NG Ying-wai: The Tradition of Qin-Carving in Hong Kong

Dr. Victor TSE Chun-yan, left, holding a bottom board and checking with Mr. CHOI Cheung-sau, owner of Choi Fook Kee.

Dr. Victor TSE Chun-yan, left, holding a bottom board and checking with Mr. CHOI Cheung-sau, owner of Choi Fook Kee.

Translator’s Foreword: This article was translated for the Friends of the Art Museum, CUHK, Ltd. for a visit to Choi Fook Kee Instrument Makers, Co. on 23rd March, 2013. Opinions expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the view of TorGuqin. Top photo courtesy Juni Yeung on the day of the visit. Translation and reposting rights granted by the author.

The Tradition of Qin-carving in Hong Kong

Ying-Wai Ng  吳英卉

Translated by Juni Yeung

Hong Kong – a tiny island situated on the southern end of China’s frontier, after experiencing British colonial rule from the mid-19thcentury to the end of the 20thcentury, has developed a cultural and spiritual divide with the motherland. Its own mainstream culture has largely been dominated by Westernization, and traditional Chinese culture and arts have been long situated on the fringe. Compared with Western music, Chinese folk music was considered second-tier, but luckily this has seen gradual improvement since the handover in 1997.

Hong Kong qin players were few and far between prior to the 1940’s, the only record can be traced largely to Master Yuet-Kai (Yuexi, 1879-1965), founder of Man Fut Temple in Shatin, who travelled down to Hong Kong in 1938 to spread Buddhism in the area. During the tumultuous times of the 1940’s and 50’s, numerous scholars and literati travelled through or to Hong Kong, including qin players Shen Caonong (1892 – 1972), Tsar Teh-yun (Cai Deyun, 1905-2007) and Xu Wenjing (1894-1975) from Zhejiang, Jao Chung-I (Rao Zongyi, 1917- ) from Chaozhou, Lo Ka-Ping (Lu Jiabing, 1884-1980) and Zheng Jianhou from Zhongshan, Rong Xinyan from Panyu and so forth. It is from then on that Hong Kong’s qin culture flourished especially through the lifework of Mr. Xu Wenjing.

Mr. Xu was the cornerstone of qin carving in Hong Kong, and the author will summarize his life here, especially focusing on his learning and teaching experiences, the transmission of his knowledge to his successor Choi Cheung-Sau, and from there how a qin-carving research class/study group was born which is active and growing today, even after 18 years.

More

Rethinking the Hanfu Movement, Feb. ’11 (Causality and Diaspora)

Criticisms of the Heaven Sacrifice in early Feb 2011 in Beijing for resurrecting memories of Manchu tyranny, and relagating them to the epic-scale natural disasters in China, as they both started in 2008.

In response to a comment posted in an earlier “Rethinking the Hanfu Movement” series article, a question raised was, “If the Republic of China (in Taiwan), Hong Kong, Macau, and overseas Chinese are largely unaffected by the destruction of the Cultural Revolution and have maintained the authenticity of Chinese culture, why didn’t the Hanfu Movement start there, but rather the mainland instead?”

A simple online search for this question first leads to a Baidu Zhidao Encyclopedia entry quoting summaries from the discussion in Baidu Hanfu Bar (which was reposted on Tianya):

[Quote] According to popular explanation, Chinese cultural traditions are mainly preserved in Taiwan, Hong kong and overseas Chinese communities, and the mainland is where the tradition is at the thinnest. This is to the degree where Singaporean academics suggested that china should “Import Chinese tradition from overseas”, and people like Du Weiming and others wanting to investigate “after the Cultural Revolution, is there any news of re-emerging traditional culture”.

Yet the most odd thing was, the first people to bring back out Hanfu originated from the mainland, and the most vocal and active Hanfu Movement also is a mainland movement – not one from the “better preserved” regions of Taiwan, Hong Kong, or overseas. Why is that?

As we all know, the Manchu Qing used violent acts to force the Han Chinese to adopt new dress, and its effects were not effectively cleansed during the Republican period. Today, in Hong Kong, Taiwan, and overseas, this set of things [ie. Manchu-style dress] have hijacked the position of “traditional costume”. Despite anyone having an interest towards traditional Chinese dress, all he/she can contact is Qipao, Magua, and of the sort (which should be called “counterfeit ethnic costume”).

