London Diary – For Mama’s Birthday!

For the past couple of weeks I did not have FB or Google, I had no access to my blog; I was in China. Although less than 12 hours from London, it almost feels like time travelling. While so much seem similar, modern buildings and skyscrapers, resplendent shopping malls and international name brands that fill it, bridges and roads, cars, fashion, there is also lots that are a world apart; climate (more than 20 degree warmer, but very humid this time of year in the city, and mostly grey), language, food, the crazy way that people drive, not to mention the political system, along with the point of views and mentality that it fosters. Despite all that, I had a wonderful time with my family and enjoyed being spoiled by them :o) meeting with friends, and as usual, being treated to all kinds of yummies. Best of all was being there for my Mama’s birthday!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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London Diary – Chinese New Year of Monkey and Valentine!

Feb 14, 2016

Happy Valentine!

Happy Chinese New Year of Monkey! Although Chinese New Year of Monkey started on the 8th, London’s annual celebration of Chinese New Year was today. What a celebration! I had heard it was the biggest Chinese New Year celebration outside China and still it exceed my expectation. The all day celebration was spread out between Chinatown and Trafalgar Square; parade, ceremony, lion dance, dragon dance, music, dance performances, games for kids and more.

The whole area was festively decked up and very busy. I don’t remember the last time I had seen so many people or so many red lanterns. Trafalgar Square was full and Chinatown was packed. Gerrard Street was the vortex of the activities in Chinatown and when lion dance was performed periodically, it was brought to a standstill.

We were very late in getting to Trafalgar Square but between heads, decorating flags and lanterns, we managed to see the Flying Lion dance and Dragon dance, which were some amazing performances.

Our celebration ended with a yummy dinner back in Chinatown.





China at Cross Road!

To say I am interested in China’s development is an understatement, China is in my blood. The irony is though I did not know her much until I have lived away from it for years. Nor did I seek to understand her as much as I do now.

We look to history for our interests and concerns about the present states of things. For my quest, I devour books such as Harvard Professor Ezra Vogel’s new book, Deng Xiaoping and China’s Transformation, one that fascinates me tremendously.

If I was politically interested and astute while living in China, I might have picked up more of or better understood what was going on in China. But still, few could have gained such broad and comprehensive understanding of China’s politics during the Deng years. Twenty years of research condensed into a book of more than eight hundred pages, Professor Vogel’s book is an amazing journey through the first fifteen years of China’s post Mao era, opening up what would have remained the Black Box of China’s top political circle.

Its research is thorough and its narratives intriguing. To name one, its account of the secrecy and complexity around the endeavor between Carter administration and Chinese government under Deng’s leadership to bring about the normalization of Sino-US relationship late 1989 and early 1990 rivalries a Hollywood espionage movie. Most importantly, it helps me as I seek to answer many questions about China’s future.arly to mid 1970s, after cutting ties with most of the world for decades, Chairman Mao Zhedong, in hope of forming an alliance to counter threat from Soviet, was willing to open China through a chink of door and started a dialogue with US government. Deng Xiaoping who was restored to power during this time had the opportunity to visit US and Europe and realized China had fallen far behind the developed world. Like many other Chinese top officials who had survived the Mao era, Deng had learned the errors and terrors of radical leftist policies first hand and took them to heart. But it was not till late 1978, almost two years after Mao died in September 1976, that Deng would became the paramount leader and China would embark on an audacious journey of Open and Reform.

Motivated by patriotism and personal ego to modernize China, Deng and his reform minded supporters were determined with their pursuit and brilliantly succeeded in finding a path unprecedented in history of China. They broke away from radical leftist Maoism while maintaining the support of the powerful conservatives and were able to unite the country under the banner of Four Modernization of China. Deng’s determination and ingenuity in coining new concept within the frame work of Marxism and Maoism to shore up support won him admirers and supporter.

Aiming to gain investment and modern technology that China desperately needed, Deng pushed vigorously to normalize relationship with U.S. and to improve relationships with others such as Japan. During his visit to U.S. in early 1979, shortly after normalization of relationship with U.S. was announced, Deng sought to have U.S. start receiving Chinese students. A group of more than five hundred government sponsored Chinese students came to U.S. later that same year. Chinese students and scholars have continued to pour into U.S. since. In 2010, about 128,000 U.S. visas were granted to Chinese students and the majority of them came on personal funding. It was a prescient vision and strategy of Deng’s, one that changed China and will continue to change China in ways that perhaps Deng could not have foreseen himself.  As these U.S., European and Japanese educated students return to China, they will not only bring back advanced science and technologies but also political and cultural influence.

