Saturday, January 26, 2008

Nothing New

“The things which have been are the things which shall be, there is nothing new under the Sun.” The old adage that history repeats itself has held true for every generation. But, there is also the old adage about not stepping in the same river twice. Will there be another Cultural Revolution in China—probably not. Will there be something else like the Cultural Revolution—most likely.
Many years ago I read a book about the Cultural Revolution by Bette Bao Lord called "Legacies." She had been born in China then returned there with her husband Winston Lord when he was ambassador to China. She shared many stories of different people and how the Cultural Revolution affected their life. Even with the passing of time one story has stuck with me and still haunts me. She told of a man who had been a student during the Cultural Revolution. He told her of a professor whom he dearly loved. The professor was denounced by the students of the university. They dragged him to the stadium and proceeded to beat him to death. This student told Mrs. Lord that he still doesn’t know what happened to him that day. He got swept up in the fervor and found himself kicking this professor who he loved so dearly. I have never forgotten this story because I have seen it repeated so many times since. Perhaps, not in such a violent manner, but how often do we get swept up in the gossip or backbiting of the moment and find ourselves delivering that last kick to someone we love dearly. Perhaps it is the dark side of each of our personalities. During the Cultural Revolution the dark side of a whole country emerged. It would be arrogant to say that at some future time this couldn’t happen again, here or there.

Yet, times are different and China is not isolated from the world in the way it once was. New technology has given us much great checks and balances. It is harder to control the thoughts and ideas of such a vast amount of people unless you are the only thought they have. Hopefully the flow of information of knowledge will be the safety valve that never allows this history to repeat itself.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

I Feel Pretty!

While we study history and economics and discuss the trade deficit with China I thought I would take a moment to ponder something truly important—eye shadow. According to Chinese sourcing news the beauty industry is growing in China.

“Using cosmetics in China is relatively new; historically women did not wear makeup and so there is very little education on how to use it," said Wang. "Now with more Western influences, women are showing a greater interest in learning how to wear makeup, and there are even TV shows in China that teach women how to apply makeup. More and more department store counters have enlisted sales people to help women use and try makeup, and it's been well-received. We believe there is a lot of growth in this emerging market in China."

I am not sure it is true that historically women did not wear make up or if it was lost during the Cultural Revolution and it is now making a comeback. In the book Wild Swans Jung Chang talks about watching the changes her mother had to make. The year was 1964 “ Out went my mother’s fluffy bobs; in came short, straight hair. Her blouses and jackets were no longer colorful or figure hugging. They were made of plain quiet colors and looked like tubes. My grandmother, now in her fifties, kept more signs of her femininity than my mother. Although her jacket-still in the traditional style-all became the same color of pale gray, she took particular care of her long, thick black hair. She always kept her hair tied up in a neat bun at the back of her head, but she always had flowers there. She could get away with it because she lived in the compound.”

Fashion and femininity were one of the first casualties of the Communist party both in China and the Soviet Union. Fortunately it looks like the wall has fallen and missionary work is resuming but this time it will come from Mary Kay and Bobbi Brown.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Oh Rats!

After a long day of sitting around in my pajamas reading, writing and trying to absorb 400 years of Chinese history it seemed only fitting that I should order out for Chinese food. (Really, after sitting around in my pajamas all day my children were giving me that look that says, "Are you ever going to feed us again?") When the little cardboard boxes of fried rice and egg rolls arrived they also contained a placemat with my Chinese horoscope. To my surprise I found out I was born in the year of the Rat. I also found out I am charming, passionate, charismatic, ambitious, highly organized, intelligent and cunning. What a wonderful thing to learn about yourself while you are eating dinner out of a cardboard box in your pajamas. And with one more assignment to finish before I can go to bed that placemat also gave me a name for my blog. So welcome to "The Year of the Rat!"