My mom and I have already exchanged gifts this year and we gave each other the same thing – a world map. She’d mentioned that she’d seen a large, wall, Rand McNally World Map at Office Depot that she’d like to have, and so I bought it for her when we were making copies there recently. She asked if I wanted one and I said, “No, thanks,” since I already had one. When we went back to her house I installed it above her computer and that’s when I changed my mind. I loved this map! It was huge and colorful! The countries’ boundaries were easy to distinguish and cities were legible. I liked it much better than the one I had, which was a discard from my middle school library. The following week she went back and got me one. (Thanks, Mom!) It is so large that it won’t fit across the stretch of wall where I want it without covering up the light switch, so I have to curl up the bottom left corner of the Pacific Ocean. I can lie in bed and see the world from my pillow. In doing so, I’ve noticed that China is roughly the same size as the entire USA. Brazil and Australia aren’t far behind, and it is odd that all four of these land mass areas are colored green on my new map.
In my never-ending job search, my hard copy file grows fatter every day…just like me during the holidays. Of the countries I’m interested in, China, so far, has the most jobs available so I’ve started reading a few books about China to educate myself. I’ve just completed reading J. Maarten Troost’s Lost on Planet China. Troost doesn’t paint a very pretty picture of China. His journey across this vast country took him to all major cities as well as to the Gobi Desert and the hinterlands of Tibet. To quote from the book’s sleeve, “ . . . the book also delivers a telling look at a vast and complex country on the brink of transformation that will soon shape the way we all work, live and think.” This is a powerful statement. We all need to be learning about China.
From what I’ve read, I think it’s one of those places that you’ve got to see it to believe it. There’s simply no way to comprehend China unless you experience it firsthand, in my opinion. Here’s a few quick facts, comparing China to the USA:
Chinese civilization is more than 5,000 years old. The Constitution of the USA went into effect in 1789, making the current republic 223 years old.
In 2011, the population of China was 1,344,130,000. The population of the USA was 311,591,917.
Shanghai is the largest city in China, and according to Global Times, its population soared to over 23 million at the end of 2011. New York City is the largest city in the USA and the 2011 Census Bureau estimated its population at 8,175,133.
My favorite way to learn about a place and its history is through its visual artists. There are many Chinese, contemporary artists that I admire, but none more so than Ai Weiwei. Although he served as an artistic consultant on the Beijing National Stadium for the 2008 Olympics, he is also a political activist. He has been openly critical of the Chinese government in regards to democracy and human rights. Through art and social media, Ai expresses himself and, as his Never Sorry film website reads, he blurs the boundaries of art and politics. Chinese authorities have shut down his blog, beat him up, bulldozed his studio and held him in secret detention.
Gangnam Style is a music video by a South Korean rapper known as PSY. His video has more than 959 million views on YouTube and many people have remixed their own versions. On October 24, 2012, Ai Weiwei uploaded his own version of Gangnam Style. This attempt to criticize the Chinese government was quickly blocked by national authorities. In his version of the video, Ai is wearing handcuffs and calls his versions “Grass-Mud Horse Style,” a reference to a Chinese Internet Meme that employs a pun on an obscene phrase to mock government censorship of the Web.
This New York Times article, by Robert Mackey, gives all the details, including a video interview with Weiwei, in his studio, with Evan Osnos of The New Yorker.
This week I challenge you to pick a country, big or small, find a contemporary artist from there and learn about it. Art always reflects culture.