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Posts Tagged ‘China’

A Boiling Soup of Opium

June 3, 2014 | by

1839_LinDestrOpium_16580606

Unknown Chinese artist, Commissioner Lin and the Destruction of the Opium in 1839

Happy Opium Suppression Movement Day! This is, according to such reputable resources as Wikipedia and career.osa.ncku.edu.tw, a Taiwanese holiday dedicated to stamping out cigarette smoking—but it all began on June 3, 1839, when more than one thousand tons of illegal opium were systemically destroyed at Humen, in China’s Guangdong province.

By that time, an estimated four to twelve million Chinese citizens were opium addicts; though the opium trade had been banned in China since 1800, smugglers continued to import massive quantities, largely to the gain of the British and the East India Company. The Daoguang Emperor, understandably fed up with these circumstances, adopted a kind of zero-tolerance policy, enforced by a Special Imperial Commissioner named Lin Zexu.

In March of 1839, tensions between the British and the Chinese came to a head, and Commissioner Lin aimed to seize the Brits’ entire supply of opium; when said Brits offered only a small bit of their contraband, Lin threatened to behead one of them. Long story short, his force paid off, and he came into tons and tons of opium. On June 3, he began to destroy it all, a task that absorbed the better part of three weeks. An 1888 account explained his process, which was ingenious, if labor-intensive: Read More »

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Beauty Is Not Truth, Truth Not Beauty, and Other News

May 22, 2014 | by

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Keats was wrong, scientists say, kind of. Keats’s drawing of the Sosibios Vase, c. 1819

  • Was Frank O’Hara the social-media whiz of his day? Well … “O’Hara’s Lunch Poemslike Facebook posts or tweets—shares, saves, and re-creates the poet’s experience of the world. He addresses others in order to combat a sense of loneliness, sharing his gossipy, sometimes snarky take of modern life, his unfiltered enthusiasm, and his boredom in a direct, conversational tone. In short, Lunch Poems, while fifty years old, is very a 21st-century book.”
  • With apologies to Keats, beauty is likely not, in fact, truth; nor, by transitive property, is truth beauty. “The discourse about aesthetics in scientific ideas has never gone away … Today, popularizers such as Greene are keen to make beauty a selling point of physics … the quantum theorist Adrian Kent speculated that the very ugliness of certain modifications of quantum mechanics might count against their credibility. After all, he wrote, here was a field in which ‘elegance seems to be a surprisingly strong indicator of physical relevance’ … We have to ask: what is this beauty they keep talking about?”
  • “The Chinese name diseases based on symptoms, so diabetes is known as ‘sugary pee.’” A few doctors wish to remedy this.
  • “Beginning in the late 1930s, Richard Edes Harrison drew a series of elegant and gripping images of a world at war, and in the process persuaded the public that aviation and war really had fundamentally disrupted the nature of geography … Harrison dazzled readers of Fortune with artistic geo-visualizations of the political crises in Europe and Asia. The key decision he made was to reject the Mercator projection, which had outlived its purpose.”
  • The anxiety (and ecstasy) of influence in Bob Dylan: “With the help of Google Books, Scott Warmuth, a fan from New Mexico, has been delving deeper into Dylan’s recent writing and finding all kinds of odd, uncredited borrowings. Passages from Dylan’s memoir, Chronicles: Volume One (2004), were taken from disparate sources: from H. G. Wells, Jack London, Hemingway, and Fitzgerald; from Tony Horowitz’s nonfiction book “Confederates in the Attic,” a travel guide about New Orleans, and an issue of Time, from 1961 … Dylan’s ‘appropriations were not random. They were deliberate. When Scott delved into them, he found cleverness, wordplay, jokes, and subtexts.’”

 

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The Message in the Meaningless

April 29, 2014 | by

Fig. 46_Zhang Huan_Family Tree

Zhang Huan, Family Tree, 2001, nine chromogenic prints. Photo: © Yale University Art Gallery.

Fig. 45_Song Dong_Printing on Water

Song Dong, Printing on Water (Performance in the Lhasa River, Tibet), 1996, thirty-six chromogenic prints. Photo: Eugenia Burnett Tinsley.

Fig. 39_Wu Shanzhuan_Character Image of Black Character Font_1989

Wu Shanzhuan, Character Image of Black Character Font, 1989, six unmounted sheets; ink and color on paper image. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 47_Liu Dan_Dictionary

Liu Dan, Dictionary, 1991, ink and watercolor on paper. Photo: courtesy of Sotheby’s.

Fig. 40_Gu Wenda_I Evaluate Characters (2)

Gu Wenda, Mythos of Lost Dynasties Series—I Evaluate Characters Written by Three Men and Three Women, 1985, hanging scroll; ink on paper. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 128_Cai Guo Qiang_Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10

Cai Guo-Qiang, Project to Extend the Great Wall of China by 10,000 Meters: Project for Extraterrestrials No. 10, 1990, accordion album of twenty-four leaves; ink and gunpowder burn marks on paper. Photo: courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fig. 113_Wang Dongling_Being Open and Empty

Wang Dongling, Being Open and Empty, 2005, hanging scroll; ink on paper. Photo: courtesy of the Metropolitan Museum of Art.

