Friday, June 12, 2015

Guns, Knives, and Barack Obama: Promoting "Mr. Deng Goes to Washington" in China

The historical documentary "Mr. Deng Goes to Washington" opened last month in Chinese theaters. The Telegraph summarized the movie and mentioned one of the film's more unusual aspects:
The film tells the story of Deng's nine-day visit to the US in 1979, only a month after China established diplomatic relations with the US for the first time after the founding of the People's Republic of China in 1949.

Telling stories of Chinese leaders through animation is very rare in China, but Mr Deng Goes to Washington interweaves historical footage, interviews and animated images of Deng.
In a piece on Sinosphere describing challenges the independently produced documentary faced in gaining Chinese government approval, Amy Qin highlighted other details:
The film, which cost $4 million to make, features interviews with important figures on the American side such as President Jimmy Carter; Mr. Carter’s national security adviser, Zbigniew Brzezinski; and Henry A. Kissinger, national security adviser under President Richard M. Nixon who helped broker the 1972 summit meeting among Mr. Nixon, Premier Zhou Enlai and Mao Zedong that paved the way for Mr. Deng’s visit.

By weaving together interviews and footage of Mr. Deng’s visit, much of which was purchased from American media networks, [director Fu Hongxing] said he wanted to help Chinese audiences understand the importance of that visit to China’s present-day success.
Even if the film now seems intriguing, it could be challenging to make a documentary a big draw at Chinese theaters. Advertisements in movie theaters can offer a window into what aspects of a film marketers think will most capture people's attention and encourage them to purchase a ticket. So with all this in mind . . .

Here is a poster I saw for the film at a movie theater in Changsha:

Film poster for "Mr. Deng Goes to Washington" with images of numerous types of guns

The numerous guns and knives aren't what I would expect based on the above descriptions of the movie, but they may reflect Qin's observation that the film "places equal, if not greater, emphasis on Deng’s personal security during his visit as on the content of his meetings and discussions with American leaders." And in The Financial Times Lucy Hornsby shares examples of Chinese media describing an attack on Deng shown in the film as an assassination attempt.

But Hornsby adds a small detail which complicates that story:
In fact, Mr Deng was approached in a hotel lobby by a white supremacist who planned to spray him with red spray paint. The would-be assailant was punched by a member of Mr Deng’s secret service detail.
In other words, the world was ever so close to there now being a documentary titled "Mr. Deng Leaves Washington Redder".

The above poster hasn't been the only advertisement for the film I have seen in a theater. Just over a week before the film's opening day, in Xiangtan, another city in Hunan, I saw one which took a significantly different approach. It displayed a nearly life-size cutout of a person well-recognized in China. But it wasn't Deng Xiaoping:

advertisement for the film "Mr. Deng Goes to Washington" with a near life-size cardboard cutout of Barack Obama extending his left arm

At the time of Deng's visit to the U.S., seventeen year-old Barack Obama probably didn't suspect it would lead to his likeness someday standing in a Hunan movie theater.

One of the questions I am left with after considering the curious use of guns and Obama to promote a film about Deng's historic visit is "If people unfamiliar with the film were presented with only these two advertisements, what would they guess its plot to be and would they want to see it?"

At least they might provide some great ideas for new movies.*

*Added note: I wrote this sentence without anything much more specific in mind than a) some people may come up with interesting plots, perhaps suitable for action movies, and b) I suspect many of these plots would significantly differ from the advertised movie's. After rereading the post, I now appreciate there is another possible interpretation of the sentence, and it is one I did not wish to express or imply. So to be absolutely clear, I am not at all suggesting there should be a movie about the assassination of Barack Obama or that such a movie would be a great idea.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

A Red Rest in Changsha

The sculpture didn't offer a conventional sitting area as some others do in Changsha, but two boys with a toy gun were still able to find a way to take a rest on it as Colonel Sanders watched from a distance.

two boys lying on a large circular red sculpture

Tuesday, June 9, 2015

On The Side, China Once Obliterated a Weather Satellite

In reporting the opening of a new center in China for monitoring space debris, the Chinese news agency Xinhua pointed out some sources of the potentially dangerous material which hurtles around our planet:
Space debris is generally man-made litter left in space: parts of rocket launchers, inactive satellites and broken remains of past collisions.

More than 300,000 pieces of debris in space are believed to be in orbit, made up of everything from tiny screws and bolts to large parts of rockets, travelling at average speeds of 10 kilometers per second - about 40 times faster than the typical atmospheric aircraft.

