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mcdull02

McDull (1988), or Mak Dau (麥兜) as he is called in Cantonese, is a cartoon character from Hong Kong, a boy pig with a brown round patch over his right eye. In China his films can stand their own against the likes of Harry Potter.

America has Mickey Mouse, Japan has Hello Kitty and Hong Kong has McDull.

McDull does not have beauty, brains, wealth or even good luck. He is slow and fat. His father has disappeared and his mother is bringing him up on her own in some poor part of Hong Kong that is dirty and falling apart. She is stern and expects too much of him. Yet he has a big heart and big dreams.When one thing fails, he tries another,never giving up, never losing heart. His hero is Lee Lai-Shan, the only person from Hong Kong ever to win an Olympic gold medal. McDull’s head may be in the clouds but his heart is in the right place – even if his bowels are always getting him into trouble!

His stories are heartwarming, somewhat sad but full of laughs – even if you do not get the tongue-in-cheek satire on Hong Kong life and the play on Cantonese slang. The stories show a deep, bittersweet love for Hong Kong. Told through the eyes of a boy, they have the wisdom of years.

Unlike Disney, nothing is cleaned up and made to seem better than it is; no smiley face is pasted over life’s troubles. Its sense of the world is urban whereas Disney’s is suburban.

McDull is the creation of artist Alice Mak and writer Brian Tse. McDull started out as a character in the comic books of his distant cousin, McMug. By the 1990s he had his own comic books. In the 2000s he had his own films.

The first film was “My Life as McDull” (2001). The fourth and latest one came out just last summer, “McDull Kungfu Kindergarten” (2009). The films mix together drawings with computer animation and live action shots.

McDull’s teacher is Ms Chan. She looks like a white woman with wavy brown hair but acts like she is Chinese. The same with the school’s headmaster. Even strangers in the streets of Hong Kong look like them. Curious.

One night McDull makes a little man named Excreman out of his dung (there is quite a bit of bathroom humour in these stories). He gives him a scarf of toilet paper and a small cup for a hat. Together in the middle of the night they go to Dung World. There Excreman tells him of his dream of helping flowers to grow. Before he brings McDull back to his room he says:

Remember us whenever you see the humblest, the deserted and the despised.

I found out about McDull while reading about Lou Jing, the half-black singer from Shanghai. People called her “Stupid” when she was growing up. She said that McDull would tell them that she is not stupid but kind.

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Lou Jing (娄婧)

LouJing

Lou Jing (1988- ), or 娄婧, is a Chinese student from Shanghai who took part in the television talent show, “Let’s Go! Oriental Angel”, in 2009. Even though she lost she became famous in China because of the Internet firestorm she caused, bringing to light how racist China still is (old news to Tibetans and Uighurs). As Hung Huang put it:

In the same year that Americans welcome Obama to the White House, we can’t even accept this girl with a different skin colour.

One night during the show they brought out the families of the contestants. There on live television her mother told China that she had an affair with a black man who returned to America not knowing she was going to have his baby. Then her Chinese husband left her after he saw that the baby was black! She had to bring up Lou Jing on her own.

Pretty strong stuff for Chinese television. Most of the comments that I have seen are directed at the mother, calling her shameless for speaking openly about her affair. The father is stereotyped as a black buck.

Women who have children with foreigners are seen as race traitors. And yet Eurasians, those who are half Chinese and half white, are stereotyped as having more beauty and brains than most. Eurasians are common in fashion, entertainment and advertising.

For those who are half black it is not quite like that. It will be hard, for instance, for Lou Jing to get married. It is unclear whether her skin colour will stand in the way of achieving her dream of becoming a television host. Dark skin is looked down on. Chinese women buy skin creams to lighten their skin.

When Lou Jing was little her skin colour was not a big deal. But as she got older and went out in public more, people would ask her about it, mostly just curious. Others, though, were less kind, calling her names.

But then she went on the show and it got way worse.

The hosts of the show called her “Our Chocolate Girl” and “Black Pearl”, which might be innocent. But people on the Internet left no doubt what they thought, calling her things like “Black Chimpanzee”.

They were saying she was not truly Chinese – even though she was born in China, has lived in China all her life, speaks perfect Shanghai Chinese (to the surprise of many) and can sing Shanghai opera better than most.

Because she looks black American or black African to the Chinese, many believe she is not truly Chinese.

Time magazine would have you believe that is because China is backwards, unlike America. As if Asian Americans do not face the very same perpetual foreigner stereotype in America. Even blacks are not seen as truly American, not like how white people are – just think about Katrina and the Birthers.

