The Eighth Month-- it was without a doubt overwhelmingly taken up with China and its "coming out party." An Internet acquaintance, a Noh actor and teacher, who was in Nagasaki around the anniversary of the dropping of the atomic bomb, remarked that,
The entire world seems to be swept up with talk of the Olympics. Swimmer Kitajima retained his title during the breaststroke competition and Olympic news took up an overwhelmingly great part of today's newspaper. I wondered, what about Nagasaki? Checking, I found a short article on page 3 of the Sankei. As we enter an age where those who actually experienced the atomic bombing are growing fewer and people no longer know of war, have we perhaps forgotten what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki?
I am spending the summer in Los Angeles, but I imagine, like in all the Augusts of years past, things in japan have been relatively quiet concerning the anniversaries of the bombings. Probably Grave of the Fireflies (火垂るの墓) was shown on TV like it often is around this time of year, and there may have been a short mention on the TV news both evenings. I heard that this year PM Fukuda decided not to visit the shrine, so things may have been even quieter than usual...
Below, are some of the Hiroshima highlights (albeit the slim pickings) we saw across the blogosphere. My personal favorite was Eric Rauchway's Post One Bomb, in which he discusses Truman's statement to the American people after the first bomb was dropped on Hiroshima. I recalled that last year this idea of One Bomb was also the focus of discussion in a different way. If we put Hiroshima aside for a moment and focus on the second one: Even if we were to accept that Hiroshima was necessary, what about Nagasaki? Was the second bombing bombing in any way justifiable?
Yes, two bombs.
Also, KML (No, that's not a city in Malaysia) sent me this Japanese Post, which is well worth reading. About the HBO film, White Light, Black Rain (see this article), which addresses-- vis-a-vis the film-- not only the Japanese as victims, but Japan's role as aggressor as well. (The film came out last year and was shown in theaters in Japan I believe last summer as well as this summer).
Finally, Jonathan Dresner's Post on the teaching the subject is also of interest as, indeed, I think it echoes frustrations felt by students of history as well as teachers of history.
As I said, though, it's been quiet.
The big news, of course, has been the Olympics. There is such an overwhelming amount of information that--- I present Peony's Unabashedly Opinionated List of Olympic Highlights. Enjoy!
For me, it was undoubtedly Jonathan Spence's 4th and final Reith Lecture that kicked off the season. (The transcript is here) In what was a 4-part series of lectures on China, I think many of you will agree that this last lecture stood out in what was otherwise a sleep fest. From ethical ("something elevating personal character") to national (something "in the name of nationalism") Spence's lecture did a great job of tracing the transition of sports in China. It was of particular interest to me as I am working on a translation of a philosophy paper in Japanese on a similar theme about the contemporary transition of sports in the West (from ethics to aesthetics: see this if you are interested in this kind of thing).
Xu Guoqi, who I hear has written a book about China and sports, wrote an article for China Beat explaining Spence's last lecture here. In addition to outlining the lecture's highlights, he also discussed some of the problems with the series as a whole (and indeed, it could have been so much more...) Also, of interest, was his Post on Ping Pong Diplomacy Revisited.
Moving on to the Opening Ceremony...First, without a doubt, I think Granite Studio's Jeremiah had the best hands-down "coverage" of the ceremony in Real Time-- see his Live Blogging of the opening Ceremony.
For an anthropological view of the opening ceremony: see this Post (also at China Beat) by Haiyan Lee. While I didn't really agree with the author's premise regarding the use of "ritual," I still thought this was an outstanding piece of writing and highly recommend it. As he says,
So is not the motto for the Beijing Olympics, “One world, one dream,” a tad naive? It’s a beautiful ideal, but it ill prepares one for the inconvenient fact of human plurality and the inevitable clashes of desires and interests. Might not “Many dreams, a single planet” better serve China as well as the rest of the world?
Moving on, China Beat had a series of interesting Posts about the Olympics in the media of various countries around the world. Here is the view from Israel, and these from Vancouver, New Zealand, and this one from Japan. All the views from around the world were really thought-provoking, and this one from Japan ended with the following words:
As one Japanese media observer said to me, it is doubtful if such negative coverage would be happening if the games were in Europe.
These words, I think were really prophetic as to what was to come.
Yes, the media.
