Graffiti is not a cultural thing the way in China as it is in my part of America, which is the greater Philadelphia, New Jersey, and New York City region. Murals and tagging is just a thing you don’t see in Changzhou. That being said, it does exist here, and this blog has covered the biggest site over in Zhonglou. That urban art is beneath two bridges flanking Jiangsu University of Technology. There is one other place in Changzhou that has featured the ever-changing nature of graffiti for years. This is on a wall on the south side of People’s Hospital #1 in the city center and not that far from the Wenhuagong / Culture Palace subway station on Line 1.
If you think about it technically, the Changzhou Railway Station in Tianning has a history that’s longer than the People’s Republic of China. Planning for the Shanghai-Nanjing line actually dates back to the end of the Qing Dynasty. This was a time when China was opening to the west and trying to catch in terms of industrialization. According to the Baidu version of Wikipedia, this planning began in 1898. The relatively small, first iteration of the station was built in 1907, and it had two platforms. Once the Qing fell, Chinese founding father Sun Zhongshan actually did a whistle stop to wave at cheering crowds as he made his way to Nanjing. There’s a memorial hall in Changzhou dedicated to this. I thought it might be interesting to see a pictorial evolution over the years. Some of these are photos of photos I took at the Changzhou Museum, and some of them, I took personally — specifically the last three.
Does this sound familiar? Somebody gets sick from a highly contagious disease, and the patient is told to go into isolation for their greater good of their community. Everybody around the infected person is told to quarantine, because they too might be infected. Only, the patient’s newlywed husband refuses to follow the advice of doctors. He demands that he must stay to tend her and nurse her back to health. She does recover, but because newlywed refused to follow the doctor’s instructions, he contracts the illness from his betrothed and dies.
This sounds like a COVID-19 tragedy — especially if you are American where the disease is still out of control. But, it is not. Actually, it’s a Chinese story, and it has nothing to do with COVID-19. It is a plot of a play written originally in English by a Changzhou native, Hong Shen, more than a hundred years ago. It was originally performed at Ohio State University. In 2013, the university revived the play with a multicultural casting. The disease in question was the plague. The story goes like follows.
This play, “The Wedded Husband,” was about much more than just dealing with an epidemic. It was also about the conflicts of traditional Chinese values confronting a modernizing world. It tells the tale of an arranged marriage. The perspective husband is a bumbling idiot, as he is both childish and a simpleton.
And his future wife? She wants none of that noise.
She knows she has been promised her father’s close friend. Even though she loves somebody else, she’s willing to accept her duty and do as her father commands. It’s a basic case of Chinese filial piety.
Yet, she faints during the wedding ceremony. She’s whisked away, and the diagnosis is not a broken heart, it’s the plague that’s hit China. Throughout the script, plague has always been in “The City” and not the small town where they are at. I know this is wild extrapolation, but I never saw a Changzhou-Shanghai conflict if I actually hadn’t before. Changzhou, and every thing else that isn’t Shanghai, are just mere provinces. They are The City. We who don’t live there are the The Wilderness. It’s not a big part of a this play, but is a part of living in China and near Shanghai is to be constantly told that you are always inferior to Shanghai. Anyhow moving on.
The play ends with a reversal. The widow now has a chance at a wedding she wanted from the get go: to a man she actually loved. Only, now, she refuses that as well, citing Chinese tradition and a sense of duty to a man she never liked. She now feels the need to honor a guy who nursed her back to health and gave his own life doing so.
The psychological entanglements here are epic. Hong Shen, as a modernizing dramatist wanting to pull the Chinese stage away from traditional opera, once professed a desire to become his native country’s Henrik Ibsen. Besides possibly “Pyr Gynt,” most of this Norwegian’s plays were gritty and real and tackled issues facing everyday people. A play like “The Wedded Husband” definitely shows that influence — gritty and real — goes a long way in doing exactly that.
