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The Last Emperor

I know I saw Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Last Emperor when it first came out, but now that I’m in China and know more of its history, I couldn’t pass up a friend’s offer to lend it to me.

The story is told in flashbacks as Puyi, China’s last emperor, reflects on his life now that he’s imprisoned by the Communists. He symbolizes all they hate about old China, but Puyi can’t really help that.

I vividly remembered Puyi, the tot who became emperor when his father was killed, getting taken from his home to the palace. I wonder why his mother didn’t live at the palace since her husband was the emperor. I’ll have to look that up. The film than continues by showing the folly of having a young boy assume the emperor’s throne. Now I’m sure someone else, like the Lord Chancellor was actually calling the shots, but that wasn’t in the film.

Since no one can correct the emperor, even when he’s 3 or 4, Puyi soon becomes a brat. He’s never able to leave the vast grounds. It isn’t until he’s seven that he’s able to see his brother, one of the few people who will talk straight with him. It’s quite bizarre to see this boy treated with such deference by hundreds of grown eunuchs, who indulge his every whim.

In 1912, China became the Republic of China led by Sun Yet Sen, yet we stay with Puyi, who’s shocked to learn that he’s no longer the emperor of China, he’s just the emperor of the Forbidden City and he can’t leave. I don’t fault the film with sticking with Puyi’s biography, but the events in his life made me curious about the wider history of China, which I know in outlines.

Throughout his life, Puyi seemed to be a puppet. Though he was allowed to have his way in trivial matters around the palace, he never governed. He talked of wanting to choose a wife who spoke English and French, but the dowager chose for him. In the film he seemed to get on well with is wife and his concubine, but according to an article in The Guardian, Puyi was pretty asexual and certainly not a big family man.

I found the parts with Mr. Johnston, the emperor’s tutor, played by Peter O’Toole, who can perform such a role with the needed aplomb, most interesting as Mr. Johnston was the only character with any force, the only one to question or challenge the emperor. He did so tactfully, but most kowtowed as they wanted the emperor to have his way, while they feathered their nests with goodies from the imperial storehouses and coffers. How that money and the opulence of the majestic lifestyle continued after the Republic took over mystifies me.

When the Communists arrest and interrogate Puyi, he had my sympathy, but I still yearned for a hero who would take action. .I wondered why he never left China. He seemed to have been conditioned early on to never go beyond the familiar.

He did flee the Forbidden City and lived in the Japanese legation and later Manchuria, where he thought he’d actually rule, but he was just a puppet for the Japanese. To me it was clear that once Japan surrendered he needed to leave. he was inert, either unwise or paralyzed to take action. The film with its majestic setting and costumes cries out for an epic hero. There’s a tension in this film that Puyi never was that sort of hero. And he suffered for that.

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Weekly Photo Challenge: Heritage

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Chishakuin Temple, Kyoto

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St. Sophia Church, Haerbin, China

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Chicago, Illinois

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Beijing, China

The Last Princess

The Last Princess (2016) captivated me with its dramatic history. It’s a film about a Korean Princess named Deok Hye, who lived from 1912 to 1989. Her father was Emperor when Japan was invading most of Asia. The Japanese wanted to control him, but couldn’t so they poisoned him. A few years later when Deok Hye was 13 she was sent to Japan to be educated. Though she didn’t want to go, she did to protect her mother.

As she grew, she realized she would never be allowed to return to Korea. The Japanese feared that this young, determined woman would stir up rebellion. When she was young, her father had hoped she’d marry Jang-Han Kim comes to Japan hoping to find a way to save her. He’s an officer in the Japanese army, but works with a group of underground rebels, who’re plotting to get the princess and her uncle back to Korea and to attack the core leaders of the Japanese army.

Throughout the film, the main villain isn’t a Japanese officer, but rather a Korean turncoat, Han Taek-soo, who was behind the emperor’s poisoning and will stop at nothing to please the Japanese by manipulating and spying on the Korean royals.

It’s decades before Deok Hye has a real chance to return to her home country. Along the way she bravely faces hardship, sorrow and betrayal.

Hyde Park Barracks Museum

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To get a good understanding of Australia’s convict history, visit Sydney’s Hyde Park Barracks Museum. An UNESCO World Heritage site, the Hyde Park Barracks Museum shows how the convicts lived in the 19th century.

A Short History

Until the U.S. won the American Revolution, England sent convicts to the American colonies. After the U.S. became independent, England had to find a new place to get rid of its convicts and with the recent exploration of Australia, that became the place.

