Reinventing China: A Critique

zhuqing li

Written by Randeep Purewall

In Reinventing China, Zhuqing Li looks at how Chinese nationals, educated and professionally employed in the United States, return to make their mark on their homeland. The five cases profiled by Zhuqing Li include environmentalist Liao Xiaoyi, sexologist, Li Yinhe and telecommunications CEO, Chen Datong.

Reinventing China is an illuminating look into a generation which began seizing opportunities after China’s opening up in 1978. It’s also a fascinating window on how this generation is changing China from the ground up.

Liao creates green neighbourhoods in Beijing. Li fights to legalize same-sex marriage in China. Chen Datong takes on Apple, Samsung and Motorola by making smart phones in China accessible and affordable. And three female business partners, Wang Yi, Luo Ming and Ning Aidong, find a library bringing a new kind of children’s literature to China.

As engrossing as it reads, Reinventing China tries to make China fit into a narrative palatable to the West: the West is changing China through the Chinese. But are all Western-educated returnees to China forces for change? Is all such change positive? And why do so many Chinese choose not to return to their home country (like the author herself)?

The returnees in Reinventing China also come from some of the wealthier and more privileged social classes. They enjoy good connections. They include well known personalities like Li who is recognized internationally for her activism on GLBT issues and Liao who was named TIME “Hero of the Environment” in 2009. How representative are they for the rest of China’s returnees?

Zhuqing Li also positions her cases alongside a history of Chinese returnees including Sun Yat Sen. Sun was a political revolutionary set on changing the existing order. The individuals here are not interested in changing the order. And where they seek to effect social change, like Li on same-sex marriage legislation, they work with the Chinese Communist Party.

China will keep changing, no doubt. Zhuqing Li shows how China is changing at a micro-level even if it’s not being reinvented.

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The Truth of Suffering

famine_in_south_sudan
Written by Randeep Purewall

I had seen it months ago, but did nothing. It got lost in that sea of tweets, saber-rattling over North Korea and post-Brexit negotiations. It was forgotten in Canada when Trump questioned Canada’s behaviour under NAFTA. Nor was it remembered with the coverage of the French election.

It didn’t go anywhere, becoming worse everywhere. The images of children in South Sudan, souls in skeletons, a two year child weighing less than a two month old. He died by the time his story hit the air.

The famine in South Sudan is a crisis. It may not affect some of us like a United passenger being dragged off a plane by security. But it affects us. Amidst all the fake news, this is real.

https://support.unicef.org/donate/famine-crisis

https://www.oxfam.ca/

 

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Hong Kong: 20 Years After

hk12

Written by Randeep Purewall

On April 26, 2017, the University of British Columbia’s Hong Kong Studies Initiative hosted “Hong Kong: 20 Years After,” a symposium on Hong Kong two decades after its handover to China. Convened over by Leo Shin of UBC, the symposium brought together Diana Lary and Josephine Chiu-Duke of UBC with Stephen Yiu-Wai Chu and Petula Sik-Ying Ho of Hong Kong University.

Hong Kong is not a democracy, but it is a pluralistic society with a liberal, rule-based culture. It served as a haven for artists, intellectuals and students in the Chinese speaking world in the 1960s says Chiu-Duke who, while living under the KMT in Taiwan, read newspapers like Ming Pao for their critical perspectives. Hong Kong’s residents also supported the Democracy Movement of 1989, and the city proved a creative force in film and popular culture.

That creative influence may be dying, however. As Chu points out, Hong Kong filmmakers are casting actors from the PRC in their lead roles and catering ever more to the audience of mainland China. The rights and freedoms of Hong Kong residents are also threatened says Ho whether in police pepper spraying student protesters in the Umbrella Movement or Beijing’s interference in the governance of Hong Kong University.

How broad is Hong Kong’s democracy movement in any case? One audience member pointed out that the Umbrella Movement was largely a youth movement while democratic reform is rarely debated in the Hong Kong legislature. Chiu-Duke noted, however, that liberal values and the rule of law in societies like Hong Kong may precede the development of democracy as they did in the U.K.

The question of Cantonese was also discussed. Chu pointed to the PRC’s introduction of Mandarin Chinese into Hong Kong schools at the expense of Cantonese. He told me after the symposium about China’s argument that learning Mandarin results in a purer form of written Chinese than Cantonese. Lary, however, argued that Hong Kong citizens will likely speak Cantonese, English and Mandarin as multilingual citizens in a globalized world.

When I visited Hong Kong in 2015, I felt that the city was as socially and culturally vibrant as any other. It was a society buzzing with life and energy. Those who predict its end in 2047 overlook its importance to China both as a source of investment for China and as a world financial centre. Their predictions also assume that the PRC will itself not change politically, including the possibility of evolving toward a more benign authoritarian regime.

