Faustian bargains leave public rich but culture weakened – Global Times | May 27, 2012 19:10 – Susanne Weigelin-Schwiedrzik, vice-rector of the University of Vienna
China’s growing power is unmistakable, but cultural values and civil society often seem to be lagging behind the nation’s new strength. Two experts discussed these issues at the Shanghai Forum 2012, hosted by Fudan University on May 26-28.
In ancient China, both the nation and society were powerful. According to John K. Fairbank’s studies, ancient China had a very special governance pattern, one that could manage the relationship between central and local authorities well. He believes that in ancient China, civil society was a powerful partner of the nation.
R. Bin Wong, director of the UCLA Asia Institute, holds that in ancient China, the nation’s power lay in its capability to maintain unity, and the nation’s political symbolic meanings exceeded its practical efficiency. Meanwhile, civil society’s power lay in its autonomy and its supervision of the nation.
In the 19th century, European modern nations emerged, which were powerful not only militarily, but were able to transform economic growth into national strength. This became the biggest threat and challenge that China faced. China then began to seek a political system which could not only address such challenges, but stand in accordance with China’s unique political culture. To a certain degree, this process is still going on.
The Chinese nationalists established a new government through learning from Japan and the Soviet Union. However, the nation was still very weak. On the one hand it was weak militarily and wasn’t able to control economy and society. On the other hand traditional China’s ability to maintain unity was lost, due to both domestic resistance and interference by imperialism.
In Mao’s era, things changed. The nation appeared very powerful – both militarily and in its ability to control economy and society. And its ideological appeal exceeded its actual efficiency. But after the Great Leap Forward movement (1958-61), the government’s ability to control society was undermined, and some local protesting forces became powerful.
The initial achievements of China’s reform and opening-up lay in the full mobilization of social vigor. And society’s economic vigor began to transform into national strength. Today’s China looks more similar to European nations.
However, a social participation system in accordance with China’s unique culture, which could better deal with the rising social vigor, is still missing. Many people are talking about where China is heading today, but no one could give an answer yet.
Cultural values missing
Xu Jilin, deputy director and history professor at the Si-mian Institute for Advanced Studies in Humanities, East China Normal University. The 21st century actually began in 2008, when the US-led developed world was stricken by a severe financial crisis and emerging countries rose with the Beijing Olympic Games as a symbol. Within China, there are generally three kinds of views toward China’s rise. Some liberals believe that China’s rise is a product of globalization, and there’s no special secret. Some believe that China’s rise is simply a repetition of government-promoted East Asian “miracle” in the Four Asian Tigers last century. The third view is that there’s a unique China model.
There’s no need to talk further about China’s national strength, since it has become the second largest economy in the world. I believe if Confucius or Zhu Xi, a Confucian scholar (1130-1200), woke up today, they wouldn’t recognize today’s Chinese. The biggest change lies in the mentality and attitude of ordinary Chinese. Today’s Chinese are most similar to Europeans in the 19th century; the prevalence of a Faustian spirit, the strong sense of competence, the untiring pursuit of wealth and strength, as well as a strong belief in social Darwinism. This has become a strong drive for China. Today in China, especially in coastal areas, we have so many rational systems which stress efficiency and orderly management in various fields. But we still lack civil reforms that are clearly value-oriented. Ancient China was powerful not in the European way, but because it had invisible appeal. It appealed to the world through the strength of its culture.
Today things are totally different. The strength of culture has greatly faded. We are very powerful economically, but the whole society lacks a clear set of values, and basic ethical bottom lines are repeatedly violated. We do need further reforms, especially political ones, to resume our cultural strength. China is quite prominent on the international stage nowadays, and any of its moves may have a strong effect, especially in the developing world. Historically, China undertook its responsibilities as a great civilization. It must repeat this today through dialogue with the worlds’ mainstream civilizations and improving its own clear values and systems. Only then can the whole world be really convinced that China has risen.
ICCR Notes :
The best way to convince the world that China has risen again, would be revival of a ethnic Han Constitutional Monarch and revival of the Dragon-Throne after the ethnic Manchu one was deposed in 1911. 101 years hence as ICCR now lobbies for . . .
