Sunday, August 17, 2008


Four billion people on Planet Earth watched the opening ceremonies of the Beijing Olympics on the eighth day of the eighth month on the eight year of the Third Millennium. 888 certainly defeated 666. Hurrah!

" We are one sovereign China, we are no longer violated by foreign devils, humiliated and forced to accept horrendous edicts. Now everything that occurs in our planet China is our sole responsibility. Our Destiny is in our hands."

Contrary to what some detractors have said I think Chinese officials showed remarkable restraint amid all the magnificence and munificence of the inaugural ceremonies. They reminded the world, particularly the arrogant West that they invented paper and calligraphy. Please, don't even mention the crude seals of the Akkadians and Sumerians. Tacky. Tacky. Even Egyptian hieroglyphics pale in comparison.

The Chinese showed admirable manners in not reminding us that it was they who invented gun powder at least a thousand years before Christ. They used it with great dexterity and efficacy.

The world watched in awe at the never ending creative displays of fireworks. Darlings, those fireworks used to be ancient instruments of war. It was difficult to find a battle in which missiles
did not wreak devastation on one's enemies. Obviously some type of firing instrument was used to unleash this fury. Chinese historians tell us these missiles traveled several kilometers.

There was no mention of Mao. The Cultural Revolution never was. Perhaps it is difficult to mention Mao without the other tragedies. Consequently, they could not show Ju En Lai and Deng Tsiao Peng.

They are imprinted on every Chinese heart, especially Ju.

I would not put my hands in the fire for Chinese sentiments regarding Mao. Despite all his horrendous tyranny he succeeded in two very important things.

He gave China back to the Chinese. He gave them the language of the Mandarins, without a doubt the most difficult language to master. He dragged the Chinese peasants kicking and screaming into literacy. He nearly brought everything down upon himself and his people but in the end smarter and far-sighted heads prevailed.

I was proud to have some Chinese DNA as I watched the ceremonies. My paternal great- grandmother Dona Appollonia Hwang was a full-blooded Chinese lady. She filled her Ming porcelain bowls with nothing but rubies from Burma and coral from Taiwan. She had 366 pieces of Imperial jade rings and necklaces that hung from her swan's neck. Ah Yes! She came from Ningpo, practically a Shanghailander.

Family historians tell me her marriage to my grreat-grandfather Don Eugenio Suarez Martinez was an arranged one. The Suarez clan owned 300,000 hectares of rich land in the Bicol region of the Philippines, in Sorsogon and all that it encompassed. The Hwangs had gold and cash.

Don Eugenio was tall, blonde and blue eyed. A handsome man. Dona Duday as she would come to be nicknamed by her husband always wore a long sleeved jibao/cheogsam made of handwoven and hand embroidered pina. She was tiny and emphasized her slim body by always using flat silk shoes.

One newspaper account of a ball at Malacanang Palace, hosted by the Spanish Governor General notes the Illustrada Dona Appollonia in a red jibao embroidered with gold peonies and a ruby and jade tiara atop her blue-black chignon.

Therefore, if we count all the millions upon millions of long departed Chinese souls and spirits who watched the opening rituals in Beijing from a unique dimension, I can only say that this event was the most portentous event in the early part of the Third Millennium.

I hope China wins the most gold and silver. They deserve it.

I once met Chou - Ju En Lai's widow in Shanghai in the late eighties. She was a member of the Central Committee. I was Advisor on Fashion and Textiles for Shanghai.

'' That is how we are going to launch ourselves in the world. We are going to use textiles. Shanghai will lead the way.''

A most extraordinary woman. Without a doubt one of the many great Chinese who shaped and molded China after 1949.

I can't wait to watch the closing ceremonies of the Olympics. It will be unforgettable.


  1. Good to see you blogging again. I don't quite agree with everything here, but while China's party is going on I'll share this in the festive spirit:

    "...Since China is already in possession of enough fireworks to delight the entire world 50 times over, we can only assume that they're gearing up for an imminent celebration of unprecedented size....The Pentagon reports that the current Chinese fireworks arsenal, which is known to include land-based firecrackers, bottle-to-air rockets, and the oft-criticized M-80, is believed to hold a delighting force in excess of 10,000 megafuns—or, in the words of one expert, "almost a billion times the merriment produced by a single cherry bomb."

