» ENGINEERING WONDERS OF DUJIANGYAN: Irrigation & Secret Detention

by Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park shishi, or Imperial Guardian Lion (石獅), photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park shishi, or Imperial Guardian Lion (石獅), photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan is a system of irrigation channels largely responsible for the renowned fertility of the Chengdu basin, in southwestern China. This elaborate engineering wonder, built about 2300 years ago, and still in use today, is what makes Sichuan province the most productive agricultural area in China. Most contemporary dams use a big wall to block water, adversely impacting the natural flow of fish and other marine life, but the ancient Dujiangyan irrigation works lets water and fish continue to flow.

I have no idea how old the statue above is (2300 years?), but the colossal millipede nestled in this gargoyle’s ear looks old and big enough to be from an entirely different geologic era.

Dujiangyan is also home to another old and elaborate example of Chinese engineering: the Dujiangyan Detention Facility, one of many outposts in the sprawling Chinese police state. Literally countless dissidents, political activists and otherwise problematically outspoken people have been detained, tortured and interrogated at these facilities.

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park signage, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

Dujiangyan Irrigation Park signage, photo (c) 2013 Brian Awehali

A lot of even modestly well-informed Westerners don’t know about the full scope of China’s police state, it’s laogai prisons or its contemporary forced labor practices. One reason for this ignorance is simply that the Chinese government works very hard to control news and information about its internal security apparatus, but another reason surely has to do with just the sheer size of the apparatus.

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» OF BICYCLES, BIRDS & SPICES: A photo walk around Chengdu, Sichuan

by Brian Awehali

Pedal-powered creative re-use artist in Chengdu - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

Pedal-powered creative re-use artist in Chengdu – photo (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

The scale of things in China - (c) 2012 Brian AwehaliCar ownership is on the rise, but bicycle culture in Chengdu, and China generally, remains amazing. Many, perhaps most, main roads have dedicated bike lanes, and it’s really common to see things like hard-working (and exhausted) trash recyclers carting Seussian-levels of stuff around on pedal-powered vehicles (above), or a lone cyclist pedaling calmly through a terrifyingly busy intersection (left).

Fan of Babeel, former striker for Liverpoot? (Chengdu) - (c) 2012 Brian Awehali

I’m sure lots of the Chinese (Mandarin) lettering on t-shirts I see in the U.S. is mangled or just downright wrong, but since I can’t read traditional or simplified Mandarin, that’s nowhere near as funny to me as the botched English translations I saw everywhere in Chengdu. There’s quite a lot of emulation and outright copying of Western culture — especially consumer culture. This teenager stalking into an underpass near the Chengdu bus station might be expressing his esteem for striker/winger Ryan Babel (not Babeel), the Dutch football player who used to play for… Liverpool (not Liverpoot)… but it’s just as likely that the kid just liked the way this looked.

At Chengdu International Airport, the wheelchair-accessible stalls in the men’s bathroom have the pictograph you might expect, with Mandarin lettering and then, below that, in English translation: “Deformed Man End Place.” Picture after the jump:

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» CHINESE PIGEON RACING & CONFINEMENT IN CHENGDU

by Brian Awehali

Kitebird at People's Park, Chengdu, (c) 2012,  Brian Awehali

Kitebird flown at People’s Park, Chengdu in 2010. – (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

Seemingly querulous racing pigeons in a Chengdu rooftop coop - (c) 2012, Brian Awehali“I’m very worried,” said Mr. C., our interpreter and guide, as our driver pulled into the courtyard. His eyes were wet. “Only two of my pigeons have returned from the race two days ago.”

Mr. C., a thin man with a sweet face, had arranged through a friend for us to make a weekend visit to a Chengdu suburb for a tour of a pigeon racing club and one racer’s private coop.

“How many pigeons did you release?” I asked.

“Ten,” he said mournfully. As we piled out of the sedan into a courtyard, he ran ahead.

Orderly pigeons in a Chengdu rooftop coop - (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

Orderly pigeons in a Chengdu rooftop coop – (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

The owner of this private coop, who was meeting us inside, was the editor of a newspaper, and also a prominent local member of the Communist Party. Most officials of any substantial-sized business in China probably are, and one might consider it an occupational hazard.

Ah, sweet release:

Photo-of-a-photo on the wall of a suburban Chengu pigeon racing club - (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

Photo-of-a-photo on the wall of a suburban Chengdu pigeon racing club – (c) 2012, Brian Awehali

» APPROXIMATE DEMOLITION IN CHINA

by Brian Awehali

Approximate Demolition in Chengdu, by Brian Awehali

THE CHINESE ARE VERY SECRETIVE ABOUT THINGS WHEN THEY GO WRONG. You can’t just go online or read a paper to find out what happened with this gloriously wrong-looking demolition in Chengdu. I heard that one or several people were injured by debris, for example, but there seemed to be no way to confirm or disprove this. The site was fenced and there were multiple sentries posted throughout the day to keep people out, so this was taken at around 4am, while carefully avoiding the tents of full-time on-site workers, and using only the ambient light of Chengdu that reflects nicely off the ever-present canopy of mostly industrial smog.