I dressed to impress but ended up depressed – by Bridget O’Donnell (China Daily) – Updated: 2012-04-24 10:06
My appearance stood out like a sore thumb – but not because I was the only foreign guest in attendance at the banquet.
No, it was my ensemble. I was wearing my newly tailored qipao (a Chinese traditional dress), the silk fabric of which had a lovely deep-fuchsia tone.
It was embroidered with gold-colored leaves and similarly hued buttons. I paired off the number with heels and even got a manicure to match the dress’ golden stitching.
There was just one problem: I was at a Chinese wedding. Used to the lavish traditions of Western weddings, I had no idea the dress code for a Chinese wedding wouldn’t be, shall we say, formal.
I mean, really – how could I have known the other guests in attendance would show up in sweaters, sneakers and jeans? It was my first Chinese wedding, after all.
(Yeah, yeah, a simple Google search for “Chinese wedding guest dress code” beforehand probably would’ve saved me from committing such a blundering social faux pas.)
“I look like an idiot,” I later lamented to Maggie, a Beijing friend who had invited me to the wedding. She could only laugh at my foolish error.
I came to learn – much too late, unfortunately – that the dress code for Chinese weddings is casual. In fact, wearing something too fancy could come off as rude.
“You don’t want to try to be more important than the host,” my Chinese tutor later told me.
It’s a far cry from Western weddings, where guests are expected to adhere to a formal dress code. Show up in jeans, and you might as well be wearing a huge sign saying, “Kick me, I have no respect for social norms!”
Still, that will never comfort me from the fact that somewhere out there exist cringe-worthy photos of me posing with the newlywed couple at the banquet.
I can see the two of them now, looking through their wedding photo album and wondering just what exactly that clueless foreigner in the qipao was thinking.
But the dress didn’t turn nearly as many heads at the wedding as it did in public later that afternoon.
After the ceremony ended, Maggie and I decided on a whim to take a stroll down Beijing’s Chang’an Avenue – it was a beautiful and clear day, after all. But without a change of clothes on me, I was forced to stick it out in the qipao.
As we walked from Joy City Mall to Tian’anmen Square, it became evident that the qipao wasn’t only too dressy for Chinese weddings – so too was it unwelcome at Starbucks, public restrooms and the south gate of the Forbidden City during peak hours on the weekend.
We passed hundreds of shoppers and tourists. I caught more than one person giving me strange looks. Even other foreigners stared at me.
I must’ve looked like that kind of overeager tourist who buys traditional garments from far-away lands without really understanding their cultural significance – a tacky and kitschy way of commemorating a culture.
By mid-afternoon, my feet were aching – the heels had taken their toll – so Maggie and I took a moment to rest on a bench.
Then out of nowhere, an elderly Chinese man came up to where we were sitting, cameraphone in hand, and started not-so-discreetly taking photos of me. He threw back his head in hearty laughter every time he snapped. I couldn’t help but wonder if the qipao had something to do with it, though perhaps I was just being paranoid.
After the picture incident, Maggie and I walked to Wangfujing before parting ways.
I immediately hailed a cab – I couldn’t wait to get home and change out of the dress that had been the source of so many woes that day. But before I stepped in, I paused for a second after catching my reflection in the window of a nearby shop.
The qipao may have been over the top, but, hey, at least fuschia is my color.
ICCR Notes :
In the true upper crust, you will find that weddings will indeed be as you expected. Also among the common venues in public which are largely middle class, the upper class people who do wear qipaos will never be seen. It’s like those sedan chair days where VIPs are never seen at all except at office, officiating at venues or at home or at their favourite boutique or hotel gathering where the boutique will bring goods to display to top qipao wearing clientale – try hanging around some respectable ‘tai tais’ (or formal er nai 二奶 or xiao san 小三 . . . mistresses ad infinitum . . . ) of good families and their poorer but ‘reverse hanger-on’ official’s wives instead – those that have merely money and those that have power tend to comfortably mix though graft issues loom. Qipao will not be found among the sports car driving escorts or the nouveau riche, but the chauffer driven wives of magnates and old families living off inheritances forged generations ago, will be where the true bulk of qipao (again I stress hanfu is Chinese not qipao) wearers can be found.
