Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Despite Lower Body Weight, Asian Americans are at High Risk for Diabetes

Even with a lower body weight, Asian Americans faced a higher risk of diabetes than Caucasians, which were caused by both genetic and environmental influences, said the Asian American Diabetes Initiative in Boston.

Revealed by a study from American Diabetes Association, Asian Americans remained 30 to 50 percent more likely to have diabetes than their white counterparts, based on the U.S. National Health Interview Survey from 1997 to 2008.


Common myths and misconceptions about diabetes in the Asian American community

“For the same weight, Asian Americans tend to have more insulin resistance. Insulin resistance is the way that people develop type 2 diabetes,” said Greeshma K Shetty, associate director of the Asian Clinic in AADI.

Type 2 diabetes is the most common form of diabetes, according to the American Diabetes Association. With type 2 diabetes, either the body cannot produce enough insulin or the cells ignore the insulin. However, insulin is necessary for human body to regulate the blood sugar level.

The higher risk of diabetes in the Asian American community also came from the diet habit. Asian tend to eat more rice, especially white rice, than the rest of the population. “There is a difference between you eat white rice from brown rice, or white rice from whole-grain, whole-wheat bread,” said Shetty, “The more fiber it contains, and that makes it less likely to make your blood sugar level high.” Comparing to the rest, white rice containing less fiber raised the risk of diabetes.


Diabetes is not just a trend among Asians or Asian Americans, but an issue for the global community

“We try to make sure they decrease fat or change from white rice to brown rice. Simple changes like that to make a big different,” said Shetty. Besides diet, she also emphasized the importance of regular exercise and losing weight, even before the start of medication.

Among all the Asian American subgroups, shown by a lot of researches, Asian Indians had the highest odds of prevalent type 2 diabetes. A study led by the New York University showed that, in the New York City, using the Asian BMI standards, 74 percent of Asian Indians were overweight or obese. Meanwhile, in the general Asian groups which consists of Chinese, Koreans, and Asian Indians, 41 percent were overweight and 13 percent obese.

In 2000, Joslin Research Director George L. King and his colleagues in Joslin Diabetes Center established the AADI. 14 years later, beyond the patient clinic, they have also been doing research and education for patients in other clinical care givers. They gave community outreach at local culture events or other language tools.

“So our effort are that we are beyond just physical clinic, we actually try to make connection with our community,” said Shetty.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Interpreting the World Bank’s Latest “East Asia and Pacific Economic Update”

The economic development in the East Asia Pacific region will continue to make other regions jealous this upcoming year. The region, however, still needs to be wary of changes in the global economic climate.

The World Bank announced April 7 that it projects continued stable economic growth for the East Asia Pacific region in 2014. The region is expected to remain the fastest growing in the world.


The diverse countries and economies in the East Asia and Pacific region

Growth in the region, however, will be at a slightly lower rate. China’s growth rate will decrease from 7.7 percent in 2013 to 7.6 percent this year. The rest of the region will grow by 5.0 percent, down from 5.2 percent last year.

The World Bank also points out that economic climates are not equal throughout the region. Southeast Asian economies are more at risk, facing tougher global financial conditions and higher levels of household debt. Smaller economies are expected to grow steadily, but face overheating risks.

A garbage collector walks past residential and office buildings in construction, in Hefei

A garbage collector walks past residential and office buildings in construction, in Hefei, Anhui province


Even the all-mighty China is not free from trouble. A slower-than-expected recovery of advanced economies, rise in global interest rates and increased volatility in commodity prices on account of the Crimean crisis are factors that could potentially hurt all of East Asia, according to Bert Hofman, Chief Economist of the World Bank’s East Asia and Pacific Region.

He recommends that East Asia redouble efforts to pursue structural reforms to increase their underlying growth potential and enhance market confidence. Such reforms are already taking place in China and are helping boost demand and growth. If done right, rebalancing could give boost to regional trade partners, but if the rebalancing is disorderly, the opposite could happen.

Possibly the most surprising feature of the report was its conclusions of 4 countries: Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam. Their exports have grown 19 percent annually, exceeding even China. These countries’ low wages, favorable demography and advantageous geography have been attractive enough to draw significant investments. While these are mostly in the textile industries, in the case of Vietnam, this has increasingly included electronics and telecommunications.


