Here we go round the prickly pear
All was quiet on our western front. And eastern. In fact every front was conspicuously quieter than it should have been that evening, given the season in question. The air did not smell of sulfur and carbon and chlorine, or vibrate gratuitously with the report of recreational ordnance. Fireballs of blue and yellow and green did not rain down on balconies, or ricochet off buildings, or bounce upon the roofs and bonnets of cars. The ground was not sprinkled with the red, singed paper tesserae that decorate the sidewalks on Chinese New Year. The Year of the Horse arrived with a sprightly cantor, not thundering gallop; and the collective din of the annual snap, crackle, and pop was less of a bang than a whimper.
As early as the first week of January, it was clear that festivities would be much gentler on the ears than they have been for the past decade. First, there was the conspicuous absence of the firework vendors who each January appeared out of nowhere and materialized at certain intersections and stretches of sidewalk. Then local news networks had begun asking citizens if they planned to celebrate the New Year with fireworks. Cherry-picked for broadcast or not, most citizens whose soundbites made the five-o’-clock news said “no,” citing both environmental concerns (air quality, noise pollution, litter and waste disposal) and worries about accidental injury or damage. Happily, “golden-hour,” reportage of the public spirit showed harmonious accord between the Old Hundred Names and the latest policies and advisories from relevant ministries and public security agencies. And sure enough, there were few bombs bursting in air, and less of the rockets’ red glare.
Smaug the Dragon
China’s cities became the focus of international interest (again) last autumn when images of urban skies and reports of frighteningly poor air-quality appeared in virtually all news media outlets. The promulgation and enforcement of firework bans fit nicely with the trending narrative, and the success of the policy initiative says a great deal about how the social inertia of cultural folkways can in fact be steered in new directions. The fact that the public will was not at extreme variance with the will of those in the North who craft Diktate minimized flashpoints¹.
Neighborhoods weren’t the only places that were quieter this holiday season. The emergency rooms of urban hospitals experienced a significant downtick in admissions, thanks mainly to fewer firework-related injuries.
Xinhua made the connection explicit in a news item of 15 February:
Sales of fireworks and the number of people injured due to fireworks setting off in Beijing have dropped significantly during this year’s Spring Festival holiday, which began on Feb. 10… A total of 165 people were injured due to fireworks setting off during the same period, down 22 percent from the previous year… No death or cases of eyeball extraction were reported...²
The China Real Time Report of The Wall Street Journal was among the English-language news-agencies to pick-up the item, though China Daily had reported earlier in February that firework-related injuries in the nation’s capital were, “down 33.89 percent from last year³.”
If slightly less-toxic air is a good outcome, fewer injuries are great ones. Among the people sure to be happiest about the data are the authors of the 2012 paper, “Prognostic factors and visual outcome for fireworks-related burns during spring festival in South China.” Conclusions include the recommendation that, “Laws should be passed to forbid the personal use of fireworks in China, and public education on the sale and use of fireworks should be increased⁴.” That very year, Xinhua reported:
Tongren Hospital has received 1,128 patients with fireworks-related injuries since Beijing removed its ban on fireworks during the festival in 2006. Nearly 30 percent of the patients are youngsters...During last year’s  holiday week, the hospital treated 206 patients with firework-induced injuries, 178 of whom suffered eye injuries. The youngest was only two years old⁵.
But children were not the only beneficiaries of the new policies regarding the sale of fireworks and the enforcement of ordinances pursuant to their private use. Front-line hospital staff likely avoided injuries of their own, too.
Aggravated assault against nurses, doctors, and hospital workers became talking-points outside China when major news outlets like The Atlantic gave column inches to the phenomenon.⁶ “Violence against healthcare staff is not new in China,” writes Yanzhong Huang. “It has been a topic of media concern since the early 1990s.”
National Public Radio, the broadcast brain-trust of American intellectuals, covered the same ground at the beginning of November 2013 (“In Violent Hospitals, China’s Doctors Can Become Patients”)⁷while Bloomberg was quick off the mark in responding to the March 2012 murder of a young internist at First Affiliated Hospital of Harbin University. In that commentary, Adam Minter undertook to explain why, “Violent Crimes in China’s Hospital Spread Happiness.”⁸ China Radio International (CRI) turned to the topic later that May 2012.
