Google and M$: Partners or Rivals?


This headline from today’s New York Times Technology section almost gave me a heartattack. 🙁 You could’ve heard this long and desperate sounding “NOOOOOOOOO!” echoing in my head.
Microsoft and Google: Partners or Rivals? By JOHN MARKOFF and ANDREW ROSS SORKIN

Google recently began meeting with bankers to prepare for
its initial public offering as it was still exploring a
merger with Microsoft.

This is an interesting idea: “Dutch Auction”

The company, which maintains tens of thousands of computers to help locate information on the Web almost instantly, has also explored the idea of a so-called Dutch auction, bypassing Wall Street and selling shares directly to investors. Such an approach could give it distance from scandal-plagued investment banking deals of the dot-com era as well as create a huge base of small shareholders.

The auction route is said to appeal to Google’s founders, Sergey Brin and Larry Page, who are known for their fascination in pursing technical solutions to many different kinds of problems.

And this is why M$ is interested in Google: If it is better than me, kill it; if I can’t kill it, buy it and then kill it. The lovely concept of ownership.

Google’s ability to stir Silicon Valley into a frenzy has also brought back memories here of Netscape, another start-up firm whose own initial public offering in 1995 helped touch off the dot-com explosion. Netscape once threatened Microsoft with a software browser that promised to be an alternative to its overwhelmingly dominant computer operating system.


I was almost ready for bed, my cats were purrrrring on the sofa. Then I made one last mouse click and in came this little site: Fireland. What an interesting name. What an interesting design. Which kind of mystery lays behind these words? Who is the host? And what does he like? All that, had to wait…

Fifteen Minutes of Fame

It is very hard to miss Michael Hanscom’s Fifteen Minutes of Fame, since it made to #1 AND #2 spot of today. It is such a simple story, Michael owns a weblog and Michael was a temp worker working for Microsoft. One morning he noted a small event at the docking station, made a brief entry into his weblog. Later, Michael found his recent entry about his employer made it to The next day, he was fired. Maybe someday someone will make a movie out of it?

The story didn’t end there because Michael’s weblog, unlike his employment with M$, continues.

I’ve heard of sentences and headlines here and there about how people got fired because of their weblogs. I always assumed it had something to do with leaking company secrets. As for the exact nature of such secrets, I always vaguely aligned it with something in the scale of Mission Impposible, something grand, important, blahblahblah. It is the first time I actually learned one such incident at its entirety. I¡¯m shocked at its …how should I put it?…triviality! Under comparison, the US government seems a much lesser evil than Microsoft. So maybe we have all been wrong about the evilness of politicians, it is really the big corporations that we should despise!

BTW, Michael quoted an article by Anil Dash, which I found very interesting.
privacy through identity control. It argues that there is no point in trying to maintain anonymity on the web. Hmmm…


An interesting article on Fantasia by Lileks.

When I look at the great animation of the past, I have the same reaction I have when I see a skyscraper from the end of the Jazz Age boom. Magnificent, utterly American – and for all the machinery involved, it all comes down to the movement of the human hand.

The hand behind the mouse creates something different than the hand behind the pen. Better and worse and worse and better. Classical animation is dead, I think. Frescos, meet oil.

Diane Arbus Retrospective – First Visit

It was the best photography show I’ve ever seen. The content was rich and complex, the format was comprehensive and original, the exhibit was beautifully laid out and well executed. The power of each photograph was gripping and intense, and the sheer volume of these photos overwhelmed me. Not sure whether the exceptionally hot sun outside the window added to the pressure, but I did need to take a break in the middle closed my eyes and rest before I was physically capable of viewing the rest of the exhibit. When we walked out the exhibit hall, Gui said, ¡°No wonder she killed herself.¡± I nodded. Each face captured by Arbus was showing a world of thoughts and intricate relationships heavily packed within. If each of us was required to take care of one complex world, then Arbus saw them all, and they had to weight down on her. Who could have taken all that weight? Speaking of ¡°Altas Shrugged¡±.