At first convicts could live wherever they liked, but in the early 19th century the governor of Australia figured it would be better to put them in barracks. In 1819 the Hyde Park Barracks was completed and opened.

Over the years it was used to house convicts, Irish orphans, and poor women before becoming a court house. (For more history see: http://sydneylivingmuseums.com.au/hyde-park-barracks-museum)

The Museum

The Hyde Park Barracks museum is a bright, well curated museum offering well designed exhibits that provide facts and narratives so that visitors get a good grounding in the history from a wide and personal perspective. You’ll learn about Bennelong, an aboriginal man who was friends with Australia’s first governor, Arthur Phillip and about a woman who managed the women’s dormitory while raising 14 children.

When you pay for your ticket, the clerk will offer you a free audio guide in the language of your choice, this guide enhanced the experience giving still more interesting insights into the history.

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Bennelong – far right

Admission: Adults $12, Families $30, Concession (not sure what that means) $8

Flâneur

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History, depicted and objectified

No matter what I do in China, as welcome as I feel, I’m naturally a flâneur, which is a fancy word for objective observer. Here I’m sharing a recently repainted administration building. I’m sharing a photo from Zhujiayu, the restored village near Jinan. I’m going there again tomorrow so watch this space to find out how that went.

1. Each week, we’ll provide a theme for creative inspiration. You take photographs based on your interpretation of the theme, and post them on your blog (a new post!) anytime before the following Friday when the next photo theme will be announced.

2. To make it easy for others to check out your photos, title your blog post “Weekly Photo Challenge: (theme of the week)” and be sure to use the “postaday″ tag.

3. Follow The Daily Post so that you don’t miss out on weekly challenge announcements, and subscribe to our newsletter – we’ll highlight great posts. Add Media photos from each month’s most popular challenge.

Other themed photos:

King Coal

By Upton Sinclair, who always takes the side of the underdog and shows people how hard and unfair life was for the lower classes in his time (i.e. early 20th century), King Coal is about a well-to-do college student, who leans to the left politically. His older brother and friends tell him that all the news and complaints of poor treatment of coal minors is hog wash. He decides to spend his summer as a miner.

He takes on the clothing of a working man and goes to North Valley where he gets work in a mine. He has no idea how much worse things were than he imagined. He makes friends with the workers, lives amongst them and sympathizes with them. He gets the same bad treatment. He faces the same problems – high rents in the mining housing, bad food at the canteen, exorbitant prices at the general store. When he helps the men organize and request, not a union, but someone to check that the coal loads are weighed right, he lands in jail. The judge is in bed with the mine owners. Upon release he’s followed and when a reporter prints his story . . . well, on and on it goes, injustice upon injustice.

The story is compelling and Sinclair creates likable characters a few that middle class and progressive wealthy folk would take to. It’s still a relevant story and should be read in history classes. If I taught history, I’d have some students read this, others read The Jungle and others read Oil! and then compare notes.

The Pearls of the Crown

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Sacha Guitry as a writer tracking down rare pearls

Sacha Guitry created another light-hearted film with The Pearls of the Crown. In this movie, which Guitry wrote, directed and stars in, a French writer, a man works for the Pope and an English royal assistant, search for three, rare, matching pearls that have gone missing since the 16th century. As the three men hunt down these pearls, they discover the truth in the lives of historical figures like King Henry VIII. Throughout the film, the audience is treated to wry humour. Here Guitry, who’s something of a French Noel Coward, plays for roles: two kings, a writer and one more character.

The film is charming and you’ll even learn a bit about history. Good when you’re looking for light entertainment and don’t mind subtitles.

Millenium Actress

I learned about this amazing animated film from Every Frame a Picture (below). Created by Satoshi Kon, Millennium Actress is a unique, dreamy film that tells the story of Chiyoko, an old woman who looks back on her life when a documentary filmmaker, Tachibara, finally convinces her to agree to being interviewed. Tachibara, who was always sweet on Chiyoko, presents Chiyoko with a long lost key, which like Marcel in In Search of Lost Time opens up a storehouse of memories. Then the story goes back in time in an incredibly imaginative way mixing flashbacks, dreams and daydreams to show why Chiyoko went against her mother to become an actress during WWII.

The story skips back in time to various times in Chiyoko’s life and further goes back to various periods in history which her films were set in. There are a few political messages, which like Kurosawa’s No Regrets for our Youth, criticise how Japan imprisoned those who disagreed with the war. Because Kon’s techniques are so innovative in how they harken back to the shape-shifting that’s a frequent feature of Japanese folktales (but you don’t need to know that to enjoy the film), the film constantly surprised and delighted me. Throughout the film, the current day filmmakers were present in the past and that technique was particularly intriguing and innovative — at least to me, a novice in the anime world.


