Thursday, June 30, 2016

Contemporary Art on Display Inside the Parkview Green in Beijing

Some readers may still be wondering about the intended meaning of the sculpture in the previous post, and some may be wondering about its location. I have ideas but no definitive answers for the the first question, but at least one reader correctly guessed the photo was taken at the Parkview Green shopping mall in Beijing. Even if you have no interest in or money for luxury shopping, the mall is worth a visit for its remarkable architecture and numerous pieces of contemporary art. The bathrooms have fancy toilet seats too.

Photos of nine of the works on display inside the mall during a recent visit appear below with some bits of symmetry in their ordering. I have only listed the artists' names because sometimes the works' names weren't clearly displayed, at least anywhere I looked. In one frustrating case, I have not even been able to identify the artist — any help welcome [update: mystery solved]. Although none of them were as surprising to me to find in a Beijing shopping mall as the piece in the previous post, I found them all provocative in their own ways.

Chen Wenling

Roberto Barni

Unknown Salvador Dali

Shen Jingdong

Huang Mingzhe

Huang Yulong

Ichwan Noor

Lee Seung-koo

Chen Wenling

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Pondering the Writing Selection at a Beijing Museum

Lu Xun (September 25, 1881 — October 19, 1936), "a leading figure of modern Chinese literature", has had many fans in China, including Mao Zedong. At the Beijing Lu Xun Museum, the description of a piece he wrote less than a month before his death caught my attention in a way similar to a book I saw displayed at a Beijing bookstore.

exhibit at the Beijing Lu Xun Museum of a piece of writing by Lu Xun
On September 21, 1936, Lu Xun wrote For Future Reference III in which he chided self-deceit in Chinese characteristics, urged his fellow countrymen to see films and read books criticizing China. "We should read this, reflect and analyse ourselves to see whether he has said anything correctly or not, then make reforms, struggle and change ourselves without asking others for their forgiveness or praise. So we shall prove what the Chinese are really like."

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Mountains from Houhai

Exiting a metro station wasn't the only time clear skies and good air in Beijing caught my attention recently.

a dusk scene at Houhai in Beijing with mountains visible in the background
A clear view at Houhai

After an intense and at times slightly painful hailstorm the previous day, I took my friends visiting from the U.S. to Houhai. While standing on a small bridge over the lake, I looked at the horizon and exclaimed "I can see the mountains!" I excitedly explained to my friends that air pollution often makes it impossible to see these mountains from central Beijing.

They looked at me with expressions I probably would have had years ago. It was understandably hard for them to share my excitement since the mountain scene itself, though pleasant, wasn't especially glorious from our vantage point and my comment mostly made them think about Beijing's pollution.

I will refrain from sharing more photos featuring recent clear skies in Beijing. But after some posts on other topics, I won't refrain from sharing photos of unexpectedly clear skies in another northern city.

Friday, June 24, 2016

A Moment of Blue Skies and Good Air in Beijing

When I see people excitedly mention blue skies in Beijing, I typically have conflicting feelings. On one hand, I feel happy they are enjoying a beautiful sky. On the other hand, I find it regrettable that the moment is so special in part due to air pollution.

But I felt only amazement after existing Beijing's Dongsi Shitiao metro station a couple of weeks ago and seeing a blue sky with clouds that look normal to me though not to everybody in China. Blue skies don't always equal good air quality, but in this case the pollution levels were good according to U.S. standards for both short term and long term exposure. The sky and air were quite a change of pace from the heavy pollution on the day I arrived from Hong Kong and many other days I have experienced in Beijing.

So here are a few photos from a moment which shouldn't have been so remarkable but was.

blue skies above the intersection at the Dongsi Shitiao metro station in Beijing

blue skies and clouds reflecting off a building at the intersection above the Dongsi Shitiao metro station in Beijing

blue skies and clouds reflecting off a building at the intersection above the Dongsi Shitiao metro station in Beijing

Wednesday, June 22, 2016

Umbrellas on a Dull, Rainless Day in Beijing

A scene today at the intersection of Fuchengmen Inner Street and Jinrong Street in Beijing:

female with a wide-brimmed hat and sunglasses riding a scooter and two others carrying umbrellas on a cloudy day in Beijing

The sky wasn't sunny for most of the day and the air pollution was noticeable. Yet I still saw people carrying umbrellas or taking other steps useful for avoiding a tan despite the low chances. I have no new comments to add, so I will simply mention earlier posts about the umbrellas I saw on a rather smoggy day in Changsha, Hunan, and how the desire for whiter skin might be a factor in China's large number of people with vitamin D deficiency.

