China used to have “model worker” and “learn from …” promotional campaigns. Essentially, these were propaganda initiatives trying to instill the values of civic duty, patriotism, and hard work into the population. Lei Feng, pictured above, is perhaps the most enduring. Back in the 1960s, there were others.
Wang Jinxi is one of them, and decades ago he also got the “iconic” treatment. Lei Feng was a People’s Liberation Army soldier that died young when a telegram pole fell on him. Wang wasn’t a soldier; he was an oil field worker.
The characters 工业学大庆 gōngyè xué dàqìng means “Learn from Daqing Industry.” Daqing is a prefecture-level city in Heilongjiang province in north east China. This is a part of the country that shares a border with Russia. In the late 1950s, prospectors found a large oil field there. In the 1960s, Mao and other members of the central government announced a “massive battle” to open up Daqing for drilling. China desperately wanted petroleum independence and reduce it’s dependency on imports to satisfy energy needs.
Wang Jinxi was tasked to lead the drilling team. According to the story, he and his intrepid squad toiled in temperatures well below zero degree Celsius. Their dedication faced constant issues of fatigue and injury, and yet they soldiered on. Wang’s dedication to hard work earned him the nickname of “Iron Man.” But, not in a Tony Stark / MCU / Marvel Comics sense. One story involves Wang personally throwing himself into a mud pit to clog up a “blowout hole.”
Apparently, doing this didn’t kill him. He died decades later, of cancer. Wang is also hailed from Gansu province, and he is remembered for work in Heilongjiang. Jiangsu and Changzhou is no where near this historical conversation. So, that begs a question. Why is this being written about on this blog?
I found a statue of him in Tianning — just down the road from Changzhou’s central train station. I was driving a car, and I had just dropped off a friend for a business meeting. I needed to kill sometime before picking her back up. So, I thought it might be good to fill up the gas tank.
Honey Trap(noun): A spy using seduction and sexual acts to compromise a target for purposes of blackmail. Example: A Russian hyper male FSB officer falls for a twink CIA dude while dancing at an illicit gay bar in Plovdiv, Bulgaria. Strobe lights and mirrored disco ball spinning from the ceiling are certainly involved as they make eye contact. Afterwards, the two relocate to a hotel room so they can be very naughty with each other. The Russian becomes a double agent as a result to keep his real sexual orientation secret from his FSB coworkers.
Honey traps are frequent plot points in James Bond movies and TV shows like The Americans — or just about any entertainment product involving espionage. However, there are more to them than just John Le Carré novels and stories like them
Sure, a bit of sexy intrigue does spice up a fictional plot and narrative, but honey traps are actually a part of world history. During the Cold War, Warsaw Pact nations did this on a routine basis, where handsome young men were often dispatched to seduce secretaries within the Pentagon and within other American governmental agencies.
In a time of rampant and institutionalized homophobia, it was particularly effective if you could ensnare a closeted lesbian or gay man, because that person would be even more existentially compromised. The illicit secret might become very public. This is why, by the way, the previous joke above regarding gay discos in Plovdiv, Bulgaria, actually is quite real and not a total joke as it originally sounds. If the game is hard intelligence in a pre-Internet world, a spy doesn’t have to bring down a high ranking official. A spy just needs to seduce somebody who has access to a higher ranking official’s filing cabinet and documents.
If you go back farther into ancient history, a honey trap may not even involve access to papers. It might involv sending a beautiful woman into somebody else’s kingdom — just to create chaos. That actually was purported to have happened thousands of years ago in what is now Jiangsu and Zhejiang provinces. This was during the Spring and Autumn era (770-476 BCE), and the specific kingdoms were Wu 吴 and Yue 越. This should not be misconstrued to having anything to do with Wuyue shopping plazas; those characters are 吾悦. Anyhow, Wu was predominately modern Jiangsu, and Yue, Zhejiang. The border between the two sometimes shifted due to ongoing war.