I have a friend who is recently returned to the US after almost two decades in Sweden. Talking about the media, she remarked that, "One can read an entire US newspaper and still not have any idea of what is going on in the world." She lamented that she is now forced to try and get all her news from various sources online. For me, no where was this more clear than in this month's US Olympic coverage. Is it just me, or would you call it low on reporting and high on spin? What is this need to put a gloss on everything? It wouldn't be so bad if the themes were not repeated to the point that people start regurgitating them as fact.
Talk about a Propaganda Department
Some of the cliches-- like the Nazi Games' comparisons-- were being trotted out in Spring before anyone had seen anything yet... See, this.
I think there were two main refrains-- or non-stories.
The first was the "lip syncing CGI-enhanced children" Never mind that this was not the first time lip-synching appeared in an Olympic Opening Ceremony (Pavarotti in Turin, for example); and never mind that China was putting on an international event that was being "staged" for the media; still, this song was sung so many times across the Internet as to become truly nauseating. How is the "enhancements" we saw in Beijing any different from everything coming out of Hollywood?
And the second was the way too-repeated comparison to the 1936 Games staged by Nazi Germany. This was repeatedly stated-- but never argued-- in much the same way as Bush's "Axis of Evil" speech. Would the US media have dared to "go there" without backing up its claims if they were talking about France or Austria for example? Or Russia?
Zhang Yimou and Lenifenstal? Even the New Yorker repeated the references with no real explanation. I found it discouraging to say the least. And, no, I will not link to the sites. (But, I will give you Mary Beard here and here)
The US media coverage, indeed, made me really appreciate China Beat. And, my favorite contributor to China Beat, Jeff Wesserstrom had these 5 Gold Medals to give out for media sources that dared to move beyond the cliches.
And Michael. How could I ever forget Michael. See The Opposite End of China for the same issues where he highlights what is perhaps really at stake: the treatment of the ethnic minority groups (See his Posts here and here, for example).
However, having said that, I did want to recommend this from the China Digital Times: Zhang Yimou and State Aesthetics. Three Posts from the Chinese blogosphere are translated into English on the art and vision of Zhang Yimou.
Zhang's vision as the national aesthetic? It is true that watching the opening ceremony, the synchronized movements of thousands of performers was absolutely awe-inspiring. For a country with a collectivist focus, which also happens to have the world's largest population, it seemed fitting. And, yes, it did recall performances out of North Korea as well, as Zhu Drake explains (in #2):
Zhang Yimou is a master at directing totalitarian group calisthenics. The visual impact of his art is built on it. Images of uniform soldiers, forests of arms and flags, and huge waves of dust are all used by him to show off the great power of an empire and the strength of unified will. The aesthetics of mass games is a form of fascist aesthetics, which existed during the Nazi movement. The unity it advocates seems lovely: all people are subject to a supreme will and they break into deafening cheers for it.
Are the utilization of 2008 drummers, for example, representative of fascist aesthetics? I am open to the idea-- but hardly persuaded. Especially considering the fact that in Asian dance in particular, the synchronized movement of many dancers is considered to be aesthetically pleasing-- in a way perhaps greater than in the Western dance traditions-- where there is usually a prima ballerina dancing in front of the corps.
I guess Im not the only one to be getting annoyed either as this is just off the presses from Jeff Wasserstrom.
Finally, I present another favorite from this year's Olympics-- The Olympics’ “civilizing” legacy: St Louis to Beijing. The article by Chinese sports historian Susan Brownell, first appeared on Chinabeat in May. Here is an interview with the author from the Seattle Times (note the comments as well which took issue-- as many might-- with her last paragraph).
And, last but not least, are Jim Gourley's photographs of Beijing's CCTV Building (one of his photographs is at top). One of the big stories coming out of these Olympic games has been the tremendous "Olympic-fueled" boom in new Beijing architecture. If you haven't taken a look at Jim's photographs yet, they are recommended viewing! And he also kindly sent along this from the LA Times' architecture critic: Christopher Hawthorne in China. Also recommended is China Beat's Eric Setzekorn, who did a 2 part series on Beijing architecture here and here.
Update: Of special interest to translators perhaps, but Chronicon Mundi posted this piece (which has been picked up here and there already around the blogosphere) on Olympic-style translating! Here for those who may have missed it.
Thanks to everyone who sent in suggestions-- and thanks to all for reading. Stay tuned for Part 2 soming up next month:
September 21 (大吉） Part 2: Notable Posts for Early Autumn
If you have any suggestions for interesting Posts, please leave a comment here (The comments will not be published, and therefore only I will see what anyone comments-- so feel free to suggest your own stuff!) The librarian says he is still hoping for Korea & Japan-related Posts!