Asia’s comedy scene

Source: NYT (10/15/17)
Heard the One About Asia’s Comedy Scene? First, You’ll Need a Permit
By CHARLOTTE GRAHAM

Storm Xu, a Chinese comedian from Shanghai, gave up a career as an engineer to become a stand-up comedian. In order to tell jokes, he must first submit his scripts to government censors.CreditYuyang Liu for The New York Times

HONG KONG — Every comedian takes the stage wanting to make people laugh. But it is less satisfying when the audience has been ordered to do so before the first joke has been told.

Storm Xu, a Chinese comedian, found that out during a surreal experience of performing for the country’s military.

In Asia, where a youthful stand-up comedy scene is still developing, comedians in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and Malaysia are finding creative ways to tell jokes about sex and politics, while coming up against cultures of censorship and taboos.

Among them is Mr. Xu, 30, who lives in Shanghai and ekes out a full-time living from stand-up comedy. Mr. Xu said Shanghai’s small comedy scene involves about 20 regulars who could perform at least 10 minutes of material, and most are Western expatriate men, not Chinese like him.

A former automotive engineer for General Motors, Mr. Xu was able to quit his day job because of corporate comedy gigs, many of which come through Chinese government agencies.

The Chinese government requires him to submit scripts in advance of his commercial performances — that gets him a permit to tell jokes. He also has to provide video of someone reading the comedy lines aloud. Government censors have told him to remove jokes not for political content, but for being too rude.

“They’ll decline you if it’s too obscene or dirty; you can’t swear on stage,” he said.

When Mr. Xu travels to Hong Kong to perform, he can put the swear words back into the script. With its more hands-off local government, Hong Kong has developed into a hub for touring comedians from Asia and further afield, though its scene is fairly new: Its first full-time comedy club wasn’t founded until 2007.

Vivek Mahbubani, 34, is considered one of Hong Kong’s best and longest-serving local comedians, even though he only started performing 10 years ago. Mr. Mahbubani performs in both English and Cantonese, sometimes switching between languages within the same joke, and his material tackles local concerns: Hong Kong’s subway system and his mistreatment by police officers as a Hong Kong-born, ethnically Indian resident.

Mr. Mahbubani said Hong Kong’s comedy scene was diverse and somewhat segregated, with some comedians catering to expatriates with material that deployed exaggerated use of Asian accents, which Mr. Mahbubani felt was lazy.

An audience in Hong Kong watches Vivek Mahbubani, a comedian, perform. Rules for telling jokes are less stringent on the island than in mainland China. CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

In bars further away from the glittering night life of the central city, young comics tell jokes in Cantonese, the dominant language in Hong Kong but one on the retreat elsewhere. The city’s annual comedy competition is split into English and Cantonese sections; Mr. Mahbubani is the only person to have won both.

In a city rocked by China’s efforts to exert its political influence over the autonomous territory, Hong Kong’s stand-up comedy scene has become something of a beacon for comedians seeking to push boundaries.

Sorabh Pant, a popular Indian comedian, recently tackled the topic of democracy while on tour in Hong Kong.

“That’s so cute!” he joked about Hong Kong’s election, in which a pro-Beijing candidate won from a slate selected by members of the establishment. “You think your vote mattered! Such an amateur mistake!”

He joked that Hong Kong’s election of a chief executive sympathetic to Beijing showed how the territory was just the latest acquisition by China.

“This is not a nation. You are being sublet,” he said. “This is a franchise.”

Mr. Mahbubani said the local media’s vigorous use of satire and its criticism of the government helps shield the local comedy scene from government scrutiny.

That is not the case in Singapore, where Jinx Yeo, 37, performs. The soft-spoken Mr. Yeo is referred to by fellow comedians as one of the “wise men” of the Asian comedy scene, even though he only started performing in his early 30s.

He grew up watching xiangsheng, or cross talk, a traditional style of Chinese comedy where lines are typically traded between two performers. Asian audiences have slowly learned the conventions of Western-style, single-person stand-up, he said, and now appreciate the value of raucous laughter as reward for a joke well told.

Mr. Yeo has made a full-time career in comedy, even though there are no comedy clubs in Singapore. Most of his performances take place in bars on weeknights, and he supplements his income with lucrative corporate shows.

Mr. Mahbubani performs in both English and Cantonese in Hong Kong. CreditLam Yik Fei for The New York Times

To get a license to perform in a theater in Singapore, Mr. Yeo had to submit scripts in advance, as comedians in China do. His work is frequently political; at a recent show in Hong Kong he sang satirical songs to tunes from “Les Misérables.”