Standing on the sidewalk outside MOMA, blinking in the bright and burning sunlight, I was suddenly seeing, as if for the first time, the world that I¡¯ve been living in. Every face came at me, passed me, surrounded me became new and interesting. I suddenly was eager to stare into each and every pair of eyes that were gliding through my world in such a random fashion, knowing suddenly they are each unique and complicated. Each face has a story, a soul, a world of emotions¡­

Being a person that was attracted to words, I found Arbus¡¯ writing particularly interesting. From those sentences, one could easily sense the sheer volume of ideas and thoughts tangled in her mind at each given moment, and the strength she exerted trying to untangle them to make others see as she did, to capture them before they rushed past her; yet, they kept on rushing past her¡­

The Full Circle
These are singular people who appear like metaphors somewhere further out than we do, beckoned, not driven, invented by belief, author and hero of a real dream by whichever own courage and cunning are tested and tried so that we may wonder all over again what is veritable and inevitable and possible and what it is to become whoever we may be.
–Diane Arbus, Harper¡¯s Bazaar, November 1961

If the fall of man consists in the separation of god and the devil the serpent must have appeared out of the middle of the apple when eve bit like the original worm in it, splitting it in half and sundering everything which was once one into a pair of opposites, so the world is a Noah¡¯s ark on the sea of eternity containing all the endless pairs of things, irreconcilable and inseparable, and heat will always long for cold and the back for the front and smiles for tears and mutt for jeff and no for yes with the most unutterable nostalgia there is.
–Diane Arbus letter to Marvin Israel, Circa 1960

Senator Clinton

Almost forgot about this little blurb I started on my way to New York last weekend…

10/16/2003 (AA SFO->JFK)

The New Yorker magazine often has a column called Profiles. It has been one of my favorites. It never fails to serve up high quality mini-biography of interesting people, mostly in the political circle, e.g. Collin Powell, Condoleezza Rice, and the Saudi Arabia¡¯s ambassador to the United States. The writing is always good, and the stories covered large and small details of their lives, things that would never make into news headlines.

Today I finished reading ¡°The Student ¨C How Hillary Clinton set out to master the Senate.¡± I¡¯ve always liked her and never understood why people had so much against her when she was the First Lady. This little article renewed my respect for her and my hope of US having a female President someday. It also reinforced my belief that politic is one of the most worthy, if not the most worthy, occupation for an able mind that is inspired to make a difference in this world. Yes, if I could start my life all over again, and if I could have been a different person, I would go to Law school instead of engineering school.

I loved reading the parts where she learned how Senators work, how legislatures are passed, how not to lose sight of what she really wants and not hesitant to pull back her suggestions an alternative presents itself even though it isn¡¯t working the way she wanted. Bill Clinton is right. In response to a question about what his wife brought to the Senate, he offered the following list:

1. She likes people and cares about their problems;
2. She knows how to make good policy;
3. She¡¯s brilliant and works very hard;
4. She fights for what she believes in and doesn¡¯t give up;
5. She¡¯s always reaching out for new allies, including Republicans;
6. She loves her country and her state;
7. She¡¯s always thinking about what life will be like for our children and their children.

The article quoted a speech Senator Clinton gave at Roosevelt Hospital, in Manhattan. ¡°You know, some of us need more help and guidance and support than others,¡± Clinton told them. ¡°Some of us are born healthy and others are not. Some of us have traumatic, terrible accidents or events or diseases that affect us. None of us know what will happen to any of us tomorrow, and therefore I think we are all bound together in a web of relationships where we do ¨C not only for religious reasons or moral reasons but practical reasons ¨C have an obligation and opportunity to support one another.¡±
Clinton went on to say that she was worried that nation¡¯s priorities were getting misplaced.¡± She emphasized the importance of sacrifice¡ª¡°I think that¡¯s what makes a stronger country¡±¡ªand introduced the concept of ¡°future preference,¡± under which tomorrow takes precedence over today. By the end of her speech, she was calling into question that most basic of American values ¨C self-reliance. ¡°I hope we don¡¯t forget that the idea of the rugged individual is a great idea for films, for books, but there are very few people who go through life without needing anyone, without having to make any sacrifice for anyone else,¡± she said. ¡°In fact, it¡¯s kind of an impoverished life, if that¡¯s the attitude.¡±

That summons up the belief that recently took shape in my own mind. Out of obvious selfish reasons, I used to believe more tax is a bad thing. But recently I started to believe that if there is anyway to reach long lasting peace in this world, then socialist-democracy is the best way I could see. Socialist/communists weren¡¯t wrong about the future of human kind; they simply got the timing wrong. What Republican strives for is a world that is more and more polarized into the filthy rich and dirt poor. A polarized world means an unstable world. There was a Chinese slang: The barefooted won¡¯t be the first to back down when fighting the ones wearing shoes. When people had nothing to lose, they would be more willingly to go to war, because turning the world into chaos will provide new opportunities to rewrite the social order. When everyone was given a little bit of possession, then the fundamentalists would have a very hard time to convince these newly minted ¡°middle-class¡± to risk everything they just gained.

