Category Archives: China

Xin QiJi 5.28.13 Thought of the Day

Precious hairpin, broken, halved
At the Peach-Leaf Ferry where
We parted; darkening mist and willow shroud the place.
I dread to climb the tower-top stair;
Nine days out of ten wind raves, rain torrents race:
It breaks my heart to see the scarlet petals scatter one by one.
All this with nobody to care
Above it – who is there
Will bid the oriole’s singing cease?
Xin QiJi

[Image courtesy:]

[Image courtesy:]

Xin QiJi was born on this day in Licheng (now Jinan) in the Shandong Province  of China in  1140. Today is the 873rd anniversary of his birth.

He was born to an age of conflict. Northern China was occupied by a nomadic “horde” from north-east China called the Jin or Jurchen.

In his childhood his grandfather told him about the time when the Han Chinese ruled the north and told him to be an honorable man and seek revenge against the barbarian for the nation. It was then when he developed his patriotic feelings. [Cultural]

At 22 he began his military career with a group of fifty men under his command. He fought along side Geng Jing with his 10,000 strong army. After some success in 1161 Xin QiJi convinced Geng Jing to …

 …Join forces with the Southern Song army in order to fight the Jurchen more effectively. … but just as Xin finished a meeting with the Southern Song Emperor… Xin learned that Geng Jing had been assassinated by their former friend-turned-traitor, Zhang Anguo (张安国). With merely fifty men, Xin fought his way through the Jurchen camp and captured Zhang Anguo. Xin then led his men safely back across the border and had Zhang Anguo decapitated by the emperor. [Ibid]

His bravery, military prowless, and loyality to Geng Jing, his men and the Emperor “gained him a place in the Southern Song court.” [Ibid]

He was frustrated by the courts appeasement policy toward the invaders, and kept from a position of influence by being given “a series of minor posts” [Ibid] in the court.

[Image courtesy: ibid]

[Image courtesy: Cultural]

Although he was an effective ruler on the district level (where he improved the irrigation system, helped poverty-struck peasants and maintained  well trained troops) it is through the  poetry that he began to write when he moved to the South that is known for today.

Xin Qiji’s Song poems are “powerful and sonorous , embracing the world and history”. As a patriotic lyricist , he sang of the sorrows and joys of the time , and the indignation and hope of the nation , pushing the Song poems up a new peak . [Ibid]

When young, I knew not the taste of sorrow,
But loved to mount the high towers;
I loved to mount the hight towers
To compose a new song,urging myself to talk about sorrow.
Now that I have known all the taste of sorrow,
I would like to talk about it, but refrain;
I would like to talk about it, but refrain,

And say merely: “It is chilly; what a fine autumn!” [Ibid]

-Xin QiJi

[Image courtesy: Cultural]

[Image courtesy: Cultural]

Bruce Lee 11.27.12 Thought of the Day

Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon

Bruce Lee: Quest of the Dragon (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Love is like a friendship caught on fire. In the beginning a flame, very pretty, often hot and fierce, but only light and flickering. As love grows older, our hearts mature and our love becomes as coals, deep-burning and unquenchable.

The key to immortality is first living a life worth living.

I fear not the man who has practiced a thousands kicks once; but I fear the man who has practiced one kick a thousand times.

A goal is not always something to be reached, it often serves simply to as something to aim at.

If you want to swim jump into the water.

–Bruce Lee

Lee Jun-fan (Bruce Lee)  was born on this day in San Francisco, CA, USA in 1940. Today is the 2nd anniversary of his birth.

Although he was born in San Francisco he was raised in Hong Kong. He began to train in the martial arts at 13. He studied philosophy at the University of Seattle. Upon graduation he opened a martial arts studio in Oakland and Los Angeles and developed his own art called Jeet Kun Do.

Bruce Lee trained several celebrities before entering the film industry himself. He was born under the sign of  the Dragon and the word dragon appears in several of his movie titles.

Lee  died at the age of 32  from a cerebral edema from an allergic reaction to medicine in July of 1973.


Bruce Lee (Madame Tussauds Hong Kong).

Bruce Lee (Madame Tussauds Hong Kong). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Thought of the Day 10.23.12 Ang Lee

“I did a women’s movie, and I’m not a woman. I did a gay movie, and I’m not gay. I learned as I went along.”
— Ang Lee

Ang Lee

Ang Lee (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Ang Lee was born on this day in Chaochou in Pingtung, Taiwan in 1954. He is 58 years old.

His parents put a heavy emphasis on a classical Chinese education, including culture, art, and calligraphy. His father was the principal at his high school, and Ang was expected to become an academic, perhaps a professor. But, his interests in drama took him in another direction.

