The Boss Behind the Cowherd and Weaver Myth

This time last year, I launched my book “From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao: An Essential Guide to Chinese Deities” in the UK. Vivian Ni, the wonderful manager of Guanghwa in London, my bookshop of choice for the launch, wrote a lovely article for the occasion of Qi Xi, which she published on WeChat. I liked it so much that this year, I have translated it into English to share with my English-language readers on the same occasion of Qi Xi. The article contains a brief interview with me, I hope you enjoy it.


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Stir-Frozen

Summer is finally coming into full swing this year in the UK. Summer is my favourite season. It’s a time that always reminds me of my hometown, the subtropical city of Guangzhou. A while ago, I was thrilled to find that as part of the renovations of London’s Chinatown, southern Chinese dessert parlours were finally coming to Britain. So as a follow-up to Sweet & Sour, which talks about traditional desserts, let me introduce you to some of the delights of contemporary Chinese sweet treats that are now well within your reach.


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Zhong Kui, The Demon Slayer

The Chinese believe that death is not the end, that ghosts and spirits co-exists with human beings at all times, only noticed when they are disquiet, and need to be put to rest. It’s no surprise that the Chinese have many demon slaying deities. The god that has by far enjoyed the most popularity, and endured the test of time, is Zhong Kui.


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Wandering Earth and China’s Sci-Fi Heritage

The Wandering Earth has been billed as a breakthrough for Chinese sci-fi. The film tells the story of our planet, doomed by the expanding Sun, being moved across space to a safer place. The Chinese heroes have to save the mission – and humanity – when Earth gets caught in Jupiter’s gravitational pull. Based on Hugo Award winner Liu Cixin’s short story of the same name, Wandering Earth has already grossed $600m (£464m) at the Chinese box office and was called China’s “giant leap into science fiction” by the Financial Times. It’s been bought by Netflix and will debut there on 30 April. But while this may be the first time many in the West have heard of “kehuan” – Chinese science fiction – Chinese cinema has a long sci-fi history, which has given support to scientific endeavour, offered escapism from harsh times and inspired generations of film-goers. So for Western audiences eager to plot the rise of the Chinese sci-fi movie, here are five films I think are worth renewed attention. Rest the rest on BBC Asia.


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Tu Er Shen: Patron of Homosexual Love

This week sees many gay and lesbian couples proudly walking up the isle as Taiwan becomes the first region in Asia to legalise same-sex marriages. Whilst my book “From Kuan Yin to Chairman: An Essential Guide to Chinese Deities”, aims to show the depth and breath of native Chinese beliefs and their cultural significance, it’s by no means a definitive guide. One deity I didn’t get to write about in the book, is 兔兒神Tu Er Shen, the rabbit god, patron of homosexual love. This weekend is the perfect time to tell you a little bit about him.


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Some Thoughts on The Wandering Earth

Hope you’ve all had a chance to watch The Wandering Earth by now. (If you haven’t, its on Netflix, and iQiyi). I’m ready to share my thoughts on it.

Did Wandering Earth live up to all the hype? I think it did! It was an excellent hard sci-fi movie. With very high production values, including the CG, a gripping but logically grounded plot line, which, whilst comparable to some of Hollywood’s disasterporn sci-fi, never loses its very Chinese heart.


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Shen Mei: Chinese Ideals of Beauty

Following Zara’s new makeup campaign in February this year featuring Chinese model Li Jingwen, along with Vogue’s photography of the London-based Chinese model Gao Qizhen last week, debate has exploded regarding beauty standards in Chinese social media.

Whilst Chinese ideals of beauty have always been very different from the West’s (give or take fads for orientalism), the rise of internet communities and the globalization of the fashion and beauty industries have meant that these two sets of ideals are increasingly coming face-to-face, and the cultural clash made all the more poignant and visible. 


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Forgotten Planets: Exploring China’s Long-Running Sci-Fi Film Tradition

In the 18th and 19th centuries, when exploration was a hobby of the British upper classes, you’d regularly hear about the discovery of Brand New Civilizations — as though indigenous people’s generational histories did not pop into existence until someone with a pith helmet and a camera stumbled into the clearing. I had my own “Dr. Livingstone Presuming” moment this week, when I began to read headlines in such stalwarts of the British press as the Financial Times (as well as digital newcomers like The Verge) stating that the just-released film adaptation of The Wandering Earthmarked China’s first tentative foray into sci-fi cinema, before scuttling back and forth between comparisons with contemporary American blockbusters and classic American sci-fi quicker than you can say “White Gaze Genesis.”


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CCTV Gala

The Chun Jie Wan Hui, CCTV’s New Year Gala, (often just referred to as as Chun Wan), is almost as old as I am, though there had been televised celebrations of a more artistic nature broadcast on and off since the 1950s. On every New Year’s Eve, after the huge meal, my family would inevitably gather round, and watch through four or five hours of this state produced extravaganza, keeping us awake til the small hours of New Year’s Day with the pomp and majesty of costumes, lighting and stage sets; and the relentless exuberance of acts trying to out ham each other.


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Chinese New Year Commercials

In recent year, China has seen the commercialisation of Chinese New Year on a scale it has never seen before, not just within the country, but around the world. Every company splashes red and gold packaging onto its products, and creates a “Going Home for Spring Festival” advert.


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