Rather than addressing the symptoms of gender inequality such as restrictions on career prospects and freedom, says Cheng Pei-kai, we need to look at the deeper issue of the objectification of women. Chinese history and literature texts are replete with examples of this tendency. Mindful reading of the classics and an awareness that women are still objectified in modern life will go some way in changing mindsets. Whether in art or life, women are complex like anyone else and their characters and emotions need to be fleshed out before they can be truly seen for who they are.
Perhaps the theory of the survival of the fittest can help to explain the opposite gender imbalance in rural-urban China. Aspirant males and females head to cities in search of better prospects; the latter, with the added aim of better marriage prospects, invariably outnumber the men. Of the males that stay or return, there is the heavy bride price to pay to win the hand of a lady among the smaller pool of women left in the rural areas. This modern malaise is something no provincial policy can easily solve, says economist Li Jingkui.
Reviews have been mixed after Shibati, Chongqing’s oldest central business district, reopened to great fanfare recently. Some were glad that the former messy, dilapidated quarter has been refreshed, while others feel that it has been turned into another “ancient street”, devoid of a sense of its rich history and heritage. Where should the fine balance be, in the preservation of tangible heritage, when multiple stakeholders and business interests are involved?
Temporary orders to halt the KAWS public art installation exhibition led Singapore Chinese Cultural Centre CEO Low Sze Wee to ponder the copyright issues of Chinese ink paintings. He notes that many of Singapore’s first-generation artists like Chen Wen Hsi and Fan Chang Tien were educated in Shanghai in the 1920s and were deeply influenced by the Shanghai School. Copying was a common mode of learning, and students like Henri Chen Kezhan and Chua Ek Kay did their best to copy the works of their teachers. While they eventually developed their own styles over time, Low says it could be argued that their achievements were made possible by their formative years spent on copying.
Like many of us experiencing pandemic days, cultural historian Cheng Pei-kai spent the last two years living quietly. With all gatherings cancelled, he only had the incessant news on the coronavirus for company. On one occasion, an interview on American television was particularly jarring: someone was lambasting social distancing rules and venting her frustrations at the disruptions to everyday life. Where do people have the gall to blame everyone but themselves? Did the pomposity of their country’s leader rub off on them? Cheng felt the huge difference between American and Hong Kong societies.
The rural elderly are the guardians of local traditions, says Hisham Youssef, an Egyptian-American architect based in Shanghai. On his travels to the Chinese countryside, he sees aged craftsmen labouring quietly, often with no one to pass their skills on to. Will precious culture and traditions disappear without a trace at this rate? How can this group’s life experiences be best harnessed and passed down and the youth attracted to stay or return to carry on family trades?
Some analyses have sounded the alarm of China lurching to the left in a marked return to Maoism. On closer examination, says Loro Horta, China’s recent clampdowns on capital are rational and not exactly ideologically driven. Issues facing China, such as the need to tackle rising inequality, affect the ruling party’s legitimacy and longevity. These concerns may have a strong push effect on the authorities. In fact, rather than a reversion to Maoism, the Xi government seems to be embracing Confucianism as a basis to enforce social order and norms, just as it derides “evil fan culture” as a means to keep a tight rein on social control.
In part 2 of his reflections on the Chinese countryside, Egyptian-American architect Hisham Youssef asserts that local communities must be involved in the nation’s drive for rural rejuvenation. These can be projects that promote local culture and craft, rather than tourism per se. Perhaps through such efforts, the soul of these communities can be preserved and these rural gems can truly live on for generations to come.
Based in Shanghai, Egyptian-American architect Hisham Youssef has travelled to many off-the-beaten-track locations across China. He shares his observations about the impact of organised mass tourism on the countryside. With transport links improving and tourists arriving in droves, will tangible heritage be eroded and undiscovered gems become a thing of the past?