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Saturday, March 29, 2008

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The Cult of the Luxury Brand

I love book shopping. Strolling leisurely along the aisles with rows and rows of books, you never know what treasures you might come across. Some of my best discoveries have been books that had randomly caught my eye. I like to think its fate. This is probably why I love book shopping. But anyway, my latest treasure has been, "The Cult of the Luxury Brand," by Radha Chadha and Paul Husband. I'm sure you can imagine why it might have caught my attention.... This book focuses on the cult of the luxury brand in Asia, which takes up 37% of the $80bn USD global luxury brand market, while Europe and US only take up 35% and 24% respectively. I think in this case, "cult" is definitely the right word. Living in one of the centers of this phenomenon, and admittedly to most degrees being part of it, I've always wonder why we behave the way we do. And as much as I wince at being labeled as part of the luxury glutton society, I must say, Chadha and Husband comes up with some intriguingly insightful points.

Their main thesis is that "luxury brands are a modern set of symbols that Asians are wearing to redefine their identity and social position," which I guess for the most part is true, but that is kind of obvious. Here are a few other points which I thought were interesting:
  • The Spread of Luxury model, where they split the luxury evolution in Asia to 5 stages: Subjugation, Start of Money, Show Off, Fit In and Way of life. I think they are all pretty self explanatory and pretty accurate
  • The single parasites is the group of young women aged 20-35 in Asia who are still living at home with their parents. Since they do not have to pay for rent etc, they have a larger disposable income to spend on luxury goods- which they do in hoards!
  • One of the reasons that luxury consumption is so big in Japan is because while the Western culture celebrates individuality, the Japanese culture (and indeed most Asian cultures ) places great emphasis on conformity and fitting in. So when the majority of people wear luxury brands, the rest of the people need to wear it too. That is probably why 94% of Japanese woman in their 20s own a Louis Vuitton
  • In Tokyo (and other small cities I suppose), because the apartments are so small and expensive, it is difficult to show off wealth and success. And so people have turned to luxury brands as the best way to display their success- by literally wearing it!
  • For the Chinese, their love for brands stems from their Confucius roots, which places a lot of importance on "family face." And so, today Chinese see luxury brands as a way to show "face" and signify their success
  • In Hong Kong, luxe consumption has been adopted as the central ideology. Making money and blowing it on the luxuries of life is the one thing that the people are clear about, while on everything else, from politics, culture to patriotism, ambiguity reigns. Coming from Hong Kong, I must say, I totally agree
  • In Korea, there is a clash between their love for luxe (Burberry is apparently the Korean word for trench coat!) and their culture. Luxe consumption is seen as "sinful" since frugality and moderation is very big in their culture. Additionally, nationalism is also very big and so wearing imported goods is also frowned upon. No wonder Koreans typically dress in more subtle designer brands (those I know anyway)!
These are just some of the more interesting points that I remember off hand. At this point, I'd usually expend on how awesome this book is and how much I love it. But I find that this time, I cannot quite do that because I am still unsure about my feelings towards this book. On one hand, I thought it made some very clever, valid and insightful points about this phenomena. But on the other, I felt that it made the consumers caught in the heat of this phenomena sound like a bunch of fools continuously chasing after greater materialism trying to fit in and outdo each other at the same time. Maybe they were just writing it as it is and I just took it too personally because I admit that despite being fully aware of this materialistic path I am taking, I am still part of this phenomenon. Maybe the truth is just hard for me to accept, when put down so matter-of-factly. But I still cannot help but feel defensive. Now you can see why I feel so unsure about this book.

Image Source: Cult of the Luxury Brand

Friday, March 28, 2008

Forbidden Hoot

Becca Marsh

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Thursday, March 27, 2008

How Not To Wear Colour Leggings

First off I must confess I haven't worn colour leggings myself before. I am simply not creative or bothered enough to actually buy them and do the whole mixing and matching thing with the rest of the outfit. Hypothetically, if I were to wear colour leggings, I would probably just do it the boring and simple way: colour leggings with a casual black dress like in the picture above. And yes, I know it's spring now and leggings is more of a F/W thing, but I thought I would share some of my observations here.

