(reblog from 2016 for archiving) The Search for Spring


First posted on TVG in China, 2016. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.

China is a nation of People that don’t like cold weather, and aren’t very fond of hot weather either. Considering that a large part of China becomes bitterly cold in winter and brutally hot in the summer, the spring and the autumn really are wonderful parts of the year for the Chinese.

There is however a problem. In the north of the country, these two favourable seasons are strikingly short. Because of that, I went out in search for Beijing’s spring.

I just about spotted it.

IMG_4258The first sign were the willow trees. Before even the blossom started to appear, cascades of young, lightly coloured leaves began to drape their way across the green spaces.

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Despite most of the residents still being reluctant to remove their long coats just yet, the parks flooded with happy faces, relieved to finally say good bye to long winter. After four months of cold and coal fire pollution, there is no better way to celebrate than go outside, breathe and smile.IMG_4294IMG_4330

Everyone can go outside; great. But what do the Beijingers do with that great opportunity? As far as I could tell, fishing was high up on the priority list.

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No place had quite as many avid anglers as Qianhai, at the northern point of the line of lakes which wind through Xicheng from the Forbidden city. Lining edge of the lake was what can only be described as a barrage of fishing rods and lines reaching out into the water.

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Fishing is of course not for everyone. For some, the turn in the weather allowed space simply for introspection. Many of my fellow visitors to Beijing’s parks seemed quite happy to sit in silence and think, whilst  resting under the willow trees and staring over calm waters.

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The parks are after all for everyone. That’s very clear, as the word in Chinese, 公园 means public garden. In Beijing, they are in fact so open to everyone, that even a strange number of giant rubber ducks have their space too.

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Yet plenty of locals don’t enjoy silent introspection either, and instead prefer to fill the parks with music. Some people bring their musical instruments outside. Many older residents take it in turns to sing traditional songs and opera with their friends. Even whole choirs gather outside under pagodas resting by the lakeside…

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…and where there is music, there is dance. huge group dances are everywhere in China, the most famous being the so-called ‘dancing aunties’, who cover squares and parks in the evenings in every city. These almost regimented groups aren’t afraid of the winter however, so there is no triumphant return for the dancing aunties; they have just kept going. Sometimes, the spring weather gets the individuals on their feet too, the dance floor no longer reserved for the armies of middle aged women.

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And sometimes, a good old simple walk will suffice. You may apparently end up being followed however by balloons. Many of China’s larger parks have a kind of permanent fairground in them, meaning that balloons, bubbles and such fairground fare are common sights, depending on where you go.

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The warmer weather also heralds the arrival of tourists, and with them, all things touristy. One of the attractions in the centre of the city is a ride on a bike-driven cart around the old town. At the moment, these carts swarm the narrow hutongs (Beijing’s alleyways) in packs.

The wonder of public spaces for the government is that the public like to go to public spaces, making them the perfect place for political announcements. Along the wall of the fairground area of zizhuyuan you can currently find a line of posters explaining the goals of the 十三五,  The Party’s thirteenth Five Year Plan.

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How about normal bikes? After all the city was famous for its sea of bikes; so much so that Katie Melua wrote a song about the 9 million bicycles weaving in and out of each other. Sadly, even the sunny weather can’t bring them back. Cars have slowly been replacing cities former 2-wheeled, non- greenhouse-gas-emitting symbol. Bikes are however still here to an extent and there is even some moves towards boosting their popularity once more.  For now, many bikes remain dust covered or even broken and rusted on street corners.

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One Beijing tradition which is revived after cold season is the gathering of many bird cages across the city’s public spaces. Many of the older locals keep birds as pets and in the summer, they join their owners in the park. Sadly, they remain in the cages. As you can imagine for an animal that has been locked in a tiny space most of its life, most have gone slightly mad. They hop around in circles continuously, that little hop being the only movement they have space for to make.

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Less harmful hobbies also get revived as the world bursts into spring. Friends gather together to play cards or Chinese chess. Occasionally you might also see Mah Jong, but it is less common, perhaps because no ones wants to be accused of gambling.

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And of course, there is one thing that instantly jumps to mind when spring and China are discussed together – Cherry blossom. Although perhaps much more dramatic in the south and over the sea in Japan, the perfect white flowers do bloom for a few days. The city hardly becomes a sea of blossom, but they are still a sign: the long winter is over.

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(reblog from 2016 for archiving) Art of the State


First posted on TVG in China, 2016. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.