Gou Jian sat on the Yue throne from roughly 495 to 465 BCE in what would become present day Shaoxing (a city between Hangzhou and Ningbo). At the beginning of his reign, King Helu of Wu had his army march south and attack. Gou Jian defeated that advance and pushed the invaders back. Helu never forgot this, and on his deathbed, he commanded his son and heir, Fu Chai, to avenge the loss.
Eventually, he did, and he took both Gou Jian and his top advisor, Fan Li, prisoner. Both were forced to work as slaves performing manual labor. Guo kept his misery to himself, and after a few years, the Wu king granted the Guo and his advisor freedom and the ability to return to south to Yue. That was a colossally bad idea. Once returning to their own country, the two dedicated themselves to plotting the tragic downfall of Wu and Fu Chai. Of course, that involved troops, but Fan Li had spicy idea to plop on top of that.
As tribute from Yue, Fu Chai was gifted a beautiful woman, Xi Shi. She was so gorgeous, according to legend, birds would drop out of the sky if they caught a glimpse of her. Also, if fish saw her peering into their waters, they fell to the bottom of the river; they would become so mesmerized that they would forget how to swim. She is credited as the origin of the Chinese idiom 沉鱼落雁 chén yú luò yàn — literally “Fish sink and wild geese drop.” It’s often used to describe woman who are so beautiful, men literally go insane while looking at them.
The idea, basically, entailed that Fu Chai was a fundamentally horny man who couldn’t control himself. If he had the stunning Xi Shi all to himself, his constant arousal would distract him from matters of state and the Wu kingdom would fall into disorganization. That’s exactly what happened. In the end, Guo Jian prevailed. While Yue forces sieged the Wu capital of Gusu (part of present day Suzhou) for the final time, Fu Chai committed suicide. Yue absorbed the Wu kingdom thereafter in 473 BCE.
One could easily argue that Fu Chai fell into one of the oldest honey traps in history. This is one of the epic Chinese stories that a person can easily find English YouTube videos on. That’s nice, but one can easily look at my clickbait-ish title and ask what Changzhou has to do with this. It’s where, allegedly, the story goes after the fall of Wu.
People who misunderstand this story might accuse Xi Shi of a sluttery; they might also accuse Fan Li and Gou Jian as being her pimps. This leaves out the fact that she was possibly a willing third accomplice, knew what she was getting into, and did it because of a sense of duty to her country. How different is this story from the one of KGB women spreading their legs to get kompromat on Americans or western Europeans? Every spy has a handler. And those managers have managers,
To that end, Xi Shi and Fan Li were also lovers, and she likely gave herself willingly to Fu Chai at Fan’s direction. The Yue King may have merely signed off on the plot. After Fu Chai killed himself and the Wu Kingdom became ripe for annexation, King Guo Jian of Yue deemed it necessary to purge (assassinate) many of his advisors and reboot his court with fresh faces. Fan Li anticipated this, and he and his eventual wife fled together.
At the time, Changzhou was not known by that name. It was Piling 毗陵. Fan Li, during his time in town as a Yue governmental minister, also over saw the dredging of canals. One of which involved a waterway connecting Lake Ge (which everybody in Changzhou now calls Xitaihu) and Tai Lake — the third largest freshwater body of water in China. Canals in ancient China were a network of liquid roads. Something a lot quicker than riding horse or donkey out of town. A getaway car in this period of Chinese history is a canal boat, and Fan Li likely knew how to navigate that system.
Changzhou claims to be the departure point of Fan Li and Xi Shi. It is here they got away and evaded detection. At some point, Piling was under Yue control, and Fan was in the area overseeing the dredging of canals. There was a need to connect Lake Ge (what everybody know calls Xitaihu) with Tai Lake, which is the third largest freshwater body in China. It is argued that, with government agents in hot pursuit, Xi and Fan boarded a canal boat in Piling, navigated the system of artificial waterways to the vast safety of Tai Lake. Of course, with a story this old, there are other variations and it’s hard to confirm 100% accuracy.