As the title suggests, these are my observations of how not to wear colour leggings/tights. A few weeks ago, I saw someone on the streets wearing something like this:

A bright yellow tee (way brighter than the tee in this image,) a green, half-length trenchcoat, a flowery skirt (very popular in UK highstreet stores this season) and bright, solid red leggings. OK, so obviously I am not a colourful dresser, but I'm usually pretty open minded about style. Now I'm not criticising this girl's outfit exactly (-I'm all for personal style), but I do think that she went overboard with the colours. Wearing solid green on the top (the coat) and solid red at the bottom (the leggings) just does not look cool, arguably except for Christmas day. If you wear colour leggings, please refrain from wearing ten million other colours. Really, colour leggings are colourful themselves already.

And just yesterday, I saw a women who looked at least 45 yrs old wearing shorts and bright red leggings. I'm not actually sure of her age, but she certainly didn't look that young from afar. Sure, colour leggings are fun, but isn't it something that is more for younger women? Is it wrong for me to think the maximum age that anyone should wear these colour leggings is 30? And I don't mean to discriminate against age, but I just really believe in dressing suitably for one's age.

There you go: just a bit of how not to on colour leggings. What are your thoughts on my two points?

Sculpy: Pierrot and Elephant - Advanced Media

rebar tie wire with aluminum foil covered in sculpy. baked using heat gun and oven

Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Farewell to a Friend from Sibu 1947-2008


Time disappears and flies away as the second hand ticks and the hour tocks. The trees next to our school have grown old and would be cut down to make way for an very much enlarged car park to accommodate the growing number of staff. The Old Hostel for Girls has long gone. The tennis courts in which we played looked old and mould ridden. Upon looking at the scene, I once exclaimed, "Spring has gone, winter has set in!" Our teenage years have fleetingly left us and now we are in our senior citizen years. Some classmates have met over the years to celebrate success and marriages of children. Some have come together for reunions. Now perhaps we are coming together to say our final farewell.

My classmate , and friend of more than 50 years passed away on Wednesday 23 March 2008 7 a.m. in his own home in Singapore, amidst family, brothers, sister and in laws. They were gathered together, in hushed tones,ready to send him off in the Chinese Foochow way - to listen to his final breath. It was chokingly touching moment for any one, dear and near, and the saddest moment for a beloved wife who had to part with a beloved husband of more than 30 years.

A sixth form classmate called up to let me know all these. Our class of 13 Sixth Formers have been very thick friends since 1967, and we said a prayer together for our good friend and started to reflect on friendship and on life in general. I only wished that Celcom would give a discount for people who make bereavement or condolences calls.

How do I remember Cheng Hua Chuan? The school stage on which we played Julius Caesar, the Gypsy Baron, Salad Days and Carousel, is now part of the school library. He acted in all those plays because he was tall, had a good singing voice, and good English. That stage was where Hua Chuan as a prefect had made announcements as was his duty - I remember that in particular. I also associate the Tennis Courts with him as they were used by him for years for his tennis tournaments. He had cut a great figure as a star tennis player. Somehow these images keep floating around all the time.

But I remember him too for he and his brother Hua Ging would send eggs to my home after my father passed away. His family had in those early days raised chickens and sold eggs as a side line. My father had passed away suddenly and we were in dire straits. His father, being a good friend of my father’s came to lend a helping hand and we children had cheaper eggs from Uncle Cheng. Not only did we get a discount but we also had home delivery. This source of protein will be always appreciated and remembered by my family. Hua Chuan and his brother Hua Ging formed the best pair of loving brothers that I know of. In later years I would look at school photos, and the two would always be standing together in the photos.

When his father passed away, the family was held on together by their mother and continued to receive a good education. The determination of Mrs. Cheng and the unity of the family impressed me. The Cheng children were brought up, humble, kind, considerate and Godly. Hua Chuan’s brother , Hua Kong was the “permanent” choir conductor of Wesley Church. Hua Chuan himself remained a strong Methodist throughout his life, blessing the Singapore churches that he attended.

He had been a formidable business man with global interests and concerns and a business partner of his wife Jenny. Perhaps that is for the business world to write about. But it was his honesty, his concern for his employees and his good Christian heart that helped him rise up in the ranks of the corporate world. And there is no doubt, his acumen was sharpened by wisdom granted by the good Lord.

When he heard from his brother that I needed heart surgery three years ago, he was so full of good advice and told me that I would have excruciating pain and a scar. I had fears of death on the OT table . And one long distance call from a very unexpected source ,from him, an elevated business personnel and someone who was not very well himself, in such humility and gentleness, propelled me to greater hopes that the operation would definitely meet with 99.9% success with God's blessing. I was touched by an angel's act of kindness.

