A selection…

Deadspin - Lone Wolf Goes to China

Taiyuan, provincial capital and industrial sprawl often shrouded in fog, is more cosmopolitan than its northern neighbour Datong and a decent place to await onward connections.Lonely Planet: China, 2007

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THE CAPITAL CITY OF SHANXI PROVINCE, in north-central China, is a golem of a metropolis called Taiyuan, population 3.5 million, which lurches awake each morning to a skyline dotted with smokestacks and construction cranes (the national bird of China, as the joke goes). What culture might exist here, after centuries of serving as the dynastic capital for multiple emperors, is buried somewhere beneath a retreating pile of bituminous coal. Taiyuan is the archetypal modern Chinese city, which is to say it is unapologetic about its devaluation of human worth, its embrace of commercial mercenaries, and its worship of high-rise infrastructure. This is a city for fans of right angles, inflatable arch gates (red, of course), and block calligraphy. You would have to be a little crazy, in other words, to love the place.

Stephon Marbury landed last Tuesday and immediately became the Chinese Basketball Association’s biggest star. Eight days later, I am unable to say whether he loves Taiyuan.

Read the rest on Deadspin



Reporting From … adidas Nations basketball camp in Beijing

Amid a gym of squeaking sneakers and the incessant tat-tat-tat of dribblers, a sharp command: “Hold up.”

The Chinese players on Court 1 halt, hardly knowing why. Eric Musselman, former Golden State Warriors and Sacramento Kings coach, signals for the ball and walks towards the baseline.

“Get it out of the net,” he snaps. To these kids, none older than 18, his words are foreign, baffling. But even without a translator, the intensity of the American’s instruction—suggestive of aggressiveness, focus, energy; all those insisted-upon differences between the NBA and the rest of the world’s basketball leagues— forces its way through.

“Get both feet out,” he instructs a player inbounding a ball. “Clear the backboard, then go. Got it? Details. Little details.”

Five seconds later, the the fast break drill is stopped again. It’s a familiar directive: “Hold up.” This time there is something akin to disgust in Musselman’s voice—yet it’s measured, practiced and coming from a coach who’s used this tone a thousand times before.

“Listen: run hard. Don’t jog. Run! RUN!

Read the rest on ESPN


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I Got A Haircut From Ai Weiwei

On top of everything else, Ai Weiwei is a barber. A good one?

Hm. Maybe we’re getting ahead of ourselves. Let’s start here: exactly what kind of haircuts does he give?

“The kind that will make you want to cry,” he said.

“Just don’t make it boring,” I told him.

“It won’t be boring.”

Read the rest on Beijing Cream


Sports Illustrated cover with Anthony Tao story in itSports Illustrated - Barbara Romack

The generation gap now spans as many as six decades, but that hasn’t stopped Barbara Romack, the 1954 U.S. Women’s Amateur champion and former LPGA president, from giving tips to young golfers. By her estimate Romack, 72, has instructed hundreds of juniors, but she especially remembers seeing one who needed no advice: Michelle Wie. The two met in 2000 when Wie, then 10 years old, was hitting balls at a driving range in Aberdeen, N.C., site of that year’s Women’s Amateur Public Links. “The rhythm of her golf swing was just absolutely beautiful for a little girl her age,” says Romack, a volunteer at the tournament. “In a sense, it was like watching a ballet dancer.”

Read the rest on Sports Illustrated


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Wen Yiduo: A Masterful Poet Is Revived In New Translation

Wen Yiduo

The temptation, when evaluating a poet gunned down by his government, is to start there, with the politics that led to his murder. But Wen Yiduo (1899-1946) was much too complex and heterodox to comfortably wear the martyr’s robe, his works too nuanced and unsettled to be a paragon of any revolution. His poems explore religion and rickshaws, contain the chrysanthemums of Chinese folklore and the mud of contemporary times, and dare readers to challenge prevailing conceptions, even to render their own cynicism as hope.

This stagnant ditch is hopeless. Clearly
not a place where beauty thrives.
Better cultivate its ugliness. Perhaps
its ugliness will create a world.

Mao blamed the Nationalists for Wen’s death, thus elevating him to model — if not mythic — status, yet the poet needed no such validation. He resisted easy classification. He was a writer whose ballast was in ideas and logic, while remaining fresh to the point of innovation.

