“忍者”潜剑的武道术 Robert Worth, Ninja’s Martial Arts
采访时间：2017年10月11日 Interview Date: October 11, 2017
Robert Worth, aka Robbie, comes from Ohio, USA, and gave himself the Chinese name “Qian Jian.” When he was six years old, he started to learn Taekwondo, Taijutsu and all kinds of international martial arts. He is a 6th Dan Black Belt in Bujinkan Budo Taijutsu. Following his first visit to Chengdu in 2006, he decided to make a move to this city in 2012.
I know that there is someone outside, yet I make no move, for I am a ninja.
Are you a real ninja?
In September, a founding anniversary themed “Water-sprinkling Festival” kicked off at a Chengdu international school. Crowds of children played joyfully with their parents, hurtling water balloons with dazzling colors in all directions. Suddenly a foreign man comes amidst the crowds. He, in a plain black belted robe and his hair in braids, pushes his way through crowds with springy steps, a big fatty black plastic bag on his back. He prepared many water balloons for the game Water Ninja, which is what its name suggests, combining martial arts with water play. There were twenty or thirty players in a circle, most of whom were absolute beginners in martial arts. To them, martial arts is just for fun, with some showy elements and nothing practical. For Robbie, however, martial arts are his life’s pursuit.
Out of curiosity, I blurted out, “Are you a real ninja?” Robbie replied with just a smile.
“Do you consider yourself as a Ninja?” I had another try.
“Ninja is popular among people. They don’t really understand what it is. Ninja is more about hiding than displaying, and more about survival than fighting.” Hearing his, I felt that my incessant questioning was clearly driven by a desire to yell out “Oh my! I know a real ninja!” Films, cartoons, books and other embellishments have attached a mystic shroud to the terms “ninja” and “ninjutsu.”
Cultivation of the “Modern Ninja”
When Robbie was six years old, his father took him to Tang Soo Do classes, which opened up a world of martial arts for little Robbie. His mother sent him to learn martial arts originally in the hope that martial arts would make him more sociable. “When I was ten years old, I was very fat, unhealthy and weird. Martial arts changed my body first, teaching me how to overcome obstacles, and my mind and confidence gradually strengthened as well.” In high school, Robbie became obsessed with all kinds of books on martial arts and also came to learn about Bruce Lee’s Wing Chung and Jeet Kune Do, which inspired him a lot. Later, he learned the martial arts of the different disciplines of many countries. During his first visit to China in 2006, he came to Chengdu to look for masters in Wing Chung.
Robbie形容当时的自己是“典型的美国中西部少年”，青春期骚动的心使他对武术的关注和理解仅停留在生理层面，如何攻击、出拳、踢，如何使出更酷炫的招数……直到大学里的一次偶遇。那天，Robbie和朋友在公园训练，对面一群黑衣人也正在训练，顿时烟雾弥漫。“我知道这是所谓的烟雾弹，把石灰放在鸡蛋壳里，投掷向你的敌人。忍者们正是用这招来逃生的。” 训练结束后，Robbie专门去问那位老师：“这是忍术吗？” “这是体术。” 其后，Robbie跟着这位老师学习体术，所学体术之中，包括三种忍术。
Robbie describes himself then as “a typical Midwest U.S. youth”. Subject to turbulent emotions during puberty, only wanted to know how to attack, punch and kick and look cool, only understanding the physiological component of martial arts until a chance encounter in college.One day, while Robbie and his friends were at a park working out, they saw another group of people in black also practicing. Within a foggy second, they were out of sight. “I knew this was a smoke shell which was eggshell stuffed with limestone and can be used to hurl at your enemy. That was how ninjas escape.” Seeing that they had finished their workout, Robbie came up to ask that master, “Is this ninjutsu?” “This is Taijutsu.” replied the master. Since that fateful day, Robbie has studied Taijutsu from this master, including three kinds of ninjutsu.
“体术，即身体之道，并没有什么玄妙，就是练习身体的技艺。” Robbie解释后问我：“何以为人？” 而后他在本子上写出了“生理”、“心理”和“精神”三个词，再接着说：“武术，是关于自我的修行。”
“Taijutsu, namely the way of body, is nothing mysterious, and is just a technique to build your body.” After his explanation of Taijutsu, Robbie asked me, “What makes you a person?” He writes three words on his notebook, “physical,” “Mental,” and “spiritual,” And then he continued, “Martial arts are about self-cultivation.”
Mysterious Body Art
I took one of Robbie’s classes. The first combat exercise of our workout involved two people standing face to face. When the opponent grabbed my left wrist with his right hand, I was taught to make a fist with my right hand and press heavily on his right hand with my knuckles, which was the simple, practical, and also really painful. Such a simple but smart counterattack was much better than brute force. Before the workout, Robbie told me to “Keep calm when your hands are controlled by your enemy and don’t just focus on the trapped hand. Remember that you still own your whole body.” This advice seems to be applicable when it comes to all kinds of problems that people face in life.
During close-range combat, the ebb and flow of space and distance between every movement lead you to decide how to fight back, all of which is very subtle. “When your body is near enough to the enemy, he would be seduced to punch you. If not, he would change his fighting techniques.” Perhaps without the pressures of fighting for survival, as our ancestors faced, people have become strangers toward their body strength, balance, coordination, and acuity, which were originally instinctual. In addition, we have lost an acute and diversified mind. In actual combat, ninjutsu, free from any rules, helps the weak excel in defeating stronger foes, giving it a special distinction.
