April 13, 2014

Graduate student's guest blog on "The Gate of Heavenly Peace"

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Adrienne Lagman, doctoral student in anthropology at U-M, helped to moderate audience discussions following the screening of "The Gate of Heavenly Peace" Saturday, April 12, 2014. We thank Adrienne for generously sharing her thoughts with us after the event.

One of the most powerful lines from Hinton and Gordon’s 1995 film The Gate of Heavenly Peace comes near the beginning, as the narrator sets the stage for the events that culminated in the violence of June 4th: “Events do not deliver their meaning to us. They are always interpreted.” Last night, as I watched the film and listened to the many discussions amongst the attendees, I kept returning to those lines as together we tried to make sense of what happened in the Spring of 1989 and how the film affected how we felt about it. I kept asking myself, how can we, today, come to a better understanding of what happened in those days and why? And how do we give them new meaning?

The over 70 attendees came from a wide variety of backgrounds and in our small group discussions after the film it quickly became clear that only through struggling together with these memories and drawing lines to our own lives can we come to understand how and why we are touched differently by these events. As many in attendance weren’t participants in the events, I struggled with those around me to disentangle whose memories were whose and was reminded that oftentimes it takes a long time to understand how we feel about something. Even when we think we know how we feel, closure eludes us and we can’t always feel sure. Every time I see this film, I notice something different or that a particular person or scene strikes me differently than before.

Listening to the smaller group discussions, I was continuously struck by how many participants wanted to explore how the movie was not simply a story about China and small groups of individuals with big personalities. They emphasized how it is not a simple story as is often portrayed in the West of “bad” government and “good” citizens. And though the documentary fleshed out some of these grey areas in between, many in attendance were left wondering about how in even this seemingly unbiased narrative, there were other gaps, other stories that were left out. One person shared how saddened she was by how people could want the best for each other, but have wildly different ideas about what that means and how to achieve it—whether through reform or revolution. How could so many people with the best of intentions perpetrate such acts of violence against one another? How can we really understand why so many people were willing to take a stand and die for their beliefs? One group debated the nature of violent events like this (Are they spontaneous or the result of long-held tensions just waiting to erupt?) and compared June 4th to the recent Egyptian revolution and Gandhi’s Indian independence movement. One University of Michigan undergraduate student questioned why students played such an important part in June 4th and whether things would have turned out differently if it had been workers or others who had taken the lead. Another undergraduate student emphasized the role of the Chinese media in mediating how other citizens at the time understood the events. He said that from his experience in today’s China, people often remain unsympathetic to other’s suffering because it seems so out of touch from their own experiences that they have trouble believing they could do something about it. This seemed especially true for those who’ve benefited from many of the policies of economic development.

Though our discussions only really scratched the surface of these complex issues and I’ve only briefly been able to recount the responses, I’m hopeful that many of the conversations that were started will continue throughout the week as we look forward to Monday’s poetry reading with Yang Lian and Tuesday’s panel discussion with Louisa Lim, Wang Zheng, Jeff Wasserstrom, and Mary Gallagher. One thing remains abundantly clear: history is not simply the ordering of events in time and space. History is a process whereby meaning is created, not simply discovered, and it is fraught with memories—things that are remembered and forgotten. It is only through conversation that we can begin to understand the legacy of these events for our lives today and for the future.

Posted by zzhu at 10:03 PM

April 01, 2014

And we even convinced a graduate student to guest blog from AAS!

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Mike Thompson
Center for Chinese Studies MA student

Attending AAS was more than a bit overwhelming. Academically, more than 20 panels for each time slot meant a lot of tough decisions about which panel to attend, even among talks focused on China. Personally, it meant matching up personalities and faces to the names I've seen on the spines of books and at the top of articles since I was an undergraduate.

In the end, though, it was an awesome experience to see the scholarly world, which so often only exists on paper (or on screen) functioning in real life. I felt a bit out of place, but I was mostly impressed by the welcoming atmosphere and the talkative nature of presenters and fellow attendees alike: I even had the opportunity to grab coffee or talk with some presenters afterwards, which was a blast. I also had fun chatting with the representatives at the book tables and even bumped into a Fulbright colleague from last year.

Attending the U of M reception was another pleasure. Not only did I get to meet some of the other current staff and faculty who work outside of my area, but I also met some alumni, most notably a Japanese Studies professor who now teaches at Dickinson, right a near neighbor of my alma mater, Juniata. It was more than a little surprising to realize how big the U of M network is, even at a pretty specialized conference like AAS. Even among 3,000 some attendees, I ran into many of our current wolverines attending and giving presentations.

Getting to attend AAS was a whirlwind experience, and I can't wait to head back next year in Chicago.

Posted by zzhu at 04:21 PM

March 31, 2014

Public radio's Scott Tong attends the annual conference of the Association for Asian Studies (AAS) and blogs all about it!

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Scott Tong
2013-14 Knight-Wallace Journalism Fellow, University of Michigan
Correspondent and former Shanghai bureau chief, Marketplace public radio

AAS: Confessions of a Non-Scholar

Sunday 3/30 10:41 am
Track 3b waiting deck, Suburban train station. Philadelphia, PA

“I don’t really know why I got invited here,” a fellow China journalist/podcaster observed over AAS breakfast this morning. No kidding. It’s a fair bit intimidating diving into an Asian Studies weekend populated by a gaggle of Very Smart People. The good news for me is, I’m a journalist fellow this year in Ann Arbor, so Friday morning upon registering I walked away with a name tag proclaiming “University of Michigan” (fist bump). This was my temporary intellectual entry pass, to fake my way through an academic gathering and hide my real identity. At AAS, no one knows you’re a dog.

First stop: the China pollution and sustainability panel Friday morning. These are my areas of reporting expertise -- China, environment, growth, fossil energy – but more important the panelists were my people. Familiar China-based correspondents and observers sat on the dais, including two preeminent cross-over artists straddling China news and brainiac scholarship: UC-Irvine’s Jeff Wasserstrom and award-winning journalist Ian Johnson. There is, as always good value from this group. A few takeaways: In China today there’s paradoxically high awareness of pollution yet few web searches on the topic; Beijing demonstrates political will to fix the problems, but lacks good tools for the job – statistical transparency, free NGOs, consistent rule of law, political mechanisms to resolve disputes. Oh, and there’s a cool new novel out, featuring (1) a backdrop of Chinese enviro issues and (2) many bad words.