In another joke, he imagined what would happen if Singapore legalized adultery in the same way the city-state had legalized protests: only if reported to the government in advance, and only if taking place in designated public parks.

Mr. Yeo said censorship is the biggest obstacle facing Singapore’s comedy scene. And comedians performing in bars had little opportunity to leap to television, as promising comedians in Western countries do, because their best material was unlikely to be approved.

Despite the challenges, the comedians said they were committed to building up the comedy scenes at home rather than forging more comfortable careers overseas.

Mr. Xu has recently started his own comedy club in Shanghai. He has steered away from political humor in his work because he did not see a point in making himself a martyr, or risk destroying his career, just as he was helping to pioneer a new comedy scene.

“I’m not trying to compare myself to Lenny Bruce and George Carlin, but the position they were in the 1960s is perhaps the position people like me are in now,” he said. “There are a lot of obstacles and a lot of opportunities.”

He agreed Chinese audiences were coming around to the idea of stand-up.

“When I used to post my videos online, people didn’t understand what stand-up comedy was and the comments were quite harsh,” he said. But now he predicts “exponential” growth for stand-up in China.

In Malaysia, Hannan Azlan, 22, has been winning fans in the local comedy scene after going full-time in 2016. She was the youngest ever person, and the first woman, to win the Hong Kong International Comedy Festival, and since then gigs have rolled in, including spots at this year’s Edinburgh Fringe festival.

Ms. Azlan’s sweet-voiced comic songs skewer sexism, racism and gender stereotypes. But she said she wasn’t interested in pandering to liberal audiences elsewhere; one of the tests of her success was whether she could perform her edgiest social commentary in more conservative Malaysia.

“Comedy is soft power,” she said, “I’m starting to talk about Malaysian politics more at home, and it’s been received very well.”

Museum accused of racism over photos

Source: The Guardian (10/14/17)
Chinese museum accused of racism over photos pairing Africans with animals
More than 141,000 people visit the exhibit in Wuhan before it is eventually removed after sparking complaints from Africans
By Benjamin Haas in Hong Kong

Photo

A photo of an African boy and a gorilla by Yu Huiping in an exhibit in China that was removed after sparking accusations of racism. Photograph: Shanghaiist

A museum in China has removed an exhibit this week that juxtaposed photographs of animals with portraits of black Africans, sparking complaints of racism.

The exhibit titled This Is Africa at the Hubei Provincial Museum in the city of Wuhan displayed a series of diptychs, each one containing a photo of an African person paired with the face of an animal. In a particularly striking example, a child with his mouth wide open was paired with a gorilla and other works included baboons and cheetahs. Continue reading

Excerpt from Guo Xuebo’s “Mongolia”

List members may be interested in the following:

Source: Bruce-humes.com (9/28/17)

“The Mongol Would-be Self-Immolator”:An excerpt from “Mongolia,” a novel by Guo Xuebo

The reason I mention this is that, to the best of my knowledge, self immolation (自焚) is a largely taboo subject in Chinese fiction today. This text — penned by Guo Xuebo 郭雪波, an ethnic Mongol raised in Inner Mongolia — not only poke funs at the omnipresent “stability maintenance” policy, it actually deals head on with the paranoia surrounding the topic of self-immolation.

Bruce Humes <turklit4china@gmail.com>
www.bruce-humes.com

Han clothing movement

Source: Quartz (8/29/17)
Young people in China have started a fashion movement built around nationalism and racial purity
By Kevin Carrico

carricohan1

China’s mainstream majority is discovering its “traditional” attire. (Courtesy Kevin Carrico)

The Han Clothing Movement, a youth-based grassroots nationalist movement built around China’s majority Han ethnic group, has emerged over the past 15 years in urban China. It imagines the numerically and culturally dominant Han—nearly 92% of China’s population—as the target of oppression by both China’s minorities and “the West,” in need of revitalization to save China. Hoping to make the Han great again, movement participants promote the public wearing of an ethnic outfit that purports to revive a clothing style that is millennia old.

According to enthusiasts of the Han Clothing Movement, the dilemma of today’s China was on full display in the fall of 2001, when leaders from across the Asia-Pacific Region gathered in Shanghai for an Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Ministerial Meeting. Just a month after the attacks of September 11, this event’s theme was, appropriately, “meeting new challenges in the new century.” Unbeknownst to organizers and participants, however, one photo opportunity at this meeting was soon to produce a movement that would meet the new challenges of this new century by seeking answers from past centuries. Continue reading

Building cultural confidence

Source: Xinhua (5/24/17)
Political advisors discuss building cultural confidence

Yu Zhengsheng (C, back), chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), presides over a meeting on how to build the country’s cultural confidence and tell China stories well, in Beijing, capital of China, May 23, 2017. (Xinhua/Yao Dawei)

BEIJING, May 23 (Xinhua) — Chinese political advisors met on Tuesday to discuss how to build the country’s cultural confidence and tell China stories well.

