Xu Zhiyuan: Culture Crisis at #AWF16

pp_xu_xichuanFifty years ago, China underwent a cultural revolution, and with the anniversary of this momentous moment in Chinese history so close, Jeremy Rose began the session by asking Xu Zhiyuan the question, “How will China celebrate this anniversary?” With certainty, Zhiyuan said that there will be no mention of this event. For the country, it is still taboo to mention this revolution, especially in the media and public spaces. While he was born in the year of the death of Mao Zedong, a post-revolution 1976, Zhiyuan says that there was still at that time a shadow that the citizens live under, and that this remains to this day.

He expanded on this by using a metaphor that he was told by a friend. “It’s like a snake’s shadow” coming from above, hanging on a chandelier, “even if it doesn’t move, it can eat you at any time.” It is this looming fear that creates this cultural crisis.

In admiration of well-known bookshops, such as Shakespeare & Company in Paris, Zhiyuan opened his own bookshop (One Way Street Library) in Beijing in an attempt to create a cultural icon for China. Here talks and discussions are held, but while initially these included everything from politics to current affairs, Zhiyuan says that in the last few years this has shifted more to talking about art and literature. The taboo and fear of the past generations still exists, it is an ever-present shadow. Rose asked, “How do you know what not to talk about?” Zhiyuan responded by saying, almost jokingly, “it’s like dating a lady”. When can you cross the line, when can and can’t you do and say certain things. Zhiyuan says that what might be okay today might not pass in a month, “it’s about feeling the mood”, and practicing walking on the border.

But this fear for Zhiyuan and newer generations moves into a slightly different space. With the globalisation of China as a major economic power, an element of consumerism has been introduced into mainstream culture. This has left people feeling fragmented, and fearful of losing everything. Zhiyuan says that everyone feels weak and has no expression. The materialism that is pushed in the home is creating a spiritually and culturally weak society.

cv_paper_tigerAnd this is where for Zhiyuan this culture crisis comes from. He says that it is important for the new generation to learn about history and culture, especially in this globalising age. He compares China’s global economic expansion to the British Empire’s expansion. The main difference for him lies in the fact that the British expansion included culture, writers, anthropologists, and so on, where with China this is not present, even in the digital age.

Rose mentioned the tone of Zhiyuan’s book, Paper Tiger, as being very pessimistic. But Zhiyuan says that it is precisely because he is optimistic “that I can say a lot about the dark side of China.” He remains hopeful of the future, even with all of the problems facing China.

Attended and reviewed by Matthias Metzler

Paper Tiger: Inside The Real China, published by Head of Zeus, ISBN 9781781859797

BOOK REVIEW: Something to Hide, by Deborah Moggach


Available now in bookstores nationwide.

Deborah Moggach is the author of the much-loved book The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, which has since been made into a film.

In White Springs, Texas, Lorrie is locked into a marriage with Todd. Lorrie loves him very much; they have grown up dirt-poor, were childhood sweethearts and bound together. Todd is in the army and has served two terms in Iraq. Lorrie and Todd and their two teenage kids love to eat and so over the years they have all put on the pounds. Lorrie is very lonely with Todd away so much – she goes on-line, finds herself a job. “Earn hundreds of dollars a month in the comfort of your own home! Become a sales rep with our fast-growing company. Earn commission rates of twenty percent of retail sales prices, rising with the volume of items sold”. The whole thing sounds far too good to be true! All of Lorrie and Todd’s life savings are drained from their savings account.

In Beijng, China Li Jing is married to Wang Lei. They desperately want children, but this was not to be. Wang Lei is a businessman, but as to what he actually does, Li Jing has no idea. She came from a poor background and since their marriage her parents had been looked after by Wang Lei, providing them with a house and everything they could possibly need.

In Pimlico, London, Petra is mulling over her disastrous love life – her failed marriage to Alan and her disconnection from her two adult children.

The way in which these characters are connected becomes clear as you read. Petra has an affair with Jeremy, the husband of her best friend Bev from school days. Jeremy and Petra fall in love, continuing their relationship via email after he flies back to West Africa, ultimately deciding to make thier arrangement permanent, with Jeremy to leave Bev. How to tell Bev and how the transition will take place is something they yet have to decide.

Meanwhile, back in Texas, Lorrie decides to replenish her and Todd’s savings account, without him being aware, by becoming a surrogate for a couple who are unable to have children of their own. That couple live in Beijing. With Todd being deployed for months on end and Lorrie being overweight, deceiving those around her is not that hard.

The story weaves in and out of the three women’s lives. This intriguing story of lies and deception is rather gripping. I became wrapped up in the character’s lives, reading well into the night. The tangled web of lies, interwoven with truth make for a fascinating read.

Reviewed by Christine Frayling

Something to Hide
by Deborah Moggach
Published by Chatto & Windus
ISBN 9781784740474