That¡¯s all from arm-chair politicians. Go Hillary! 2008?! 🙂

The Stovepipe

The New Yorker’s auther Seymour M. Hersh published a new investigation article–The Stovepipe— on the conflicts between Bush Administration and the intelligence community that eventually led to non-existent W.M.D in Iraq. Here is an on-line only interview with Hersh: Q & A with Seymour M. Hersh.

So what you have is a bunch of people who weren¡¯t lying; they simply had fixed the system so it couldn¡¯t give them information they didn¡¯t want to hear.

Washington and “The Iliad”

This is hilarious: Swift-Footed W. by Nicholas D. Kristof, Editorials/Op-Ed from today (10/22/2003)’s NYT.

“The Iliad” is the greatest war story ever told, but it’s not fundamentally about war … [snap] …but rather about how great men confront tragedy, learn moderation and become wise.

In case “The Iliad” isn’t lying around the Oval Office, let me recap for our warriors in Washington. Achilles is both the mightiest warrior and a petulant, self-righteous, arrogant figure. A unilateralist, he refuses to consult with allies; he dismisses intelligence about his own vulnerability; he never reads the newspapers.


It is a funny little article, not very long either. So read it and enjoy!

What Will Happen Next September?

From Where is Raed?

My cousin,after his 3rd beer, is the smartest person on this planet.
For some reason we started talking about whether Bush will have another term on the big chair in the White House. I thought he’s out because of all the trouble in Iraq. My cousin puts down his beer and tells me that I am a fool, because:

he puts his beer down and tells me my tuna salad is the worst ever.

So don’t be too surprised if bin laden and/or Saddam are caught between September’04 and Novenmber’04.

Book Review “Gellhorn”

I want to read this.
Book Review “Gellhorn”, from today’s FreshAir–

Book critic Maureen Corrigan reviews the new biography, Gellhorn: A Twentieth-Century Life by Caroline Moorehead. It’s about journalist Martha Gellhorn, a war correspondent during the Spanish Civil War, World War II and the Vietnam War. She was also Ernest Hemingway’s third wife.

The Stone Woman

Read this beautiful tale on my way back from New York.
The Stone Woman – by A. S. BYATT, from 2003-10-13 issue of The New Yorker.

It is about how a young woman pierced by grief caused by her mom’s death and slowly morphed into a stone woman. The language starts firmly in reality. I followed its even paced reasoning and unknowingly being led into a world of mythical power and invisible forces of nature.

It filled me with immense longing and curiosity of Iceland.

Like poetry, you have to read these aloud to appreciate its lyrical quality. In Chinese we would say: in speaking these words, you place a delicate fragrance on the tip of your tongue; with each syllable, it is spreading deeper in your mouth.

About plants and flowers:

Winter became spring. The dead leaves turned dark with rain, grass pushed through them, then crocuses and snowdrops, followed by self-spread bluebells and an uncontrollable carpet of celandines¡ªpale-gold flowers with flat green leaves, which ran over everything, headstones and gravel, bottle-green marble chips on recently dug graves, Thorsteinn¡¯s heap of rubble. They lasted a brief time, and then the gold faded to silver, and the silver became white, transparent, a brief ghostly lace of fine veins, and then a fallen mulch of mold, inhabited by pushy tendrils and the creamy nodes of rhizomes.

About Iceland:

“… In Iceland, we are matter-of-fact about the world of invisible beings. We make gates in the rocks for elves to come and go. We know that stones have their own energies. Iceland is a young country, a restless country¡ªin our land the earth¡¯s mantle is still being changed at great speed. We live like lichens, clinging to standing stones and rolling stones and heaving stones and rattling stones and flying stones. Our tales are full of striding stone women. …”

About stone woman:

he thought human thoughts and stone thoughts. The latter were slow, patchily colored, textured and extreme, both hot and cold.

