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.
Posted in Blog and tagged belief, books, Buddhism, china, Chinese culture, Confucianism, culture, Daoism, deities, gods, immortals, interview, literature, mythology, pantheon, RADII, religion, sinology, spirits, tradition by Xueting Ni
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.
Posted in Blog and tagged animation, china, Chinese, cinema, culture, film, history, pop culture by Xueting Ni
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?
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, history, indie, music, rock by Xueting Ni
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.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, cuisine, culture, Dim Dum, food, Hakkasan, restaurant, review by Xueting Ni
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.
Posted in Blog and tagged animation, china, Chinese, culture, Dong Hua, film, indie, pop culture, synth pop by Xueting Ni
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.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, cinema, culture, feminism, film, International Women's Day, women's rights by Xueting Ni
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.
Posted in Blog and tagged 2018, celebrations, china, Chinese, Chinese New Year, culture, london, Spring Festival, Year of the Dog by Xueting Ni
In the 7th century, the monk Xuanzang traveled from the capital of China to the middle of India. He journeyed through hundreds of states and countries, over 17 years and brought back 657 sutras. He recounted his experiences to the imperial court, and these were transcribed as Records of Western Regions Visited During the Great Tang. Xuanzang’s disciples / then wrote his biography, embellishing it with encounters and examples of Buddhist teaching. In the same way that any story told often enough begins to grow, the story of Xuanzang’s journey to the west would become the stuff of legends.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, Journey to the West, literature, Monkey King, talk by Xueting Ni
When I heard that Jin Yong’s Wuxia classic “The Condor Heroes” was being published in English, (translated by Anna Holmwood, and first volume released earlier this year), I was delighted. As a Chinese cultural commentator, I was happy to read the articles that this publication had generated, even by the old white academics who seem to have recently discovered the existence of Wuxia. One article however, did leave me mulling the content. In its use of journalistic shorthand, Vanessa Thorpe’s article in The Guardian a few weeks ago, described Jin Yong as being “China’s Tolkien”. Whilst I understand the reasoning for this, I feel that she’s missed the mark. In terms of story, character, genre, not to mention cultural significance, the world of “Condor Heroes” can be more appropriately described as China’s Star Wars.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, literature, novel, wuxi by Xueting Ni
Like its turbulent history, Chinese cinema has undergone many upheavals throughout the twentieth century, from an art form that was virtually non-existent at the beginning of the century, to a tradition that developed its own aesthetic, studio systems and language. It was employed by the state to further war efforts and revolution, after which it became a medium of response and rebellion. Privatization of the industry towards the end of the century eventually led to a new interdependence between the state and filmmakers that propelled Chinese cinema into the twenty-first century, with an explosion of genres, production and distribution methods.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, contemporary cinema, culture, film, lecture, QMUL by Xueting Ni