Breannah Yeh，空中绳行 Slacklining in the Air
采访时间：2017年12月8日 Interview Date: December 8, 2017
Breannah Yeh, a.k.a. Ye Jiayun in Chinese, is a 21-year-old girl hailing from California. In the summer of 2017, she began the four-month study abroad program as an international student at the Southwest Minzu University under USAC. At the age of 13, she started practicing slacklining. With time, she made a name for herself as an athlete in slackline contests worldwide.
On a 26mm-wide nylon slackline above the ground, Breannah Yeh stood on her feet, stepped forward with calmness, twirled and jumped swiftly like a dancingbird. With an almost effortless spin, she landed on the ground, wearing a grin.
我不是第一个被他们吸引的人。四川大学的一片小树林前，早已围站了好些人，他们正端着手机或拍或录一男一女两人切换着在绳索上跳来转去、蹦蹦哒哒。 “吃瓜群众”里有声音在说：“哎哟，这两个人还凶哟，都不怕绊（摔）到痛。” 这条尼龙绳索叫扁带，两位练习者是四川小伙子康钶和以交换生身份留学成都的美籍华裔Breannah Yeh。
I was not the only one attracted to them. In front of Sichuan University, there was a grove which had been swarmed by spectators. They were taking photos or videoing when a man and a woman were alternating jumping to and fro on a slackline. “Oh! They are so cool and not afraid of falling.” exclaimed one of the spectators. The nylon line was a slackline, and the two players were Kang Ke, a boy from Sichuan and Breannah Yeh, an American exchange student with Chinese origin.
两人看上去很熟络，实则两个月前Breannah才在深圳的一场比赛中认识康钶的朋友。 走扁带是一项新兴运动，除了运动本身足够特别，Breannah最爱的是因运动的小众所建立的社群——几乎可以认识全世界志同道合的专业级玩家。 “当我们一起设置扁带时，我们之间的信任和默契瞬间建立。”Breannah很开心在成都停留的短暂期间里，能认识成都玩家中的佼佼者康钶。
As familiar as they were to each other, actually Breannah met Ke’s friend at a Shenzhen-based contest two months ago. As an emerging sport, slacklining is very special in and of itself. For people that carry the same enthusiasm for the sport, the slacklining community has created a world very close to Breannah’s heart. In the slacklining community, she can make friends with like-minded athletes all over the world. “When we together set up the slackline, trust and tacit understanding are cultivated between us.” For Breannah, it was such a delight to make friends with Kang Ke during her short stay, who was a second-to-none slackline player in Chengdu.
Slacklining does not have high requirements for practicingvenues; Itsimply entails two strong trees. Breannah preferred spacious fields close to nature, outside of the Chengdu urban area. Spots like a dilapidated amusement park in Pidu District, was frequented by them who carried along their slackline equipment Hanging in the air and exploring this city, they were endowed with a unique perspective ofChengdu.
Breannah has uploaded some videos about her practicing experience to Youtube and named the video Chengdu Slackforest.
Meditation beyond the earth
When Breannah was 13 years old, she happened to see Alex Mason training on a slackline in a climbing gym. Since that moment, curiosity has started her eight year journey of perseverance and devotion to slacklining. Even though she started with a very short slackline hung very low in the air, she could hardly stand on her feet. Little by little, she was able to wobble ahead step by step like a toddler. After four or five months, she attended her first contest.
“我从不因为动作没做到而气恼，我知道通过练习我终究会做到的。”这种坚信是源于对自己天赋的认知？ “天赋呀，有人这么说，但我觉得任何人都可以做到，只需要练习。” 她说，“很多人认为我是平衡力很好才开始做这个运动，其实是这项运动让我的平衡变得很好。”高中时，每到周末，Breannah 都会乘一个半小时的地铁，去离旧金山较近的埃尔塞里托进行两天的训练。她不觉得辛苦，反而乐在其中。“当我在空中的时候，我能够如我预想那般恰如其分地控制我的身体动作。有趣的是，这时候的我最开心了。”
“Even if I fail to do well in some footwork actions, I have never been seized by anger, for I know I will eventually make it.” Was this firm belief rooted in the full awareness of her talent? “Some people said so. But, from my perspective, it is continuous practice rather than talent that makes one get the hang of slacklining.” “In the eyes of many people, my good balance initially drove me into the sport. However, the fact is just the opposite. Thanks to the sport, I have grown better in keeping my balance.”In high school on weekends, Breannah used to take an hour and a half subway ride to El Cerrito, near San Francisco, for the two-day training. Instead of tiredness, she found great pleasure from that. “When I am in the air, I am able to control my body movements precisely to how I imagine. It’s interesting that this is the moment in which I am the happiest .”
旁人看高空行走或花式技巧时，既刮目相看又心中一紧，其实Breannah 脑中一丝杂念都没有，只享受美景中的那个瞬间。“人们觉得这很危险很疯狂，其实那一刻我沉静、专注并且享受，像是一种冥想。” 高空扁带的玩家在练习和比赛时都会系上救命索。“如果我很紧张，就会掉下去，感受下坠。 这让我知道，其实掉下去没什么大不了的。”
While spectators are watching highlining or slacklining with tricks, their hearts are filled with surprise and nervousness. However, for Breannah, free from any worry, she just takes the moment to enjoy the uniquely beautiful scenery. “People think it is dangerousand crazy. But, for me, at the moment,I am just calm and absorbed, it likes a kind of meditation. I enjoy it a lot.” High slackline (Highlining) athletes are tied in with safety rope during walks. “If I feel nervous, I resign myself to falling from the slack line, savoring the sensation of falling. And it dawns on me that falling from the line is not a big deal at all.”