At midday, I strolled through the exhibit area, connecting with university press editors who (say they) are interested in my China book proposal. I came away with honest feedback, an enlarged reading list (Coolie Woman, Chinese Characters, Remembering China from Taiwan, Playing for Malaya, Anxious Wealth) and this nugget from one acquisition professional: “Hey, don’t let the folks in this room intimidate you.” Okay, then. Still working on that one. By afternoon, I floated in between sessions on creating Chinese capitalism (some high-level data visualization from a noted Michigan scholar with the initials M.G.) and three decades of discovering history. By floating, I actually mean treading: these panels served as reminders of everything I don’t know.

At this point, took the escalator up to the fourth floor and I ran into a China historian I’ve consulted many times. Our chat went something like this:

Prof: Hey, how’s it going? You enjoying this?
Me: It’s great. Except I’m having a hard time following some of this.

Prof: Me too!
Me: I don’t understand how you guys understand ALL this stuff.

Prof: Actually, we don’t.

Perhaps a moment of just-being-nice, but for me it had a liberating effect. It reminded me of attending a Chinese banquet with officials and baijiu, and being graciously told: just drink what you can. Relax. So Saturday, armed with new perspective, I charged into the session on unofficial memories of the Mao era panel. New to me: filmmaker Wu Wenguang’s folk memory project on the great famine. It includes some 20 films and 700 interviews about the famine conducted in 110 villages (teaser here).

The afternoon provided a sampling of framing Chinese history, then an awfully illuminating panel on Japan politics following the 2011 earthquake and tsunami. I’d reported from Japan in 2011 and 2012, but was wholly unprepared for the updated analysis and info. Despite continued grassroots anti-nuclear opposition, and new accusations and lawsuits surrounding the botched Fukushima response, a significant amount of Japan’s nuclear generation could return online before long. What? Return of the Nuclear Village? That’s my suggestion for the title of a panel at next year’s AAS.

Saturday afternoon and evening went by too quickly. As always, these things get going just when you have to leave. I bumped into journalist colleague Violet Law, wielding a brand new book about Tibet voices she helped translate. We sat in the same section for Pankaj Mishra’s provocative talk on alternative historical narratives. But to be honest, my mind was still processing the early evening session on Models and Mao’s China. Four young scholars captivated a full room from 5-7 pm, discussing idealized images of PRC life presented to both domestic and foreign audiences during the 1950s, 60s and 70s. At this point, it’s worth asking whether I drank the AAS kool-aid. I deny the allegation. But just in case panelist number four from session 292 happens to be reading this: You had me at “political shamanism.”

Posted by zzhu at 07:22 PM

Center associate Xuefei Ren's AAS guest blog

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Xuefei Ren
Associate Professor of Sociology and Global Urban Studies
Michigan State University
CCS Center Associate

Check out Professor Ren's talk at the CCS Noon Lecture Series tomorrow, Tuesday, April 1, 2014!

It’s a retreat to be in Philadelphia this weekend, and a badly needed break from an unusually brutal Michigan winter. From March 27th to 30th, thousands of scholars and Asia specialists gathered in downtown Philadelphia for the annual Association of Asian Studies (AAS) conference.

Different from conventional social science conferences, AAS is a much more interesting mix, with literary scholars and historians presenting alongside planners, geographers, and journalists. My own panel is an example of such mix. The panel is on China’s rural-urban Dichotomy. Robin Vissor, a scholar of Chinese literature, presented her current work on environmental consciousness among Han writers based in Xinjiang Province. Weiping Wu, an urban planning professor at Tufts University, gave a talk on new patterns of housing inequality among China’s migrants. Nick Smith, a graduate student in urban planning at Harvard University, gave a presentation based on his two-year-long fieldwork in Chengdu, one of the selected sites for urban-rural integration programs. He found that the urban-rural integration program had actually intensified urban-rural hierarchy instead of reducing it. My own talk compared how China and India use very different criteria to define what is “urban” and therefore, it’s problematic to take the urbanization statistics from the census at face value when the two countries are compared.

The conference program had a lot to offer. I stopped by a session on China’s environmental problems featuring New York Times writer Ian Johnson, and moderated by history professor Jeff Wasserstrom, and a few other excellent panels on land, capital, and labor in post-reform China.

The most memorable moment was a few remarks made by University of Pittsburg professor, economic historian Thomas Rawski, who raised the question—as China specialists, what additional insights can we offer, i.e. something we don’t read about from the Economist and New York Times.

China is developing so fast, and often times scholars merely describe what is happening on the ground instead of theorizing it. The “so what?” question raised by Rawski is especially relevant today, when we have so much information just about everything.

Posted by zzhu at 06:36 PM

March 29, 2014

Emily Wilcox's AAS guest blog!

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Emily Wilcox, Assistant Professor of Modern Chinese Studies at the U-M Department of Asian Languages & Cultures and CCS faculty associate, shares her experience from the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in Philadelphia. We're grateful to Professor Wilcox for her exceptional insights and enthusiasm!

For many of us, AAS begins with the Meetings-in-Conjunction. Small conferences nestled within the bigger event, these are like block parties within a citywide fiesta, places where lasting communities form around shared interests, often with the same people returning each year. One that has a particularly strong UM contingent is CHINOPERL, the conference on Chinese Oral and Performing Literature. David Rolston is a core member as editor of the CHINOPERL journal, and this year other UM attendees included Chen Hao from UMCI, Sarah Kile from the Society of Fellows, UM visiting scholars Li Wei and Ma Shu, and myself. Michigan is becoming a hub in the field of Chinese performance studies.

