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If others reinvent your culture and sell it back to you, what is gained, and what is lost

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IN the age of globalization there’s a caveat that often rings true: “You know your culture is a big hit when somebody else is selling it back to you!”
Nowhere is this more obvious than the example of the run away box office hit, “Kung Fu Panda” and the sequel “Kung Fu Panda 2,” which was just released. A wildly successful animation produced by Steven Spielberg about a bumbling panda who wants to learn kung fu, the movie became the biggest box office hit in China’s history. And is sequel is well on the way.

If the Chinese are in awe as to how their own cultural heritage is being successfully repackaged by Hollywood, some artists and thinkers are rather peeved. The artist Zhao Bandi encouraged Chinese moviegoers to boycott the film. Kung Fu Panda films “twisted Chinese culture and served as a tool to kidnap the minds of the Chinese people,” he wrote. “Don’t fool our next generation with American ‘fast food’.'”

Chinese moviegoers love “Kung Fu Panda” and want more of it. Which also set the Chinese blogospheres abuzz with soul-searching questions like “Why can’t we produce such brilliant movies ourselves?” and “What is it about our society that creativity is so stifled?” and so on.

Those who find it upsetting that others are now successfully impersonating them have yet to come to terms with what follows the Information Age: the age of Appropriation.

Ours is a world in which traditions exist side by side for the picking. From religion to cuisine, medicine to music, dance to literature, all are available to the contemporary alchemists to re-imagine. Indeed, the energy that is fueling the major part of the 21st-century global village is that of the hybrid space in which re-invention is key.

Which beckons this question: If others reinvent your culture and sell it back to you, what is gained, and what is lost?

Written by Miya

June 23rd, 2011 at 1:18 pm

Posted in Literature

Angelic artworks display the colorful beauty of life

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AT the first sight of the colorful artworks at the “Angels Among Us” exhibition, viewers are greatly impressed by the passion and optimism of the artists. But few might realize they are actually created by mentally challenged children from special education schools and Sunshine Homes (education centers especially for mentally challenged children) in six districts in Shanghai.

The five-day exhibition, for which Shanghai Daily is the media sponsor, runs until tomorrow at Liu Haisu Art Museum (1660 Hongqiao Road) and features up to 50 children’s paintings in various styles including watercolor, pastel drawing, Chinese brush drawing and Jinshan peasant painting.

The exhibition is the first event by the Dandelion Project launched by Shanghai H&Y European Cultural Exchange Center (HYECEC), in cooperation with the Shanghai Disabled Person’s Federation.

The founder of both HYECEC and the Dandelion Project is 28-year-old Shanghainese Chai Weiwen.

Chai studied in Ireland and majored in Finance. She used to work in the financial field, but soon transferred to cultural exchange and charity. At the beginning of this year, she started her career in charity by founding HYECEC and launching the Dandelion Project.

“During my studies in Ireland, I worked in some charity organizations to help the Chinese community there as my part-time job,” Chai notes.

The current Dandelion Plan team has only five members including Chai. “It’s our first event and we met many difficulties during the preparation, but we got over them,” says Chai.

The preparation for this exhibition took them less then three months to complete. Finally 46 paintings were displayed, and all of them were collected from special education schools in six districts.

The process of collecting is not as easy as it looked. “Selecting works which were recommended by the teachers, we then had to get permission to display them and information about the students,” Chai says.

(The intellectually challenged students need special protection from the public, such as keeping their names and schools anonymous. Chai and her colleagues made huge efforts to get the agreement of parents and teachers.)

“The power of the individual is tiny. We can achieve something only with the efforts of the group and full communication with society,” says Chai when she talked about the preparation.

“The exhibition shows a colorful art world as seen through the eyes of those children, presenting their passion for life and desires for beauty,” says Zhou Xinjian, chairman of Shanghai Disabled Person’s Federation, the event’s other co-organizer. “We do believe that love can create miracles.”

Some videos shot at Pudong Special Education School are being screened to the public for the first time at the exhibition, recording daily life in the school, as well as the efforts of teachers and students.

“From the videos some very touching moments will be seen, not merely the pure smiles of those children, but also the teachers who contribute a lot to special education,” says Yang Lei, one of the cofounders of the Dandelion Project.

Zhou Hui, vice president of Pudong Special Education School, came to the opening ceremony of the exhibition, together with her colleagues and students whose paintings are featured.

She has more than 20 years of experience in special education and joined Pudong Special Education School when it was founded in 2002. Now the school has 300 special students including those with intellectual disabilities and brain damage, and deaf-mute children. Zhou Hui has special emotions for these children.

I saw it 3 times already…  Highly recommended!


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Written by Miya

June 4th, 2011 at 2:53 pm

Posted in Literature