkeys: Julius Cesar, Danny De Vito, Elizabeth Taylor, Tom Hanks, Delta Burke, Will Smith, Eleanor Roosevelt and Leonardo Da Vinci. Maybe not all party animals but certainly influential.
2016 – the Fire Monkey!
But what does the Year of the Monkey mean for the world at large? To understand that, we need to understand a little bit more about Chinese astrology, or what Feng Shui master Raymond Lo has called a “fascinatingly accurate system.” The year’s animal sign only tells us so much. What also matters is the internal “element sign” of the animal and how it matches up with the element for that year. Each one of the 12 zodiac animals has an internal element from the five Chinese elements (wood, fire, earth, metal and water). For monkeys, the internal element is always metal. But each year also consists of an element. 2016 is fire. Hence, 2016 is known as the Fire Monkey.
And here in lies the rub. According to Raymond Lo, fire, the element for 2016, and metal, the internal element of the monkey, are in conflict, so 2016 will be no barrel of monkeys. Instead, expect international conflicts and clashes, but not to the level of 2014 and 2015. Because fire sitting on metal is also considered a “setting sun,” bringing optimism and warmth, expect conflicts to peter out quickly and end with successful treaties and agreements.
Happy New Year!
How will you do this year? Check out your personal horoscope here (note you may have to do a Bazi test to determine the strength of your birth year element. You can do that here – note that birth date is entered day-month-year). But at the very least, to ensure that the good luck of the New Year stays with you all year, here are some things to avoid on February 8 and the 15 days after, when the “Spring Festival” is ultimately concluded with the Lantern Festival: avoid sweeping (to avoid sweeping away your good luck), no collection of debts, avoid borrowing money (if you start the year borrowing money, you will be doing that all year long), do not use scissors or knives on the first day, don’t do laundry and never chop wood.
So to all our East Asian friends, we wish you a happy, healthy and prosperous New Year! For our Chinese friends: Xin Nian Kuai Le! (pronounced Sin Nee-an Kuai Le!). To kids in New York City’s public schools, enjoy your first (hopefully of many) Lunar New Years off!
There are scenes from Hou Hsiao Hsien’s (pronounced Hoe See-ow See-en) new movie – The Assassin – that are breath-taking. As the camera silently holds the scene, you are transported – even if just for a moment – to the actual place: fog rises slowly off a lake on a cold fall morning; a group of itinerant government officials march on horseback to their new assignment, tiny against China’s karst mountains; in bright blues and reds, a grandfather sips his evening tea as the sun fades. It is these sublime scenes that justify Hou’s best director award at this year’s Cannes because, as one of my film companions noted, “the cinematography is quietly masterful” but at the same time, mind-blowing.
But if it is a simple story line that is your favorite part of a movie, you will be sorely disappointed. Every beautiful scene is matched with some ill-described plot development. The film opens in 9th century China with the return of Nie Yinniang to her family home after studying to become an assassin. For some reason – which never becomes clear – at a young age, Nie Yinniang was sent away to a nunnery where it turns out, the nun who took her in was trained in wuxia (martial arts and pronounced woo see-ya) and decided to use her talent to kill people. The nun instructs Nie Yinniang to avenge her family’s pride and assassinate Tian Ji’an. At some point, the movie attempts to explain why her family’s pride must be avenged, but as post-film conversations proved, none of us fully got that part.
Nie Yinniang contemplating her choices.
What develops next is Nie Yinniang’s internal struggle. She doesn’t want to kill Tian Ji’an but she is loyal to her nun-master who has instructed her to do so. It is this struggle, and all the female characters that propel this movie forward, that makes this a feminist movie. The male characters play second fiddle to their female counterparts while the women break traditional female roles.
But those excited to finally see a true feminist wuxia movie will also be disappointed. Unfortunately, wuxia is missing from a lot of the scenes. While Hou hearkens back to the golden age of wuxia – where the actors do their own stunts without strings and special effects – the wuxia is minimal, much like the plot line. As one film-goer and a wuxia fan dryly stated after the movie “this is a Hou Hsiao Hsien interpretation of a wuxia movie.”
No plotline, very little wuxia. But still a film worth seeing for the sheer beauty of every single scene. Hou is a master director who, in The Assassin has made every scene into a master painting.
Today, the Mogao caves are are UN World Heritage Site. But for a few hundred years the caves fell into oblivion. Few knew of their existence and none visited. It was not until the turn of the twentieth century that the caves were “re-discovered” by a Taoist abbot named Wang Yuanlu. Quickly word of his discovery reached some of the Western archaeologist-explorers traveling through Central Asia. Understanding the significance of this art, many of these Western explorers descended on Dunhuang to see this all for themselves.
As a result, many of the greatest pieces of Dunhuang art are in various museums in the West. Was this art taken legally? Do the Chinese want it back?