There is a very tiny memorial hall dedicated Hong’s family. It’s in an alley next to Hongmei Park. It’s in this hall that I learned of “The Wedded Husband” and the Changzhou native that sought to revolutionize Chinese drama.
COVID-19 is a generational issue. It has affected so many lives across the world that one blogger could never totally assess its impact. It’s an issue that historians for generations to come will be examining. Living through it has been hell. A lot of expats have experienced this pain both in China and then in our native countries. Finding this play gave me some comfort that outbreaks have happened before, and people do find a way through them. And, most importantly, dealing with the corona virus is not new. Fighting disease is a story as old as being human.
If one tried to follow the plot of the original version of Suspiria, one would be likely driven insane. An American girl goes to a German dance academy that’s secretly run by a cabal of witches. However, the plot twists and turns and contorts into so many absurd directions that it would laughable if it wasn’t for the uniquely terrifying ambiance Dario Argento brought to his art-house horror masterpiece. The interior layout of the Tanz Dance Academy makes even less sense — multiple secret passages, hidden doors, and so on. There is one room that exists only to be filled with razor wire, and one of the students meets an untimely fate there. I reflected upon this movie multiple times over the years while in Changzhou. Specifically, while in the Computer City mall near the city center.
By no means am I accusing Computer City of being a hotbed of the occult or home to a secret hive of evil witches posing as ballet instructors. That would be silly. The bloody gore factor is also nonexistent. But there are a lot of things that have not made sense over the years in terms of Computer City’s layout. It should be noted that Changzhou of 2014 is not the Dragon City of the 2020s. A lot has changed both here and across the Southern Jiangsu region. Computer City had its heyday, but online shopping has both crippled it and other commodity markets. What now remains is an illogical and half-shuttered mess. For example, consider the elevator that nobody uses, is closed to the public, and has absolutely no practical value.
And take a good look at that track and field painted on the floor. It used to not be there several years ago. By the way, the gate to this playground has a D-lock on it, and every time I’ve gone technology window shopping in this half-deserted mall, I have never seen people actually use it. Then, there’s this.
The basement level used to be substantially larger. You can actually see it here. This was from the pre-painted-track-and-field years of this particular location. Recently, I returned to take a similarly angled photo. Keep in mind the above was taken from the third floor, and the below was taken from the fourth.
Floor space was created when there was none before. Anyhow, the weirdness persists. Some of the Chinglish in the elevators is epic.
Why? Most of them are currently abandoned! Their storefront windows are caked with dust. Is this an admission that those hallways and corridors are haunted? Will a scary ghost girl with hair hanging over her face chase me if I do? Will she try to eat my face? Um, no. I don’t buy it. It’s just years of neglect and reduced foot traffic.
But amateur doors are okay? And by which international credentialing committee will you be using? I know the Olympics has been tarred by doping scandals for decades now. You can’t trust them. However, last I checked, doors do not compete in either the winter or summer games. Believe it or not, this is not the worst when it comes to Chinese-to-English translation errors. The basement of Computer City used to be home to one of the most outrageous bits of Chinglish of all time. Consider this photo.
Yeah, nothing to see here. I know. However, keep in mind of what used to be here years ago. And I’ll leave this as a final word about how strange Computer City can be.
The 63 is a bus route that connects the Changzhou central train station in Tianning to a more remote part of Wujin near the eastern city line with Wuxi. The area around the southern terminus of this line looks deceptively simple.
Arguably, this is a part of southern Changzhou that has a decidedly small town vibe. This part of the city reeks of “nothing to see here.” This is both true and false. First, there really isn’t much to see at the end of the 63 bus route, but there is a personally complicating factor for me. Taking this bus to its final destination resulted in my learning more about Chinese culture.
Yes, this is a relatively small temple with a Guanyin statue out front. The temple doors were shut, and I was not able to enter and look around. I did, however, try research this place a few weeks later. That simply involved learning this place’s Chinese name — Hua Tuo An 华佗庵 and slapping those Chinese characters into net searches. As it turns out, Hua Tuo was a luminary in Chinese medicine.
