Xinran Blog

Archive for the ‘China Witness’ Category

I arrived in Hong Kong last night after my book tour in crowded New Zealand and busy Australia (19 interviews, 9 talks in 5 cities…and IN 7 DAYS…!!!)…

My body has been ‘’seasoned” by the cold winter in New Zealand, and by Australia’s beautiful spring and Hong Kong’s hot summer, and our minds have been educated and moved by the people’s love of China Witness.

Touring still touches me so deeply –  when I walked dead tired into my Hong Kong hotel I was reinvigorated by a copy of TIME OUT lying on the bedside table with many other magazines, inside it was a review of ‘China Witness’ by Edmund Lee.

I was so moved, not only by the thoughtful timing, but also by the understanding of the review which talks of my passion for the real China and my feelings for those Chinese Witnesses who have told me their hidden lives.

I am still on my book tour for China Witness in wintery Australia

My schedule is very busy – 19 interviews for radio, TV, newspaper and magazines and 9 talks at book stores, city hall’s and libraries in 5 cities across Australia. I arrived in Melbourne two days ago.

Do I still enjoy it? So far so good, I have always got energy from Australia, in the same way, I can see many Australians get energy from China and the Chinese. More Westerners speak Chinese here, not only because many Chinese live here, but also because most Australians are open minded people! As an example, how many world leaders can speak Chinese, the second largest language in the world? The Australian Prime Minster can!

I always say that any foreigner who can speak and read Chinese must be a genius. There are about 80,000 Chinese characters in total and at least 3773 are used daily. The Chinese study these characters from the age of 3, if they are born into families that can afford to educate their children.

The Chinese barely had a proper spoken language before the 20th century. Before then, well-educated people spoke ‘written Chinese’, and uneducated people spoke in very short sentences, or just used verbs. In many underdeveloped agricultural areas, instead of speaking long sentences with adjectives and adverbs, they used to communicate through song.

China has a pronunciation system called ‘Pinyin’ based on the same alphabet as English, and with four tones. It was set up by a group of Chinese scholars after they returned to China from Europe in the 1900s, and it was completed in 1950s by Mao Zedong’s communist government. I must say the Pinyin system has really opened up the possibility for communication between the Chinese and Westerners especially since computers have come to dominate our world!

Chinese computers have the same keyboard as Western ones, with 26 letters and numbers. Each year more and more kinds of Chinese typing software come out, appearing as fast as the new buildings in China’s big cities. For Western learners, I would say Pinyin typing is the easiest way to write characters.

For example: if you type in MA many characters appear on your computer screen – all pronounced as MA and these are ordered into different groups according to their tone. MA–, mother, question word,…; MA /, linen, a tingling feeling…; MA~, horse, shoe size,…; MA、,swear, argue… then you simply choose the right one for your word or sentence! Normally, once you have typed in a character the programme will suggest a number of connected characters for you to choose next.

Ok, I am sitting here at midnight writing this because I am too tired to sleep, but now I have to go back sleep as I have a very busy day tomorrow.

Nin hui shuo zhong-guo hua ma? (can you speak Chinese?)

Wo hui shuo zhong-guo hua. (I can speak Chinese.)


What a year 2008 is becoming for most Chinese!

I returned from China last week where all the conversation was about the Olympics and where I heard the Chinese talking so much about the lucky number 8.

The Chinese said that everything about the timing of the Olympics seemed great. 2008 is not only the first Year of the Dragon of the new century, but also the first year in the new century to have a number 8. (In China 8 has been a lucky number since the1980s and is associated with making money and building up power).

But this 2008 we are living in, seems to have changed Chinese beliefs even before 8th August when the Olympics opened.

On 24/2/08 (2+4+2 = 8), there was one of the largest snowstorms in recent history, and hundreds of thousands of migrant workers were stuck at city train stations far away from their families whom they hadn’t seen for more than 10 months…

On 23/3/08, (2+3+3=8) the Beijing Olympic torch relay began and so many anti-Chinese voices were heard.