The potential of the Chinese market has long been coveted by more developed part s of the world and target of their expansion. During the colonial days, it resulted in wars and China’s humiliating loss and cession of its important ports along its coastal line and later closing its door to the world almost completely under the leadership of Maoist government. Since the re-opening of its door three decades later in late 1970’s, international businesses, as they seek to expand profits, have continued to tap into China’s market and pour into China with investment and technologies desperately needed and vigorously sought by China, with only a brief period of slow down after the crackdown of the student movement in 1989.

Over the past three decades, China’s economy, previously that of a communist system of public ownership and tightly controlled by state planning, has transformed into one that is of a mixed of state and private ownership and a market economy with the state retaining economic dominance. The market-oriented, state capitalism economic system has spurred China’s GDP to grow at an unrivaled pace, averaging 10% per year. In 2010, it became the second largest world economy, right after U.S., pushing Japan down to the number three spot.

Becoming the economic juggernaut that it is, China has realized many of its ambitions. To name a few, China in 2003 became the third nation that has successfully launched manned spacecraft and it now boasts world class metropolis like Shanghai, high speed rail, fastest computer and longest bridge in the world. Forbes’ billionaire list now includes those made in China. The wealth and nouveau riche that China has created in turn have spurred fascinating phenomena. Worldwide luxurious name brands are contriving up marketing gimmicks to cater to the rising and seemingly insatiable consumer demand, one that comes with Chinese idiosyncrasies this time. And the world sees China’s influence continues to grow, far beyond the economic realm.

China’s transformation is truly impressive and, like that of Mao Zhedong, the name of Deng Xiaoping is gloriously inscribed in China’s history. Interestingly however, just as that of Mao, Deng’s legacy is marred. Among others was Deng’s decision in 1979 to close down the Democracy Wall and put Wei Jingsheng in jail and in 1989 to crack down the student movement of 1989.

Could Deng have embraced the call for democracy and forged political reform while he was at the helm? Could Deng have taken the stance taken by former Premier Zhao Zhiyang, who risked an end to his political power to stand on what he believed to be the right side of history?

Shortly after the crackdown of the student movement in 1989, former US President George H. W. Bush, who had established a good relationship with Deng, tried to maintain his personal rapport and a working relationship with Deng despite the strong anti China sentiment prevalent in US. He wrote to Deng to explain his countrymen’s outrage of the crackdown. Deng charged that US economic sanction is detrimental to China US relationship. Bush countered that it was China’s cracked down on the movement that had caused the problem. Deng insisted that US sanction had infringed on China’s interest and dignity. Deng, the transformational Chinese leader, could not understand that it was his crack down on the peaceful demonstration that had infringed on the universal human desire and right for freedom and dignity. It takes an enlightened mind to understand that Human Right is nobody’s internal affair; it is an affair that should concern the entire humankind.

China is one of those places where, oddly, individual rights and freedom have not gained momentum in its social conscience, despite its long history of civilization. Conforming to the norm and falling in line of one’s station in the great scheme of social hierarchy are expected. Criticism of and any form of defiance to the ruling body are almost always considered unwelcomed threat to the authorities and to this day invariably suppressed and retaliated in the name of maintaining order and stability.

Although pragmatic and bold with economic reform, Deng was in many aspects a traditional Chinese leader. In the meantime, he was a staunch communist and faithfully believed that maintaining communist’s party rule was the way for China.

Stability however could not be achieved by force but by winning hearts and minds. Chinese government has since resorted to the alternative, boosting economic development to win popular support. In the meantime, the world, wrapped around China’s finger tip for profit, continued to pour investment into China and China seemed to have succeeded largely in attaining its goal. More than twenty years later, Democracy Movement of 1989, one of the epic episodes in Chinese history, seems to have been forgotten and, despite murmuring dissent, the communist party rule has remained chiefly unchallenged and unchanged.

In comparison communist countries in Eastern Europe have gone through more fundamental changes. East Germans, in part inspired by Chinese student movement of 1989, later in the same year successfully pushed forward their own movement and torn down the Berlin Wall, East and West Germany finally united into one. Communist rules in this part of the world effectively disintegrated.

Like Mao, Deng was a transformational leader of his time and Chinese leaders after Deng have basically continued the same policies that Deng had spearheaded. And despite all the wonderful things happening in its economic realm, Chinese government has kept up the same rhetoric in its political arena.  As a result, political obscurantism exists to this day in ways of press and information control, censorship and suppression of dissent. To this day, few Chinese have learnt about Liu Xiaobo being awarded Nobel Peace Prize in 2010. Recent occurring of dramatic events further exposed concerning problems – rampant corruption and officials abusing power, acting out of and above law and practicing medieval thuggish politics.