The World of Slacklining
体格偏小的Breannah本很容易淹没在机场的人来人往中，但她背着装有扁带器具的巨大背包总是引来注目。比赛+旅行的生活常态在她13岁时开启，最初去陌生城市她也会胆怯忐忑，但想到那儿有玩扁带的朋友，一下子就心安了。这种信任变成了一种习惯，走扁带早已从一项特别的运动变成了一种生活方式。因着扁带，她的足迹从加州走向美国各地，并走向海外。当她不在旅行的时，她在圣路易斯-奥比斯波（San Luis Obispo）的大学城玩扁带。
With a small figure, Breannah was able to slip out of sight in the stream of peoplein the airport. However, a large backpack loaded with slackline equipment always made her stand out easily. Since she was 13 years old, she has lived a regular life of contest and travel. At the beginning, she was also timid and worried when she went to a strange city. But when she thought about other like-minded athletes there, she would feel greatly relieved. As this kind of trust gradually developed into a habit, slacklining has taken root in her heart as a lifestyle, no longer a special sport. Driven by enthusiasm for slacklining, she has expanded her footprint across California, as well as many other parts of the United States. When she is not traveling she is slacklining in her college town of San Luis Obispo.
Her four-month stay in Chengdu was not merely just for travel. Here, she got a taste for spicy hotpot; here, she established temporary headquarters to learn about her Chinese culture and the Asian slacklining community. Driven by enthusiasm for slacklining, she hiked and highlined over Lion Mountain of Hong Kong and climbed, kayaked, cliff jumped, and of course slacklined in Krabi Province of Thailand. Before leaving Chengdu to return to the United States, she went to Guangzhou for two-weeks of training with friends that she has met in her China travels.
她希望此生永远也不要停下旅行的脚步，就像户外摄影师Chris Burkard 那样。
She hopes that she will never stop traveling in her life, just like how outdoor photographer Chris Burkarddoes.
USAC：大学国外研究同盟，University Study Abroad Consortium的缩写。
USAC: USAC is the abbreviation of University Study Abroad Consortium.
走扁带，又叫走绳，行走于固定于两点之间的扁带上，扁带一般使用26毫米宽、3毫米厚的尼龙扁绳索，因而在行走过程中极不稳定。 玩家可不甘于只是脱离地面走一走，于是越走越高，便是“高空扁带”；若是技巧百出，则是“花式扁带”。 它挑战体能、平衡力，还有心理素质。与走绳索（rope walking）这种有着上千年历史的运动不同，当代走扁带运动追溯于1979年。 最初，走扁带是作为提高攀岩者平衡力的训练项目。
Slacklining, is a sport about walking on a line fixed between two spots. Generally, the slackline is a flat nylon line, 26 mm wide and 3 mm thick. Therefore, walking on this line can be very unstable and very challenging. Reluctant to just walk above the ground, some slackline athletes go higher and higher and longer and longer. Subsequently, “highlining” comes into being; with a dazzling display of fancy footwork, “trickslacklining” emerges. This sport is not only a challenge to physical and balance ability but also a mental challenge. Unlike the rope walking steeped in a history of over one thousand years, modern slacklining only dates back to 1979. Inits infancy, slackliningwas just a project to train the balance ability of rock-climbers.
柯扬，在荒郊野岭种一颗梦 Jan Karlach, Cultivating a Dream in the Wilderness
采访时间：2013年7月 Interview Date: July, 2013
柯扬：1983年前出生于捷克共和国布拉格。2006年第一次以背包客的角色来中国，2007年放弃IT专业，在布拉格查理大学东亚系学习汉学，同年第一次来成都旅行。2009年—2011年，在四川大学学习中文，并对凉山的彝族和周边的摩梭族产生浓厚的兴趣并深入研究，2012年7月，出版第一本书 Střípky z jižního Podnebesí（捷克语）。他希望从汉文化主宰的文化意识形态中，寻找到拾回传统的中国梦。
Jan Karlach: whose Chinese name is Ke Yang, was born in Prague, Czech Republic, 1983. He came to China for the first time in 2006 as a backpacker; in 2007, as a student at Charles University in Prague, he changed his major from IT to sinology of Department of East Asia and came to Chengdu for the first time. From 2009 to 2011, he studied Chinese at Sichuan University, during which he started to pay much attention to the Yi nationality in Liangshan and Mosuo nationality in its surrounding areas and deeply researched them; in July 2012, he published his first book Střípky z jižního Podnebesí in Czech. He hopes to rediscover traditional Chinese dream that lies in a cultural ideology dominated by the Han people’s culture.
Marginaloutcome is a mirror for cultural core.
Jan Karlach prefers discovery and trial to dreaming, so he shows interest in many fields – paleontology, geography, music, traveling, anthropology, contemporary literature, photography, etc. He is good at interdisciplinary thinking and likes nature. He said: “when walking in countryside with vital nature and cultural landscape, I can feel a joy that cannot be brought by any other thing in the world.” With such a complex of “passion for countryside”, during his study of Chinese at Sichuan University from 2009 to 2011, Jan Karlach walked to the “wilderness” in southwestern China. When Jan Karlach, a young man who loves to explore “non-mainstream” culture and marginal outcome, found the Yi people and the Mosuo Nationality who are surrounded by Han culture leading life in their own way, he was attracted by such an adherence.
