Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Stuck In Macau For One Night

Senado Square

On Friday I decided to go to Macau, a city which in my opinion - as I wrote in the past - is one of Asia's most charming travel destinations. I was planning on staying there for just one day, taking a walk in the afternoon and later meeting an old friend of mine, before returning to Hong Kong at around 11 p.m.

The original idea was to take a ferry in the morning, but because I slept miserably the previous night I ended up leaving home at 3 p.m. The weather was hot and humid, the sky grey. Around one hour later I arrived at the Hong Kong China Ferry Terminal in Tsim Sha Tsui. After buying a ticket and going through the immigration control, I joined the unavoidable long queue largely consisting of mainland Chinese tourists: young and old, fancy and sporty, all invariably holding shopping bags with names of fashion or food brands written on them. 

Riding a ferry from Hong Kong to Macau may seem like an enjoyable and relaxing experience - to those who have never taken one. The reality is quite different. Ferry pilots in Hong Kong either love speed or they are always in a hurry, which is alright as long as the sea is calm, but when it is rough, the unaware passengers suddenly find themselves trapped on a boat which, rocked by the powerful waves, restlessly pitches and yaws.

Thursday, 26 May 2016

Launching A New Website - china-journal.org

In this post I would like to introduce my new website: china-journal.org, in which I will be writing about Chinese culture, history and society. 

I had been thinking for quite some time about starting a new website, since I was very unhappy with how this blog has developed over the years. At the beginning "My New Life In Asia" was supposed to be a platform where I could write about my personal experiences and thoughts - which is what blogs have been invented for. Instead, I started to write about Confucianism, politics, culture etc. In the end I totally abandoned my original purpose. 

This created two problems: first, many posts I published on this site are out of place; second, I have no space for a "public diary" as I had envisioned it. The only way to solve this issue was to separate blogging from more "serious" writing by creating an entirely new website. Let me now briefly explain the concept and structure of china-journal.org.

First of all, I decided to reject the logic behind most websites we see on the internet nowadays, which is to attract as many viewers as possible in order to monetize traffic. Of course, this is probably the only viable business model in the internet age, but to be honest, this tends to generate a lot of superficial content whose main purpose is to stir emotions, prompt engagement, and ultimately lead to precious clicks. As a result, whenever I visit my Facebook profile and other social media I am bombarded with videos of cute animals, with articles about uncivilised Chinese tourists or about collapsing roads. One either has to accept the mainstream trends and write similar stuff, or one simply has to reject them, forget about statistics and traffic, and focus on what matters: on trying to share knowledge and to create a community of people who want to think, learn and debate (whether this is possible on the internet, I do not know). 