Art galleries: institutions essential to the celebration of culture, ideas, art…and propaganda?

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statue representing the 56 nationalities considered minority groups in China

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I went to the Beijing national art gallery to check out an exhibition focussing on the varied minority groups of China for part of a museum project I’m working on. Naturally I got to see my fair share of artwork, but through the brushstrokes there was a clear message showing through.

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The exhibition, titled ‘National Exhibition of Fine Arts for Great Unity of Chinese Nation’ (中华民族大团结全国美术作品展) was concerned at its heart with expressing the view that each of the many groups of people in China are in unity with each other and in support of the ruling Communist Party.

Chinese museums like to have an almost essay-like structure. They have prefaces and conclusions as if there were only one way to interpret their contents and each section will act as an argument towards that final conclusion.

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In the art gallery’s foreword, you might spy upon an interesting phrase – The Chinese Dream (中国梦). I won’t go into it in much detail right now, as I’m likely to write fully about it in the future, but for now it should suffice to know the basics. The phrase became popular after Chairman Xi Jinping used it in a speech in 2013. It is associated with China’s current development goals of becoming a ‘moderately prosperous’ economy and rejuvenating the nation. It pops up around Beijing far too often.

This Chinese Dream is closely related to the exhibition, as are a number of Beijing’s museum exhibitions. Development is associated strongly with the Governments claim to power, and unity across the massive country – the exhibition’s focus- is essential to both.

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“Unity is power. People of all nationalities are making progress together with joint effort, destiny and objective on the way of fulfilling “China Dream””

Why then, are the ethnic groups of China important to development? One element is a group’s possible ability to slow the Chinese image of development. Despite such exhibitions painting a happy, united image of the country’s minority groups, there is unrest amongst some of them, especially where their traditional ways of life are threatened.  On the opposite side however, active support of minority group would surely result in smoother development.

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Territory also comes into question. Most westerners are for example aware there is controversy over Tibet and whether or not Tibetans are Chinese or not.  The region is a territory of China, but by depicting Tibetans as an essential group within China’s many minority groups, they lay claim to them. If Tibetans then, are ‘owned’ by China, so is their territory. The celebration of minority groups in part secures borders.

Those views are rather cynical, and there are more opinions that could be drawn. The people celebrated in the exhibition do live within the borders of China, and it is in the interests of a country to look after its people. One could view the exhibition as embracing its minority groups and their rich beautiful cultures. In exhibiting cultures, they can be preserved. China is changing so rapidly that much of the old will disappear. One could see such events as being an expression from the government, so as to say ‘we will respect and preserve all culture in China’.

The slow knocking down of Kashgar says otherwise, but never mind.

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Aside from the politics and intrigue of Chinese exhibition spaces, much of the exhibited artwork was beautiful and those pieces which weren’t beautiful were usually very interesting.

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The military trades education for education, teaching the only thing they know – national defence.

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Young Kazakh riders

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Tibetans somehow gaining huge harvests in barren places

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These last two depict multiple minority groups standing together in apparent unity, along side all things CCP.

 

(reblog from 2016 for archiving) Art of the State


First posted on TVG in China, 2016. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.

Art galleries: institutions essential to the celebration of culture, ideas, art…and propaganda?

IMG_4189

statue representing the 56 nationalities considered minority groups in China

IMG_4187

I went to the Beijing national art gallery to check out an exhibition focussing on the varied minority groups of China for part of a museum project I’m working on. Naturally I got to see my fair share of artwork, but through the brushstrokes there was a clear message showing through.

IMG_4191

The exhibition, titled ‘National Exhibition of Fine Arts for Great Unity of Chinese Nation’ (中华民族大团结全国美术作品展) was concerned at its heart with expressing the view that each of the many groups of people in China are in unity with each other and in support of the ruling Communist Party.

Chinese museums like to have an almost essay-like structure. They have prefaces and conclusions as if there were only one way to interpret their contents and each section will act as an argument towards that final conclusion.

IMG_4193

In the art gallery’s foreword, you might spy upon an interesting phrase – The Chinese Dream (中国梦). I won’t go into it in much detail right now, as I’m likely to write fully about it in the future, but for now it should suffice to know the basics. The phrase became popular after Chairman Xi Jinping used it in a speech in 2013. It is associated with China’s current development goals of becoming a ‘moderately prosperous’ economy and rejuvenating the nation. It pops up around Beijing far too often.

