Big Fish and Small Gods

With the release of Big Fish & Begonia, Xueting Christine Ni looks at China’s diverse pantheon that influenced the animation… As a public speaker who saw the oncoming wave of Chinese animation in the early 2000s, and who spent the last decade promoting these to West, it was my absolute joy to introduce Big Fish & Begonia this spring to the general public at various venues in London for the cinema release. Summer brings the home media release, set for the 9th of July, which coincides with the UK publication of my new book From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao: An Essential Guide to Chinese Deities. Many of the beings I have written about are also featured in this 21st-century animation, and one of the reasons I have written the book is to demonstrate the contemporary relevance of these deities. In this article, I take a look at their origins and their reinterpretation in the film. China has a long tradition of taking inspiration from its Shen Hua (mythology) for the creation its Dong Hua (animation), from classics such as the 1964 Uproar in Heaven and Nezha Conquers the Dragon King (1979), to The Calabash Brothers (1986) and recent renditions of Investiture of the Gods. Certain deities, such as ones that have evolved with urban entertainment, tended to be focused on. Big Fish & Begonia takes a fresh angle on the subject. The story is set in the Undersea, the world of Chun, heroine of the story. Based on the concept Gui Xu from the 4th to 5thcentury BCE Daoist text Lie Zi, Undersea is the final Continue Reading →


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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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30 Years of Big Trouble

Last weekend I went to watch John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” on the big screen, on the film’s 30th anniversary. The film, packed with great soundtrack composed by the director himself, punchy script and adventurous plot, has aged well with time. As an academic writer who focuses on Chinese pop culture, I often find myself dealing with subject matter my peers wouldn’t touch with a ten foot barge pole. John Carpenter’s “Big Trouble in Little China” is one such piece. Having just had a chance to see the 1986 film from a 70mm print, for its anniversary, I thought it was worth talking about, considering the impact this film has had on a whole generation of Western cinema goers, many of whom may have never seen the action adventures of the Chinese film industry which inspired this movie.


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Nanhaishen – God of the South China Sea

This coming week sees the celebration of the birth of Chinese 海神(“Hai Shen”) or god of the sea, which falls on the 11th to 13th day of the second lunar month. So I am writing about the wonderful Nanhaishen (literally “God of the South China Sea”) Temple on the outskirts of Guangzhou, a hidden treasure I discovered on my last visit back. In fact, Chinese sea gods still inspire Western culture today.


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Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900

This last season, London’s theatres, galleries and museums have rolled out a fantastically full programme of exhibitions and plays on China and its culture. Many of those I have reviewed for other publications, but have yet to post anything here. A few of them continue into 2014, but if, in these few days between Christmas and New Year, you have time to visit the V&A, you can still catch “Masterpieces of Chinese Painting 700-1900”


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