Rule of law has not been able to gain strong foothold in China. For dynasties after dynasties, Chinese legal system has been a Potemkin village, façade of a system that has been used by authorities to punish those who are threats to the regimes. To this day, rule of law is not an established fact in china. Apart from the lack of an independent judicial entity, is it the profound repercussion of compounded repression over thousands of years? Is the Chinese psyche so damaged that once in power, few could escape the temptation and abuse it with vengeance? Does Chinese government lack the ability or will to institute an effective legal system that would bring about Equal Justice under Law?

What has enabled some people to break free from the thuggish medieval political and social mode and advance to democracy and rule of law? Is it economic advancement alone? What has enabled some governing systems to better curtail the abuse of power than the other? Do social traditions play a role?

Confucianism, which among others advocates inwardness and obedience to authority in the embodiment of elders, teachers and officials, etc., has been deeply engrained in all aspects of Chinese societies and heavily influenced and shaped social hierarchy and conscience. Maoists’ repudiation of Confucianism temporarily shelved it but did not actually erase it. What does the revival of it in the recent years by the government signify? Is it a backward step in its political reform?

China did not open its first university till 1898 and had no public education till nationalist government took over in 1912. China’s public education has however since grown exponentially and made great stride in education of science and technology. But innovation has stagnated. While Europe and U.S. have been taking quantum leap in science and technology, China is still singing songs about its Four Great Ancient Inventions of compass, gunpowder, paper making and printing and has unfortunately resolved to espionage or downright stealing of intellectual properties of foreign countries. Why?

It is not Science and Technology alone that have spurred Europe and U.S. advancement and placed them far ahead of societies that were once the greatest civilizations on our planet. Is it? What else is it? Is it the difference of religions, or lack of religion? Is it a culture or the lack of culture of equality, compassion and charity?

Isn’t it an irony that philanthropic and humane spirits are lacking in China where individualism is suppressed and communism exalted and that they are the norm of western societies where individuality, personal rights and freedom are valued?

The truth is Chinese communist party has not truly liberated its people as it claims to have done. To unleash potential of creativity, to stop further brain drain and to attract talents to come back to China, it must free hearts and minds that have been intimidated and suppressed and create an environment for independent and critical thinking.

The mosaic composition that represents China is a complex one. The need to reform is being countered by national pride that was once deeply humiliated but is now emboldened by unprecedented economic growth and ready to defy any outside influence at the slightest provocation.

China is at a critical juncture.  While its authoritarian and totalitarian ways persist, the high ideals of socialism and communism promulgated in its constitution have been abandoned de facto.  How will China solve its ideological dilemma? Will its leaders be able to transform its political system to one that could sustain the economic growth and support of its people and one that would implement democracy and rule of laws?

In Civilization West and East, a fascinating documentary by Niall Ferguson that seeks to answer questions such as what has enabled the west to ascend and dominate the past five hundred years? Will it be able to maintain its prominence? Will emerging markets like China and India become truly the leaders of the world in the 21st century? Ferguson lists six factors as the “Killer Apps” behind the west’s success, Competition, Science, Democracy, Modern Medicine, Consumerism and Work Ethic. What can and will China learn from history? Only time will tell. And I surely hope whatever happens will place China on the right side of history.

Liang and Lin

Liang and Lin, Partners in Exploring China’s Architectural Past, a biography by Wilma Fairbank tells a touching story about Liang Shicheng and Lin Huiyin.

His father was Liang Qichao, an eminent scholar and government official of his time who mastered the Chinese Classics but was in the meantime a leading modern thinker at a time when China was transitioning into its first republic from its last monarchy. Her father was also eminent scholar who held important government posts. Born into these intellectually elite families, they both grew up bilingual and bi-cultural, traveling and being educated abroad.

She, a beauty and poet, was embroiled in a passionate pursuit by Xu Zhimo, a brilliant talent who was known as the foremost Chinese modern poet, but coolly made her choice otherwise. Inspired by her interest in architecture, Liang went with Lin to University of Pennsylvania to study architecture.

At the completion of their study, they went back to China where an incredible journey awaited them. With tremendous dedication, they devoted their lives to exploring and preserving China’s architectural heritage. With such talent and devotion, they could have achieved so much. And yet their path was fraught with disruptions to their profession and too many times life threatening situations. Being uprooted during the Japanese invasion, reduced to poverty and stricken with disease did not stop them in their work. What that followed the long eight years of hardship was not peace but civil war.  When peace finally came with the establishment of new China, unimaginable ordeals unfolded ahead.