It is different for the mainland, however, as this concept of Qipao/Magua representation of counterfeit ethnic dress was completely swept out by the “iron broom” of the various movements after the Liberation (especially during the “Destroy the Four Olds” of the Cultural Revolution). This has caused a short blank in the history of Han ethnic costume, to which its historical meaning and effects cannot be underestimated:

  1. Because the Han Chinese no longer have their traditional dress (to its truest meaning, since they lost even the “counterfeit” stuff like Qipao/Magua), its position in relation with its sibling ethnicities [TL: of the 56-ethnic Zhonghua Minzu] and their flamboyant and unique dress becomes an extremely embarassing one. This has in turn become the impetus for people to find their ethnic dress.
  2. Because the “counterfeit ethnic dress” forced by the Manchu Qing also disappeared, it has given us [ie. Hans] a unique opportunity to re-establish a code of ethnic dress. Although in its initial stages, the “counterfeit traditions” lingering in Hong Kong, Taiwan and overseas caused some interference (such as the so-called Tangzhuang as seen in APEC [of 2001]), but since we are no longer living in the Qing, once we have made clear the true forms of Han ethnic clothing, then those “Tangzhuang” and other “counterfeit traditions” will immediately lose their ground, and step back from the stage of history once and for all.

Originally intending to completely decimate traditional Chinese culture, the “anti-tradition” has destroyed instead the “counterfeit tradition” as rewritten by the Manchu Qing period. With the original purpose to destroy all traces of tradition, “Breaking the Four Olds” have become the prerequisite context for the renaissance of Hanfu. History at times is just simply this strange. [Translation Juni Yeung]

 Being a summary of Internet discussions, there are naturally insufficienies and more questions to this explanation. In this article, I shall try to list out a few. If there are any further questions, please feel free to leave a comment in the end. More

Rethinking the Hanfu Movement, November 2010 (Pt.2)

First meeting in Tsim Sha Tsui, October 23.

In continuation to my last article, I would like to bring one more Hong Kong newspaper column from the aftermath of the Chengdu Hanfu burning incident, before discussing some ideas put forward by non-PRC Hanfu promoters in concern over their efforts in their locality. Afterward, I will give an account of my “field work” with a Hanfu advocacy group in Hong Kong, and identify the unique situation and potential solutions with promoting to Chinese raised outside of Communist rule and its education system. To read that section, please click read more below.

First, the other column: Investigator’s Needle: Boxer’s Public [feces] Rage, the Scar of Han Clothing (Kung Jit-Sang 孔捷生, Nov.8 Apple Daily, [square brackets] and bold modifications added by the translator)
 
