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From the Chinese film version of "The Gallant Maid" titled "The Heroine"

He Yufeng was created by “Yanbei Xianren” and appeared in Ernü ying xiong zhuan (The Gallant Maid, 1851-1879). “Yanbei Xianren” was the pseudonym of Wen K’ang (1798- 1872), a local official in Anhui who came from a prominent Manchu family and was appointed imperial agent to Lhasa. The Gallant Maid is little-known outside of China but is popular inside it, having inspired sixteen sequels.

The Gallant Maid is about He Yufeng (“Jade Phoenix”) and An Ji. An Ji is the son of the righteous official and Manchu bannerman An Xuehai. An Xuehai is in charge of the repair of a dam, but a flood destroys the dam and An Xuehai is made the scapegoat for its destruction. An Xuehai is imprisoned and ordered to pay a large fine. An Ji travels a long way to help his father, carrying a large load of silver to ransom him, but he repeatedly runs into misfortune, with his donkey drivers and later some evil monks both trying to rob him. Both times he is rescued by He Yufeng, who also frees an old farmer whose wife and daughter, Chinfeng (“Golden Phoenix”), had been captured by the monks. He Yufeng explains herself to the farmer. Years ago her father, General Ho, had been killed by sorcery. General Ho had been a high official of the Solid Yellow Banner, but his superior had ordered him to marry He Yufeng to the official’s son. The son was crude and barbaric and was unworthy of He Yufeng, who is beautiful and educated. General Ho refused to countenance the wedding, so his superior had him jailed on false charges and then killed him via sorcery. He Yufeng, loyal to her father in the proper Confucian way, retreats to a rustic village with her mother and then goes to the underworld and trains herself as a nüxia, or female knight-errant, to avenge her father. While her mother is alive, however, He Yufeng cannot carry our her revenge, and instead makes a good living robbing corrupt and evil government officials. He Yufeng is so strong and such a good fighter that all the other outlaws greatly respect and fear her. In the underworld she is known as Shisan Mei, “the Thirteenth Sister.”

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The City of Light is the journal of the travels of Jacob D'Ancona, a 13th century pious Jewish merchant. Readers follow Jacob on a three-year journey, starting from his hometown of Ancona in present-day Italy, overland through Damascus and Baghdad, and then by sea, stopping at various ports and places until he reaches the city of Zaitun, modern-day Quanzhou, where he stays to buy goods and talk to the scholars of the city. It consists of equal parts travelogue/memoir and a philosophical discussion of medieval Jewish and Chinese ideas.

This was a time when Jews had restricted access to jobs or freedom to run their own lives. In medieval Europe, Jews often had to wear physical signals of their faith: yellow stripes or stars. Jews had restricted job and social opportunities: they were often forbidden from interaction with Christians. In Muslim lands, the restrictions for Jews were somewhat more relaxed, but Jews still paid higher taxes than Muslims did -- though not as high as those paid by the non-"People of the Book".

Jacob himself is an interesting exception to many of the typical rules. He travels with both Jews and Christians, and frequently mentions his young female Gentile servants' romantic lives. Furthermore, Jacob is a jack-of-all-trades, a Renaissance man in pre-Renaissance times. He's a traveler, a merchant, a scholar, a physician, an authority who is consulted by Jewish and Chinese communities alike. He speaks and writes in fluent Hebrew, Italian, Latin, Greek, and Arabic. Nearly everyone who meets him likes him. He's a bit too good to be true: in modern terms, he's a pretty big Mary Sue.

But the most compelling parts of the book are not Jacob, but the world he's seeing for the first time. The descriptions of Chinese life are vivid and lengthy, and the variety and extensiveness of the Chinese market was stunning and often unbelievable to European eyes. Jacob engages in lengthy discussions (through a translator) with Chinese scholars and even spends several weeks stuck in the sordid underworld, full of gambling, prostitutes, and illicit sex.