It was clear from the start of the symposium: Hong Kong matters. Canadian citizens abound in Hong Kong and the legacy of Hong Kong’s immigrants is apparent in Canadian politics, business and culture. More broadly, as a liberal, post-colonial city and as a quintessentially modern Asian society, Hong Kong will continue to inspire interest.

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Film Review: After The Storm (海よりもまだ深く)

umi_yorimo_mada_fukaku8_h_2016

Reviewed by Randeep Purewall

Cast: Hiroshi Abe (Ryoto Shinoda); Yoko Maki (Kyoko Shiraishi); Taiyo Yoshizawa (Shingo Shiraishi); Kirin Kiki (Yoshiko Shinoda).

Director: Hirokazu Koreeda

One of the characteristics of Japanese art and poetry is “mono no aware” (物の哀れ), a refined sensitivity to the sorrow and beauty of the transient world. The waning of the autumn moon, the fading of cherry blossoms and the vision of wild geese vanishing into the mountain mist – all these are mono no aware

In Hirokazu Koreeda’s, After The Storm (海よりもまだ深く), Ryota is a writer who has not published anything for years. He gambles away his meager earnings, falls behind in paying child support and watches by while a new beau moves in on his ex, Kyoko and son, Shingo.

One night during a storm, Ryoto, Kyoko and Shingo find themselves stranded at Ryoto’s mother’s (Yoshiko). What follows that night are precious moments for father and son, Ryoto and Kyoko and between Ryoto and his mother …

After The Storm is a film about love, family and forgiveness. It’s a tale of Ryoto who searched for happiness everywhere except for in the present. It’s also Ryoto’s story of a life lived in search of himself. In the tradition of mono no aware, After The Storm, is poignant, poetic and sensitive, a story flowing in soul and dignity with the performances of Abe and Kiki at its heart.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MISbcZZvSPI

 

 

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Punjabi Poetry: Ustad Daman

daman

Written by Randeep Purewall

Ustad Daman (né Chiragh Din) was born in Lahore in 1911. As a boy, he worked at his father’s tailoring shop while also attending school. Daman learned classical Punjabi poetry at home and was educated in Urdu. He also learned Persian and English including Shakespeare, Keats and Hardy.

Having participated in school poetry recitals, Daman began attending musha’ara in the parks, fairs and bazaars of Lahore as a teenager during the 1920s. The movement for India’s independence had already begun. In 1929, the Indian National Congress made its Declaration of Independence from Lahore. The city was also home to Marxist groups like the Kirti Kisan and anti-colonial and revolutionary groups like the Hindustan Socialist Republican Association.

858340751-indian-national-congress-independence-movement-lahore-independence-concept

Daman recited his own revolutionary and anti-colonial poetry at the musha’ara. While attending one such gathering, Jawaharlal Nehru referred to Daman as the “Poet of Freedom.”

‘In China the Chinese are grand,
In Russia they do as they have planned.
In Japan its people rule over its strand.
The British rule the land of England,
The French hold the land of France,
In Tehran the Persians make their stand.
The Afghans hold on to their highland,
Turkmenistan’s freedom bears the Turkmen’s brand,
How very strange is indeed this fact,
That freedom in India is a contraband’
(Trans. F. Sharma).

Daman remained in Lahore upon the creation of Pakistan in 1947. The riots of the Partition had consumed his shop and library and he lost his wife and son to illness. His first act of political defiance came in 1958 when he made fun of Pakistan’s first military coup under Ayub Khan. Daman’s arrest however did little to temper his criticism of Pakistan’s military dictatorships and the corruption of its civilian governments in his poetry.

Daman wrote in Punjabi and the form, rhythm and metaphor of his poetry bears the influence of the classical and folk Punjabi tradition. If he could be sober and thoughtful in writing on the Partition, he could also adopt a more comic and satirical note in criticizing General Zia. He maintained a friendship with poets like Faiz Ahmed Faiz and Habib Jalib, but lived unassumingly in an old apartment in the precinct of the Badshahi Mosque.

Daman died in 1984. His poetry was published after his death by his friends and followers. The room he lived in near the Badshahi Mosque has since become an academy in his name.

Selected Poems (Trans. F. Sharma)

We may not say it but know it well
You lost your way. We too.
Partition has destroyed us friends.
You too, and us.
The wakeful have quite plundered us.
You slept the while, and we.
Into the jaws of death alive
You were flung. We too.
Life still may stir in us again:
You are stunned yet, and we.
The redness of the eyes betrays
You too have wept, and we.