About stone works:

Ines came to see that all the stones, from the vast and cow-size to clusters of pebbles and polished singletons, were works in progress, or potential works, or works completed. They were both carved and decorated. A face peered from under a crusty overhang, one-eyed, fanged, leering. A boulder displayed a perfectly polished pair of youthful breasts, glistening in circles of golden lichen. A hunched stone woman had a fantastic garden of brilliant moss spilling from her lap and over her thighs. On closer inspection, Ines saw that jewels had been placed in crevices, and sharpened pins like medieval cloak brooches had been inserted in holes threaded in the stone surface. A dwarfish stone had tiny, carved gold hands where its ears should have been.

October in New York

There is a famous song called “April in Paris”. There probably should be a song called “October in New York”. For exactly the same reason. Romantic month of a metropoli. In those kind of golden light, it seems nothing could go wrong.

PaintingsForSale Met_RobertLehmanGallery CentralPark_SkatingRing

CentralPark CentralPark_MythicalMusician CentralPark_mini_greyhund

To see more pictures and to read a more detailed account of my weekend in New York, go here.

A Female War Correspondent

Heard this on Freshair tonight on my drive home: Rebuilding Iraq. Foreign correspondent Elizabeth Rubin talked about confessing to a Kashmir militant that she is Jewish, shortly before Daniel Pearl dissappeared, attending a wedding on the women side of the house in Afghanistan, witnessing fellow journalist got blowing into pieces in northern Iraq, and in general what it was like to be a female war correspondent, the pros and cons. She sounded so lively and full of warmth. My favorite part was when she was in Afghanistan, visiting a woman Madrasa (sp.?) where she had a chat with a very religious muslin woman. She asked Elizabeth what was her religion, she answered, “oh, a mix of everything, a bit islam, christianity, … you know, the American kind, the intermarriage and stuff. I don’t really believe in any one god.” The woman was shocked (here Elizabeth imitated her accent which was funny), “No religion? Don’t you feel like a rolling stone?” Elizabeth laughed, “It is such a wonderfully beautiful way to express what her religion does for her!”

Here is Elizabeth’s article published in the past Sunday’s New York Times(10/12/2003):The Battle Within


Have been spending lots lots of time going through some wonderful Chinese weblogs. 🙂 I wonder why there seems to be more good Chinese weblogs than English ones. Is it because Chinese inherently is a better language? Or is it because my reading nerve is Made in China, so I respond to Chinese more? Or maybe my reading habit is going through phases, and currently I happen to land in Chinese phase. Hmmm… It is probably all coming down to statistics and there are simply too many Chinese people, so even the good versus bad ratio is the same as English weblogs, Chinese ones won out right by volumns. heehee.

Anyway, here is a really well done travelogue (in English!): V A G A B O N D I N G. I love its design, layout, coloring, organization, etc. etc. But I don’t find its actual travel stories particular interesting, other than being informative. Am I being snobish? I think, I could be wrong, he is traveling as a tourist. There is nothing wrong with that. Sometimes I do that, too. But if I have a year to travel the same route (what a wonderful route it is! Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam, Jordan, Uganda, Malawi, etc. etc.) I will do it differently…

Lagugu Salon

AfterGot another haircut this weekend. Went to a new place: Lagugu Salon @ Milpitas. I liked their decor much better than my haircut. 🙁 The sideview is a little better than the front view. Mi suggested that I could walk sideways only. :((( Anyway, Lagugu is much less spacious than Ming’s, but a lot more busy, and more expensive, too. Everyone else has been telling me the new haircut is slick, though. Maybe it is just me.

Here are some pix. I’m off to buy some hats. 😐
waiting_area BonnieGettingHerHaircut

A Paragraph from The Old Man and Me

So beautifully written!

