Chinglish

February 1, 2017

Chinglish is a play by David Henry Hwan that first premiered at the Goodman Theater in Chicago. The play premiered on Broadway at the Longacre Theater. I saw it at the Berkeley Rep Theater, and it was a laugh-out-loud evening.

This is not a review of Hwan’s play as much as it is about how different cultures find common behaviors hard wired in our DNA to make connections.

To summarize Chinglish, this laugh-out-loud play was about Daniel, a former employee of Enron, who almost went to prison with the rest of the Enron crooks. Daniel not only lost his high paying job with Enron, but he’s broke due to the legal battle that kept him out of jail.

In a last desperate attempt at success, he goes to China to find customers for his American company (a business that’s been in his family since 1925), but Daniel does not speak a word of Mandarin. At the beginning of the play, he says, “If you are an American, it is safe to assume that you do not speak a single f*****g foreign language.”

That one line reveals how clueless most Americans are when it comes to other cultures and languages.

Chinglish, through humor, teaches us a lesson about the minefield of misunderstanding and manipulation that happens when people of different cultures attempt to do business with each other.

“An American businessman arrives in a bustling Chinese province looking to score a lucrative contract for his family’s sign-making firm. He soon discovers that the complexities of such a venture far outstrip the expected differences in language, customs and manners.”

There is another implied theme in this play, and that’s about why sex is important, something all cultures and races have in common that often transcends cultural differences.

In the play, Daniel, an unhappily married man has an affair with an unhappily married mainland Chinese woman. Without spoiling the story, this affair provides the link that Daniel needs to succeed in China, and that link is known as Guanxi.

Early in the play, Daniel’s British interpreter, a man who has lived in China for years and speaks Mandarin fluently, tells him he must stay at least eight weeks to have a chance to develop Guanxi, a system of social networks and influential relationships that facilitate business and other dealings. The British interpreter says that for millennia China has survived without a Western legal system of laws, lawyers, courts and judges, and that Guanxi was crucial for China’s success as the longest surviving civilization and culture on the planet.

Without understand how Guanxi works, Daniel struggles to cross the cultural divide, but fails until he has the affair with the wife of a Chinese judge. The sexual attraction and lust that led to the affair opens the door to the Guanxi network of his lover, and her husband.

Discover Anna May Wong, the woman that died a thousand times.

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A Short History of China: part 4 of 6

January 11, 2017

Before moving on with China’s history in the 20th century, it’s important to understand that China has a rich and long history of the arts: for instance, literature, poetry, painting, opera, and music. China, after all invented the printing press during the Tang Dynasty (618 – 906 AD) and paper in 105 AD. This history reaches back thousands of years, from the earliest recorded dynastic court archives to fiction novels from the Ming Dynasty published to entertain the masses of literate Chinese.

For a comparison with European civilization, the printing press in the West wasn’t invented until after 1300 AD, centuries after China, and it’s possible that the west stole the technology for the printing press from China just like the British Empire stole the secrets of growing and brewing tea from China.

For literature, there are the four Chinese classics: “Outlaws of the Marsh” (set in the Sung Dynasty, 960 – 1279 AD), “Romance of the Three Kingdom” (set during the end of the Han Dynasty, BC 206 – 220 AD), Journey to the West, and The Dream of the Red Chamber (China’s Romeo and Juliet set in the 18th century in the middle of the Qing Dynasty).

Traditional Chinese Poetry is similar to Western poetry.  Lines in Chinese poetry may have a fixed number of syllables and rhyme was required, so ancient Chinese poetry resembles traditional English verse and is not at all like the free verse in today’s Western culture.

Mao Zedong was more than just a revolutionary and the leader of China from 1949 to 1976.  He was complex man who was also a poet. Anyone who studies all of Mao’s life instead of relying on his last decade would understand that he cared deeply about the common people. In addition, Mao is responsible for ridding China of illegal drugs like opium and cocaine, liberating women when he announced they were equal to men, and his health reforms almost doubled the average lifespan before he died.

Opera has a long history in China. To learn more, I suggest: Chinese Opera and Mao Wei Tao, China’s Living Treasure, and The Mother of Chinese Operas.