“Throughout Chinese history, minority areas such as Liangshan played an equally important role as that of cultural core of the civilization. The outcomes in boundary and remote areas actually are a mirror for the cultural core.” According to Jan Karlach, “Usually, boundary is home to interesting things and will autonomously become a melting pot, where thought, concept, and spirit develop together through communication and crash no matter in terms of culture, geography, or folk customs, which can be evidenced by the coexistence of the Naxi nationality and Tibetan culture and the interaction between the Mosuo nationality and the Yi nationality.”
The urbanization requires succession and creation.
Jan Karlach said, “Czechs loves Czech beer just like Sichuan people enjoy tea and play Mahjong. But most people know little about their own tradtion. The era is obviously marked with aggressiveness and tradition is forced to take the second place.” He oncewent to Niufo Ancient Town, Zigong, Sichuan and was attracted by the old tea houses and architectures there. When talking with locals, he found that most of them thought that the “backward”, “shabby”, and “superstitious” architectures are a shame and the concrete bridge over the small township a symbol of “beauty.”
这类现象在柯扬看来，是中国当下的一种对传统认知的缺失，而中国的“文化认同危机”（cultural identity crisis）迟早会被越来越多的人谈起。全球皆被快节奏的消费社会所侵蚀时，捷克的情况并非好于中国，只是令柯扬感慨的是：“捷克国人关心历史和文化遗产，为此感到骄傲，并珍惜它。”进行跨学科研究的柯扬理解文化“同化”的自然属性，他说：“这是人类历史中持续发生的状态，只是现代化的进程需要与传统文化手牵手，需要更多的承上启下。”
In Jan Karlach’s opinion, such a phenomenon embodies poor understanding of tradition in today’s China and China’s “cultural identity crisis” will be mentioned by an increasing number of people sooner or later. The whole world is being eroded by fast-paced consumer social culture and the condition in Czech Republic is not better than China, but Jan Karlach also sighed: “Czechs care about history and cultural relics, and feel proud of and cherish them.” Jan Karlach’s inter disciplinary research helps him understand that “assimilation” is the natural quality of culture. He said: “It continuously happens in the history of human beings, but modernization needs tradition and more succession and creation.”
“Before coming to China, I was told that Asian people expressed their feelings in a mild and restrained way. But the Chinese people I have met are very sentient and willing to strive for their dreams. The only solution for protecting culture is the strong will of cultural carriers.” Jan Karlach mentioned an interview with Cui Jian on Vice, Cui Jian said: China is big and it has really a beautiful culture. Confucius teaches people, how to be nice to other people, but doesn’t teach people, how to be nice to themselves.We have totally lost the direction about searching ourselves. This is the bad part of the culture. And then, Jan Karlach abandoned his serious expression and had the funny viewpoint: Food is the only Chinese tradition that is still plentiful and alive and may exist forever.
Cui Jian said on Vice：“China is big and it has really a beautiful culture. Confucius has totally destroyed the culture of China. It’s the worst part of China. Confucius teach people, how to be nice to other people, but doesn’t teach people, how to be nice to themselves… We have totally lost the direction about searching ourselves. This is the bad part of the culture. People, don’t listen to him! He is an old guy, born 2000 years ago. For his age, his teachings were OK, but not for now.”
Jef Vreys，成都小众音乐在变脸 Chengdu Underground Music is Unveiling New Faces
采访时间：2016年8月4日 Interview Date: August 4, 2016
Jef Vreys: Belgian, a Chinese history major graduate. He once studied Chinese in Sichuan University and has been living in Chengdu since 2007. In 2009 He founded his indie music brand NewNoise, which offered overseas performance platforms for small yet distinctive bands that are either from China or from other countries. He has brought many big foreign bands to China to perform, especially to Chengdu.
Underground music may strike one as being dark, non-mainstream and rebellion. However, a more precise definition would be the music that circulates in small groups, rebels against commercial music and acts as a pioneer.
Independent Music Searches for its Soulmate
In 2007, a Belgian guy Jef came to study in China. He chose Sichuan University situated in Sichuan, which is home to many tourist attractions over Peking University and Tsinghua University – on one hand, he wanted to avoid the foreign visitors that flooded into Beijing for the Olympic Games in 2008 and on the other hand, he thought that he could experience Chinese culture featuring the blend of the old and the new. During the study, Jef used to watch performance in small taverns. “Small taverns were the people’s favorite,” recalled Jef.
8岁那年，Jef随父亲看了第一场地下音乐演出，开启了对音乐不一样的偏好和感知。15岁时他在乐队The Maple Room担任贝斯手，并策划了人生第一场演出。Jef的音乐志趣与中国市场的发展潜力促使他成立了自己的独立音乐厂牌NewNosie，其名出自Refused乐队的一曲歌名，代表着一种鲜明的音乐态度——主流的电视广播和商业化使音乐趋同，我们应该创造不一样的音乐，新的声音。
At the age of eight, Jef’s father took him to see an underground music performance, which was the first time he had ever seen anything like this. Ever since then, he began to develop his unique preference and perception of music. At the age of fifteen, he was the bass player in a band called The Maple Room and planned his very first concert. Jef’s music interest and the development potential in the Chinese market urged him to found his indie music brand NewNoise, which got its name from the song of a band called Refused. It represents a distinct music attitude: instead of being assimilated by mainstream TV broadcast and commercial music, we need to create different music and new voices.
Jef became a band agent who shuttled through Chinese and foreign underground music circles and brought foreign bands to China, such as MONO and Iceland-based band Múm. He also brought Chengdu bands to Europe, such as Wang Wen. Similar souls are always looking for opportunities to collide and diversified music trigger mutual communication and exchanges. “Underground music is more of a movement. As much as it reaches only a small crowd, it is now being accepted and understood by more people. Yet it still distinguishes itself from more popular mainstream music,” said Jef.