This doctor lived during the Eastern Han Dynasty; he was born in what would become modern Anhui and died in 208 BCE. In Chinese history, he was the first physician to employ anesthesia during surgery. That likely involved spiking potent alcohol with a couple of herbs and making the patient drink the resulting elixir before cutting them open. Hua Tuo also preformed trepanations — boring holes though a person’s skull to gain access to a person’s brain. His acumen as a doctor and a surgeon was legendary during his life. Cao Cao is perhaps one of Hua’s more famous patients in this regard. This warlord paved the way for the state of Cao Wei during the Three Kingdoms period of Chinese history.
Any old guy who has been near a gaming console over the last twenty years should know the Dynasty Warriors series. It tried to make a player a combatant some of China’s most epic battles. Of course, Cao Cao is a character in those. But, let’s get back to the point.
At one point, Cao Cao started to experience hallucinatory headaches. As concerns over his health mounted, he demanded the best doctor alive tend to him. For reason that I can’t easily find, Hua refused to to treat Cao as ongoing person doctor. While seemingly universal thousands of years later, the Hippocratic Oath just wasn’t a thing in Ancient China — save life whenever you can, and Hua had none of that. Hua continually refused to treat Cao — he made up excuses that involved tending to his allegedly infirm wife. Cao figured out he was lying and ordered his execution. Hua didn’t relent, so he was put to death.
Of course, I’m glossing over this story in the most simplest terms. But for me, it’s a strong reminder of one thing. When you are a foreigner living in a land like the Middle Kingdom with an absurd amount of history, taking a bus like the 63 to the middle of nowhere Wujin will still teach you something, if you look hard enough.
Years ago, I created this blog when I bought an ebike. The idea was to wander around Changzhou and figure out what stuff is and then write about it. So, this literally entails sometimes saying, “I’m going to see what is down this street,” and then cruising down said street. Lots of times nothing comes of it. I did this recently on the above road. It seemed weird to me because much of this particular road has walls on both sides, and it zigzags through undeveloped land.
Near one or two small housing complexes, there are these vegetables on the side of the road. Microfarming like this is more common than what one might think. Typically, this occurs in areas of a lower socioeconomic status. Oddly enough, there are signs everywhere telling people not to plant vegetables. The soil is being treated.
That makes sense to a degree, because once I hit this bridge over a canal, the walls on the sides of the road stopped, and small industrial parks started popping up. And then, that’s when I found a tiny park, and this weird bit of public sculpture.
Abstract art is pretty common when it comes to public sculpture in this town. This had me scratching my head because it’s shaped like a big L. Towards the top, there’s what looks like a red revolutionary flag with another L in yellow. Using Pleco on my phone, I looked up the Chinese. Those characters are 腾飞，and that basically means soar, fly swiftly upwards. A secondary meaning has “make rapid advance; develop rapidly, take off.” The back of the pedestal has nothing but the date this was erected — 15 years ago. So, I have absolutely no clue as to what this is supposed to be. I just know I haven’t seen anything else like it in Changzhou.
Cuizhu Station 翠竹站 is one stop north of the Changzhou railway station on Line 1. The characters 翠竹 refers to “emerald green bamboo” — according to the Pleco Dictionary app on my phone. If you look around the station, it’s kind of hard to see why this subway stop has this name.
Well, there are thatches of bamboo here and there around the subway station, but none of them currently live up to the descriptor “emerald green.” That implies something lush, and the bamboo here is not. This would be in a tiny green space. Despite the moniker, this would definitely not be a reason to get off the subway here. Actually, there would be two more practical reasons.