CHINOPERL has simultaneous sessions, so I was only able to attend half of the events. However, this made for a full day of Chinese performance research! The day began with a panel on Republican-era theater: UCLS’s Hsiao-Chun presented on Pihuang as a national performance form. In a context in which May 4th intellectuals defined the modern as spoken drama, the old was defined against this, as music and dance. Tingting Zhao of Stanford proposed a Chinese version of “montage” in the Shanghai modern Peking opera experiments of Mei Lanfang and Qi Rushan – found in the concept of zuzhi, or “recomposition.” Xie Fang, also from Stanford, explained how the art of singing and dancing technique made wartime propaganda performance appealing to commercial audiences in the 1930s. Finally, Kim Youngsuk of Ewha Women’s University argued for a cultural translation perspective on East Asian theater modernization. The next panel chaired by Harvard’s Wilt Idema, explored performance in Qing bannermen tales, northeastern regional drum ballads, Shanxi temple fairs, and banquet singing. Elena Suet-Ying Chiu introduced a text that provides previously unknown insights into the lives of Qing Bannermen. Margaret Wan asked what makes music regional, and what does it mean when the same regional text appears in more than one place? Ziying You showed that temple fair Puju performances are put on for the entertainment of gods, not people. Thus, the preservation of temples, communities, and theater forms that these performances make possible ultimately happen because of local religious belief. Levi Gibbs of Dartmouth offered the finale in his virtuoso analysis of singing as social lubricant in banquets. My favorite panel of the day was a collection of papers dedicated to the memory of Hong Xiannü, the great Cantonese opera star who passed away in 2013. Marjorie K.M. Chan of Ohio State introduced us to Hong’s massive legacy, while Jennifer Jay of the University of Alberta showed us that Hong made a special contribution by perfecting the upright, strong female character in Cantonese opera film. Jing Shen of Eckerd College closed the morning with her analysis of the 1992 Hong Kong martial arts film New Dragon Gate Inn as an unrecognized adaptation of The Water Margin.

In true CHINOPERL fashion the afternoon kicked off with performance-based lecture. National level performer and Meihua Prize recipient Tu Linghui of the Chinese National Academy of Traditional Theatre and Binghamton University passed on lessons learned from old masters through a combination of story-telling, acting, and musical performance. Mei Lanfang was notorious for refusing to explain performance technique, she explained. He would say simply “watch me one more time” and ask his students to imitate, which they did again and again and again until they felt it for themselves. This is because, Tu says, art, unlike science, cannot be explained. It can only be grasped through practice.

In the following panel on intercultural adaptation, Chen Fang of Taiwan Normal University began by exploring the issue of how experiments with stage design, costumes, props, and other practical elements of performance can challenge actors’ ability to use traditional techniques. A stage full of steps in one case made it impossible for a Sheng actor to walk in the usual way, forcing him to change his gaze and gate. UM visiting scholar Li Wei explained the different cultural and political significances of recent versions of The Orphan of Zhao, and Sun Dong of SUNY and Nanjing University of Finance and Economics discussed Hangzhou Yue Opera Theater’s Hedda, an adaptation of Ibsen’s play. She argued that the mixing of styles and content makes for a completely new performance form that has expressive possibilities not found in any other single genre. The last panel of the day was mine, on the topic of transnationalism and intertextuality in Chinese dance. Nan Ma of the University of Wisconsin-Madison and Swarthmore College analyzed the Japanese legacy in the 1930s and 40s works of Wu Xiaobang, China’s pioneer of modern dance. I discussed the 1959 Chinese dance film Precious Lotus Lantern starring Zhao Dan’s daughter Zhao Qing, arguing that the production, dissemination, and reception of the film demonstrates the cross-genre hybridity and transnationalism of the early Mao era art world. Eva Shan Chou of CUNY Baruch presented on the transition in Sino-Soviet relations through ballet, looking at the shift from staging a foreign classics in the 1958 Swan Lake to the making of “China’s own ballet” in the 1978 New Year’s Sacrifice, adapted from the Lu Xun story. Last, Lanlan Kuang of the University of Central Florida presented her research on the new industry of performance works adapted from Dunhuang Buddhist visual culture, including famous works Qianshou Guanyin, Da Meng Dunhuang, and Flowers and Rain on the Silk Road.

Per CHINOPERL’s tradition, the meeting ended with an annual dinner “Frolic” in which participants are encouraged to perform their own singing, acting, and dancing skills. Levy Gibbs sang a Shaanxi folk tune, David Rolston performed some bits of local theater, and I danced improvised classical silk fan and Mongol dances. Wenwei Du, the untiring CHINOPERL President brought down the house in a duet with Tu Linghui.

Professor Chen Hao presents one of his paintings to Professor David Rolston at the CHINOPERL annual dinner.

Posted by zzhu at 12:13 PM

March 28, 2013

Checking in with our fabulous partner, Asia Healthcare Blog!

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1) An interview with hospital historian Michelle Renshaw, Part I: adapting to Chinese expectations of hospital care, by Damjan DeNoble (CCS MA/JD student)

Michelle Renshaw is the author of Accommodating the Chinese: The American Hospital in China, 1880-1920, a history of American medical missionary involvement with China, from the latter half of the 19th century through to the late Republican period of the early 20th century. The book, as we have mentioned before, is a must read for those wishing to understand China’s current medical system, and even more so for those interested in Chinese hospital. This is part one of a two part extensive and fascinating interview with Michelle. Here we cover the theme, "What is 'Chinese' about a Chinese hospital?".

2) Interview with Michelle Renshaw Part II: In China, Distinguish "Private" from "Market Driven" health care, by Damjan DeNoble (CCS MA/JD student)

Part 2 of the above interview. Here we get Michelle's thoughts on the current state of China's healthcare reforms.

3) China Health Care: The Link Between Income and Health, by Bradley Hoath (CCS MA/MPH student)

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending University of Michigan’s Center for Chinese Studied Noon Lecture Series. Dr. Jersey Liang, Professor of Health Management and Policy at the School of Public Health and Research Professor at the Institute of Gerontology at the University of Michigan, delivered a lecture entitled “Socioeconomic Status and Physical Performance among Older Adults in China.” This piece reflects on Dr. Liang's work, and presents some of my own thoughts on how socioeconomic status affects health in China.

Posted by zzhu at 10:32 PM

March 26, 2013

Yi-Li Wu's AAS guest blog

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Yi-Li Wu, Research Fellow at EASTmedicine Research Centre, University of Westminster, visiting scholar at the U-M Department of Asian Languages & Cultures, and CCS center associate, shares her experience from the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in San Diego, California. We're grateful to Professor Wu for her insightful and lively observations and for her time!