Yu Zhengsheng, chairman of the National Committee of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC), the top advisory body, chaired the meeting. Continue reading

China funds new garden in Washington

Source: Washington Post (4/27/17)
China wants a bold presence in Washington — so it’s building a $100 million garden
By Adrian Higgins

The Ge Garden in Yangzhou, which will be replicated in the National China Garden at the National Arboretum. (Courtesy of the National China Garden)

This summer, a construction team is expected to begin transforming a 12-acre field at the U.S. National Arboretum into one of the most ambitious Chinese gardens ever built in the West.

By the time Chinese artisans finish their work some 30 months later, visitors will encounter a garden containing all the elements of a classical Chinese landscape: enticing moongate entrances, swooping and soaring roof lines, grand pavilions with carved wooden screens and groves of golden bamboo. The grounds will boast two dozen handcrafted pavilions, temples and other ornate structures around a large central lake. Continue reading

China plans world’s biggest national park on Tibetan plateau

Source: SCMP (4/22/17)
China plans world’s biggest national park on Tibetan plateau
Survey to help draw boundary of 2.5 million sq km park scheduled for this summer
By Stephen Chen

Tibetan nomads ride a motorcycle on the Tibetan plateau in Qinghai province. Photo: AFP

China is considering turning the entire Tibetan plateau and surrounding mountains into a huge national park to protect “the last piece of pure land”, according to scientists briefed on the project.

Dubbed the Third Pole National Park because the plateau and mountains, including the Himalayas, have a natural environment that in many ways resembles polar regions, it would be the world’s biggest national park. The plateau covers an area of more than 2.5 million sq km, mainly in Tibet and Qinghai, dwarfing the biggest national park at present, Greenland’s 972,000 sq km Northeast Greenland National Park. Continue reading

China’s stone age skiers

Source: NYT (4/19/17)
China’s Stone Age Skiers and History’s Harsh Lessons
Cave paintings in the Altai Mountains may show the cradle of skiing is in China. But the ethnic minorities who live there worry the old ways are in danger.
By KADE KRICHKO

Young skiers outside the village of Khom, in northern Xinjiang, China, last year. Fewer children are learning to ski in a region thought to be the birthplace of skiing. Credit Garrett Grove

Tucked beneath a shallow outcropping in the rolling lowlands of the Altai Mountains, four men glide along the shadow-pocked rock face, their faint silhouettes stalking a herd of unsuspecting ibex. To their left, a fifth swoops downhill, corralling the beasts with a spear in his hand.

His pigmented frame arcs from left, to right, and back again — a ski turn that may be the oldest ever recorded.

The hunters are part of a cave painting in the northern tip of China’s Xinjiang Province, a wedge of territory that pokes up between Mongolia to the east and Kazakhstan to the west. According to Chinese archaeologists, the painting dates back more than 10,000 years — 2,000 more than the next earliest ski artifact on record.

Now, as the popularity of winter sports explodes in China, driven by President Xi Jinping’s decree that his country would have 300 million winter sports enthusiasts by the time it hosts the 2022 Winter Olympics, ski tour companies have begun opening their doors in this remote region. The first heli-skiing and snowmobile-access tours started operating this winter in the nearby village of Khom, offering trips deep into the heart of the Altai. Continue reading

Michael Puett’s The Path

Source: The Guardian (3/26/17)
Can Harvard’s most popular professor (and Confucius) radically change your life?
Michael Puett’s book The Path draws on the 2,500-year-old insights of Chinese philosophers. He explains how ‘straightening your mat’ can help you break out of the patterns that are holding you back
By Tim Dowling

Professor Michael Puett

Professor Michael Puett: what we really are is ‘a messy and potentially ugly bunch of stuff’. Photograph: Linda Nylind for the Guardian

The School of Life’s Sunday sermons could be described as lectures for people who don’t believe in God but still like church. They sing secular songs before and after the sermon (when I arrive, the large congregation at Mary Ward House in London is on the second verse of A Spoonful of Sugar), and everybody seems to share an abiding faith in the power of open-mindedness.