Lou Jing:

After participating in this competition, I finally found out, the world is not like what I thought it was.

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That day

Once upon a time in China there came a day that no one can talk about in public. It is not even in the history books.

In the centre of the capital there is a great square. They say it can hold a million people. It is across the street from a big red palace where the emperor used to live. No one lives there now. Above the palace gate is the reason why: a huge picture of Mao, the man who brought communism to China. His body lies at rest at the other end of the square.

The old men who ruled China in those days had fought with Mao. But now they forgot what they had fought for all those years ago. All they cared about now was their own power and wealth.

To stay in power they told the newspapers and television stations what to say. They held elections but only men who agreed with them could stand for office.

There were still some good men left. About two months before that day one of them died. His name is no longer written  in the history books. About 200,000 came to the square for his funeral. Three of them got down on their knees on the steps in front of the government building asking the prime minister for change. The prime minister did not come out.

The funeral turned into protest. Students came to the square and would not leave. It lasted for weeks. The government would not bend. Even a hunger strike did not move it.

The students made a white statue of a lady holding a torch and stood her in front of the picture of Mao. They said she stood for liberty.

Support for the students spread among the people. Now the government was in danger of falling. It sent the army into the capital, but the people blocked its way.

The ruler of China was lying in a bed. He was very sick. He ordered the army to clear the streets and clear the square. Even if the streets had to run with blood: a million deaths would be a small price to pay.

And so when the night came the shooting began. It lasted all night long: the sound of the army killing its own people. Those who got in the way of the army tanks were shot down or crushed under its wheels along with their bicycles.

When the tanks got to the square they knocked down the statue of liberty. The people threw bricks and stones at the army, whatever they could, they set trucks on fire, they beat up and killed soldiers who got separated and took their guns. But the army kept shooting and shooting and shooting. Some students stood in front of the monument where the funeral had begun all those weeks before. They waited for their deaths.

By morning the square was cleared. The hospitals said at least 1400 died that night.

– Abagond, 2009.

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East Turkestan, also called Xinjiang, Sinkiang or Uyguristan, lies north of Tibet and north-east of Afghanistan. It is a land of emeralds, oil and gold in the middle of Asia. It has huge deserts where the Chinese try out their death machines. The Silk Road used to pass through it, when Kashgar was its main city.

Most people born there are Turks –  Uighurs, in fact (sounds like “Weegurs”). They are distant cousins of the people in Turkey, close cousins to those in nearby Uzbekistan. Like most Turks, they are Sunni Muslims.

The Chinese have ruled East Turkestan since the late 1800s, calling it Xinjiang (Sinkiang on the old maps). The Chinese know it is not their country, which is why they have been sending their own people there to live so that it will no longer be a Turkish place. It is now about half Chinese, half Turk.

It was not always so. East Turkestan was once the centre of an empire, a place of great poets and great buildings. The Uighurs even ruled Mongolia. They defeated the Chinese in 751 and were free of Chinese rule for a thousand years (though they were ruled by the Mongols in the 1200s, but then so was everyone else in that part of the world). The Chinese sent them silk and the hand of princesses in marriage to keep the peace. Some say acupuncture started there.

East Turkestan started to fall under Chinese power in the 1700s. It came under direct Chinese rule in the late 1800s. When China was torn apart by civil war in the early 1900s, East Turkestan was independent for a time in the 1930s and again in the 1940s. In 1949 the communists won the civil war and the Chinese firmly took over again.

There has been violence directed against Chinese rule, especially in 1954, 1997 and now in 2008. The Chinese call it Islamic terrorism and blame foreigners like Osama bin Laden and Al Qaeda. But given the nature of the violence, it seems to be homegrown with little money behind it. Its aim seems to be freedom from Chinese rule, not jihad or holy war.

Turkestan is the old name for the region in Central Asia where the Turks live. In addition to East Turkestan there is West Turkestan, which the Russians once ruled: the present-day countries of Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan and Kyrgyzstan (but not Tajikistan or Afghanistan, which are Persian, not Turk).

Religion: Islam came there in 934. Before that the Uighurs were mainly Buddhists, though there were many who followed Nestorian Christianity and Manichaeism. Some Uighurs to the east are still Buddhist to this day.

Islam as practised there does not seem be strict or extreme: many of the young Muslims drink and dress just like the Chinese. Most Muslim women do cover their hair, but not their faces. There has been no clear proof of any suicide bombings. No one is allowed to visit Mecca on his own: the Chinese government is afraid of Islam (and any religion it cannot control).