As it turns out, it is not a piece of cake. The first time Jef brought a Belgian band to China for performance, it took him half a year to make it happen. Even now, Jef, a minor celebrity in the industry, introduced more about China and Chengdu other than himself, his company or partner bands in the first mail he sent to the bands. After all, China, especially Chengdu, a city located in Southwest China, is still a mystery in the eyes of many foreign bands.
Made in Chengdu – The Music Trend on the Rise
Since he settled in Chengdu in 2009, Jef has completely experienced the changes in Chengdu’s underground music market. “Chengdu has a good music vibe; bands show up and root for each other, which together make a harmonious family. In the past few years, old bands, such as Asura and Sound Toy still did gigs while new generation bands like Stolen and The Hormones were booming. Most of the new bands have professional music background, whose development drives old bands to work harder,” said Jef. Now, Chengdu’s underground music diversified – from new metal to electronics, Indie and many other genres. Performance venues are no longer confined to pubs; the artists begin to perform in various urban places. In 2007, Zebra, Big Love and Strawberry and many other music festivals came to Chengdu. The public got to learn more about “underground music” and grew to love this type of “minority” music.
Three years ago (year of 2013), Jef and his partners planned an indoor music festival called “Made in Chengdu”. It gathers Chengdu’s local bands, whether their fame is big or small. In the past two years, each music festival attracted more than 2,000 audiences.
It is difficult to get foreign bands to perform in Chengdu not only because of geological problem, but also due to the matter of money. “Foreign bands have to pay more expensive air tickets to come to mainland China, compared with Hong Kong. However, they earn less from ticket income. In addition, in terms of large-scale performance, renowned bands often raise higher demands for equipment and space, but Chengdu is not yet mature enough to meet such demands,” said Jef.
Then, how did he attract foreign bands to come? “I would tell them that it would be a brand new experience!” said Jef. Indeed, the performance, the market prospect and the spicy Sichuan food are unprecedented in their previous experiences. Moreover, Jef, who likes to study Chinese history, often acts as a guide to introduce Beijing’s Forbidden City and Three-Kingdom culture of Chengdu’s Wuhou Temple to these bands, who thus get to know more about China.
Jef also talked about an interesting phenomenon. “If a Belgian band becomes famous in their own country, they will seek to expand foreign markets. Their Chinese counterparts, however, don’t see things this way. They believe that they couldn’t go there since no one knows them yet. In fact, it should be the other way around.” Jef also knows clearly that strikingly different life habits and culture underlie this phenomenon. As the society keeps developing, people will focus more on life quality, culture and history. Chengdu, this inclusive city, keeps unveiling its many new faces on a daily basis.
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秦思源X声音博物馆 Colin Siyuan Chinnery X Sound Museum
采访时间：2017年6月14日 Interview Date: June 14, 2017
秦思源（Colin Siyuan Chinnery），艺术家，中英混血。8岁学功夫，12岁返英读书，上世纪90年代担任北京“穴位乐队”主唱。先后做过大英图书馆管理员、中国国家图书馆国际敦煌学项目主任、英国大使馆文化教育处艺术项目总监、尤伦斯当代艺术中心副馆长、上海博览会国际当代艺术展总监。
Colin Siyuan Chinnery is an artist of mixed Chinese-British heritage. He learned Chinese Kung Fu at the age of eight and went back to the UK for school at the age of twelve. In the 1990s, Chinnery was the singer for the band “Xuewei” in Bejing. Later, he served as a researcher at the British Library, Head of the International Dunhuang Project of the National Library of China, Arts Manager for the British Council in Beijing, Deputy Director and Chief Curator of Ullens Center for Contemporary Art (UCCA) and Director of ShContemporary art fair in Shanghai.
In previous interviews, Chinnery has said several times that pigeons in Beijing are different to other places, for there is the tradition of attaching whistles to their backs which generate a unique sound while they are flying. From his perspective, every city boasts its own sound properties. It is a sound history created by the people who are living at each moment.
Recording the History of a City through sound
Chinnery’s family has a rich background in culture. His father John Chinnery (1924-2010) was a British sinologist, and his mother Hsiaoying Chinnery is the daughter of Chen Yuan (also known as Chen Xiying under the pen name) and Ling Shuhua. His grandmother Ling Shuhua, together with Lin Huiyin and Xie Wanying (Bing Xin), are acclaimed as the “Three Talented Women of the Republic of China,” and his grandfather Chen Yuan was a major literary opponent to Lu Xun, one of the greatest writers in contemporary Chinese history.
His grandparents once lived in Beijing’s Shijia Hutong, which was transformed into a museum in 2012 with funding from The Prince’s Charities Foundation. As a descendant of the house’s old owner and an artist with a unique perspective, Chinnery was selected as the consultant of the museum. Inspired by his curating experience for Sound and the City, Chinnery put forward the idea of presenting the unique sound culture of old Beijing.
In a room less than five square meters, there are hundreds of different sounds: the yelling of Shaobing hawkers in the early morning, clangs of grinders, the clatter of sewing machines, songs of girls skipping rubber bands and station broadcasting of ticket sellers in trams. Those sounds that have disappeared or are disappearing are parts of Beijing’s history. Chinnery said: “Both sounds and smells are intuitive memories. And records in sounds can transform an objective history into our own personal histories.”