There is a marker in present day Changzhou commemorating this story. It bares the name 西蠡古渡xili gu du, or Xi Li Ancient Ferry. Of course, “Xili” is a name combination technique. These days, it’s used to name celebrity couples. For example, Ben Affleck + Jennifer Lopez = Bennifer. It would be silly to claim that this marker and the accompanying stone pavilion actually dates to antiquity. It was open to the public back in 2010.
It is a narrow strip of green space next to a canal. There are multiple boarding points and loading and unloading ramps for cargo.
Besides this, there are views of the canal itself.
This small bit of canal area is not that far the Wuyue 吾悦 Plaza downtown. Truth be told, the area can be seen in about five minutes, and what is there is not as epic as the story that inspired them. How could it be?
Chinese revolutionary monuments are sometimes difficult to find. Half the ones mentioned on Baidu maps are simply not there. I know because I’ve tried to find them and end up walking or riding in circles. Or wading through drainage ditches. Or looking at piles of garbage. So, it’s always fascinating for me to find one that is actually where the map says it is.
It’s in Huaxi Park 花溪公园 in the former Qishuyan district. The area within the park goes by the Martyrs Memorial Plaza 烈士纪念广场. The memorial itself contains two stone markers. One is of a more abstract shape, but the other is a bust Sun Jinchuan 孙津川. His life story, and the placement of his statue has an interesting correlation.
The railway industry is still a huge in Qishuyan, but it used to not always be that way. One of the big players was the Wusong Machinery Factory, who has since changed names several times. Before it relocated to Changzhou for national security reasons, the plant operated in Shanghai. At the time, the nationalist Koumintang ran the Chinese government. Underground communist organization and agitation was ongoing at the time.
This carried into trade unions like the Shanghai-Nanjing Railway Workers Association. Sun Jinchuan was elected into a leadership role within that union. He helped organize strikes and even armed action around the Wusong factory before it relocated to Changzhou. As the story goes, the KMT eventually arrested him and repeatedly tortured him for information. The official story goes on to say the Sun Jinchuan remained defiant up to the end in October of 1928, shouting CPC slogans and singing while being dragged to his execution.
I once asked a Chinese friend why many cemeteries were located in out of the way places. “Plenty of reasons. Feng Shui is one. If you are putting somebody into the ground, there should be a mountain behind them and water out in front.” He took a sip of his beer “Also, some of us are a afraid of ghosts and we don’t like going near those places. The only reason to go is to pay homage to a relative or ancestor.” So, as I have said before, cemetery walks — where you take a stroll around a graveyard even when you don’t know anybody there — may be common in America, but they certainly are not in China.
Recently, I visited the Revolutionary Martyr’s Cemetary in Jintan. Much like many burial spaces in Eastern Changzhou, it seemed in a more remote location. This one was located far away from Dongmendajie, the commercial center of this western-most district of the Dragon City.
There is a wall with the names of all the Jintan people who died fighting the nationalist KMT during the Civil War / Revolution.
The people here are in ground plots. This is unlike the Martyr’s Memorial in Tianning, where long hallways have urns stored on shelves.
There is a museum dedicated to the local history of the war. When I went, it was closed. It was also Spring Festival, so I don’t know if it is always closed, or if it was closed for the holidays.
And, then you have the standard monument pillar. That’s pretty much all to see here. However, there are a few other things in the vicinity. There is Baota Temple and Gulongshan Park nearby. Getting here actually takes a lot of effort. Since Jintan, as a district, is so far away from the rest of Changzhou, you have to take a one hour intercity bus to just get to their coach station. A visitor could either take a taxi here, or they can walk. I walked. And my feet hated me for that.
Dare to pray benevolence, less thanks to mercy. Chen see one side to go to Nanjing since, waiting for the purpose of the DPRK. Do not take the day.