Scholarly concern for “hospital violence” in China (yiyuan baoli 医院暴力, or yi’nao 医闹in colloquial spoken Mandarin) is, as Yanzhong Huang points out, not new. ⁹ In 2006, authors sounded the alarm in the Hong Kong Medical Journal. ¹⁰
The historical development of both phenomena - criminal assault upon healthcare workers in China, and its position in the international news-cycle - are subjects worthy of further enquiry. What we have not seen so far, though, is interest inthe possible connection between the outcry from Chinese doctors in international English-language medical journals, and the decision to ban fireworks. And that just might be the real story.
Where there’s smoke, there’s fire…and probably mirrors, too
In 12 May 2012, The Lancet published, “Ending violence against doctors in China.” ¹¹ More than one year later, on 16 August 2013, The Wall Street Journal chimed-in, ¹² as did USA Today on October 24. ¹³ The May 2012 paper in The Lancet was cited in a 1 November 2013 commentary in the British Medical Journal (“Ending violence against doctors in China” ¹⁴ ), which was followed by a 23 November 2013 article again in The Lancet (“Appeals from doctors to end violence”). ¹⁵ The copy in both The Lancet and the BMJ was written by Mainland doctors working in Chinese metropolitan hospitals, and their sense of urgency is clear:
Within only 10 days in October, seven consecutive incidents of violence against medical personnel took place in Chinese hospitals, three doctors were killed and ten medical staff were injured. This recent wave of assaults on medical staff has led to widespread discussions on Chinese social media. Anger, fear, despair, and even hatred are common among doctors. Chinese doctors are under tremendous stress [ibid.].
Back to fireworks. The first mention of municipal bans on fireworks filtered into the media aquifer with Xinhua’s 12 December 2013 item, ¹⁶ which was run in the American edition of the China Daily (“Beijing to ban fireworks if new year turns foggy”) on 13 December 2013. ¹⁷ News that Wuhan would, in fact, prohibit the use of fireworks was reported by China Daily on 20 December 2013. ¹⁸
But the connection between fireworks and smog was not the only aspect of fireworks that was transparently of interest to the government.
On 22 November The Wall Street Journal reported that, “Fireworks Are Newest Target of China’s Austerity Drive.” ¹⁹ The article, based on a Central Discipline Inspection Commission report, ²⁰ suggested that, “the ban on gifts of fireworks, which can cost as much as 1,000 yuan ($164) a box, may be aimed at shutting down one more avenue for corruption rather than discouraging enjoyment of an ancient Chinese invention.”
“Shutting down one more avenue for corruption,” maybe. But these early government discussions about reducing civilian access to fireworks might have been part of a plan to make stealthy inroads on the phenomenon of hospital violence – under cover and against the backdrop of the domestic and international hue and cry about air pollution. ²¹
The West’s “Violence”
“The West,” if we may for a moment generalize and over-simplify, regularly criticizes China for (inter alia) the nation’s Yeti-sized carbon footprint. Rarely, though, are the long knives drawn for Chinese traditions and folkways. Fireworks add to the air pollution problem, but few China-hawks would go so far as to call upon the Chinese to discourage, “enjoyment of an ancient Chinese invention.” Allowing civilians to detonate fireworks en masse once or twice a year will make air quality acutely worse in the short-term, but banning the use of fireworks during the Chinese New Year will not do much to make air quality chronically better in the long-run.
What enforcement of the new policies did achieve, however, was less acute strain on accident and emergency units at hospitals during the holiday period. Because the fireworks bans reduced the number of burns and other fireworks-related injuries, there were fewer emergent-care outpatients clogging the arteries of a system that is under duress; and whenever emergent-care user-density is thinned-out, the likelihood of an aggravated assault resulting in the injury or death of front-line hospital staff drops too.
