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J Bryant
J Bryant
8 months ago

This is a very fine article, imo. As I turn away from the increasingly politicized offerings of Hollywood, I watch more foreign movies and TV series. Conspicuous by their absence are any offerings from China except for a few “Sword and Sorcery” movies which are pretty good if that’s what you’re into.
My suspicion was such an authoritarian regime wouldn’t allow original moviemakers to flourish, and that appears to be the case.
I love the idea that “lowly migrant workers sublimate their unacknowledged hardships on the production lines into beautiful verse in self-published magazines.” I wonder if English translations of any of these self-published works have found their way to the West? I would like to read them.

A Spetzari
A Spetzari
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

My suspicion was such an authoritarian regime wouldn’t allow original moviemakers to flourish, and that appears to be the case.

Most certainly. It’s also cultural and a direct cause of communism. In a country that has been under the grip of authoritarianism for 75+ years – it doesn’t pay and is actively dangerous to think for yourself or be individual. In anything.
Taking the initiative and making decisions are far more risk than its worth. Just keep your head down.
Add that to the already more traditional, conservative, collectivist mindset inherent in Eastern cultures and you will have a recipe for creative stagnation.*

*I do not intend this as a slight – there is much to be learned from the positive flip side of Eastern cultures – importance of family values and community above individualism. Just in this case in combination with communism (and therefore erosion of family, privacy and anything other than the state) it’s fatal.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  A Spetzari

It may not be a ‘slight’ as you say, but it does explain rather neatly how a bunch of decidedly unwashed Europeans managed to initiate the conquest of the world five centuries ago.

How else can one explain how a small bunch of Portuguese buccaneers sailed from Lisbon in 1500’s arriving in the Pearl River Estuary in 1511, and setting-up shop in Macau by 1535? Or put it another why did no Cantonese or for that matter Gujarati merchants do the opposite and set up their stalls in London?

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
8 months ago
Reply to  ARNAUD ALMARIC

Fair points, but historical narratives are never quite so clear cut. You are I’m sure aware that Vasco da Gama met a Gujarati merchant Kanji Malam in 1492 at the old Arab slaver colony of Zanzibar off the east coast of Africa, where he was trading spices, timber and diamonds, and he guided da Gama back to the west coast of India, finally establishing the sea route to India that European traders had been looking for for a long time. Vasco da Gama then apparently faced a hostile reception at Calicut when he got there from the local trading community, and so in typical gunboat diplomacy style took a fleet over a few years later to bring the area to heel.

ARNAUD ALMARIC
ARNAUD ALMARIC
8 months ago
Reply to  Prashant Kotak

Indeed, and as writing an Epistle to UnHerd is not the same as an essay for All Souls one has to be brief.
I am sure you are also aware that in reality Vasco da Gama & Co were rather latecomers to the Orient.
Strabo*, writing at the time of Augustus is impressed by the amount trade being carried on by the Roman Empire with India, via the Red Sea ports of Berenice and Mythos Hormos. He is also scrupulous to tell us this trade originated with the Ptolemaic Dynasty of Egypt some century or so before.
So Vasco and chums was well over a thousand years late! But got there in the end, heaven be praised!

(* 64/3 BC -24 AD.)

Prashant Kotak
Prashant Kotak
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Not sure it’s an authoritarian thing per se. I look at the Indian media production factories (movies, cable, serials, soaps, gameshows, print and online writing, and so on), which generate a sea of total rubbish in much the same way: plagurised, poorly performed, cartoon quality crap, depicting two dimensional human sensibilities with zero depth. If you want to see possibly some of the worst acting ever tacked on to the most plastic storylines imaginable, then turn on a popular Indian soap on ZeeTV or somesuch (but caution, you are not Indian and therefore lack the requisite innate genetic protection, so you will likely experience the urge to scratch the skin off your face with your bare nails after a few minutes).

Like the Chinese but in a different way and for different reasons, Indian social culture leads to originality and arts production that is severely lacking – the high arts culture is ossified and the pop culture is derivative. Eastern intellectual culture is slow moving to the point of being almost static – unless prompted by the West, whose techniques and output are ingested, transformed and regurgitated in a different form, at a material level with sometimes spectacularly good results (patently China) but a vacuum at an intellectual level – mass scale content production that is in fact, contentless.

Neither culture creates the conditions where large numbers of individuals seek to explore and push boundaries – and this leads to a lack of any shock-value or originality or a forward-moving intellectual climate. I genuinely look forward to the day when a creator of pop content in the East is bold and brazen enough to tunefully proclaim that their genetalia tastes like a fizzy sugar drink, without fear of reprisals or ostracisation.

