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By Jeff J. Brown
Pictured above: the hat that disappeared before my very eyes.
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Sixteen years with the people on the streets of China, Jeff
[dropcap]I[/dropcap] went to visit the China People’s Revolutionary Military Museum in western Beijing this week. I was disappointed that the impressive and imposing, Stalinist main building is closed until 2017, for a massive enlargement and complete makeover. Baba Beijing spends huge sums of money on its museums and many of them have free entry. Just show a photo ID. Even the ones that charge are very modest and allow children in for free, with students, 60s and over, and military personnel in for half price.
The Chinese are some of the biggest museum hounds in the world, which helps explain why there are so many of them and why they tend to be really well done and presented. The public has high expectations. I have been in a number of provincial and municipal museums in China. Not just the big cities, but low population places in the interior, and most of these museums are world class, as good as any you can visit in the West.
The Beijing Capital Museum cost a cool ¥1 billion ($150 million) http://en.capitalmuseum.org.cn/Visiting/Visiting.htm and the China National Museum down the street is said to have cost twice that much. http://en.chnmuseum.cn/. Sandwiched in between them is the jaw dropping National Center for the Performing Arts (NCPA), affectionately called the “(Floating) Egg”, since it sits in the middle of an artificial lake. http://www.chncpa.org/ens/ They cut a ¥2.7 billion check for this sublime cultural statement of the Chinese people, and didn’t bat an eye. Quickly, can you think of a Western city spending $850 million in taxpayer money, on three cultural venues? You are right, I can’t either. Interestingly, both the Capital Museum and the NCPA commissioned French architects, making them very cosmopolitan indeed.
Meanwhile, back at the closed down PLA Palace (People’s Liberation Army), mobs of Chinese were standing in line to get in, for free of course. Why? Because, outside the main building, there are 300 pieces of military weaponry on display, going back to World War II: tanks, artillery, airplanes, missiles, boats, even a satellite, etc. The last thing I want to ogle over is death machines, but my Sino-compadres were having a gay old time. I swear, some of them must have taken a photo of all 300 displays, friends and family members proudly posing in each frame. Humanity’s fascination with war and war materiel is timeless and transcends all age groups. I suspect that young Han Dynasty, ancient Greek and Native American kids grew up fantasizing war games and the use of weapons thereof. I know when I was a kid, growing up in “kill a commie” John Wayne-America, that surely was the case. It’s a sad indictment of human civilization, to say the least.
Standing in a long line for a half an hour and being the only Caucasian within shouting distance, I got to visit with my queue neighbors quite a bit. About 30 of them were all wearing the same baseball cap, pictured at the top of this article, a garish, red, white and black striped affair, with big, thick, embossed letters screaming, “BROOKLYN STYLE”. On one side was a round logo, sporting a modified stars and stripes flag, saying, “U.S.A. AMERICAN – NEW YORK CITY”. Jeez Louise, I was appalled, but not wanting to be moralistic and cause any loss of face, I did not say anything. After all, China is a free country. But, I was saying to myself,
Do you people not realize that since 1949, the United States and Europe have been and continue to spend untold billions of dollars and euros, to destroy your Chinese Dream, and subjugate and enslave you, for another century of humiliation?
But then the most amazing thing happened. After this big slug of cap-sporting Chinese went into the open area, to visit all the weapons, these hats magically disappeared. Vanished. For the life of me, I couldn’t spot one on a single head.
Suddenly, I got very interested in them and could see that I was watching a cultural phenomenon happening right before my very eyes. I had already taken a picture of some them sporting Brooklyn Style, while they were standing in line. But now I wanted to take a close up photo of one. Problem was, they had all taken them off. I looked and looked and finally found a young woman from the group, who clearly had not caught on to what was going on, or hadn’t been told, as she was the last one sporting it. This is the shot you see above.
Why would all of them take off their big, bad American caps in unison, like that? Many other people who were wearing more generic or Chinese themed hats, were keeping theirs on. Plus, it was pretty cold and very windy outside. Any head cover would have been better than nothing. At first, what was clear to me, in fact, was that these caps were so overtly American, and to show them off on such hallowed communist ground, as the China People’s Revolutionary Military Museum, was obviously considered to be in bad taste.
After I thanked this young lady for letting me take her photo, I turned around, looked up and saw a big billboard, and suddenly, all the pieces of the puzzle seemed to come together.
There, shouting out for all the visitors to see, was the national flag of China, with the three characters that are dancing in the minds of the nation’s people: the Chinese Dream. What was even more striking was the openly strident tone of the rest of the text, on the left,
The Chinese national flag fulfills the great revival of the Chinese Dream,
Just as (we) need to realize (our) national prosperity, (our) people’s flag energizes (us), (and) the people’s happiness.
And on the right, short, direct and to the point,
Follow the Chinese path
Carry forward the Chinese spirit
Solidify China’s power
The other giveaway about this big billboard: it was brand new. Referring to my previous article about Xi Jinping’s new national campaign to promote his Four Comprehensives, http://chinarising.puntopress.com/2016/02/12/chinese-president-xi-jinpings-new-four-comprehensives-are-a-rebuke-of-the-west/
it is clear that signboards like this are going to be the next big thing in the CPC’s fight for the soul of masses.
