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Witness to the times

Posted by pakin On July - 23 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

A new translation of Lao She’s Play “Teahouse” paints a vivid picture of China between 1898 and 1949

AN ACCOMPLISHED SCIENTIST, musician, artist, writer and translator, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is once again demonstrating her linguistic talents with the launch of “Teahouse: A Play in Three Acts”, a translation of the drama penned by the noted Chinese novelist and dramatist Lao She.

At Siam Paragon last week to preside over the opening of exhibitions “HRH Maha Chakri Sirindhorn’s Studies of China”, and “The Teahouse and the Chinese Way of Life”, the Princess spoke a little about her latest oeuvre, which is published by Nanmeebooks.

Writing in Chinese and translating it into Thai has long been a passion of the Princess, who currently has 13 books and 12 translations of novels, poems, and documentaries to her credit.

Divided into three acts, “Teahouse” is told through a cast of more than 60 characters who frequent the ancient Beijing teahouse known as Yu Tai from the end of Qing Dynasty to the 1940s. During these 50 years, Chinese society was in turmoil, its people impoverished and threatened by state agencies and corruption was rife. The clients of the Yu Tai teahouse witnessed these social events with despair.

“Cha Guan”, as it is known in Chinese, is also a tragic story: both the novelist and his main character, teashop owner Wang Lifa, ended their lives by their own hand s – Lao She, which was actually the penname of Shu Qingchun, by drowning himself in Beijing’s Taiping Lake in 1966 and his protagonist Wang by hanging.

The Princess had a chance to visit Lao She’s house during her brief studies in Beijing and says she was guided on the tour by the novelist’s daughter as Lao’s wife was more than 100 years old and unable to welcome the Princess. She died not long after the Princess returned to Thailand.

“Lao She was born into a poor family. His father was a guard soldier with the Red Banner and died when he was young. Lao was a good student and graduated as a teacher from Beijing Normal University. He was greatly influenced by the May Fourth Movement and went on to lecture at London University’s School of Oriental Studies, as well as in Singapore and later in China. He was influenced by the works of Charles Dickens, Joseph Conrad and the great Russian novelists and lived for a while in the US. But his disappointment with the cultural revolution proved too much and so committed suicide,” the Princess says.

“Teahouse” is an important chronicle of Chinese society spanning the five decades from 1898 until the eve of the 1949 revolution and while the physical premises were turned into a clubhouse under authoritarian rule and no longer exist, a new teahouse on Qianmen Street bears the author’s name.

The play itself is noted for its vivid portrayal of characters and lively use of Beijing dialect, but its main thrust lies in Lao She’s vision of history, which is prophetic of later political movements and their disastrous effects on the average Chinese.

The first act is set at the end of the nineteenth century after reforms and the ensuing crackdown have reduced China to a weakened state. The populace is poor and foreign aggression is the rise. Many of the peasants have been forced into bankruptcy and are selling off their own children. Residents in Beijing, as exemplified by the teahouse’s customers, are largely apathetic but a few become involved, advocating political reform and trying to persuade the reigning Emperor to head the movement. Others pin their hopes on industrialisation, seeing it as the only way to bring the nation to prosperity.

“Cha Guan represents all walks of life. It offers a social and cultural commentary on the problems, culture, and changes within China during the early twentieth century and its transformation from tradition to modernity. It’s probably like our Thai ‘Sapa cafae’ (“Thai coffee-shop parliament”) but Wang Lifa is worried about getting into trouble so he puts up a big poster banning talk of politics and this later becomes the centrepiece of the Yu Tai teahouse. Customers tell stories instead and some of them start selling foreign goods like pocket watches, opium or cigarettes, even children. At first I didn’t know how to call these human traffickers because they were more like agents or middlemen,” the Princess adds.

The key words in the story are ‘change’ and ‘reform’, the Princess continues.

“One of the conversations in the play which I find most interesting is when a starving mother and a daughter come into the teahouse begging. A customer takes pity on them and treats them two bowls of noodles. But he is quickly criticised by the landlord, who says this is not the right way to help the poor. He, on the other hand, dreams of building a factory that would provide everybody with job security and money to buy food while producing goods to do away with the need for imports. He says his way would help the nation. When I was young, I used to do the same through my free lunch projects for poor students. Some people say that is not the sustainable way to help people, that you must provide them with education or skills to work,” the Princess says.

The second act takes place 20 years later. The Dynasty has fallen, a Republic has been set up, but the people are worse off than ever. In the same teahouse, Wang tries his best to keep up with the times, with new decorations, posters of beautiful girl and modern seating, and even turns the area at the back into a dormitory. There is the rumble of a revolution: the younger generation, represented by the students, are restive and fomenting protest under the banner of patriotism and democracy.

The third act takes another 30 years down the line. After eight years of bitter war against the Japanese, WWII has ended but the people have hardly had time to celebrate China’s victory before reactionary factions in the Kuomingtang instigate an all-out civil war. The political situation becomes even more oppressive and corrupt, and this is seen and felt in the teahouse. Wang, who is now in his 70s, is reduced to despair and ends his live.

Readers of the translation will enjoy not only the literary quality and the clever conversation, which varies from humorous to sentimental and occasionally satirical, but will also learn about many interesting aspects of Chinese society under the Qing Dynasty and the hopes for a new order.

Appendices at the back of the book provide information about Princess Sirindhorn’s previous works on Chinese tea, the country’s tea culture and its history.

During the launch, Act I was performed for the Princess and she laughingly told the crowd that the character of a young girl whose father wants to sell her off must be very easy to play because when she appears on the set, she faints.