Changzhou has three Auchan supermarkets, and Cuizhu is home to the Tianning one. The other two can be found in Wujin and Zhonglou. Truth be told, Auchan really isn’t what it was a few years ago. Back then, I would have rated it a firm second behind Metro. Times change, and the selection quality has gone downhill. However, I’m speaking more from the perspective of a lunch meat and cheese buyer. G-Super in the basement of Zhonglou Wuyue has easily taken Auchan’s spot as one of Metro’s credible competitors when it comes to imported foreign goods. That’s not to say Auchan has gone useless over the years; I have just come to rely on it a lot less for my personal shopping needs. Again speaking personally, there is one other reason why I have taken the subway to Cuizhu in the past.
Nike has a factory outlet here. For most of the years I have lived in Changzhou, I have done a lot of my shoe shopping at Decathlon. This isn’t because I necessarily like their shoes. I am a man with large feet, and finding footwear that fit me in a retail setting is next to impossible in the end of China. Besides, those shoes were always incredibly cheap, but they tended to last about two to three months before the soles started developing cracks.
Not only are Nike shoes more comfortable than Decathlon’s, the factory store here has competitive prices. Along the back wall, one can find clearance shelves and prices that do not make you feel like you are being gouged over a signature western brand.
If one shifts their attention back to the metro stop, however, one other thing comes to mind. There are currently only two entries and exits. One is obviously on the side of the street Auchan and the Nike store call home. The other is next to a walled-off bit of undeveloped land. While nothing is currently there now, it would be easy to assume the same wouldn’t be true 10 years from now.
“It’s so old, it’s new again.”
Jim Cornette once said this about the new NWA Internet wrestling show Powerrr. Yes, you read that correctly; the name is spelled with three Rs. I blame the Internet phenomenon of purposefully misspelling things in the name of copyrights: Flickr, Fiverr, and so on. As professional wrestling organizations go, the NWA is one of the oldest there is in America. Then, Vince McMahon ran everybody out of business and had a defacto monopoly on sports entertainment for 20 years.
That has changed with the rising popularity of independent, alternative wrestling. A big part of that was the recent launch of Cody Rhodes and Tony Khan’s AEW on the cable channel TNT. That was to directly confront WWE. There have been other smaller promotions grinding niches for themselves. A few years ago, Smashing Pumpkins front man Billy Corgan bought the NWA with the idea of doing something new and different: studio wrestling. He likely paid a minuscule fraction of what it may have been worth 60 years ago — if you adjust for inflation. Only, studio wrestling is not all that new.
In the annals of pro wrestling, “studio wrestling” used to be a staple on TV. This was partly due to how cheap it was to produce. Basically, a ring was set up in a television studio, a small audience would be brought in, and matches happened. It was a more intimate setting than the arena shows WWE would later profit off of. There was a long, rich history of this type of TV program, but in the course of the 1980’s the concept ceased to be. As stated earlier, McMahon killed the territory system and ushered in a new, micro-managed, corporate era. As much as I love professional wrestling, there is something else about Cornette’s words that interests me.
“It’s so old it’s new again.” The 1980’s is experiencing a nostalgic resurgence. You see it with TV shows like GLOW, Stranger Things, and the current season of American Horror Story. Now, it’s popping up again with an Internet wrestling show made to look like it came from the 80’s. Nostalgia cycles are not a new phenomenon by any stretch. Here’s a frightening thought: 40 years from now, somebody will wistfully look back at 2019 and will make an entertainment product about it. While I am currently in my mid 40s, that scares the crap out of me.
This is well and fine, but why am I pontificating on this on a blog about Changzhou? Seriously? I highly doubt Jim Cornette even knows the city of Changzhou exists. Most Americans probably don’t. Well, the connection in my brain is because of this guy.
This is Zhao Yi, and he was from Changzhou. He was a poet, historian, and literary critic during the Qing Dynasty. His former residence is downtown in the Qianbeihou historic area near the Wenhuagong subway station
I had always been curious as to who Zhao Yi was, because I have been walking by this place for years. Just because there is a historical preservation marker doesn’t mean that it’s actually open to the public as a museum. The one time I did poke my head through an open door, it looked like people actually live here, still.