My last meeting with Jenny and Hua Chuang was just last year before I went on a mission trip to China. Although he was shockingly frail, he made it to a restaurant to meet me and my fellow missionary. He still had that very straight, chest up and out, walk. He had never changed his gait of walking. He had told Jenny,” We must give C....Y.. the very best of meals.” This was definitely more than the usual Foochow gesture of hospitality and and "having face" amongst good friends.

For that and so much more, I remember him. Ah Chuan had always given the Best to his wife, his children, his brothers and sister, to his friends and indeed to every one he knows. He was a very dedicated friend to his school mates, his classmates, his colleagues. He was a very inclusive kind of Christian. He was clearly a servant of God.

Perhaps all our friends who wish to think of him, would like to remember this song from our school play, Carousel, in which he had a good role.

Ever since we staged the musical in our school my memories of the school and school friends, and teachers would come back when I hear the song "You'll Never Walk Alone" which is by Rodgers and Hammerstein.

In the musical, in the second act, Nettie Fowler, the cousin of the female protagonist Julie Jordan, sings "You'll Never Walk Alone" to comfort and encourage Julie when her husband, Billy Bigelow, the male lead, has killed himself after a failed robbery. It is reprised in the final scene to encourage a graduation class of which Louise (their daughter) is a member. Billy attends this ceremony during his return to earth and inspires them with his words of encouragement, assuring them of his love.

When you walk through a storm
Hold your head up high
And don't be afraid of the dark
At the end of a storm is a golden sky
And the sweet silver song of a lark

Walk on through the wind
Walk on through the rain
Tho' your dreams
Be tossed and blown

Walk on..
Walk on..
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

Walk on..
Walk on..
With hope in your heart
And you'll never walk alone
You'll never walk alone

(This song was the Methodist Schoolo's Arts' students' song for many years. And we kept it in our heart. Any one of us humming this song would bring back lots of memories of our school time. It is now a popular commencement song in American colleges and a football club song in the UK.)

Hua Chuan, as an angel he had always been, will be amongst angels in Heaven. Rest in Peace.

(Note: I wrote this in Miri at 8:30 a.m. Thursday in lieu of my presence in his memorial service in Wesley Church, Sibu,on Friday, and I am sure my classmates will like to join me in conveying condolences to the Cheng and the Lau Families. Margaret Teng, Talip Epi, Catherine Purnell, Charles Yip, Sebastian Gaong, Ling Teck Chung,Winnie Yii, Sheila Kang,Datin Siti Zaharah, Paul Loi,Tan Kui Chiang)


Now I'm not one for watches really. In fact, I haven't worn one since I grew out of Swatch and cannot quite afford a Cartier yet. Also I secretly think that I might have been so spoilt by the digital clock on my mobile that I now find it hard to read analogs. But I'm not quite ready to admit that to myself yet. But anyway, despite all that, my interest was peaked the other day when my cousin mentioned that he wanted to get a Toywatch- especially when I found out that it can be found within the stylish walls of Lane Crawford. So I decided to take a look.
For those unfamiliar, Toywatch are known for their lightweight, over sized plastic watches. I was pleasantly surprised by the designs. They are simple and elegant, with just the right amount of fun in the colors and the clear plastic material. I love the colors and designs of the two above. Priced at around $200USD each, they are great a great accessory to match your outfits with. If I was the watch wearing type and had resources to spare (one can always dream), I'd totally get a few!
Besides those fun ones, they also have ones that kind of resemble more classic designs. Like this white plastic one (left) from the Plasteramic collection, which is designed to look like those oh-so-sought-after ceramic watches but is not. And the one on the right looks remarkably like all those watches that I would describe as "elegant, feminine and delicate" from various luxury watch brands.
Naturally, in this day of super luxing everything, even a brand called Toywatch has a super luxe line. They have it in the form of this black ceramic collection (left). Now this is actually ceramic and not plastic pretending to be ceramic. The design is very elegant and sleek looking. Priced at $1500, its not bad for a ceramic watch- if only it didn't so resemble the J12 Chanel watches (right), which are priced at 5 times that price. Now it just looks like a ceramic watch pretending to be a J12. Not that there is anything wrong with that, Zara does it all the time, but this one is not even cheap! Personally, if I was going to fork out $1500 for a ceramic watch, I'd rather save up longer and get the original one.