The most disheartening events happened in new China under the leadership of the new communist government on which they placed their faith. These events were of such preposterousness that they were unfathomable. What they experienced was tragedy of such magnitude that it could not help but break a reader’s heart.

Over the years and the multitude of vicissitudes, the only constancy was their dedication to their work; they never once contemplated giving up. It was such drive that enabled them to achieve what they did and earned them great respect and admiration all over the world.

They eventually received posthumous recognition that they duly deserved. Alas, it is all too little too late.

Water Dragon for 2012

Chinese Astrology, based on traditional astronomy and calendar (a Luni-solar calendar) and closely related to Chinese traditional philosophy (Yin and Yang), is very complex. I won’t pretend that I know all about Wu Xing teachings, Heavenly Stems, Earthly Branches, Lunar years, Solar months, Equinoxes and Solstices and shall just jump to say that it is a Yang Water Dragon year.

Individual’s prediction for the year, based on birthday, birth season and hours is, again, complex. General forecast I’ve read is positive with a caveat. It is water but since it is Yang Water, the scale of Yin and Yang might incline to tilt towards the Yang end. Chinese psychology comes into full play here. A believer or not, be mindful and apply the art of moderation/balancing to all aspect of your life. I think moderation is common sense and middle of the road is the way to achieve peace and harmony.

If anyone is turning 60 between Jan 23, 2012 and Feb 8, 2013, know that this is a special year for you in particular. The 60 year cycle of Chinese calendar means this is the year when your zodiac sign and element (Metal, Water, Wood, Fire or Earth) are united.

In addition, I’d like to share with you a Chinese custom. If this is your year, wear something red at all time as talisman and/or lucky charm. It can be anything from red undies, clothes to ruby ring, etc. It is unclear how this practice has come about but it goes long way back. Nowadays it is believed to be more commerce than science, if any at all. But if you like, be creative and have fun.

Happy Year of Dragon – red bags and cards!

The dragon ladies

Time for a red bag

Kids busy at video games

Thank you for coming to Yvonne and Jay’s Chinese New Year celebration!

Bring in the New Year

This year Chinese Lunar calendar aligned first day of New Year (Year of Tiger) with Valentine’s Day (of Georgian solar calendar). It is a rarity. Significance of the year however varies, according to Chinese Astrology, as it depends upon one’s animal sign, natural element, dominant element, yin and yang, and companion in life, where the first four are determined by birth year, month, day and the 5th element is determined by time of birth. Throw western astrology into the mix, the reading can get overwhelmingly complicated. But as with Fengshui principles, I take the practical approach, let common sense, and convenience, rule. The goal, after all, is to try to enhance life with the knowledge not to encumber it, and there is always some enhancement or remedy to be found for every situation.

As usual, I celebrated Chinese New Year with enthusiasm and the New Year was received in a busy secession of festive events: attending the annual celebration by local Chinese Association, cooking an elaborate New Year’s Eve dinner in Cantonese Style for my family, joining friends for pot lucks, having Dim Sum while watching Dragon Dance and Lion Dance and to top it all, having annual Chinese New Year bash at our house.

Dragon Dancing at Dim Sum

Lions Dancing at Dim Sum

Party at our house

Snacks included red watermelon seeds, crispy cookies(fried dumplings with crushed peanuts and sugar ), candies and tangerines.

Dishes were arranged all over the kitchen counters. On the center island were Cantonese BBQ, General’s Chicken, Chinese sausage, Spicy fish with bamboo shoots, fried noodles, Golden Tofu, Eight-Treasure Veggie Plate, assorted pickles.

Crescent and Fan shape cookies decorated with Chinese character “福”(Happiness)made by Betty wowed the party.

My husband Jay(left), his friend Mike and Jane(Mike’s daughter)

Les, Betty and Jane

In the dinning room

More tables set up in sitting area on the east wing

The teen table

Diane, me, Caroline and Judy

Time for party favor: Every one picked a red bag with ticket inside indicating what the surprise favor was to be. Betty got the top prize this year: a Cloisonné vase. Here, I was explaining to Caroline about the jade ornament she got: a 八卦 图(Bagua Map).

Bandit’s Logic over looted Chinese Relics

The news of a controversy swirling around a 3 day auction at Christie’s in Paris of art works collected by late fashion designer Yves Saint Laurent and his partner, Pierre Berge, first caught my eyes on China Daily and I started noticing it on other news media as well.
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