There's also political intrigue, and the threat of very real danger: At this time, northern China was under the rule of Kublai Khan and there was a very real threat of invasion by the "Tartars" -- for Europeans and the southern Chinese alike. Meanwhile, the Chinese community of scholars was divided itself between old and new ways of thinking.

Jacob finds many points of contact and connection between himself and several of the Chinese scholars, especially a man named Pitaco, who like Jacob was worried about the lack of respect in the younger generation, the stability of the country's morals, and the justification of trickle-down economics. Perhaps most fittingly for a book about contact and conflict between Western and Eastern cultures, Jacob's habit of pontificating ends up rubbing many Chinese scholars the wrong way. As the inhabitants of the city get upset about the amount of influence the foreign Jew has in the city, Jacob concludes his business and leaves in a hurry, fearing for his life.

There's really just one problem with the narrative: Jacob D'Ancona may have never existed.

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Note: Read Part 1 of this essay here.


Cartoon from The Wasp. Image courtesy of Berkeley University. Click for link.

Historical and cultural trends fed into the development during the 19th century of the Yellow Peril in the United States and Europe. The first Asian immigrants to the United States were the Chinese who took part in the Gold Rush in California in the late 1840s. They were the first free nonwhites to arrive in the United States in large numbers, and the racial, religious, cultural, and linguistic differences between white Americans and the Chinese immigrants, as well as the perception that the Chinese were taking jobs away from white Americans, led to hostility and racism directed at the newcomers. Among the manifestations of this hostility was a new set of anti-Chinese stereotypes. (The lack of Japanese immigrants in America as well as the perception in America that Japan was an ally of the West kept stereotypes about the Japanese to a minimum until the aftermath of the Russo-Japanese War in 1905).

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Click to read more on the publisher's website.

When we take about the impact of the Industrial Revolution, we speak of it in terms as if there had been only One Industrial Revolution, and that had taken place throughout the Western world during the nineteenth century. As I had written about before, the Industrial Revolution didn’t just happen then, and in fact, the current industrial revolution is happening throughout the non-Western world just as the West begins to grow nostalgic about it.

In talking about alternative histories, and how the non-West would develop, it’s interesting to dream up scenes of Imperial splendor (like James Ng does). It is equally valid, however, to note that you don’t have to look toward the Qing dynasty to see a Chinese industrial revolution, for, as James himself has noted, China is changing into a fully developed industrial nation as we speak.

With that in mind, I picked up Leslie T. Chang’s book about her observations about today’s current revolution, specifically of those factory girls in China that the West likes to paint as faceless factory drones (occasionally laced by the feeling of guilt toward those “poor sweatshop workers.”) Chang, however, breaks down that stereotype (though sweatshops are very much alive and well in China) and presents a look into the lives of today’s migrant factory workers.

Compulsively readable and engaging throughout, FACTORY GIRLS: From Village to City in a Changing China highlights the stories of the young people (particularly women), who are changing the face of the global economy today. Instead of the masses teeming in nameless sweatshops that the West envisions, these lives are individually dynamic and driven, full of same sorts of fear and wonderment that the young mill girls in the West may have also felt a hundred and fifty years ago, as they sought to make new lives for themselves.

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Vlisco model. Click for source.

“A picture of a pipe isn't necessarily a pipe, an image of “African fabric” isn't necessarily authentically [and wholly] African”.

These above words are quoted by Yinka Shonibare, a Nigerian-British contemporary artist known for his amazing artwork using African print fabrics in his scrutiny of colonialism and post-colonialism. What is commonly known as “African fabric” goes by a multitude of names: Dutch wax print, Real English Wax, Veritable Java Print, Guaranteed Dutch Java, Veritable Dutch Hollandais. I grew up calling them ankara and although they've always been a huge symbol of my Nigerian and African identity, I had no idea of the complex and culturally diverse history behind the very familiar fabrics until I discovered Yinka Shonibare and his art.