For brush painting (with a 6,000 year history) and calligraphy, I recommend: Gongbi Style Chinese Brush Painting, and Caressing nature with a long handled brush.

Last, there is China’s music. For instance, the Chinese mouth organ dates back to the Zhou Dynasty (BC 1111-222), and has been found in Han Dynasty tombs. Then there are the 2,553 year-old chimes of Marquis Yi.

Continued in Part 5 on January 17, 2017 or return to Part 4

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Traveling West from China

December 20, 2016

No, this post is not about illegal or legal immigrants sneaking into the United States from China. This post is about China’s classic novel, “Journey to the West”, also known as “The Monkey King”.

There are four novels that are Chinese classics: Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Dream of Red Chamber, Journey to the West, and The Outlaws of the Marsh (some of these classics have been released with other titles), but there are 3 Chinese books titled “Journey to the West”.  And the West they are talking about is west to India; not to Europe or North America and the U.S.

One Journey to the West is nonfiction about K’iu Ch’ang Ch’un, who traveled along the Silk Road and visited Genghis Khan in Persia between AD 1221 and 1224.

The second Journey to the West is another nonfiction account of Hsuan-Tsang (Xuanzang,  AD 602  – 664), a Chinese Buddhist monk who traveled to India, mostly on foot, to bring back Buddhist scriptures.

The third Journey to the West is the fictional romance that introduces the Monkey King and his friend the Pig. This Journey to the West is a classic Chinese mythological novel. It was written during the Ming Dynasty (AD 1368 – 1644) and was based on traditional folktales. Consisting of 100 chapters, this fantasy relates the adventures of a Tang Dynasty (AD 618-907) priest, Sanzang, and his three disciples, Monkey, Pig, and Friar Sand, as they travel west in search of Buddhist Sutras.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Complex History of Buddhism

November 1, 2016

Siddhartha Gautama, the historical Buddha, lived in the 5th or 6th Century B.C. He was born in Nepal and his father was the king of the Sakya people.  After he attained enlightenment at the age of thirty-five, Buddha preached the Dharma in an effort to help others reach enlightenment too.

Unlike the other major religions, Buddhism does not have a god like the Christian, Jewish or Islamic God.  Buddha is not a deity or supreme being. The Buddha believed that religious ideas and especially the god concept have their origin in fear.

Several centuries later during the Han Dynasty in the first century B.C., trade with Central Asia introduced Buddhism to China.  Over the centuries, interest in Buddhism grew.  However, due to Confucianism and Taoism, the Chinese adapted Buddhist scripture to fit the Chinese culture creating the Mahayana sect that spread to Korea and Japan.

Like most major religions, there are subdivisions within Buddhism but most may be classified into three. This is why Southeast Asian Buddhists differ from the Chinese.  The Theravada form of Buddhism is found in Southeast Asia in countries like Burma, Thailand, Cambodia and Laos.

Tibetan Buddhism incorporates other beliefs, and there are four principal schools or types of Tibetan Buddhism. The Dalai Lama is the spiritual leader of one of the four, the Yellow Hat sect.

Buddhism in China reached its high point during the Tang Dynasty, 618 to 907. However, in 845 AD, the Tang emperor suppressed Buddhism and destroyed thousands of monasteries, temples and shrines.

Soon after Mao and the Communists won China’s Civil War with the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek, Buddhism flourished for a time but was repressed during the Cultural Revolution (1966 – ‘76) along with all other religions. Many monasteries and Buddhist texts were destroyed. After Mao died in 1976, many of the major monasteries were rebuilt under the leadership of Deng Xiaoping.

In 2012, the Pew Research Center reported there were about 488 million Buddhists worldwide, and about 244 million, half, are in China.

Discover Wu Zetian, China’s only female emperor

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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The Story of Stone and China’s Star Crossed Lovers.

October 12, 2016

The Dream of the Red Chamber (also known as The Story of Stone) is generally considered one of the four greatest Chinese classical novels. The story is so popular in China that it has had several versions and translations and was made into a TV series.

The author, Tsao Hsueh-chin (1715-1763) came from a powerful and wealthy family and lived a privileged life as a child in Nanjing. Later, he became poor and struggled to survive. Going from wealth to poverty provided him with the necessary experiences to write this tragic story.

