At least that’s what celeb writer Yu Qiuyu (余秋雨) said at a recent public function. From
Slate Indiaenews.com we found this report:
Shanghai people’s inward looking attitudes are costing the city its status as a global cultural centre equal to the likes of Paris, New York or Beijing, says Yu Qiuyu, a Chinese scholar.
Shanghai has riveted world attention in recent years because of its blistering economic growth. But its cultural status has not kept pace, said Yu, addressing a function held by the Shanghai Media Group to mark the launch of a database for celebrities and talents.
With respect to Shanghai in particular, Yu believes that Shanghai has spent too much effort trying to play up local culture, such as local and regional forms of opera and comedy such as Yue Ju (越剧), Hu Ju (沪剧), Slapstick (滑稽戏) or, in the realm of literature and letters, the Shanghai school (海派), whose heyday was in 1930s Shanghai, when the city became the center of the literary and publishing world in China, with everything from (talented) hacks churning out numerous boilerplate romantic novels (notably of the Mandarin Duck and Butterfly school/鸳鸯蝴蝶派言情小说) as well as the home of many of China’s most famous writers — loosely known as the Shanghai School (海派).
Yu Qiuyu argues that writers such as Lu Xun and Ba Jin, who both lived in Shanghai at points in their lives, were great writers whose work and thought managed to transcend the local. Yu argued that today, Shanghai still faces the problem of being too parochial and inward looking, and this is what stands in the way of Shanghai becoming a true cultural capital.
Yu blames some of this on the information explosion, which causes some people, for example, to surf the internet and waste their time blogging, which they mistakenly believe to be an idealized form of social interaction because no one on the internet has bad breath.
Yu closed his speech by asking that Shanghai be more courageous in terms of cultural innovation and creativity. Shanghainese people, he says, have never been ones to rock the boat — not exactly an atmosphere conducive to true artistic creation and innovation.
We think Yu brings up a good point, but we still remain optimistic about Shanghai’s future. Thinking back to 2000-2001, when we decided to move here, we’re reminded of how, like a Virginia Slim, Shanghai’s come a long way. The media always seems to be bursting at the seams with new events, happenings, exhibitions, concerts, etc. Granted, we aren’t where we’re supposed to be, but it seems that everyday there’s a new influx of people, ideas, and capital that somehow manages to alter our cultural equation, with the result that we never quite know what it all adds up to.
Frankly, we think that Yu probably isn’t that up on all this stuff, but we can’t blame him, since not everyone reads Shanghaiist — yet. On the other hand, he might not think much of what is happening here, even if he were aware of all of it — he might call it derivative, or too commercial (despite the fact that’s he made his fortune from writing). As a writer whose speech touched on other (great) writers, what Yu is talking about is highfalutin’ stuff like fiction and poetry, maybe painting. The way we understand it, if one day Hongkou or Zhabei becomes the Brooklyn of Shanghai, full of scruffy people with laptops in cafes brooding about their uncompleted novels, we’ll have arrived at something approximating his vision of Shanghai.