Discovering the World with Our Ears
Constrained by a lack of funds, Chinnery had to stop collecting more sounds three years ago. He explained that many friends were willing to help, but this wasn’t a sustainable way to develop the project. However, his idea had developed into a conceptual sound museum, which he has started to develop in earnest this year. His new project can be considered as two parts. Part one is to collect and record sounds of Beijing in 1930s-1990s under different of themes and timelines. This part will be guided by a professional team consisting of sound engineers, IT engineers, and historians, and will be joined in by antique collectors of Beijing and sound recorders from all sectors. The other part is an international contemporary art project called “Embodied Sound”, a project open to all people across the world. Chinnery hopes that the public can join in the art project to record sounds around them and to discover the world with their ears.
“The phone was used for listening but now is for taking photos and videos. After sharing those photos and videos in WeChat, people forget them and then only care about those Likes,” said Chinnery, “this is the symptom of the times and is also a demonstration of losing our first-hand experience of the world. If we put aside those daily routines and use our ears to interact with the world, we may find something exciting and unexpected.”
Time Tunnel of Sound
Years ago in Beijing, the taxi meter would play a jingle for the passengers. Every time the music starts, it would take Chinnery back to the beginning of the 21st century. “The memory is easily perceived and my whole body is taken back to the time of that sound.” He wondered that if more duplicated sounds could be made, will they arouse other people with the same resonance? Will those sounds bring people into the past time as well? Actually, Chinnery understands that the reproduction of sounds is the weaving of a time tunnel.
Although Frenchman Leon Scott invented the Phonautograph in 1857, it only transcribes sound waves as undulations or other deviations in a line. It indicates that the history of the sound recording is not as long as 200 years. However, sounds as precious carriers have a far-reaching effect on the world. Chinnery said: “I am only able to find sounds dating back to the Republic of China. But these sounds still need the input and feedback of people still alive. If somebody could remember the voice of the child Puyi (the last Emperor of China) in the Forbidden City, he/she must be well over 100 years old by now.”
Regarding the question whether there are such sounds that do not need recording, like noises. Chinnery answered without hesitation “No.” He stressed that “Sounds cannot exist without sound sources. We can say that a car horn does not need to exist, but can you say that the car does not need to exist?” That is why social engagement projects like Embodied Sound are launched. By taking part in those projects, people can have the consciousness that while the world is changing, there are still more good sounds need to be recorded.
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何伟:在小城消失，像影子一样记录 Peter Hessler, Fading away in the town, recording like a shadow.
采访日期：2016年9月13日 Interview Date：September 13, 2016
Peter Hessler, with a Chinese name “He Wei” and an Arabian name “Boutros”, is an American writer and journalist. He is crowned as “one of the most insightful western writers with interest in modern China.” Graduating from Princeton University and Oxford University, he has contributed numerous articles to Wall Street Journal and National Geographic, among other publications. His representative works include River Town, Country Driving: A Journey from Farm to Factory and Oracle Bones, which are called “the trilogy of contemporary China”. From 2000 to 2007, he served as journalist of The New Yorkersin Beijing. From the autumn of 2011 to the summer of 2016, he migrated to Egypt and served as journalist of The New Yorkers in the Middle East.
As for the criticism frequently occurring in overseas coverage of China, many Chinese people use “These foreigners know nothing about China” as an excuse to turn a cold shoulder to the coverage. Peter Hessler, an American writer and journalist, impresses many Chinese readers with his trilogy of contemporary China. Many readers feel that he has got a better understanding of China than many Chinese people.
2016年，成都秋夜，一场关于“20年后重返中国”（Coming back China after 20 years）的讲座上，何伟在今年夏天结束五年的埃及生活，久别来华。现场座无虚席，中外读者齐聚，对他们而言，能见到何伟确是一件激动人心的事情。
On an autumn evening in Chengdu in 2016, a lecture themed by “Coming Back China after 20 Years” was held. Peter Hessler came back to China after bringing his 5-year life in Egypt to a close this summer. With all seats occupied, the lecture attracted readers from home and abroad. It was so exciting for them to see Peter Hessler.
The Story Begins with the “China adventure” in 1990s
From 1996 to 1998, Peter Hessler was sent to Chongqing Fuling Normal School (now it is named as Yangtze Normal University) as a American Peace Corps volunteer. Just like most foreign volunteers in China, never has he thought about any long-term connection with China. He said, “China was not a big deal in the 1990s. It was not attracting the young and ambitious American. At that time, only a few people were insightful enough to preconceive that China would transform like this.” Peter Hessler said that the reason for him to come to China was not due to insightfulness, but because of the fact that being a volunteer was quite an economical and unique way of an exploration.
Therefore, when his American friends were making a living, accumulating wealth and striving for social status, Peter Hessler had dwelled in a nameless Chinese town for two years. He never considered it as a kind of sacrifice, but an unknown adventurous trip made of his own accord. He had never imagined that he would publish River Town during his two-year stay in Fuling, part of a gigantic Chongqingmunicipality.Similarly, he had neverimagined that the book would be awarded “Kiriyama Prize (Pacific Rim)” upon being published, and then be the cornerstone for his career and life.
In 1990s, foreign teacher was a novel concept in China. Nevertheless, it was in 1996, when DVD was unavailable, email and communication were underdeveloped with only two cellular phones in the city, that Peter’s close contact with local people was facilitated. Thanks to that, he was able to experience the special flavor of Chinese life in a specific era.