On this particular Sunday, the sermon is to be delivered by Michael Puett, professor of Chinese history at Harvard University, and is based on his book The Path, which applies the lessons of ancient Chinese philosophers to modern life. These philosophers may have done their best work 2,500 years ago, but they were trying to answer the same big questions we still ask. How do I live my life? How do I live my life well? Continue reading

Age of Empires exhibition

Exhibition Overview

Featuring more than 160 objects of ancient Chinese art, this major international loan exhibition will explore the unprecedented role of art in creating a new and lasting Chinese cultural identity. Synthesizing new archaeological discoveries with in-depth research performed over the last 50 years, Age of Empires will introduce a transformational era of Chinese civilization to a global audience.

The works in the exhibition—extremely rare ceramics, metalwork, textiles, sculpture, painting, calligraphy, and architectural models—are drawn exclusively from 32 museums and archaeological institutions in the People’s Republic of China, and a majority of the works have never before been seen in the West. Highlights include renowned terracotta army warriors and a striking statue of a seminude performer whose anatomical accuracy, unheard of in Chinese art, brings to mind Greco-Roman sculpture first introduced to Asia by Alexander the Great.

http://www.metmuseum.org/exhibitions/listings/2017/age-of-empires

China’s defender of Dunhuang

Source: China Daily (3/9/17)
China’s desert warrior queen, defender of Dunhuang
By Xinhua

China's desert warrior queen, defender of Dunhuang

China’s desert warrior queen, defender of Dunhuang

If it had not been for Fan Jinshi and her team, the world cultural heritage at Dunhuang Mogao Grottoes in a remote Chinese desert might have long been destroyed by sand, weather or humans.

Born and raised in Shanghai, Fan has spent half a century fighting an uphill battle to preserve the ancient Buddhist wall paintings at Dunhuang, in Northwest China’s Gansu province. Continue reading

Spring Festival Survival Guide

Source: Sinosphere, NYT (1/27/17)
Surviving Chinese New Year With the Family: A Musical How-To
By DIDI KIRSTEN TATLOW

《春節自救指南》- 上海彩虹室內合唱團 “A Spring Festival Survival Guide,” just in time for Chinese New Year’s reunions. Video by Rainbow Chamber Singers | 上海彩虹室内合唱团

BEIJING — Holidays can be joyful times, bringing together long-separated family members. They can also be the most dreaded times for precisely that reason. Things may go horribly wrong under the weight of mutual expectations, and escape is difficult. Continue reading

HK divided over Forbidden City museum plan

Source: BBC News (1/10/17)
Hong Kong divided over Forbidden City museum plan
By Juliana Liu, Hong Kong correspondent, BBC News

A man walks through a gate inside the Forbidden City in Beijing on 29 September 2016.

GETTY IMAGES: Items from the Forbidden City collection would be sent on loan to the museum in Hong Kong

The Forbidden City in Beijing has housed generations of Chinese emperors for hundreds of years. A museum since 1925, it now welcomes more than 14 million visitors a year, drawn to its ornate gates, inner palaces and nearly two million pieces of imperial art and antiques.

Those cultural treasures, however, have become the focus of a dispute in Hong Kong. Continue reading

Time to ramp up China’s soft power

Source: China Daily (12/27/16)
Time to ramp up China’s soft power
By Harvey Dzodin | chinadaily.com.cn

Time to ramp up China's soft power

A round table meet is held at the Ancient Town Summit 2016 in Guiyang on Dec 13. [Photo/xinhuanet.com]

China has already achieved better soft power success at home than before. Recently I attended the Qingyan Ancient Town Summit in Guiyang, Guizhou province. Progress in building attractions such as ancient towns is accelerating and China Development Bank even funds financially sound proposals.

Although we don’t think of the Forbidden City as an ancient town, it is the granddaddy of them all, and among the world’s most visited museums. Its dynamic director Shan Qixiang spoke about his successful efforts to make it more authentic, user-friendly, accessible and profitable. Continue reading

Giant rooster with Trumpian characteristics

Source: Sinosphere, NYT (12/29/16)
China Warmly Welcomes a Giant Rooster With Trumpian Characteristics
点击查看本文中文版
By MIKE IVES

30chinatrump-1-master768

A giant rooster sculpture resembling President-elect Donald J. Trump outside a shopping mall in Taiyuan, China. The statue was built to celebrate the coming Year of the Rooster in the Chinese lunar calendar. Credit: Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

HONG KONG — President-elect Donald J. Trump’s golden quiff, bushy eyebrows and preening gestures were immortalized this week in China — though perhaps not in a way that he would like.

They appeared on a giant rooster statue, just above some three-toed feet and a blood-red wattle that hangs below a gilded nose and mouth. Continue reading