After graduating from The national Taiwan College of Arts and completing his mandatory service in the Republic of China’s military, Ang Lee attended the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign where he received his BFA in Theatre/Theater Direction and New York University where he earned his Masters in Film Production.

At NYU he worked with Spike Lee on Joe’s Bed-Stuy Barbershop: We Cut Heads. His Shades of the Lake was a Best Drama pick in Short Film in Taiwan and his Fine Line, his thesis film, won the Outstanding Direction Wasserman Award and was later shown on the BBC.

Cover of "The Wedding Banquet"

Cover of The Wedding Banquet

His professional career was off to a slow start. After struggling for six years he submitted the screenplays for Pushing Hands and The Wedding Banquet to a Taiwanese  competition in 1990. The scripts came in first and second.

Lee … eventually making his directorial debut in 1992 with Pushing Hands. A comedy about the generational and cultural gaps in a Taiwanese family in New York, it won awards in Lee‘s native country. []

The Wedding Banquet had an art house release in the US and Lee found a much wider audience. It was the second film in his “Taiwanese Trilogy” and like the others it featured generational and cultural conflicts. Here Winston Chao played…

a homosexual Chinese man who feigns a marriage in order to satisfy the traditional demands of his Taiwanese parents. It garnered Golden Globe and Oscar nominations, and won a Golden Bear at the Berlin Film Festival. [IMDB]

The third film in his valentine to Taiwan  was Eat Drink Man Woman. It tells the story of a semi-retired chef and his three grown daughters. It cemented his role as “A warmly engaging storyteller [Janet Maslin, The New York Times]

Cover of "Eat Drink Man Woman"

Cover of Eat Drink Man Woman

Lee switched continents  and centuries when he helmed his next film, Emma Thompson’s wonderful adaptation of Jane Austen’s Sense and Sensibility. It won a BAFTA  and Golden Globe award for Best Picture. Lee was voted Best Director by New York Film Critics Circle.  Austen’s resurgence in popularity can be traced back to Lee’s Sense and Sensibility and the Colin Firth/Jennifer Ehle Pride and Prejudice mini-series that came a half decade later. [S&S is one of my personal favorite Austen film adaptations. Alan Rickman’s Col. Brandon still makes me sigh.]

Back in 20th century (this time 1973 Connecticut), Lee tackled a dysfunction family in crisis in The Ice Storm. The film starred Kevin Kline, Joan Allen, Sigourney Weaver, Tobey Maguire, Christina Ricci and Elijah Wood.

He worked with Tobey Maguire again in Ride with the Devil, a Civil War tale about two friends who join the Bushwhackers in Missouri.

Cover of "Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ...

Cover via Amazon

Next came the magical Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. It is the story of a mysterious young assassin who steals a magical sword and the two martial arts masters who set out retrieve it. The chase through the bamboo forest alone is worth the price of a rental.

With movies about family drama, English classical literature and Asian mystical martial arts under his belt Lee did  the next logical thing… he directed a movie based on the Marvel Comic’s hero the Hulk.

Star-crossed lovers. The poster was fashioned ...

Star-crossed lovers. The poster was fashioned after Titanic ‘ s. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

IN 2005 Lee tackled his most controversial movie yet, Brokeback Mountain. The film starred Heath Ledger, Jake Gyllenhaal,

The film’s sensitive and epic portrayal of a thriving romance that survives between two Wyoming cowboys in the 1960’s was praised as both elegiac and grounded. Lee‘s deft handling of material that simultaneously drew on the established themes of classic cinema and pioneered completely unexplored territory in mass media could not have been more exalted…[]

Lee won Best Director  at the Academy Awards, BAFTAs and Gold Globes for Brokeback Mountain.

Lust, Caution  takes place in Japanese occupied 1938 Hong Kong and 1940s Shanghai. A group of Chinese university students plot to assassinate a government official. The film was called tense, sensual and beautifully-shot. The film did well in Hong Kong and China, but because of  its adult content it earned  an NC-17 rating in the US and didn’t do well in this market.

2009’s Comedy/Drama Taking Woodstock offers a  groovy look on how the world’s most famous music concert came to be. The Chicago Time’s Michael Phillips called it “A mosaic…drifting in and out of focus — stitching the story of how the peace-and-music bash fell together.”

His latest film, Life of Pi is due out next month. Life of Pi is based on the novel by Yann Martel and is about a 16-year-old survivor of a ship wreck. He finds himself on a lifeboat with another unusual (and dangerous) castaway.

Thought of the Day 10.19.12 Empress Myeongseong

Queen Min was born on this day in Yeoju County, in the province of Gyeonggi Province, Korea in 1851. Today is the 161st anniversary of her birth.

Her name was not recorded at her birth. Neither was the name of her mother. Her father’s name was Min Chi-rok, and he was a member of the wealthy and influential Min family.

