Shanghaiist has always been intrigued by the bits of Western history and culture that seep into the Chinese mainstream — the terrifying, ungodly mix of Buicks, Kenny G, and Da Shan gives us a headache, but is fascinating to behold. Though not quite as fascinating as washing your hair with birth control pills.
The latest addition to the cultural canon is an encouraging step up: The American civil rights pioneer Martin Luther King. His life story is currently the subject of a play at the National Theatre in Beijing, according to an article by our favorite China journalist, Howard French. We were surprised by the choice: King’s role in publicizing American discrimination and using passive resistance to promote social change wouldn’t seem to be the government’s cup of tea — especially considering it’s almost the beginning of June.
It turns out though the man is everywhere — his “I Have a Dream” speech is standard reading in Chinese schools, and Chairman Mao himself mentioned him in a 1963 speech. Your friendly Olympic cadres have even linked the 2008 Olympic theme, “One World, One Dream,” with King’s most famous speech.
The Chairman never linked the situation with issues in his own country like the plight of ethnic minorities, or the urban-rural divide. That seems to be changing with many youths of today.
“In today’s China it would seem that discriminatory actions are not so common,” said Yan Shikui, the narrator for the production. “But in fact, it is very serious. We talk about the difference between urban and rural citizens, the gap between the strong and the weak. All of these are very deep notions buried in people’s minds, which cannot be solved by using violence. They have to be addressed through ideas.”
This Shanghaiist is excited by such civic idealism. The coworkers (in our non-Shanghaiist day job) are rather tepid. Nevertheless, we’re glad to see our native hemisphere finally exporting something more worthwhile and inspiring than wussy-boy saxophonists and outrageously annoying corrupt celebrities whose Chinese will always, always be better than ours. Bitch.