Vietnam’s exports have shifted from clothing and textiles to electronics

(AP/Richard Vogel)

Despite its warnings of the instability of economic trends, the report was generally positive about the state of the economy of the East Asia Pacific region. It continues to be a region to watch because for its sustained growth.

The report did provide some explanation for the region’s success, but it was not nearly comprehensive enough. At a time when other regions struggle to keep up, it is important to monitor why and how this region has been able to have such sustained, successful growth.

Friday, April 25, 2014

I Scream, You Scream, We All Scream for– Bubble Tea?

Also known as milk tea, boba, 珍珠奶茶 (zhen zhu nǎi chá), and pearl milk tea, “bubble tea” is an increasingly popular sweet drink in the U.S.

It originated from Taiwan in the 1980s, although exactly in which city and by whom it was invented is disputed – either at a tea stand in Taichung or at a Tainan teahouse. Historically, the oldest known bubble tea was a delightful concoction of hot Taiwanese black tea, small tapioca pearls, condensed milk, and syrup or honey.


An “original” pearl milk tea, you can’t go wrong – black tea with milk and tapioca pearls, or “boba”

To enlighten anyone who hasn’t experienced this kind of Asian foodie culture, “bubble tea” is basically tea with milk, some type of sugar or sweetener, and tapioca pearls. “Bubble” refers to the tapioca pearls, which are usually black and are small and round, resembling bubbles; they sit at the bottom of the drink and have a soft and chewy texture.


Be adventurous and don’t just look at the pearls’ pretty colors – try other types of boba!

Typically sweet and cold, these drinks come in a massive array of variations. Sometimes, in addition or instead of pearls, you can request other types of add-ons, such as pudding or jelly. The tea itself can vary from black or green tea. Additionally, there are fruit versions, like mango milk tea, and even fruit-tea fusions, such as peach green tea.

Following the popularity of bubble tea, countless tea shops have popped up all over the world, even in Western countries: Fantasia, Boba Loca, Tapioca Express, Quickly, Half and Half (my personal favorite) – just to name a few.


How about this one to hit the spot, whether it’s your sweet tooth or your cavity: boba and pudding snow milk ice tea, drizzled with molasses

At most milk tea joints, the options for personalized drinks are flexible. Any tea drinker who knows exactly what they want can request less (or more) ice, a certain level of sweetness, omission of pearls, milk substitution. It’s like the Asian version of Starbucks – but better!


Yummy and refreshing, kiwi fruit tea!

As with any other food trend, with popularity comes controversy and scandal. For bubble tea, the trouble comes in the form of health concerns. With all its sugars and empty calories, bubble tea is by all means not what one would consider a healthy drink. To drag down its nutritional value further, tapioca pearls, milk powder, and juice syrups, all of which are commonly used ingredients in commercialized bubble tea due to their relatively low costs, have been found to contain banned chemical additives, linked to carcinogens and hormone imbalances. Fortunately, a quick Google search yields many results for healthy DIY bubble tea recipes.


Whew, at least bubble tea wasn’t on the line-up for New York City’s sugary drinks ban

Nonetheless, despite its controversial health properties, bubble tea is pretty darn delicious and reasonably priced. It’s no surprise that it continues to reign as a stylish and dessert-esque drink option, especially in large cities with diverse cultures. Sometimes I wish I could drink bubble tea everyday but, alas, it remains a wonderful and occasional treat.

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Immigrants from the East Arrived on the West

Being a nation of immigrants has long been a point of controversy for the United States. The idea of immigrants overcoming discrimination and hardship to achieve the American dream, however, is generally dear to the hearts of most Americans. Unsurprisingly, stories of struggling immigrants coming to the United States and arriving on Ellis Island are cherished. Stories of those arriving from the opposite side of the country, though, are less heard. Europeans arrived from the Atlantic Ocean, but Asians arrived from the Pacific and they ended up in Ellis’ counterpoint: Angel Island.


Poetry carved onto the walls of detention barracks at Angel Island

(Photo: Preservation Nation Blog)

In 1970, Chinese poetry carved into the walls of the Angel Island Immigration Station saved it from destruction. After these carvings were found, Bay Area Asian Americans formed the Angel Island Immigration Station Foundation (AIISF) and began a long journey that led to the restoration of the station and its opening to the public in 1983. Today, AIISF’s mission is to continue preserving the site and educate the public about the role of the Pacific Rim immigration in U.S. history.