She was orphaned by the time she was 8-years old, which was actually something of a benefit to her in terms of marriage as when the future Emperor Gojong went looking for a wife (when he was 15-years old) the preference was for a girl without many relatives who would be seeking favor at court and be inclined toward corruption. [Mad Monarchist.]

She was smart, pretty, from a good family, healthy, appropriately educated (for a woman), and (most likely) fertile. So, at 16, after a lengthy vetting period she was married to 15-year-old King Gojong and became Queen Min.

Typically, queen consorts concerned themselves with setting fashions for the noble women of the realm, hosting tea parties, and gossiping. Queen Min, however, had no interest in these pastimes. Instead, she read widely on history, science, politics, philosophy, and religion, giving herself the kind of education ordinarily reserved for men. [Asian History/]

Her father-in-law, Taewongun, the regent and puppet master over the young king, was having none of it. He moved to weaken her influence on the king by giving him a royal consort. While Queen Min had difficulty in conceiving, the consort soon produced a little boy. Taewongun said Queen Min was infertile, but the Queen had a baby of her own with in the year, again a boy. Sadly the little boy died after just four days. She claimed her father-in-law had poisoned the baby with ginseng, and vowed revenge.

She went to the council. Her husband was now 22, surely he was old enough to run the country on his own. He no longer needed a regent. The counsel agreed and Taewongun was sent away to his property in the country. (But it would not be the last Queen Min heard from him.)

Traditionally Korea had been a tributary of Qing China, but when King Gojong took the throne Japan came seeking trade access and demanding tribute. Queen Lin encouraged the King to show strength and to send them packing. But in 1874 Japan came calling again. Although Queen Min counseled her husband to stand firm again and expel the dignitaries, he signed a trade treaty. When Japan sent a gunship, the Unyo, into restricted waters to ‘survey sea routes’ the Koreans fired on it. The ship retreated. But Japan retaliated when they…

sent a fleet of six naval vessels into Korean waters. Under the threat of force, Gojong once again folded rather than fighting back; Queen Min was unable to prevent this capitulation. The king’s representatives signed the Ganghwa Treaty. [Asian History/]

According to the Ganghwa Treaty:

  • Japan had free access to some Korean ports and all Korean waters,
  • Japan gained special trading status
  • Japanese accused of crimes in Korea could only be tried under Japanese law – they were immune to local laws.

Koreans gained absolutely nothing from this treaty, which signaled the beginning of the end of Korean independence. Despite Queen Min’s best efforts, the Japanese would dominate Korea until 1945. [ibid]

Hwangwonsam: everyday clothes for queen/empress

Hwangwonsam: everyday clothes for queen/empress (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The Queen commissioned fact finding missions to study Japanese westernization. It seemed that the Japanese had leap-frogged over Korea in their ability to Westernize. Where Seoul and Busan had been major commerce centers, they were now overshadowed by Tokyo and Osaka.  Korea needed to change with the times. The country and the military needed to modernize.

Queen Min knew Korea would have to tread carefully and she favored a plan by which Korea would continue to deal with Japan in order to modernize and, once that was sufficiently completed, would then ally with the United States or some other or more western powers to drive the Japanese influence out of Korea.  [Mad Monarchist.]

She reorganized the government, creating twelve new bureaus to handle foreign relations, commerce and update the military. In general she was determined to bring Korea into a more modern, technological age.

[Image courtesy: Wikipedia]

Needless to say all that modernization didn’t make the traditionalist very happy. In 1882 there was a rebellion seeking to over throw Queen Min and King Gojong and replace them with Gojong’s third brother. The Imo Incident was backed by their old nemesis (and Gojong’s father) Taewongun. “The uprising temporarily ousted Gojong and Min from the palace, returning the Taewongun to power.” [ibid] With the help of 4,500 Chinese soldiers the rebellion was foiled and the King and Queen were restored to power. The Japanese took advantage of the incident to strengthen their growing hold on the peninsula. They…

strong-armed Gojong into signing the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1882. Korea agreed to pay restitution for the Japanese lives and property lost in the Imo Incident, and also to allow Japanese troops into Seoul so that they could guard the Japanese Embassy. [Asian History/]

The Queen countered by granting China access to ports that the Japanese were not privy to.  She also asked that Chinese and German officers to head up improvements in the army.

English: Purportedly a photo of Queen Min of K...

English: Purportedly a photo of Queen Min of Korea, from an old Japanese travel book. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1894 The Tonghak Rebellion — a week-long popular rebellion against taxes and foreign influence ended with China sending 2,500 troops (invited) and Japan sending 4,500 troops (uninvited) to help quell the insurrection. The peasants quickly went home. The troops remained.