Dunhuang expert, Dr. Neil Schmid answers these questions and more in Part 2 of his interview with China Law & Policy. If you would like to hear Dr. Schmid speak live, join him next week as he speaks on these issues on September 23 at 7:30 PM at the Courtyard Institute in Beijing.
Read the transcript below of Part 2 of this two-part interview or click on the media player below to listen:
Length: 12:29 minutes
To read or listen to Part 1 of this two-part interview series with Dr. Scmid, click here.
EL: Just to move away from the art to the political. I know when I visited the Mogao caves, it appears that for foreigners visiting the caves, part of the tour is a stop in a separate building documenting the Western countries’ purchasing and taking of the Mogao’s manuscripts and cave art at the turn of the 20th century. We know that in the case of the British, they purchased from the monk in charge of the caves at the time, the world’s oldest printed book, the Diamond Sutra. They had examples of an American explorer also purchasing some old Buddhist manuscripts, as well as physically lifting some of the cave art out of the caves. In that period, why were Westerns so interested in the Mogao caves and how did they even know about it to go out there?
NS: Great questions. So the first visitors were before 1900 and they were typically involved in exploration and survey. This has to do with what was called the Great Game, the machinations between the United Kingdom and Russia, the Russian Empire, to control Central Asia. So it was through that process that Central Asia began to be known. While we have these military and quasi-military figures in Central Asia, the first sort of striking discovery was something called the Bower Manuscript. This manuscript was a shock because here in Central Asia we find a birch bark manuscript from the 4th to 6th Centuries in what’s called Hybrid Buddhist Sanskrit or Prakrit.
Before nobody ever thought that we would find these types of materials. What it means is that the Indian civilization in many ways reached into Central Asia. This got people very excited. Number one because these materials don’t exist in India for the most part because the climate is much too moist.
Sir Aurel Stein, 1909
So what happens is after they discovered that manuscript you began to have so-called scholar-explorers, archaeologist, Sir Aurel Stein is a perfect example of that combination, come in and began to do surveys and archaeological surveys of Central Asia.
It was during this period that they began to get word of this great Buddhist site and also a site with lots of manuscripts and that got them very, very excited.
EL: Based on the fact that the tours with Westerners in Dunhuang make it a point to recount this history of the Western explorers and the purchasing of many of the manuscripts, is China making any efforts to get these manuscripts back? Especially the Diamond Sutra.
NS: Not on a large basis. So what we have is a lot of scholars working together, e.g., Chinese scholars with British scholars or French scholars, on an increasingly large basis. Also museums and institutions working together. So what we find now is that on the scholarly end of things, a lot of these materials have been digitized by the International Dunhuang Project. It’s a remarkable project for the amount of material and it is based out of the British Library. They in the process, over the years, have gotten a number of other institutions on board – the Chinese, also the French, the Russians, the Germans – to begin to digitalize their materials, manuscripts and paintings. So this is one thing that has sort of lessened the desperation for return finds because scholars have access to the materials world-wide now.
The Dunhuang Mogao Caves from Afar
Regarding so-called plunderer, Aurel Stein is often labeled that, but as you mentioned, he actually purchased the manuscripts. Of course that is controversial. Also there was Langdon Warner, who is from your alma mater [Harvard], and he is notorious for having used a technique which he felt was innovative. Basically to use tape – I am simplifying it – to put on the murals and rip them off. In the process some were damaged. He actually has a receipt for these. So Harvard’s response might be, for example, “Oh, we have a receipt, they were paid for, we bought them in good order.”
EL: So it’s all very legal.
NS: It’s all very legal, exactly. People might disagree with the methods and the authorities he spoke to actually purchase the materials. Of course, there is a lot of room for debate on this issue.
EL: I think in a talk you gave previously, you had mentioned that the Abbot [at the Mogao Caves] had tried to get the Qing Dynasty and the Emperor interested it. Could you just talk a little bit more about that?
NS: Yes. Wang Yuanlu was the person who was renovating the cave site in around the year 1900 when he discovered the cache of manuscripts. And it is a fantastic cache of manuscripts. He recognized that they were important, he wanted to get in touch with the authorities in order to know what to do with these manuscripts. And in fact the Qing Dynasty authorities weren’t that interested. Part of the slow response by the Chinese government at the time was that it was dominated by Confucian elites. They saw Buddhist materials as simply not that interesting. So this is one reason I believe that the process was slowed down for the Chinese government to recognize the value of this incredible find.
EL: Just to fast-forward a bit in time, when you go to the Mogao Caves you still see a tremendous amount of art
Tang Dynasty cave art peeking out of an entrance at Mogao caves
on the walls, you still see a tremendous amount of the carvings. How were these cave arts able to survive the Cultural Revolution as well as the campaign against the Four Olds that sought to destroy a lot of Buddhist art?
