Category Archives: fluff and fun

Colorful Student Writing Award

Mao swimming the Yangtze

Mao swimming the Yangtze at 72, in 1966

I asked for voice in the “Was Mao Really a Monster?” editorial assignment, and boy did I get it in this student’s opening:

The cool waves splashed against his chest, his glimmering green teeth glistened in the beautiful sun, his body moved majestically in the cool waters. This is not the image of a great brute, but of an excellent ruler. After seeing Mao’s adorable face, there is no way you can classify him as a monster.

I’m not making fun of the writer, by the way–the kid’s bright, and the sentences above, though obviously written in what David Sedaris might call a “kicky” (and academically heretical) mood, are pretty elegant for teen prose. (A webcam reflection he did this week made me recommend, in all sincerity, that he consider aiming to become the next-generation Pee Wee Herman.) And since he couldn’t resist going for the laugh–and succeeding in giving it to me, out loud, just now–I pass it on for your enjoyment.

(More on Mao’s historic swim below:)

And speaking of Pee Wee, here’s a blast from his amazing 1980s wonderland. It’s one of few children’s shows I watched religiously as an adult:

In Which the Teacher is Sacrificial Poet at His First Poetry Slam

In which this teacher sacrifices himself as “Sacrificial Poet” to warm up and launch the First Annual IASAS Forensics and Debate Poetry Slam. SAS, March 2012. (The “Sacrificial Poet,” I was told, is the teacher who is willing to submit himself to audience’s and judges’ knives before the students take the stage.)

You’ll note I stress “at 3.45″ to justify any lameness in the poem. I did write it in the two hours preceding the performance. Later, the Chinese History teacher-lover in me reflected that this comfort with writing-on-demand is very close to China’s traditional attitude toward poetry. Any educated Chinese wrote poetry, I gather, as frequently and nonchalantly as we tweet or post on Facebook today. One Song Dynasty poet produced over 10,000 poems, while the Qing emperor Qianlong has, I believe, several hundred poems, if not thousands, to his credit. (All Chinese emperors and politicians wrote poetry. You weren’t educated if you didn’t, and nor were you civilized.) That’s so worth thinking about.

Anyway, sharpen your knives and watch the performance below. Warts and all, I enjoyed the slam. I got to deliver a message I’ve wanted to send students for ages.

Comedy, Race, and Louis CK’s Blind Spot

Jokes that educated people can make, and that uneducated people won’t get:

It’s interesting to compare this Indian-American guy’s perspective with that of Anglo-American Louie CK — a clearly smart (and NSFW) guy who somehow seemed not to learn about world history in his American education. Watch, and notice how narrow his definition of “the world” is when he imagines time-traveling as a white man:

If he’d gotten out of his time capsule anywhere but Europe (or America), odds are he would have been not deferred to, but laughed at. One reason the Portuguese and Spanish were so violent to other cultures during the Age of Exploration was that the people they encountered found them strikingly unimpressive. Da Gama and others complained in their reports that the goods they brought to impress foreign kings were laughed at for their low quality, as were the religious ideas with which they offered to “save” or otherwise improve their hosts. Indians, Muslims, and Chinese had advanced economies, smooth and respectful international trade relations, reasonably tolerant religious relations, and highly literate cultures. For most of their history, “white men” didn’t.

It’s funny how a guy as smart as Louis CK can’t know that the world laughed at white people until only a few centuries ago, when the industrialization of weapons made that laughter less easy to risk. His view of the world only seems to include Americans — black and white ones — and vague Romans who gave America Jesus.

Again, I love Louis CK’s work and imagination. He’s intelligent as all hell. And that’s sort of the point: intelligent people can still be stunted through a poor or provincial education system.

Imagine how much richer Louis CK’s work would be if he’d been taught about the rest of the planet.

Communist TV 7, Capitalist TV 0

Cultural Imperialism Cartoon[Note: Skip the politics if you want, but don’t miss the TV series at the bottom for pure entertainment.]

A big TV censorship controversy is swirling in China these days, and for this American at least, it’s hard not to sympathize with the censors. It brings to mind an earlier Chinese government’s struggle to eliminate an earlier Western import from poisoning its people. Back then, the product was opium (seriously excellent link to click from M.I.T.). Now, it’s trash TV.