On July 23, Japanese troops marched in to Seoul and captured King Gojong and Queen Min. On August 1, China and Japan declared war on one another, fighting for control of Korea. [ibid]

The Sino-Japanese War ensued. Although China sent 390,000 more troops to Korea, the better prepared and more modern Japanese Meiji military easily won. China withdrew leaving Korea and other Asian  allies to deal with the much stronger Japanese.

As many as 100,000 of Korea’s peasants had risen up late in 1894 to attack the Japanese as well, but they were slaughtered. Internationally, Korea was no longer a vassal state of the failing Qing; its ancient enemy, Japan, was now fully in charge. Queen Min was devastated. [ibid]

The queen did not give up she sent emissaries to Russia, hoping they would come to Korea’s aid.

The new caretaker government knew what she was up to. They aligned themselves with Taewongun  (her father-in-law). He had no love for the Japanese, but he saw this as a way to get rid of Queen Lin once and for all and he took it.

In 1895 Operation Fox Hunt was put into place.  A mixed group of Japanese and Korean assassins attacked Gyeongbokgung Palace. They found the King, but did not hurt him. They came upon the Queen’s sleeping quarters and dragged her out into the courtyard along with four of her attendants.

They brutally killed Queen Min, displayed her body to foreigners so there could be no doubt that she was dead, then took her outside the palace walls and burned her.

For two years Taewongun was in charge, but he lacked the desired “commitment…for modernizing Korea.” [ibid] and the Japanese ousted him.

Gojong took the throne back (with Russian support). He…

declared himself emperor of Korea. He also ordered a careful search of the woods where his queen’s body had been burned, which turned up a single finger bone. Emperor Gojong organized an elaborate funeral for this relic of his wife… The queen consort also received the posthumous title of Empress Myeongseong. [ibid]

The march of the National Funeral of the decea...

The power-struggle over the Korean peninsula continued with Russia and Japan  fighting the Russo-Japanese War in 1904-1905. Japan won again. In 1910 they formally annexed Korea. The country did not regain independence until after World War II.

Empress Myeongseong Shrine

Empress Myeongseong Shrine (Photo credit: jonwick04)

Thought of the Day 10.10.12 Lin Yutang

“If you can spend a perfectly useless afternoon in a perfectly useless manner, you have learned how to live.”
-Lin Yutang

English: Lin Yutang 中文: 林语堂

English: Lin Yutang 中文: 林语堂 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Lin Yutang was born on this day in Banzai, Fujian province, China in 1895. today is the 117th anniversary of his birth.

China provinces fujian

China provinces fujian (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

He grew up in the mountains of Fujian province the son of a Chinese Presbyterian minister. He studied at Saint John’s University, Shanghai and at Harvard University in the US. At first he studied to be a minister, but he renounced Christianity and pursued a degree in English instead.

[Image courtesy:]

He bridged the cultural and linguistic divide writing and editing for both English and Chinese magazines and produced Lin Yutang’s Chinese-English Dictionary of Modern Usage.

His successful satirical magazine Analects Fortnightly was the first of its kind in China. In 1933 Pearl Buck introduced him to her publisher who took Lin Yutang on as a client.

English: Lin Yutang (Lin Yü-t'ang) (1895 - 197...

English: Lin Yutang (Lin Yü-t’ang) (1895 – 1976) 日本語: 林語堂 (1895 – 1976) ‪中文(简体)‬: 林语堂 (1895 – 1976) ‪中文(繁體)‬: 林語堂 (1895 – 1976) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

In 1935 he moved to the US.

Lin published the first of his many English-language books, My Country and My People. It was widely translated and for years was regarded as a standard text on China. []

He moved to New York and published Moment in Peking in 1939. His 1941 novel  A Leaf in the Storm, presents China on the brink of war with Japan. Wisdom of China and India  followed in 1942.

[Image courtesy:]

Lin’s fiction includes Chinatown Family — a look at culture, race and religion faced by an immigrant Chinese American family; and his 1968 The Flight of the Innocents.

Ming Kwai Typewriter

Ming Kwai Typewriter (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

During the WWII Lin developed a workable Chinese typewriter, the “Ming Kwai” typewriter.

His belief that literature should be a means of self-expression, not a tool for propaganda put him at odds with political movements in China when he returned to his homeland in 1943 and 1954.

Lin wrote more than three dozen books and is “arguably the most distinguished Chinese American writer of the twentieth century.” [Google Books] He died on March 26, 1976.

[Image courtesy:]

 “In his prolific literary career, Chinese author Lin Yutang wrote expertly about an unusual variety of subjects, creating fiction, plays, and translations as well as studies of history, religion, and philosophy. Working in English as well as in Chinese, he became the most popular of all Chinese writers to early 20th-century American readers.” []

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