Immigrants arrive on Angel Island

Asian immigration into the U.S. began in the 1850s, when young single men were recruited as laborers. The recruitment was so extensively that, by 1870, the Chinese represented 20% of California’s labor force. But the 1876 depression changed the attitudes towards these workers so strongly that Congress eventually passed the only U.S. law to ever restrict immigration and naturalization on the basis of race. The 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act would restrict Chinese immigration for the next sixty years.

Thirty years after the Act’s inception, a national system had formed specifically targeting Asian immigration. Immigration officials developed a new facility on Angel Island, the largest island in the San Francisco Bay, isolating immigrants from the mainland. Men were separated from women. People were put through humiliating medical exams and harsh interrogations that required immigrants to remember minute details of their lives, such as how many steps were in front of their home. Until they were approved, immigrants suffered long waits on Angel Island, which could span from weeks, months, to years.


An aerial view of Angel Island

The AIISF hopes to make this part of U.S. history better known and to give voices to the immigrants that faced such conditions. In this effort, it has created a forum where people can read the personal stories and those of friends and family that went through Angel Island. The stories span from immigrants arriving in the early 20th century, like that of Japanese-born Kaoru Okawa who arrived in 1919 to more recent arrivals like that of Sri-Lankan born Kumar Emayan, who arrived in 1997. What may be the most empowering work the organization has done, though, may be allowing readers to submit their own stories. Visit their website to find out how people can share their own stories.

Monday, April 21, 2014

What’s Your Funny Chinese Name? Take a Quiz!

The games at The Wang Post aren’t as intense as the Hunger Games.

That said, you’re about to discover a bit about yourself!

Do you dare to play?


Friday, April 18, 2014

Beyond Aung San Suu Kyi: Five Asian Female Leaders You May Not Know

For a long time, gender equality has been something the world has strived for. In the U.S., the fight for gender equality erupted during the Women’s Rights Movement more than a century and a half ago.

With that in mind, as well as the bad rap Asian countries often receive for female oppression (foot binding and geishas, anyone?), it may be a surprise to some that Asian countries seemed to have made more progress in terms of female leadership than Western countries. In fact, nine Asian countries (South Korea, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Thailand, the Philippines, and Mongolia) are currently or were led by a female, democratically elected head of government.

Needless to say, the U.S. has yet to have a female president.

While the reasons for this political difference give rise to a whole ‘nother article, in this one, I’d like to highlight a few of these – inspirational? controversial? certainly always interesting – Asian female leaders.


Pratibha Patil – 12th President of India (2007-2012)

Born in 1934, Patil had a long political career prior to becoming president, holding roles such as parliament member and governor. After winning the presidency with nearly 2/3 of the votes, her time in office saw a few controversies. For instance, she commuted the death sentences of 35 people, and embarked on more foreign trips than any other president.


Corazon Aquino – 11th President of the Philippines (1986-1992)

Born in 1933, Aquino was the first female president not only of the Philippines, but in all of Asia. Without holding any past political experience, she was the most prominent figure in the 1986 People Power Revolution and oversaw the promulgation of the 1987 Constitution. As president, she emphasized human rights and peaceful negotiations. Additionally, she focused on molding a market-oriented and healthy economy in the Philippines.


Yingluck Shinawatra – 28th Prime Minister of Thailand

Born in 1967, Shinawatra is a businesswoman, politician, and the first (and current) Prime Minister of Thailand. After election to office in 2011, she invoked the Disaster Prevention and Mitigation Act in response to the 2011 Thailand floods; reshuffled her cabinet in 2012, and dissolved the Parliament, calling for early elections due to the 2013 anti-government protests. She is currently facing corruption investigations.


Chandrika Kumaratunga – 5th President of Sri Lanka

Born in 1945, Kumaratunga was elected Prime Minister of the People’s Alliance and was the leader of the Sri Lanka Freedom Party until 2006. She spent much of her presidency trying to negotiate and make peace with opposing national political parties. She is also a member of the Council of Women World Leaders.


