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“Daisey’s fiction was predicated on the notion that China is essentially unknowable, that reporters never go to factory gates, that highways exit to nowhere.” – Evan Osnos
And that is the state of America’s xenophobia. It goes beyond a mea culpa that cripples any interactions with China. The most dangerous aspect of ignorance is the strength of the conviction. It’s a conviction that drove Daisey to contrive a story to corroborate his assumptions. The most disheartening aspect of the story is that so many of us fell for it. It’s like the moment in French class when I realized that Diderot’s Bougainville doesn’t tell us about any “real” exoticisms of the island people, but that it does tell everything about the distorted prejudices of the very French narrator.
I can’t help but draw a parallel between the Daisey story and Steven of “Seeking Asian Female” (or, Single Asian Females’ worst nightmare). Stereotypes do not waver in the face of actual interactions; however unsubstantiated those stereotypes end up being – it could always be written off as an exception. As if reality can always make concessions to fit a picture painted in broad strokes.
It is particularly disheartening, because this kind of noise and theatrics will almost always drown out sincere attempts at dialogue and truth seeking. The sources for that are out there, but Americans love propaganda more than any socialist do. You’d better believe that shit.
For the occasion of a Dior boutique in Shanghai, a series of photographs by Quentin Shih was installed at the store. Not surprisingly, Jezebel was the first one to issue a missive about its racist/colonial undertones. My apologies for the link to a post that is entirely in French, but it’s the only thing I’ve read so far that gives proper context/record. I don’t think her being a white French woman makes her post illegitimate; as my being Chinese/growing up in Shanghai shouldn’t necessarily give my post authority/legitimacy (though my fanaticism for France and fashion might even out the bias?).
It’s easy to dismiss this campaign as being imperialist what with the bland sea of Chinese people vs. the Caucasians dressed to the nines in Dior, but I would argue that it is easier to do so mainly due to the context. In another context, a different discussion would probably – if not definitely – ensue. The photographs were done by a Chinese native (which, in itself, doesn’t eliminate the possibility of racial issues), but would at least force some due consideration to significance beyond the obvious connotation. Imagine if the series were exhibited in 798 or something, rather than for the commercial purposes of promoting a boutique?
Given the historical relationship between France and China – Shanghai especially with its picturesque French Concession, which is still very much a somewhat exclusive area for expats of Occidental origins, it’s very easy to interpret it as a throwback to that “bygone” era where Westerners are in China to bring the good ol’ European civilization/Christianity to the savages of the east. That’s the European view. That’s where Jenny Zhang of Jezebel, despite her Chinese descent, began. But, can we just pause for a minute and realize that Chinese people had an opinion of the west? Such as, Chinese people thought Europeans were barbaric? We have one of the longest recorded histories in the world and certainly the longest existing civilizations as would be recognized in terms of infrastructure, institutions and writing systems. We invented noodles and the most efficient utensils to eat them, too. Why is the “Westerner” necessarily humanized? Between the stiff outfits and robotic posture/expressions, why do we not interpret them to be a Chinese view of an archetype or a mere mannequin (a vehicle) for the goods – the real end?
Furthermore, let’s look at the photos, the sea of Chinese faces evokes an era of Chinese history where any contact with the west was officially excluded. The fact that it’s meant to portray the Cultural Revolution rather than the prime of French colonization is more a reflection of the photographer’s own upbringing and China’s nouveau riche and their aspirations to that image. You don’t have to jettison your culture for the aesthetics of couture. I mean, hello, have we met? As an ad, it’s appealing to that sensibility. The fact that Jenny Zhang would ask the question of whether Dior ever asked a Chinese person – that is a Chinese resident of China – for perspective betrays her own ignorance of the very same. If you are at all familiar with the “culture” of the Cultural Revolution, then you know that these images are an accurate depiction of the oppressed conformity of the era. Juxtaposition isn’t some avant garde technique in art or any form of expression. And, can we be honest? Dior, for the past few seasons, hasn’t exactly been groundbreaking in terms of creativity; its own idea of fashion is traditional and might we applaud in view of all the other houses who are breaking into the market. Consider Chanel and Fendi whose “special” collections for China have been anything but PC? Is fetishizing and appropriating Chinese aesthetics for their own profit any better than what Dior has done? (For the record, it’s seriously put me off Karl. The creative license he feels entitled to – that he is entitled to thanks to the mindless fashion fans – is a little egregious.) I will say though, as China becomes a huge market for luxury goods, the companies that try to establish a niche there will have to do a little more research. Hey, Chanel? For the record, a Chinese person with money buy Chanel, because of the Western idea of luxury it represents. If you want to talk about authenticity, Chanel qi pao is anything but. Bootlegging applies for the reverse, too.