Image Source: ToyWatch and Chanel

Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Checking Out H&M Spring 2008

I've been seeing this H&M print ad everywhere I go, mainly on billboards and in magazines, in London and Hong Kong. I feel like I'm being chased after by this pretty yellow image of Raquel and a wall of flowers telling me that: a) it's Spring! b) Wear yellow! c) Go shop at H&M now! After stalking H&M's website for awhile, they've finally updated their website last week with some of their Spring's offering.

The instant I saw this colour-block, T-shirt dress in the campaign image (worn by Raquel -not this image but the same dress,) I thought, wow, I really want this! It's such an easy, summer casual dress. I love the colour blocks of black, pink and orange together. It's just the splash of colour that I've been wanting in my wardrobe, and since I'm not bothered or creative enough to actually buy seperate colourful pieces and match them together, it's so nice to have the crazy colours put together in one dress in a stylish, easy-to-wear way.
So the next day (last Thur,) I rushed to an H&M store to check out the dress and they only had one size left, and of course it wasn't my size. It is so hard for me to actually find something I want from H&M (or from any store) and it was sold out -I was SO disappointed! It was even sadder when I found out that the dress is seriously affordable -it costs only about 199HKD (=26USD.) I am a bit annoyed that the H&M store was displaying this dress at the display windows when they hardly had any sizes or stock left. I always thought H&M was all about the volume business so I just assumed they'd always have sizes available. Obviously I was wrong. Lesson of the day: Check out these stores more frequently!
The other thing I liked on the website was this bright pink, silk-material-looking dress. It looks perfect for a night out, and since it's not expensive, I wouldn't feel bad if someone spilled drinks on it or if the place was smoky. Alas, they were also out of my size.
As for this red and white flowery top, it's not that I particularly like or dislike it. I thought I would post it up here because I swear I keep seeing people on the streets wearing it! And when I was browsing through a few online stores, I saw something very similar by Marc by Marc Jacobs. So expect to see a lot of red and white flowery tops near you this summer!
Have you checked out H&M's Spring's clothes yet? What do you think of the clothes?
Image source: (Note that the prices are in Pounds.)

Monday, March 24, 2008

Yet Another Black Blazer

Two years ago when I bought my fitted Juicy black blazer with velvet lapels, I thought I was done with this staple. One good quality one is all I thought I'd need. But then this other black blazer popped up on the rack and it had gorgeous silk mini ruffles on the neck collar and black subtle pinstripes AND it was 70% off. I couldn't resist. Then this summer, there was this super fitted dark gray (with a hint of sparkle), 3/4 sleeved blazer with this to die for fancy double layered collar thing also on sale- I had to have it. So really, one can reasonably conclude that I've reached my quota for black blazers. For the record, I have had great mileages for all of them- so they were all completely worth it. Unfortunately recently, I find my eyes wandering again in the black blazer arena.......
While I have enough sharply fitted blazers that stops flatteringly at the waist, I don't have any more loosely shaped blazers that stops at the lower waist. And thus I cannot achieve the totally casual chic look shown above by the Stella McCartney blazer (left) and the Paul & Joe blazer (right) with the sleeves scrunched up. Loosely fitted yet tailored they are the perfect compliment to the more loosely fitted styles that is the trend of late.
I saw Heidi Klum wear such a blazer over a cute dress on Project Runway this season (or I thought I did, since I looked back and could not find it!), and thought, wow I need one of those! I was just facing such a dilemma the other day when I was wearing a dress and couldn't find an appropriate jacket to wear over it. All my other black blazers are simply too fitted and short that it makes the whole look too proper and put together, which totally defeats the current style of casual chic dresses. This more casually fitted blazer cutting neatly solves the problem. The above styles from Tucker (left) and Theory (right) demonstrates my point perfectly. Also note the yellow and gray color theme going on here with the Tucker blazer and the Paul & Joe blazer look.
This blazer also works for a more casual office chic look as seen above from the Zara catalog. They even have a sleeveless version for the summer! Sigh.... I think I've almost convinced myself that I need yet another black blazer with this post. It seems like such an investment staple! Or do I?

Image Source: Zara, Shopbop, Net a Porter and Elle

Sunday, March 23, 2008

Hoop and Dash

I know, I know...I have 5 minutes before I need to leave, clothes every where, no zip lock bag but I HAD to share THIS!

Love to love you baby!

Thank You, See You

Thank you so much to everyone that came along and made yesterday's Fragment event in Shimokitazawa such a super success. We truly have so many people to thank and each and every one of them contributes so much to this wonderful community that has been building a warp speed here in Tokyo. Thank you to all of the artists and art lovers, the painters and crowd of onlookers, the dj mix masters and the dancer who loved them, the style creators and the fashion lovers, but most importantly all of our friends that continually support what we are doing. We could never do it without you. Thank you truly!

