EPIC RANT TIME
It’s actually funny that this person is telling me to learn more about something before trying to educate others when she/he doesn’t know anything about me.
It’s pretty clear that I spent 2 weeks in China? Um, I was born and raised there for 9 years. I return to visit my relatives in the summer, and I always travel alone, not with my parents (but I do visit my dad) because the family issue presented in Knite isn’t just shit I made up, it’s shit I had to deal with (murderous psycho stepmom? Check).
Japanese school uniform? China is HUGE, I highly doubt there are no schools, especially a high end school like the ones Sen and Kai go to, that has those navy colored uniforms. Sure, a lot of schools these days only have track suites, but it’s not like the other version doesn’t exist. How do I know? I wore that kind of uniform for 2 years while growing up in Chengdu.
I never said the kite designs were traditional so I don’t know where you got that from. This is a modern day story, Sen makes his own kites (as seen in Ch3). It’s his simplified design, not a traditional one. I thought it was extremely obvious that the designs are a mix of the old an new (I mean, even the picture you wrote this rant on is specifically about the divide between globalization and tradition). If I were doing a historical story, then you can bitch about the designs.
I lack understanding in the educational system? Please tell me about how the school you went to is representative of every school in China. If you know anything about China, you’ll know that corruption is worse in some areas than others, and the “free” education in some areas are seen as for those with no future.
As for the nursery rhymes, please elaborate on how they are wrong because if a few words aren’t translated to your exact liking, that’s just you being anal.
And since we’re on the topic, let me tell you a bit more about my inspiration for Knite. Sheltered girl in America? My parents grew up with nothing. My mom got to eat an egg once a year on her birthday. My dad had to eat rats caught by his dog, but the communist government see dogs as luxury items so it was banned to have dogs. His family had to kill his dog and eat it to avoid prosecution.
Because my father grew up with so little, money meant survival and everything to him. He and his older siblings got into the pesticide industry and became rich due to the corruption and bribery shown in Knite. He told me how you can just take a politician out for dinner and slip a red pocket of money under the table and they’ll forget all about the inspection. He has left that industry for many years now and is into stocks instead. He regrets the things his family company has done, and I, like Kai, inevitably benefited from the money they made at the cost of the environment’s expense.
That’s where I got the money to move to America at the age of 9. Like Sen, my mom left China when I was 5 because she was fed up with China. Unlike Sen’s mom, she didn’t abandon me, and I was able to join her later on but my father stayed behind. I won’t get into the rest of my family drama but know that the life I’ve lived is far from being sheltered. Even the money my father made from the pesticide company barely afforded a lower class life style in America back in the days (8 RMB was 1 USD), but it was enough.
I was able to live a balanced life, between China and America, poverty and wealth. Everything in Knite has been inspired by things I’ve witness myself, not through news clips. I’ve been advocating environmentalism for almost 8 years but I wasn’t born with the knowledge, it was a slow path of discovery. That’s what I want to show in Knite. Sen starts out as a dreamer with a grand goal, but as he matures, he will slowly learn about all the complexities of the world, and the path to his dreams is not as simple as attaching lights to kites.
Knite is inspired by my life experiences, and I’ll be damned if you expect me have lived the exact same life as you. You’ve seen parts of China that I haven’t, but I have seen parts that you haven’t. Don’t compare the Bible Belt to San Francisco, and don’t compare my life to yours.
And just to insult you some more, I will repeat:
I, Wenqing Yan (颜温情), dedicate Knite to the land of my birth, where many happy and sad memories were had, for all the laughs, all the tears, everything: China.
This is going to be an exceptionally long response. Sorry in advance.
I think the “appropriation” comment came from the fact that Yuumei was quite heavy-handed in using the Chinese motifs such as the sparrows, red lanterns, pinwheels, and other objects considered extremely Chinese. But if you ever go to China, you’ll see that the Chinese themselves adorn a lot of their houses with that stuff, especially the more traditional households that weren’t as affected by the Communist revolution (particularly the little villages/towns in the Hong Kong islands). You’ll see it on streets because not only is it something pretty that tourists will buy, it’s not ugly and it doesn’t take up space. So why not just keep it out? And even if it was ugly, if it’s useful, you bet it’s staying out anyway. I’ve seen small restaurants/shops that keep the new year lanterns hanging six months past the holidays because it just looks festive and fun (Note: that picture was from Macau, which has a huge Chinese population).
The societal norms regarding embarrassment from being too publicly patriot is a bit different in China. From what I know. I think it may be because lanterns and pinwheels are cultural; they don’t represent the government, they represent segments in Chinese history that the Chinese are very proud of, and they came long before Communism.
Maybe it’s more of an old-fashioned thing to do, really, but Sen himself has been called old-fashioned by his peers. Rarely will you see a kid his age wear traditional Chinese garb like that without a festive reason, but I see his group of Knites as an uniformed after-school club with high ideals to return China to a time they knew. Maybe it’s not the feudal times, but it sure as hell fits in with the retrospective nature of the Chinese I’ve known.
(Although, I have to say in all my time in China, I have yet to see a well-to-do child wear the Chinese flag. x’D)
I think if anything bothered me about the story, it was the characterization. I’ll be honest, when I first read Knite, I thought the characters acted very Japanese. I felt like they were pulled straight from manga, mannerisms and all. I couldn’t figure out why for a while, since they fulfilled their archetypal roles in the story quite well. Also, Chinese manhua (comics) and cartoons have portrayed students similarly since they began importing a great deal of entertainment from Japan and Korea. To me, it’s not surprising to see the cultures “mishmash.”