And, just to be a jerk, if you want to talk about the paradigm of power dynamic, look at Kanye West’s new video for “Power”. While it is an attempt to reconfigure the idea of power, isn’t he merely conceding to a very Eurocentric view of the image of power? How empowered is he? If he were to rewrite history with a black man in power, why would the rest of it look so eerily reflective of the “classical” portrait of power?
Controversial conjecture: but how much of our racial insecurities – without dismissing legitimate day to day injustices due to race – are constructed by the hegemony? Or at least bred by it – not the power structure (obvs that’s legit) but its dictates? Jenny Zhang, are you listening? It’s me, Jae.
Also, no rationalizing it by saying fashion is ignorant. Sometimes, yes, in editorials, but you really think a company as big as Dior isn’t calculating about a big business like the one in China? Are YOU dumb? Why do you think they used a Chinese photographer instead of just using the same campaign by Meisel?
Earlier this week, Runako sent me this article on the children of China’s One Child Policy, hereafter dubbed “Singletons”. Two days later, Janelle linked me to the NYT article on “millennials” in America, which has been ripped to pieces by…basically everyone aside from the NYT.
I probably shouldn’t be taking on this post right now since I’m too pooked to even compose a Tweet, let alone a coherent, comparative essay, but I guess I’ll just do a rant:
Singletons = Millennials (in terms of age and doting parents, but for clarity purposes we’ll differentiate the two by their names), yet their outlooks are as divergent as East and West. Lest you miss the point, it has little to do with the “One Child Policy”. If you’re not a moron, then you would have realized that the so called crisis facing many “millennials” is nothing but a case of serious entitlement. I’m not exactly on my knees to worship China and all of its idiosyncrasies here (because Chinese people have serious issues that I will probably get into another time), but we breed men and women that suck it up and get it done. Why? Because if you don’t finish your homework before dinner so you can practice the violin/piano/accordion (yes, stop it), study extracurricular work 3 grades above your current grade level, write essays that implements “Chengyu” (Chinese proverbial idioms, basically SAT words but much much more sophisticated), recite Tang dynasty poetry (like reciting Shakespearan sonnets, but more immediately culturally relevant), you will not only miss the opportunity to read your story book, you will get beat. When you start building that sort of discipline when you’re 7, naturally, you’re not whining about your miserable disposition, for which you have no one to blame but yourself. Furthermore, this middle class bourgeois issue of “soul searching”, is a luxury granted to sons and daughters of millionaires, which is obnoxious under those circumstances, but becomes ridiculous and embarrassing when it’s being supported by the savings of your parents’ middle class income. Income they earned by sucking it up and doing what’s necessary. This moron wants to move out and have his parents pay the rent until he figures it out so he feels like he’s on his own? You know what will really help with your independence? A job.
Do you know what? It’s not some uniquely Chinese characteristic, which the article try to convey with its whole Confuican filial piety resultant no retirement policy, maybe partially, it’s so ingrained that I don’t even notice anymore, because it’s SO CHINESE?! But, I’d like to venture to say that, it is just a matter of humility and basic human decency to want to 1) establish yourself 2) show some gratitude to the parents who’ve spent the last 20 odd years giving you everything you needed to become a failure?
Seriously, Scott, have you no shame? To first be a completely incompetent jerkface and then to bring shame to your family by agreeing to an interview like this? No publicity is bad publicity only holds true if your name is Snooki, please, get a job.
Another note: centralized government, which all the morons in America fear more than HIV and illiteracy, it is the reason why China is basically churning out geniuses and talent and laughing at America at the same time. Because we’re too busy trying to maintain the illusion of free-will, democracy, and individuality, with what? The loan you took out from China? So much for sovereignty. I’m aware of all the negative consequences of this centralized government, so if you want to assert your world news awareness by listing the human rights violations, religious oppressions, corruption, go TA an undergrad globalism class, it would be an ad hominem attack here.