Monday, June 20, 2016

Face Masks for Sale: Convenience Beijing Style

Yesterday at a convenience store in Beijing I saw a selection of face masks for sale.

variety of face masks for pollution for sale at a convenience store in Beijing

Today at a different convenience store in Beijing I also saw a selection of face masks for sale.

variety of face masks for pollution for sale at a convenience store in Beijing

An earlier sighting brought back memories of the first time I wore a face mask in Beijing.

These convenience store chains don't offer all types of face masks and aren't the only locations where they are sold in Beijing, but convenience stores have the advantage of often being, well, convenient — especially useful when you need a quick fix. And simply the visibility of face masks in convenience stores may influence people to protect themselves from air pollution in one way or another. I haven't seen similar selections of face masks at convenience stores in a number of other Chinese cities with heavily polluted air, so there are both negative (pollution) and positive (protection) stories to tell about these masks for sale in Beijing.

I expect to soon be in another city which has received attention in the past for its air pollution. I will provide an update on what I find there, both in terms of the air and the selection of masks at convenience stores I visit.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Thursday, June 16, 2016

Disney a Channel for Both American and Chinese Influence, Cares About Another Type More

shirt with an American flag design in the shape of a panda/mouse/etc shape
Shirt worn by a woman in Hengyang, Hunan

In minutes Disney will open a new park to the public in Shanghai. Some see it as an opportunity with deeper implications than an increased number of authentic Mickey Mouses in China. Last month, Graham Webster, a senior fellow of The China Center at Yale Law School, briefly commented on a tweet about a meeting between Disney CEO Robert Iger and Chinese President Xi Jinping:

I replied to Webster's tweet with a similarly brief comment:

My aim wasn't to refute Webster's point but to highlight the other side of the coin. It isn't clear how this coin is balanced.

David Barboza and Brooks Barnes in The New York Times recently provided an example from the past showing how Disney accepted the influence couldn't go just one way:
[In 1997] Disney agreed to back the director Martin Scorsese, who wanted to make “Kundun,” about China’s oppression of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan spiritual leader. The Chinese government, which considers the Dalai Lama a separatist, denounced the project and pressured Disney to abandon it.

In the end, Disney decided that it could not let an overseas government influence its decision to distribute a movie in the United States. “Kundun” was released, and China retaliated by banning Disney films . . .

In October 1998, Mr. Eisner met Zhu Rongji, who had just been named prime minister, at China’s leadership compound in Beijing. Mr. Eisner apologized for “Kundun,” calling it a “stupid mistake,” according to a transcript of the meeting.
Disney's change of heart raises the question of how much of the content in Disney's movies has since been influenced to some degree, directly or indirectly, by a desire to not hurt the feelings of the Chinese government.

And Disney is now aiding Chinese influence in other ways:
Disney is going to extraordinary lengths to prove its commitment to China and the Communist Party. During a 2010 meeting with China’s propaganda minister, Mr. Iger pledged to use the company’s global platform to “introduce more about China to the world.” And he has done just that.
Barboza and Barnes also provide examples of how Disney has made a park that is "authentically Disney and distinctly Chinese." Some of this is similar to how other American companies have localized their products or services in China, such as Pizza Hut's durian pizza or Walmart's larger selection of live seafood. Yet with its movies and its parks' immersive experiences, Disney has the power to influence in ways Pizza Hut or Walmart can't. The Chinese government clearly appreciates this and wishes to contain Disney in a variety of ways, though other factors are at play, such as wanting local companies to receive a large piece of the profitable opportunities Disney generates.

So not only is it uncertain what any success for Disney in China would mean for Western, or more specifically American, influence, Disney shows how an American company's ambitions can lead to China having more influence beyond its borders. This isn't necessarily a bad thing. China undoubtedly has much it can positively contribute to the world. But most Americans don't want the Chinese government to have any ability to restrict the content of movies which appear in the U.S.

As the full NYT piece details, Disney has made a number of unusual sacrifices in order to operate in the mainland China market. For them to pay off, Disney's ultimate concern won't be the balance of American and Chinese influence it facilitates. They are simply pieces of a puzzle in reaching another goal.

Disney cares about Disney influence most.

Scene of 让: Gao Xiaowu's Art, a Traffic Sign, and Security in Beijing

security guard walking by a 让 (yield) sign and a sculpture of a smiling forward-leaning bald human (either by Gao Xiaowu or an imitation)

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Grass-Mud Horse Makes Another Promotional Appearance in Beijing

Today was a special day. I saw a promotion in Beijing with a grass-mud horse.

Alpaca in a promotion in Beijing's Sanlitun area

Or maybe it was an alpaca — hard to say. Whatever the case, this isn't the first time such an animal has been part of a promotion in the Sanlitun area.

Maybe tomorrow I will see a promotion with a river crab.