至今，何伟与教过的大概百来位学生依然保持联系，从信件、电话到邮件。表达关心的同时，这些学生也成为何伟观察中国的一个窗口。每年，何伟发送有针对性的问题给学生。前几年是关于经济，何伟希望通过他们了解中等收入人群（Medium Income）的情况。何伟说：“1998年毕业后的大部分学生当了老师，那时平均年收入大概是500美元，前两年，大部分学生如今的收入超过16000美元/年，平均年收入大概是20000美元/年，这是一个巨大的飞跃。当我问学生如何看待自己的社会地位（Social Class）时，70%的学生回答是‘下层阶级’（Lower Class）或者是‘贫穷’（Poor），甚至不少学生说自己是无产阶级（Proletariat），但是无论从任何定义而言，他们都可以说是中产阶级。其中一个学生的年收入50000美元，他的孩子读私立学校，他有三套房子、有车，且没有任何负债，但是他依然说自己是‘下层阶级’。”
So far, Peter Hessler has kept in touch with over 100 students, through letters, phone calls and e-mails.While caring for them, the contact with the students has been a window for Peter to observe China. Every year, Peter sent targeted questions to students. Several years ago, the questions were about economy. Peter wanted to get a better understanding of medium income group. He said, “Most of the graduates in 1998 became teachers, with an average annual income of about 500 USD. In recent years, most students’ annual income has reached over 16,000 USD, and the average annual income has been 20,000 USD. What an impressive leap! When my students were asked how they describe their own social class, 70% of them answered “lower class” or “poor”, and many of them even called themselves “Proletariat”. Nevertheless, by all definitions, they can be labeled as a middle class group. One of my students, without any debt, has an annual income of 50,000 USD, with a car, three houses and a child studying at private school. But he still asserted that he was among the lower class group.
“生活已经改变了，但是人们大脑层面的设定需要时间来调整（Mind set takes time to readjust）。”何伟如是说。
“Life has changed, but mindset takes time to readjust,” said Peter Hessler.
According to the Global Wealth Report 2015 released by Credit Suisse, the number of Chinese middle class reached 109 million. Although the number only accounted for 11% of national adult population, it outnumbered that of America, and China became the county with largest middle class population in the world.
Seeing from High Above, Observing in Specific Details
Six months before leavingFuling, receiving an encouragementfromhis tutor John McAfee, Peter started to write River Town. Although he had dreamed of being an author when he was a senior high school student, he knew quite well that writing was a long journey. Even for famous writers, poor performance in writing was nothing new at their age of 20. It is one of the experiencesthat makes writing more full-fledged.
The articles published on the columns of The New Yorker are included in Strange Stones: Dispatches from East and West, the fourth book of Peter Hessler. Peter’s creative angle of view can be seen from the wonderful coverage: He never intends to integrate himself into society, no matter where he is. Instead, he keeps aloof from society, records the stories of ordinary people and digs out inspiration from every single detail.
“All the important political events are hidden behind ordinary people’s stories in the small town.” Staying perspicacious, calm and aloof, Peter Hessler dives into different political systems, economy and culture. He has recorded stories of many ordinary people, including painter, policeman, taxi driver, athlete, student Emily and doctor Donne. The figures can strike a responsive chord for Chinese and western readers, and bring them closer to the world. Peter studied Chinese and Arabicto acquirea better understanding of the society that he observes, rather than to integrate into a foreign country. According to him, by virtue of language, he can write out of hometown with incisive perspective. He said, “It will be much easier for writers with language skills to seek empathy connection.” Even though he’s proficient in Chinese, he still utilizes “creative stammer” from time to time, in a bid to facilitate his observation and record.
As an on-the-spot journalist, Peter Hessler does not completely take a neutral stance promoted in news. He brings “I” into the context with individual perspective, and keeps distantfrom the events and figures. He said, “It is rather subtle to express opinions, and I try my best to refrain from jumping to conclusions.” Peter’s non-fiction writing features simple delineation and cautiously used rhetoric. “Non-fiction writers cannot make up stories. We have to dig out facts and collect information, and that’s the reason why non-fiction writing is so creative.”
“Some people told me that they wish they could have been there and had that experience. They said ‘You have something to write but I don’t have anynow.’ As a matter of fact, China has always been an amazing land, full of incredible materials.”
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“大黄鸭之父”霍夫曼：大男孩和他的大伙伴们 Hofman, “Father of Rubber Duck”, A Big Boy and His Big Friends
采访时间：2013年7月 Interview Date: July, 2013
荷兰概念艺术家。曾在大尺幅画布上画了10年油画，后以荷兰鹿特丹为基地，开始从事在公共空间创作巨大造型物的艺术项目。大型艺术已经成为他的“签名”，“胖猴子”(The Fat Monkey 2010年在巴西圣保罗展出)、“大黄兔”(The Big Yellow Rabbit 2011年在瑞典厄勒布鲁展出)等等，最出名的是今年在香港和即将在北京展出的“大黄鸭”（Rubber Duck）,也因此，他被称为“大黄鸭之父”。
Florentijn Hofman is a Dutch conceptual artist. He made oil paintings on large canvases for 10 years. Thereafter, based in Rotterdam, Netherlands, he began to work on giant models in public spaces. Large art works such as “The Fat Monkey” (exhibited inSao Paulo, Brazil in 2010) and “The Big Yellow Rabbit”(exhibitedin Orebro, Sweden in 2011) have become his signature works, among which “Rubber Duck”, which was exhibited in Hong Kong and scheduled to be exhibited in Beijing, is the most famous. That’s why he is popularly known as the “Father of Rubber Duck.”