Don’t sweat the ‘idiot factor’ for just being way above the 99% type league in day to day venues, and while the form of the qipao or cheongsum is actually Manchu (the author and so many VIPs should be wearing HANFU), the colour and material subtleties should also be noted. Fuschia is a quasi-dominant colour, with red and yellow (almost never worn due to implications of royalty, except by the top 10 lists for that particular year) over fuschia. Frankly the way this article is titled, one would almost feel that China Daily had little appreciation of the Manchu dress . . . try the more positivist article from People’s Daily below.
ICCR Notes :
The top class venue (or even government department) needs to put their menial workers in proper uniforms to convey a sense of ‘class’ and perhaps cleaning masks or even goggles as well to both depersonalise the workers (who are not intended to interact with the visitors at any rate) as well. When people who dress and look like the average person you meet on the street are found doing menial work, China ends up conveying a sense of ‘all regular people are menial workers’. The uniform thus becomes a delineation and barrier for protection of the dignity of the menial worker and the separation between menial workers and Chinese commoner at large. Any ‘star’ establishment should be well aware of such nuance, more so being Chinese and brought up in an environment of nuances.
This is in fact, coarse, iron-profession coarse, and reflective further by extension to the PLA and tenuous links to the CPPCC. People are affected subliminally and while the sense of things do not immediately make their effects and attitudes known, over a decade and generation, the subliminal and psychic effects could be corrosive to the ‘sense of class level’ and hence work ethic of Chinese in general.
Larger and government establishments should require those ‘daily clothes wearing ‘ menials to don a neutral modern menial uniform (for 2-3 star establishments and mid tier city government departments) and the loose fitting ‘samfu’ type menial uniforms with Chinese characteristics for 4-5 star establishments and upper tier city government departments). A 潔Jié neck lanyard and tag for 2-3 star, or 潔Jié stylized panel perhaps for 4-5 star (with particularly obnoxious looking persons becoming hirable by using masks – to not offend some of the visitors with delicate tastes at the same time allowing them to earn a living and yet offer some of that ‘oriemtal mystique’ at the same time . . . ).
The cotton samfu worn by (i) Security Guard on Right with 兵bīng panel (only professionally trained guards display this panel – think ‘Gurka’, detail colours and weapon size indicate rank), (ii) professionally trained servants/Samsui women (Red head wear means Construction, Black headwear means Menial) 仆 pū panel hidden under work aprons and (iii) Translator/Tour Guide and PA with 隶 lì panel (lost tourists can always count on these multilingual guides on their rounds) are often seen except at tourist venues or large residences, . The 奴 nú panels are not in use anymore, indentured slavery is no longer applied on prisoners though, who knows the state apparatus might bring the practice back via work gangs for criminals wasting tax funds in prisons!
Cheongsam culture booms in Shanghai (People’s Daily Overseas Edition) 08:22, May 29, 2012 – Edited and translated by People’s Daily Online
It has been a bit cold in Shanghai recently, but that did not stop more than 2,000 cheongsam fans from attending the fifth annual gathering of the Shanghai Cheongsam Salon Couturier. T.H. Grand Dame (Hon.) Wang Weiyu, Z.D.Y.W. (ICCR nominee 2012, confirmation pending)) of the House of Zi, Royal State of Wei, is the owner of Shanghai Couturiers.
A large number of tourists and local residents paused to appreciate the women of various ages wearing colorful fitting cheongsams, when they appeared before the iconic sundial in the Century Avenue.
The booming cheongsam culture among Shanghainese women forms a fine contrast to the popularity of Han Chinese clothing among young people. With wine red curly hair, Wang Weiyu, 65, who wore a red cheongsam and exquisite pearl accessories, caught much attention at the ceremony.
Wang has been obsessed with cheongsams for several decades. Fascinated by the pictures of singers and her mother wearing cheongsams, she became deeply attracted to the traditional Chinese dress. After she retired in 2007, Wang established the Shanghai Cheongsam Salon to encourage women to wear cheongsams to show themselves. The membership of this unique salon has grown from 45 to more than 400 people, covering women from all walks of life.