Last edited 8 months ago by Prashant Kotak
Sean Penley
Sean Penley
8 months ago
Reply to  J Bryant

Some years ago I saw an interview with Chinese filmmakers. A couple of them mentioned the then-recent movie “Invasion: Los Angeles.” If you haven’t seen it, pretty standard summer blockbuster stuff. Aliens invade LA, a small team is fighting its way through the city and stumbles up on the way to defeat the aliens in the course of like one or two days. Not a great movie, but a decent popcorn action flick.
One of the Chinese filmmakers mentioned that movie could never be made in China. He said the reason was because in the movie the government was struggling to deal with the alien invasion and the Party cannot be depicted as not having all the answers or being unprepared. I was struck by how ludicrous that the Party could actually feel threatened by the idea of people thinking it might not be prepared for an alien invasion, given how it is completely impossible for us to guess the nature of technology of aliens, or if they even exist. If I wanted to get into pop psychology, I would say they have severe insecurity issues.
It also reminded me of the Chinese trolls on news sites in the early 2000s. Back then they were not very sophisticated. Any article that mentioned anything going wrong in China would be flooded with trolls calling it ‘racist’ or ‘anti-Chinese.’ I literally saw this on articles that did nothing more than mention a flood in X city or a drought in X region or a typhoon making landfall. No criticism of government response or anything, but lots of trolls insisting it was racist to talk of a flood in China. Then with the filmmaker interview it kind of came together. The Party needs to imply it can control everything, and even acts of nature make it seem weak. Years later I read about how in Imperial times too many natural disasters in short order could create the impression the dynasty was losing the mandate of heaven. I think the CCP has inherited that mentality.

Bernard Hill
Bernard Hill
8 months ago
Reply to  Sean Penley

…and that too is now the mentality of the ruling cliques in the Angloshere at least. Shut the gate, stay inside do what mummy tells you. Mummy knows what’s best.

Andrew F
Andrew F
8 months ago
Reply to  Sean Penley

Anyone who ever experienced communism would agree with your comment.
Even if China is no longer communist in any meaningful sense apart from being dictatorship.

Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
8 months ago

I don’t know whether they watch it legally or not but Kdrama is huge in China – as it is becoming increasingly successful all over the world. The CCP was envious of Korea’s huge success in pop and film and drama and wanted China to rival this success.
However censorship has inhibited the brilliant creativity of the Korean drama industry and also as mentioned in the article, the CCP has forbidden the ‘girlish’ looks of some Korean stars which are adored by young Chinese

Raymond Inauen
Raymond Inauen
8 months ago

Only a few have the talent to stand out, which seems to be a global phenomenon without cultural boundaries.

Last edited 8 months ago by Raymond Inauen
Dapple Grey
Dapple Grey
8 months ago

‘Yan Lianke’s novel Dream of Ding Village is a haunting account of China’s hushed-up AIDs crisis in rural Henan, written as fiction to avoid censorship’
Interesting. I read a fascinating article (frustratingly I can’t remember its title or author) about how East German authors wrote so that readers read between the lines as there was strict censorship as in China.
Apparently once the Wall came down and they had carte blanche to write wheat they wanted, for some writer’s block descended.

Dustshoe Richinrut
Dustshoe Richinrut
8 months ago

What is meant by “cheeky” in the phrase “cheeky comic book writers”?

What does “foreground strangely subversive themes” mean?

I think “cheeky” here means daring; and “foreground” here means peddle.

And I think to poke fun at certain people in China is a daring thing to do. Is that indicative of there being nothing of humour to read? Are riotous escapades and slapstick verboten? Are grandeur and importance all the rage instead? At least officially?

Is this giant book club industry a bit like the 1930s German equivalent of “sterilised swing music, military marches, and Viennese waltzes corrupted into vehicles of National Socialist feeling,” as Philipp Blom puts it, in his book, Fracture (Life And Culture In The West, 1918 – 1938). Going by what he also says, that “Jazz became the soundtrack of an age, the incendiary charge flung into society, igniting tensions, stoking sensuality, and sapping the old order,” it’s clear enough that the more, say, degenerate art forms are denied the youth, the more miserable and desperate they become.

It’s as if big government wants to steer its subjects into a sea of mediocrity in which they will be too busy wallowing to notice the new grooves and the new styles that speak of class and freedom.

Anyway, there is just something so Swiftian about this enterprise of fiction in China. A kind of a strange floating island perhaps?

John Lee
John Lee
8 months ago

Rarely have I read an article in which I am less interested.