13 Cultural Inversions

I have always told people that my ultimate remit is introducing and explaining China and its diverse cultures to the world. On this year’s national day, I will be talking about the elements of this subject which might be slightly harder for people in the West to get their heads around – common cultural symbols that hold exactly the opposite meanings. 13 is a lucky number. I start with the number 13. The Chinese love luck and puns, especially the Cantonese. The Cantonese pronunciation of 十三(“sup saam”) is a near homophone to 实生(“sut saang”), meaning definitely or certainly alive or vibrant. In the Guangdong region, it’s common to find a 13thfloor followed by a 13A in a building, bypassing 14, an extremely unlucky number. 666 means awesome. To the Chinese, 666 is not the Number of the Beast, nor are those biblical beasts relevant to their mythos. The number 6 六(“liu”)is a homophone of the slang term for “smooth”, both in Mandarin and Cantonese. 666 is internet slang that derived from League of Legend players, meaning cool or awesome. White is black. White is the colour of death and mourning. White is worn to traditional Chinese funerals and the mysterious lady in white or the white-clad female ghost is a staple of Chinese horror and gothic. Bats are auspicious. Bats are auspicious creatures to the Chinese. The second character in their word for bat, 蝙蝠,whether in Mandarin or Cantonese, is a homophone and near homonym of 福, fortune and happiness. Continue Reading →

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Yuefenpai: Chinese Calendar Poster Art

Tomorrow is China’s National Day, established on the 1st of October 1949, when the country gained its independence. Nowadays in the West, most people’s association with this occasion is Golden Week, one of the few times of the year when China takes a break. Another connection that Westerners have with the founding of the People’s Republic is Xuan Chuan Hua, Chinese Propaganda Art, which is now iconic around the world. This art style would never have existed without the decades of commercial artistic development that preceded it. This year I’m taking a look at 月份牌 Yue Fen Pai, Calendar Posters, an art form centred around early 20th century Shanghai.

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On Being Chinese

I like to take quite positive things about China and Chinese culture as the starting points of my writing, or good things that have happened to me. This brief commentary though, is the result of some recent, very unpleasant, racially based encounters I’ve had around London. I have been told to “go back to Shanghai” (close kid, but no banana, I’m Cantonese), and had my platted hair grabbed because I “looked really Chinese”. Well, of course I Do. I am. And damned proud of it too.

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