Sunday, 15 May 2016

Law In Imperial China – Confucianism And Legalism

Killing_the_Scholars,_Burning_the_Books
Killing the scholars and burning the books (anonymous 18th century Chinese painting depicting the alleged burning of books and killing of scholars under China’s first emperor Qin Shihuang; source:Wikipedia
The legal system of imperial China developed from two schools of thought: Confucianism and Legalism. Although both of them exerted a deep influence on China’s state-building as well as on its moral and legal traditions, at the beginning these two philosophies were bitterly opposed to each other, as they were based on entirely different principles (see: Xin Ren: Tradition of the Law and Law of the Tradition: Law, State, and Social Control in China, 1997, p. 19).
Confucianism (儒家) originated from the teachings of Confucius (551 – 479 BC), a Chinese scholar, politician and philosopher who lived in the Spring and Autumn period. The main body of the Confucian canon comprises the Four Books and the Five Classics (四書五經), texts which have been traditionally attributed to Confucius himself, although their authorship is not ascertained beyond doubt.
Confucius’ philosophy revolved around two concepts: the nobleman and the establishment of a well-ordered society. The nobleman (君子, pinyin:  jūn zǐ  , also translated as “gentleman” and “superior man”) is a term that in ancient China referred to the son of a feudal lord. Confucius, however, gave this word a new meaning. For him, a nobleman was such by merit and not by birth. The nobleman is a righteous individual, an example of filial piety, humane behaviour, virtue and propriety (Ren 1997, pp. 19-20;  Lee Dian Rainey:Confucius & Confucianism: The Essentials, 2010, p. 42). Ideally, a well-ordered society is constituted of noblemen who put righteousness and propriety before selfishness and pettiness.
In the philosophy developed by Confucius and his followers, the law played a secondary role in shaping human behaviour. Instead of the legal system, early Confucian scholars emphasized the concepts of morality and ritualism. The term “ritual propriety” (禮, pinyin: lǐ), describes the “proper” social relationships and the set of rituals which regulate them. The fundamental social relationships are those between the emperor and his ministers, between father and son, between husband and wife, between brothers and between friends. Li “governs relationships between the ruling and the ruled, the senior and the junior, man and woman, and the blood-related and the acquainted” (Ren 1997, p. 20). Confucius placed great importance on language. He believed that for a society to function harmoniously all social relationships had to be named properly. This means that society needs social ranks and rituals so that each individual will constantly be made aware through language and rites which position he occupies in the social fabric and which behaviour is proper in dealing with others.
Confucian scholars believed that human beings were inherently good and nature endowed them with four fundamental virtues: humanity (仁), righteousness (義), propriety (禮) and wisdom (知). According to Confucian thought, men’s wrongdoing and bad behaviour are the consequence of negative environmental influences and lack of proper education. Wrongdoers could be taught to feel ashamed of their improper actions through education and moral persuasion. If men were brought up in a system in which social roles and ranks were clearly defined through language and rites, they would naturally internalize proper social relationships and society would function harmoniously. From this viewpoint, human beings do not exist as free individuals, but they are only small parts of a complex network of social relations in which everyone must fulfill their duties as subjects of the emperor, as fathers and mothers, as husbands and wives etc.  (see Ren 1997, pp. 20-21). Confucians believed that if men acted according to ritual propriety and if the sovereign possessed all four fundamental virtues, then society would be prosperous and harmonious.
Contrary to Confucian belief in human beings’ inherent goodness, the Legalists assumed that men were by nature evil and that consequently they would commit crimes if state authority did not discipline them. Since human beings are selfish and greedy, the only way a state can function is by issuing laws and by severely punishing those who violate them. According to the Legalists, men are by nature unequal, since they differ in wealth, strength and status. However, the law should apply equally to all, so as to punish the guilty and reward the innocent (Ren 1997, p. 20). In the Book of Lord Shang, a classic of Legalist thought from the 3rd century BC, one reads:

Tuesday, 3 May 2016

China’s Legal System – Communist or Feudal?

723px-supreme_people27s_court_of_p-r-china27s_badge-svg
Emblem of the People's Court of the People's Republic of China (source: Wikipedia)


On October 13, 2014, Yu Wensheng, a lawyer from Beijing, was arrested and detained by the police for 99 days . He was interrogated approximately 200 hundred times by 10 officers who worked in shifts night and day. Yu's wrists were fastened behind his back with handcuffs. "My hands were swollen and I felt so much pain that I didn’t want to live", he told Amnesty International. "The police officers repeatedly yanked the handcuffs and I would scream". Two days before his arrest, Yu had submitted a request to Beijing Fengtai Detention Centre for meeting one of his clients. The authorities had rejected Yu's request without reason. As an act of protest, he stayed in front of the detention centre and later published a post online describing the incident. At around midnight the police forced him to leave, and on October 13 the Beijing Daxing District Public Security Bureau arrested him on charges of "disorderly behaviour" (寻衅滋事罪). Yu was denied access to his lawyers and his family. According to Albert Ho, chairperson of the China Human Rights Lawyers Concern Group, in the People's Republic of China (PRC) "it is not uncommon for a lawyer to be made captive as a result of conducting his legal duties". Cases of lawyers arrested without due procedures and tortured by state organs are numerous. It is estimated that since last year approximately 250 human rights lawyers have been detained or mysteriously went missing.


On 17 October 2015, 51-year-old Gui Minhai disappeared from his home in Pattaya, Thailand. Gui was a shareholder of Hong Kong-based publishing house 'Mighty Current', which published salacious gossip books about high-rank officials of the Chinese Communist Party (CCP). Gui was born in China's Zhejiang Province and studied history at Beijing University. In 1988 he moved to Sweden and earned a PhD at Gothenburg University. After the Communist Party put down the Tiananmen student protests in 1989, Gui remained in Sweden and became a naturalised citizen. As the political climate relaxed in the 1990s, he returned to China and worked there for a few years, before entering the publishing business in 2012. A camera in his Thai condo showed him on October 17 as he came back home carrying groceries. Shortly afterwards, he drove away together a man who had been waiting for him in the garage.