There is a sort of coal hole in the heart of Soho that is open every afternoon: a dark, dank, dead-ended subterranean tunnel. It is a drinking club called the Crypt and the only light to penetrate it is the shaft of golden sunlight slipping through the doorway from time to time glancing off someone’s nose or hair or glass of gin, all the more poignant for its sudden revelations, in an atmosphere almost solid with failure, of pure wind-swept nostalgia, of clean airy summer houses, of the beach, of windy reefs; of the sun radiating through the clouds the instant before the clouds race back over it again¡ªleaving the day as sad and desperate as before.
by Elaine Dundy The Old Man and Me

via About Last Night

Recall is Over

…and we fell, we fell into the night and darkness…

Bay Area stood out like a sore thumb in the state. We voted exactly opposite to the rest of the state. See the lovely Recall Map, the red is roughly equivalent to “No on Recall, No on Terminator”. The two counties that lead the pack are wonderful San Francisco (where I always want to live) and Alameda (where my entire family currently live). Yes, I’m very proud of that.

Check out this article for some interesting statistics on how we been voting throughout the years.

Even my even-tempered mom was outraged at the result, “We should let Southern California keep that actor as their governor! They can keep their rubbish hollywood, we will keep silicon valley.” Sounds good to me. 🙂

Oh well, California is in for some rough ride. We will see how Terminator is going to balance our budget and earn his respect among the sea of cynical democrats. Did anyone listen to Bustamante’s few words to our new governor? Here it goes, “I want to congratulate our new governor [booo! from the audience]. I’d like to pledge my full support. I know he is a famous actor, making movies all over the world. I’d like him to know that he can continue doing that. [LAUGH from audience] Go wherever he wants, stay however long he must. I will always be here to keep an eye on things.”

I wonder when will he realize this is not a movie? I wonder what he will do when he finds out there is no script to follow, no director to tell him what to do? And all those teenager fans won’t be able to land him a hand when it comes to legistation and rules and laws? But then again, politics is another kind of show-biz, isn’t it? I wish him the best of luck. I wish California the best of luck.

Hmmm… Since this is a start, shall we give him 11 months and try the whole Recall gig again in 2004?

Just kidding!

New SideLog

In case people are not familiar with the concept of a “sidelog”. I’ve added one to the right of the main column (yup, that narrow strip of blue thiny). The idea is when I find interesting stuff on the web, but don’t have much input other than the link itself, i will list them there. It is also reverse chronological ordered just like the main weblog, and the date is at the bottom of each short note. The (0) is indicating it has zero comments as of now. So you could comment on those items as well. The sidelog is itself a mini-weblog, so it has its own archive and RSS. Not sure if people would like those links, so i left them out for now.

This way, I can keep only the longer articles in the main log. From now on, most of the items that used to belong to the “web surfing” category will probably end up in the sidelog.

So check it out, it has some goodies already! 🙂
Let me know if you have any questions, suggestions, or complains… 🙂

Regarding Modern Arts

Check out Let God sort ’em out, from Terry Teachout’s About Last Night. She was reviewing a book by Paul Johnson: Art: A New History. Her comments are “…it is fabulously energetic and violently opinionated, and thus as a result irresistibly readable–you can open it almost at random and find gems.”

More quotes from TT’s article:

Since there is, after all, so much about the modern era that is worthy of loathing, why not simply loathe it all and be done with it? The problem is that I¡¯ve never been able to reject the evidence of my senses, which tell me that Stravinsky was a great composer (usually) and Picasso a great painter (sometimes).

She went on and talked about how some people rejected all modern arts non-discriminately, without first getting to know any of them.

I found this interesting because I myself do have a strong opinion regarding modern arts. I used to call those floors at SFMOMA that contains lots of art installment the “insane asylum”. Just the other day, we happened to walk in Philip Guston Retrospective, which earned plenty contemptuous remarks from me. But I don’t reject ALL modern arts. For example, I fell in love with this chair by Japanese designer Shiro Kuramata during SF MOMA’s grand opening back in 1995. I saw it again this past weekend. The picture here didn’t do its justice, when light shine on it from above, you would be able to see the shadows of those frozen roses on the floor as well. It was dream like. Pure beauty.

I reject “ugly” art.

My sister didn’t agree with me, she thinks there are plenty great arts that are not shy to show ugliness. I started to understand that after I saw Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) again this Spring at MOMA Queens, NYC. It was a painting I used to dismiss as ugly. But that time, I saw more than just the hush lines and confrontational forms. There was something deeper in it, something humane, and…true.