Blogging the AAS: Scenes from a meeting

The AAS annual meeting officially runs from March 21-24, but the e-mails and Facebook posts start much earlier: “Who’s going to AAS? Are you presenting? Can’t wait to see you!” For those of us whose professional lives revolve around the study of Asia, the AAS conference is our spring carnival, promising more intellectual delights than anyone could possibly enjoy in a single weekend: formal panels on myriad topics both well-established and avant-garde, distinguished plenary speakers, film screenings. The books in the exhibit hall will sing their siren song: “Surely you have enough room left on your shelves for me!”

But for me, the beating heart of the conference has always been the meetings, planned and serendipitous, with old colleagues and soon-to-be friends. Yahoo CEO Marissa Mayer recently announced—to some controversy—that Yahoo employees will no longer be allowed to telecommute and must henceforth work in the office. As she pointed out, “Some of the best decisions and insights come from hallway and cafeteria discussions, meeting new people, and impromptu team meetings.” For the Asian studies community, usually separated by geography, departmental disciplines, or region of study, tele-collaboration is the norm and we are fabulously good at it. But once a year, we get to gather at that office known as the “AAS Annual Meeting,” and the conference hotel transforms into one giant hallway-cum-water cooler…

* * *

Thursday morning. En route. Flight 833 from Detroit to San Diego looks like a mini AAS, as I see one after another of my Asian studies colleagues from UM board the plane. For a moment, I think rather ghoulishly of flights that crash with entire sports teams aboard. Soon, though, we are touching down in sunny San Diego. I grab a cab with some friends, and we are whisked quickly along the harbor road and delivered to the vast lobby of the Manchester Grand Hyatt. Over the next few days, I find myself wondering whether the Hyatt employees are all taking happy pills. From the maids to the concierge, everyone seems delighted to answer my most trivial questions (“how do I get over to the other tower”?) But perhaps the San Diego waterfront is its own happy pill. Whether checking e-mail in my hotel room or rushing from meeting room to meeting room, I need only look up to see sunshine, sea, and boats. After a long Michigan winter that seems intent on colonizing spring, I revel in walking to dinner without a coat.

* * *

Editorial meeting of the Journal of Asian Studies. I am one of four book review editors responsible for works on China, and this meeting is my window onto the AAS infrastructure. The AAS executive board and regional councils have already held their own meetings, and we hear about the discussions related to the Journal’s operations. While our own meeting nominally focuses on editorial matters, these also address concerns shared by all AAS units: how do we best serve the widely-ranging AAS constituency and promote adequate representation of different regions and disciplines? How can we make our members’ expertise valuable and relevant to an audience of policy makers and non-academics? How might we employ social media and other technology to further these goals?

* * *

“I’m sorry to bring this love-fest to a close,” the panel organizer announces, “but we have to get started now.” He isn’t being entirely facetious. Meeting room Windsor B overflows with hugs, smiles, and laughter as the East Asian medical studies community (including me) catches up at the beginning of Panel 62: “Beyond the Classics: The Diversity of Health Care in Chinese History.” Our delight at seeing each other is intensified by the giddy awareness of how quickly our field has grown over the past two decades. The room is packed with scholars at all stages of their careers, from new graduate students to founding father Nathan Sivin, professor emeritus, who will be chairing the session.

Throughout the weekend, I see numerous other examples of fields of study in the process of expanding and consolidating. I have coffee with a long-time friend, one of the co-editors of the newly-published Sources of Vietnamese Tradition (Columbia University Press, 2012), and congratulate him on producing a work that will stimulate new forms of pedagogy and outreach, thus laying the foundation for future scholarly careers. At the awards ceremony, I watch Jacob Dalton receive the inaugural E. Gene Smith Prize from the Inner Asia Council for his study of Tibetan Buddhism. Although I am already familiar with the story of E. Gene Smith’s quest to save Tibet’s textual heritage, it chokes me up to hear it again. How many of us can even imagine having such an impact on humanity?

* * *

Dalton’s book also receives the Bernard S. Cohn Prize from the South Asia Council, a testament not just to his scholarship, but also to the immensely fluid, contested, and contingent nature of the geographical labels that we use to conceptualize that thing we call “Asia.” For some time now, the annual AAS call for papers has encouraged attendees to organize “border crossing” panels. This year, I count a hundred panels that have been organized in that spirit, presenting cross-cultural and transnational perspectives on specific historical and contemporary themes. I have never been good at panel hopping, so I invest myself in a session on “Queering East and South Asian Pasts” and another on the different uses of a famous Han-dynasty medical text in Korea, Japan, and China.

* * *

Saturday mid-morning. My panel. The room is packed. All the panelists keep to the time limit. All get good questions. Who could ask for anything more?

* * *

The book exhibit hall is thrumming, as hopeful authors discuss their projects with press editors and people chat about so-and-so’s latest work. “I’m checking out the competition,” one scholar says to her companion, only half-joking, as she looks through the displays. I myself sneak a nonchalant glance to see whether my own book is on my publisher’s table (whew…not remaindered yet!). When I was still a professor, I would design lectures and courses around interesting new works. Now I check to see whether there is anything that JAS should specially request for review. Many display copies are already marked with the names of people who got there early and reserved them for pick-up on the last day of the conference. A friend comes over to tell me that one of the booths is giving out free paperbacks. I get detoured when I see a graduate student that I have been meaning to chat to.

* * *

First place for best T-shirt worn by a book exhibitor:
Let’s eat Grandma.
Let’s eat, Grandma.
Punctuation saves lives

* * *

Sunday morning arrives, fresh-faced and earnest. My flight home leaves late enough for me to catch one last panel, on “The Recruitment of Experts” in early 20th century China and Vietnam. One important theme was how models of expertise are subject to constant negotiation, as those who claim privileged knowledge contend with competing claims to authority as well as with public opinion.

Negotiating expertise is also an ongoing concern for the AAS and its members. My dinner companions the night before included three current fellows of the Public Intellectuals Program of the National Committee on US-China Relations. As we discussed the challenges of outreach, it seemed more vital than ever to make the case that expert knowledge about Asia is necessary and relevant. For example, in an age where policy makers and pundits feel empowered to pronounce on “the Chinese” after just a couple of guided visits to China, how can we as professional Asianists cultivate a voice that is persuasive enough to counter simplistic views? Given the political and economic pressures on academia to focus on explicitly marketable majors in science, technology, and business, how can we convince the public that the humanities and social sciences that undergird Asian studies have real value?