— Definitely Not Su Dongpo
Su Dongpo 苏东坡, often considered one of the greatest poets of the Chinese language, did not write the above quote. It would be beyond absurd to suggest that a noted writer and artist of the Song Dynasty could foretell of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK), aka North Korea. No, this is something that became garbled into English once I copy and pasted the Chinese characters of his article 乞常州居住表Qǐ chángzhōu jūzhù biǎo into Google Translate. Since it was beyond incomprehensible and impossible to Google in English, I showed this short text to a Chinese colleague and asked him for a general summary. Even he, a university professor and native Chinese speaker, had a hard time reading it. Ancient versions of Chinese doesn’t use compound characters the way the modern language does. A lot of Su’s pictograph choices are simply not used anymore. Put it this way: Su Dongpo’s Chinese is very antiquated, much the same way Geofrey Chaucer’s Middle English is impossible to fully comprehend by a modern speaker.
Su’s text, whose title could be loosely translated as “Request to Live in Changzhou,” captured my curiosity recently because of a monument in Xinbei. Specifically, it’s in town of Xuejia 薛家镇. This is a town out west of the greater Wanda area most expats know and associate with the name “Xinbei.” It is a stone wall shaped to look like an old bamboo scroll with vertical lines of text meant to be read from up to down and from right to left.
The wall itself seems to be part of a greater cultural plaza dedicated to the memory of this great writer and artist. But there seems to be another thing, and this seems common to Changzhou, sometimes.
The place doesn’t seem hardly used at all for it’s originally stated purpose, and some if it actually seems empty. Curious, I texted a friend that actually lives in Xuejia and asked her about it. She also give me the gist of the article, but she also noted that it seems to be a weird thing to have, here. Xuejia didn’t even exist when Su Dongpo was alive. She noted that the history of the town, much like that of Xinbei in general, is relatively short when compared to the rest of the city.
So, what was the article actually about? From what friends have told me, it was actually more of a written request sent to the emperor. He was asking for permission to live in Changzhou. I was told that this original request went ignored, and Su had to resort to writing a second request to live in this city. At times in his life, Su was an exiled imperial official — like most Chinese poets of antiquity were — and spent the most of his life traveling. Of course, he did end up living here. He eventually died here, too. So, it would make sense that even relatively new places in the city would erect some sort of cultural recognition that Changzhou people, to this day still, still consider him one of their own, even if he wasn’t born here.
From time to time, I sometimes buy philatelic products — especially if they have a greater Jiangsu or regional Jiangnan theme. This isn’t so much for myself but for my father. He’s a lifelong stamp collector, and his interest in Chinese stamps mostly comes from me giving them to him since I live here.
So, recently, I happened on a collection of Qingguo Lane themed postcards. These actually already have the postage printed on them. In terms of stamp collecting, this is something that father would term “postal stationary,” which is a smaller niche within stamp collecting.Yes, there is something infinitely more nerdy than stamps: the people who collect pre-postage marked envelopes and post cards. But who am I to judge? I collect Magic: The Gathering cards. The nerd gene is strong in my family!
While the English name of the set seems to be Elegant Rhyme of Qingguoxiang, these cards really have nothing to do with poetry. The Chinese title of 唐氏八宅 seems more practical. It can be translated as the Eight Houses of the Tang Family.
The cards themselves are relatively simple — black line drawings on a tan background. However, since Qingguo recently was revamped and reopened to the public, I decided to see if I could actually find the places depicted on these cards.
A majority of them did correspond with actual locations. Interestingly enough, some didn’t. The locations actually don’t look like the pictures, either. How could that be? There’s an easy answer to that: these postcards were issued ten years ago in 2009. So, these cards are commemorating the Qingguo that once was. As for the homes that are no longer there, it’s possible that they will be at some point. What was recently opened was just a first step. There are plans to add to Qingguo over the years.
I took the above photo back in 2014.That was before the area was cordoned off and thoroughly demolished and rebuilt. My guess is the Qingguo of that year also didn’t look like what is on the China Post issued cards. Qingguo of that era was crumbling and nearly derelict. Despite these disparities, the cards themselves can be taken as a celebration of the area in general. Historically influential Changzhou families — like the Tangs — did live here. Still, the disparity of what was and what things are going forward is a typically accurate display of this city’s extremely quick economic development.
