Saturday, February 11, 2006

Cultural Divides

It has been common knowledge as well as a long history of cultural divide between the North & South similar to the cultural divides & prejudices between say Northern Italy near the Swiss Alps & the Sicilian regions. The prejudice being that the Northern & Wu areas (Lower Yangtze & Shanghai regions) claims to represent the ‘refined’, ’traditional’, ’pure’, & ‘authentic’ aspects of Chinese culture while snubbing Cantonese & other Southern cultures as a reflection of the ‘vulgar’, ‘modern’, ‘hybrid’, & ‘debased’ aspects.

It is not surprising that these similar cultural snobberies have found their way into the Peking Opera arena & into the critical discourses on Chinese Opera. Most Peking Opera Aficionados I’ve met so far tends to be purists with inward thinking that have been the popular trend as well as downfalls through out our dynasties. Master Soong for example when watching the Opera Channel will only watch Peking Opera, as everything else such as Cantonese or even Shanghainese Opera are consider second rate.

The Opera Channel programming is an obvious statement. Northern & Wu region theatrical genres are valued as the expressions of the Elite & are always broadcast prime time. As such, Jing Ju have grown to be representative of the ‘official’ traditional culture by even playing down their own local features & hybrid characters. This has come at the expenses of the dieing popularities of other local genres & cultures to the point of there’ll only be 1 national theatre being supported & based out of Beijing in the near future.

While the Mandarin dialect or ‘Guo Yu’, which smugly translates as ‘The National Language’, is perceived as refined, and central to Chinese culture. Cantonese & the local culture behind Cantonese opera are seen as vernacular & peripheral expressions of a low class group. I wonder how much of this reinforces or correlates to the cultural divide & my personal frustration with the status hierarchy of linguistic expression.

Yet they worship Hong Kong pop culture & Cantonese cuisine seems to be the most popular amongst the Elites. I’ve seen more Andy Lau & Karen Mok billboards here than in Hong Kong. More than ½ the films shown on the over night train were Andy Lau’s…there was a guy selling a Beijing Tabloid on the subway train today shouting ‘2 RMB…Andy Lau is dead!’. And the whole cast of entertainers scheduled for the New Years Eve count down in Shanghai are being flown in from Hong Kong. But this Honkie expiate is not considered Chinese!

The influences of the diaspora have inspired more open negotiations between the debt to the past & the desire to adapt to cultural & societal transformations. The spirit of such innovation have apparently led to unique experiments in Peking & Cantonese opera fusions as early as ’63 in New York City.

However, I really am talking through my nether regions of the armchair historian. So I’ll shut up with my academic bitching here & get back on track with the journey.

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