Fig. 138_Ai Weiwei_Stool

Ai Weiwei, Stool, ca. 2007. Photo: Courtesy of the artist.

Fig. 144_Zhang Jianjun

Zhang Jianjun, Scholar Rock (The Mirage Garden), 2008, silicone rubber. Photo: courtesy of the artist.

Late last year, the Metropolitan Museum of Art unveiled “Ink Art: Past as Present in Contemporary China,” the institution’s first survey of contemporary art from the country. Situated within the museum’s Chinese art galleries, the exhibition interspersed the old with the new, adding context—or, perhaps, simply conserving space. In the permanent Ming Scholar’s retreat, an aubergine rubber scholar rock by Zhang Jianun cast a long shadow over its limestone brethren, while unusable furnishings by the artist-activist Ai Weiwei—a wobbly stool constructed like craniopagus twins, and a table folded at the middle so its four legs have become two legs and two arms—seemed poised to animate and wander away from their sixteenth-century predecessors. Resistance to tradition is a prominent theme in Ink Art, as is the importance of writing in—subtext, of course—a country with an active policy of censorship.

The exhibition looked at the evolution of China’s calligraphic traditions, but its most powerful statement came with works that play on an idea of language, rather than on actual words. Song Dong’s 1996 performance Printing on Water (Performance in the Lhasa River, Tibet), in which the artist futilely stamped the water’s surface with a large wooden seal, alludes to the hopelessness the act of writing can evoke, particularly if it leaves no trace. The final two works in “Ink Art” are also concerned with meaningless writing—but they combined to create a more comforting message. Xu Bing’s installation Book from the Sky filled the last room with scrolls covered in block-printed Chinese characters. The text cascaded in soft arcs across the ceiling, wallpapering the room and coming to rest in neat piles on the floor. The careful organization evokes a calm—which is abruptly displaced when one learns that the text comprises four thousand nonsense characters. Most Western viewers wouldn’t be able to read the text anyway, but the realization that no one can is transformative. An expanse of gibberish becomes an inhabitable space of words: the viewer is absolved from the act of reading. Read More »

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It Lurks

January 31, 2014 | by

nian

The creature in question, ostensibly terrifying.

Today is the Chinese New Year, and as you prepare to celebrate, I entreat you to remember the reason for the season. It’s a tale of not inconsiderable woe, and for this reason children are cautioned against reading it, though they’re also, paradoxically, commanded to heed it.

In the land called China, during a period called the shànggǔ—which translates roughly to “a very long time ago”—a fearsome creature-beast once roamed the land. It was known as the Nian, because rather than howling or roaring like your more conventional monster types, it emitted a cry that sounds like the Chinese word nián. Accounts of the beast’s appearance vary, but in many depictions, it resembles the stone lions sometimes seen outside Chinese restaurants: flat faced, with a dog’s body, prominent incisors, and a barrister’s powdered wig. Some have even described it as a lion with the heart of a bull. All of which suggests that it’s fairly effete and underwhelming, with very high blood pressure.

And yet it struck terror into the hearts of men. Every year on the night of the second full moon after the winter solstice, the Nian would come down from its home in the mountains to harass people and eat their chickens and children. In order to escape its wrath, the villagers would evacuate their homes and flee into the forest. This went on for centuries, presumably, until one year the people devised a plan. They sent an emissary up through the mountains into the Nian’s lair. Quaking with fear, he approached it and he said, “Nian, if you think you’re so big, go and kill all the other monsters in the world.”

And so it was that the Nian killed all the other monsters in the world. Read More »

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WTF, and Other News

September 24, 2013 | by

wtflarge

  • Poet Kofi Awoonor was among the victims of the Nairobi terrorist attacks. The African Poetry Book Fund will publish his final collection next year. Meanwhile, the Wall Street Journal runs one of his last poems.
  • Following charges of author-bullying, Goodreads has declared that, going forward, it will “delete content focused on author behavior.”
  • China is establishing a naming system for seabed areas based on the oldest known collection of Chinese poetry, Classic of Poetry, also known as the Book of Odes, which dates from the eleventh to seventh centuries B.C.
  • A concise history of WTF.
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    Chicken Poetry, and Other News

    March 15, 2013 | by

    Sorted-BOoks

    • Sheryl Sandberg: “I probably shouldn’t admit this since I work in the tech industry, but I still prefer reading paper books.” 
    • Perhaps this explains why January bookstore sales were up 5.5 percent ($2.1 billion)!
    • KFC is recovering from a Chinese chicken scandal with a Twitter poetry contest. “KFC kicked off a poetry contest on social media. The company asked fans to pen poems that include the phrase, ‘The chickens are innocent,’ laying the blame on illicit drug use at the farms. Best poem wins an iPad mini.” Yes, you just read that correctly. 
    • We can’t get enough of Nina Katchadourian and her “Sorted Books” project. 

     

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