30 November 2005 2005 nian 11 yue 30 hao

Artlog: November

Qin Shutian was from the area, and his father had been a schoolmaster here. Bringing his female performers, he came to collect and organise "Songs of Happiness", and verified its anti-feudal themes...

Soon afterwards, Qin Shutian returned to the city with the performers, and based on the results of this folk music collecting trip to the Wuling mountain region he wrote a large-scale folk song and dance production called "Songs of Women". A cast were assembled from the prefecture seat, and the show was performed in the provincial capital to great success. Qin Shutian also had an article about weeding out the old, opposing feudalism, and developing culture in new directions published in the provincial newspaper. Having made a name for himself and won an award before he was 30 years of age, you could say he was a young success. But good things don't last, and in the anti-rightist campaign of the following year, "Songs of Women" was denounced as a poison arrow fired at the new society. Qin Shutian's resentment towards the feudal code of ethics was false, his hate for socialism was genuine. He had hatched sinister plots under the guise of socialism, harboured malicious intentions, was wild to the extreme, and reactionary through and through. Immediately afterwards, he was labelled a rightist, expelled from his post, and delivered back to his place of origin to labour under the supervision of the populace.

— from A Town Called Hibiscus by Gu Hua

Meanwhile, my search for art and noodles continues...

November 1: Today I finished reading Lu Xun's famous novella, The True Story of Ah-Q, which I started about two months ago. It's only a short story, but lately I haven't had time for reading while I'm in Xining, it's only when I'm in Guanting that I have a bit more spare time. Have you read that kind of grunge fiction, which doesn't really have a storyline but just records the day-to-day successes and failures of an unlovable and fault-ridden anti-hero? Well, that's The True Story of Ah-Q in a nutshell, but it was written 85 years ago and set in a village rather than Manhattan.

November 6: Another dining experience, this time at the "Black Tent" restaurant on Jiefang Road, which serves up Tibetan, Nepalese, Indian, and even Western food. It was...okay.

November 7: Had a drink at the "Piano Bar", which has a pleasant spacious layout and live piano music. A nice place for a chat, but the music never ventured beyond piano classics like Für Elise, Whisper in Autumn, and the theme from The Entertainer.

November 8: Hired a VCD of "Sunflower" (Xiangrikui), the new film by Zhang Yang, director of "Shower". I liked it a lot. The film follows the relationship between a father and a son over a period of more than 20 years, and I think it reflects how some Chinese parents feel they need to control every aspect of their children's lives, from the subject they study to the person they marry.

November 9: I saw another film today, "Silver Ornaments" (Yin Shi), directed by Huang Zhongjian. The most striking thing was the cinematography and the sets, which all brought a certain misty magic to the elegant home and gardens of the Lü family in this historical romantic tragedy. I was, however, a bit disappointed by the acting at times, and there was little to define the two main characters aside from passion and naivety. Still, the film played with some interesting sub-themes, and there are not many films made these days where one can see "classical" tragedy.

November 12: There were some festivities at Central Park today to celebrate yesterday's announcement that one of the five mascots of the Beijing Olympics (they look a bit like Hello Kitty, but scarier) will be based on the Tibetan Antelope. There was some singing, and some Tibetan circle dancing. Nothing that I haven't seen before, to be honest.

Tibetan Dance at Central Park

November 21: Today I attended the opening ceremony of Xiela Village Primary School, rebuilt by SDA with funding from Canada Fund. There were performances by the students from Xiela, and from other schools in the township. They ranged from traditional Tibetan dances to primary school children wearing sunglasses and disco dancing. Below is an odd type of dance that one sees from time to time in China: a group of people, usually female, dress up in uniforms and then march around in various patterns while saluting.

Marching Dance at Xiela

November 22: In a friend's cassette collection, I found an album by a Xinjiang band called Afanti. Upbeat arabic music with an apparent rock influence, but not drumboxed or anything horrible like that. Great toe-tapping sound.

November 24: A few weeks ago I asked at the People's Theatre if there were any performances planned for this month. They said there might be something towards the end of the month or the start of December, so today I went back to ask again. They said I was already too late—there had been a single performance of Beijing opera two days ago. They said there might be a choir performing on the tenth or eleventh of next month, but when I asked how to buy tickets, they said the tickets were not on sale to the public! If I come on that day, and there are free seats, I might be able to watch.

I have also asked at the Qinghai Museum, where last month's calligraphy exhibition was held, and they told me that apart from the permanent exhibition of Qinghai cultural relics there are no more exhibitions planned for the rest of the year.

November 25: Today I bought two music VCDs, one of Qinghai huar, and one with other Qinghai folk songs. The first one is as real as it gets. Recorded on location, it shows the singers sitting on the grass surrounded by their friends, and for once I am glad to have the VCD version (not that there was any other choice). The second one I am less impressed with, mainly because I don't recognise any of the songs. Unfortunately, none of the music shops in Xining allow you to listen to the product in the store, so buying music is always a bit of a gamble.

At the risk of turning this artlog into a foodlog, I also want to mention Hunan beef noodles. Lanzhou beef noodles are famous, but I really don't know why. They basically just boil some thin noodles, then add a few slices of cold beef, chopped scallion, and some chili oil. The Hunan beef noodles I had for lunch today are made by spooning a flavoursome beef stew over the noodles, and they really warm you up on a cold day.

In the evening, I went to the "Easy Day" bar with some friends, and there was a guy there singing and playing on an acoustic guitar! Singing to a backing tape, which is what usually passes for performance around here, just doesn't compare to live music.

November 29: After being captivated by a certain kind of Tibetan folk singing last month, I have since discovered that the name of this style is aleh (okay, I'm just making that spelling up). Today I went to the Jianguo Road Commodities Market (south of the train station) to try to find a recording. This market is the place where Tibetans (and other followers of Tibetan buddhism) go to buy items like butter and butter lamps, hada scarves, prayer flags, illuminated images of the Dalai Lama, and so on. It also has Tibetan clothing, furs, and even saddles.

Notably absent were the type of prints that are sold, alongside Tibetan-style jewellery, in places such as the Shuijing Xiang market. These works use a simple "innocent" painting style and feature images such as a pretty shepherdess tending to a lamb or foal. Genuine Tibetan art can be quite the opposite, utilising a very detailed style and depicting gods which are often remarkably ugly!

A thangka depicting Samvara and Vajravarahi (from a collection at the University of Michigan).   Cute, but not traditional Tibetan art!

I found the music I was looking for, and bought one VCD and two cassettes. The shopkeeper was a very honest young fellow, and I didn't need haggle. He even said that one of the cassettes was pirated, and sold it to me for only 2 yuan!

Hi Todd, good to see you're catching a wide swathe of Chinese culture. I know that politics is not really your game, but I thought I would send you this recent posting on OpenDemocracy. When do you look to go to Bejing to live? In peace, David
David Tehr [homepage]
02.12.2005 , 14:40

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