Fox News

You simply have to see this to believe it. Jaw-dropping. And dig that canned laughter in the video. I’ve never seen such embarrassing drivel, not even on Fox News. At least O’Reilly and Hannity are entertaining, in a grotesque, perverted sort of way. This is pure racist, tasteless, revoltingly unfunny garbage.



Even now, on a weeknight after 11 p.m. Is this going to go on all week?


5,000 Years of Civilization

A serious question: How many years does Chinese civilization go back, and what criteria are applied to come up with the famous claim of “5,000 years”? This is for a project I am working on; I had written “4,000 years,” which I’d heard (forget where) is more accurate. This ignited an unexpected reaction from some of my Chinese colleagues. So what’s the answer and how do we arrive at it?

UPDATE: You all have to read Sam’s post about this issue (which quotes some of the commenters here).


The First Emperor panned at the Met, PLA to launch new missile test against opera critics from Chelsea

Okay, I made the second part up. It’s not unusual for Chinese to be upset over excessive (read: “any”) foreign criticism of China and things Chinese. It does seems odd however that there would be a flap over reviews for an opera starring a Spaniard and produced in New York. But you see it’s about China and the production involved some heavy-hitters in the Chinese arts community including Tan Dun (composer), Ha Jin (librettist), and Zhang Yimou (credited as “co-director.”) The First Emperor, an opera starring Placido Domingo as Qin Shihuangdi, opened at the Met in December of last year. Initial reaction in Beijing was enthusiastic but the notes turned sour when the New York opera critics had their turn.

“An enormous disappointment,” declared The New York Times of the score, adding that the vocal writing was “ill-conceived” and gave “soaring melody a bad name.” The New Yorker damned it all as “musical kitsch”

Explaining the strong ticket sales, NYT opera critic Anthony Tommasini, snidely suggested, “My guess is that a large number of the ticket-holders are opera neophytes attracted by the novelty of this project and hoping for a grand theatrical experience.” (Read Tommasini’s full review here.)

Well, that defender of culture the China Daily wasn’t going to let this insult to the Middle Kingdom’s first despot go unchallenged, they insisted that Tommasini “clarify” his criticisms. Fortunately, AT didn’t just send back a note saying: “It sucked.” He actually took the CD up on its challenge:

The opening scene did not disappoint. As the orchestra emitted an ominous, swelling tremolo, Wu Hsing-Kuo, a riveting singer from the Peking Opera tradition, playing the Yin-Yang Master, began telling the story of Qin…A battery of percussionists pounded ferocious rhythms on Chinese drums. Long-time Met-goers must have thought that such exotic sounds would never come from that hallowed stage.

Alas, once Placido Domingo as Emperor Qin appeared, the Chinese musical elements were overwhelmed by long stretches of tedious neo-Puccini, pentatonic lyricism…There were some compelling instrumental episodes evocative of Mr Tan’s pulsating, Oscar-winning film score for Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. But whole spans of the opera seem to float in some nowhere land between a martial arts film fantasy and Turandot.

Which no doubt caused quite a stir in the corridors of the China Daily as editors called out for a staff laowai to come and explain what the hell “pentatonic lyricism” meant.

Needless to say, the China Daily weren’t the only ones miffed by the reviews:

Perhaps because he worked hard to avoid them, Tan professed himself particularly annoyed by the Puccini comparisons. “Because Puccini used Chinese melody, no Chinese composer can use Chinese melody without being compared to Puccini!”

The man does have a point and he expands upon his comments further in the IHT article, suggesting, “Critics watch from the traditions of the past, but composers watch from the future.”

The China Daily then tried to have the last word: “Whatever people say about this opera, it is a historical milestone in cultural coalescence.”

In fairness, I haven’t seen the opera. Whether the criticism was fair or the New York press was being needlessly snarky is for others to decide. But I do think that the Chinese press is going to have to thicken its skin a wee bit in the coming years. This was just an opera and a couple of local theater critics. Anyone who lives in Beijing knows what’s coming during the 2008 Olympics: the inevitable puff pieces on life in the capital that will “expose to the world” many of the day-to-day realities that we’ve been writing about for years–litter, traffic, pollution, funny English, line chaos, etc. No matter how hard Beijing might try, and while things might be getting better, these problems are not magically going to disappear. So when the BBC does its first piece on the chaos at ticket windows at Olympic venues, or the Washington Post runs pictures of (the remaining) Chinglish signs, or NBC airs a segment on the effects of pollution on the athletes, China is going to have to take it in stride rather than kicking their feet on the floor and throwing a tantrum at every perceived insult to the motherland.