But let me be clear about something. I am not comparing the delightfully foul mouthed, tennis racket wielding, legendary wrestling manager from Kentucky with a Chinese poet of the 18th and 19th Centuries. As a juxtaposition, that’s just too far of a stretch — even though Zhao was considered unconventional by some of his contemporaries. Or am I just doing that?
None of Zhao’s verses has been translated into English. Given that I have an MFA in poetry — and a deep desire to learn Chinese — translating Chinese poetry into English seemed like something I would eventually try my hand at. Only, I was too afraid to take that leap. I did so anyway. Recently, I realized that I was being too ambitious with disastrous results. Maybe I should start by focusing on really short verses, I thought? So, I settled on this as my first real attempt:
Mǎnyǎn shēngjī zhuǎnhuà jūn, tiān gōngrén qiǎo rì zhēng xīn. Yùzhī wǔbǎi nián xīnyì, dàole qiānnián yòu jué chén.
This comes from a sequence called 论诗. That translates as “On Poetry.” The sequence itself can be classed as “meta poetry“ — poetry about poetry. Or so to speak, using the art of language sound to comment on that exact art. So, my first crack at translating just those two sentences led to this:
One’s life and vitality abounds and changes you;
Heaven’s workers daily vie for something new.
Advance 500 years into a future of new meanings;
In the end, a thousand years can still feel stale.
Before I get back to Jim Cornette, let me reinforce something. This is my first attempt at trying to translate anything into English. I’m hyper aware that I’m missing something or there is a nuance going over my head.
In know this because of three particular characters in the original Chinese: 天工人. If you stuff Zhao Yi’s words into Baidu Translate, you get “workers of the sky.” That’s just fantastical. It’s almost like something you would expect from Tsui Hark’s special effects bonanza “Zu Warriors from the Magic Mountain.”
Google Translate stated that 天工人 meant “day workers.” That’s actually funny because of the proletarian bent of how that just sounds.
And thus, my first real conundrum of trying to translate from Chinese to English happens. The character 天 is problematic because it can mean so many different things. There is no true equivalent in English. That character can mean anything from day to heaven and god and more. Recently, to some of my students, I compared it to how 宅男 and 宅女 are not adequate translations of nerd.The Chinese implies somebody who spends most of their time at home ala “house man” or “house woman.” In English, both nerd and geek have taken on positive, non-derogatory meanings. Both are words for socially awkward people, but those words also now imply expert. As in: poetry nerd, drama nerd, technology geek, and so on. As far as I can tell in my discussions with my students, the Chinese translation doesn’t have that “specialist” meaning attached to it.
So, allow me to get back to Jim Cornette. Both he and Zhoa Yi are talking about cycles of time. Cornette, whether he realizes it or not, is touching the nature of nostalgia and people who age. Things do get so old that they feel brand new again — and this is after two decades of being force fed Vince McMahon’s vision of what American professional wrestling should be. You also see this with music and how it falls in and out of fashion. At one moment, disco is vogue and at another, it’s abhorrent and kitsch. Zhao Yi is more devastating than Cornette. That nostalgia curve goes away, eventually, and it’s gone for good.
Everything is destined to become antiquated. Things not only age, but they become stale in their age. What was once innovative becomes passe and boring. Don’t believe me? Ask most of the high school students that are forced to perform Romeo and Juliet in front of their peers during their English classes — or the Chinese students who are required to memorize the poems of Li Bai.
There are exceptions, of course. There are people like me who actually enjoy dissecting Shakespeare’s metaphors. Or, who think it’s fun to conjure up a silly line connecting American pro wrestling to Chinese poetry. Either way, I found the challenge of translating Zhao Yi somewhat gratifying and stimulating, even if my version of his verses may not be the best. I look forward to trying it many more times with many more poets.