As I leave the meeting room, I see the chief financial officer of the AAS still at her appointed post across from the book exhibit hall, disbursing travel stipend checks to graduate students. More than money, those slips of paper are guarantors of our collective relevance, nurturing the future leaders of Asian studies and ensuring many more AAS meetings to come.

Thanks to everyone for a great conference. Hope to see you in Philadelphia next year!

Posted by zzhu at 03:20 PM

November 29, 2012

CCS community reflects on the 18th Party Congress

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(via people.com.cn)

We asked, and they responded with great expertise and enthusiasm. Please read on and feel free to comment below.

Victoria Chonn (CCS MA '09), researcher, Lima, Peru
China's leadership transition occurred quite smoothly in spite of the scandals the Party experienced in the previous months. As expected, Xi Jinping was one of the seven members of the new Politburo Standing Committee and was announced as the Secretary General of the CCP. There are many expectations for this new leadership both within and outside China, most of which focus on bringing political and economic reforms to the country. For Latin America, one of the main concerns is China's continued growth. Over the past decade, relations between Latin America and China have strengthened, due mostly to growing economic and commercial ties. While the policies toward the region are not expected to change greatly with this new leadership, there is the growing necessity to diversify the relationship to make it more mutually beneficial. This requires strong leaders, assertive guidelines, and also, domestic stability—which for the Asian country and some countries in Latin America remains a big challenge.

Qingjie Zeng, Doctoral Candidate, Political Science, U-M
The 18th CCP Congress marked the second orderly transition of top Chinese leadership. The first transition of this kind occurred in 2002 when Jiang Zemin passed the position of CCP's general secretary to Hu Jintao. The succession is "orderly" in two senses. First, the convention that every general secretary of CCP will serve only two terms is now well established. Second, the successor was picked by senior leaders well before the transition occurs, providing ample time to groom the heir apparent for the top position. An orderly power transition injects fresh blood into the leadership and alleviates the intensity of power struggle at CCP's top echelon. Indeed, many political scientists have identified orderly transition as a key reason why CCP is still in power.

At the 18th Congress, the outgoing leader, Hu Jintao, went a step further than his predecessor. Unlike Jiang who retained his control of the CCP military committee until 2004, Hu exited from all his formal posts in the party. Hu's "full retirement" is regarded by observers as a major contribution to the establishment of a rule-based political system. It also sent a strong signal against the kind of behind-the-scene influence enjoyed by the octogenarians during Hu's era.

The new top leader, Xi Jinping, is generally well-received in China for his commonsensical and down-to-earth working style. No one expects his team to launch Gorbachev-style political reform in China, but there is widespread hope that his administration will do something to tackle state monopoly in key industries and bureaucratic corruption.

Overall I think the 18th congress is a big success for the CCP. It is held at a time when China's international influence reaches a historical high. There is little doubt that Hu's era will be remembered as the "golden decade" of the Communist Party.

Gang Su, Doctoral Candidate, Bioinformatics, U-M
I think the recent transitions of U.S. and China leaderships signal a new phase of mutual interdependence. As China's economic growth is slowing down while U.S. is looking forward to a new four years of recovery, both nations will need job growth and social-economic stability. I expect to see more bilateral exchanges and collaborations. However, China will inevitably expand its voice in the south-east pacific and clash with the current U.S. influence. How these two powers interact and form a new regional order will be very interesting - there will definitely be some heated moments even hostility, but I hope the two nations, especially the people, will understand the importance of the mutual interdependence and take responsibilities for a promising and mutual-beneficial future.

Yawen Lei, Doctoral Candidate, Political Science, U-M
The 18th Party Congress was a well-planned spectacle engineered by Party elites. Whether engaged in behind-the-scenes power struggles or performing on stage, only Party elites were given the privilege of supposedly voicing the dissatisfaction and aspirations of the Chinese people. As usual, the government tightened its control over the Internet, silencing criticism both online and offline in order to maintain strict control over the spectacle and ensure that it presented the world with the image of a modern and powerful China. Any discontent of the Chinese people was stifled, as this would have negated the Party’s achievement and the image of a rising China.

Yet, contrary to the view of Party elites, the proliferation of critical citizens and critical discourse in China’s public sphere is far from a threat to the country’s progress, but rather an indication of it. Party leaders underestimate their own accomplishment. They have created not only an economic miracle that lifted numerous people out of poverty, but also a growing number of citizens who recognize their rights, respect the rule of law and social order, and are becoming increasingly adept at articulating and analyzing social problems. If Party elites could think beyond their own individual and collective interests, they would realize that Chinese citizens capable of critical thinking and diverse opinions are valuable assets. The progress of Chinese society actually provides fertile conditions for a new political miracle, in which Chinese citizens are empowered to define and enhance their citizenship rights, as well as to plan for their own futures.

Yuen Yuen Ang, Assistant Professor of Political Science, U-M
At the 18th Party Congress, both the departing leader Hu Jintao and new general secretary Xi Jinping highlighted corruption as a problem that the party must tackle. Both are probably alluding to Bo Xilai's scandal. Over the next 5 years, we can expect to see more forceful administrative and anti-corruption reforms that can effectively target petty corruption and forms of corruption that involve "stealing," such as embezzlement and budgetary misappropriations. However, grand corruption at the highest level of transactional forms (e.g. massive bribery) is the product of a vast concentration of power in the hands of a few, heavy government investments, and extensive state intervention in the economy. Combating grand corruption requires a major restructuring of political organization and of the state's role in the economy, both of which are extremely difficult and risky changes to attempt.

Damjan DeNoble, JD/CCS MA student, U-M
The 18th Party Congress will bring with it many changes to China, but the country’s ongoing national health reforms will not be affected.

Since 2009, the start of the current reforms, the rate of China insurance coverage has reached 95%, according to the latest numbers put forth in the March 2012 issue of the Lancet. If one considers that health insurance coverage ten years ago was limited to Party members and city hukou holders, this means that Chinese health planners have managed to provide health coverage for one billion people in less than ten years. It is of course debatable how useful this insurance is for many of those covered, but nevertheless the speed with which the insurance scheme was implemented is a grand achievement.