What a house, this Pakistan!
Above live saints, down thieves have their run
A new order has come into force
Up above twenty families, below the hundred million.
Other people conquered mountains,
We live under the divisions heavy ton.
Other people may have conquered the moon.
But in a yawning precipice a place we’ve won.
I ran and ran and was aching all over,
I looked back and saw the donkey resting under the banyan.


Two gods hold my country in their sway
Martial law and La Illaha have here their heyday.
That one rules there over in the heavens
Down here this one’s writ runs.
His name is Allah Esquire.
This one is called Zia, the light of truth in full array.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Ecstacy does my land surround
All around the Army is to be found.
Hundreds of thousands were surrendered as POWs.
Half of the land was bartered away in the fray.
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

On TV you give recitations from Quran
With fables and traditions you go on and on.
Here we are engulfed in a brouhaha
While up there you are still there, my Allah
A pretender has staked his claim today
Hurrah, General Zia, hip hip hooray,
Whoever can make you go away.

Thankful are some if they can chop wood
The others, on them, their orders bestow.
Why have the people lost their mind?
For every one the Almighty has a loving glow.
People are the real masters of this world
Orders do not from the handle of a sword flow.
The ones, Daman, who have forsaken God,
Those Nimruds are laid low at the very first blow.

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Filed under India, Literature, Pakistan, Poetry, Punjabi, Randeep Singh, Uncategorized

Urdu Poetry: Mir Taqi Mir

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Written by Randeep Purewall

Mir (né Muhammad Taqi Mir) was born in Agra in 1722. His father died when Mir was eleven years old, leaving the boy to seek an education and patronage in Delhi. He was educated in Delhi by the poet and scholar Khan-e-Arzu and supported by a nobleman, but left the city upon Nadir Shah’s invasion in 1739

It was years later after returning to Delhi, that Mir became a prominent poet, winning high-ranking patrons and competing with the poets Dard and Sauda in musha’ara (poetic symposiums). Delhi was being repeatedly invaded during this period, however, by Afghans, Jat and Marathas. For Mir, the times marked not only the decline of the city, but the setting of a civilization.

This age is not like that which went before it
The times have changed, the earth and sky have changed

In 1782, Mir left Delhi for Lucknow as had other poets like Sauda before him. He found patronage in Lucknow at the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula where he received a pension and continued to write poetry. He died in 1810.

mir

Mir’s verses express the impermanence of life and the grief at the loss of love, beauty and spring. At the same time, his poems underline the transcendent experience and journey of love through the colours of the garden, the movement of the stars and heart of man.

How long is the life of a rose?
The bud just smiles

Mir’s themes of love and beauty and pain and separation established the conventions of classical Urdu poetry and his style inspired later poets like Ghalib (1797-1869). He also helped establish Urdu as a literary language. Mir reviewed and refined the use of Urdu in the musha’ara of Delhi and naturalized its use of Persian expressions. He wrote, moreover,  in the everyday language of the city, making the language of Delhi, the language of poetry.

(Trans. Russell, Islam; Sadiq; Ali)

Every leaf and every plant my state do know
The rose knows not what the garden knows

The world is full of illusions
We behold here what we imagine

The streets of Delhi were not mere streets
They were like the album of a painter
Every figure I saw there
Was a model of perfection

The spring has come, the flowers bloom cheek by cheek
Would you and I might stand thus in the garden!

The greatest sinner, Mir
Was he who adopted love as his religion

The moments of happiness
Within this world were few
Now weep for the smiling dawn
Of the garden like the dew

I never saw the stars so bright before
It was her eyes that taught them how to shine

To keep my eyes on you, and you alone
My one and only heart’s desire is this
To open them only if you are there
The height to which I can aspire is this

Mir, quit the company of Shaikh and Brahmin
And mosque and temple too – leave them behind.
Lay one stone on another in the desert
Worship your Love at your own humble shrine

I grant you sir, the preacher is an angel
To be a man, now – that’s more difficult

Go to the mosque; stand knocking at the door
Live all your days with drunkards in their den
Do anything you want to do, my friend,
But do not seek to harm your fellowmen

What days those were!
When I would drink and climb up to the tavern roof
And fall asleep, the white sheet of the moonlight over me

Man was first made of clay
And if the song you sing be good
This world of clay for years to come
Will listen to your voice

Sources:

Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (Columbia University Press, New York, 1973).

