Haikou Art's Fest Shirks the Museum For the Streets
    2013-09-18 11:28:55     CRIENGLISH.com       Web Editor: Zhang Ru

Haikou International Youth Experimental Arts Festival [photo:hinews.cn]




Hello and welcome to this edition of "In the Spotlight", a show featuring arts, culture and showbiz from right here in China. I'm your host Li Ningjing.

First up on today's show, we will take a look back at the just concluded Haikou International Youth Experimental Arts Festival, an outdoor arts festival aiming to boost local culture in Haikou, the capital of south China's Hainan Province.

Also, our reporter Primrose had an exclusive interview with filmmaker Jenny Man Wu. Her film, charting the complex relationship between three men of different social classes, was shown at this year's Beijing Queer Film Festival,

Then, we will take you to northeast China's Inner Mongolia, to see how the Oroqen, one of China's least populous ethnic groups, preserve their traditional crafts in the modern day.

Last but not the least, we will introduce you to a best-selling novel, "The Seventh Day" by Chinese author Yu Hua.

So, plenty of entertaining and informative stories up ahead on 'In the Spotlight', stay tuned.


China is in the middle of a museum boom; this year, the number in the country has clocked up to 3,589.

Provincial authorities see these as attractions to bring tourists and recognition to their province. However, the growth has occurred in line with the construction boom, where local governments profit the more they build.

With so many museums and only so much art, many struggle to get people through the door.

So, Hainan province's tourism authority has enlisted a Beijing arts consultancy to start a new outdoors arts festival for the public.

Primrose Riordan has more.

"It's just like planting a seed. When you want the seed to grow you need to think about the local soil and the environment. You need a combination of the two really in order to boost Haikou local culture and art.

That's Chinese artist Huangrui, talking about his new arts festival in China. Yep another one. But this one promised to throw cold water on the glitz and glamour that usually accompany festivals here. And in doing this, it's threw out the gallery space. This festival didn't take place on walls, in a gallery or a museum. It's took place outside.

The Haikou International Youth Experimental Arts Festival started on the 23rd of August on the streets of the capital of Hainan province.

The Beijing arts consultancy behind the project Thinking Hands was started by Huang Rui and French curator B¨¦r¨¦nice Angremy. After starting the first photography festival in China, this was their next big thing.

For two weeks, Haikou's streets and parks was filled with dancers, experimental theatre troupes, mucisians, art, and film.
Huangriu says it's essential that China's third tier cities get more acquainted with the arts.

Huangriu: "we hope the local people can experience something new and have some new ideas about art and creativity.
China's second and third tier cities have developed very quickly and their arts scene hasn't quite caught up. The focus is always on museums rather than what's inside of them."

24 acts or exhibits made up the festival which included guest performances from performance art from France, cinema from New Zealand, and Samba from Brazil.

But local acts were the main event. Wu Meng is a Chinese dance and theatre director and performer, who is also a member of the Grass Stage Troupe. We caught up with her after her solo festival performance.

"Arts are extremely, extremely important."

Her performance looked at the relationship between women and families.

"I was reading Engles' book the origin of the family private property and the state from 1884.¡¡The book talks about monogamous families. It seems women have to be the monogamous ones.
If we compare our society with the one he describes, nothing has changed that much, even sometimes things have gone back."

The artist says she was unsure of how the Haikou crowd would take her provocative performance.

"So in the end of my performance I tear down the wedding gown, there is a pole for drying clothes and I hang upside down from the pole like an animal, or a monkey. It's quite a primitive image".

But she was happy with the response.

The festival run until the 6th of September and also included an outdoor karaoke stand where members of the public could come up and sing their favorite songs.


The Beijing Queer Film Festival was launched in 2001. Since then, it has become a major platform for exchange and reflection about queer film in China.

Jenny Man Wu, was one of the filmmakers whose work was shown at this year's festival. Her film charts the complex relationship between three men of different social classes.

Jenny says that discrimination doesn't always come in the form you would expect.

Reporter Primrose Riordan caught up with Jenny at a recent film event.

The Oroqen, one of China's least populous minority groups, used to live a nomadic lifestyle in the northeast of China.¡¡It wasn't until 1953 that they officially transitioned from a primitive society to a modern one.

However, living in a new era doesn't mean forgetting about the past.¡¡The Oroqens are still striving to maintain their nomadic past and preserve their traditional handicraft skills.

Traditionally, the Oroqens are hunters. Nature is their home. Guns, horses and roe deer skin jackets are three indispensable aspects of their daily lives. When they took the leap from primitive society to modern society in the 1950s, they managed to hold onto their traditional handicrafts.

The Oroqen live in areas where birch trees are dense and wild animals roam. Their main handicrafts are roe deer leather and birch bark products.

Eighty-four year old E Er Deng Gua, is an inheritor of Oroqen traditional culture. She says learning the traditional crafts is part of life for Oroqens.

"The division of labor between men and women is distinct for Oroqen people. The men's job is to hunt, while women take care of all the domestic chores. It is a lifelong occupation for females. Young girls normally start to learn needlework at the age of eight. No one would marry a girl who cannot undertake any housework. Thus, girls have to excel in tanning hides, embroidery, wickerwork and bark weaving. I've been learning these since childhood."

Man Gumei, another inheritor of traditional Oroqen handicrafts, learned how to make roe deer leather and birch bark handicrafts from her mother when she was merely a child. Now in her late 50s, she's a master of Oroqen birch bark crafts. In 2011, Man presented her artworks to the world for the first time at "China's Inner Mongolia Culture Week" in Malta, representing her ethnicity. The experience convinced her even more that she has a responsibility in passing down her craft to later generations and making sure it'll continue to thrive.

