Chinese filmmaker stuns Cannes Film Festival with documentary revealing horrors of Mao’s gulags
Clocking in at more than eight hours, Wang Bing’s latest outing, Dead Souls, is probably one of the longest films to have taken a bow at the Cannes Film Festival, where it premiered on Wednesday, in two parts, with an hour-long intermission in between. The work’s length is, in a way, a reflection of Wang’s own odyssey in completing the documentary. Based on interviews and footage he gathered over 13 years, Dead Souls reconstructs the pain and suffering of those condemned to “re-education” – a euphemism for hard labour – in a gulag in northwestern China at the start of Mao Zedong’s Anti-Rightist Campaign, in 1957.
The new system reflects a cunning paradigm shift. As we’ve noted, instead of trying to enforce stability or conformity with a big stick and a good dose of top-down fear, the government is attempting to make obedience feel like gaming. It is a method of social control dressed up in some points-reward system. It’s gamified obedience.
If we give in to the sheer gigantic sweep of Facebook and the convenience it creates, and feed all our collective information into its ever-more-intelligent algorithms; if news is read and messages are sent primarily within the Facebook network so that each of these interactions sows new data points in our profiles; and if we build up thousands upon thousands of these innocuous-seeming interactions over years and years, and those interactions are overlaid with face-recognized images, marketing data from online purchases, browsing histories and, now, GPS-tracked driving data, is this total bartering of privacy worth the buy-in to Zuckerberg’s “supportive,” “safe,” “informed,” “civically engaged,” global community?
“A Chinese office lady has risen to internet stardom in China for making viral videos documenting her novel yet bizarre ways of preparing meals at her workplace. In each video, Little Ye improvises her meal preparation equipment using things commonly found around the office.”
Hang’s photographs carried the tags of nude, youth, sexuality, social norms, gay?, even in China!, and seemed enough for a story. That’s what I went with; the significance of Ren Hang would not become clear to me until a few years later. This interview was originally conducted in Mandarin. It has been translated and edited for length and clarity. Interview by Erik Bernhardsson. Translation by Dier Zhang.
China has the world’s preeminent cuisine, absolutely unparalleled in its diversity and its sophistication. You can find practically everything you could possibly desire in terms of food in China. From exquisite banquet cookery, exciting street food, bold spicy flavors, honest farmhouse cooking, delicate soups, just everything, apart perhaps from cheese, although they do actually have a couple of kinds of cheese [laughs] in Yunnan province. Also, because China is such a food-orientated culture, and it has been since the beginnings of history, that if you want to understand China, almost more than anywhere else, food is a really good window into the culture, into the way people live, into history, everything.
We’ve long been fascinated by the Huaqiangbei electronics market area of Shenzhen. (Hereafter, we’ll just call it HQB.) If you need some bit of electronics or a phone accessory, you can find it in HQB. There is an entire multi-floor shopping mall that sells nothing but phone cases. There’s one that specializes in smartwatches. There’s a mall that sells cellphones wholesale. There’s one just for surveillance cameras. And then there are the component markets. Need a chip? Or 250,000 chips? Somebody there can get them for you.
Meal-replacement drinks were made popular by US firm Soylent in the past few years. Founded in 2013 by Rob Rhinehart, the company was shipping 30,000 “meals” a month a year later and Rhinehart told Bloomberg in January this year that sales were up 300 per cent. Soylent is now valued at more than US$100 million.
Its success has seen similar start-ups springing up around the world. India’s SupermealX, Australia’s Aussielent and British-based Huel all claim to offer nutritionally complete drinks.
Shao Wei, who was working as a programmer in Hangzhou, was also intrigued by the idea. As a start-up worker, he had been looking for healthy meal options for those who had little time away from their computers. In 2014, he quit his job and set up his own meal-substitute brand, Ruffood. Its Chinese name – ruo fan in pinyin – means “like rice“.
What are we to make of contemporary Chinese reality? Political scientists have their way of looking at things, as do economists, historians, sociologists, and philosophers. Make no mistake, we fiction writers have our way of looking at the world too. Only the fiction writer’s way of looking at the world is not just one more to add to our list. The fiction writer incorporates all ways of looking at the world into one. It is a compound eye. If Magic Realism was the way in which Latin American authors presented their view of their reality, then Ultra-Unreal Realism should be our name for the literature through which the Chinese regard their reality. The Chinese word “chaohuan” (ultra-unreal) is something of a play on the word “mohuan” (magic), as in “mohuan xianshizhuyi” (magic realism)— “mohuan” is “magical unreal,” and “chaohuan” is “surpassing the unreal.”
The gamification of social conformity, overseen by an authoritarian government and mediated by nudge theory, is a thing of beauty and horror; who needs cops with nightsticks to beat up dissidents when their friends and family will give them a tongue-lashing on behalf of the government for the price of a discount off a new fridge? But don’t worry, I could make it a whole lot worse. The first notable point about this system is that it’s an oppressive system that runs at a profit. Consider the instant no-colateral loans for online shopping: the Chinese system only grants these to folks who are a good credit bet. The debt will be repayed. Meanwhile it goes into providing a Keynsian stimulus for the productive side of the economy. And it rewards people for political right-thinking. What’s not to like?