These two messages are much more forceful about supporting the Chinese way of life, in the first case, and a total rejection of the West, in the second. The second half is really a call to civilizational arms and elevates the Anti-West bar, as high as any time since the Mao Era. Back then, Party propaganda was a raised fist, defiant and scornful, with Uncle Sam being crushed under the work boots of the proletariat,
“DOWN WITH AMERICA! DOWN WITH IMPERIALISM”!
It was about as subtle as a rocket propelled grenade, aimed for your Caucasian head. But, after 110 years of being on their opium addicted knees, groveling to racist, Western colonialists, it was just what the masses needed, to help them stand proud again, and build their New China collectively. Fast forward 50 years and with Xi Jinping, it is being done deftly, not openly against Western ways, but for Chinese civilization and communist values.
With one year of the CPC’s “12 Virtues of Communism” under the people’s belt and now with Xi’s new Four Comprehensives being rolled out, this billboard indicates that Xi and the CPC think now is the time to take a red dagger straight to the jugular and heart of American and Western soft power.
Did this patriotic billboard, with its deeply emotive message in support of Chinese civilization and subtle rebuke of Western soft power, help convince those 30 local visitors to peel off and hide their loud and proud Yankee baseball caps? I’d suspect so.
What I experienced in China this last week with Xi’s video, his Four Comprehensives and now this new, heart tugging billboard, is that the CPC is ready to take on Western soft power, eye to eye, fist to fist, mano à mano. With the three above exhortations, Xi and the CPC are adroitly asking Chinese citizens to shoulder a huge civilizational responsibility for the future. In reality, it is a fight to the death, for the very essence of the people and the preservation of a free and independent People’s Republic of China, from Western tyranny. Xi probably understands this better than any national leader since Mao Zedong, or he is at least the first one ready to act on it, since then.
Yes, Western soft power is fabulously seductive, like a Siren call – the sports, fashion, food, music, movies, television and literature. It would appear that now, Baba Beijing is going to start reminding its 1.3 billion citizens, in a very clear, but not confrontational fashion, that China has 5,000 years of sports, fashion, food, music, visual entertainment and literature, long before Westerners climbed down from the proverbial trees, so to speak.
I am not worried about the Chinese turning inward and becoming a hermit nation. That’s the last thing the CPC and its people want.
Why am I not worried? Evidence is everywhere in Chinese society, to the contrary. For the exhibit on Beijing’s history, at the Capital Museum, there are two parts. It is a long and winding timeline, starting three million years ago, with Peking Man, up to modern times. One wall is all about Beijing. What is on the other wall? A corresponding timeline of world history, from the viewpoint of the West. Thus, at a particular point in time, this wall has vignettes and historical events concerning Western notables, such as Plato, Darwin, the Wright Brothers’ first airplane flight, De Gaulle and Einstein. Have you ever seen a Western museum share its display space with the Chinese point of view?
At the unique and unforgettable NCPA this week, my wife, friends and I watched the ballet, 1000 and One Nights. So, here we were in China, in a French designed opera house, going to watch an Arab dance show from Lebanon, and before the big event, we were all treated to a European classical stringed quartet number. The place was packed and it was 98% Chinese. At an average of ¥500 per seat ($80) and sold out for five nights straight, I’m not too worried about the Chinese economy floundering.
A group of workaday Chinese intently enjoying a European music string quartet performance, before going to watch a sold out Arab ballet, “1000 and One Nights”, at Beijing’s French architectural marvel, the NCPA. (Image by Jeff J. Brown)
While at the Military Museum, I also visited the Beijing Millennium Monument next door, built in honor of the Year of the Dragon 2000. Free entrance for the masses. Inside, half of the museum was dedicated to a dazzling display of Chinese art and culture. What was the other half presenting? Classical European artists’ prints.
With a dazzling display of Chinese art on one floor, on the other floor, the Beijing Millennium Monument shows off a century of original prints, by European classical masters. Entrance was free. (Image by Jeff J. Brown)
In both cases, the Chinese masses prove themselves to be much more cosmopolitan and open minded, in their culture and entertainment, than the vast majority of Westerners. How many Westerners listen to their country’s latest hits, as well as selections from China’s humongo pop/rock music industry? Movies? Books? The Chinese do, seamlessly and without prejudice.
How many Western cultural and entertainment venues share the limelight with Chinese-origin content? China’s museums and theaters routinely bring in thousands of exhibitions and performances from around the world and they get subsidized to travel the four corners of the country, so second tier city citizens can also benefit. The NCPA has a full venue of classical and modern Chinese acts, while they just recently offered Carmen, Henry IV, Aida and The Great Gatsby for show fare, all of them sold out, packed with Chinese audiences.
No, I’m not worried about the Chinese losing their vast interest in world culture and entertainment. All Baba Beijing wants to do is remind them,
Be cosmopolitan, but don’t forget that our 5,000-year-old civilization has a lot to offer you. Please remember, Kentucky Fried Chicken and American TV shows are not what the Chinese Dream is all about. It’s about being Chinese first, the Communist Party of China’s Heavenly Mandate and the democratic dictatorship of the people. Now, go enjoy yourselves, eat, drink and be merry – modestly.
Why and How China works: With a Mirror to Our Own History
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