“However, the girl is only 15,” says the princess, “I already 60 so I really can’t portray her.”


-“Teahouse: A Play in Three Acts” is priced at Bt165 and available at Waenkaew Bookshops, Nanmeebooks and other stores.

– For more information, call (02) 662 3000.

China rice deal on the cards

Posted by pakin On March - 12 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

Thailand hopes to finalise a government-to-government (G-to-G) deal to sell 2 million tonnes of rice and 200,000 tonnes of rubber to China when authorities meet with their Chinese counterparts in early May.

The government will try to convince China to ink the rice deal at the next meeting scheduled for May 6 in Beijing, Commerce Minister Chatchai Sarikulya said yesterday.

He spoke after meeting with Wang Xiaotao, vice-minister of China’s National Development and Reform Commission, in Bangkok about monitoring the progress of a memorandum of understanding (MoU) for the 2-million-tonne rice sale.

The MoU was signed last December for 1 million tonnes each of old and new grains along with the 200,000 tonnes of rubber.

Deliveries of rice and rubber would be set for this year and next.

The contract will be made through the China National Cereals, Oils and Foodstuffs Corporation, the giant state enterprise that oversees rice imports, to ensure transparency.

The transaction with China is unrelated to an earlier deal for 1 million tonnes struck by the Yingluck Shinawatra government.

Thailand has already delivered 300,000 tonnes as part of that deal.

At yesterday’s meeting, the two parties agreed to set up a joint steering committee to study in detail the rice and rubber deals as agreed in the MoU.

Gen Chatchai said Thailand would at the next meeting try to convince China to buy other farm products too.

Charoen Laothammatas, president of the Thai Rice Exporters Association, urged officials to wrap up the talks so that delivery of all 2 million tonnes could take place this year.

“The government should settle the deal with China as fast as possible to reduce price pressure from new supply,” he said.

“Talks with other potential buyers such as African countries for the old grains should also be wrapped up.”

The present government has vowed to dispose of 17 million tonnes of rice in state stockpiles accumulated from the previous government within two years, with 10 million tonnes to be sold this year.

Last Thursday it sold 780,000 tonnes in the second rice auction this year, fetching more than 8 billion baht.

And last month, it endorsed the sale of 496,243 tonnes worth 7.85 billion baht in the year’s first auction of state rice stocks. The Commerce Ministry has called five auctions since last May, selling a combined 1.12 million tonnes for 13.6 billion baht.

The government also early this month secured a G-to-G contract to sell 200,000 tonnes of rice to the Philippines. Gen Chatchai called this latest contract a good sign, as the government in 2014 won its first contract in 10 years to sell 300,000 tonnes of rice to the country.

Vietnam in rare note of ’79 China war

Posted by pakin On February - 18 - 2015 ADD COMMENTS

HANOI – State media in Vietnam made a rare move of marking the anniversary of a border war with China Tuesday with a series of news articles describing the battles of Vietnamese guerrillas.

China invaded Vietnam’s northern provinces on February 17, 1979 after Vietnamese troops ousted the Beijing-backed Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia. The short conflict claimed tens of thousands of lives on both sides and ended with Chinese forces withdrawing and both Hanoi and Beijing claiming victory.

The topic of Vietnamese-China relations is highly sensitive in Vietnam and is usually censored in the mainstream media. Attempts by anti-China protesters to hold events to commemorate the anniversary are usually stopped by police.

China is a major trading partner, but the two countries often disagree over competing territorial claims in the South China Sea. Their relationship reached a critical point last year when Beijing towed an oil rig into waters claimed by Vietnam.

On Monday, Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung condemned China over the recent building of islands in the sea and vowed to protect Vietnam’s sovereignty.

“February 17 1979 is the painful day for our nation,” prominent economist Le Dang Doanh said on his Facebook page.

“When the two countries normalized relations in 1991, China asked Vietnam not to mention this date. That is why we have no official activities to celebrate this event today.”

SHANGHAI – The China flagship firm of French telecom equipment group Alcatel-Lucent confirmed Monday a human resources manager is missing, after media reports said he had accused some of the joint venture’s top executives of corruption.

Alcatel-Lucent Shanghai Bell said it had “lost contact” with Jia Lining and was helping police and his family to locate him, according to a statement on its official microblog.

The statement described Jia as a mid-level manager in the human resources department.

The influential magazine Caixin last week reported that Jia was head of HR and had in a social media posting accused “many” high-level executives at the company and its subsidiaries of corruption and abuse of power.

The company said Monday that the posting on messaging app WeChat was inaccurate.

“The content of the Jia Lining WeChat has clear discrepancies with the facts,” it said, adding the posting contained “several” fabrications and distortions.

The original entry could not be found. A 3,500-word version circulating online, whose authenticity could not be confirmed, listed nine names — all Chinese — of former and current company officials.

Relatives and friends said they lost contact with Jia on Wednesday and his car was found parked on Shanghai’s Yangpu bridge, Caixin reported.

A police statement confirmed a car had been found, giving the owner’s surname as Jia, and said it received a report of a possible suicide attempt.

Shanghai Bell, set up in 1984, was a pioneering venture, said to be the first foreign-invested stock company in China. Despite its partly foreign ownership it reports directly to the central government’s State-owned Assets Supervision and Administration Commission, which oversees major state firms.

The Chinese partner is China Huaxin Post & Telecommunication Economy Development Center, reports said.

Alcatel-Lucent said earlier this month that it had appointed a 26-year veteran of the group, Luis Martinez-Amago, as Shanghai Bell’s chief executive officer.