  2. Exciting post, Isabella. I particularly love hearing about your ancestors; what a wide assortment, from so many different backgrounds, all of them fascinating.



  3. Yes and as far as Chinese ancestors go, many Europeans can at least speculatively claim to have some, or at least ancestors who lived in what is now the PRC. This would be especially true of people of Ashkenazi Jewish descent, most of whom descend from Jews who at one time lived in or near Russia, who in turn descend considerably (even though not exclusively) from Central Asians and/or from Jewish merchants who were denizens of the Silk Road.

    (Yes I know the allegation that Ashenazi Jews descend largely from converted Central Asian Turks infuriates many Jews of Eastern European descent. They're fools to be infuriated by this, as the Hebrews have been of mixed races and nationalities ever since the time of Abraham, and they ought to be proud of it.)

    A few years ago when I visited China's National Museum in Beijing,
    there was a temporary exhibition of Tang Dynasty (618-907) artifacts from Xinjiang's portion of the old Silk Road. (Not to insult your readers' intelligence, but I'll remind them that Xinjiang is adjacent to the Central Asian "stans" of the former USSR and the Russian Empire. Its indigenous people are mostly Turkic, but mixed with myriad nations who traded on the Silk Road.) And on display there was a 7th century brocaded purse depicting a Jewish Menorah.
    The ignoramuses who run the museum (sorry but most of China's official historians ARE ignorant vulgarians)
    labeled it simply as "brocaded purse", without reference to the Jewish Menorah or its significance - because they didn't even know, nor care, about the fascinating details of the MYRIAD nationalities and religions who populated the Silk Road. To the PRC's nationalists (aka, Communist Party hacks), those people were all just "Foreigners" and unworthy of further interest. (So, just WHO are the truly "arrogant" ones, appallingly ignorant and contemptuous of cultures other than their own? Westerners or Chinese? I submit: "BOTH!")

    And the fact that that brocaded purse depicted a RELIGIOUS symbol, made it all the more contemptible in the eyes of the PRC's hack historians - that is, if they knew the slightest thing about Judaism or any other Western religions at all, which most of them don't. (Heh, one of my otherwise intelligent Chinese students once asked me "how can you tell the difference between a Jew and a White person?" Himmler would have appreciated that.)

    At any rate, that little artifact was more significant, and more precious, than the Beijing Museum's "experts" knew. It was a piece of
    evidence of the presence of many Jews on the old Silk Road - which means in turn that many Jews can claim to have some ancestral origins in China. One would think that the Chinese Nationalists ought to enjoy that fact, if they weren't so blinkered and willfully ignorant and contemptuous of "Foreigners".
    Doesn't it indicate that China WAS a kind of "Middle Kingdom", a magnet for all civilised people of all nations and religions?

    Dear Isabel, you know I'm a Sinophile - quite literally considering that my wife is from Hong Kong, not to mention my five years of residence in the PRC and my many enduring friendships among its people. But I disagree in part with the way in which you've written this post - and I do so BECAUSE of my love and respect for China and its people - because although these Olympic celebrations are indeed a good start for China, China is still NOT YET living up to its full potential of greatness.

    What do I mean by China's "full potential of greatness?" I mean a full restoration of the kind of cosmpolitan civilisation which it used to be, back when it was the most religiously tolerant state in the world, and when it was not chauvinistic toward - nor willfully ignorant and contemptuous of - "Foreigners".

    And it is no paradox at all, that Chinese chauvinism toward "Foreigners" which began circa the Song Dynasty (c 1000-1200s), and later China's even more self-destructive cult of Nationalism, began when China's prestige and power began to decline (the decline began in the Song Dynasty, really, and then accelerated during the Ming). China's power and prestige have always been INVERSELY proportional to its cosmopolitanism; and conversely, China's stupidity and degradation and self-destruction have always been DIRECTLY proportional to its chauvinism and nationalism.

    Thus, in sum, yes this year China has "come out" as a great nation, and that's mostly to the good. But a great nation is not at all the same as a great civilisation, and as (in my opinion) civilisation
    and nationalism are categorically incompatible, China still has a long way to go before it can earn as much respect as it deserved during the Tang and Song dynasties.