– Abagond, 2008.

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Beijing (北京)

Beijing (北京) is the capital of China, once known as Peking or Peping. It has been the capital, more often than not, ever since the 1200s when Kublai Khan built his palace there. It stood at the end of the Silk Road. Marco Polo lived there for a while. He said it was one of the most amazing cities in the world.

It is where the Olympic games will be held in 2008. China is busily giving the city a facelift: they are adding a runway to the airport, tearing down old neighbourhoods and even putting ads on buses in New York. But what can they do about the dirty air?

In Chinese Beijing means “Northern Capital”. Yes, there is a southern capital: Nanjing, near Shanghai. It is near the mouth of the Yangtze, the river that goes down the middle of the country. It is a natural place for the capital. But Nanjing has been the capital only on occasion.

Beijing is far to the north, near the Great Wall, close to the homelands of the Mongols and Manchus who ruled China for a good part of the past 800 years.

To someone from Paris or New York it seems spread out, full of wide roads and highways.

In the middle is the Forbidden City. Behind its walls are 800 buildings, done in the Ming style. This is where the emperors lived behind big red doors. No one lives there now.

Across the street is Tiananmen Square. It is vast. This is where Mao raised his red flag in 1949. He is laid to rest in a building at the edge of the square. This is also where the army killed thousands one night in June 1989 to put down protests for democracy.

North of the Forbidden City is where the Olympics will be held.

Mao made Beijing a centre of industry in the late 1900s. He also killed all the dogs and closed down most of the temples.

Beijing is not as big or rich as Shanghai or as advanced as Hong Kong. Nor does the city give you a good idea of what the rest of China is like. It is to China like what the Emerald City is to Oz. Even in Marco Polo’s time that was true.

All the main rail lines end at Beijing. One line goes south all the way to Vietnam. Another goes north through Manchuria, Mongolia and into Russia.

It is hot and uncomfortable in the summer. In the winter bitter winds blow in from the plains to the north.

If you are visiting the city, you should see:

  • The Forbidden City
  • Tiananmen Square
  • Temple of Heaven, built in the 1400s, where the emperor used to pray on the first day of summer
  • Qianmen, a bit of the old city that might still be left
  • The Chinese opera

Also take a bus to the north and see the Summer Palace and, of course, the Great Wall.

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Chinese

The Lord’s Prayer in Chinese:
chinese-b.jpg

Chinese (1200 BC – ) is the most spoken language in the world, more than even English, though almost everyone who speaks it lives in East Asia. It is also one of the oldest written languages still in use. Some of the world’s deepest thinkers and best poets wrote in Chinese. It is one of the six languages of the United Nations.

Chinese is spoken in China and Taiwan and, according to what you count as Chinese, also in parts of South-east Asia and in Chinatowns the world over.

The Chinese of Beijing in the north and Hong Kong in the south are written the same way but even to a foreigner they do not sound like the same language. It is as if English and German were written the same way.

Mandarin, the Chinese of the north, has by far the greatest number of speakers. It is what most people mean by Chinese.

By far the hardest thing about learning Chinese is the writing. Not just for foreigners, but even for Chinese schoolchildren.

English is written with 26 Roman characters. They are used to tell you what a word sounds like, but give you no idea what a word means. Written English is still hard to master, but it is nowhere near as bad as what you face in Chinese.

Chinese is written with thousands of characters, one for each word! Just to read the newspaper means learning thousands of characters. To the English way of thinking, it is as if each word had its own letter!

It is both harder and easier than it looks.

It is easier because certain characters and parts of characters come up over and over again. Most words are made of two characters – one to give you an idea of what the word means and another to tell you what it sounds like.

If English were written this way, then the word for cart might have the character for wheel followed by the character for heart – meaning that it is something that has wheels that sounds like “heart”.

It is harder than it looks because to write it well requires years of practice. Just as it takes years of practice to write Roman letters well. Same thing. There are no short cuts.

There are ways to write Chinese in Roman letters, but to change Chinese over to Roman letters would mean reprinting all the books in China. Unlikely.

Another thing that makes Chinese different than Western languages are the tones. This gives spoken Chinese its sing-song quality. What makes one word different from the next is not just its letter sounds but also the tone or pitch it is said with.

Mandarin has four tones: high and even, falling, rising and dipping (going down and then up). Some forms of Chinese have more than four.

But there is some good news: Chinese grammar is very easy. No word endings at all! Like English, it all comes down to word order, but even more so.