From The Guardian:

“People were told by the State Administration of Radio, Film, and Television [SARFT] that they needed to do less entertainment content and improve the balance, with more wholesome content or content conveying messages endorsed by government organs,” said [Beijing-based consultant Mark] Natkin, who focuses on media and telecoms.

“The way we heard it framed was that people feel increasingly that Chinese society has no moral compass. Contributing to the problem is the fact that the news and wholesome programming are getting drowned out by excessive entertainment programming with a commercial focus.

“[Official concerns] are that,  left entirely to the market, there are no limits to the levels that programme producers will sink to as they try to attract new audiences and good ratings.”

Dating show You Are The One became last year’s runaway hit, spawning a legion of copycats – and concerns that it was encouraging the increasing materialism of China‘s young people.

When one contestant told a potential match that “I would rather cry in the back of a BMW than laugh on your bicycle,” the remark became notorious. Officials stepped in and the programme reduced its focus on the contestants’ occupations and assets, instead drawing attention to their devotion to family duty. Authorities have also encouraged talent shows to include migrant workers as well as middle-class wannabes, in a bid to promote inclusiveness.

The article includes this depressing note about the masses’ willingness to limit their junk culture intake:

[A]ttempts to raise the moral standards of broadcasting in the past have often resulted in a decline in viewers.

Consider that all background to my discovery of what I presume — but can’t be sure, since last year the Bizarro World of the CCP also banned TV dramas involving time-travel as potentially subversive — may be an example of the “moral programming” the Communist Party would prefer its society take in. It’s a show about a 2011 Beijing girl who travels back to the height of the Qing Dynasty under the reign of the Emperor Kangxi around 1700. Here’s the description from the website hosting the series:

Zhang Xiao, a contemporary, ethnically Han Chinese young woman from the 21st century, accidentally travels back in time to the Qing Dynasty period during the reign of Kangxi Emperor after experiencing a deadly combination of traffic collision and electrocution, resulting her somehow reliving the life of one of her previous incarnations and forcing her to assumes the identity belongs to her past avatar: Maertai Rexi, teenage daughter of a Manchu nobleman, who also had a near-fatal incident in her own time which Zhang awakes from.

Being stranded in the past, in the body of a centuries earlier incarnation of herself, and believe by many of Maertai’s family and friends that the sudden change of her behavior and memory loss is resulted of her head injury, Zhang Xiao awares that there will be a dangerous power struggle known to history between the scheming princes for the throne, which will results Aisin-Gioro Yinzhen to succeed as the Yongzheng Emperor after his father’s death. Zhang Xiao tries to change the future outcomes for the better, hoping to prevents any casualty as written in the future without interfering a man’s destiny, while trying to find a way to return to her time period. However, Zhang ultimately realizes that, not only she fails to alter the course of the approaching events, but also, under a predestination paradox, she is fated to become an instigator of the tragedy she tries to prevent resulted by her actions in the past and the princess’ romantic affections towards her.

Though the premise is silly, the show itself is a history teacher’s dream. I watched the first episode just now, and was totally drawn in — and suspect students would be too. What more can you ask for? Modern teenage girl wakes up in the Forbidden City 300 years ago, where she discovers she’s being prepared for a concubine selection event in six months. She discovers she has a Buddhist big sister who deals with her virtual prisoner’s status inside the palace through her Buddhist faith. She also discovers she has no idea how to perform the ritual norms regulating everyday life.

Best of all, she meets historical princes, sons of Kangxi (he had about 50, if I recall correctly), and romantic attractions set in. Also best of all: the sets, costumes, and reasonably accurate historical verisimilitude. All in all, it’s bloody awesome, in short.

After watching an episode, you’ll probably be hooked. After that, ask yourself what I ask myself: is it so easy to condemn censoring [your US programming trash of choice here] in order to promote programming like this?

Click on the screenshot below to see the full series, with English subtitles.

–brought to you by the civilization that required its politicians to pass an intelligence test — something the GOP could bear to think about.