One of my goals in 2015 has been to develop a greater sense of connection with Chinese culture. Travelling to Taiwan in August of last year showed me that Chinese culture is not synonymous to Mainland Chinese culture. While this is something I’d known intellectually, I think I had still equated a lot of aspects of Mainland Chinese life to “Chinese culture” where this connection is not especially close.
I’ve been reading the Confucian Analects in both Chinese and English and feeling as though there are great differences in personal values between Confucian thought and Mainland Chinese people. Values of Confucian China are roughly:
- Devotion to your parents
- Devotion to the Emperor
- Learning for learning’s sake
- Governments should lead by example
- Compassion and Generosity to others
- Virtue is more important than material wealth
I would say of these values, the first two have carried over into the Modern era relatively unscathed, but as you go down the list, I feel the distance widens greatly. An example of lack of compassion and generosity to others in Modern China is the way that people riding bikes generally don’t stop for red lights. Two days ago I saw two cars turning right, they weren’t going particularly fast, but an old man on a big bike rode in front of them very fast and through a red light. The first car braked quickly to avoid hitting the bike, but was herself hit by the man behind. The two of them both argued with extreme anger, but really it was neither of their faults. The man on the bike probably didn’t really see this as his fault, and would have forgotten about it within minutes.
This kind of ‘fend for yourself’ approach to traffic has little to do with the number of vehicles on the road or the population, nor is it a Chinese phenomenon. It is the result of people in Modern China being trained to not care about others, but just try to get to where they are going faster at the expense of all (and anyone) else.
I’d like to say that I’ve been working on the “not urgent” but “important” parts of my life, but I have certainly indulged in these past six months in my fair share of “urgent” but “not important” activities in life.
Working towards a masters thesis, attending classes full time and working on other research projects for the University of Melbourne has helped me develop my skills and sensitivities as an educational researcher. It has been a world away from the glamour of participating in TV shows.
Why did I stop going for more and more TV shows and developing that area of my life? I realised that I felt very dislocated in China, and I won’t want to stay here forever.
I would like to work here on short term contracts, even for up to a year in the future, but while I don’t feel an overwhelming urge to return to Australia, I also feel as though China has made me a less calm, less trusting and less spiritual person. I want to be in an environment where I not only thrive, but grow personally. I feel like I’ve become resilient and careful, but I wouldn’t choose to extend my time here any longer than what is practical.
I was surprised when I got a request to do a documentary series for Canadian Telivision about Jiangsu culture. Originally I assumed that it must be in English, so they would probably want their own hosts to do it, at least a Canadian living in Nanjing… Or maybe they just really love Australians over there. No, none of that, it turns out there is an entirely Chinese language channel, and the documentary series is in Chinese for Chinese speakers living in Canada! While the series hasn’t broadcast, here is the first one. Not as well edited as the previous one’s in my opinion, but certainly a step up in terms of the amount of Chinese I had to memorise and deliver.
The May 1 holiday is a time of rest for most Chinese, but for me it represented an opportunity to fill in for the regular weather host on Jiangsu City Channel’s Ling Ju Li 江苏城市频道的《零距离》节目。At first glance, looking at the roughly 500 character script I thought, “Oh my god this is not going to work at all” but then they showed me the auto-cue monitor. This was the first time I tried using one before, because most of my shows have been outside with only short speeches at any one time. The task got easier again though when requested that we write the entire script out in English pinyin with the appropriate tones! For me reading the romanised version of the Chinese words is much easier and meant that I could get out most of the script with only minimal preparation. You can see the cut away scene when I messed up, but I got the first part out without too much trouble the first time. I’m sincerely hoping they’ll invite me back to do this once a week, as it’s widely watched and well paid, but we’ll just have to see.
Xiao Pin (小品) is the form of Chinese culture that I most enjoy watching and being a part of. It shares a number of similarities with short sketch comedy such as Monty Python or Saturday Night Live. The difference is that the sketches are generally very long (the one I’m showing today is more than 20 minutes long) and the jokes are developed through character and the plot as well as one liners. The style of performance evolved out of Xiangsheng, with the major differences being the use of costumes, props and a background for the performances.
This is my favorite clip, its from the Spring Festival Gala of 2009 and is considered to be one of the best performances of this art form ever. while very long there are a number of sections which are very funny which I list beneath.
The restaurant is Scottish and the waiter is wearing a dress. Chinese don’t have a long history of depicting non-traditional gender roles, so this is a big source of humour. The daughter is a very conservative by very poor and rural girl, and the waiter describes her as “chun yemmer” which means “purely masculine”, this word/phrase goes on to be very popular and is still used today.
Like a lot of comedy in this art form, a big source of humour are the differences between city folk and country folk. The country people find the restaurant very strange and expensive, and the waiter finds the customers to be uncouth.
After they first arrive the grandfather gives the waiter some tips so that he will pretend that the most expensive meals on the menu are not available. This way the grandfather will have a lot of “face” with his guest when he orders. From 9 mins there is a sequence where they are ordering food begins. Initially it all goes to plan, but later the grandfather complains a lot about the waiter and the waiter is in two minds as to whether he should keep acting or not. at 1050 when they just want to get a basic dish, the waiter says “we don’t have any” (as he was told to), then the grandfather says “you can have that one”, to which the waiter responds “no we really don’t have it”.
By far the funniest and most famous quote from this performance, which was referred to again at the just past Spring Festival Gala of 2014, happens at 12:45. The waiter says:
人生可段了，跟睡觉一样儿一样儿 － life is so short, its similar to sleep
眼睛一闭一挣，一天就过去了哈～ – the eyes close then open, a whole day goes past ha!~
眼睛一闭不挣，这辈子就过去了哈～ the eye close but don’t open, the life goes past ha!~
The reason why this is so funny is that the metaphor and message is extremely profound, but the intonation and accent of the waiter is completely ridiculous, and the events leading up to this statement are completely trivial. In particular the ha!~ is funny because it is supposed to be a way of making the statement more persuasive, like saying ‘isn’t that so?” at the end of a statement. Of course the actual effect is the opposite.