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Lao-tzu (老子)

Lao-tzu (-500s), also called 老子 or Laozi, was a wise man who lived in China in the time of Confucius. He founded Taoism which, along with Confucianism, became one of the two great schools of philosophy of ancient China. It later became a religion. Zen Buddhism is Buddhism interpreted according to Taoism.

Lao-tzu wrote the Tao-te-Ching, the book of the Way (Tao) and its power. It is very short, just 5467 words. It is the sort of book you can read in a half hour but take a lifetime to understand.

Apart from the Bible, no book has been translated more times.

Lao-tzu worked in a government office in Luoyang. As an old man he had had enough of man and his world. He got on the back of a black ox and headed west. At a mountain pass a military guard stopped him. He asked Lao-tzu to write a book. So he wrote the Tao-te-Ching and then disappeared into the west.

Some say he made it to India and taught a prince. Others say he died in China.

Experts in our time say that he wrote nothing – that the Tao-te-Ching was written during the centuries after his death by his followers.

The book is about the Tao. The Tao that you can put into words is not the Tao – the Tao is beyond words. It gave birth to the heaven and the earth and all of creation. These things developed out of it naturally, not as something consciously made.

The Tao is not a person like the Christian God. It is a force without a face. Its effect and manner you can see in the actions of heaven and earth, but not in the actions of men.

Men are always fighting against the Tao. They are always doing this or that, always seeking something: wealth, honour, power, knowledge, even holiness. They never sit still. But all this running about goes against the Tao and so it is bound to end in tears. We think we can have it our way. Wrong.

The true wise man acts and lives according to the Tao. Strangely enough, he acts by not acting – called wu wei in Chinese. He does not even try to be good or wise. He trusts in the Tao and acts according to it and everything falls into place.

The wise man has three jewels: mercy, humility and moderation. Going against any one of these goes against the Tao.

If you think of the Pooh stories, Pooh Bear acts in a Taoist manner, while Rabbit is completely the opposite.

After his death, Taoism was developed by his follower Chuang-tzu (Zhuangzi).

In time Taoism became a religion, complete with gods, priests, rites, temples, all of it. Even Lao-tzu was a god. It had the support of the emperors down through the ages. But then in 1911 the last emperor fell. In time the communists took over China under Mao and destroyed Taoism after 1949. It lives on in Taiwan.

– Abagond, 2007, 2015.

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China (中国)

800px-Flag_of_the_People's_Republic_of_China.svgChina takes up most of East Asia. It is the largest country in the world. As large as America is, for every American there are more than four Chinese people.

As things stand now it is set to become the world’s top power sometime this century. It is so large that once it reaches the level of development seen in the West, no country, apart from maybe India, will be able to stand up to it. Not even America.

But besides India, three other things could stop it:

  1. Oil. There does not seem to be enough oil in the world for China to complete the growth of its industry. A new system of power will have to be found.
  2. The greying of China. For the past thirty years Chinese parents could only have one child. This has succeeded all too well: now China will face a sudden drop in its labour force while having to support more and more old people.
  3. Civil war. The communists still rule China, but for how long? And what happens when they fall? When the emperor fell in the early 1900s it was followed by a generation of civil war. In the past when the ruling party fell, war followed.

The cycle of history that China has followed for thousands of years:

  1. Warlords: The country is divided among warlords, who are always fighting one another. The country is poor and torn by war. This can go on for centuries.
  2. The emperor: in time the country is united under one man. His family or, in the case of Mao, his political party, rule the land and bring peace. Prosperity returns. The new rulers may be foreigners, like the Mongols and Manchus, or they may bring in foreign ways, like the communists.
  3. Corruption at the top: After a long period of rule, after maybe centuries, the men at the top grow corrupt. They no longer care about anything but themselves. The government weakens and, no longer able to hold the country together, it falls apart. Warlords appear and the whole cycle begins over again.

Although China has been ruled by foreigners and has taken on some of their ways, in the end it is China that conquers the conquerors: if not the conquerors themselves, then their children or grandchildren become Chinese. China is simply too large.

Like America, India and Saudi Arabia, China is at the heart of one of the four great living civilizations of the world. Like India it is close to being a universal state for its civilization.

Unlike Western and Muslim civilization, religion is not a driving force. Nor does it see itself as a universal civilization for all mankind.

China is an empire. It rules not just the Chinese but also Turks and Tibetans in the west, some Mongols in the north and the Tai and Burmese in the mountains of the south. China has grown bit by bit down through the ages by people like these at the edges becoming Chinese.

– Abagond, 2007.

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