I know I personally felt shocked upon learning that the “African” fabrics I grew up loving and admiring were not really “African” in their origins (or is it?). This put things in perspective, however, as it suddenly made sense that my mother's friends regularly travelled to European countries, including Switzerland and England, to purchase these fabrics and expensive laces to sell them again in Nigeria. In an attempt to join this lucrative business, my mother once dragged me with her to a fabric store while on holiday in London. I was not 13 years old then and I recall being surprised to find such familiar fabrics on sale outside Nigeria. Regardless, I never imagined that the history of this African fabric, henceforth referred to as Dutch wax print, spanned over centuries, across three continents and bridging various power structures.

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Sculpture of Ji Gong in Ling Yin Temple. Click for source.

Jigong appears in Wang Mengji’s Jigong zhuan (Jigong Drum-Song, c. 1859), Guo Guangrui's Pingyan Jigong zhuan (Storyteller's Jigong, 1898), and the thirty-eight sequels to Storyteller's Jigong which appeared in China (mostly Shanghai) between 1905 and 1926. No information is available on Wang Mengji. Guo Guangrui (?-?) may have been a scholar in Yannan.

There was a real Jigong. Daoji (?-1209 C.E.) was an eccentric Buddhist monk who ate meat and was a regular customer of prostitutes. Daoji did good works along the coastal parts of Zhejiang Province. He became enormously popular with the common people, who called him “Jidian” (“Crazy Ji”), and his fellow monks saw him as a miracle worker. But because Daoji was subversive and disrespectful toward mainstream Buddhism, Daoji was disliked by the Buddhist establishment. After his death he was almost immediately incorporated into popular culture. He became “Jigong,” “Sir Ji,” a figure of folktales, oral performances, and eventually literature. The cult of Jigong spread even to Malaysia, where he was a popular figure for many centuries.

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For Tết (Vietnamese Lunar New Year), I'm spending the day with my family (and getting in gear for TempleCon.) But I wanted to leave a little note for today to those who celebrate Lunar New Year's in any manner.

Most people would recognize that today is Chinese New Year, and that it is the Year of the Metal Rabbit.

For the Vietnamese, however, Feb 2nd was the start of our New Year, the Year of the Metal Cat.

Either one sounds pretty steampunk, though.


teampunk rabbit ring. Click for link.


Andrew Chase's cheetah. Click for link.

After the jump, check out some more info about how Lunar New Year is recognized around the world.

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Note: This week features Noah Meernaum, with a dual review of ROBOTIKA and its follow-up, ROBOTIKA: FOR A FEW RUBLES MORE.



Wherein the graphic series Robotika is seen to be mounting up and continuing into further outbound territory proclaimed to be steadily aided by an additional scribe (causing much trepidation upon the reviewer).





Robotika: For a Few Rubles More by Alex Sheikman (writer/illustrator), David Moran (writer/script), Joel Chua and Scott Keating (colors). Archaia Press, 2009



Alex Sheikman’s resplendently rendered comic concoction Robotika was (as serial albums often intentionally are) left largely open-ended regarding its leading characters and had rather boldly proclaimed that its odd cast would be drawn further forth within the sequential sequel subtitled For a Few Rubles More. I reckon most readers will recall that this secondary heading is an exchanged refrain rung from Sergio Leone’s notorious noodle western For a Few Dollars More (Per qualche dollaro in più, 1965) aptly referenced by Sheikman as a flipside further molded by Russian relations. This inflected impartment reflects upon Sheikman’s personal experience living in Russia and tenders due currency toward maliciously ‘made men’ or marked outlaws.



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Note: This week, Noah Meernaum (who previously wrote for Beyond Victoriana about racial representations in Weird West comics) returns with a dual review of ROBOTIKA and its follow-up, ROBOTIKA: FOR A FEW RUBLES MORE. The first review is below, and its companion piece will be posted on Monday.



Steampunk is currently continuing to be abundantly referenced to describe a vast array of fictional works that have presently arisen in the revitalized interest around this peculiar fantastic amalgam. Amid this extensive fictive outgrowth there is an increasing concentration towards advancing beyond any given geographical location, fixed elements, or customary Western outlooks surrounding steampunk. These alternate positions and views, while being openly encouraged as further imaginative formulations enlarging upon the allowable confines of this compound term, are sometimes held as far flung adoptions disproportionately conjoined of disagreeable parts or disparate plots.