At that speed, even the smallest pieces of debris can damage or destroy spacecraft and satellites.
Xinhua did not directly mention one significant source — the testing and use of anti-satellite weapons. But the phrase "past collisions" applies to how the most successful anti-satellite weapons have worked. The omission of details is notable given China's relatively recent contribution in this area as reported in 2007:
The intentional destruction on Jan. 11 of China's Fengyun-1C weather satellite via an anti-satellite (ASAT) device launched by the Chinese has created a mess of fragments fluttering through space.

The satellite's destruction is now being viewed as the most prolific and severe fragmentation in the course of five decades of space operations.

Lobbed into space atop a ballistic missile, the ASAT destroyed the weather-watching satellite that had been orbiting Earth since May 10, 1999. The result was littering Earth orbit with hundreds upon hundreds of various sizes of shrapnel.
Xinhua's choice not to mention China's achievement is unsurprising though. After all, at the time a spokesman for the Chinese defense ministry's foreign affairs department said:
We are not aware of that test. Usually the media writes stories on hearsay evidence, we don't have time to verify such stories.

Monday, June 8, 2015

Two Pieces About June Fourth

Excerpts from two striking personal accounts regarding June 4, 1989, in China:

1. "Truth on Tiananmen — Coming to terms with 1989 as a young Chinese" by Catherine Wang:
All afternoon [on June 4, 2009], I sat in front of my laptop using a VPN to read reports on foreign websites for the first time, and watch videos of what happened twenty years ago, including of the “tank man”. Even the most hard-hearted person would have been shocked at what I saw. With tears in my eyes, I couldn’t stop searching for more images from that night.

I still have the photo from 1998 when I first visited Tiananmen square. I was nine years old, smiling, with PLA soldiers standing behind me. I was so proud of the national emblems everywhere, of the slogan “Long live the PRC” above the gate of the Forbidden City, and of the soldiers with guns which are supposed to protect the nation and its people. But now it all changed. My tears were not just for those who died on June 4th, but also for myself. It hurts when the world you have built up in your mind for twenty years collapses.
2. "Beijing Autumn — My Return to China Three Months After Tiananmen" by Ilaria Maria Sala:
The taxi driver who brought us back to the university kept scolding us for keeping him in the streets at that hour, yet he wanted his fare too badly to refuse us. We got stopped, right at the intersection with Hepingli. A soldier asked us to pull down the windows and stuck his rifle through, before looking in. He withdrew it when he saw my face, and instructed the driver to take the foreigner back safely. My fretting friend was ashen. He never asked me to go dancing again.
Both pieces are well worth reading in full.

A Dragonfly Photobomb in Changsha

Dragonflies have long fascinated me, so I am not bothered by this:

Fengyu Bridge over Yuejin Lake and Xiaoxiang Pavilion in Changsha

I had noticed the dragonfly darting about today as I looked at the Xiaoxiang Pavilion and Fengyu Bridge at Yuejin Lake, but I didn't expect to capture it in a photo. It almost makes up for the hazy air.

Thursday, June 4, 2015

Chinese and American Fourths Today in Changsha, China

This afternoon in Changsha, Hunan, I saw several things which could bring to mind an historical day on the 4th.

U.S. Flag hanging at a bar in Changsha

woman wearing a shirt with a design resembling the U.S. flag

shirt for sale with a 96 and patterns similar to the U.S. flag
Add caption

shoes with U.S. flags worn by two females

But of course, today is the 4th of June and not the 4th of July. None of the American-themed items I saw seemed out of the ordinary compared to other days in Changsha anyway.

I didn't see anything related to today's historical importance, though, except something which brought to mind China's ability to create "The People’s Republic of Amnesia".

young woman being photographed with a sculpture of an alpaca-like creature

If you have questions about why the alpaca-like creature triggered such a reaction, I recommend reading an brief piece on China's grass-mud horse. The second photo is especially fitting.