Random European-looking statues around Changzhou — and this part of China — hardly isn’t news. In fact, it’s pretty normal, and you can especially see it at housing estates. I don’t have the foggiest idea why, and I’m not going to guesstimate and end up with what’s going to largely a clueless opinion. This stuff just exists. For example, over at the Heping International 和平国际 housing estate over on Zhongwu Avenue 中吴大道 in Tianning, you will find stuff like this…
Here you have a statue referencing Pandora opening her box. “Pandora’s Box” is now a well worn term for releasing utter and uncontrollable chaos into the world. It’s kind of apropos for the stroll that I took.
One of the next sculptures I saw was Athena, goddess of wisdom. Doesn’t fit with the Pandora’s Box reference, right? Wait for it.
I am assuming the figure on the right is Poseidon. The other sculptures had bilingual signs, and this one didn’t. Also thus far, the statues have all been Greek references. Here, we also have a merman wrangling a horse. As such, the sea god is a perfectly good guess. Previously, we saw Athena. So, what about the Pandora reference? Still doesn’t fit, right? As I said earlier, wait for it.
Yup, a fountain statue of a little naked boy peeing. This has nothing to do with Greek mythology and more to do with a famous tourist spot in Brussels, Belgium. Trust me, I used to live in that country, and I have seen the original fountain. Also, this was not the first time I have seen Mannekin Pis in Changzhou. I posted about this back in 2016, but that was more to explain the Belgian context and meaning of Mennekin. There is something else to note in my picture from three years ago.
Look at the base of the pedestal. There is no bilingual sign explaining the European / Belgian context of this. Somebody walking by might just lose their mind at the sight of a naked boy holding his wiener and taking aim before letting loose. That person would be rightly justified in losing their mind. Three years later, there’s now this nearby. . .
So, at least whoever manages this bit of real estate thought it prudent to explain the Belgian cultural meaning of this very particular peeing child. Still, The fact that they wanted to duplicate Mannekin Pis in the first place, and surround him with Greek mythology, is still utterly bonkers.
After a couple of years of steady construction and renovation, Qingguo Lane has finally reopened to the public. The city invested a lot of money in this, as the this whole area has been a central part of Changzhou history going back thousands of years. Many wealthy and influential families lived here. The little canal here is likely one reason: it connects to the Grand Beijing-Hangzhou Canal. This tiny artificial waterway was essentially like an on ramp to a mega highway in ancient China. Now, however, this whole area is meant to become one of Changzhou’s signature cultural attractions.
This idea was not lost on a lot of locals over the Labor Day holidays. The first two days of operation saw massive crowds who came to do a walk through. I was one of those people on a few separate days. The totality of what is actually here, and what is destined to be here years to come, is likely the source of several other blog posts. However, I just wanted to take a moment to appreciate that it’s now open. To do that, I’m going to have to show a few more photos and speak of a famous linguist.
The above comes from signage that’s located at the west and east entrances of Qingguo. Note the building with the characters 赵元任故居. The English translation of that would be Zhao Yuanren’s Former Residence. He was a linguistics scholar that eventually became an American citizen. He’s an important figure when you’re studying Chinese, and he’s also important if you are Chinese and studying English. Why? He wrote one of the earliest and most authoritative textbooks on Chinese spoken grammar in English. He’s important for a few other reasons that will make for a separate post at another time. So, recently, I went looking for his house.
It’s not really there. This is not a complaint; it’s more of an observation. Qingguo Lane has some cool things to look at and some places to shop; however, there are even better things to come. This is just the beginning. The empty spaces will fill in, and more things will be built. However, I also wanted to take a moment to remember what this area used to look like.
This was not the first time I went looking for Zhao’s Changzhou home. It looked pretty shabby, abandoned, and crumbling back in 2015.
Before it closed for renovation, I had often walked through the old Qingguo
It was an easy short cut. However, a lot of the photos I had of the the place were lost when I lost a phone a few years back. Thankfully,I do have one surviving shot. This….
That was then, and this is now. If you would like to see the current reincarnation of Qingguo, it’s downtown and near Wenhuagong. The east entrance is on Heping Road. The West is on Jinling.