In the November 17 circular issued by China’s Ministry of Health to coincide with the unveiling of the new 18th Party Congress Leadership, medical reform leaders made clear that the reforms are a national priority. Specifically, maintaining the pace of reform in the insurance system, continuing to strengthen primary care provision in both the urban hospital system and the grassroots health system, and facilitating greater coordination between all providers in the national health care network is viewed as critical to preserving social harmony, the goal emphasized by 18th party leaders. Of particular significance to business interests, the MOH also stated within the November 7th circular, that in order to meet these goals China’s health planners will work to integrate private sector solutions within the public health system.

Coupled with the fact that hospitals were taken off the restricted foreign investment list in 2011, the inclusion of private-sector-based strategies in the MOH circular may lead some analysts to portend a large scale opening of a new China market in private healthcare. Such opportunities have been thus far limited to smaller specialty hospitals working independently (for the most part) of the public healthcare infrastructure, who cater services to high-income Chinese, as well as foreigners with overseas private insurance. While it is tempting to make such predictions due to the healthcare industry’s role in pacing the American economy over the past several decades, it is important for both investors and would be public health scholars to remember that because of China's strong commitment to public provision of healthcare, these private opportunities will more likely have to fit within China's national health plan. In other words, the future of private healthcare during the term of the 18th Party Congress is private healthcare with Chinese characteristics; one much more focused on building a strong social safety net, than on building an industry that will be an economic growth driver.

(CCS blog administrator's note: Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion, agreement or disagreement with other community members, the contributors to the post or CCS staff members - as long as those opinions are respectful and constructively add to the conversation. However, this site does not tolerate direct or indirect attacks, name-calling or insults, nor does it tolerate intentional attempts to derail, hijack, troll or bait others into an emotional response. These types of comments will be removed from the site where warranted.)

Posted by zzhu at 11:08 PM | Comments (0)

November 15, 2012

INTRODUCING: An exciting new partnership for the CCS blog!!!

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CCS dual-degree students, Damjan DeNoble (CCS/Law) and Bradley Hoath (CCS/Public Health) are interested in the changing landscape of China's healthcare system. They write and manage Asia Healthcare Blog (AHCB), a website that publishes their analysis of China's senior care sector, its emerging private hospital investment industry, and the ongoing health reforms. All analysis seeks to couch analysis within the wider context of Chinese culture. Their analysis is bolstered by first person interviews, coverage of conferences, and use of serious academic research. Lately they've been increasingly aggregating materials from sources other than AHCB to keep their readers abreast of issues in the China healthcare space.

We introduce their work on AHCB through three recent articles, two of which use the CCS Tuesday Noon Lecture Series as jump-off points for wider discussions about China:

Weaving gold silk for the Steppes, China made globalization harnessable within a lifetime - (Nicola Di Cosmo lecture)

Tea, China’s 1000 Year Old Marketing Success Story - (James A. Benn lecture)

The Need for Mental Health Services in China is Great - Making a case for greater investment into mental healthcare services in China

Posted by zzhu at 08:39 PM

March 18, 2012

Carol Stepanchuk's AAS guest blog

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Carol Stepanchuk, CCS Coordinator of Outreach and Student Services, shares observations from her trip to the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in Toronto, Canada. We thank Carol for her time and attention.

Part 1 - New Ways of Seeing:
AAS is now in full swing--and for those who were able to caravan early to Toronto, there was time before the sessions to wander--the Art Gallery of Ontario (over 80,000 works of art) is only a 10-15 minute walk from the conference on Dundas Street West. Scholars mining the field of 18th century prints might scavenger hunt through "Goya and Gillray: Humor that Bites" to find Gillray's "Reception of the Diplomatique and His Suite at the Court of Pekin 1792." And, to see the palette of the AAS bag, just breeze through Contemporary Art from the Ago Collection (Dubuffet Texturologies, Warhol's silver Liz as Cleopatra, Franz Kline...). If you edge through the new wing to get closer to the part reminiscent of a Guggenheim wrap, you might think you are inside a giant fortune cookie.

Interesting facts for hotel guests: Monet painted on his armoire door instead of paying his hotel bill... (you can see the quality expected of such an exchange, the armoire door is on display).

Part 2:

From tornadoes in Ann Arbor to activism in Toronto, we've come to expect the unexpected. This also rings true for sideline activities skirting the conference proper.

AAS members roaming the Asian collections at ROM might have first bypassed a 6'7" knight in shining armor en route to catching a glimpse of Yuan dynasty wall murals (that invite a greater understanding of large scale art projects and painting practices) or the display figurines of Mongols, Chinese, Tibetans, and Arabs, an advertisement in the medieval contours of multiculturalism.

Others came by appointment or arrangement with ROM curators to see scrolls, prints, and textiles--the fabrics being a huge draw from the Thursday night roundtable on "Seeing through Chinese Costume and Textiles," a project at ROM in the making.

Some panels fits right in with a focus on the tactile as in "Wood to Stone and Beyond: Chinese architecture through the materials microscope," raising interesting questions about mimicry and close paraphrasing in the arts.

After the formal sessions and keynote address by Gail Hershatter, Friday night invited camaraderie at the many receptions from AAS to university and institute gatherings (University of Michigan being often confused with Harvard Yenching)...Not to mention the Gilbert and Sullivan Reception the night before that reminded me of a chance encounter years ago with Rauschenberg's cronies in Beijing--just art, song, and beverage...

Part 3 - The AA caravan returns:

As we mapped our individual ways through hundreds of panels at AAS, traversing culturescapes of all kinds, there were ways to set new trends and directions, collaborations and partnerships, traveling the borderlands and bridging disciplines

And, at the interstices, editorial boards and meetings--with continued support for staple publications (BTW, Education About Asia needs to be on all library shelves--if each AAS member helped to have his/her local public library subscribe...)

The exhibit hall was, of course, busy Sunday morning (the one place to go where products can still be accessed without a password) with last grabs for those who still had room in their bags...

And, you could continue to find out good advice while waiting to leave in the hotel lobby: from those in the know at University of Washington, must-see movies in Chinese film: anything by director Jia Zhangke (try "Still Life" for starters) and, for a bit of optimism, look to the elements- "In the Heat of the Sun," dir. Jiang Wen, or "Shower," dir. Zhang Yang.