Yesterday was the perfect Sunday afternoon to say goodbye to so many of my amazing friends. I am leaving for Australia in just a few hours (EEK I gotta pack) and will be back just in time for Hanami (cherry blossom parties) on April 4. I am very much looking forward to time in on the Sunshine Coast with my ma, nan and gran. Then off to Sydney to get hoopy with the one and only Bunny Hoopstar. I cannot wait.

Most people who know me, know that I am not a fan of flying but I am just so excited to go on this trip that my fear seems to have disappeared. Will see how that goes once we take off.

I am sad that Masao cannot come with me and will miss my friends dearly but I know they will all be busy here in Tokyo doing what they do best!

I am going to be away from the internet for most of my trip which will bring out the good, bad and ugly in me for sure but it is a much needed break. I will have time to catch up on the real world and just enjoy the sunshine and family lovin'. It also means that I won't be hanging out here much so I will see you when I get back! Will mis you!

Leaving you will some pics from Fragment. More over at TOKYOMADE and our FLickr.
With Caroline of chief&mischief fame.

My loves Oshima, Akiko and Leila Chan

Tomokuni, Michi and Mochi decorating in fine style!

Interesting note on dialects of the Fujian Province

Most of us in Sarawak would think immediately that the Hokkiens are from the Fujian Province. And only a few would know that the Foochows also come from the same province. Perhaps we need to clarify this here.

The Chinese of Fujian Province in China speak seven different major dialects, of which Minnan Huà is the major dialect spoken in southern Fujian in Quanzhou-controlled counties such as Hui'an, Jinjiang, Nan'an, Tong'an, Yongchun, and Anxi; and Zhangzhou-administered Xiamen, Zhao'an, and Jimei (or Chipbee). The word Min refers to the root dialect and nan means south.

Many other bloggers have touched on this subject. But by writing about it myself, I am beginning to learn more and more. Furthermore, my own children would also be learning alongside me.

Of the six other dialects:

Fuzhou Huà is spoken by people living in Fuzhou in the east coast of Fujian and the counties under its administration such as Fuqing; The Sarawak Radio announcers used to announce using this standard Fuzhou Hua.

The Henghua dialect is spoken by the people in Putian of southeastern Fujian and counties under its administration. In Sibu there is one particular place called Heng Hua Pah as it was delineated for them and their farms.

The Hakka dialect is spoken by the people in Yongding in southwest Fujian. Most of the Hakkas in Sarawak are found in Kuching and Miri.

Longyan Huà is spoken by people living in Longyan. Personally I have not come across any who speak this dialect.

Minbei Huà is spoken by residents living in Wuyi Shan in the north of Fujian; and

Mindong Huà is spoken by those who live in the northeastern part of the province, whose capital is Ningde.

None of the dialect groups understand one another's dialects; for instance, Minnan Huà is not understood in Fuzhou or Putian, nor would Minnan Rén understand Fujian Rén speaking Fuzhou Huà, Henghua, or the Minbei and Mindong dialects. Neither could Longyan or Yongding Rén understand Minnan Huà The only way they can communicate with one anther is through Mandarin, the official language of China.

This is the reason why when the Foochows migrated to Sibu in 1903, they could not understand their neighbours, the Cantonese, the Hokkiens (who spoke Ming Nan Hua)

According to some sources,there are also some differences in the cultural characteristics within each dialect group. Basically, those who live along coastal lines such as Quanzhou and Jinjiang are more adventurous and open-minded, and those who live inland are more conservative. Fuzhou and Henghua Rén are regarded as the elite in Fujian as there have been good scholars from their areas, and they are more reserved.

In the neighboring province of Guangdong, groups who speak Fujian dialects are mainly concentrated in the province's central and western regions.

The minnan dialect group and its regions

The Minnan dialect and the areas where it is spoken in Fujian include the autonomous region of Xiamen; counties administered from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou such as Tong'an, Nan'an, Hui'an, Jinjiang, and Yongchun; and controlled towns such as Zhao'an. This region is situated in the plains below the Jinjiang River.