Megawati Sukarnoputri – 5th President of Indonesia

Born in 1947, Sukarnoputri was the country’s only female president and is also leader of the Indonesian opposition party. While her presidency was characterized by slow progress, reforms, and resolutions, it also brought about the stabilization of democracy and more solid relationships amongst the legislative, executive, and military branches of government.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

The “Model Minority” Report: Building ‘Em Up Just to Tear ‘Em Down

In the U.S, being “Asian” carries implications beyond ethnicity and country of origin. Particularly in the classroom setting and the workplace, being “Asian” implies ambition and excellence, high-achievement and success. In America, being of Asian descent puts you in the category of the model minority, the minority group has made it – the group that assimilates itself most successfully in that country, and essentially, winners of the American Dream.


A perfect photo op: President Obama signs Executive Order 13515, “Increasing Participation of Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders in Federal Programs”

When I first learned about Asians being the model minority, I didn’t think there was anything particularly wrong. On the contrary, I figured, if every minority is associated with a stereotype anyway, then the “model minority” is probably a good standard to uphold to. After all, who doesn’t want to be part of the group that has the highest education rates and lowest crime rates?

Conventional success, no matter how inside-the-box, beats unconventional failure. Everything has multiple facets, and if this is the good side of racism, so be it.


Memes like these “Asian dad” ones are easy – to come up with, and to hit the target

It’s hard to vocalize stereotypes, especially when they seem to work in your favor. I can’t deny that part of the reason I work so hard is because I know that the standards I have to meet are high. Does the model minority stereotype push me to excel? I am generally an outgoing person, but if I don’t want to participate in a classroom setting, I will take advantage of my “quiet Asian girl” appearance and sit invisibly in the classroom, undisturbed by professor and classmates. We find it hard to justify our perturbation with the model minority stereotype when, in fact, we believe that we are beneficiaries of it.


CAPAC dispels some Asian American “model minority” myths, but no matter how catchy the infographic, it’s up against much more

Yet, the thing is, we’re not.

The model minority status is an excuse.

It is an excuse bestowed upon Asian Americans telling them, “Look, you’re smart and successful not because you worked for it, but because you are Asian, and this is how your people are.” The model minority stereotype appears to be an agent to our success when, instead, it strips us of our own self worth.

Why should I believe that my hard work is motivated by racism, when it is in fact, a part of who I am, and a reflection of my tenacity and strength? Why should I be able to play up the “quiet Asian girl” appearance, when that is not who I am, when such a type shouldn’t even exist? As a people, if we are a people, we should identify with our culture of origin – if we want – but that’s different from the model minority stereotype, because that is a categorization that was placed out of our control.

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Beautiful, Inside and Out: But How Much Do Appearances Matter?

It started from the moment I saw a comment on Weibo with tons of “likes”: “Beauty is the real justice, ugly ones have no human rights.” When did our generation began to worship appearances so much to make these extreme statements?

As a part of human nature, we pursue beauty – and that may include good-looking people. With modern celebrity culture and how these celebrities’ – particularly women’s – careers rise, peak, and wane according to their looks, how true is “it’s what inside that counts“?

A typical example is Angela Cheung, a top model from China, most known for her nickname “Angelababy”. Angelababy has a face too perfect to be true, even out of Photoshopped pages. Although she has yet to confirm any plastic surgery rumors, pictures are all over the Internet showing subtle differences from “before” and “after” she became famous. Whether she did receive plastic surgery or not, Angelababy’s appearance no doubt was a part of her success – she’s not only a model, but has starred in films and has recorded her own CD.


The indeed angel-like Angelababy

Another country known for its worship of beauty is Korea and its K-Pop machine. For example, in every K-Pop group, here is a “visual” – this person’s task is to be the face that draws the fans, i.e., to be beautiful. It’s interesting that the “visual” will gain a lot of fans easily without doing much, whereas the “vocals” and the “dancers” will work harder to achieve the same level of attention or popularity.

Do skills matter? A fun reply to this question could be found on the proliferation of comments on music videos and performances on YouTube, some of which accuse the performers of lip-syncing. Many fans will defend their idols by the response: “Lip syncing, so what? We still love them. Plus it’s difficult to sing and dance at the same time, and they could nevertheless sing really well if they want to!”

Seems understandable. Unless you have someone like Beyoncé, who rocked it out in live vocals and in super high heels during the Superbowl’s half-time show.

So, should a singer be called a “singer” because he or she can actually “sing”?


Queen B got moves!