Ancient Chinese history is filled with brutal court intrigues among generals, politicians, heads of state, fox spirits, and more. This is particularly true when you consider that, over the course of time, China has been splintered into several countries. That means, basically, that the Game of Thrones tales of double, triple, and quadruple crossing people, allies, and enemies can become easy to find. More regal courts means more opportunities for people betraying each other. Just look at the history of Chinese poets; the whole “I am in exile, drunk, and miss my home” is a common literary trope. Why? A lot of poets were also government officials that ran afoul of somebody and had to leave. It’s the story of Li Bai, and it’s the story of Su Dongpo, for example.
The more somebody travels through China, the more they can see this if they start paying attention to local lore and legend. I realized this once in Liyang. While this place is not a district of Changzhou as a municipality, it is considered part of Changzhou as a prefecture. In short, it’s its own city, but it’s technically still part of CZ.
Over in Phoenix Park 凤凰公园 near Liyang’s urban center，a statue commemorates something called “The Gauze Washing Virgin.” The stone sculpture stands in the middle of a pond, and four large stone panels — with etched illustrations — serves as a backdrop. The story, according to a bilingual sign, can be paraphrased this way.
A young woman is washing textiles in the river. Eventually, a man wanders into her life. He’s weak, he’s starving, and she saves him. She feeds him and shows him some hospitality. While doing so, she recognizes him as Wu Zixu 伍子胥.
This was a figure from the Chu Kingdom’s court during the Spring and Autumn Period. Chu was a larger country to the west of Liyang and Changzhou. On the run, Wu Zixu fled Chu and ended up in the Wu Kingdom. (To be noted: the Wu family name 伍 and the Wu kingdom 吳 are different WU characters in Pinyin. Also, by the way, unintended rhyming is hard to avoid when you are using Chinese names.) The state of Wu was comprised of areas that are currently associated with Suzhou, Wuxi, and Changzhou.
Anyhow, this young woman saves this guy’s life. Yet, she realizes that she now possesses a deadly secret. She knows who he is. More importantly, she likely realizes somebody is after him. According to the sign at Liyang’s Phoenix park, she picks up a big rock, throws herself into the river, and drowns to protect his identity. If she dies, his secret dies with her.
All of this story is just a small detail in a small park — in a town more known for eco tourism around Tianmu Lake and the Nanshan Bamboo Forest. However, it’s lore like this that actually gives town like Liyang true character.
This was originally published back in October of 2018.
Back in 2017, I visited a canal-side historical marker. It was for an old factory. I knew of it’s existence, but I had trouble actually finding it. So, getting there, at the time, involved randomly riding my ebike down narrow alleys in Tianning, but across the grand canal, in a very diagonal and distant sort of way, from Dongpo Park.
It claimed that the area was being preserved, but in actual fact, the whole area was in the process of getting gutted and demolished.
The actual English language historical marker was next to a rather derelict looking door.
These photos not only come from 2017, but also the year before. Recently, I returned to the area out of curiosity. Vast changes are underway. The above door now looks like this.
The walkway in front of this door, about a year ago, looked like this.
People were basically cultivating the land into tiny vegetable plots. Now, the area looks like this.
So, what is going on here? Whatever is being built here is not actually not finished, yet. However, it seems to be a development project with the English moniker Legends of Canal. My guess says real estate, and not a historical district. I say this, because I walked through the gate and wandered around. I was not the only person wandering, either.
At first, with all of the old industrial machines encased in glass, as well as the public sculptures, my mind went immediately to Canal 5, which has a similar sort of vibe. However, as I was walking around, somebody stopped me and asked me why I was there. It wasn’t the security guys by the gate, either. It seemed to be a salesman asking if I was wanted to possibly invest into real estate. So, my guess is that this area is now the grounds of a business office for a future development project. I could still be totally wrong, of course; the guy’s English was terrible, and my Chinese only exists in survival mode. Given that there are still huge barricades around the rest of the area, there really will not be much else to see here for at least a year or two.