Then earlier this afternoon, I read David Brooks’s op-ed piece, in which this idea of deference lit a bulb. But, of course. America was founded upon this principle; we are rooted in forging our own rules in reaction to rules we don’t like. Obviously, there are different circumstances, but I suppose that’s the American spirit if we are to make cultural attributions. Is it problematic? Is Scott’s refusal to accept the conventional path simply a reflection of his culture? (I’m being very generous here.)
I may be biased in the assessment of the two situations with a bit of idealizing the more distant past, but I do feel very fortunate to have gotten the latter half of my education in the US. With the foundational disciplinarian start in China, it’s allowed me to think for myself, which is not entirely possible in China. There were various moments in that singleton article that made me tear up (on the subway!) in being resonant of various moments in my life. As much as I appreciate the foundation, I’m also very aware of the weight that comes along with this discipline. Sometimes, it pushes me along, but there are other moments, in which the weight of the guilt suffocates me. In an ideal world, we would all have the discipline and discretion to exercise – and not abuse – liberties to their maximum benefit. The absence of liberty is very apparent to those in China, while the absence of discipline in this case seem almost irrelevant. I’m not sure what’s worse.
It’s a shame how skewed the media portrayal presentation of the world can be, because for every Scott Nicolsons, there are plenty more who are doing extraordinary things. It’s a shame that NYT chooses to write about the “products” of these desolate times, which keeps these Scott’s in a cloud of recession complacency. The unemployment, the bankruptcy, the not paying your mortgage, all creating a culture where responsibilities can be evaded on a personal level. Misery does love company.
Also: “…since one-child was set in motion, critics have called the policy “draconian,” “crude,” “horrid,” “drastic” — an intrusive policy that allows the state to strip individuals of the most intimate of human rights: the decision to have a baby.” Isn’t it a bit ironic that “strip individuals of the most intimate of human rights: the decision to have a baby” can be said re: abortions, both anti and forced? Perspective is all relative. Crazy, huh.
I know it’s very in vogue to remember the true meaning of holidays these days, at least amongst the “educated intellectuals”, which is not without its elitist undertones. But I’m just trying to get my grub on, so a short tiff (instead of finishing up the 4 unfinished posts I have sitting in my posts box? oops):
Last night, over a gin and tonic and too many cigarettes (is it an excuse to say I’m inclined to smoke more around foreigners or people who’ve traveled extensively in countries where smoking is not so …antagonist?), I got to talking to a couple – British lady and American gentleman (who, omg, looked like a gay Anthony Bourdain, you know what I mean?). They’d both spent some time in Asia – he, Thailand; she, Shanghai (holler). They met during the Tsunami. I mean…seriously. But there’s this: in talking about her time in Shanghai and being the target of the unabashed Shanghainese staring, she said that it was a good experience to have been a minority somewhere, because as a white person, she usually isn’t.
Well, yeah, it is a good experience, isn’t it? And I just want to say, they were both lovely people and have a rather realistic grasp of life in Asia. A grasp that can only be had after having lived there, and not from hearsay, books, or a drunken American style vacation. But, but, but.
It’s a nice thought: reversal of minority/majority dynamic. While she was a minority, mathematically; the reality is she was not, yeah? It bothers me a bit that she has the luxury of having this thought and being ignorant of its significance at the same time. I don’t like to politicize situations, although, I guess, some of my posts would suggest otherwise. Race, culture and ethnicity are, obviously and naturally, topics that weigh a lot in my head, but they don’t veil my view of the world as such. Ok, maybe a very transparent veil, but if I am to consider race with every person, every relationship/interaction becomes a bit like some kind of racial paradigm, and that’s …dull.
Like, am I supposed to reconcile my irrepressible attraction to white men with, I don’t know, all the possibly awful implications of this and also my disdain for their lack of awareness? And not awareness as in…oh, I’m sensitive to the idiosyncrasies of cultures and am therefore a better person, because, um, no, that’s incredibly stiff, which is not what I’m looking for in a brain. (Basically, I don’t like people who take themselves too seriously, which is why I am hating this post.) More like an awareness that’s almost a sort of innate sense. Awareness that’s more background than foreground? I really hate the dialogue, but I guess sometimes it’s necessary.
I will not be pondering about this as I dig my teeth into a juicy chicken leg later, you can bet on that.
xoxo, you know you love me.