Even among the ordinary people, the acceptance for a little work done, here and there, is growing. There’s a saying that “beauty is the best recommendation letter”. Who doesn’t want to present the best face at the first look?

In response, there’s an enormous amount of “beautifying” products on the market, not only in oils and creams but through other venues. Personally, I have a couple of photo editing apps on my iPhone, so I could always enhance my pictures with various filters. This is the most basic and the least that one can do, now; there’s the line of cameras from CASIO TR, with features built into the camera to “beautify” one’s photographs. (It’s advertised as particularly good for selfies, by the way.)

So here we are, with all these products that tell and sell us the idea of how much people value appearances.


The hottest “selfie” camera from the Casio TR series

Why this focus on appearances? Is it today’s media, which pushes beautiful people in our faces all the time at a rate never seen before, in a loop of cause-and-effect? (Or monkey see, monkey do.) Is it the eternal pursuit for the fountain of youth, now seen in the range of advanced make-up products available?

It’s not wrong to appreciate beauty; however, no matter how much appearance matters, it’s the one thing that we can’t change in life (without surgery, ahem). Yet, we could always enhance ourselves by focusing on our personalities and that invisible charisma built by our wit, kindness, intelligence, and good works. There’s also another saying: “At the age of twenty, we don’t care what the world thinks of us; at thirty, we worry about what it is thinking of us; at forty, we discover that it wasn’t thinking of us at all.”

Monday, April 14, 2014

Do Asians Eat Dogs?

Illustration by motobus

“You’re Asian, can I ask you something?”

“Asian-American, yes, go ahead.”

“Have you ever eaten dog?”

I blinked in surprise and stumbled through several uhs and ums before I could respond to my (white) colleague. The question was genuinely curious, but not without a gleam of hostility. The answer was: No, I haven’t. But how is one supposed to answer this barbed and accusatory question?

What else do we eat, which we should question?

By the facts, yes: Asians eat dog meat – stewed, steamed, boiled, and barbequed. Some Chinese eat dog for its medicinal qualities, believing it to be good for metabolism and warmth. In Korea, poshintang, “tonic soup,” is a common dog stew known for its stamina and virility-increasing potency. Dog meat has been a part of Southeast and East Asian cuisine for thousands of years.

What then, is the controversy over dog meat? The answer is a visceral, disgusted churning in the Western appetite. In America, dogs are known as “man’s best friend.” They’re companions and members of the family – definitely not dinner. To see a dozen dogs cramped up against one another in a single cage, awaiting their grisly fate at a slaughterhouse, very reasonably inspires animal-welfare activism.

What makes dogs more special, than say, pigs? Pigs are far more intelligent, but our relationship with dogs is rooted in a symbiotic evolution. In exchange for food and security, friendly wolves served as hunting aids, warning systems, garbage disposals, as well as defenders and guardians of children. According to a DNA study, humans’ sense of smell was reduced because our alliance with dogs rendered it unnecessary. In a significant sense, dogs made us human, our affinity towards them. However, in hunter-gatherer times, thousands of years before refrigeration and crop storage, “when times were tough, dogs could have served as an emergency food supply.”


Hence, biology does not fully explain our taste buds. Western outrage toward dog-eating remains primarily a feature of a high-minded, well-fed culture, whose convictions betray a certain industrial privilege. Western cultural superiority does not necessarily understand how Chinese and Korean people have suffered from famine brought on by authorities. In the context of Chinese rural culture, where dogs compete with humans for resources, “eating dogs appears to be a compensatory adaption to material deprivation and the lack of reliable sources of other meats,” writes Frank H. Wu, Dean of University of California Hastings College of the Law.

Meat vendors in Asia today generally make a distinction between the dogs raised at home – pets, and the kind raised for eating – food. There’s no doubt, however, that the cultural superiority of the United States has influence. Under international scrutiny, when the Olympic Games were held in Seoul, Korea in 1988 and in Beijing, China in 2008, both countries vigorously banned and regulated dog meat. In the absence of a moral argument for giving up dog-eating, these countries wish to maintain their image in the face of worldwide opinion.

In the United States, narratives of Asians and dog-eating reduce the people of Asia to a minor aspect of their diverse ways of life. This allows stereotypes to abound, and form the basis for a belief that Asian people are inferior. As Wu says, “dog eating becomes an excuse to make Asians the butt of jokes and ultimately to disrespect complete culture as primitive.”

