Digital Deities and Galactic Guardians – Why China is Invoking Ancient Gods in Cutting Edge Tech

In the recent past, China has been known to the West for its Great Wall and its Terracotta Warriors, a great ancient civilization that gifted the world with revolutionary inventions such as the compass, fireworks, and beautiful silks, that was subsequently torn apart in the early 20th century and closed off. Even when it re-emerged and became a global manufacturing powerhouse, by and large in the Western consciousness the country still remained a land enshrouded in legends and mystery, about which not much is known beyond the Cultural Revolution.

Now, in the 21st century, China is once more truly becoming the author of its own fate. A new technological golden age seems to be dawning, from innovations in AI and 3D printing, to developments in biomedicine and space exploration — both via private investment and state funding. With this new-found confidence, China has also begun to re-connect with its past and create a Chinese version of modernity that it didn’t have the chance to before. And it is doing so in in fascinating ways — sometimes this means reaching back thousands of years, to draw that connection.

In this article, I look at 13 (a lucky number to the Chinese) pieces of new technology that demonstrate in their conception and nomenclature how China is mapping out its gods and traditions in the cyberverse and the stars.


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The Culture Behind the Pantheon: Exclusive with RADII

Though often portrayed in Western media as a monolithic, atheistic monoculture, China has one of the most complex histories of religion and spirituality among the world’s civilizations. Understanding the histories, myths, and enduring spiritual and pop-cultural appeal of China’s long list of deities is essential to understanding the country as it exists today, says Xueting Christine Ni, who has a book on the subject out on Friday (June 1).

Ni, also somewhat of an authority on Chinese pop culture (she wrote about ghosts and ghouls for us around Halloween), has put together a “shortlist” of 60 beings — gods and goddesses, along with “spirits, immortals, heroes, elementals, sages, guardians and so forth” — showing the connective tissue of deep-seated spirituality connecting figures From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao as the book’s title has it, to Chinese society and culture.

Ahead of the book’s release, RADII caught up with Ni for a dive into China’s complex canon of mytho-historical legends, and to hear why she thinks getting a handle on them can help anyone hoping to understand the country’s role in the world today.


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A Brief History of Dong Hua: Taster

It all began in 1922. Between 1922 and 45 was a period when China discovered and explored animation for itself. The main force behind early Chinese animation were three classically trained art students from Shanghai, the Wan brothers, who taught themselves the techniques of animation from studying 20s American cartoons such as Out of the Ink Well, Popeye and Betty Boop. The very first Dong Hua movie, “Uproar In the Studio”, was born in 1926 in a 7 square metre room in Zha Bei district of Shanghai.


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Yao Gun: Chinese Rock Part I

Long before Star Wars ever entered the Chinese consciousness, May the 4th was celebrated in China in a similar spirit, but for very different reasons. The passionate, patriotic and pro-reformist movement of May the 4th, 1919, has been remembered in history as a representative of the spirit of youth. On this May the 4th 2018, I’m starting a mini series of articles to look at a musical form that is inseparable with Youth, rock n’roll. As a musical genre that is entirely Western, and hardly heard of the 1980s, Rock Music took root in China, an extremely conformist society where alternative lifestyles were virtually unheard of, against incredible odds, in bizarre and unexpected ways, and became Yao Gun. It is the story that arose from the world’s plastic dumping ground, a tale of hungry minds, bleeding wallets, tireless transcriptions, countless disseminations, long sweaty bicycle rides, makeshift drum-kits, close encounters with the authorities, and much more.

Are you ready to Yao Gun?


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Hakkasan, Hanway Place

Being a purist and a classicist, I have stayed away from “fusion” cuisines in the past, having previously been unimpressed by certain Asian specimens of these in London. However, with the opening of Shikumen, now one of my favourite places for Dim Sums in this city, I became more convinced that Chinese cuisine could be reinterpreted and modernized without losing its essence. I decided to try Hakkasan, Hanway Place at last, with a friend.


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Have a Nice Day

When I first heard about this Chinese animation, it was in the context of bankable dissent, so I was pre-disposed to dismissing this work, but when I actually had a chance to see some of the footage, I was thoroughly impressed, and subsequently, very happy to hear it was being screened at the Genesis.


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The March of China’s Female Filmmakers

Today is International Women’s Day, or more precisely International Working Women’s Day or The United Nations Women’s Rights and International Peace Day. In China, this has been major celebration of women in all fields since 1924, when the working women of Guangzhou, influenced by the international movement, started one in China, where women united and stood up for their rights across the National and Communist divide. Feminism, however has been problematic in China, after the fall of the thousand-year-old imperial patriarchy, it has taken up as the mantra of male-dominated for most of the twentieth centuries. This year, I’m going to discuss women in the driving seat in cinema, a vital medium because it’s one of the faces of China that within everyone is familiar, to a lesser or greater extent, and a very influential art form that is flourishing and evolving rapidly within China.


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5 Other Major Chinese Festivals Besides CNY

You may think that as Chinese New Year comes to an end, there isn’t much else you can comfortably tap into to enjoy until the next one. That is not the case. Chinese life, even in the 21st century, is closely connected to their traditional festivals, of which there is a full calendar all year round. Here are five more you can look forward to after Spring Festival.


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10 Things to Do Around Spring Festival in London, 2018

As we head into Spring Festival, now, during Xiao Nian, is the perfect time to prepare your house and make plans for the greatest annual celebration in China. In the last decade, I have been pleased to see more events held in the UK every year, on and about Chinese New Year. If you’re in London, you’ll probably already have made plans for major festivities in Chinatown. Here’s a concise guide to other events around the wider scope of London and greater London, including some that can offer a wider perspective on China.


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On Chinese Arts in Western Media

Recently numerous friends on social media have pointed out to me the shockingly underinformed or dubious ways in which the Chinese arts have been represented in the Western media. I have been impressed by your astuteness and I thank you for your kindness.


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