"Since I've chosen to be part of our hunting culture inheritance scheme, I make these handicrafts with greater earnestness. I encourage young people, no matter what ethnicity they're from, to learn the Oroqen language, our handicrafts, along with our hide and birch bark culture. As long as they are willing to learn, I'm willing to teach them. I have to do a good job because I'm not only representing myself, but the whole ethnic group."

A lot of Man Gumei's handicraft works are sold to appreciators through a shop in a nearby town. The owners of the shop are a young couple. They not only sell Oroqen handicrafts, they have also opened a small-scale workshop. The wife, Wu Nan, says their shop enjoys great popularity and customers love Oroqen handicrafts.

"Our main purchase channel is from Oroqen Autonomous Banner, Great Khingan. It is abundant in raw materials for making birch bark handicrafts and lots of experienced artisans live there. The crafts inheritance is good. After young people learn the traditional craft, they take the lead in developing new products on the basis of traditional handicrafts. That's good."

He Guozhi, Man's son, learned the craft from his mother. He further developed the craft and developed new designs. He utilizes Internet resources like blogs, QQ Zone, his personal website and so on to publicize and promote Oroqen handicrafts. In 2010, he brought Oroqen handicrafts to the exhibition hall at the Shanghai Expo, where he showcased and explained the craftsmanship of birch bark in great detail to Chinese and overseas visitors.

Despite all these efforts, the Oroqens are also confronted with challenges. With the implementation of the hunting-ban policy, it has become increasingly hard to get roe deer skin in recent years. Also, most artisans are elderly people; ensuring their crafts are effectively inherited before they pass away is still a challenge for the Oroqen people.

Xiao Zhongguo, a local head of the Tuozhamin Ethnic Township, says the hunting culture of the Oroqen Minority Group is now mainly preserved within small, family-run workshops.

"Under the appeal of environmental protection, natural birch bark is not easily accessible. The hunting-ban policy has shortened the supply of roe deer skin. Various factors have decided that we can't mass produce Oroqen handicrafts. Small family workshops are the main means of passing down this cultural tradition."

The Oroqen people still have to think about how to protect their traditional culture, whilst also keeping up with the times.

Yu Hua is one of the most well known novelists in China. He shot to fame as the author of a series of bestselling novels flavored with brutal realism such as his best-selling work -To Live.

After seven years of silence, Yu Hua has released his latest work, titled "The Seventh Day." Its print and Kindle editions have become the best-selling and second best-selling novel on Amazon.cn respectively.

At the same time, it has aroused heated debate among readers and critics. Many value it as a loyal reflection of the realities of the modern world. Others are calling it the worst novel that Yu has ever written, plagued with fragmentary plots and plain language.

Xiangwei brings the various opinions on this new best-seller.

Inspired by Genesis, "The Seventh Day" is about a man's seven-day journey following his death. Yang Fei, the book's main character, dies in an accident but couldn't afford a burial, so he ended up wandering as a ghost. He met other dead souls in the process and witnessed various absurdities, which reflect real occurrences in the daily lives of Chinese people.

Gao Chaodong, a senior media worker and loyal fan of Yu Hua's works, had this to say:

"Same as the reading experience of Yu Hua's previous novels, I feel dreary and unhappy after reading this book. He writes about weighty things. That's his hallmark."

Yu Hua's recollection of social events in "The Seventh Day" include: a couple being killed when a house is forcibly demolished; a death toll being covered up and the bodies kept away from their families after a fire; a kidney being transplanted secretly on the black market; and a baby being abandoned after a failed medical surgery.

Compared with Yu's previous works, such as the award-winning novels "To Live" and "Brothers," which dealt with a changing society over the course of decades, this latest retelling of social events is more like a mirror of the current Chinese society. Interestingly, this book is labeled by the publisher as "more desperate and more absurd" than any of the fictions that Yu had created.

The book has stirred unprecedented debate among Chinese literature fans. Famous Chinese writer and blogger, Han Han, expressed his thoughts on novels in general on his Sina Weibo account not long after the book's publishing, saying that a good novel should describe the wider world and explore complicated human nature. He says large amounts of news stories should not be put into a novel. Han did not explain his purpose in writing the article, but it's widely seen as a criticism for Yu Hua's new book.

Readers express their opinions online, saying that they can hardly believe it's the result of seven years of work, likening it to Internet fast food. They say if this book was written by some unknown author, it would be easier to accept. However, this was written by Yu Hua, one of China's most established authors.¡¡

Amid the debate, many critics and readers are defending Yu Hua's writing skills. They say the author is narrating from the perspective of a dead man. The language should be restrained and cold. It's decided by the nature of the novel itself.

What's more, Gao Chaodong quoted book critic Han Haoyue, saying that this book will create more influence upon Chinese literary world.

"This book's publishing is a meaningful event. It will encourage more authors to write about the current society, instead of indulging themselves in the past."

Others believe the author is trying to appeal to foreigners, with the whole idea of "seven days," easier language to translate and "super-realistic" plots, given his growing influence overseas after publishing books in more than 20 countries.
Prepared for criticism, Yu Hua says he will not look at reviews until the talk about the book cools and comments become rational.

Back anchor:
With that we've come to the end of this edition of "In the Spotlight". Hope you enjoyed the show. If you have any comments or suggestions, you can email us at Spotlight@cri.com.cn. You can also visit our website www.newsplusradio.cn to listen back this program or our previous shows. I'm Li Ningjing. Thanks for listening. We'll see you next time.



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