On 12/05/08, (1+2+5=8) the Sichuan earthquake took over 80,000 lives, including over three thousand children who died in their school.

My Chinese friends were so worried about the Beijing Olympics because they began on 8/08/2008. In April they telephoned me to tell me that the Chinese government couldn’t comprehend the negative reactions to the Beijing Olympics, especially after the celebrations we had when China won it. ‘We made such a huge effort, the largest in a hundred years, but no-one in the West could see it!’ many Chinese complained. ‘I used to think our Chinese lucky number 8 had been damaged by the Western God’, one taxi driver said to me, ‘after 24th August, I could put my heart back where it belonged…we made it, the Beijing Olympics will go down in history…you know what, my relative who works in the police told me that there were very few crimes committed during the Games! 2008 is our lucky year, no matter how much we have been through!’

As with many Chinese we still see the world from our perspective. We think only the West has McDonalds and Starbucks, and nothing can beat our five thousand years’ worth of culture and our rising economic power. What about freedom and the democracy movement in the West? For most Chinese, these are too far out of reach – you have to live and travel in the West to really see it and for most Chinese that costs too much. Living in China the West is too difficult to understand, you have to talk to Westerners in their own language and it is so hard to try and visit. The Chinese stomach is not strong enough for fish and chips and fat sausages…

Most of us don’t like to read another country’s map in a different language and in a different form, even though we all know we have different maps for the same world!

Chinese ‘left’ could be ‘right’ in Europe.

Tomorrow I am going to visit the Beijing Book Fair. In fact, it takes place in Tianjing, a harbour city one hours drive from Beijing. I can’t wait to see the changes in Tianjing, I last visited 25 years ago and was impressed by the sea and the donkeys and the local food!

I hope I have time to tell you more about the sights of Tianjin before I go on my New Zealand and Australia book tour for my new book China Witness.

Ren-shi nin, hen gao-xin! (Nice to meet you!)

Hello, this is my first English blog. Honestly, I don’t understand this modern idea at all; write something on an unknown network? If anybody can read it, how do people know me and find out about me here? After driving on to this ‘information highway’, will I ever be able to get off? I have seen some people driven mad, spending a huge amount of time and energy writing and responding to their emails…

Am I brave enough to jump on to this open, or say, ‘naked’ platform made by this ‘human factory’?

Let’s try and let people make of it what they will, or as the Chinese say ‘Let’s be a fish that people can cut and cook to their own taste’. (I have talked about Chinese fish philosophy in my book ‘What the Chinese Don’t Eat’)

Anyhow, I am on a book tour to publicise my new book ‘China Witness’, the tour begins in Beijing in my homeland, China. I arrived here on 26th August, the day after the Olympics finished. After China I travel to New Zealand, Australia, and Hong Kong.

China Witness is based on 20 years research, and spans China from west to east between the Yellow River and the Yangtze. It is the personal testimony of a generation whose stories have not yet been told. Here the grandparents and great-grandparents of today sum up in their own words - for the first and perhaps the last time - the vast changes that have overtaken China’s people over a century. I believe that this book will help our future understand our past.

On arriving in this new ‘historical internationalized Beijing’ I have been feeling so relaxed and happy, just like a student who has passed an important exam.

Since April I have been holding my breath watching the Olympic torch travel around the world. Then on 24th August we Chinese showed the world that our passion for Chinese culture and history had made the Beijing Olympics!

Everything here is still about the Olympics, there are Olympic flags and signs everywhere. It seems that no-one wants to stop talking about the first global event in China – positive and negative comments can be heard everywhere.

Many Chinese I met in Beijing told me they were in tears when they saw the Chinese scroll opened at the opening ceremony. They thought, or at least they hoped, that China would be reborn in the world and recognised as a nation of culture. They hoped that the people wouldn’t live under political control anymore, and that the experience of the Beijing Olympics would help us to free ourselves from the civil war, revolution and endless political movements of the last 100 years!

Yes we Chinese have lost and suffered so much in the last 100 years, as I hope you will see and understand when you read my book ‘China Witness’.

Xie xie nin! (Thank you!)

See you next time