Qing Dynasty Emperor Qianlong (1711 to 1799) has many distinctions in Chinese history. He sat on the throne for sixty or so years, and he had one of the longest reigns. Instead of dying while in power, he gave up the throne out of respect to his grandfather, Kangxi. As a result, Kangxi’s time as Chinese Emperor is longer, but only by one year. Qianlong patronized the arts heavily, and he himself composed a lot of poetry. In world culture, he may actually be the most prolific writer of all time.
Also like his grandfather, Qianlong liked to travel and actually inspect his kingdom first hand. As a result, you end up seeing public references to him all over the Jiangnan region. Changzhou is no different. There are stone markers related to him in Dongpo Park in Tianning. This is basically down the street from Hongmei while on Yanling Road.
During one visit to the city, Emperor Qianlong actually wrote a few poems mentioning Changzhou. The Emperor greatly admired Su Dongpo as a poet, and Dongpo Park is where the great writer and artist landed after traveling down the Grand Canal. A few hundred years ago, Qianlong actually wanted to visit that very same spot. These verses were carved onto steles — giant stone slabs engraved with calligraphy. That’s where one issue pops up. Chinese calligraphy, even when it’s black ink on white paper, can be hard to read. I showed a couple of pictures to some Chinese friends.
They had a hard time making out anything. I have tried to see if I could locate these poems online, and I even used Chinese search terms like 乾龙常州市诗, and I still couldn’t locate the poems.Then, I realized my search terms had a Chinese typo. I think “Qianlong” in characters is 乾隆not 乾龙. I think I might have located them, but it’s going to take a while to see if I can get these poems correctly translated somewhere done the line.
In the meantime, these stele carvings are an interesting little corner in one of Changzhou’s more charming little parks.
The academic world sometimes can feel like a separate universe with a secret jargon that requires a decoder ring dug out of a Cracker Jack box. This is a largely technical language needed to speak to very specific issues within scholarship. For example, in literary theory, there are schools of thought like deconstruction, reader-response, queer theory, post-colonialism, post-structuralism, and more. Each of those camps has it’s own subsets of jargon that has fueled papers, theses, and dissertations and will continue to do so for centuries to come. For example, post-structuralism has some circular gibberish about “signifier” and “signified” that I could never fully wrap my head around. Trust me, I tried very hard. That’s just the study of literature. That’s not even touching the other English fields of teaching, linguistics, grammar, and translation.
In academia, Chinese history also has its diverse groupings of scholars. One of them is something called “Doubting Antiquity.” These were researchers who expressly voiced concerns about the historical accuracy of some stories within classic Chinese texts like Sima Qian’s Records of the Grand Historian.
It would be a lot like western historians asking and researching critical questions into Herodotus or Holinshed’s Chronicles — which provided some source material for some of Shakespeare’s plays. Since Qian sometimes wrote about the nearly mythical Shang Dynasty thousands of years ago, it would almost be like historians probing more into the historical accuracy of something the Welsh Mabinogian.
The Doubting Antiquity School was not all about destroying somebody like Sima Qian. Mostly, it’s about raising questions and the researching possible answers. Those answers led to more questions. That’s how scholarship works.
Changzhou was once home to a one of these scholars. His name was Lu Simian 吕思勉lǚ sī miǎn.
He was born in Wujin in 1884, and he went on take a professorship at Kwang Hua University in Shanghai. This institution went on to become East China Normal University. During his academic career, he authored a number of books on antiquity covering subjects like science, ethnicity, literature, and more.
His former residence is actually located in downtown Changzhou, and it’s open to the public without an admission fee. A visitor does have to sign into a log book, however. The place is rather small. You can see some of the living quarters.
And places where he kept a personal library and a possible office.
Most of the informational displays here are in Chinese, but there is one introductory sign in English. This former residence is downtown, but it’s actually located in an narrow alley a few streets up from Yanling Road, Nandajie, and the Luqiao Commodities Market. So, for some, it may not be easy to find.
This alley intersects with Jinling Road. And here it is on Baidu Maps.