By Alec Ash
It was the first day of the Chinese new year  in Urumqi, not that many Uighurs particularly cared. It’s not their holiday. But it was also a Friday, which meant the biggest weekly public prayer at the Grand Bazaar. The Bazaar itself, the world’s largest, was closed. Outside it, hundreds of Muslims laid out their mats, kneeled and prostrated themselves to the yodelling refrain of “Allah Akbar” coming from the speaker system.
Across the street, a clump of security guards watched them, looking bored. From their appearance they were all Uighur, or at least all part Uighur. It was winter, almost -20ºC, and they wore fur hats, warming their hands in their pockets. Behind the guards, in an armored van parked opposite the Bazaar, were soldiers. One of them was doubled over the driving wheel, sleeping. Continue reading
By Austin L. Dean
It depends who you ask. A Communist Party official might tell you that the most pressing problem is pernicious “Western” values espoused by certain university professors. Colleges and universities, they might continue, “need to champion core socialist values.” University professors have sometimes expressed a different view: not being able to access resources like Google Scholar, they argue, prevents them from doing their job. Of course, students might list the usual litany of problems: small dorm rooms, boring teachers, bad food in the cafeteria.
If you ask this question of Zhang Ming, a professor at People’s University in Beijing, he will probably ask how much time you have — because he has a lot to say. Continue reading
By Angela Yuen
I Am the Messenger, by Marcus Zusak, is an old book for me because I have held it and absorbed it so many times. Readers can always memorize the feelings of certain books in their hands, I think. Our favorite books, the ones that we keep and reread, have a sort of battered heft to them. Some books have older souls, I tell my friends, and they agree. The souls of books are always a joint effort; one part author, one part reader, and the old ones are the books we keep giving part of ourselves to.
I tend to reread books around the Winter and New Year season, I’ve noticed. It’s a combination of the weather and the people, old relatives and warm houses. I like the comforting repetitiveness of rereading books, though many people tell me it retracts from the experience because everything in the story is already known. Then again, the story of Ed Kennedy, the underage cabdriver in Messenger, is the sort of story that leaves you wondering how much you really know. Continue reading
By Maura Elizabeth Cunningham
As I wrote back in December when we at the LARB China Blog were suggesting titles for holiday shopping lists, my 2015 recommendation for a must-read China book is In Manchuria: A Village Called Wasteland and the Transformation of Rural China, by Michael Meyer. A former Peace Corps volunteer and freelance journalist in China, Meyer now teaches English at the University of Pittsburgh (and is also, full disclosure, a fellow in the Public Intellectuals Program I co-direct at the National Committee on U.S.-China Relations). While Meyer’s first book examined life in Beijing’s narrow and twisty hutongs, or alleyways, as they faced demolition, In Manchuria moves north, to the vast expanses of China’s northeast. Using the village of Wasteland as his home base, Meyer criss-crosses the region, stopping in major cities and forgotten hamlets as he explores Manchuria’s history and reflects on the changes underway in the Chinese countryside today. I recently interviewed Meyer by email; if you’d like to see him discuss In Manchuria in person, check out his book tour dates here. Continue reading
By Juan Felipe Herrera
for Phil Levine, RIP
They are writing about you Phil – you know
good stuff — the prizes Detroit and that
poem where you said in past lives you
were that wild sun-crested fox being chased
by “ladies and gentlemen on horseback” —
you said you would wake up with the poem
ready that it slipped untangled from a dream
all you had to do was sit up and write
the stage was a poem too – even though
most of us were too prepared you
preferred to joke before we went on
before the poetry light hit us on the face
it did not matter to you – you just carved
chiseled punctured rotated danced
and whirred past a distant gate
By Seth Greenland
My father was the biggest Yankee fan I knew but he never wanted me to be Mickey Mantle. He wanted me to be Mickey Mantle’s lawyer. He grew up poor in the Bronx and always viewed the Law from the perspective of an urchin in a Dickens novel. The Law was grand, exalted, and highly remunerative. Saying one’s son was a lawyer not only sounded both refined and prosperous, to a Depression era kid it represented the Platonic ideal of order in a chaotic world. And I bought it. Of my high school and college friends, six became lawyers. My friend of longest standing — we met in first grade — was an outlier. Desperate to be Ernest Hemingway, he went to Europe, he drank wine, he wrote a novel (currently in a drawer). And then he went to law school. Today, he’s a trusts and estates lawyer. For the first twenty-one years of my life that was the future: suit, tie, oxford cloth shirt, polished hard-soled shoes, court appearances, filing of briefs, whispered conferences in judges’ chambers, and, oh, that reliable paycheck. Continue reading
Image: Antoine Bruy, from “Scrublands”
By Joanna Chen
A parachute appears, floating in a cloudless sky. It lands with a bump in the sand. A small figure unhitches herself, climbs to her feet. She pauses, brushes sand off her blue jeans. That girl is me and I have come back to the same spot where I landed in the Negev desert as a teenager, to remember.
I have been putting off coming here for a long time. I book a room at the Field School, then cancel, then rebook. The man answers me tiredly the third time I call, reeling off what the room has to offer: bunk beds for six, sheets and towels, an air-conditioner I later discover does not work. That’s it. Do I want it or not. When I lived there as a student in high school, it was a small room littered with clothes, cigarette stubs, a faded curtain blown by the hot desert wind in an open window. The view is the same. I used to lie on my bed and look through the window at the white of the wadi overlooking my room. Now my son is here, in another building, probably still asleep, perhaps shifting slightly in the bed as he sleeps. It soothes me to think he is there; when I think of being here without him I’m filled with the old fears of being engulfed by a desert landscape that became a metaphor for despair. Continue reading
By Alec Ash
Just as the cold winds sweep the last leaves off Beijing’s trees, November 11 was Singles, or “bare branch,” Day in China (guanggunjie, after a Chinese term for single men). It’s chosen for the four number ones of 11/11, an appropriate date to be dateless. In a country with 118 boys born for every 100 girls, the main function of the festival seems to be making all of China’s single twigs feel inadequate. When I texted “What are you doing this guanggunjie?” to a handful of partnerless Chinese friends, I got back the same curt reply from three: “Sleeping.” I’ll know better than to ask next year.
Singles Day is mostly about online shopping sales now, but there are also a spattering of singles’ events in Beijing on the night. Speed dating is increasingly popular in China, as young urban people in full-time jobs try to find a compatible life partner. I went along to one for a look. Continue reading
Born in Nimes, France in 1936, Claude Viallat last exhibited in New York in 2002 at Cheim Read Gallery. He attended the Ecole de Beaux Arts de Paris (1962-3). His first solo show was in 1966. By the beginning of the 70s, he became one of the leaders of the group “Support-Surface.” He founded the group with fellow artists such as Bioulès, Cane, and Dezeuze after a period of intense experimentation in the south of France, where he installed his works in various non-institutional spaces such as farms, a beach, the bed of a river, etc. In a context of radical questioning social norms and values, this group of artists attempted to break up the convention of painting by deconstructing the concept of the stretcher (support) and canvas (surfaces). The group had its first show at the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris in 1971.
Claude Viallat is known for his emblematic “shape” which evokes both a net or a flat knot. Applied with a brush and a stencil, this shape acts as a signature of his works, which are never signed. By repeating this shape on a variety of surfaces, the artist frees himself of the limits of composition to focus on the combination of colors and its optical effects.
Claude Viallat is in numerous museum collections including Musée National d’Art Moderne, Fondation Cartier, CAPC Bordeaux, Museum of Modern Art, The Kunstmuseum Basel, and the Musée des Beaux Arts de Montreal.