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, Mir and Ghalib: Comparisons (trans by F.W. Pritchett), 1997.
http://www.columbia.edu/itc/mealac/pritchett/00garden/about/txt_srf_mir_ghalib.html

Khurshidul Islam and Ralph Russell, Three Mughal Poets (Oxford University Press, Delhi, 1991)

Muhammad Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (Oxford University Press, London: 1964)

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Filed under Delhi, History, Poetry, Randeep Singh, Urdu

Urdu Poetry: Sauda

lucknow-mosque

Written by Randeep Purewall

To many of his contemporaries, Mirza Muhammad Rafi Sauda (1713-1781) was the embodiment of the ideal mirza. He served in the army and was a courtier and man of letters. His friendship among the nobility won him patronage as a poet and the audience of the likes of the Emperor Shah Alam (r. 1759-1806).

The eighteenth century however was a time of political disorder and confusion in Delhi. The Mughal Empire had begun to disintegrate after the death of Aurangzeb in 1707. In 1719, the Emperor Farrukhsiyar was blinded and imprisoned by his own generals. The city was sacked by Nadir Shah in 1739 and later suffered invasions by the Afghans, Jats and Marathas:

How can anyone close his eyes in sleep these days?
For fear of thieves even mischief keeps awake during the night.

The devastation of Delhi prompted an exodus from the city. In 1754, Sauda left Delhi and went in search of patrons in the Kingdom of Awadh. He took service in the courts of prominent nawabs  in Farrukhabad and Faizabad before settling in Lucknow in 1774 at the court of Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula.

Under Asaf-ud-Daula, Lucknow experienced an age of cultural splendor. Poetry, music and calligraphy flourished while mosques, gardens and gateways were built. Sauda was named Poet Laureate by Nawab Asaf-ud-Daula and remained in Lucknow until his death in 1781.

mirza-rafi-sauda

Sauda is the greatest non-ghazal of the eighteenth century and one of the three pillars of Urdu poetry. He helped refine the language through mushairras in Delhi. He made Urdu the language of panegyric (qasida), narrative (masnavi), satirical (hajv) and elegaic verse (marsiya). He also composed one of the first shahar-e-ashob in Urdu upon leaving Delhi for Farrukhabad:

How can I describe the desolation of Delhi?
There is no house from where the jackal’s cry cannot be heard
The mosques at evening are unlit and deserted
And only in one house in a hundred will you see a light burning

Sauda’s poetry is bold, vigorous and earthy. It reflects the spirit of a man of this world who, while prone to exaggeration, was also funny and playful in his verse. His satires reveal much about the society and culture of 18th century India with its corrupt officials, decadent nawabs, greedy merchants and cunning maulvis.

On the gluttony of Mir Zahik, a Delhi poet and rival of Sauda:

He only has to hear a saucepan rattle
And like a soldier digging in for battle
He’ll take up his position by the door
Nothing can shift him then: that god of war,
Rustam himself, might rise up from the tomb
And try his strength against him. He’d stand firm
He’d fight to the last breath and never yield
Until his corpse was carried from the field.

I am not the fairest flower in the garden
Nor am I thorn in any man’s path
I am neither famous for virtue
Nor notorious for vice
I seek nobody’s favours
And want nobody to seek mine
People may think well or ill of me as they please
I act as my nature prompts me
(Trans. R. Russell)

On Fulad Khan, the Police Officer

O my friends, where are those days
When the hand of a person stealing a lemon was cut off!
What peace and tranquility reign then
And how happily the people lived!
The police officer was above corruption
And not a single thief was to be found
But alas! corruption creeps everywhere now
And the city is full of thieves, loafers and cut-purses …
(Trans. M. Sadiq)

Ridiculing The Times (Tazhik-e-Rozgar)

Should one give up all and take
to Sufism, his fate is then to become
a laughing stock for the poets –
They compare his turban’s end
To a donkey’s tail, the turban itself
To a dome.

If in ecstatic dance at songs divine
He shouldn’t keep time, they whisper
“How silly, to be out of step!”
And if he moves to time, they say,
“What the hell! Is this a nautch-girl’s dance?”

Forsaking the world and trusting in God
If you sit at home, the wife believes
You to be an idle, feckless wastrel
Your son’s sure in his heart that you
Are in his dotage. Your daughter thinks
“The old man’s mad for sure”.
(Trans. S.R. Farqui; R. Purewall)

Sources:

Ahmed Ali, The Golden Tradition: An Anthology of Urdu Poetry (Columbia University Press, New York, 1973).

Shamsur Rahman Faruqi, The Satires of Sauda (1706-1781), University of Heidelberg, September 2010.

Muhammad Sadiq, A History of Urdu Literature (Oxford University Press, London: 1964)

 

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Filed under Delhi, History, India, Literature, Poetry, Uncategorized