    A great nation, yes. But a great civilisation like it used to be - well, China is getting there, but it's still a long way off. I won't call China a great civilisation unless and until it restores the same kind of freedom of religion, and unchauvinistic cosmopolitanism, that it had a thousand years ago. And as I'm a friend of China, it's my duty to keep some pressure on them, respectfully and affectionately, so that they (one hopes) WILL become as TRULY great as they used to be, and have the potential to become again.

    But maybe the Olympics are a good start and a good symbol for this desideratum. But China's Olympic ceremonies would have impressed me a lot more if, for example, they had recruited REAL minorities (eg REAL Uighurs, et al) to represent China's "56 nationalities", instead of recruiting 100 percent Han Chinese to dress up like "minorities" just like White American minstrels used to put on blackface to impersonate Blacks.
    If China has truly become "international" and "cosmopolitan", then why the hell don't they have the courage to invite THEIR OWN minorities to REPRESENT THEMSELVES in the Olympic ceremonies? That's how a NATIONALIST "nation" behaves - NOT how a civilisation behaves.

    But nonetheless, I'm confident that China will restore its greatness as a civilisation. Soon. But that time has not yet come, and I won't pretend that it has come, although I do agree that the fireworks were pretty, and I'm happy for the Chinese people that they're having a few weeks of well-deserved national glory. But again, national glory is not at all the same thing as civilisation, and in many ways those two things are opposed to each other.

  4. PS, just an afterthought re the above: Did you know that the Tang Dynasty Chinese poet, Li Bai (aka Li Po, 710-762) was Persian?

    He was born in what is now Kyrgystan (near the Silk Road). His childhood residences are hard to trace, but they include Gansu, also a Silk Road province. My Hong-Kong Chinese wife tells me that his style of poetry originated in Persia, and that it was not used in China until around his lifetime.
    And she is convinced that he was ethnically Persian.

    He's my favourite Chinese poet, and here's my favourite one of his poems. I speculate that what he writes about "wine" is both literal AND metaphorical - the metaphor of "wine" being a Persian Sufi one of unorthodox direct, personal experience of Al'Lah. But in his particular case, I also think he was describing a literal experience of drinking wine in his garden - as I've sometimes done in the same spirit (pun intended! :-)

    As I'm a lifelong numismatist, I keep a Chinese coin of Li Bai's time (Kai Yuan Tong Bao) on top of my computer, to inspire me to write well.

    Here's one fair translation:

    "With a jar of wine I sit by the flowering trees.

    I drink alone, and where are my friends?

    Ah, the moon above looks down on me;

    I call and lift my cup to his brightness.

    And see, there goes my shadow before me.

    Ho! We're a party of three, I say,—

    Though the poor moon can't drink,

    And my shadow but dances around me,

    We're all friends to-night,

    The drinker, the moon and the shadow.

    Let our revelry be suited to the spring!

    I sing, the wild moon wanders the sky.

    I dance, my shadow goes tumbling about.

    While we're awake, let us join in carousal;

    Only sweet drunkenness shall ever part us.

    Let us pledge a friendship no mortals know,

    And often hail each other at evening

    Far across the vast and vaporous space!"

    Link: http://www.humanis

  5. PPS, I speculate that by "shadow", Li Bai meant the OPPOSITE of the Jungian shadow. The Jungian shadow is our potential for evil. But I think Li Bai's "shadow" means his soul (which SEEMS to be ephemeral in the material world), and his "I" is his ego (which, according to Sufism, is the real illusion, the really ephemeral part of him), and of course the Moon
    is a symbol of Islam.

    Thus, I think this is a crypto-Sufi poem, obliquely and allusively describing Li Bai's understanding of how his soul and God - his shadow and the moon - can be experienced only indirectly, but paradoxically they represent spirits more real than his material ego. And when he says "I drink alone", it's a metaphor and another paradox - because his soul dances under God's reflected light - and so he is the least "alone" of any creature!

    Very, very Persian, very Sufi. And very Chinese too IN A WAY - but this is an example of how there is a hell of a lot more to China's civilisation than Han nationalism, and the Han nationalists ought to wake up to this fact, if they ever want to restore China's CIVILISATION!


Isabel Van Fechtmann

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