Beijing is thus in a position to announce this March - two years after the murder of the intern in Harbin - that indications for yiyuan baoli for the first two months of 2014 are positive. Simply by eliminating opportunities for predictable injuries, they reduced also opportunities for strife, conflict, and agitation in the ER. Given the outcry in the pages of The Lancet and the BMJ, such an encouraging statement from Xinhua is very likely, if not inevitable. After all, the phenomenon now has its own Wikipedia page (“Violence against doctors in China”). Not a good sign. ²²
Maybe there is in fact no connection whatsoever between this year’s firework restrictions and last winter’s concerns, from inside and outside China, about “hospital violence.” But despite the environmental impact of fireworks, and both the risks and foreseeable injuries and damage actually caused by fireworks, there’s still a lot to be said in favour of allowing the masses to celebrate Chinese New Year with them, and the government was very brave to try and clamp-down on such a beloved tradition. It is, after all, very eusocial and ethno-patriotic, enjoyed by rich and poor, urban and rural residents alike. It is a reaffirmation of the unity of Chinese culture – or at least, a public affirmation of belief in the ideal of such unity. Taking away from the people of China the freedom to enjoy an “ancient tradition” is risky business. That’s why the anti-pollution rationale is so weak: Why make the mob miserable, or risk head-on confrontations with civil disobedience, when everyone knows that a fireworks ban won’t make a dent in the air-quality problem? But arming doctors with pepper-spray is not a mark of a harmonious society, or of scientific development, or of expanding moderate-well-off-ness. ²³ And that is an issue that needs to be handled adroitly. And fast.
And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Chinese rarely think about or talk about baoli (“violence”) or qinlve (侵略, aggression) as problems in their own right, as problems in and of themselves – not in the way Western Anglophones do. For Chinese language-users, to start doing so would require a formidable conceptual adjustment in respect to Chinese ideas of both, “violence,” and, “victimhood;” conceptualizations, which themselves are not easily facilitated by Mandarin. It is therefore a very bad sign that the community needed to and in fact did neologize (yi’nao) to vouchsafe and secure new references to a troubling if old phenomenon.
Over the past 25 years, American scholars (social and behavioral scientists mainly) have succeeded in redirecting discussion from the crimes of assault and aggravated assault, to a discussion of violence itself. The author who deserves much of the blame (though most would say: credit) for this is James Gilligan. In his 1981, Preventing Violence, Gilligan states:
I will use the terms disease, illness, and pathology to refer to any force or process within an organism or species that tends to bring death or disability to the organism, or extinction to the species. Violence in all the forms just mentioned is, by that definition, a manifestation, form, or symptom of pathology or illness, at least as much as cancer and heart disease are… [V]iolence is a manifestation of disease… ²⁴
Gilligan and others, in the course of a single generation, have foisted upon Anglophones an entirely new concept of what violence is – viz., that Violence is a phenomenon in its own right, one which, in order to be understood, must be abstracted from the concepts of crimes and/or torts – viz., trespasses against the person – and abstracted even from the concepts of right and wrong. Those who have followed Gilligan to the outer limits of his absurdity (and there are many) currently argue that Violence is indeed – and not just metaphorically or analogically - a kind of disease-entity, something that is best understood with epidemiological paradigms and models and should be addressed in earnest by public health experts. ²⁵
This reconceptualization of Violence is philosophically very problematic, and for China to buy into it is positively dangerous. China has heretofore lacked the victim-culture we find throughout the English-speaking world; and to reiterate, this is one of the reasons why there is in China so little conversation about either Violence Itself or Aggression Itself as “problems” endemic to human beings and our societies. In spoken-Mandarin, one rarely uses the adjectives baolide 暴力的(violent) or qinlvede 侵略的 (aggressive) to describe people or their actions. ²⁶ The guy who puffs-up his chest and gets in-your-face might be shenjingbing or you maobing (colloquially: crazy), or guofen, or erbaiwu (excessive, or out-of order); but neither the individual nor his actions are likely to be described in everyday spoken Chinese as baolide, mengliede (猛烈的), or qinlvede.
