Route Awakening S05

Season five of National Geographic’s Route Awakening begins its broadcast run in China on 23rd August. Other territories to follow soon. But for viewers in China, this will be your chance to see me delving into sacrificial rituals at the Wastes of Yin; oracle bone scripts and divination in the Shang dynasty; the violent art of the Dian kingdom; Nanjing in the middle ages; the golden treasures of a deposed emperor; the immense cathedral-like complex built around a relic of Buddha’s skull; burial customs of the lost Yelang kingdom, and the shipyards of Admiral Zheng He.

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British Museum Manga

“As the exhibition winds down, its catalogue is going to form much of its historical footprint. On shelves and coffee tables in years to come, this hefty 350-page book is going to transform into a resource and an aide-memoire, a place for people to remember and revisit what they saw. Undoubtedly, it will form the germ of some new fans’ first appreciation of what manga is.”

Over at the All the Anime blog, I examine the heritage and likely legacy of the British Museum Manga exhibition.

Gaijin Nude

Over at the All the Anime blog, I review Ian Buruma’s snapshot of the literary scene in 1970s Japan: A Tokyo Romance.

“Buruma’s Tokyo tales are a wonderful collage of ghastly poseurs and jocular racists, avant-garde theatrical performances, peep shows and strip clubs, forgotten circus celebrities and lost districts, which he wanders with the same melancholy interest as his literary hero Kafu Nagai. It is a lurid, lost Tokyo before the transforming influences of social media or wi-fi, where one must find books by reaching out and picking them up, and make appointments by speaking to human beings. It is also a world almost as insular as the Shogun’s Japan. Few Japanese, Buruma notes, had the means to leave the country, turning its capital into a side-show of theme-park mockeries of the Other and Far Away. ‘There was something theatrical, even hallucinatory about the cityscape itself, where nothing was understated; representations of products, places, entertainments, restaurants, fashion and so on were everywhere screaming for attention.'”

Miyazakiworld

The new issue of Science Fiction Studies is out, including my long review of Susan Napier’s Miyazakiworld: A Life in Art.

“Perfectly judged for the undergraduate reader, Napier’s book offers a commendable balance of analysis and insight, production gossip and historical contexts. Its references diligently cram in signposts for delving deeper into untranslated sources, but not in such a way as to alienate scholars who can only work in English. There is sufficient material here to turn a fan into a critical viewer, but also to inform artistic appreciation of films that are already well-loved. It is sure to become part of the introductory toolkit for many a course on anime, not the least for its nuanced coverage of the life and works of Japanese animation’s most famous creator.”

Notes Towards a Chinatown Museum

Running without fanfare at the China Exchange in the middle of London’s Chinatown, the Making of Chinatown exhibition aims to tell the story of how an immigrant community could suddenly spring into such a vibrant part of a city’s cultural experience. As the timeline that forms the main part of the exhibit makes clear, the Chinese community centred on Gerrard Street is relatively recent – newspaper clippings as late as 1970 point to the media’s growing awareness that the street was starting to accrete restaurants and stores serving the Cantonese-speaking community.

This exhibition has been a long time coming. When New York has a Museum of the Chinese in America, and both Vancouver and Melbourne have their own richly appointed Chinatown museums, London has been left lagging behind. The temporary exhibit here is necessarily small-scale, concentrating on video archives and scattered photographs, and lacking a lot of material content. There are asides about Limehouse, the original centre for Chinese residents in England, but little about the demonisation of the Chinese in the British imagination in the age of Fu Manchu and Broken Blossoms.

This is a Chinatown museum for the Chinese, specifically the Cantonese who flooded here from Hong Kong during the century and a half of British dominion. But it stops short of celebrating the Chinese in Britain in general – unlike say, the Museum of Arab Americans in Michigan, there is little attempt to engage visitors with the contribution made by Chinese people to British society. Nor does it delve too far into some of the more controversial contemporary issues, such as who actually owns Chinatown, and whether rising rates will make it possible for there to even be a Chinatown in central London within a few years.

A few interactive boxes, seemingly designed for school parties, dare the visitor to open them to find answers to common questions. Does Chinatown look like China? No, comes the informative reply, which explains the fact that most Chinatowns worldwide copy the chop-socky architecture of San Francisco’s 1907 post-earthquake reconstruction, infamously masterminded by two white men who had never been to China themselves.

In an inadvertent bit of post-modern micro-aggression, another box asks: “How do you say ‘hello’ in Chinatown?” I opened it, and it was ominously blank.

The gift shop downstairs is oddly under-stocked, carrying very little of interest that can’t be bought in half a dozen shops in the street outside. It did, however, sell me a lovely book about the Chinese Labor Corps, the “unknown” 140,000 men who were airbrushed from history, but played a vital role in the First World War. Long-term readers of this blog will already know that the Chinese Labor Corps is something of an obsession of mine, and the China Exchange is getting behind a drive to give them a monument of their own in East London – I bought a pin for £2, although that’s still a way away from the £400,000 they need. One hopes that in future, the Chinese presence in Britain will also be celebrated in a more wide-ranging and permanent form, of which this exhibition will turn out to be the first exploratory step.

Jonathan Clements is the author of A Brief History of China. The Making of Chinatown is running at the China Exchange, Gerrard Street, London, until 30th August.