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Qing Dynasty Anthem (1911-12) - China's First Anthem

On October 4, 1911, the Qing Empire issued China's first national anthem, known as Gong Jin Ou (Chinese: 鞏金甌; pinyin: gǒng jīn'ōu, literally "Cup of Solid Gold"). It was the 3rd year of the reign of 5-year-old Emperor Xuantong (better known as Puyi). Because the Qing Empire was not a state in the modern sense, it had never had a national anthem before. Zeng Jize (1839 – April 12, 1890, traditional Chinese: 曾紀澤), one of China's first diplomats stationed in the West, observed that Western nations performed national anthems on official occasions. In 1883 he composed a song in honour of the Qing Empire ("普天樂") and sent it to the Qing court, but the song was never officially used.  In the following years several songs were produced in succession, which were used as semi-official hymns from time to time. One of them was Praise the Dragon Flag ("頌龍旗"). The song was composed in 1906, when the Board of War and the Bureau of Military Reorganis

Why Chinese Women Are Obsessed With Men's Height

One day I was talking with a Chinese friend of mine about relationships. At one point she said something that struck me: " It doesn't matter if a guy is ugly as long as he's tall. " I was quite surprised by these words, but I didn't pay much attention to them.  As I met more and more Chinese, it became clear to me that "height" was a recurrent theme when Chinese women talked about a suitable partner. Many of my female friends mentioned men's height: "He's good-looking; what a pity he's so short!" "I like tall men" "A guy liked me, but I didn't want to date him. He was short", etc. etc.  In her book about factory girls in China , Leslie T. Chang describes this phenomenon: Height was a universal Chinese obsession. In a country that had experienced malnutrition and even famine in living memory, height signaled fortune, and it functioned as a proxy for class. Height was also an advantage for wo

Jumbo Floating Restaurant in Hong Kong

Yesterday I went with my language partner to the Jumbo Floating Restaurant, part of the so-called Jumbo Kingdom, in Aberdeen Harbour.  View Larger Map The floating restaurant is a gigantic boat built in the style of a Chinese imperial palace, with the addition of modern elements. It offers Cantonese food and, most importantly, yum cha. Yum cha (simplified Chinese: 饮茶; traditional Chinese: 飲茶), literally means 'drink tea'. The name is deceptive, because yum cha actually refers to a Chinese-style lunch or early afternoon meal served with tea. The meals consists of dim sum, a word that comprises a wide range of small dishes: steamed buns, dumplings, siu mai, rice noodle rolls, vegetables, roasted meats, congee porridge, soups etc.  Usually, the dishes are put on carts, and then waiters push them around the restaurant. When a customer wants something, he calls the waiter and takes one of the baskets or boxes from the cart. Unfortunately, I and my language partne

Hong Kong Past and Present - Old and Modern Photos of the Dragon City

Hong Kong is one of the most exciting cities in the world, and part of its charm lies in its modernity. Dubbed 'the most vertical city in the world', Hong Kong captivates visitors with its futuristic architecture. But Hong Kong was not always like this. For more than a century, what one saw were monumental European colonial buildings. Chinese architecture and quarters were relegated in the less central areas of the city.  The European-style city has disappeared almost completely. With the economic take-off starting in the 1960s, Hong Kong embarked on an era of modernisation. Colonial buildings were demolished one after another. Only the most representative ones have survived. The past didn't matter. People relentlessly marched toward the future.  Hong Kong was thus the first Chinese city to have transformed itself into a modern megacity, long before mainland Chinese cities created their own aesthetic modernisation.  I prepared a short video that shows some of t

Hong Kong, as Seen from the Island Tram

The Hong Kong tram is one of the symbols of Hong Kong. It covers a large part of Hong Kong island, stretching from Kennedy Town in the west to Shau Kei Wan in the east. One line branches off to Happy Valley.  The tram started operation in 1904. At that time, it followed the waterfront, before land reclamation transformed it. Judging from old pictures from the pre-World War II period, the trams' design is basically the same, both outside and inside. However, today all trams are double-deckers.  The tram is one of the cheapest means of public transport in Hong Kong, with a fare of only 2 HK dollars. Compared with the underground system (MTR), the tram is very slow, given both the age of most trams and the traffic. If you're in a hurry, you'd better take the metro. But if you want to enjoy a nice view of the city, then the tram is a great choice.

Perpetuating Humiliation - The Reemergence of Chinese Nationalism After 1989

The political and moral collapse of Communist regimes throughout the world in 1989 marked the beginning of a new era in global geopolitics. At that time, it seemed as if the capitalist-democratic Western system had triumphed and all countries in the world were destined sooner or later to accept the allegedly irrefutable verdict of history. Very few people would have bet on the survival of the CCP in China, or on the success of Deng Xiaoping's reform programme. The PRC appeared like a dying relic of a past age. The true meaning of the year 1989 remained inscrutable to those who didn't want to see. Western bias was too strong. In 1989 a new China was born; a China that combined East Asian-style developmentalist economic policies, autocratic statehood, and nationalist ideology.  The CCP regime survived the collapse of the Soviet bloc because the path it chose was different from that of its Communist 'brothers'. The PRC had already in the late 1970s embarked on a p