But when Chinese doctors write ²⁷ about the crime of aggravated assault (specifically as perpetrated against medical personnel) for international English-language publications, they or their translators have little choice but to describe the situation and to express their concerns in terms immediately cogent and friendly to the reigning Zeitgeist of contemporary English-language culture. Inevitably, they thus present themselves as a new class of victims, whose victimhood is to be understood according to the English-speaking world’s latest concepts of “violence.” But whereas the simple fact is that Chinese doctors as a class are increasingly becoming the targets of some individual Chinese malefactors, the English-language rhetoric of Violence tells the narrative differently: All Chinese doctors are potential victims of the Violence Itself which lurks in Chinese society, and which is now seeping its way into the hospitals. That’s a mischaracterization of the phenomenon, but it plays into the hands of Western observers who have a knack for connecting Violence Itself with (inter alia.) human rights issues.
And in any case, given the historical association between the concept of Violence Itself and both class-struggle and social unrest, ²⁸ China’s leaders have very good reason to want to nip in the bud both problems: assaults perpetrated against hospital staff, and the misbegotten meme of “violence” and all its muddle-headed conceptual accoutrement.
Look again at some of the English-language headlines:
Violence against healthcare staff is not new in China (The Atlantic)
In Violent Hospitals, China’s Doctors Can Become Patients (NPR)
Violent Crimes in China’s Hospital Spread Happiness (Bloomberg)
China trying to stop patients from killing doctors (USA Today)
The least contentious of these is the USA Today headline, which is accurate if lurid, while Bloomberg deserves credit for not shying away from the fact that these assaults are crimes.
This is important. The new English-language concept of Violence aims to be non-judgmental and non-prejudicial as to whether the author of the act was right or wrong in using force or the threat of force. Violence Itself – tout court – is wrong, though this is now meant to be implied by and is taken as intrinsic to the very concept of violence. This linguistic sleight of hand is achieved only by equating Violence Itself with wrongfulness, and shunting to one side the actual human perpetrator and judgment of him or his actions. And the West has become excellent at not judging – or, at not-judging.
This, of course, is a cul-de-sac of folly. If a patient assaults a doctor, we can describe it as an act of violence. If the patient is then tackled by security personnel and forcibly manacled, that too may be described as an act of violence. From either a moral or legal point of view, however, the two “acts of violence” are not the same; but the new paradigm shift downplays or eliminates the importance of that distinction. Once upon a time (fifty years ago, roughly), the problem was the wrongful, harm-causing behavior, some of which happens to be both criminal (and/or delictual) and “violent;” currently, the “problem” is violence as such – disembodied, rarefied, and almost spectral or paranormal.
Nonsense, of course. By spinning the sow’s ear of a violent act (like an assault) into the silk purse of a pathogen or disease entity, Violence Itself can be addressed without being critical of the people who actually do harmful things wrongfully, or without burdening such people with responsibility for their actions which, of course, misses entirely the point, and the real problem: people who intentionally or recklessly cause wrongful harm have done something wrong. There’s no question of whether or not they should be judged; we’ve judged them already. That’s why a “violent” assault with a deadly weapon is a crime, but a constable’s “violent” disarming of an armed malefactor is not. ²⁹ (Like, ni-hao?)
Hence the subtle but unfortunate implications of The Atlantic headline, which removes reference both to the human agents who do the assaulting and to the fact that these assaults against doctors are crimes. NPR, meanwhile, shifts the entire weight of violence to the clinic – violent hospitals. The fact of human malefaction disappears altogether, and we’re invited to contemplate doctors as being victimized by violent hospitals, another manifestation – another incarnation! – of the specter of Violence Itself.
This is a path both Chinese citizens and their leaders do not want to travel. Western scholarship’s current conception of Violence is intellectually bankrupt, the whole field of “violence studies” a dud, and rhetoric of “violence” part of the very problem scholarship is supposed to be solving.
Or perhaps the rhetoric of violence isn’t a dud. It’s more like an A-bomb, where the fallout from which is deadlier than the blast.