The final word:
AAS offers tremendous support in helping outreach coordinators build a platform for understanding Asia. One of the journals whose editorial board meets at AAS is Education About Asia--a peer-reviewed teaching journal, now in its 17th year of publication--which is always looking for new submissions on a range of topical Asian themes, pedagogical methods and current resources--special sections on upcoming issues being "US, Asia & the World" and "Cyber Asia & Social Media." (Don’t hesitate to forward suggestions). Over several days, we all had a chance to venture into new territory, absorb the urban resources at hand, and engage both with academics and independent scholars as well as media specialists, vendors, editors, and teachers, not to mention a wide ranging staff of supporters and cultural enthusiasts. Historian Jeffery Wasserstrom blogged earlier about this year's AAS and the "mingling of cultures" (academics and journalists) where the number of non-academics in attendance is increasing. The tiers of participants are multi-textured/layered, and we all value a chance to appreciate the work and knowledge of scholars and others in the field.

As for grad students, think about next year's spring meeting in San Diego, a superb time for whale watching and expanding academic horizons.

Posted by zzhu at 04:57 PM

March 17, 2012

Chancellor Daniel Little's AAS guest blog

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Daniel Little, chancellor of the University of Michigan-Dearborn, professor of philosophy at UM-Dearborn, and CCS faculty associate, shares his experience from the Annual Conference of the Association for Asian Studies in Toronto, Canada. We are grateful for his time and attention.

Asianists in Toronto

The AAS is a genuinely multinational, transnational gathering. Think of a particularly active oasis town on the Silk Road and you'll get a bit of a sense of the international and intercultural exchanges that take place here. Scholars born in India, Indonesia, China, or Malaysia now teaching in the United States join scholars based in those countries as well as US-born scholars based in the US and abroad, all focusing on Asian topics and coming together on lively, informative panels. The book display area would be familiar to the medieval traveler as a souk, where academics greet old acquaintances, make connections with acquisitions editors, and examine the latest publications from dozens of publishers.

And we can't overlook the occupational variation. Much as merchants, animal handlers, religious specialists, and itinerant artisans came face to face in Xi'an, the AAS is a place where political scientists, literary specialists, economists, historians, sociologists and anthropologists come together for only partially comprehensible exchanges. (What is that economist nattering on about, the art historian wonders.)

So why is there an Association of Asian Studies anyway, and why does it need an annual conference? There are of course many scholars passionately interested in Asia. But Asia is a large place with a long history. Is "Asia" a construct of a Eurocentric view of the world? Why should we assume that a single association can fruitfully serve this range of academic and regional interests?

One reason is proximity. If you are a historian of Indonesia or Burma, the history and politics of China are of deep importance to you. This is true historically, and it is true in the present. The policies of Ming China towards its southwestern periphery had major effects on the polities now sectioned as Burma, Cambodia, Thailand, and Vietnam. And if you're interested in the environmental prospects for the Mekong River basin, likewise you will be interested in China.

Another is methodological. It is valuable for a China specialist trained in anthropology to have a stimulating exposure to a well-conducted study of evolving CCP policies. It is useful for an historian of China to be exposed to subaltern histories of South Asia, since the perspectives of the subaltern school have little traction in the China field. It is useful for a scholar of the Congress Party of India to have a more engaging exposure to pre-colonial India.

One thing that is difficult to assess is the disciplinary background of people who present on AAS panels. My impression is that humanists are strongly represented -- literature, art history, film and media studies. There are generally a number of panels on topics of contemporary politics and government, including popular movements in Southeast Asia; this implies a representation of political scientists. There are often a few sessions on demographic topics, including historical treatments of famine. And of course historians are very well represented. Unfortunately the conference program doesn't make it easy to do this kind of snapshot analysis, since presenters are identified only by their institution and not department. Some people I've talked to have felt that AAS needs to try to do a better job of bringing the social sciences into the program, and finding some ways of encouraging more comparative research. AAS is very good on highlighting the particular, but some participants would like to see greater efforts at an integrative view as well.

Another practical function of the AAS annual meeting is its role in the job market for new PhDs in fields subsumed within Asian Studies. Mentors are introducing their students to other senior faculty at universities that may be hiring in Asian history, politics, or culture. And there are lots of presentations by late-stage graduate students and recent PhDs introducing their dissertation research to a broader audience. It is often very interesting work, following new topics and sometimes new methods. For example, I heard a paper by Ke Li on Friday describing her fieldwork in China observing the strategies pursued by rural women to gain divorce from unhappy marriages. (The deck is stacked against them.)

I've attended AAS since 1988, as a philosopher with an interest in China. And I've found it to be one of the more welcoming interdisciplinary convenings that I've attended (much more than the American Philosophical Association or the American Political Science Association, for example). As an oasis town, it's a thoroughly rewarding stop on our academic itineraries.

Posted by zzhu at 10:13 AM

March 06, 2012

A CCS community member's review of Wheat Harvest (麦收)

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This controversial film was screened as part of the Winter 2012 Chinese Documentary Film Series Saturday, March 3, 2012.

Carrick Rogers (University of Michigan) saw the film Saturday and was very kind to share his thoughts:

When watching Wheat Harvest one sees Hongmiao's life in three different ways, based on how the camera is held. The first is the standard shot one expects to see in a documentary, with the camera clearly tripod-mounted or held on the director’s shoulder. Those present are clearly aware of the camera and often look directly at the lens to address the director. These scenes have the most value, capturing interactions within the brothel or when the prostitute and a client are out on a date. Many of the regulars it appears desire companionship and a ‘girlfriend experience’ as much as the sex and seeing these interactions play out is fascinating. Here is where the documentary shines, showing how Hongmiao interacts with her clients, coworkers, and family.

Those scenes though feel rare in Wheat Harvest. What the viewer remembers though are all the scenes that appear to be covertly shot. Featuring camera angles where the camera is clearly resting on the lap of the director or set off on a shelf. Given Xu Tong's duplicity it doesn’t take much paranoia to imagine that during these scenes the director had ensured those present the camera was off. After all, Xu Tong made all kinds of promises to Hongmiao regarding how he could use the footage and he broke all of them. Other uncomfortable scenes also feature the director sitting on Hongmiao’s bed and pressing her to talk about her sexual exploits. She relates them in confidence and her trust is repaid with the broadcast of those words to the entire world.

