Archive for January, 2011

Cultural Revolution Posters

Monday, January 31st, 2011

“There are layers of trajectories of meaning that are common throughout the visual imagination of a society or group and that operate on the key level of assumption.”1

I thought the idea of “hegemonic discourse” that the authors introduce was rather interesting. During the Cultural Revolution posters were everywhere and dealt with a variety of topics, yet somehow amidst all of that visual stimulus a certain common meaning developed for different colors, symbols, or designs. But, as the authors point out with their example of the Red Guards’ behavior, common understandings can still provoke different reactions. Each individual viewer brings her or his own unique perspective to every poster seen on the street or in a home. As the posters were generally made to have a quick impact, viewers may only have had a few seconds to form an overall impression of what the poster meant or was asking. That leaves a lot of room for individual interpretation. My question is, how much did the Cultural Revolution posters play off of colors, motifs, or images already common in Chinese society? How much of the meaning behind these things existed before the revolution and how much grew out of it?

  1. Harriet Evans & Stephanie Donald, Picturing Power in the Cultural Revolution (Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield, 1999), 17

Ideas for Project

Thursday, January 27th, 2011

I got my first project idea when I came across a Chinese made documentary called “Kindergarten” that documents the everyday lives of kids age 2 to 7 attending a boarding kindergarten in China. I was floored by the fact that parents were sending their two year olds to boarding school, and I started researching the idea and found that kindergarten has become an increasingly competitive thing in China as parents try to give (what is often their only) child the best possible chance at success. A lot of the schools, both boarding and day, have long waiting lists and are very expensive. My project would look into the way early childhood education is dealt with in China. Prof. Fernsebner suggested another documentary called “Please Vote for Me” about elementary education, so I’ll definitely be looking into that one as well. There are lots of interesting articles coming out about the growing focus on early childhood education and the pressures it puts on parents as well as students. It would also be interesting to compare how the the Chinese are approaching kindergarten in relation to the way those in other countries do.

My second idea stemmed from the article about pet ownership I read in China Digital News the other day. As pet ownership is rising in China so are tensions between pet owners, largely wealthier city dwellers, and non pet owners, mainly poorer and rural Chinese, over the merits of owning vs. eating dogs and cats. Treating animals as pets is so ingrained in American culture at this point that it is intriguing to see China just now grappling with what it means to bring animals into homes, some even treating them as substitute human companions.

Government “Benevolence” Protects Women

Friday, January 21st, 2011

In Li Fengjin’s How the New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up the main character is forced into a marriage with a man that beats her, but she is unable to divorce him because of societal expectations and legal restrictions. But after the New Marriage Law is enacted in 1950, Li Fengjin has the right to divorce Tang Jinrong and marry who she pleases, in this case Gu Shuijin. The Chinese certainly were not aiming for subtle with this one. Li Fengjin is severely beaten many times, and yet those around her continue to insist she stay in her marriage.

When her town is finally “liberated” and the government officials see the error of their ways and come to accept her right to a divorce, Li Fengjin quickly jumps into marriage with the man who helped her escape her former husband. As one governmental official said “Men and women are equal and they should enthusiastically unite and produce in order to construct a new China.” 1 So while women were theoretically free to marry who they wished, they were still very much expected to marry. It’s interesting that both the law and the book are framed as women’s issues. Was there no equivalent pamphlet for men about the impropriety of beating your wife or of purchasing human beings with rice? Was it really “benevolence,” as Gu Shuijin calls it on page32, on the part of the government to grant women the right to escape life threatening situations?

  1. Li Fengjin’s How the New Marriage Law Helped Chinese Women Stand Up, 29.

China’s Children Disappear

Friday, January 14th, 2011

“Although we enjoy universal suffrage and every citizen democratic rights, in reality our vote doesn’t threaten them.”1

The chapter “Getting Organized: The Parents of a Stolen Child” touched on not only the tragic situations of so many families who have lost children to kidnappers but also the frustration the grieving parents found in dealing with China’s bureaucratic system. They are shuffled from one office to another without ever receiving substantive help in finding their missing children. It seems that, some of the parents involved at least, had never quite realized the extent to which their government disregards the interests of its citizens until confronted with the horrible reality missing children and the government’s lack of concern and help. Does anyone really know what happens to those kidnapped kids? Are there other situations where Chinese lose faith in their government after trying to work with it?

  1. Sang Ye, China Candid: The People on the People’s Republic, (Berkeley, CA: University of California Press, 2006), 118

Exploring Internet Resources on China

Tuesday, January 11th, 2011

While reading through a lot of the resources about China, I stumbled upon a New York Times article listed under the Culture section of the China Digital Times. The article, “Once Banned, Dogs Reflect China’s Rise,” discusses the relatively new phenomenon of dog ownership in China. Among the wealthy, certain expensive breeds of dogs are becoming status symbols, but for many Chinese, especially in cities, dogs are becoming beloved family pets with entire pet care industries centered on catering to their needs.

The article drew my attention at first because I never knew that the Chinese government once banned pet ownership. But today the rules are softening, as in a country where many couples have only one child and many children have no siblings, dogs are playing extraordinary roles as social companions. Dog swimming pools and the opening of elaborate doggy hotels reveal China’s growing affection for dogs as pets. In light of this rise in pet owner consumerism, the article goes on to raise an interesting point about the way in which a society allocates its resources. One Chinese dog skeptic expressed the concern that, “The birth of humans needs to be planned, but anyone can raise a dog?”

And, yes, far fewer people are eating dog in China these days as well, a fact the article attributes not only to the growing numbers of pet owners, but also to the fact that “other developed countries have animal protection laws.”