NS: Mogao and Dunhuang was fortunate because they had a powerful patron if you will, Zhou Enlai, Premier Zhou Enlai. He was hugely supportive of the renovation project, the project to stabilize the cliff face, to begin the catalogue process and also research in general. He specifically said that Mogao Caves were not to be damaged. And I have to put in a plug here also for the Dunhuang Research Academy and the people there, scholars there, who had been working on the materials for literally dozens of years at that point, they made a serious effort to talk to Red Guards, to discuss the value of the materials.
EL: And what about today, what’s being done to preserve the caves and will preservation be successful especially as more tourists come to Dunhuang?
Camels on the Silk Road
NS: Part of the problem with the caves today is that moisture and also carbon dioxide is beginning to deteriorate the caves. There’s also ground water coming up because there’s a lot of irrigation to make pretty gardens, if you will, in front of the attraction. So that water is seeping up into the caves so that the lower level of caves, at the bottom of the murals, they’re beginning to completely deteriorate.
So what’s been done over the last three decades is that the Getty Conservation Institute has gotten involved – of the Getty Museum in L.A.. That’s since 1985. It’s been their longest running project of conservation, heritage conservation. They have been instrumental in working with the Dunhuang Research Academy and also the Chinese government in creating, number one an analysis, a very detailed analysis, of the materials involved in the construction of the caves, how they deteriorate, why they deteriorate and ways to prevent it. On top of that there’s also a digitalization project going on [and a major upcoming exhibit on Dunhuang caves May 2016 at the Getty Museum, Los Angeles]
Part of that, along with the visitors center that recently opened, is to provide tourists with an alternative experience. So through the digitalization or the immersive digitalization of the case themselves at the vistor’s center and then to decrease the number of visitors actually going into the caves.
Mogao Cave #98, Uighur retinue
EL: The visitor’s center is very, very impressive and a lot of fun which leads me to think they’re hoping a lot more people come to visit it. For people who aren’t China people, China scholars, what do you think is the significance of these caves? Why should just regular Americans, when they take a trip to China, why should they go out to Dunhuang?
NS: The caves which span in their creation 1,000 years are the largest repository of Chinese art. Maintain and contain items and designs and styles, aesthetics, and also the very space itself that doesn’t exist anywhere else in China. So in terms of this kind of immersive experience, you can’t get better than Dunhuang to see how people experienced Buddhism in the Tang, for example, period. So that’s a major reason. Dunhuang itself and the Mogao caves, the site is stunning and gives you a sense of what the power of trade that unfolded over 1000 years on the silk roads or silk route if you will. The caves themselves have a cosmopolitanism. Dunhuang at that time we know from manuscripts was incredibly mixed and well-integrated. So there is a fascination with that as well.
EL: Finally, can you describe your favorite cave and why it is your favorite cave? You have to have a favorite.
EL: You can’t love them all.
Mogao Cave #98, King of Khotan and retinue (c.920)
NS: In spite of its formulaic nature, there’s a cave, Cave 98, which is remarkable. It’s quite large; it’s a large family cave, it’s an elite’s cave. But what’s fascinating for me is it’s well preserved but it also lays out the political nature of the caves, the political nature of Buddhism also. You have large donor portraits of the King of Khotan and his relations to the Dunhuang elite. Its remarkable for that reason that here we have a sort of detailed outline of political alliances that were being constructed and set in a ritual space, which is a cave. This sort of liturgical moment that in some ways is frozen in time. That’s what these caves do, they maintain relationships both among people and also with the Buddha forever and forever. I find that fascinating and Cave 98 is particularly rich in the historical-political elements.
EL: Okay, well, thank you again Dr. Schmid for your enlightening explanation of the Mogao caves. Hopefully, more people will go there but not breathe on the caves. Thank you.
NS: Thank you very much
See, for example, Peter Hopkirk’s The Great Game: The Struggle for Empire in Central Asia (London: Kodansha International, 1992).
A selection of Dr. Schmid’s publications and talks can be found by clicking here. Or join Dr. Schmid at the Courtyard Institute in Beijing on September 23, 2015 at 7:30 pm.
Hansen, Valerie. The Silk Road: A New History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2015.
Hopkirk, Peter. Foreign Devils on the Silk Road: The Search for the Lost Cities and Treasures of Chinese Central Asia. Amherst: The University of Massachusetts Press, 1980.
Rong, Xinjiang, and Imre Galambos. Eighteen Lectures on Dunhuang. Leiden: Brill, 2013.
Whitfield, Roderick, Susan Whitfield, and Neville Agnew. Cave Temples of Mogao at Dunhuang: Art and History on the Silk Road, Second Edition. Second Edition, Revised edition. Los Angeles, California: Getty Conservation Institute, 2015.