A Conversation on Contemporary China

I had the pleasure of seeing two unconventional speakers give a lecture on China yesterday at the Berkeley Art Museum Theater. And I use the word unconventional, because they are white American men who have dedicated themselves to studying particular aspects of traditional Chinese life. They spoke at length about misconceptions on either topic; the lack of research in each respective feild; a bit about the books they wrote on the topics; and fostered a nice debate after their presentations. The first speaker, Michael Meyer, wrote a book entitled The Last Days of Old Beijing. During his discussion he detailed his life in one of Beijing's oldest hutongs (mazes of lanes and courtyards bordered by single-story houses) as a teacher and citizen. He showed photographs of his students, neighbors, and local families that he followed in the book and discussed how modern conveniences (and Walmart) were affecting the area; as China significantly reconstructs itself by demolishing the old houses and installing brand new suburbs and roads in their place. Next up in the series was David Spindler who, along with photographer Jonathan Ball, is documenting the Great Wall of China. He spent time dispelling myths about the Great Wall (such as the untrue "fact" that it can be seen from space); defining what actually makes a great wall (1000m, built for defense, and non-circular); and regaling us with stories from his 800+ days of hiking the local sections. In addition, he presented us with photographs from his book which showed modern-day photos taken at the exact time and day of ancient battles between the Mongols and the Chinese at various places along the wall. Aside from the fascinating wealth of information they provided, it was strange to hear that the subjects they were both researching didn't have a lot of true research done. But as China modernizes and grows it's good that people like Mr. Meyer and Mr. Spindler are out there in the field making a mark on history! --- For more about Micheal Meyer, visit his website (and especially watch the video). For more about David Spindler, read this blog by a fellow American living in China. And if you are going to be in the Bay Area sometime in the near future, you would be well to visit the U.C. Berkeley Art Museum's exhibit entitled Mahjong: Contemporary Chinese Art, which runs through January 4, 2009.

About the Author

kc! Bradshaw is the Creative Director for LEGENDmag, a founder of CircleSavvy and works as a freelance graphic designer for Exkclamation. In his spare time, he enjoys the finer textures of life; rides his classic motorcycle; and absolutely loves music. Stalk him on Twitter.