秋高氣爽,大陸青年的訪日遊和「反日遊」幾乎同步出發,開開心心訪日的是數百名青少年,這是菅直人的回報,廿多年前他是胡耀邦邀請訪華的三千日本青年之一,中方接待的正是共青團書記胡錦濤。至於反日遊則沒那麼風光,出海保釣不行,在家上網保釣也不行,要保也只能保「尖閣列島」。於是鐵血憤青只能去砸同胞的日本車和日貨店,最出彩的義舉便是剝去女同胞的漢服,令該名少女羞憤難抑。
漢服為何物?這正是漢族的尷尬,究深一層也是中華文化的尷尬,因為它宿命般難逃專制主義的摧殘。秦始皇焚書坑儒;漢武帝廢黜百家,獨尊儒術;朱元璋禁絕「民貴君輕」之說,把孟子趕出聖人廟;而今紅朝竄改「韜光養晦」的涵義……都是出於政治需要。衣冠漢儀的失落亦如出一轍,滿清入主中原,下剃髮令和禁穿明朝服飾,都是政治。用今天的話來說是「維護國家統一」。清朝漢員出使朝鮮,見到當地人仍穿明代衣冠,無不涕淚縱橫,畢竟在清朝中國,漢人死後入殮方可穿漢服,故而今日漢服其實就是壽衣變種。
要剝女同胞羅衫的憤青,固然有愛國變態癥,但漢服確實頗似和服,日本和服本來就含唐朝文化諸多元素,不信請觀敦煌壁畫人物造型和衣冠冕旒。九十年代,聶榮臻元帥之將門虎女聶力中將曾力倡奉旗袍為中華女性國服,惜哉旗袍並非漢人衣冠,如今講「民族團結」,漢人把滿人女性旗袍和男性長袍馬褂奉為正朔,也無不可,君不見央視春晚舞台,旗袍和馬褂共舞,盛世與和諧齊飛,惟獨不見漢服的影子。
說來設計國服的先行者首推國父孫中山,其次是前「國母」江青。先說中山裝,作為國服不謂不莊重,可惜考其源頭卻來自日本學生裝。不過昔有孫中山,今有天安門城樓上正襟危立的胡錦濤,反日憤青要剝掉它是無甚指望了。江青的貢獻是改革旗袍,蓋漢族女性的腿和頸脖都比西方人短,比起關外旗人也短一小截,江青獨具創意地把旗袍下襬改為百褶裙,旗袍高領改為 V型杏領,百褶裙成功掩蓋了腿的長短, V型杏領則恰到好處地拉長了漢人的頸脖,看去別具風韻。不幸中國歷史太跌宕,政治太沉重,江青入獄,竟「因人廢服」,這款國服便成絕響。
時下潮流興「國」字號,評定國山、國樹、國花、國獸、國鳥……正不亦樂乎,惟獨國服卻眾說紛紜,難有定論,本來漢服集漢唐盛朝風儀於一身,頗有大國崛起和「中華民族偉大復興」之風範,奈何此番被憤青怒而剝之,宛如文革紅衞兵當街「破四舊」剃陰陽頭,雅哉漢服,只怕永難有出頭之日矣!
With the breezy winds of autumn, the mainland youth’s Japan visiting trip went almost synonymously with the “Anti-Japanese trip [demonstrations]”. The several hundreds of Chinese youth happily visiting Japan are the direct result of Kan Naoto, who was part of the 3,000-some Japanese youth delegation invited by Hu Yaobang 20-some years ago, and the Chinese reception then was the Secretary of the Communist Youth Party, Hu Jintao. As for the Anti-Japanese demonstrations, it was nowhere as glorious – they couldn’t go out to sea to “Baodiao [protect Diaoyutai]”, they couldn’t Baodiao online at home either, and the most they can do is protect a “Senkaku Islands” [TL: a joke referring Liu Xiaobo’s blog article on how he was unable to transmit a message on Chinese forums with the term Diaoyutai, until he changed it to Senkaku Islands, hence mocking the Chinese government as indirectly admitting their sovereignty]. So from there, these hot-blooded Fenqing [TL: “angry youth”] can only go smash their compatriots’ Japanese cars and Japanese stores. The most out-of-line act was to strip away one of their female countryman’s Hanfu, causing her great shame and anger.
What is this Hanfu? This is precisely the embarassment of the Han people, and on a deeper level, also a shame of Zhonghua culture, because its fate could hardly escape the destruction from authoritarianism. Qin Shi Huang’s book burning and scholar killing, Han Wudi establishing Confucianism as the state ideology and dumping the Hundred Schools, Zhu Yuanzhang banning the “common people more important than the Crown” ideology and expelled Mencius from veneration, and now in our Red dynasty corrupting and rewriting the meaning of “Taoguang Yanghui [lit. ‘hiding one’s light and shadow’, or keeping a low profile], referring to Deng Xiaoping’s reference in the early 1990’s on China’s military policy and English interpretators mistranslation as “hide capabilities and bide our time”]…all these are created out of political necessity. In today’s words, “to maintain the unity of the country”. Han Chinese officials in the Qing Empire visiting Korea saw the locals still wearing Ming robes and headgear, and none could hold back their tears. Afterall, in Qing China, only in death can Han people wear Hanfu, and hence today’s Hanfu is actually a variation of joss clothing.
The Fenqing who stripped our female countrymen’s clothes are in no doubt to have a perverted sense of patriotism, but Hanfu does indeed look quite similar to Wafuku [kimono], and the kimono originally contains many elements from Tang Chinese culture. If you don’t believe me, please take a look at the Dunhuang Mural Paintings and the clothing on the characters. In the 1990’s, the daughter of Gen. Nie Rongqin, Nie Lizhong, advocated the Qipao as the female national dress of China. Regretfully, the Qipao is not of Han Chinese sartorial tradition, but since we talk of “ethnic unity”, to have Han Chinese establish Manchurian Qipao, Cheongsam and Magua as the official national clothing is not out of the question. Can’t you see that on CCTV’s New Year Evening Gala, Qipao and Magua dance all over the screen, flying everywhere with the Golden Age [shengshi] and Harmony [hexie]. The only thing that’s missing – there’s not a trace of Hanfu to be found.
Coming to talk of it, the first to design a “national clothing” is our Guofu [Father of the Nation] – Dr. Sun Yat-sen, followed by former “Guomu [Nation mother]” Jiang Qing. Let’s talk about the Zhongshan Jacket, it is certainly stately, but its origins are from the Japanese students’ outfit [TL: See ‘Gakuran’]. But then, we have had Dr. Sun defending it in the past, and now we have Hu Jintao, stiffly clad on top of Tian’anmen tower – if the Anti-Japanese Fenqing wanted to strip that off, they’re out of luck. Jiang Qing’s contribution was to revolutionize the Qipao. As generally Han females have shorter necks and legs than Westerners or even Manchus outside of the Great Wall, Jiang Qing with her unique creativity changed the lower part of the Qipao into a pleated dress, while changing the tall collar into a V-neck, successfully hiding away the lack of length on the legs, and the V-shaped open neck elongated the lack of a neck feature, creating a different kind of refined air. Unfortunately, Chinese history was much too tumultuous then, and the politics was too heavy. Jiang Qing was imprisoned, and unbelievably the design was “scrapped like the person”, and this sort of national dress became no more.
Nowadays, everything with the term “national” is in vogue – determining the national mountain, national tree, national flower, national animal, bird…just when things were getting exciting, everyone seemed to have their own idea when it comes to national dress, with little room for concensus. Originally, Hanfu combined the ritual and elegance of Han and Tang brilliance, and certainly has the style fitting of a “Zhonghua Minzu‘s Great Renaissance”, but unexpectedly these clothes have been ripped right off the body by raging Fenqing, just like the Red Guards in the Cultural Revolution “Destroying the Four Olds” and shaving the Yin-Yang queue hairdo. Oh elegant Han clothing, I’m afraid that you’ll never have a chance to show yourself again! (Apple Daily, Nov. 8, 2010)
This kind of editorial and standpoint is typical of many found in both Hong Kong and mainland press. From the bolded highlights seen here, are points that Hanists, Hanfu advocates, and anyone who strongly identify as Han (that being at least 90% of China) would find objecting or even repulsive. While “compassionately” lamenting for the disappearance of Hanfu, the author takes no prisoners in bashing the entirety of Chinese history as a dark one, one of great oppression from the “evils of autocracy”. His examples of Qin, Han, and Ming ‘absolutist oppression’ had nothing to do with Hanfu, and even went as far as to mislead people (and infuriate Hanfu advocates to the memory) of it as joss [funeral] clothing, which had been the casus belli to a full litigation in the Zhengzhou Provincial Court in early-mid 2006.
The following sections are no less forgiving – perhaps Kung is writing sarcastically, but many in China do truly believe the concept of Zhonghua Minzu (Chinese ethnicities) – a Soviet model that the 56 ethnicities found in the borders of the People’s Republic and their cultural-historic heritage are all to be considered “Chinese” – and find no problem in taking Manchu clothing to represent all of Chinese people (especially when the Han majority has been wearing “the same clothes”, or close approximations of them, for over the past three centuries). However, Hanists and any educated person in the West will see this as a fundamental fallacy in historiography, and a great disrespect to both Han and Manchu tradition to not differentiate them.
In the third supporting paragraph, Kung insults all Han Chinese women, if not all men as well, on the features of Han genetics. This paragraph needs no more explanation, as the tone is clearly set to belittle the Han majority as an inferior race. Unless Kung is not Han (to which I suspect more hot-headed Hanists will be ready to accuse him as a Manchu), he has not spared himself from this. To put down one’s own race and genetics in this unhealthy manner is only heard of in extreme times (such as Japan and Korea ages in its “reflection” ages during Westernization and after the Second World War), and is none other than blatant, irrational racism (despite it being self-oriented).
As in the last article I have translated by Lee Bik-Wah, Kung here considers Hanfu to be the clothing from the “Han and Tang brilliant” eras, but is still relagated either as “dynastic” period dress, or simply as obsolete, ancient clothing – a common fallacy.
To put this together, this article with its mix of factual truths with fallacious and wild opinions on the inferiority of (Han) Chinese would be considered no less as “ideological poison” by pro-Han or the pro-individualistic ideals person. When both mainstream paper and digital media are filled with this kind of “data” for the common consumer, it is not difficult to understand why Hanfu advocates have such a difficult time convincing fellow Chinese people to wear the clothes and be proud of their identity and heritage.
Now onto my field report.