Fujian Rén of this region have developed an oceanic culture, being near the sea. They are adventurous and brave in their pursuit of wealth. Since the Tang dynasty, the Fujian Rén of this region have developed an enterprising spirit especially in Quanzhou, which grew into one of the world's biggest ports of the time. This endeavoring spirit of the Minnan people reached its height during the Ming dynasty and early Qing dynasty with a large number of Fujian Rén sailing abroad to trade. Their influence extended to Japan and Korea in the Far East, the Philippines, Siam, Vietnam, Cambodia, Indonesia, and Malaya in Southeast Asia. This spirit was however curtailed during the Qing dynasty when the Manchu rulers prohibited all Chinese from leaving mainland shores because they were afraid that they might assist the resistance movement started by Koxinga (another name for Zheng Cheng Gong), a Fujian hero who had fought .ercely against the Manchu rulers. Despite the restrictions, many Zhangzhou and Quanzhou Rén migrated to the Philippines, and Quanzhou Rén also travelled to three of the Straits Settlements of Malaya under British control.

Most Minnan emigrants of Fujian had come from the south of Fujian. They are more adventurous and brave, having experienced the impact of foreigners and ocean culture. Nearly 90 percent of Filipino-Chinese today are descendants of emigrants from Quanzhou and Zhangzhou and the majority of Singapore-Chinese are descendants of Minnan Fujian Rén. It is estimated that there are over 20 million Minnan Rén from South Fujian residing in Hong Kong, Taiwan and Southeast Asia.

Minnan Fujian Rén are not good ideological thinkers but they donate money generously in promoting education and other useful causes. They are strict in controlling their offsprings’ upbringing and behavior. They would not allow their children to be tooWesternized, to behave in un-Chinese ways, nor to become assimilated by the pre-bumiputras of Indonesia or Malaysia [the descendants of Chinese immigrants who have become Baba and Nyonya or peranakans (locally born Chinese) who behaved like the natives, eating with their hands, wearing sarong and who have been assimilated, gradually loosing their Chineseness].

Migrant cultural assimilations in language and music

Minnan Fujian Rén are proud of their dialect, which they believe had once been the official court language used by the mandarins of the Tang imperial courts. Many court officials who migrated to Fujian had brought with them their official court language, which has developed into the Minnan dialect. Buddhism had flourished during the Tang dynasty and the dialect was used to translate Buddhist scripts that were written in the Sanskrit language from India.

The Tang dynasty officals also brought with them the Tang Nankuan music, which developed into the classic Fujian Nankuan music of today, which incidentally also resembles Japanese imperial court music. Whenever I attended a Japanese Imperial Palace function, Gagaku (the Japanese word for Nankuan music) always fascinated me. This music could have travelled from Xi'an when the Japanese had brought Chinese Buddhism to Japan, just as many Tang officials who had migrated to Fujian had brought Tang music to Fujian.

There is also a great similarity between many words in the Japanese language and the Minnan Fujian dialect. These words are pronounced almost exactly the same: sekkai (world) in Japanese is sehkai in Minnan Fujian Huà; shizen (natural) is zijian; jinsei (mankind) is jinshui; denwa (telephone) is tianhua; and densen (electric wire) is tianxian, and the Minnan Fujian word kaisiow (introduce) is shõkai in Japanese. At first I thought it was due to the migration of Fujian Rén to Japan but after some research, I discovered that during the Tang dynasty, the Japanese had learnt these Minnan Fujian words through the introduction of Buddhism from China and Japan had copied almost everything culturally -- from Buddhism to Confucianism -- from Tang dynasty China.

Gu Hong Ming: An Unusual Chinese Scholar Who Translated Confucius' Four Books into English

Tong'an, a county in Fujian, has also produced some scholars, one of whom was Gu Hong Ming (1856-1928) who was born in Penang, an island off northern Malaysia. His father was a migrant from Tong'an. His father wanted him to become a merchant and sent him to London for further studies. He later got his honorary degree from a German university in Berlin and then went to Edinburgh to finish his doctorate. After his studies, he toured Europe extensively, visiting France, Italy and Austria, and became well versed in the various European languages such as English, German, French, Italian as well as Latin and Greek. He was interested in European culture and took pains to study it.

After ten years of wandering, Gu returned to China during the reign of Guang Xu in 1881. On the way there, he passed through India and came to know a Chinese scholar named Mah Qian Chong, who introduced him to Chinese culture. Under Mah's influence, Gu went back to his father's hometown of Tong'an and isolated himself to study, like a traditional Chinese boy, the Chinese classics of Confucius, Mencius and other fundamental Chinese classical authors.