Although this novel (English translation available on Amazon in addition to a film selection) has great literary merit on many levels, readers might have difficulty keeping the characters straight, because there are more than four hundred characters and almost thirty are major ones.

Nevertheless, readers and students of Chinese history and culture should read this book to develop a better understanding of Imperial China during the Ch’ing Dynasty. The novel paints a vivid portrait of a corrupt feudal society on the verge of the capitalist, market economy we see flourishing in China today.

Another plot is the Romeo and Juliet love story between Chia Pao-yu and Lin Tai-yu, who, like Romeo and Juliet, wanted to be free to marry anyone they desired.

CliffsNotes has also covered Dream of the Red Chamber.

Discover China’s First Emperor Qin Shi Huangdi, the man that unified China more than 2,000 years ago.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Poetry from the Golden Age of Chinese Art and Literature

April 20, 2016

The Tang Dynasty (618 to 907 AD) is regarded as one of the most prosperous times in China’s long history.

It was also the golden age of Chinese art and literature.

Crossing the Han River
Song Zhi-wen (656 – 712 AD)

No news, no letters – all winter, all spring —
     Beyond the mountains.
With every homeward step more timid still
I dare not even inquire of passerby
.

Song Zhi-wen, the poet, was found guilty of accepting bribes and executed. He had good reason to fear returning home from exile.


In this video is a famous Tang poem.

The classical form of Chinese poetry developed in the late Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and reached its peak during the Tang Dynasty.

Most Tang poems have four or eight lines, with five and seven Chinese characters in each line following certain rules.

Another example of Tang Dynasty poetry is Spring Perspective by Du Fu (712 – 770 AD).

When the post of prime minister was awarded to a cousin of the imperial concubine, there was the military rebellion of An Lu–shan in 755 AD.

The nation has fallen, the land endures
Spring trees and grasses flourish in the town.
Troubled by the times — flowers bring tears;
Dreading parting — birds startle the soul.

With turmoil of battle three months on end,
A letter from home is worth a fortune in gold.
As it is, they can barely hold a pin.

This poem demonstrates what happens when the Chinese people get tired of nepotism and corruption, which should be heeded as a warning today to crack down on corruption in Communist China.

The next poem is one of many that Yuan Zhen (779 – 831 AD) wrote for his dead wife, who he married when he was poor. She did not live long enough to share his fame and fortune.

In former years, we chatted carelessly of death and what it means
     to die.
Since then, it’s passed before my very eyes.
I’ve given almost all your clothes away
But cannot bear to move your sewing things.
Remembering your past attachments, I’ve been kind to maids you
     loved.
I’ve met your soul in dreams and ordered sutras sung.
Certainly, I know this sorrow comes to all
But to poor and lowly couples, everything life brings is sad.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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Who was the first Cinderella?

March 8, 2016

There is a myth that the earliest version of the Cinderella story appeared in Egypt around the first century. If true, since Egypt didn’t have printing presses back then, this may have been an oral story told around camp fires.

However, in 850 AD during the Tang Dynasty, the first known literary version of Cinderella was published in China, and it was about a girl named Yeh-Shen set in the Qin and Han dynasties centuries before the birth of Jesus Christ.

Although there are claims the Chinese Cinderella, Yeh-Shen, had bound feet,  foot binding didn’t appear in China until the Sung Dynasty (960-1276 AD), more than a century after this Chinese Cinderella story was first published. – Bound Feet Women

The French version of Cinderella wouldn’t be published by Charles Perrault until 1697 — more than eight centuries later.

Another version of Cinderella would appear in 1867 and again in 1894 in England.

In 1945, the Bolshoi Theatre in Moscow would present the premiere of Sergei Prokofiev’s ballet of Cinderella.

Walt Disney wouldn’t publish a version of Cinderella until 1946, more than a thousand years after Cinderella first appeared in China based on a story that is alleged to have taken place about 206 BC.

Lloyd Lofthouse is the award-winning author of My Splendid Concubine [3rd edition]. When you love a Chinese woman, you marry her family and culture too. This is the unique love story Sir Robert Hart did not want the world to discover.

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