A sense of humor might help–seriously. (All they had to do was run more pictures of Domingo in costume. He looked like a foreign tourist who had been sucked into one of those tacky “Dress like a Manchu” photo booths at the Summer Palace.) The British are famous for being able to laugh at themselves. Americans don’t need to because we pay Canadians to do it for us. But the Chinese aren’t there yet. Just a thought: Lighten up, enjoy the music, and forget what the New York Times thinks. It’s probably not worth the paper it’s printed on…and after all, who invented paper and printing?


Advertising in China: The kickback game

Something we in the marketing business all know about but rarely mention. Play by the rules, refuse to pay the bribe, get screwed. A very interesting and troubling piece from Marketwatchplace – try to listen to the actual broadcast. It’s great, especially the interview with That’s Beijing manager Mike Wester. Thank God for National Public Radio. It’s even better than CCTV.


Pearl-white complexions or Western-style suntans?

One of the first things that a newly arrived expat notices in China – especially in HK and Taiwan and other places where the sun shines bright and hot – is the ubiquitous use of umbrellas, or “parasols,” by women of every age in an obsessive battle to keep rays of sunshine away from their skin. And we’ve all seen the skin whiteners everywhere. So it was surprising to read this article (BBC, so blocked here in the motherland) on how tanning salons are growing in popularity here. Long considered a status symbol in the West, many in China are apparently feeling the same way, skin cancer be damned.

Foreign firms like Nivea, Loreal and Estee Lauder make up half of the Chinese face cream market. With more money in their pockets, young Chinese women – and some young men too – are prepared to pay extra for foreign brands.

And foreign attitudes to tanning are also taking hold. Flicking through the pages of the February edition of Elle magazine, senior beauty editor Helena Hu points to the latest fashion spread. The pages contain a bronzed Chinese woman with a deep tan.

“This girl had just finished her vacation in Thailand so her skin was very, very dark,” she explained. “More and more models will tan their skin to make their looks more international; darker skin means healthier body, it’s sexier,” she said.

Dark skin in Imperial times was associated with labouring in the fields. Even today it is China’s migrant workers, who work on construction sites across cities like Shanghai, that have the darkest skin.

But for a growing number of young Chinese people, dark skin now means having the money to afford foreign holidays or Western-style glamour. The customers at MH Tanning in central Shanghai agree. The first in China, according to its manager Huang Tong, the salon is popular with the city’s young upwardly mobile set.

“Our customers are mainly… white collar workers, entrepreneurs, people who’ve been abroad, or fashionable people like singers and actors. ”

It’s their choice, of course. Personally, I see the tradition of sitting in the sun with the goal of charring one’s skin with a 1-st degree burn one of the most foolish and ill-advised pastimes ever conceived, and I always wondered why we in the West saw this as a status symbol. I hope this is one of those fades that dies on the vine in the burning sunlight.


Ma Ying-jeou indicted, will resign as KMT chairman

AP reports:

TAIPEI, Taiwan – Prosecutors filed corruption charges Tuesday against opposition leader Ma Ying-jeou, a Harvard-educated lawyer many thought would be Taiwan’s next president.

The prosecutors said Ma had diverted $333,000 from a Taipei city expense fund between 2002 and 2006 when he served as the city’s mayor. The indictment was announced by Taipei High Prosecutors Office spokesman Chang Wen-cheng.

Ma has denied taking any money for personal use and was expected to address reporters later Tuesday evening. Ma “believes he is innocent from start to finish,” Nationalist spokesman Su Chun-pin said before the prosecutors’ announcement.

Ma, 56, had been under investigation since November and has repeatedly said he would resign as Nationalist chairman if indicted on corruption charges.

Since taking over as chairman in August 2005, he has been considered the front-runner to take over from Chen Shui-bian of the Democratic Progressive Party as Taiwan’s president.

The indictment could spell trouble for Taiwan’s relations with China. Beijing is believed to have high hopes that a Ma victory in the 2008 presidential elections would help lead the way to eventual unification between the rivals, which split amid civil war in 1949.

Xinhua reports that Ma resigned his post as Chairman of the KMT as of 6:00 p.m. Tuesday.


“You know you’ve been in China too long….”

Jokes beginning with that tired line are older than the hills and I usually don’t even bother reading them anymore. Still, this set, which I stumbled on by accident, had me laughing out loud.


Like an axe….

A cold wave just came crashing down on us here in the city of perpetually chapped lips. After a couple weeks of Indian summer or February thaw or whatever you call it, winter roared back with a vengeance, and the temperature was falling faster than the US dollar. I guess the gods heard I’d be alone here for the holiday and they decided to make my life miserable. The wind got so bad this afternoon planes were stopped from landing at the Beijing airport for a while. Let’s look on the bright side; if winter comes, spring can’t be too far behind. (Famous last words.)


Alone in Beijing for Chinese New Year

What to do? All suggestions will be seriously considered.