“Do Asians eat dogs?” The gaze of the question, curious and blaming, weighs upon me.

I feel vulnerable, but there is a dignified response that illuminates prejudice: “Why do you ask?”

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Five Snapshots of Busan, South Korea

When your everyday person thinks of South Korea, what comes to mind is probably Seoul. Or kimchi, or Korean dramas, or Kim Yuna for that matter. But in terms of city names, Seoul would likely be at the top of the list. This is no surprise – Seoul is a major global metropolis, the capital and the biggest city of South Korea.

However, have you heard of Busan? As South Korea’s second largest city and located by the ocean, Busan is an important economic hub with the world’s fifth busiest seaport and the world’s biggest department store (the Shinsegae Centum City). It is especially known for its top-notch seafood and luxurious, sandy beaches.

As a tourist in Busan traveling from Seoul, I found Busan to be delightfully different and exotic in many ways, from the people to the food to the atmosphere. Here are a few moments from my time spent in Busan.


Say hello to Busan’s famous ssiat hotteok (seed-stuffed pancake)

Commonly sold by Busan’s street vendors, hotteok is nothing special in Korean street food cuisine. However, the vendor selling this particular hotteok had a queue of eager customers down the street! Chewy, crunchy, and stuffed with sunflower and pumpkin seeds and sugar, this treat had me wishing I’d bought a second (or a third… or fourth…).


Look at these colorful umbrellas!

At Haeundae Beach, one of the most famous beaches in Korea, one can rent a mat and simply relax under the shade of one of the many umbrellas. During the hot seasons, the shores can be overrun by beachgoers clad in bathing suits, frolicking in the blue waters and soaking up the summer sun. This is the setting of a famous South Korean disaster movie called Haeundae (Tidal Wave in English), where Busan is hit by a huge tsunami.


Something smells fishy around here…

Busan’s reigning symbol, Jagalchi Market is a huge fish market where fresh fish and seafood are sold daily. The products are so fresh, they’re still swimming around in the buckets! It’s an adventure to stroll through aisles of colorful, canopy-covered stalls, exploring the vast variety of seafood offered at this market. Speaking of seafood…


Say hello to my little friend…

Raw octopus. That’s right, the lady selling octopi chopped the tentacled legs of one unlucky, still-squirming fellow up into little pieces, divided the parts into cups, and gave it to us to sample. Just for the record, it’s very salty. Very salty, very chewy, and very… lively.


All aboard! This is Busan Station

This train station is of utmost importance in Korea’s transportation system. It is part of the Gyeongbu line, the most important railway line in the country that connects Seoul, located in the northern part of South Korea, to Busan, which is located in the south, in under 3 hours.

Although I only spent a few days in Busan, I left the city with many unforgettable experiences and blissful memories. The next time I fly to South Korea, stopping by Busan will definitely be on my itinerary.

All photographs in article courtesy of the author

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Mo Yan: How Society Gives Birth to a Great Writer

In my “Advance Reading in Chinese: Modern and Contemporary Literature” class, we were assigned a short reading of Mo Yan(莫言)’s speech in a form of transcript. The speech was from the 2009 Frankfurt International Book Fair in Germany.


Mo Yan

Mo Yan is a world-renowned author of Red Sorghum Clan (1987), which was made into the film Red Sorghum starring Gong Li (巩俐) by acclaimed director Zhang Yimou (张艺谋). Mo Yan is a controversial writer on the question of whether he deserved the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Wen Yun Chao, a Hong Kong based activist and blogger, commented, “Mo Yan doesn’t deserve this prestigious honor,” and added that the “Nobel Literature Prize is a symbol of humanism and freedom of writing, but unfortunately we cannot see such qualities in Mo Yan.”

Why this criticism of Mo Yan? Perhaps it is because many believe that he endorsed Mao Zedong’s speech at Yan’an in 1942 regarding Art and Literature in one of his works. In this speech, Mao discussed the certain “role” of artists and writers in a developing socialist state: “to work solely in the service of the political aims of the party.” As a result, Mo Yan has been questioned as a supporter of authoritarianism.

When I first came across these arguments in the news in 2012, largely due to my lacking of understanding and knowledge of Mo Yan, I speculated that his works and intention might not entirely embody the traits of a Nobel Prize winner in Literature.