This video by Tony Zhou is incredible and made me want to see Millennium Actress.

Xinjiang Provincial Museum

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If you’re in Urumqi, the Xinjiang Provincial Museum is a must see. It’s not very large, but it gives you a portion of the history of the region. It’s located behind a street with lots of high fashion, over priced stores and the Sheraton Hotel. Get to the Sheraton and someone at the front desk will be able to speak English and point you in the right direction.

After going through security, you’ll find galleries with more English than usual. They explain how the Han first came to Xinjiang in 200 BC, way before the Uighurs. They want you to see the Han arts and crafts and remember they were there first. Point taken.

I was disappointed that I wasn’t able to see the galleries with Uighur culture on display. Those were locked up. Why?

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I’d love to know if they’re usually closed. Leave a comment and let me know if you’ve see these galleries.

It seems that these galleries should always be open to show goodwill.

Mr. Selfridge, Season 3, Ep. 6

SPOILER ALERT

A lot happened this week!

I can’t believe they killed off Doris! Was this necessary? She’s been off screen for two years, married to an ungrateful whiner. They bring her back and reveal that an indiscretion with a school friend, has resulted in her first son and a lie to her husband Mr. Groves.

Doris confided in Miss Mardle, who was involved with Mr Groves before Doris came into the picture. Miss Mardle suggested Doris talk with this friend and let him see his son. Now what will happen? Yes, killing Doris in a car accident opens up a lot of possibilities with the story, but she doesn’t have to resolve this with Mr. Groves. He can now whine some more and perhaps get back with Josie, a.k.a Miss Mardle. I’d hope she doesn’t fall back in with Groves. She’d have to quit her job, which is fine for the right man, to take care of his brood, which doesn’t seem her strong suit. I think she’d go crazy at home, taking care of small children.

This week against Mr. Crabb’s advice, Harry sells some of his shares in the store so he can build a number of homes for WWI veterans. Now he doesn’t have a majority stake (as was the case with the real Harry). Nancy’s conning Harry and stringing him along. So he’s going to lose big soon. The Nancy story isn’t recounted in Lindy Woodhead’s Shopping, Seduction, & Mr Selfridge so I don’t think it’s historical. It is suspenseful, but I’d like to see Harry less of a victim. The season began with Rose’s funeral, now this? I know the real Mr Selfridge wound up penniless, but I wish they’d postpone that. I do hope Nancy and her partner get their just desserts, i.e. jail time. I wish Mama Selfridge would look into Nancy Webb through the store’s information bureau.

Gordon hired, Pierre Longchamp to replace Henri. (I do miss Henri and Agnes. Again, I think they could have enriched the story by staying.) Longchamp’s arrogant and individualistic. He’s quite creative, but doesn’t think how his ideas and lack of communication impact the store. Gordon made a major faux pas by approving Pierre’s window display. It was to include something French. Rather than seeming out of it and asking for particulars, the newly promoted and very green, Gordon gave Pierre carte blanche. Little did he know he was approving a window featuring women in their undies. Quite a scandal for the era! Mr. Groves saw the trouble brewing and gleefully waited for disaster. Yet it was averted as the striking window brought in the crowds.

Pierre seems less refined and far more arrogant and immature than Henri, or anyone who should run this department. He’ll bring more trouble to Selfridge’s I fear. In this episode he just annoyed me, though his tree display was clever.

Despite her father telling her to stay out of trouble and avoid Victor, defiant Violette can’t help but rebel. When she spoke of not having a purpose, Harry did convince her to help Nancy with the homes for veterans. At first she wanted to do something administrative, but Nancy wants no one looking too closely at this con so she had Violette organize a charity dance, which was a big success. As the party round down Violette slipped off to see Victor, but was turned away at the door. She doesn’t seem like a woman who takes no for an answer though. I do wonder what’ll happen when Violette discovers Nancy’s a con artist. I’d like to see her take on Nancy. It’d be a good way for Violette to come into her own and not be a rich, bratty vixen. She was such a quiet girl in the previous seasons.

Victor might as well join the mafia. He’s continuing on the slippery slope with his night club. So much for the Italian restaurant he was going to start last year. Now for him to open he has to pay the dirty cop three times what was asked earlier. Rather than going out of business, he agrees to let Mike Reagan open a gambling den in the back. George is shocked when he finds out. I think he should go back to work for Harry since Victor’s place is sure to be raided again.

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