At 28, Gu had mastered both Chinese and European cultures and was appointed to work in the secretariat of Zhang Zhi Dong, the Governor of Guangdong and Guangxi. He helped to translate all the files written in English and other European languages, and with secretarial work. One day, Governor Zhang employed a few German experts to train Chinese soldiers. The Germans were asked to kowtow to the governor according to Chinese rules and to wear Qing helmets. The Germans refused to do so. Gu was the only one who could speak German and explained to them the signi.cance of kowtowing and wearing the Qing helmet. After Gu's explanation, the Germans agreed to follow the Chinese custom.

After the OpiumWar, Zhang Zhi Dong was appointed Governor of Hunan and Guangdong in 1889 and Gu was one of the six high-ranking officals he brought with him. Gu became one of his con.dants. These six were referred to as "Liu Junzi" (Six Gentlemen). In 1891 when Tsarist Russia sent ten high officals to China to tour Hebei, Gu spoke to them in .uent Russian, which took the Russians by surprise. In 1894 when China was in need of .nances, Governor Zhang Zhi Dong sent Gu to negotiate for a loan from banks in Germany and he succeeded in concluding a huge loan for the development of naval construction.

In 1900 when the eight Western powers invaded Beijing and during the negotiations between Qing dynasty's Foreign Minister Li Hong Zhang and European representatives, Gu played an important role. Gu wrote a book entitled Respecting the Royalty. Ci Xi, the Empress Dowager of the Qing dynasty, had supported the Boxer Rebellion and had urged the Boxers to get rid of the Westerners. When the soldiers of the eight Western nations invaded Beijing, she escaped to the interior of China. In this book, Gu wanted to explain that Empress Dowager harbored no ill feelings for Westerners and that she had been misunderstood.

Gu was against Kang You Wei's reforms and warned of its dangers. He made friends with the Russian author Tolstoy and explained his views about the reform to him. Tolstoy agreed with Gu that Kang's reform was foolish and would not succeed. But in 1902 when Gu saw how Governor Zhang Zhi Dong lavishly celebrated Ci Xi's 60th birthday, inviting foreign diplomats to attend the function, he composed a song showing his displeasure. He began to become disappointed with the Ci Xi administration.

By 1911 when the Xinhai Revolution erupted, Gu was already an old conservative. He was sad and put on a false pigtail, got into a rickshaw and toured Beijing. The revolutionaries tried to convince him to join the movement but he refused. In 1913, he went to Japan trying to get support from the Japanese but failed. In 1917, he was one of the 13 stalwarts who tried to revert the tide to conservatism but again failed.

The educationist Cai Yuan Pei later invited Gu to be a professor in charge of the English department at Beijing University but he could not get along with the other professors. In 1924, he was invited by the Imperial University of Japan to teach for three years. In 1927, he returned to China and resumed his old job as a professor at Beijing University.

Gu died in 1928 at the age of 71. He left behind many books including an English translation of Confucius' Shi Shu (Four Books).

Liu Bu Chan: The Patriotic Qing Dynasty Admiral Fujian has also produced a patriotic admiral called Liu Bu Chan who has become well known in history as the brave hero from Fuzhou. He refused to surrender to the Japanese.

Liu was born in 1852 in a well-to-do family of mandarins in the village of Houguan, in Fuzhou. In the mid-1860s, China was pushing ahead with training naval personnel and established naval schools in Fuzhou. Liu joined the school and graduated with .ying colors. In 1875, he was sent to Europe to further his studies inWestern naval technology. When he returned to China in 1879, he made proposals to improve China's naval establishment. The Foreign Minister Li Hong Zhang discovered his talent and sent him to Germany to purchase battleships. On his return, he was put in charge of the naval .eet and became an admiral.

In those days, though China had its own naval school, it had to depend on European instructors. One of these Western instructors was ambitious and longed for promotion. When the Commander In Chief Ding Ru Chang received orders to go to Hong Kong, he asked Liu Bu Chan to take over his position. This European by the name of Willy was furious. He resigned, returned to England, and wrote a book ridiculing Liu Bu Chan as a coward and his inef.ciencies.