However, when I read Mo Yan’s speech in Germany for my class, I started to understand his perspective on “writing” more clearly. A part of the transcript of his speech says:

… 好的文学,好的作家当然离不开社会生活。作为一个中国作家必须对中国社会所发生的一切保持一种高度的兴趣,而且有深入的了解和经验。你要对社会上所发生的各种各样的问题有一个自己的看法,这种看法可以和所有人都不一样。对于一个作家、对于文学来讲,最可贵的就在于它和所有人都不一样。

- 莫言

In this particular excerpt, Mo Yan emphasizes the influence of society on writers. The particular society in which one lives essentially gives rise to a one-of-a-kind experience for a writer. As a result, the writer starts asking questions and becomes curious toward the society, and this process allows for the writer to think about the different aspects of the society and to create a work of literature distinctive to the writer.

If one were to read the entire transcript, one will come to understand his argument even more clearly – whether one agrees with Mo Yan or not. Unfortunately, this speech was delivered in Mandarin, and I only had the luck of coming across this transcript in a Mandarin-conducted literature class. But if you do read Mandarin, the transcript of the speech may help you understand Mo Yan’s argument better.

After generally discussing Mo Yan’s speech, my professor displayed a slide with this single question on her PowerPoint presentation:


This vaguely translates into: “What kind of perspective does Mo Yan hold toward the relationship between writers and their life in the society, particularly concerning their relationship with the government?”


Gong Li in Red Sorghum

My class raised various points; different examples came to mind that applies to Mo Yan’s argument.

One can even go back as far as Plato and his Republic . If Plato did not live in Classical Greece, where the republican theory of political philosophy was in its early development and where his ideas of the representative elect and city-states were welcomed, his work may not have been so innovative and detailed.

One of the many modern examples could be John Hersey’s Hiroshima . Consider if Hersey hadn’t been in Japan to cover stories for The New Yorker on the reconstruction of Japan after the destruction of the atomic bomb – could Hiroshima have been so emotionally challenging?

As such, there are countless examples that can support Mo Yan’s point on society’s influence on writers, regardless of how devastating or restrictive the writers’ environment could be. Anne Frank’s diaries could have not been written in such vividly tragic expressions if the Nazis hadn’t came into power in Germany and occupied the Netherlands. Wan-suh Park’s book on her personal experiences as a child could not have been so intriguingly powerful if the Japanese Occupation in Korea never happened.

To answer my professor’s question, I believe Mo Yan is trying to convey the message that writers should learn to accept and scrutinize their society (or their government). In some cases, it may not be pleasant; in fact, it could be devastating – such as living through the Sino-Japanese War in a poor rural part of Shandong, China – as the example of Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum Clan portrays. However, by expressing one’s experiences of his or her daily life through writing and offering it up for others’ understanding and examination, one may truly produce “伟大的文学,” the great literature, that Mo Yan speaks of in his speech in Frankfurt, Germany.

Monday, April 7, 2014

Asian-Americans and Local Residents Fight for More Affordable Housing in Boston’s Shrinking Chinatown

“Millennium Partners, pay your fees!”

“Jobs for our communities!”

During the Affordable Housing Parade on Sunday, March 30, a rainy day in Boston, Karen Chen, the 35-year-old Organizing Director of The Chinese Progressive Association, led the protest group in chants. A large sign, which read “We Can’t Afford Your Way of Life”, covered her upper body.


Asian-Americans and local residents participate in a rally against the development of luxury housing in Boston’s Chinatown

Over 50 residents from Boston’s Chinatown and Roxbury and Dorchester, Masachusetts, gathered at the Downtown Crossing area to protest against Millennium Partners, a developer corporation now building its fourth luxury tower around Chinatown. They shook bottles as noisemakers, beat on white bucket for drums, and walked in a rally from Macy’s to Boston Common and back.

“Residents in at least ten buildings in Chinatown are facing risks of displacement due to the luxury development,” Chen said.


Protesters braved the cold and the wet to rally against the development of luxury housing in Boston’s Chinatown

“Multi-million dollar developers should not be taking tax breaks to build luxury housing without creating higher wage jobs and meeting the city’s construction hiring and affordable housing goals,” Boston Jobs Coalition, co-organizers of the rally, said in a press release. “It’s time to stop using our tax dollars to line developers’ pockets while hard-working families are pushed out of their communities.”