This Chinese Dream is closely related to the exhibition, as are a number of Beijing’s museum exhibitions. Development is associated strongly with the Governments claim to power, and unity across the massive country – the exhibition’s focus- is essential to both.

IMG_4194

“Unity is power. People of all nationalities are making progress together with joint effort, destiny and objective on the way of fulfilling “China Dream””

Why then, are the ethnic groups of China important to development? One element is a group’s possible ability to slow the Chinese image of development. Despite such exhibitions painting a happy, united image of the country’s minority groups, there is unrest amongst some of them, especially where their traditional ways of life are threatened.  On the opposite side however, active support of minority group would surely result in smoother development.

IMG_4222

Territory also comes into question. Most westerners are for example aware there is controversy over Tibet and whether or not Tibetans are Chinese or not.  The region is a territory of China, but by depicting Tibetans as an essential group within China’s many minority groups, they lay claim to them. If Tibetans then, are ‘owned’ by China, so is their territory. The celebration of minority groups in part secures borders.

Those views are rather cynical, and there are more opinions that could be drawn. The people celebrated in the exhibition do live within the borders of China, and it is in the interests of a country to look after its people. One could view the exhibition as embracing its minority groups and their rich beautiful cultures. In exhibiting cultures, they can be preserved. China is changing so rapidly that much of the old will disappear. One could see such events as being an expression from the government, so as to say ‘we will respect and preserve all culture in China’.

The slow knocking down of Kashgar says otherwise, but never mind.

IMG_4217

Aside from the politics and intrigue of Chinese exhibition spaces, much of the exhibited artwork was beautiful and those pieces which weren’t beautiful were usually very interesting.

IMG_4200IMG_4219IMG_4215IMG_4213IMG_4211IMG_4212IMG_4204

The military trades education for education, teaching the only thing they know – national defence.

IMG_4203IMG_4202IMG_4198

Young Kazakh riders

IMG_4196

Tibetans somehow gaining huge harvests in barren places

IMG_4197IMG_4224

These last two depict multiple minority groups standing together in apparent unity, along side all things CCP.

(reblog from 2015 for archiving) The Confucius Temple and Guozijian


First posted on TVG in China, 2015. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.

There are many temples in China. Beijing alone has a huge number, and the confucius temple is but one amongst them. I think however that this temple was a little different, and perhaps it was simply because it seemed less touristy than, say, the lama temple across the road, but I like to think it was more than that.

Part of the same complex is Guozijian, the ancient imperial college where the highest level of the imperial examination took place.

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The story goes that the trees leading up to the temple itself will attack evil people. They didn’t go after me, so I’m happy about that.

The inside of the temple is very beautiful. Sadly it feels like it isn’t in permanent use, but the advantage of this was that there were none of the usual ‘no photo’ signs.

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Confucius may have passed away many centuries ago, but it hasn’t stopped him from adapting to new technology. Although I don’t think it was the intention, I couldn’t help but find that Confucius backed with flashlights and cameras summed up modern China quite well. IMG_2939

The gate leading away from the temple and into the former imperial college.

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The entrance to Guozijian

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I hadn’t noticed how cold it was that day, until I saw that the fish swimming round the central part of Guozijian (where the Emperor would present his lectures) were under a layer of ice.

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When the emperor was giving his lectures, he would do so from this rather grand room.

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I actually don’t know what they were, but I was very interested by these red cards which were hanging up on side of the college. I will try and find out exactly what purpose they serve.IMG_2992IMG_2994IMG_2998

There was also, in the side buildings of the college, an extensive exhibition on the imperial examination which I have written extensively on, but I won’t talk about that for a while as it’s part of my museum project. Perhaps in the future..

 

(reblog from 2015 for archiving) Snow in Beijing


First posted on TVG in China, 2015. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.

I distinctly remember people getting angry at the decision for Beijing to host a winter Olympics, under the ground that there  is never snow there.

Well, as it happens, Beijing can get pretty snowy.

I used the snowy days as an excuse to go explore the Olympic Forest Park. As it happens, a fair few people desperate for making snowmen and snowball fights shared my thoughts.

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I can’t believe I’ve never thought of using an umbrella for snow…I think it just emphasises how little we get in the south of England.

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My lack of a working auto focus didn’t do me any favours on close-ups.

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So yes, There is snow in Beijing.

(reblog from 2015 for archiving) Wondering in Chongwen District


First posted on TVG in China, 2015. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.