Westernisation and Socialism with 'Chinese Characteristics' - What the CCP can learn from Hong Kong

'Westernisation' is a commonplace, but a dreaded and hatred one. In recent decades most people have come to accept this notion as something natural, obvious, and somewhat inevitable. At the same time, however, Western influence has been often deemed dangerous, humiliating, and polluting. Asian societies have shown both a desire to 'learn from the West', and a great degree of mistrust towards Westernisation. For example, in 1994 former Singaporean Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong warned his fellow countrymen not to imitate too much the West. In order to make his warning effective, he cited some of the issues that according to him plague Western societies: " broken families, teenage mothers, illegitimate children, juvenile delinquency, vandalism and violent crime " ( Asian Values, Western Dreams: Understanding the New Asia. Sheridan 1999 , p. 72). This vision of a chaotic, unstable, individualistic West is often referred to by advocates of East Asian values. 

The Syrian Dilemma - Why the West Should Avoid a New War

In 2008 Barack Obama, the first black candidate for the presidency of the United States, held a speech in the German capital, Berlin, in front of thousands of people. In those days Obama was a superstar. With the power of his words and the message of hope that he spread throughout America and the world, he conquered the hearts of millions of people who believed that he would bring change and, most importantly, that he would be different, completely different from his predecessor. Many believed that Obama would inaugurate an era of peace, economic prosperity, and international co-operation. I felt privileged for having the chance to take part in that historic event. I remember how, in the late afternoon of July 24, I and a friend of mine joined the crowds of people who flooded the 17th of June Street in the centre of the German capital. That street was named after the uprising of 17 June, 1953, during which East German workers took to the streets to protest against the economic pol

Where to Stay in Macau - Apartment in Coloane

A few months ago I went with two friends to Macau. As I explained in my earlier post , Macau has much more to offer than just casinos, and I recommend to anyone who stays in Hong Kong for a while to pay a visit to the former Portuguese colony. In my previous post I forgot to mention where I and my friends stayed, so I'd like to share this information now because it might prove useful to travellers. Instead of booking a room in a hostel or hotel, we decided to rent an apartment for one night. This is not the cheapest option, but for one or two nights it's certainly affordable. Moreover, we could see how an average apartment looks like and also live there as if we were local people. We used a website called  airbnb.com, where you can find flats or rooms to let. The apartment was located in Coloane, in the southern part of Macau. On the map (see below) Coloane looks pretty far away from the most interesting parts of Macau, but remember that Macau is small. In fact, we

Singapore and the Myth of Free Market Economics

Singapore skyline (by Merlion444 [CC0], via Wikimedia Commons ) Singapore is a success story. As founding father Lee Kuan Yew said in his  autobiography , Singapore moved from being a third world country in the 1960s, to being one of the richest countries on earth by the end of the 1990s. Singapore is a city-state which in the middle of the 1990s was half the size of Hong Kong, with a population of 3.04 million ( Kwong / Chau et al. 2001 , p. 1). A former British colony, Singapore's political situation after WWII was tumultuous. The city was granted independence from the British Empire in 1958. Singapore's leaders, however, did not want to found a separate state, but to become part of neighbouring Malaysia. In the 1959 elections, the People's Action Party (PAP), which still rules Singapore today, "promised clean, efficient politics and pledged to address issues in education, labor, housing, health, social security, economic growth through industrializati

How Free Are Media in Hong Kong? About The "Silent Majority" and Media Partiality

How free are media in Hong Kong? This is a question I couldn't help asking myself these days. In a previous post I wrote about Alpais Lam Wai-Sze , a primary school teacher who swore at police officers because they allegedly did not prevent a Communist association from harassing members of Falun Gong, a religious group that is illegal in mainland China. The media response to this event in Hong Kong was very critical. Not critical of the police, but of the teacher and of Falun Gong. I would go as far as to say that the teacher has been the victim of a slander campaign. How deep Hong Kong media's self-censorship is, has become clear to me by reading the South China Morning Post (SCMP). The SCMP, which was once considered one of the best English language newspapers in Asia, constantly features pro-establishment, pro-Beijing, and anti-democracy articles. One example of this I could see yesterday, on Monday 19.   On page A2 appeared the usual column by Alex Lo. I have

Chinese Singer Wu Hongfei and the Risks of Blogging

How would you react if you received a visit from the police only because you posted a joke on your blog? I bet you wouldn't be very happy. Most especially if you lived in a country where you might be sentenced to five years in prison.  Well, this is exactly what was going to happen to Wu Hongfei (吴虹飞, pinyin: Wú Hóngfēi), the vocalist and leader of the Chinese rock band Happy Avenue (幸福大街; pinyin: Xìngfú Dàjiē). Last month she was arrested because of a post that appeared on her Sina Weibo micro-blog.  On July 21st, Wu Hongfei threatened to blow some government buildings in Beijing . This threat came only a few hours after a man had detonated a home-made bomb at Beijing International Airport .  Although Wu deleted the post soon afterwards, it had already circulated and it prompted the authorities to arrest her. She didn't imagine that her post would cause her to be detained for a total of eleven days and face criminal charges for "posing a threat to public ord