The third type of scenes consists of those of Hongmiao planting corn, of migrant workers harvesting wheat, or merely walks around Beijing. At first one sees these scenes as an interesting window inside rural and urban in China. However, due to overuse these scenes begin to feel like filler used to length the run time of the film as opposed to contributing to the audience’s understanding of the subject. Many of these scenes are also thrown in a seemingly randomly order; for example, two scenes in Beijing may be interspersed with a scene of Hongmiao returning to her rural home. It is never clear exactly how many visits home Hongmiao made over the course of film, and the effect is distracting to the viewer as pieces of Hongmiao’s life are presented out of order.

Ultimately, those covert shots or shots in which Xu Tong aggressively questions Hongmiao, reducing her to tears at one point, seem to dominate the movie. They carry with them an unpleasant sense of voyeurism that pervades the film. It is difficult to actually focus on the content when one is busy quelling feelings of disgust over the director’s exploitation of his subject. Wheat Harvest does not feel like a documentary but rather a piece where someone revels in voyeurism and schadenfreude by exploiting his subjects.

Tell us what you thought of the film by commenting below. (Please click on link below to read commenting policy.)

Everyone is welcome and encouraged to voice their opinion regardless of identity, politics, ideology, religion or agreement with other community members, the author of the post or CCS staff members as long as those opinions are respectful and constructively add to the conversation. However, this community does not tolerate direct or indirect attacks, name-calling or insults, nor does it tolerate intentional attempts to derail, hijack, troll or bait others into an emotional response. These types of comments will be removed from the community where warranted.

Posted by zzhu at 02:47 PM | Comments (0)

June 30, 2011

Up, up in the sky!


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Learn more about the upcoming kite festival at U-M!

U-M School of Art & Design faculty member Anne Mondro, guest blogger:

Our last lesson was to fly our kites. The Beijing wind gently scooped up his stunning creation into her arms. Master Ha launched the butterfly kite higher and higher. The butterfly wings full of color danced in the sky as I chased after her with the zeal of a child. Next to fly were our own kites. Anxious to see them in the sky, Master Ha quickly tied them up and released them to her. Higher and higher our bamboo and paper structures rose. Tiny bamboo swallows sailing in the wind. Praise from Master Ha echoes in our ears as our eyes are glued to the tiny kites of our labor.

Posted by zzhu at 10:38 PM

June 27, 2011

Swallow kite construction

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Learn more about the upcoming kite festival at U-M!

U-M School of Art & Design faculty member Anne Mondro, guest blogger:

1. No engine
2. Only wind
3. Person to hold string
4. Kite is heavier than wind

Master Ha started today's lesson defining the characteristics of a kite. Building upon this foundation, we dove headfirst into the swallow kite construction. The swallow kite is the traditional kite of Beijing. A stylized representation of the swallow bird contains symbolic imagery of dragons, phoenixes, bats, and other creatures to depict wishes for luck, happiness, and fortune.

Understanding the necessity of creating a balanced and level kite frame to fly straight and high, we carved and bent over and over again hoping for Master Ha's simple, direct, and oh so important gesture, the thumbs up. Gluing, splitting, threading. The construction is complex, precise, and elegant. Master Ha is a skilled surgeon at work as he splices and joins the bamboo. I fumble with what I consider to be skilled hands for hours and hours. Finally, my swallow is done and now it is time to test it. I anxiously watch as Master Ha swings his arm up and releases the string.

It flies.

Posted by zzhu at 11:39 AM

June 23, 2011

Painting Lesson

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Learn more about the upcoming kite festival at U-M!

U-M School of Art & Design faculty member Anne Mondro, guest blogger:

The bamboo frame is the most important part of the kite. It is what makes it fly. The bamboo must be carefully split and carved to achieve a strong, highflying kite. That said, you can't help but become absorbed into the kite's exquisite hand painted imagery. Last evening after our bamboo lesson Master Ha treated us to a painting lesson.

Using a mixture of watercolor and traditional Chinese pigment, the double fish drawing started to come to life. Master Ha's brushstrokes are delicate and precise. Steady and gracefully, his hand moves across the paper.

Posted by zzhu at 02:38 PM

Visit to the China Central Academy of Fine Art Exhibition on Chinese Traditional Craft

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Learn more about the upcoming kite festival at U-M!

U-M School of Art & Design faculty member Anne Mondro, guest blogger:

To become a master of one's craft means more than becoming a skilled maker. It involves passion. It involves understanding how your body moves and thinks. It is about having a conversation with a material to the point that you can answer each other's sentences.

Yesterday we Had the opportunity to see an exhibition of traditional Chinese handcrafts at the China Central Academy of Fine Art. Master Ha's dragon kite immediately captured my attention with it dynamic presence. Turning my attention to the walls I Was drawn to study each and every kite by my teacher and then to the amazingly intricate paper cuts, gourd etchings, and these delicate painted bottles with traditional Chinese scenes. Upon closer investigation we find out the images are actually painted on the interior of the bottles. Meeting several of the masters and hearing about the significance of the crafts brought a greater appreciation for the Chinese culture.

Posted by zzhu at 02:31 PM

June 15, 2011

Apprenticing with Chinese kite master - off to a fantastic start!

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Learn more about the upcoming kite festival at U-M!

With support from the Center for Chinese Studies, U-M School of Art & Design faculty Anne Mondro and Matt Shlian are in Beijing this summer working with HA Yiqi, renowned Chinese kite master.

Anne and Matt have kindly provided pictures from their first sessions with Master Ha; and Anne has shared thoughts and highlights from their first day in the studio. Please check back often for more of their photo diary entries.

We came to Beijing, a city that thrives on it's mass produced goods, to seek out a true master. A master of craft and tradition. Master Ha Yiqi to be exact. Master Ha is a fourth generation kite maker and the main reason we came to China. To study and learn how to create traditional Chinese kites from one of the country's most distinguished and skilled artisans. A true honor.

Here in Beijing we become his students, watching him closely as he carves and splits the bamboo to make the boning of the kite. Our first lesson, a simple frame composed of four pieces of bamboo, takes us three hours to make. Each piece of bamboo must be level, not to thin, not to thick. We split and scrap down our bamboo over and over again. Finally a thumbs up and a "good" from Master Ha.

- Anne Mondro

A first kite.

The simple beauty of bamboo frame kites.

Anne and Matt with Master Ha.

Master Ha at work.

Just a few of Master Ha's, well, masterpieces.

A closeup.

Another closeup.

Anne and Matt in front of some of Master Ha's work.

Posted by zzhu at 04:26 PM