Sunday, 10 April 2016

Visiting Missing Hong Kong Booksellers' Causeway Bay Bookstore

Yesterday I was walking with a friend in Causeway Bay, when she suddenly pointed at one of the countless colourful billboards that decorate the shopping district's building facades and said, "That's the bookstore of the missing booksellers!".

The bookstore is called "Causeway Bay Books" (銅鑼灣書店) and it's located on the second floor of a building on Lockhart Road. I and my friend went upstairs and, of course, the bookstore was closed. Next to the entrance door there were messages written on the wall by sympathetic citizens.

Tuesday, 15 March 2016

The Strange North Point Musician - A Hong Kong Story

If you are in Hong Kong and live in North Point, chances are you have seen that guy. Middle-aged, tall, scrawny, he has a long, wrinkly face, a long nose, blue eyes. Once he shook hands with me, and I felt the power of his sinewy arms.

He is from the United Kingdom and, as far as I know, he has been living in Hong Kong for a few years. You might have seen him because every day he stands at the corner of a sidewalk - usually near North Point MTR Station - and he plays guitar. That is how he earns a living. If you ever heard him play, you know he plays badly, and his singing talents are even worse than his music. And yet he manages to support himself. At least he earns enough to stay at a serviced apartment in Fortress Hill. At night, after "getting off work", he goes to McDonald's next to North Point Station and drinks there a coffee, which he regularly pays using a bunch of the coins passers-by gave him. While he counts each coin, he talks to the staff who, embarrassed, seldom reply.  

One day he talked to me. At first he seemed nice. But I soon changed my mind. He tried to convince me that the sovereignty over Australia, Canada and other former dominions belongs to the UK. I told him my opinion, but he kept interrupting me, and it seemed he would never ever stop talking. He became aggressive, did not give me a chance to say anything, and in the end he behaved like a master who is scolding his disciple - a role I do not like to play. "I'm going to have lunch now", I said politely and left. Since that morning, whenever we bump into each other I pretend not to see him.

Yet the sovereignty issue over Britain's former dominions is not his main topic of conversation. Usually, he talks about something else: his faith. For he purports to be a Christian, a man who once had a revelation and now has a special mission. He tries to convince people to accept his particular version of the Christian faith. 

Once I saw him with a guy. The room was full. He got up and said that he could not talk about his story in public, that what he wanted to discuss was a very important matter, and he urged his companion to go to a quiet cafe, where he probably held another of his never-ending monologues.

Tonight he gave another brilliant performance. A Hong Kong girl was sitting next to me. She wore a jeans mini-skirt and a black leather jacket. She was good-looking. The man walked in and looked around. I pretended not to notice him. All of a sudden, he walked over to the girl and chatted her up. He talked about his faith, his job as a musician, his life. Every now and then he told the girl how pretty she was. She seemed diffident, but she talked. Perhaps she did feel lonely, since she was alone in the middle of the night. Or maybe she only wanted to be polite. 



His mouth was full of honey: "It is a pleasure to chat with a pretty girl like you, even if just for five minutes", he said, "What's a pretty girl like you doing all alone so late?".  After a while, he cautiously broached the subject of faith. "In your heart you need something more", he said, "If I get to know you, I will stop you drinking and smoking", "We can become friends, and then I'll help you if I can". 

As he spoke, the girl became increasingly distressed and impatient. Not knowing, perhaps, if he was hitting on her, or if he had something else in mind. "Whenever you see me", he said, " you can come and talk to me, and I can help you. I will buy you a coffee, and you can talk to me". 

As soon as he uttered these words, the girl got up, bowed to him and, after saying a polite "thank you", hastily threw her paper coffee cup into the trash can and left. "Goodbye", she said somewhat coldly, "Nice to meet you". "Goodbye, darling", he replied, and blew her a kiss.    