When I think about it, I feel that they lack a certain quality that Chinese people consider an inside joke, especially those who have grown up in North America. It’s that pragmatism that keeps the red lanterns outside year-round because once the new year comes, you’d just put them up again anyway.
My family and I were born in Beijing, but I moved to the States when I was five. I’ve always found my parents terribly embarrassing at times because they were so PRACTICAL. All the other students in my third-grade class had pretty lunchboxes with ice packs and matching Tupperware containers to keep their food fresh. Their meals were prepared by their parents, usually a mom, and they’d trade their brand-name cookies and look at my school lunches disdainfully. My mother would always make me buy my dreaded school lunch. “It’s a hot meal,” she would say, or, “I can’t make you lunch because I work.” I’ve been raised to accept that Chinese people usually prefer the hot meal to the cold one. So, when it came down to cold sandwiches haphazardly made every morning or a variety of hot meals for lunch for a few dollars, my parents thought it was no contest which option I should take. Perhaps this is privilege. When Kai berated Sen in taking his privilege for granted in chapter 4, that’s what struck a note with me.
That’s something I feel like Yuumei’s characters lack. In most cases, it’s subtle, but it makes me instantly cringe, thinking, “拜托了.” Since I’ve already written too much, I’ll just list two for now. In chapter 1, it looks like Sen’s going to wait a while for nightfall and the successful flights of all the kites, before he heads home. I really thought he’d have packed food or a blanket, considering he’s been doing this for many nights. Granted, he is a different person from me, so maybe he isn’t as practical as most Chinese kids I’ve known. But in chapter 3, right off the bat, Zhen is flying a kite with barbed wire and no safety gloves. Even if it’s symbolic, the fact that he ripped up his hands, such important tools in everyday life, to make a point that no one will see struck me as, actually, more Japanese than Chinese. Even when Kai greets him, Zhen asserts that it “wasn’t for show,” so it wasn’t meant to be symbolic to anyone but himself. Or he just plumb forgot, even though he’s been doing this for many nights and he’s got the scars to remind him. Granted, Zhen and Sen are both similar in many ways, making them foils to contrast their difference in ideology even more. But considering the often practical culture they were raised in, their nobility and self-sacrifice for their own ideals seems very jarring for a story that’s not a historical epic. To me, Kai is the most Chinese, even though his mannerisms at first made me think, “He’s watched too much anime.” I understand that Kai is the realist while Sen is the idealist, but pragmatism isn’t a matter of ideology: it’s just a way of life that you were raised into. And in China, streamlining life to maximize efficiency is something most parents nag their kids into. The kids don’t always have to, of course, they don’t always remember. But I think they become habits ingrained in one’s life.
I do love the environmentalist message in this story, and the Knite is still young, if you pardon my pun. It’s only chapter 4 so far. If this catches on big in China, Yuumei might really bring the more western dream of thinking ahead to preserve our natural resources and keep pollution in check TO China. Despite the increase of environmental awareness in media and the surge of recycling bins around the places I’ve been in Beijing, Shanghai, Xi’an, and Hong Kong, I can’t help but feel that most Chinese people don’t care. They’ll recycle if it’s convenient or if they’ve grown up in areas that have recycling facilities and whatnot. If not, they won’t; they’ll even throw the trash on the streets. But when I asked my friends in China what they thought of the destruction of their environment, they just say things like, “Yeah, it’s really bad.” But they don’t feel the genuine desire to save it. They’ll come up with practical and innovative solutions, but usually only when they’re prompted to by academic contests. My Hong Kong friends always joke about how the air pollution from mainland China makes their mountains extra foggy, but it’s more of a nuisance than anything else. Often, the only time you can really see clear skies is directly after it rains.
Regarding the school uniforms… the only uniforms I’ve seen students wearing in Beijing were track suits that were too big for them. It doesn’t look great, but their parents decided that they would eventually grow into them. Practical, no? Of course, that’s not to say there aren’t awesome uniforms like these in Beijing or China in general. Hell, I studied in Hong Kong from September to May, and kids wore awesome uniforms like that to school. In fact, there was a huge variety!
I apologize again for hiijacking this post and turning it into my musings on my homeland. x’D You might consider me more American than Chinese, but I don’t truly fit in either culture. The Chinese consider me American and try to sell me cheap stuff when I stumble over the grammar, and I’m usually the token Asian in my group of friends in the US. I think this makes me more aware of the cultural differences, both good and bad.
I think it’s similar for Yuumei, too. It’s not enough to have lived it, but you have to truly experience it, process it, and internalize it. To be inundated in two cultures means you often end up hyper-aware of both perspectives. You will try to make sure you don’t mess up either when you’re creating a piece dedicated to one. I guess, since I more or less critiqued the character element of this lovely story, I would end with a suggestion: please don’t ever forsake the quirks of the culture the character grew up in for the sake of dramatic tension. Although I made my argument on Chinese practicality, I’m sure you could remember more idiosyncratically Chinese approaches to daily life that would really make your characters recognizably Chinese to anyone who is or have truly known a Han. Right now, change the background, Chinese motifs and names, and a few key words… this story could take place in any country undergoing an industrial revolution and has a middle class in their society.
In a story with a motive as heartfelt as yours toward China, Yuumei, sometimes it’s the nod to the smallest cultural nuances that will help you strike true to your intended audience.