Read the rest on Beijing Cream


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The Conversion Of Liao Yiwu: How A Poet Becomes A Dissident

Liao Yiwu was a fledging poet without a formal education, a hot-tempered philanderer prone to fights, a dreamer who actively despised politics — until the early hours of June 4, 1989, when, from the living room of his home in the river town of Fuling, he listened with Canadian Michael Day to shortwave radio reports of Chinese troops opening fire on students around Tiananmen Square. “The bloody crackdown in Beijing was a turning point in history and also in my own life,” he writes in his prison memoir For a Song and a Hundred Songs, the book that won him the German Book Trade’s Peace Prize last October, for which an English translation was made available today by New Harvest. “For once in my life, I decided to head down a heroic path, one on which I advanced with great fear, scampering at times like a rat with no place to hide.”

Read the rest on Beijing Cream


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Unsavory Elements: The Good, The Bad, And The Boring Foreigners Of China

The problem with gringo lit about the gringo experience in China is it inevitably and unsubtlety reinforces the foreigner’s sense of Otherness while feeding his inflated sense of importance. In doses this is not necessarily bad – it can be therapeutic to read, even for lesser voyeurs – but in bulk it becomes obnoxious, not least of which because it is both disingenuous and vapid to pretend that foreigners don’t relish, if not secretly rejoice at, their entitled status as Other.

“From the moment we step foot in the Middle Kingdom,” editor Tom Carter writes in his introduction on the opening page of Unsavory Elements: Stories of Foreigners on the Loose in China, “foreigners are subjected to an extraordinary range of alien experiences, ranging from appalling to exquisite.” The use of passive voice – are subjected to – places the emphasis strictly on “foreigners,” who are subjects protraying themselves as objects, assailed. The next sentence begins – emphasis mine – “We contend with seething masses of humanity,” and it becomes abundantly clear who are the looked-upon They.

Read the rest on Beijing Cream


Last visit to Beijing’s Underground City?

In 1968, amid escalating tensions between the Soviet Union and China, Chairman Mao uttered the words, Shenwadong, chengjiliang, buchengba, a phrase that quickly became as well known as any of his Little Red Book quotations. Most commonly translated as, “Dig deep tunnels, store food and prepare for war,” it became a rallying cry that mobilized approximately 300,000 Beijingers to dig, dig, dig. Using shovels, bamboo baskets and the occasional wheelbarrow over a 10-year period, citizens — many of them children — created a network of tunnels that extends from Tiananmen to Chongwen District and Xidan.

The 30 km of tunnels — between eight and 18 meters underground, with an area of 85 square kilometers — has been dubbed China’s Underground Great Wall. It was designed to house nearly half the city’s population in case of, say, a nuclear attack, and while each tunnel system is different, army engineers had enough foresight to install underground basketball courts, theaters and mushroom-cultivating storerooms. Many of the stones came directly from Beijing’s Old City walls, which were systematically demolished in favor of this project.

Read the rest on The Beijinger


Midori Goto Steals Everyone’s Breath

Approaching her 38th birthday, Midori is no longer the precocious child who performed with the New York Philharmonic at age 11, in front of President Ronald Reagan at 12, made her first recording (of Bach and Vivaldi) at 14 and delivered a 100-minute recital at Carnegie Hall four days before her 19th birthday. There is a difference between watching a child, however professional, navigate the minefield of a terribly difficult composition and a mature musician do the same; more is expected of the latter, and yet less seems at stake. The failures of adults are so much less keenly felt.

Read the rest on The Beijinger


Dwarfs, Transformers & Banana Splits: Anthony Tao Gets Giddy in Kunming

I’m sitting in a bar/restaurant/café called Salvador’s in downtown Kunming when Jim, a friend who’s made this trip with me to the city of eternal spring, finds a small mountain of ice cream amid two bananas all slathered in chocolate sauce placed before his eyes. As I’m staring agog at this glob of gooey awesomeness, he looks at it and looks at me, looks at it and back at me, then looks at it again and lets out a hysteric chuckle, an expression of disbelief at his luck. So this is how banana splits are made in the south.

This would be a recurring theme of our trip: taking way too much delight in the most ordinary of things.

Read the rest on the Beijinger


Warm Winter: artists unite in fight for personal homes, national property rights

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Warm Winter is a collaborative touring art exhibition involving artists from the city’s 20 major art colonies. It started as a response to a particularly invidious demolition squad hired by real estate developers, but it has since become something much bigger.

This is why you should care.

In China, demolish-and-relocate (chai-qian, 拆迁) is commonly accepted as an inevitable consequence of the country’s headlong rush towards urbanization, i.e. “progress,” without regard to individual costs. Most of the time, the evictees have no voice and no means of fighting back — and they always lose — since typical leasing contracts have a force majeure clause that excuses landlords from compensating tenants.