A snippet about Qipao – from 香港三部曲

血色岛屿

二三十年代,十里洋场的上海是全中国的时装中心,名媛、女明星、交际花的穿着打扮领导、制造时装的潮流。我在泛黄的上海报刊读到这么一首歌谣。
  
  人人都学上海样,学来学去难学样,等到学了三分像,上海早已翻花样。

  可见上海的时装晨行夕变,花样变换无穷。旗袍也是上海女人别出心裁,拿了从前满清旗装加以改造,流行到香港,黎美秀很难不受潮流影响。至于黄得云拒绝穿旗袍,则有她历史的因素,而且情有可原。
  当她是摆花街南唐馆艳淫中钗、珠锵玉摇的青楼红妓时,黄得云旗装打份,捏着绣花手绢,高跟旗鞋,摇摇摆摆,以满清公主的扮相现身吸引恩客。从良后,她脱下旗装,一直是上身衫袄,下面一条长裙或裤子。爱美的她,当然也不是没有随着时兴从阔身宽裙到腰身衣袖收窄,领子时高时低,裙脚时短时长,花样层出不穷,而是衫祆绣花、镶滚、钉珠片,甚至后来缀上五彩宝石,随着流行,无奇不有。

From this, one can see clearly that some even in the earlier times (late Qing, early ROC) were clear that the Qipao was Manchu and refused to wear it, as some sort of last defense against (whatever was left of) the Chinese culture.

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