So maybe most modern arts’s main purpose is no longer to show beauty, but to show “truth”, or to “provoke” thinking. If that is the case, then everyone must have an individual upper limit when facing a thought-provoking piece of art. Right now, my limite stops with Les Demoiselles d’Avignon.

Living Under War’s Shadow

Read an interesting interview with James Carroll in The Atlantic Monthly.
Living Under War’s Shadow, .
[James Carroll]wrote a piece for The Boston Globe called “America’s Habit of Revenge.” who commented that “there is no ‘agonizing reappraisal of fundamental assumptions’ in this country,” alluding to a quote from the German writer Thomas Mann about the psychological impact of war. [It] Is … what German-born Charlotte is trying to tell the American banker, Paul, in Secret Father when she bursts out, “America is all future, no past. It is difficult for you to understand that here in Germany … the war is the past that will never go away.”

Devils on the Doorstep

Devils on the Doorstep is set in a small dusty Northern China village during Japanese occupation, at the end of WWII. The director is Jiang Wen, who is banned from directing any movies for seven years (till 2007) by the Chinese government, because he took this film to Cannes voluntarily without obtaining the “proper” blessing from the authority. Regardless, it won Grand Jury Prize from Cannes in 2000.

Both Mi and V have seen it and both of them have urged me to see it, and told me it was dark but also humorous. Then again, it was not really dark humor. At the end of August, I finally saw it at Mi’s place. When the final credit started rolling, I was still emotionally trapped in the ending’s “dark humor”, Mi remarked sullenly, “The tragedy of China.”

That sentence pulled me out of the contemplating mood right away, “Why China?” I was puzzled. “If it is anyone’s tragedy, it is the tragedy of human race. It is good versus evil, and the innocence versus the ‘sophisticated’ calculating mind. It is not just China versus Japan. It is universal. And that is what made this movie such a masterpiece. Or it could be struggle between the bright and the dark sides within each and every one of us… but China?”

What it really reminded me of, actually, was a story I’ve read in Magus, where an old man recalling his dark secret during WWII, when he was the head of a village in southern Europe, under occupation of the Nazis. One day, some Nazis came to their village and they gave him, the head of the village, a choice. He could pick one of his fellow villagers and shot him or her himself, or the Nazis will shoot the entire village including him. He was hunted by that choice and his ultimate decision ever since.

Then there was the story of Sophie’s Choice.

And a line I remembered from the movie The Green Mile, “Devil uses the goodness in you to kill…”

Evil certainly didn’t seem to be partial to China. But Mi had a point, too. It was the national character of China as a country to make Japanese occupation possible. Their satiable nature and middle-road philosophy taught over the thousands of years, made the mass of China not a very ambitious or aggressive bunch, while their tiny neighbor on an island always has a much grander scheme in mind.

Still, I wanted to argue, whatever the Chinese did in the movie represented their goodness, while whatever the Japanese did was evil and criminal-court-worthy. “So? Who is dead at the end?” Mi won’t budge. “I know it was not fair. But would you feel better or worse if the characters treated places in the movie? Would you prefer the Chinese characters to be evil? Won’t that be even more a tragedy for China?!”

I knew I had a rhetoric advantage. Mi’s frustration alarmed me still. So I thought of this topic some more. If there was any one character in the movie that I found especially hateful, it had to be the Gao Mou-ren at the end. The one that was put in charge of the city after Japanese surrendered. He represented all that was bad about Chinese society, hypocritical, self-congratulatory, contemptuous toward the poor and the less educated, and was always on a power-trip. I was just going to say if the movie really showed a Chinese tragedy, then this Gao Mou-ren was it. But I suddenly remembered Robert Kaplan. He mentioned a class of people he met during his travel in Middle East, from Egypt to Turkey to Iran. He called them the “most dangerous” educated class. They were educated in the west, but they were dismissive toward human rights. They respect power and money above all else.

So, you see? Even the Gao Mou-ren was not unique to China.

What’s even more ironic was the entire episode happened AFTER the movie was made: the fact that Jiang Wen was black-listed and wasn’t allowed to direct any movie till 2007. Isn’t that absurd? Apparently the successor of Gao Mou-ren is still in power. That, my friend, is truly a tragedy of China.

More information on Jiang Wen from Time Asia:
– JUNE 24, 2002: Back in Action
– JULY 24, 2000: Devils on His Doorstep (you can still read the cached version from google, i’ve also copied it at the end of this weblog entry.)

