Confucius: A Biography (2nd edition)

‘Rich with history and studded with the sayings for which the sage is known. . . Clements uses his considerable story- telling skill to make “the troubled life of a teacher who lived two-and-a-half thousand years ago” come alive.’
– The Asian Reporter

‘Clements reveals the man behind the legend, as well as providing a useful introduction to Confucius’ thoughts and teachings.’
– The Good Book Guide

The teachings of Confucius have survived for twenty- five centuries and shaped over a quarter of the world’s population – his image appears not only in temples across East Asia, but also above the entrance to the US Supreme Court.

Confucius: A Biography reveals unexpected sides of the ancient philosopher – his youth, his interaction with his pupils, his feuds with his rivals and even his biting wit.

This revised edition includes three new chapters on the influence of Confucius in Chinese history, the modernist and post-modernist backlashes against Confucian thought, and its relevance in our world today.

Trolled by the Finns

It was only a matter of time before the Finnish embassy in Tokyo came up with a mascot character. And what did they choose? An Angry Bird? A heavy-metal corpse? An open-source penguin? No, they came up with Fintan, a somewhat simple seven-year-old boy, dressed in a lion costume, whose gormless presence somehow helped propel the embassy Twitter feed to 130,000 followers, making it the “tenth most followed diplomatic mission Twitter account.” You hear that? Better than eleventh. In your face, Burkina Faso! Fintan has been infesting the embassy social media for five years, but this year, as the Finnish republic celebrates its centennial, he branches out into animation.

“Our aim through these short anime is to increase the interest of the Japanese public towards Finland, and convey the message that Finns are innovative but also easy-going and easy-to-approach people, who don’t take themselves too seriously”, said Markus Kokko, Counsellor, Press and Culture of the Embassy of Finland in Tokyo.

In Kenji Itoso’s first short episode, Fintan goes to an air-guitar competition and a cellphone-throwing competition, before sitting in a sauna for a while. The “plot” for this and episodes yet to come were the result of an open competition by the embassy in Tokyo, so I guess we should be glad that the public didn’t demand it be called The Adventures of Finny McFinnface. Coming soon from the British embassy, perhaps: the wacky animated adventures of Brekshit the incontinent, immigrant-hating bulldog?

And yet, Finland already has a good showing in Japanese animation. Lucy Heartfilia from Fairy Tail, sometimes seen wearing a Finnish flag made out of boobs, could easily be an ambassador for the country. The Moomins already are, to such an extent that there’s always summer work for Japanese-speakers if they want to dress up as troll-things in the Moominland Theme Park. Meanwhile, in Hetalia, the character of Finland is depicted as being in an oddly creepy relationship with Sweden… also true to life.

Hopefully Fintan’s later adventures will be more adventurous. Things that the Japanese would lap up like crazy about Finland: liquorice-flavour vodka, tar-flavoured ice cream, 58 words for frozen precipitation, the Winter War, the world’s 16th highest rate of gun-ownership, the Northern Lights, Topless Thursdays, and the time a Japanese secret agent sent a bunch of drunken sailors with a ship full of guns and ammo to start a Finnish revolution and distract the Russians from the Far East. Now there’s an anime…

I’m sorry: I made Topless Thursdays up, but there’s still time, Finland.

Jonathan Clements is the author of An Armchair Traveller’s History of Finland. This article first appeared in NEO #163, 2017.

The Road to Beijing’s History

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In An Armchair Traveller’s History of Beijing British author and historian Jonathan Clements conveys a brief account of the history of Beijing from prehistory to our contemporary age – through its fluctuating fortunes under a dozen dynasties. From Mongolian chiefs and the glorious Ming emperors, whose tombs can still be found on Beijing’s outskirts, the book gives us the opportunity to experience Chinese history itself. The book also emphasises the city’s precarious heritage in the 21st century as modern construction wiped out vast chunks of the old city to pave way for residential areas for twenty million people.

Whether you are a Sinophile, or you simply want to find out more about this city that has been presented in Western media more for its soaring levels of pollution than its rich culture and complex history, come and join us at London’s Asia House on Tuesday, 18th July when Jonathan Clements will be sharing his insights about the past and present of Beijing through the pages of his book published by Haus Publishing.

Tickets on sale here.

Animation Plus

Animation Plus: Research on Transformation and Upgrading of China’s Animation Industry was published a year ago by the Social Science Academic Press, and has received a telling ZERO reviews on Amazon China. That, I would suggest, is palpably part of the problem – despite its immense leaps in recent years, people find it hard to get invested, emotionally or otherwise, in Chinese animation, including the Chinese themselves. Author Zhang Huiling has a background in both journalism and broadcast media, and has approached China’s underperforming industry armed with charts, facts and figures. But despite her diligent and extremely useful compilation of data, is anyone paying attention?

Her study is packed with admirably hard information, detailing the recent history of Chinese animation, as well as some intriguing elements of its statistical composition, including episode counts, genre percentages and studio locations. She deals with China largely as a sealed system, large enough to create winning franchises without recourse to foreign sales, although this is precisely why Chinese animation so rarely exports well.

To a certain extent, Zhang is both rediscovering the wheel and pretending she can’t see the cart. Much of her book is an extended argument about the crucial role of intellectual property – what the Japanese call contents – in forming a firm foundation for exploitation in multiple media, including animation. But in doing so, she runs right into the middle of a political minefield in which Chinese animation refuses to discuss the existence of Japanese competitors. Japanese animation, as noted on this blog on multiple occasions is not only a vital patron of the Chinese arts, but also a rival worth watching. Zhang acknowledges this with a final chapter devoted to the successes of Toei Animation in Tokyo, but one can’t help but wonder if the timidity with which she raises this topic undermines her own argument. It’s not her fault if “Japan” is a dirty word in modern Chinese academic discourse, but an understanding of Japan’s success is vital for seeing both where the Chinese animation industry may have gone wrong, and indeed where it has the potential to do right.

An intriguing section of her book breaks down animation around the world, suggesting that certain territories have fundamentally different production and finance trees for their cartoon production. I’m not sure I agree with her flowcharts all the time – the Japanese one, for example, contains a solecism that has not been true for fifty years – but it is fascinating to see how Zhang the external observer explains the functions of the “American”, the “British”, the “Canadian” or, say, the “German” system. Zhang delivers in spades her subtitle’s promise of “research on transformation” of China’s animation industry, but I am not persuaded that her conclusions say anything that hasn’t been said before regarding its “upgrade”. As suggested by Rolf Giesen, among many others, the fundamental issue facing Chinese animation is not something that can be solved with financial voodoo or marketing magic. It requires an overhaul at the very foundations, arguably nothing to do with Chinese animation at all, but lodged more squarely in the creation of the intellectual property itself. For as long as the Chinese animation industry is dominated by bean-counters, managers, and political meddling in content, it will never create the kind of intellectual property to support the sort of world-beating franchise that Zhang demands. Her book, however, is a treasure trove of useful information that other researchers will be sure to draw upon.

Jonathan Clements is the author of Anime: A History.

Route Awakening 3

Season three of Route Awakening is now airing in China, with some thirty or so other countries fast behind it. You can see the trailer here for glimpses of me getting attacked by Kam tribesmen in fancy dress in a muddy pond, witnessing the shamanic rituals of the Gorlos Mongols, and sundry other explorations among China’s ethnic minority groups. The picture above is my favourite from the shoot, taken by Mack Zhang, our fixer, of me and Daniel the director of photography, interviewing the village “Ghost Master” in Tang-an, Guizhou.