For Hofman, who is in his thirties, 2013 is an important year when he and his large creations finally gained recognition in the land of China. This was particularly so for “Rubber Duck”, whose conception was indelibly linked with China. It finally appeared in Victoria harbor in Hong Kong, 13 years after the design was conceived.
Prior to China, Rubber Duck had toured many countries, but for some, the work merely represented an oversized bathtub toy. Particularly in China, large inflatable devices are commonplace in public places. To celebrate retail store openings, for example, large inflatable pillarsare a common sight amid a rising sea of colorful balloons. These contraptions attract attention, but have doubtlessly little affiliation with art. Therefore, when Hofman arrived at the world’s largest stand-alone building – the Global Center in Chengdu, in July 2013, he generated both warm welcome and controversy.
高1米93的霍夫曼崇尚“不婚主义”，身为三个小孩的老爹，却依旧像个大男孩。他喜欢搜罗世界各地的玩具，喜欢将艺术与公共空间发生联系。于是他将这些玩具扩大无数倍，并以横七竖八的形式放置于公共空间，倒地的巨型兔（The Big Yellow Rabbit ）、过街的鼻涕虫（Slow Slugs）、拖鞋做的大猴子（The Fat Monkey），甚至在葡萄牙将弗朗西斯科·德阿尔梅达（Francisco De Almeida，约公元前1450至1510年，葡萄牙贵族、军人和首任印度总督）的雕像贴满了彩色的橡皮泥。
Hofman, who is 1.93-meter tall, advocates a “non-marriage doctrine. ” A father of three, he has the air of a big boy himself. He likes collecting toys from all over the world and connecting art with public spaces. This inspired him to create hugely magnified replicas of those toys, and displaying them unconventionally in public. His works include The Big Yellow Rabbit, which lay on its back in a town square, Slow Slugs which ascended steps towards a church, and The Fat Monkey, made from slippers. In Portugal, he even stuck colorful plasticine to the statue of Francisco de Almeida (1450 to 1510 BC, Portuguese nobleman, soldier and first Governor General of India).
By some studies, the Dutch populace is statistically the tallest in the world. This fact, combined with the abundance of open art spaces in Holland, may shed some light on the creative impulses of Hofman. By displaying familiar toys in unfamiliar sizes the artist arouses a sense of awe from mundane objects. “Perhaps artist is not a good word, but it represents a heart that discovers the world”, Hofman says.
Q: Why is the size of artworksvery important to you?
Hofman: A large artwork will draw people’s attention at first sight and make them walk around the work and take an overall look of it. Large-scale artworks make not only public space, but also the viewer smaller. I’m not making things big, but making the world smaller.
Q: In the process of city construction, more and more works of art get placed in public spaces, what do you think of their combination?
Hofman: Public art is booming in the Netherlands where artists’ exploration, development, and creation are supported by the government. For example, if building a house costs three to four million Euros, then 1% of the cost will be used for artistic creation. Sometimes I think the rich cultural environment in the Netherlands is overdeveloped, and some works are awful. But this 1% policy is good for the development of Chinese art, and in the initial stageof construction, ideas of artists, dancers, and musicians can be integrated into creation and planning.
Q: You are full of curiosity, in the short journeyin Chengdu, what you say the most is the word “why”. So “Mr. Why”, how do you like this city?
Hofman: When the car passed by Tianfu Avenue, I was impressed by those grand and fantastic buildings on both sides. I think this city develops so fast, when facing these buildings, we feel we are so small, and human-beings are so small. The “1% policy” I mentioned just now is not appropriatefor permanent art. Contemporary art is transient, and is full of changes and freshness. I hope that public space belongs to everyone and is an amusement parkfor grown-ups, in where they may discover cheerful things like children.
Q: You and your works have been to many countries and regions, and some of your works are even based on and created for those places; so, on which country do your works have the most influence?
Hofman: Different countries have different ways of working. In Brazil, people will keep you waiting for three days, while in Japan, people will urge you after waiting for one minute. Every day of my life is like living in a dream, and my job is to play with a lot of people, I am a big kid who is having fun. The country in which my works have the most influence on should be called the Internet, where my works are watched and displayed the most number of times. Many people see my works on the Internet and think they have understood them, but in fact, they have not. That’s why I keep travelling around the world to make people truly understand my works.
Q: In fact, many of your works are distinctive, but only the “Rubber Duck” is popular in China, and you are called “Daddy Duck.” Do you think the popularity of “Rubber Duck” is because of everyone understanding the love it conveys, or just out of a herd mentality?
Hofman: Both are factors, but I think it is more because of the work itself. When I sneak to the places where my works are displayed and hear people’s opinions, I hear many different voices, and Rubber Duck is one of my controversial works.
Q: Some people question that your work is just the re-amplification of “Little Rubber Duck” and they even think it is a tort. What do you think of this issue?
Hofman: As an artist, I must be frank and open. There are toys collected from all over the world in my studio. I was inspired by them so I amplify them and change their appearance and materials. This is a completely different art in which I emphasize volume of public space and use of local materials. I’m not the first “amplifying” artist, but I am the first artist to amplify Little Rubber Duck. The image of little ducks has existed for hundreds or even thousands of years. When I decided to make the “Rubber Duck”, I found hundreds of images of ducks until I found the one “Made in HK”.
In 1992, a cargo shiploaded with 29,000 bathtub toys, most of which were yellow rubber ducks, set out from China, planning to cross the Pacific to reach Port of Tacoma in Washington State, USA. On the way, the ship encountered a storm, and the containers fell into the sea and ruptured. After fifteen years of drifting with the currents, those rubber ducks finally reached the shores of the U.S. and the UK.
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