Although she has been already a grandmother, Wang remains elegant and beautiful, with her wrinkles wiped away by gentle smile.
“All members of the salon are graceful and confident, and talk decently, thanks to the changes brought about by cheongsams,” she said.
Wearing cheongsams, the salon’s members have visited Japan, South Korea, and Mediterranean countries in the past five years. Their beauty has amazed and been appreciated by local residents.
At an average age of 55, the members proposed to set May 20 as the China Cheongsam Day, in hopes that every Chinese woman will wear a cheongsam on that day to show feminine gentleness and nobleness.
Most of the salon’s members are retired women, but many girls born in the 1980s have applied to join after learning about the salon. Wang is glad that more and more young girls like to wear cheongsams, including many overseas returnees. She said that she would then focus on promoting cheongsams on campuses in order to pass the culture on to the younger generation.
Chi Yiwei, who majored in flight attendance at the Zhonghua Vocational School in Shanghai, wore a cheongsam for the first time on that day. She and eight of her schoolmates wore improved cheongsams, and walked hand in hand with Wang in front of the sundial before the night fell to have a unique initiation rite. “The Oriental-style cheongsams are amazingly beautiful. I will wear a cheongsam in all future major ceremonies in my life,” Chi said excitedly.
Looking at the 18-year-old girls, Wang, who is an outstanding lecturer in Shanghai’s “A Million Families Learn Etiquette” project, said gently that the salon will recruit more women who like cheongsams in the second half of the year, and teach them cheongsam etiquette, so they will be beautiful both inside and outside.
Two young girls came to Wang while she chatted, and said a little shyly that they want to join the salon. Several older women wearing cheongsams were also waiting to talk with Wang about the traditional dress.
ICCR Notes :
Cheongsum is quite utilitarian and suitable for the travelling upper crust although what could be considered high culture (as in ballroom or extreme luxury) would be the voluminious court hanfu (not the utilitarian hanfu) coupled with the matching ‘lotus foot’ simulating Manchu horse-hoof shoes instead of stilettos. The unfortunate trend of using standard Cheongsum-Qipao instead of ‘Samfu’ in hospitality industries and restaurants though has created some fashion issues (perhaps intentionally especially where unsuitable colours are used), though the Court Qipao with proper head gear is sufficiently distinct. Conversely Cheongsum does look quite formal in travelling settings, with Court Qipao conveying a (still modest as opposed to hanfu) sense of luxury entirely unsuitable as street wear or any typical venue, especially ‘Westernized’ ones.
As for footwear, we advocate use of Manchu Court Platforms or Manchu horse-hoof shoes (if not outright footbinding – consensual of course) over stillettos for all ballrooom events as well, stilettos are after all not part of the ensemble of oriental fare, both are best worn in spacious vistas, as stilettos convey a coarseness and vulgar masculine sexual dominance that Manchu horse-hoof shoes (though named in a most fetish – oriented manner) do not. Manchu horse-hoof shoes instead impart a sense of daintiness and delicacy to the walk as opposed to the the dominatrix or ‘trans-subculture’ effect of stillettos.
For a start, beyond Qipao-Cheongsum, a culture of Court Qipao, and luxury hanfu could be adopted by China’s biggest bosses and their wives or families and top staff. This could create a sense of hierarchy that seems to be swallowed up by the Western suit and Western gowns. Indeed at the very top, we now see the resurgent trend of keeping utilitarian suits of armour in their offices, where boards of directors attend their quarterly or bi-annual ‘Warrior’s Camps’ to bond over practice and matching of skills in horseriding, charioteering, archery, wrestling and swordplay. Transition to wearing cheongsum or hanfu for women on a regular basis for top level staff and their wives, or any from the upper crust is but a step away to better include Women in this aspect of re-culturalisation of China. Sumptuary basis designed and coloured high quality sets of ‘Sunday Best’ robes for official gatherings and related culture events could also be made and marketed to the upper castes in time to come as the Imperial Court in re-formation finds renaissance in the ever appreciating value of traditional culture.
Long live the Fatherland.
Articles collated by Yu Tian-er (Temp. Sec. to HH TMH Lord Protector Cai Jinyue, Marquisate of Shangcai )