Book break #1: The Jungle Book

The Jungle Book

Yesterday I read Rudyard Kipling’s The Jungle Book, after watching the new live-action Disney film version earlier on this month. It had been on my bookshelf for years, yet I had avoided reading it out of my prejudice against ugly book covers. Yes, the image beneath the cover is the same. Compared to the live-action film, in the book Mowgli is more wild, the animals are less adorable, and we hear and see more of humans.

Me being me, I had to dig for more. Continue reading


Brexit boat – why join?

Brexit boat
My first reaction to the EU Referendum debate was to question why the UK would want to abandon its hard-won privileges, accumulated over the 20+ years that it had been a member of the EU, and why I would want to forsake an institution to which I felt a certain affinity, it being almost as old as myself. And when those in the Brexit camp were depicted as destroyers of EU values, and the debate was twisted into a moral one, with Brexit supporters accused of being intolerant, irresponsible, and regressive, the last thing I wanted to be associated with was the villainous Brexit camp. Listening to the arguments of both sides also made me prefer the “Remain” side, which made me feel more secure and which admitted the ailments of the EU more easily than the “Leave” camp were able to admit the negative impact Brexit would have on the UK.

However, after thinking beyond the economic losses, and I do think that there will be unavoidable economic losses, whatever some Brexiteers would have people believe, and putting them into perspective according to my own lifestyle, I am now thinking… Continue reading


50 years since the Great Cultural Revolution

Today is the 50th anniversary of the start of China’s Great Cultural Revolution (文化大革命). May 16th is considered to be the start because on this day began a purge of the Politburo. Instigated by Mao Zedong, it lasted for 10 years (1966-1976) and aimed to destroy the Four Olds (四旧) or perceived enemies of Chinese culture: new customs, new habits, new culture and new thinking. It was not only western, capitalist ideas that were banned – traditional Chinese cultural traditions were also banned, including Chinese opera. The devastation of this art form is poignantly portrayed in the film Farewell My Concubine (霸王别姬), which you can watch, with English subtitles, on YouTube.

The government is not commemorating this date, but it is being freely discussed by the people on social media, and the South China Morning Post has created a special feature on the “Cultural Revolution, 50 years on”.

This is not surprising. Although there has been a revival in Maoist culture in certain parts of China, notably in Luoyang, and a new patriotic girl group called 56 Flowers (五十六朵花) was formed last year, the official reception of this period is far from warm. It was a decade of oppression, and a far cry from the brief period of liberalisation during the Hundred Flowers Campaign (百花运动) in 1956. If you were a class enemy, you would be sent to the countryside, imprisoned, sent to a labour camp, or executed. Ping Fu, now one of Obama’s tech advisors, was among them, and luckily fled China for the USA. Ding Xueliang, Social Science professor at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, was a Red Guard who became disillusioned with the movement and was sent to the countryside. The government admitted the tragedy the Cultural Revolution in 1981, namely that it brought to the Chinese nation and people “the most grave calamity and internal turmoil” (严重灾难的内乱), in a Resolution on Certain Questions in the History of Our Party Since the Founding of the People’s Republic of China (关于建国以来党的若干历史问题的决议), the full text of which can be found here. Read it in English here.

So what was it like, to live in the Cultural Revolution? Continue reading