JULY 24, 2000 VOL. 156 NO. 3

Devils on His Doorstep

In Cannes, Jiang Wen’s new film got a top prize, but in China it may get him seven years on the blacklist

His name sounds like “John Wayne,” and Jiang Wen has a solid star bearing to go with the cowboy stubbornness. Mainland China’s most famous actor (Red Sorghum, Black Snow) and most vigorous director (In the Heat of the Sun), Jiang delivers his sharp opinions with an implacable stare that could turn the nastiest gunslinger into cornmeal. But now he is up against a marauding posse of film bureaucrats. The showdown may get bloody.

Devils on the Doorstep is Jiang’s scalding tragicomedy set in a Chinese village during the wartime occupation by the Japanese. One villager, Ma Dasan (played by Jiang), is told to hold a Japanese officer and his Chinese translator as hostages. The film, which traces the villagers’ fear and the soldiers’ brutality, won the Grand Prix (second place) at this May’s Cannes festival’a high honor, and a victory for Chinese cinema.

The censors at the Film Bureau didn’t see it that way. They were furious that Jiang had entered the film in the festival without their permission, after receiving their detailed critique of the script and the finished work. They sent two officials to Cannes to try to dissuade the festival from screening Devils and demanded that Jiang hand over the negative (which was not in China). Now, according to reports from Asian film circles, the authorities plan to punish Jiang’s film, and his defense of it, by forbidding him to work in China for seven years.

Jiang says he has not been handed such a document. (“So far,” a Bureau spokesman says, “no formal decision concerning his case has been made.”) Nor have they answered his pleas to discuss the matter. “I’ve asked seven times for a meeting with Film Bureau officials,” he declares, “but with no success.” The censors seem to resemble the villagers in Devils, reluctant to speak, or face, the truth. “The film shows that people must express their feelings frankly and openly, instead of bottling them up inside while smiling and nodding. This is a fault of most Orientals. If we wish to have genuine peace, we must speak openly.”

There’s no use pretending that Devils is a sweet puppy of a movie crushed under the wheels of the censors’ tank. The film is both outraged and amused at the carnage (several brutal deaths of the innocent and weak) the soldiers wreak on civilians; it has a God’s-eye view, a kind of humanist misanthropy, of the disasters of war.

Yet the Film Bureau’s view is rustic in its naivete. “The language used in the film is offensive in many places,” the report notes. (A frequent epithet is “turtle-f—er.”) “There is also a shot of a nude woman. In general, the style of the film is vulgar.” It also says Devils is too nice to the Japanese and too critical of the Chinese. “The evaluation basically accuses Jiang of intentionally vilifying the Chinese and beautifying the Japanese invaders, of being a neo-fascist and national traitor,” says a Chinese producer. “That’s a very serious accusation.” It is a mirror of charges from Japan’s ultra-right groups, which see the film as a slur on its military. These groups are reportedly trying to keep Devils from being shown in Japan and threatening to harm the Japanese actors who appeared in it.

The Film Bureau in Beijing is slated to be dismantled as the state bureaucracy is streamlined; some film people believe that, by stoking this controversy, the censors are trying to make themselves appear indispensible. “It seems I am caught in a political power play,” Jiang says. The officials are also telling producers of a new project not to hire Jiang as a star. “They may not have the guts to tell him, ‘You’re banned,'” says an industry observer. “But they could put him on an implicit blacklist.”

Jiang is not the only prominent filmmaker to be corraled by the censors. Chen Kaige and Zhang Yimou have seen many of their films cut severely or banned from theatrical showings. Tian Zhuangzhuang was denounced so fulsomely in 1993 for his poignant drama The Blue Kite that he has not been able to make a film since. But Jiang is the auteur most likely to shout out his grievances. He will not be the next Chinese filmmaker to bite the dust. He’s more likely to spit the dirt in his accusers’ faces.

“I feel like Ma Dasan,” Jiang says wryly. “The film has become real life. But I hope I won’t have as tragic an ending as his.” That would be a shame, for when the Kuomintang take over the village at the end of the war, they make an example of Ma and cut his head off. That never happened to Duke Wayne.

-Reported by Jaime A. FlorCruz/Beijing