When Empress Dowager had used public funds to build her marble ship in the Summer Palace, Liu Bu Chan protested strongly but to no avail. Japan was then becoming ambitious and China had to prepare itself. In 1894, Japan invaded China and the Sino-Japanese War erupted. Liu Bu Chan's naval ship sank a ship called Kishimura, resulting in the death of 11 Japanese naval of.cers. The Commander In Chief Ding was injured and Liu took over. Under his leadership, the Chinese navy won several battles against the Japanese. Liu Bu Chan proposed that each year, China would need at least two battleships. But Li Hong Zhang was a nervous leader and afraid of antagonizing the Japanese and Liu was handicapped by his indecisive and cowardly behavior. Then on an early morning in May 1895, the Japanese torpedoed the battleship of Admiral Liu Bu Chan that was anchored in Weihaiwei of northern Shandong. The ship had landed on the shores and could not move. The sailors of the ship had wanted to surrender but Liu refused. He blew the ship up and committed suicide. He was only 42 years old.

Lin Jue Min: The Martyr of the Huanghuagang Uprising from Fuzhou Another Fujian Rén, Lin Jue Min (1887-1911), was one of the 72 heroes who had sacrificed his life during the Huanghuagang Uprising in Guangdong. Together with the 71 others, his name appears on the Huanghuagang (Heroes of the Yellow Flowers) Mausoleum in Guangdong to commemorate these martyrs who had died in the uprising on April 27, 1911 in Guangdong. The 72 include many from Fujian.

Lin was a Fuzhou Rén, born in a prominent family of a Fuzhou scholar. Since childhood, he was influenced by Western thought and technology and was against feudalism. In 1907, he went to Japan to further his studies at Keio University. In Tokyo, he joined the Tongmenghui started by Dr. Sun Yat Sen. Lin was not only good at Chinese literature but could also speak Japanese, English and German, and had translated many books about Kang You Wei into German and English.

On his return to Fujian, Lin gathered many patriots and participated in the revolution initiated by Dr. Sun Yat Sen. In the revolt, he was arrested and sentenced to death.

Yan Fu: The Anti-Monarchy Writer from Fuzhou

In modern history, the name of Yan Fu does not ring a bell. In terms of political contribution towards social revolution, he cannot be compared with revolutionary figures like Dr. Sun Yat Sen, Hong Xiu Quan or Kang You Wei. But in terms of ideology and thoughts, Yan Fu has done a lot through his writing to revolutionize the minds of the Chinese. Even Mao Ze Dong had high regard for Yan Fu, the thinker. He was the one who had introduced modern Western thoughts to China.

Yan Fu (1854-1921) was born in Fuzhou into a family of doctors. His father died when he was young. When Hunan Governor Zuo Zong Tang opened a naval school in Fuzhou, Yan joined the school and graduated with .ying colors at the age of 15. He had learned Western science in the English language and studied geometry, mathematics, physics, electronics, geology and navigation. In 1877, he was sent to England to study navigation. He was the first Chinese to study in England and was very impressed by British democracy and Western science. In 1879 when he returned to Fuzhou, he was appointed a lecturer in the naval school. In 1895, he started writing in a Tianjin newspaper supporting Kang You Wei's reform movements. He also concentrated on translating eight volumes of books on Western science and introduced Western technology to the Chinese people. He analyzed the reasons for China's backwardness and blamed the monarchy for delaying China's progress. Yan Fu studied in the same University as the Japanese Prime Minister Ito Hirobumi (1841-1909) and they returned to their respective countries almost at the same time. Ito recommended the knowledge of the Western world to his country and they accepted and implemented them and Japan made progress and caught up with the Western world. In the case of Yan Fu, the Qing authorities did not make good use of his knowledge, only appointed him as a lecturer and made him frustrated. He spent the rest of his life and energy on translating useful books from English to Chinese, enlightening the Chinese of Western knowledge and wisdom. China could have made similar progress as Japan if the Qing rulers had taken heed of the recommendations of Yan Fu.

Although another prominent Chinese translator Lin Shu had translated a great deal of Western books into Chinese, he could neither read nor write English or any Western language. In the case of Yan Fu, he was an expert in English and was also a thinker. Yan's eight famous translations were: Evolution And Ethics by T.H. Huxley, An Inquiry Into The Nature And Causes Of The Wealth Of Nations by Adam Smith, A System Of Logic and On Liberty by J.S. Mill, L'Esprit des Lois (The Spirit Of Laws) by Montesquieu, The Study Of Sociology by Herbert Spencer, A Short History Of Politics by Edward Jenks, and Primer Of Logic by W.S. Jevons. His translations have influenced many leading Chinese revolutionaries and intelligentsia and led them to push for reforms. Yan has done a miracle to Chinese cultural history. For this, he has contributed a great deal to China's development.

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