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Archive for February, 2013

No Equality Yet

Wednesday, February 27th, 2013

jobAt a recent lunch with Jane, an American woman executive in a large media company and Zhang, a Chinese male colleague, also in the media, we talked about women’s positions in China and the U.S.

I have always admired Jane and liked her enthusiasm, openness, and ready laughter, especially considering her high-pressure top management position in a fast-paced industry. I asked her how she managed her daily job since she always appeared calm and at ease.

She laughed.

“The busier I am, the more productive I am,” she said.

She added that she loved challenges and solving problems. She also acknowledged that it was not possible for a woman to get to her position before, stating that the changing times had enabled her to move up the corporate ladder.

Then Jane asked about women’s positions in China.

“Men and women are equal in China,” Zhang answered as I struggled to put my thoughts together.

I raised my eyebrows and stared at him.

pay“Well, when women apply for jobs, they usually don’t get hired as easily as men,” Zhang added after a pause. “That’s only because of the concern about women’s commitment to work,” he explained. “Once a woman starts a family and has a child, employers worry that her work would be interrupted. But once women are in the workforce, they receive equal treatment, with equal pay and salary increase.”

I doubted if Zhang realized the contradiction in his statement.

“I think women in China enjoy a much stronger position than their average counterparts in many other Asian countries,” I cut in. “But if you look at higher positions in the government or corporations, there are not that many women at all.”

With that said, I admitted that growing up in a family of strong women, and hearing Mao’s slogan that “women hold half the sky” all the time, I never sensed or was even aware of the discrimination against women until I entered the workforce and encountered discrimination first hand.

In the early 1980s, college graduates received assigned jobs. Mine was to handle the import and export of films at a large company in Beijing. But when I reported to work and revealed I was a woman, not a man as the company requested, they banished me to do film subtitle translations in a subsidiary. I fought four years in vain to change my job, and in the end, escaped to the U.S. to do my graduate studies.

“It was only after I came to the U.S. that I learned about feminism and realized how far women had come, both in the West and East,” I told Jane.

There is no doubt that women’s positions have been improving continuously since the ‘80s, both in China and the U.S. However, we still face many challenges when it comes to equality between men and women, and we still have a long way to go.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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The Civil War in Syria and the U.S.

Friday, February 22nd, 2013

Outside Syrian Capital 75  

The horrific civil war that has raged in Syria for the past two years, has pitched the dying days of a brutal dictatorship against a popular uprising, similar to the revolutions that have visited many Arab countries, over the past few years in what is now called the Arab Spring. The Arab Spring in Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Libya, and Egypt is quickly turning into the dark days of winter. The peaceful transfer from military dictatorship to democracy is not easy.  In most of those countries, the revolution was started as peaceful demonstrations against repression and hopelessness. Demands for reform fell on deaf ears, even though the demands were reasonable for the most part, and were generated by the intelligentsia of those countries.  However things did not turn out as planned. The largest country in the region Egypt had democratic elections, which bought the Muslim brotherhood to power and one of their own as president, Mohamed Morsi. Those who started the revolution were not expecting to step backwards by the appointment of religious Muslim leaders who clearly are following an agenda of religious intolerance, suppression of women’s rights, and Sharia law. Of course when you have a democratic election involving all of the people, which in Egypt’s case means 80 million or so, many of whom are illiterate and living in the far-flung corners of the country where only the Muslim brotherhood had taken the time and trouble to provide social services, it is to be expected that the local people would vote based upon their experiences.  It is quite likely that turmoil, violence and repression will continue in all of these countries for many years to come. Ultimately the world may not see new democracies but perhaps new military strongmen, leading to the appointment of the next dictators.  The rest of the world can only look on and hope for something better.

The war in Syria has become more brutal with every passing day. The Syrian regime is indiscriminately killing armed insurgents as well as its own innocent citizens as it clings on to power.  What will be the end result?  The continued slide into sectarian violence, old religious animosities and intolerance, and the destruction of the country both physically and economically.

There was much coverage in the media recently about the fact that, in the past two years, the violence in Syria has cost 60,000 lives.  How awful.  But the violence in the US over the past two years has cost over 60,000 lives.  Not, thankfully from bombs, airstrikes and rockets, but our country is in a state of perpetual civil war these days. 300 million guns in the hands of our citizens are leading to the inevitable daily fatal violence.  In our country, the Civil War is gang against gang, or the killing of innocent bystanders as the gangs fight it out for drug sales territory.  Also, we have the continuous deaths from random killings by mentally disturbed or just plain angry people seeking revenge.  We are told that there can be no possibility of amending our constitutional rights to bear arms, as if the founding fathers had in mind the Newtown killings of school children, or the mentally disturbed killer of innocents in a Colorado cinema.