As reported by the Boston Globe in December, 2013, Millennium Partners received a $5.9 million discount on development fees for the construction of luxury housing in Boston, allowed by the Boston Redevelopment Authority. “First, they received $19 million in historical preservation tax credit, then another $7.8 million on the city tax break,” explained Chen.


Protesters wish to protect the community and to keep affordable housing for current residents and future generations

“I come to Chinatown mostly to go shopping and to eat Chinese food,” Patrick Tai, 68, said in the rally, “but now, quite a few of my favorite Chinese groceries and restaurants are disappearing because the neighborhood’s changing and they can’t afford to continue their business or to pay their rent.”

Since 1990, when the Community Master Plan, which limited the height of buildings around Chinatown, was repealed, the neighborhood has experienced an influx in luxury buildings. According to the Federal Reserve Bank of Cleveland, Boston has become the fastest gentrifying city in the country.

The Caucasian population in Boston and Philadelphia’s Chinatowns doubled between 2000 to 2010, although the entire Caucasian population of each city decreased, revealed the report Chinatown: Then and Now. “For many Asian-Americans, Chinatown is an essential part of our heritage and history. But Chinatowns on the East Coast are on the verge of disappearing.” The report was conducted by the Asian American Legal Defense and Education Fund and focused on the three biggest Chinatowns on the East Coast, in New York, Boston, and Philadelphia.

Regarding Philadelphia, the report said, “In 2009, residents defeated a proposal to build a 24-hour gambling casino less than two blocks from the first homes in Chinatown.” In New York, though the gentrification – a shift in an urban community to richer residents and increasing property values – is not as obvious as in Boston and Philadelphia, the city’s developers have converted many former factories into loft units selling for millions of dollars. Though the tenement buildings may retain the same exteriors, the landlords, who circumvent the City’s rent regulation laws, have increased the rent up to $3,000 per month. The steep rent has forced the original residents to move from their communities.

“I’m afraid that Chinatown would get smaller and smaller, and disappear one day. I don’t want that to happen,” Tai said.

All photographs courtesy of the author.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Actor Wen Zhang Cheats on Wife; Apologizes to World in Recordbreaking “Tweet”

What’s trending on Weibo, China’s Twitter?

Is it the latest crackdown of President Xi’s anti-corruption campaign, which seized 90 billion yuan (US $14.5 billion) from the family and associates of former security chief Zhou Yongkong? The flexing of President Putin’s muscles over Ukraine and Crimea instead of a hapless trout or wayward horse? The two-week long protest over a trade pact across the Strait in Taiwan? The still-missing Malaysia Airlines plane?


When a Hallmark card won’t do, there’s Weibo…

Sex wins out over money and politics: Weibo blew up with actor Wen Zhang’s long apology over his affair with Yao Di, his costar in 2011′s popular drama 裸婚时代 (Naked Marriage). Wen is married to actress Ma Yili, his co-star from a 2007 drama (奋斗/Struggle); the couple have one daughter, and Ma is currently expecting their second child.


Wen Zhang with wife Ma Yili on the red carpet


Wen Zhang with alleged extramarital affair Yao Di in better times, on set on drama 裸婚时代 (Naked Marriage)


Wen and Yao on a “secret date” in Hong Kong, despite… some… attempts at disguises

Wen’s apology reads, in part, “I have brought this upon myself. A mistake is a mistake… This has nothing to do with anyone else. Today, I am willing to accept all the consequences. I’ve let down Ma Yili and our children. My mistake does not deserve to be forgiven, and it will be difficult for me to make amends for all the harm I’ve caused. But I want to do it. I have to do it. This is what I’ll do for the rest of my life.”

In response, Ma wrote, “Being in love is easy; being married is not. It is to be cherished.”

A “naked marriage” concerns a modern practice in China: couples who wed and eschew the traditions that precede and follow that status: no ring, no ceremony, no honeymoon, no house, no car. (The latter two involve the usual exchange of gifts between the families and for the benefit of the newly married couple.)

The couple that Wen and Yao play in the drama, by the way, do not last.

From last week’s public “conscious uncoupling” announcement of Gwyneth Paltrow and Chris Martin’s separation to Wen’s most-retweeted apology, what new trend are we seeing?