Chaotic Demolition, Chengdu, Sichuan, China, at 4am

» THE CORPSE WALKER: Conversations with China’s Lower Strata

by Brian Awehali

This is the first of several posts on LOUDCANARY about Liao Yiwu. To read my long-form profile of Liao, “Dangerous Words,” click here. To read recent (July 2011) updates about Liao’s departure from China and his subsequent asylum in Germany, click here. 

When we arrived by cab at the train station, as instructed, Liao Yiwu (廖亦武) met us in a black car driven by a friend and took us to a riverside tea house, where several of his friends were already drinking tea and eating fried Sichuan peppers. We talked for hours, then ate and drank for several more before the musical instruments came out…

Liao Yiwu’s primary importance lies not in what he says, but in the stories of countrymen he collects, which paint a vivid people’s history of China, a country eager, and engineered in many ways, to forget its past. Many college students do not know about the June 4, 1989 Tiananmen Square Massacre, to take one prime example of this willful (and highly orchestrated) amnesiac tendency. In his work, Liao focuses on the diceng (底层)or “bottom rung of society,” a concept hated by both supporters of Mao’s “communist” revolution and the current PRC, as well as by many Chinese people for whom the concept of “face” (mianzi, or 面子) — looking good and having status and, in this case, not making China look bad to the laowai (老外, or foreigners) — is all-important. In an only theoretically classless society, people are reluctant to speak of beggars, thieves, drug addicts or those in poverty, even if their presence is glaringly obvious.

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» THE WATER UNDER THE WATER: Appearances and Realities in Chengdu

The fact that political ideologies are tangible realities is not a proof of their vitally necessary character. The bubonic plague was an extraordinarily powerful social reality, but no one would have regarded it as vitally necessary.

Wilhelm Reich

Here is a girl, standing at the end of an alleyway in Chengdu, in the Sichuan province in southwestern China.

What will she become, and what will life in the place and time she was born into allow her?

When we first made eye contact, she made a grim face, turned abruptly, and marched with purpose the other way. Then she stopped, executed a surprisingly martial turn, and stood surveying me for a pregnant moment. I waved, and she seemed not to respond at all; just stood there stone-faced, or so I thought at the time. After a moment of standing there like an absurd soldier, she vanished into the doorway of what I assume was her home.

When I got the chance to look at these pictures in more detail, I saw that there was a glimmer of a smile on her face, mostly around her eyes. I have very poor vision, and my camera, with its optical zoom, sees far better than I do.

It seems to me that the Chinese people make the best of the lives their government allows them, and this little girl is a great example of why it’s important to oppose governments and corporations, not people. The Chinese people are not to be feared or damned for the vehicle they’ve been shoved into. Their spirit in trying to advance and overcome is to be respected and admired.

This little girl’s alleyway holds several things of interest and relevance. To touch on the simplest one first, the grime is a byproduct of industry and sheer population density, and industry is, in our globally metasticized consumer culture, how people raise their standards of living. And maybe the U.S. didn’t invent it, but we sure did refine it, give it some steroids, and begin exporting it to the world on a massive scale.

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» PLAY GO! (玩 围棋!)

by Brian Awehali

{It is} something unearthly . . . If there are sentient beings on other planets, then they play Go.” — Emanuel Lasker, international Chess Master

First things first: No, outside of there being white and black pieces placed in alternating turns on a grid, it’s nothing like Othello. And it was invented by the Chinese, but is most often referred to by its spiffy Japanese name: Go.

Go, or wéiqí, was created by Chinese emperor Yao about 4000 years ago and was allegedly invented to help a stupid son learn to think better. Or it was invented by Chinese tribal warlords as a strategy aid. Or it began as a fortune-telling medium.

The reality of the game is more interesting than the lore:  Go (碁 in Japanese), baduk (바둑 in Korean), and wéiqí (围棋 in the original Chinese), is a game with true majesty for those who devote themselves to it. For its devotees and for mathematicians in almost equal measure, the game inspires reverence and awe. Due to its extremely open-ended play and staggering mathematical possibilities for variation, the game is by far the hardest to teach computers. That fact, along with the clip below (after the break), from Darren Aronofsky’s film, π (or Pi) sealed it: Go was the game for me.

“Listen to me. The possibilities of game play are endless. They say that no two Go games have ever been alike. Just like snowflakes. So, the Go board actually represents an extremely complex and chaotic universe. That is the truth of our world…there is no simple pattern. — From π, or Pi

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