One such decisive adaptive outthrust of steampunk is graphically pronounced in the comic series Robotika, that through its principal creator Alex Sheikman’s descriptive reference as being informed of a “samurai steampunk” is sure to directly incite those opposed to such an audacious concoction. Certainly this conjunction of Eastern emblems interacting with Western motifs is not novel in its projected mythical fusion. This perpetual exchange has stemmed from the pioneering films of Akira Kurosawa and continued in current re-shoots or re-slashes such as Takashai Mikke’s Sukiyaki Western Django (2007) and Ji-woon Kim’s The Good, The Bad, The Weird (2008). Afro Samurai (Manga or magazine format, 1999-2000) is another preceding animate example of engaging what would appear to be disparate cultural elements portrayed through alternate perspectives.

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Note: This is the second in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Here are parts 1 and 2. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.

 




The Ming Dynasty's fleet of giant ships predates the Columbus expedition across the Atlantic. Photograph of the display in the China Court of the Ibn Battuta Mall in Dubai. Click for more info.

In 1414 a Chinese fleet heralded by the Muslim Grand Eunuch of the Three Treasures, Zheng He (also known as Cheng Ho) sailed into the western Indian Ocean for the fourth time since his journey to the East began in 1405. In previously, that is between 1405 and 1414, Zheng He and his ships had reached the ports of Indonesia, south-west India and Ceylon. However, the trip in 1414 was special because the fleet was advancing into more distant regions beyond South Asia and the Arabian Gulf and in the process, covering a larger total of water than any seafaring people had before.

Zheng He is frequently referred to as the Chinese Columbus and today he has become the personification of maritime endeavour for China. I am personally not fond of this comparison between Zheng He and Columbus; Zheng He was much cooler they shouldn’t even be compared. They are not on the same level in terms of their maritime adventures. Really to me calling Zheng He the Chinese Columbus actually dims his shine.

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Note: This is the second in a four-part series by Eccentric Yoruba, cross-posted with her permission. Part 1 is here. Check out the rest of her Ancient Africa & China series appearing every Friday throughout this month.





Tao Xian purchasing Mo He." Ink sketch by Chen Xu





Kundun Servants as Magical Knight-Errants & Slaves




In my previous post I mentioned that I had read somewhere that two slaves given as gifts to the a Chinese Emperor by an Arab delegation were the first Africans to enter ancient China. This may have been wrong really because dark-skinned people were talked in China as early as the 4th century. They were referred to as kunlun, a term which had many previous meanings but by the 4th century was at attached to the people with dark skin.



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Some cool goggles, worn for a reason and not just on a hat.



Avatar: The Last Airbender (A:TLA) is easily one of the best US-created animated shows in the last ten years, and not just because I consider it a great example of Asian-inspired steampunk (though it helps). In terms of steam-worthiness, A:TLA not only creates what Asian steampunk could look like, but it places its steampunk technology within a cultural and political setting that speaks about technological development's relationship with empire-building and the ramifications of global warfare.



Pretty complex for a children's show that aired on Nickelodeon. But its depth of storytelling, detailed world-building, and strong characterization attests to its wild popularity across all age groups.



There are other assessments of the world of Avatar: the Last Airbender (A:TLA)--particularly Jha Goh's article on "Kyriarchy in Avatar: The Last Airbender - Perpetuating & Challenging Oppression & Imperialism" and the Tor.com roundtable re-watch--so I highly suggest you go to them for a more highly detailed reading of the series as a whole. So instead, I'll answer the question: Why do I think steampunks should watch Avatar: The Last Airbender? Warning: spoilers for the series after the jump.



Read on BeyondVictoriana.com
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Steampunk fashion is seen as modern interpretation of fantastical ideas based on history. This trend of multicultural influence and inspiration seen in steampunk fashion is also reflective in fashion trends today. The rise of Chinese designer Guo Pei is one example of this; she has been well-known in Chinese fashion circles for many years, but her recent collections created buzz throughout the runways of the world, in particular her 1002nd Arabian Night collection.