 1214 Sandy Hook School Tragedy 50,jpg

Our 30,000 annual deaths from gun violence included over 10,500 killings by handguns last year. This compares to 58 in the UK and less than 100 in every other developed Western nation.

What is going on in America is crazy.  Everyone agrees that hunters and those that wish to enjoy shooting ranges should be allowed to own guns. In many other countries those owners are quite happy to keep them under lock and key at the local police station or their local club.  Nowhere in the world do sportsmen own or need semi-automatic weapons with magazines holding up to 100 Bullets.  It may be sport to hunt deer or other animals during a limited season, but semi-automatic weapons would never be used for this purpose. They are designed for military purposes to kill. Of course the majority of deaths by gun violence in the US are from suicide or accident.  How many families have had their lives ruined by an accidental killing of a loved one or a small child?  These are not rare occurrences; they hardly warrant a few lines in the newspapers these days because they are so common.

Unfortunately these killings are going to continue. We should not be shocked at the next school horror, or the death of an innocent schoolgirl at a bus stop, or attacks by mentally deranged people in cinemas and theatres, supermarkets or car parks. This is part of the American way of life today. There is no solution because our political leaders are corrupted by their fear of not being re-elected in the next Congressional go around. So whatever happens, they know they must not upset the NRA, who have made it clear that they will attack any member of Congress who votes against their platform.

There will probably be a new bill passed with great fanfare by our legislators. It will be a watered-down affair that will not really address the true issues of gun violence in our country, nor will it stop the killings from continuing.

The Syrian Civil War will eventually come to an end.  The Assad regime will fall, probably to be replaced by religious warlords keeping the country in continuous chaos for many years to come. However the killings will gradually halt, and the lives lost over the last couple of years will not be repeated.

In the US however, we cannot look to any similar relief.  Our 30,000 deaths per annum from gun violence will probably continue and may even get worse.  Who knows? Will our Congress act to stop this insanity?  As the saying goes, “not in my lifetime.”

 

Ellis M. Goodman, author of Bear Any Burden: www.bearanyburden.com

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Reading “Catch 22”

Thursday, February 21st, 2013

catch22_cover

My reading group recently selected Joseph Heller’s Catch 22. I read the book years before and barely remembered any details except the increase of flight missions. I must admit that this time it took me a while, nearly a third of the book, before I was able to really get into it.

What bogged me down was the dark humor and the style—after a few chapters, I felt it repetitive in a way that you could tell the author would use the same method to make the war and everything resulted from it ridiculous.

As I read on, however, it dawned on me how much truth lay beneath the mocking, which, in turn, shocked me and made me feel depressed.

Joseph heller

Joseph Heller

I forged on because our discussion date was approaching, until one day I found myself drawn deeply into it. The black humor, accompanied with such grotesque exaggeration, exposed the cruelty and meaninglessness of war. One couldn’t help from laughing, though not without a heavy sense of sadness. The narrative, going back and forth in time, also amazed me—it often goes back to the same event, revealing more details each time a particular scene was re-visited. Very cleverly done.

As I got deeper into the novel, it occurred to me that if someone could write about China’s Cultural Revolution in this manner, it would be brilliant! The absurdities, betrayal, despair, destruction, vulnerability and fear of individuals, and the extremity of situation were the same, if not more. Perhaps, Mo Yan’s novels were the closest to Heller’s ridicule, but without such poignancy and directness.

Our group met last Sunday over a delicious corn soup, apple cake, pasta, BBQ pork, fruit, veggies, and a variety of cheese and crackers. I thought we needed the food to cheer up a discussion of such dark and serious issues. The food certainly helped, but what brought the discussions alive was the different perspective of the reading by each of our members, as we always do.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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Chinese New Year celebration at DePaul University

Tuesday, February 12th, 2013

IMG_0606The Year of the Snake rang in with a big celebration at the main campus of DePaul University in Lincoln Park. From lion dance, songs, to games and raffle drawings,  a variety of festival activities cheered over 600 students, faculty, and participants from the local community, accompanied with a feast of Chinese food.