He was now alone. He got up and went to sit at another table. But he was still full of energy and determination. He talked to a guy who sitting in front of him. The conversation soon turned into yet another monologue, a monologue of the man who wants to save people's souls, but who does not know how to listen to them, how to forget himself, but constantly seeks to impose on others his faith and beliefs, longing for their submission. He apparently tries it with anyone. The feeble-minded, those without self-confidence, might in the end be dragged into his world. Who knows what is the fate of those he has enlightened?



Friday, 11 March 2016

Hot Sale in Hong Kong - A Lucky Charm That Promises Wealth





This little figurine of a smiling man holding a gold ingot is a hot sale in Hong Kong at the moment. And judging by the number of luxury cars on the city's street, it is not that surprising. Perhaps it really works, so I am thinking about buying one. Getting wealthy for just 30 dollars (around 3 euros) is a pretty good deal. 

The name of the figurine is 元寶財神公仔 (pinyin: Yuánbǎo cáishén gōngzǐ), which literally means: Doll of the Gold Ingot God of Wealth. 

Shoe-shaped silver or gold ingots (元寶) were used as money in ancient China and they have thus become traditional symbols of wealth in Chinese culture. According to Vivien Sung, the yuanbao first appeared in the Han Dynasty (206 BC - 220 AD). In the Yuan Dynasty (1279-1368) they became an actual standard currency. Because the Chinese dumplings resemble the shape of gold ingots, they are also associated with wealth and are an auspicious dish to eat on New Year's Eve in various part of China (see Vivien Sung: Five-Fold Happiness: Chinese Concepts of Luck, Prosperity, Longevity, Happiness, and Wealth, 2002, pp. 232-233). 

Some people believe that China has become "materialistic" after Deng Xiaoping's opening up in the 1970s. But I think this is far from the truth. The Chinese-speaking world is full of traditional symbols of wealth that show exactly how much people have always cared about money in China.

Traditional symbols of prosperity include the deer, the peony, the monkey, the rooster, the crab, the sticky rice cake, tangerine, the lettuce and the beckoning cat, the number 8, and dozens of others. 

One of the most popular symbols is the goldfish (金魚), because the pronunciation of these two characters sounds like 金餘, which means "abundance of gold". That's why the image of a child holding a large fish and a lotus flower can often be seen on Chinese New Year. The fish stands for wealth, while the lotus flower stands for harmony. Another popular image is a fish wrapped in a lotus leaf. If you send a postcard with this image to a friend before New Year, it means you are wishing him or her "abundance of money in their wallet" (ibid., p. 244).

If you go to a Daoist or Buddhist temple, you may also see the famous "money frog", a three-legged frog sitting on a pile of Chinese money and often depicted with a coin in its mouth. 

Wednesday, 9 March 2016

An Evening Walk in Hong Kong - From Sheung Wan to Fortress Hill

Hong Kong is a quintessentially futuristic city. For people like me, who love modern metropolises, simply strolling around among shiny skyscrapers, neon lights and billboards is an amazing experience. 

Yesterday I had dinner at a vegetarian cafe' called Ovo Cafe'. It is located in the business district of Sheung Wan. I ordered an all-day breakfast set and a mango smoothie, very tasty (although quite expensive). 



After my meeting, which ended at around 10 p.m., I decided to walk back to Fortress Hill. As you can see from the map below, this is a 5 km walk, lasting around 1 hour and 15 minutes.

While I was walking I took a lot of pictures, and I want to share them now with all the people who are interested in Hong Kong.

Saturday, 13 February 2016

Goodbye To Taipei's Legendary Dunnan Eslite Bookstore?

(Image courtesy of Solomon 203)
Sad news for all of Taipei's book lovers: the legendary Dunnan Eslite Bookstore (誠品敦南店), chosen by CNN as one of "the world's coolest bookstores", might soon be gone.

According to Housefun News, Dunnan Financial Building, where the bookstore occupies five floors, will be demolished and replaced by a 26-storey high skyscraper with 7 underground floors, which will house a 5-star hotel (By the way, I am wondering if there was no other location available for a new hotel; with all the ugly nondescript buildings in the neighbourhood ...).

The news was also mentioned on Taiwanese websites such as Apple Daily and EToday. However, Eslite Spectrum Corporation, owner of the bookstore, denied it would shut down its Dunnan branch, but it added that the lease for the bookstore expires in 2020. It's not so clear what is going to happen, but let's hope that this historic bookstore will not be closed.