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This weekend, I'm rockin' it out at New York Comic Con. I'm there mostly doing the Day Job thing, unfortunately (though, if I can, I might wear my steampunk for Sunday.)

For anyone who manages to recognize me in my civvies, though, you'll probably end up being filmed or photographed, if you're looking fabulous and want to flaunt it.

In the meantime, enjoy the linkspam below. This edition features lots of interesting essays, some awesome postcards, and a video of my interview with Cherie Priest.

Read on BeyondVictoriana.com
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Work has been hectic as of late, and I'm also in the midst of preparing for Dragon*Con. I don't have as much new stuff planned out for this week as I had hoped, but have you checked out my essay series about multiculturalism in steampunk yet? And see the links below for more good things to read/watch/run in the streets shouting about.

Read on BeyondVictoriana.com
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This weekend I'll be at ConnectiCon instigating havoc with my steampunk friends and helping out with several panels. On top of that, "Steam Around the World: Steampunk Beyond Victoriana" is making a comeback! I'm wicked excited to be presenting this panel again. For all attendees, feel free to stop in--

Saturday, July 10th
7:30 - 8:30 PM
Room Location: Check your schedules


And for those of you in the area, I will also be at the Steampunk Bizarre on Sunday for the steampunk meet-up. There should be some nifty artists presenting their work, so I hope to see some of you there.

In the meantime, check out the collection of links for your viewing/reading pleasure.

Read on BeyondVictoriana.com
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The SPWF program newspaper. Photo by knightmare6. Click for source.

A moment of history has come and gone: the first-ever Steampunk World's Fair in Piscataway, New Jersey--the largest steampunk event on the East Coast and very likely the largest one in North America.  According to staff estimates, approximately 3,700 people attended over the course of three days, coming from across the United States, Canada, England, France, and Italy. It was a pleasure to participate in this event, and it was only a shame that there wasn't several clones of me running around so that I could attend every single event (though people may have gotten the impression with the various outfits I wore!)

You probably can hear a hundred and one different experiences from people attending. Like when Emperor Norton's Stationary Marching Band led 200 people in a parade through the hotel and into the parking lot for an impromptu party on Saturday night. Or the Queen of Steam contest featuring the youngest cross-dresser you'll ever see. Or the crazy jumping spider contraption at the Mad Science Fair, or the Gear Guitar, or the Tesla Coil demonstration and Jake Von Slatt's bus tours.

And for all three days, I've scoping out steampunk's less British side and looking around with fen of color spectacles on. Below are some of the highlights from the side of steam for the more cross-culturally inclined.

Click to read on beyondvictoriana.com
 

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Newspaper illustration from a performance of "The Coming Man" at the The Principal Chinese Theatre in San Francisco, California, in the 1880s. Audience members in the picture include Chinese men and women (one holding an infant) in fancy dress, a vendor holding a tray, and others watching the play. Image courtesy of Berkeley University.

May is recognized in the US as Asian-Pacific American Heritage Month (also known as Asian/Asian-American History Month). Asians have a long history in the Americas, starting with the first Chinese and Japanese immigrants to the United States in the mid-1800s (or, going even earlier, research has argued that Chinese explorer Zheng He could have arrived in America in 1421 before Columbus). But there has also been 19th-century Asian immigration to Canada, Mexico, Peru, Brazil and Cuba as well.

Thus, the experience of Asians in the Americas during the Victorian Era have been diverse and complex; below are four glimpses into Asian (and American) history.

Read more on BeyondVictoriana.com

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I'm preparing for some big events in May (like co-hosting two panels at the Steampunk World's Fair. Will you be coming? It's bound to be INTELLECTUALLY STIMULATING and IMMENSELY ENTERTAINING.) Thus, the next post will be delayed. But never fear, I have some nifty reads that have been building up in my inbox for you to check out after the cut.



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