Otherwise, what I saw today most reminded me of what I saw one year ago in Hengyang, Hunan, three years ago in Qinghai, Xining, and four years ago in Chengdu, Sichuan. Not much has recently changed in China regarding this day, but the efforts to silence and forget have spread.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

Another Sculpture in Changsha Conducive to Sitting and Photography

The previous post about sculptures of string players and string instruments in Changsha mentioned that some people enjoyed having their photo taken while posing with the smaller sculptures — a common sight in numerous Chinese cities. However, the man in the post's last photo was not posing for a photographic moment but instead was taking advantage of a place to sit afforded by the sculpture. I have recently seen similar examples there and elsewhere nearby, including at the South Huangxing Road Commercial Pedestrian Street where on one occasion I saw a woman using her mobile phone while sitting on a sculpture's small stool.

woman checks here mobile phone while sitting on a sculpture's small stool

Another time at the same location, I saw photography practiced in parallel with the more mundane act of sitting.

man sitting on a sculpture's small stool while attending to two puppies; other people have their photograph taken with the scullpture

This raises an issue relevant to the design of public spaces in China: the competing interests between those who wish to use a suitable sculpture for an extended period of time as a place to sit with others who desire to use it more fleetingly for photos. Perhaps if a sufficient number of places to sit existed in the surrounding area, which research for this pedestrian street found to be a common desire, the conflict would arise less often.

Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Bowless and Stringless Statues in Changsha

Since I broached the topic of string players yesterday, it is an opportune time to mention two statues of string players I have seen in Changsha.

The much larger statue is titled "Liuyang River" and was erected at Furong Square in 2002.

The Liuyang River (浏阳河) statue — a woman playing a violin but without a bow — at Furong Square

The second statue is at the back of the Kaifu Wanda Plaza shopping center.

statue of a man playing a violin next to a table and chairs behind Kaifu Wanda Plaza

I didn't see a name for it.

Both statues caught my eye since the violinists are missing their bows, which would make it rather hard for them to make music given their arm positions. Additionally, the larger violin had no strings and the smaller violin had broken strings. That said, just being statues is a rather significant obstacle to overcome in itself. I can't rule out artistic motivations, but I assume the bows are missing for pragmatic reasons. It doesn't feel the same without a bow though.

Also behind Kaifu Wanda Plaza is a statue sculpture of a stringless harp.

statue of stringless harp with two chairs, one of which is occupied by a real man sitting informally

It shows signs it once had strings or something to represent strings. Given the number of people interested in having themselves photographed interacting with it and the nearby violinist statue, I can't say I am surprised by their current state.

Added note: No, the man in the chair is not posing for a photograph. He is simply taking advantage of a place to sit — a common sight for the times I have passed by.

Monday, June 1, 2015

A Duet and Quartet at a Mobile Phone Promotion in Changsha

In the spirit of the recent themes of music and duets, last night around 8 p.m. I heard a performance with electric string instruments.

two young women in blue dresses playing electric string instruments outside a mobile phone store in Changsha

The performance was part of a promotion at a Changsha mobile phone store selling brands such as Vivo, Samsung, Apple, Gionee, HTC, and Oppo. Some of the those brands aren't familiar in many places outside of China or don't receive much international media attention. But they are common in many cities I have recently visited in Hunan and elsewhere in China. Inside the store another brand familiar in China was featured — Huawei. A quartet sans musical instruments was there to help.

four young women promoting Huawei mobile phones inside a store in Changsha

A table of hors d'oeuvres and wine was also nearby. As I was full from a recent meal of spicy fish and snails, I did not partake.

Except for the hors d'oeuvres, none of this seemed exceptional for a mobile phone promotion in Changsha. Other examples to come later . . .

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Musical Suona Moments in China and Canada

The video in the previous post may have been a jolt for readers expecting something more . . . Chinese. So to help soothe any frayed nerves, here is a man I saw playing the suona, a Chinese double-reeded horn, at Chengnan Park in Shaoyang, Hunan:

man playing the suona surrounded by greenery at Chengnan Park in Shaoyang, Hunan

For some music, instead of abruptly switching back to a fully China-themed post and possibly shocking some readers with yet another big change, I will share a duet which includes both Eastern and Western instruments performed by Zhongxi Wu and David All in British Columbia, Canada. The tempo picks up significantly around the 1:30 mark.

[on YouTube]

I feel safe saying that is the best suona and bagpipe duet performance I have ever heard.

Seeing Fame in Changsha

A bit of fame I saw Saturday night in Changsha:

young man wearing shirt with "FAME 08" on the back with a young woman

A bit of Fame I didn't see (or hear) Saturday night in Changsha:

[on YouTube]

In fact, I have never seen dancing like that (it really gets going just after one minute into the video) any night in Changsha. I have seen other styles of choreographed dancing here, though, including at the previously described pole dancing school. More about the non-pole style of dancing I have seen, often as part of mobile phone promotions, another time.