I was quite impressed by the turnout and the enthusiasm at the celebration. Among the majority of Asians sitting at the large round tables, each decorated with a hand-made paper money which symbolizes good fortune, were many Westerners and people from other ethnic backgrounds. The Chinese New Year celebration became a cross-cultural get together that enhanced interaction and connection among people without borders.

Snake is the 6th animal in the Chinese zodiac of 12. It meant this year, starting on Feb. 10, is a year of stability and progress, with attention to details. Snake is regarded as enigmatic, intuitive and refined.

At Chinese New Year Gala with my cousin Xiang.

At Chinese New Year Gala with my cousin Xiang.

The celebration of the Chinese New Year at DePaul was hosted by the University’s Chinese Studies Program and International Students Organization. Li Jin, professor and director of the Chinese language program, delivered a welcome statement that captured the spirit of the evening. The performances given by the students and some local community groups were amateur but fun. I particularly enjoyed the dance Peacock on the Tibetan Plateau and Dance of Flying Colors by the Huamulan Dance Troupe.

It was also fun to run into a few friends and watch one of a friend’s son, Aaron, work and perform on stage.

I’d like to thank and congratulate all the people and departments involved in putting together this well attended event. A friend, who was here last year, enjoyed it so much that she came again with her husband and son. Hope it will continue in the years to come.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning film by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset.

 

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Asian filmmakers at PSIFF

Friday, February 1st, 2013
A scene from Our Homeland

A scene from Our Homeland

At the recent 24th Palm Springs International Film Festival (PSIFF), I was excited to meet several emerging Asian or Asian American filmmakers.

Yong-Hi Yang, director of “Our Homeland” from Japan and Chhay Bora, director of “Lost Loves” from Cambodia were among them.

Yang’s feature film is based on her own life. She was born and raised in Japan but keeps a South Korean passport, country of her parents’ origin. Descendants of Koreans brought to Japan during its colonial rule were very much discriminated. Many Koreans willingly went to North Korea in the 1950s seeking a better life. Yang’s three older brothers were among them. This film featured one of her brothers, who, after spending 25 years in North Korea, obtained permission to visit Japan for the treatment of a brain tumor. The family was monitored by a North Korean agent during his visit, and his three-month stay was cut short to 10 days without explanation. The tension generated among family members was presented with subtlety and depth. Having lived in the 60s in China, I have a deep understanding of the brother’s fear and pessimistic submission to the system, “just to survive,” as he plainly stated. I like the film’s realistic presentation and the performance, especially the brother and the loving mother.

A scene from Lost Loves

A scene from Lost Loves

I didn’t have a chance to watch Bora’s film. It was a heart-rending true story of Leav Sila, a Cambodian mother who tried to keep her family alive, only to see most of them killed or starved to death under the Khmer Rouge regime.  The story is based on the mother of Bora’s wife who is one of the two surviving children in the family. I learned that Bora and his wife put their life savings together to fund this project. “The story must be told,” Bora said. “Lost Loves” was Cambodia’s first submission to the Academy Awards in 18 years.

I ran into Ramona Diaz at the festival’s hospitality room. There were not that many black-haired people at the room provided for people in the industry. When I saw one at a desk, I went over to say hi. I learned she was from the Philippines and had been in the U.S. for many years. She invited me to see her film “Don’t Stop Believin’: Everyman’s Journey”, a documentary film focusing on the success of Arnel Pineda, a poor singer from the Philippines. Arnel has successfully filled the big shoes of Steve Perry in the band “Journey” and made the revival of the band a great hit.

A scene from "Journey"

A scene from “Journey”

I very much enjoyed the film and was excited to learn later on that the film was selected as one of the “Best of the Fest”, 15 out of 180 films. A great honor!

The last Asian filmmaker I met was Wendy Lee, director of “Pad Yatra: A Green Odyssey”. It’s about a journey taken by 700 people under Buddhist leader Galwang Drupka to walk 450 miles across the Himalayas to bring awareness about environmental problems to the locals.

Lee’s publicist reached out to the media list at PSIFF and I scheduled an interview with her. I was surprised to see Lee so young. She has won quite a few awards for the film and is working on the screenplay of her next film project.

Each of them is unique in his or her own ways and passionate about the path they have chosen. I wish them success and look forward to seeing more of their works and those of other Asian filmmakers in the future.

Jian Ping, author of Mulberry Child: A Memoir of China, which has been developed into an award-winning documentary by Susan Morgan Cooper and is narrated by Jacqueline Bisset. Visit www.mulberrychildmovie.com for more information.

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