These artists, however, do have a voice, and what makes this story significant is that they’re steadily gaining listeners.

Read the rest on Heart of Beijing



Protests? Pride? Gold medals? How will Beijing come out of these Games?

What’s at stake?

The numbers give us a hint: A global audience exceeding 1 billion is expected to tune in to the Opening Ceremony on Friday, while Beijing welcomes 16,000 athletes, 5,000 reporters and nearly half a million tourists. But the significance of this endeavor runs deeper. For as long as there have been the Olympics, China has eyed them as the ideal medium to showcase its 5,000 years of culture and history.

But there are constant reminders that these Games will be played to a backdrop of controversy. Issues that transcend sports — such as censorship, human rights, the environment, Darfur, terrorism and the media itself — have been all over the news, amid pleas from both Beijing and the International Olympic Committee to keep politics out of the Olympics. How does this square with Beijing’s ubiquitous Olympic motto “One World, One Dream”?



Whisky business: Why scotch is back on the rise in China

There was a time, seemingly long ago, when whisky was hard to find on the mainland. There were the big-name single malts – Macallan, Glenfiddich, Glenlivet – in first-tier bars, and mainstay blends, but a Campbeltown Scotch like Springbank 10? A sumptuous rye like Templeton? A Johnnie Walker label higher than Black? A fancy hotel or a Japanese bar like Ichikura might have it, but most people would have had better luck brewing moonshine.

These days, upscale liquor stores all seem to carry a half-dozen Islays and bourbons. Distributors are selling to lounges and private consumers alike. And whisky watering-holes that have emerged this past season in Beijing alone include Whisky Bridge, D&M Bar, Glen Classic, X QC and Ai Whisky.

“Whiskies,” says Jeff Ji, peated-whisky lover and owner of Mai Bar, “are a lot like beautiful girls. Every bottle is different, the flavor changes every year as it ages, and it changes with the wood and environment.” Ji just opened a second bar near Sanlitun, Parlor, to meet the spiraling demand.

READ THE REST ON That’s Beijing


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Acrobats, Miscommunication, And Luc Besson At The 3rd Annual Beijing International Film Festival


The closing ceremony for the third annual Beijing International Film Festival was held last Tuesday at the China National Convention Center, a multiplex which is the size and roughly the shape of an intergalactic ship docked on a bay of concrete just north of the National Aquatics Center on the Olympic Green. The event aims to be “international, professional, innovative, high-end and market-oriented,” according to its website, with emphasis on international. The word pops up everywhere, the show is bilingual, the films hail from 56 different countries, and the seven-member judges’ panel is nothing if not multinational, led by Russian director Nikita Mikhalkov.

Yet make no mistake, the production is distinctly Chinese…

Read the rest on Beijing Cream


Yin: Hai Zi’s Haunting, Luminous Poem “September”

“September” is a pastoral set in a distant, nigh indescribable, divine place in which life and death are constantly interacting. The speaker is alone in the strictest sense, but he doesn’t seem to mind – he plays music, leads horses, takes walks. You don’t need to know Chinese to feel the poem in this song: a sense that far isn’t far enough, that layered dimensions of pain and longing call to us, and that the distant horizon can only be death – which means the grassland on which we stand, playing music and performing everyday tasks, is life in the truest, grandest sense.



No, 10,000 Were Not Killed In China’s 1989 Tiananmen Crackdown

At least 10,000 people were killed in Tiananmen Square in June 1989, according to a newly released British diplomatic cable.

In the past two days, some variation of that lede has appeared in multiple Western media outlets, from BBC to AFP. The articles will all say that the secret diplomatic cable was sent by Britain’s ambassador to China, Alan Donald, from Beijing to London on June 5, 1989. The “10,000 killed” statistic came via Donald’s “close friend” in the State Council, which is the Chinese cabinet, the articles will duly add. Some will even list the more “horrific” details, such as, “APCs then ran over bodies time and time again to make ‘pie’ and remains collected by bulldozer.”

These articles are, to varying extents, rewrites of this HK01 piece (link in Chinese) published last Wednesday (Hong Kong Free Press had it first in English, on Thursday) — and they are all “objective” reporting insofar that, yes, Alan Donald sent a cable citing a figure from an anonymous official. Here’s the thing about objectivity in journalism though: it means nothing when what you’ve reported isn’t true.