Hi: I’m an offbeat China Hand, or perhaps Deskchair Sleuth is more apt. Have professed 20th century China but also pre-Victorian England and 19th century France at Princeton University: then got into the research end of E Asian investment banking. (No, no futures trading or derivatives bundling or even sales). Lucky enough to set foot first time in the PRC in 1994 as expert witness in support of a state industry’s privatization. Sinopec (if you’ve heard of it). Is it possible that what looks hideous from the outside looks a good deal better from within? Since independence (2002) I have spent a decade reimmersing in China, again from afar. My focus or rather path of over-extension started with Chen Kaige’s Yellow Earth (1984) – a kind of Frontier Country version of Madame Bovary: manipulated feminine fantasy at the hand of a narcissist ideologue, true believer. Context: a still trendy anthropological aesthetic attaching higher spiritual status to sound and gesture gleaned from wholly isolated and illiterate hillpeoples than to crafted performance of any variety. Old hat for the Soviets and even for Japan, but breathtakingly nouveau for China. Anyway. All of this set me to thinking then researching and now writing about what happen when these sorts of head bending rethinks or leaps sweep across the artistic horizon in places where the State is the sole pipeline and vendor, or at least the principal one. Old empire setting up as frontedge ateliers. It is a story with many outcomes, or at least more (and sometimes more breathtaking) outcomes than our teachers have told us.
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