I’ve missed the blog for a while due to being very much bogged down with work, so there are going to be a number of posts in quick succession, spanning a few months of neglection…sorry about that.

First up is Chongwen, and area south of Tiananmen Square, which as far as I know isn’t exactly known for it’s touristy spots. My guide book on China even said – in different words – that you would only really go there if you were after the cheapest of the cheap in accommodation.

And as it happens, yes, it’s not the most exciting part of town for particular attractions, but what it does offer however is a very different feel  to the north side of Beijing.

*edit, I have discovered that Chongwen technically stretches all the way down to the temple of Heaven, a place that is worthy of mention, but not part of my Chongwen wonderings*

There have been clear attempts to renovate the area to bring back an old glory that the area possibly once had, (it does after all lead directly up to the forbidden city), but other than a very grand looking gateway, the main street is just a shopping street…I’m not selling this area very well, I know, hold on a bit…

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I believe the area was once an important financial and trade district, given that Dashilar shopping street is part of the area – which is to all intents and purposes now, whether or not in the past, a generic shopping street with an extra lacquer of paint.

So why am I even talking about this area if i have so much apparent disdain for it?

The answer lays in its winding side streets, which have such a different feel to the hutongs in the north.

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The narrow streets with neon signs reaching for the sky make me think of how I imagine Hong Kong to look (will hopefully find out in the next few months!

The mad, jumbled appearance doesn’t just come from the haphazard signage, but also from every element of the side streets.IMG_2615

Take the local electricity network for example. It’s a bit of a mess. But even in this knotted mess, I spotted surprisingly nice looking supports for the lines..

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Electricity line trees.

 

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This stall which I found down the side streets i found very interesting. The current leader, Xi jinping (left and centre) is considered to be developing a personality cult, very much like Mao’s before him. This market stall shows, in my opinion, the strength of his cult. He’s hardly Mao, but he certainly gets more space than Mao does at the moment.

Aside from the politics, China’s leaders surrounded by wooden masks is just a surreal image.

Now, despite how narrow these streets are, the favoured form of transport seemed to be moped. On the narrower streets, it’s hard to jump out of the way when there is nowhere to jump.

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Just to finish on,  this guy looked very much like he was trying to copy the police, even if that wasn’t his intention. I wonder what he was really up to…

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(reblog from 2015 for archiving) The Summer Palace and the pollution


First posted on TVG in China, 2015. I’m currently archiving old posts onto one blog.

On the day I went to the summer palace, disaster struck. Twice.

One was a ‘normal’ disaster – it rather annoyingly ended up being another one of Beijing’s notorious polluted days, making visibility poor, and health poorer.

The other disaster? my camera Lens did have auto focus until it decided to break at the steps of the Summer Palace. So, until I get a new lens, I’m on manual focus for now…

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The pollution has been a lot worse since – this was just the start of the year’s bad winter pollution. This was well before the 600 pm of a few weeks back. Despite that, you would have thought it was fog causing the lack of visibility.

While I was taking photos with a half-broken lens, just to rub it in, there was a model shoot happening at the steps to the palace. Such a dramatic building would admittedly make a great backdrop for modelling.

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One of the really interesting elements of the Summer Palace are the details in the architecture. China has a habit of looking strikingly simple at a distance, and then turning out to be strikingly detailed when you get closer.

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As it is on the small scale, the Palace is just as grand on the large-scale, with all the sweeping rooftops you could wish for from a Chinese building.

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The majority of the Summer  Palace grounds is covered by a massive lake. This lake, which is apparently very beautiful, was quite difficult to see that day, and instead became a rather ghostly looking expanse of water.

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I don’t know if it’s a normal thing or not, but for some reason the day I was there, a dancing group of Naxi people, one of China’s minority groups from the south west in Yunnan, was also there. I would never have associated Yunnan traditional dances with a location in Beijing, but fair enough.

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Going there in the late autumn, the Palace’s most beautiful part with the turning trees.

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Now leaving the Summer Palace behind, let’s return the focus to the lovely Beijing pollution.

The same day I went to the old Olympic stadium. The main park is all built alongside a massively long walkway, which happened to be very good at showing pollution levels. Remember that this isn’t that bad…

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And finally, to finish off, a very polluted flag taking down ceremony at Tiananmen Square.

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As a rule, there will always be a phone in the way. If you are somewhere where fewer than 80% of people aren’t using their phones, you aren’t in China.