The speed and scale of China’s island-building spree have alarmed other countries with interests in the region. China announced in June that the creation of islands — moving sediment from the seafloor to a reef — would soon be completed. “The announcement marks a change in diplomatic tone, and indicates that China has reached its scheduled completion on several land reclamation projects and is now moving into the construction phase,” said Mira Rapp-Hooper, director of the Asia Maritime Transparency Initiative at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington research group.
So far China has built port facilities, military buildings and an airstrip on the islands. The installations bolster China’s foothold in the Spratly Islands, a disputed scattering of reefs and islands in the South China Sea more than 500 miles from the Chinese mainland.
In an era of breathtaking, earth-changing engineering projects, this has been billed as the biggest of them all. Three times as long and almost twice as deep as its rival in Panama, Nicaragua’s channel will require the removal of more than 4.5bn cubic metres of earth – enough to bury the entire island of Manhattan up to the 21st floor of the Empire State Building. It will also swamp the economy, society and environment of one of Latin America’s poorest and most sparsely populated countries. Senior officials compare the scale of change to that brought by the arrival of the first colonisers.
“It’s like when the Spanish came here, they brought a new culture. The same is coming with the canal,” said Manuel Coronel Kautz, the garrulous head of the canal authority. “It is very difficult to see what will happen later – just as it was difficult for the indigenous people to imagine what would happen when they saw the first [European] boats.”
For the native Americans, of course, that first glimpse of Spanish caravels was the beginning of an apocalypse. Columbus’s ships were soon followed by waves of conquistadores whose feuding, disease and hunger for gold and slaves led to the annihilation of many indigenous populations.
“President Xi Jinping and the Chinese government have committed over $16 billion towards building the required infrastructure to recreate the centuries-old trade route stretching from China to the Mediterranean. The new ‘Silk Road Economic Belt’, a high-speed train line running through Eurasia, Iran and Turkey before finishing in Western Europe, is one of two large-scale, global trading projects China is aiming to create, as well as the ‘Maritime Silk Road’, which will run via Southeast Asia, India, and Kenya, before finishing in the Mediterranean.”
The casual alteration of idioms risks nothing less than “cultural and linguistic chaos”, it warns. Chinese is perfectly suited to puns because it has so many homophones. Popular sayings and even customs, as well as jokes, rely on wordplay. But the order from the State Administration for Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television says: “Radio and television authorities at all levels must tighten up their regulations and crack down on the irregular and inaccurate use of the Chinese language, especially the misuse of idioms.” Programmes and adverts should strictly comply with the standard spelling and use of characters, words, phrases and idioms – and avoid changing the characters, phrasing and meanings, the order said. “Idioms are one of the great features of the Chinese language and contain profound cultural heritage and historical resources and great aesthetic, ideological and moral values,” it added.
Chinese science fiction was born at the turn of the 20th century, when the Qing Dynasty was teetering on the edge of ruin. At the time, Chinese intellectuals were entranced by and curious about Western science and technology, and thought of such knowledge as the only hope for saving the nation from poverty, weakness, and general backwardness. Many works popularizing and speculating about science were published, including works of science fiction. One of the leaders of the failed Hundred Days’ Reform (June 11-September 21, 1898), the renowned scholar Liang Qichao, wrote a science fiction story called “A Chronicle of the Future of New China.” In it, he imagined a Shanghai World’s Fair—a vision that would not become true until 2010.
China says it has successfully landed a craft carrying a robotic rover on the surface of the Moon, the first soft landing there for 37 years. On Saturday afternoon (GMT), a landing module used thrusters to touch down, marking the latest step in China’s ambitious space exploration programme. The touchdown took place on a flat plain called Sinus Iridum.
Gasping for oxygen in the noxious air that so often enshrouds northern China is never pleasant. What really twists the knife is that the state media often refer to it simply as “fog,” not pollution, as though it came wafting in on a zephyr, and wasn’t belched by a smokestack in Hebei. Well here’s some vindication for anyone who ever found this annoying. The Chinese government has realized that whatever it is clogging the atmosphere, it’s rendering government surveillance cameras ineffective (paywall), reports the South China Morning Post. Since that compromises national security, the government has hired two teams of scientists to come up with a fix, says the newspaper. But one reason they’re flummoxed by their assignment is that the haze is not simply “fog,” says Yang Aiping, a digital imaging expert and leader of one of the teams.
Food occupies a central position in every culture and it is therefore of great interest to understand the evolution of food culture. The advent of the World Wide Web and online recipe repositories has begun to provide unprecedented opportunities for data-driven, quantitative study of food culture. Here we harness an online database documenting recipes from various Chinese regional cuisines and investigate the similarity of regional cuisines in terms of geography and climate. We found that the geographical proximity, rather than climate proximity is a crucial factor that determines the similarity of regional cuisines. We develop a model of regional cuisine evolution that provides helpful clues to understand the evolution of cuisines and cultures.