¹For those who make a living scrutinizing China for signs of “development” (read: Western liberal bandwagonism), the correct induction is: not every engine of social change need be combustible. The eardrum-friendly arrival of 2014 was, if you will, the gunpowder plot that worked without becoming incendiary.
²http://blogs.wsj.com/chinarealtime/2013/02/15/fireworks-sales-eyeball-extractions-plummet-in-beijing/. See also: http://www.ibtimes.co.uk/chinese-new-year-2014-china-urges-firework-ban-it-grapples-smog-crisis-1434407http://www.reuters.com/article/2014/01/29/us-china-pollution-idUSBREA0S0CE20140129http://thediplomat.com/2014/01/shrouded-in-smog-chinese-officials-consider-a-firework-ban/
⁴J Burn Care Res. 2012 May-Jun;33(3):e108-13. doi: 10.1097/BCR.0b013e3182335998.
⁹Nor are they confined to China – Google-search “hospital violence” and you’ll find a great deal of literature from the US and UK addressing the same issues.
²¹The smog of 2013 had already been making headlines. The Huffing Post drew their reticules upon the issue on 21 October 2013, which is when Reuters covered the topic. The Washington Post was right behind them. And while some of the worst days (pollution wise) of 2013 were indeed in December – topical chatter on Weixin and Weibo peaked that month - the off-the-charts PM figures for December 2013 might not be chief reason for the new fireworks ordinances.
²²http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Violence_against_doctors_in_China. Put in the context of international media reporting on assaults against Chinese hospital staff, the creation date is telling: 2 November 2013. Note that we are to read “Violence against doctors” differently that we would read “Mothers against drunk driving”, or “Physicists against nuclear war”.
²⁴Gilligan J (1981) Preventing Violence, p.16, p.17 (emphasis added).
²⁵See for example see http://live.reuters.com/Event/Gun_Violence_A_Public_Health_Crisis, and http://harvardmagazine.com/2013/01/gun-violence-and-public-health. See also http://stevenpinker.com/pages/frequently-asked-questions-about-better-angels-our-nature-why-violence-has-declined.
²⁶Jiating baoli (家庭暴力) “domestic violence”, is another import, one which has been trending for a while now. But so far, native-speaking Chinese language-users do not fear or worry about baoli, “Violence”, in the generalized way many English-speakers do. An interesting point of comparison is, or may be, with the differences of semantic import between the English-language concept of allergy, and the Chinese concept of chaoguominganbing (超过敏感病, literally, “excessive-sensitivity disease/sickness”). The scope of guomin (“excessive sensitivity”) includes but is broader than the scope of “allergic”. This is why Chinese who are “excessively sensitive” to alcohol describe their condition (or: their own idiosyncratic relationship to alcohol) with the same word they would use to describe a nut or penicillin allergy. Wo dui X you mingan (我对 X 有敏感) – “ I in respect of X (alcohol, peanuts, etc.) am excessively-sensitive”. This is conceptually different from (and has different implications than) the English statement “I am allergic to X”. It is interesting also that, where an English speaker might distinguish between assertive and aggressive, and claim that Jones was not merely assertive but “was aggressive” or “acted aggressively”, the Chinese would be much more likely to say that Wang is guofen, or that Wang’s action was tai guofen – excessive or too excessive. Both mingan and guofen imply standards, limits, boundaries, thresholds, etc., to which something (a sensitivity, an action) is compared. In the new paradigm, neither ‘aggressive’ nor ‘violent’ allow for that. Both “aggression” and “violence” – and bear in mind that these are noun-forms of the useful adjectives aggressive and violent – are (following Gilligan et al.) diseases, or symptoms of diseases. As such, “aggression” and “violence” are deviations from health, not from standards of right and wrong. This tactical semantic wizardry requires a very particular and controversial (or at least: debatable) definition of health, and is an offense to the sensibility of everyday English, which allows that something may be intelligible and correctly described as both ‘violent’ (boxing, rugby, fencing) and not-wrongful, violent and not wrong, violent and good.
²⁷暴力 and 侵略 and their adjectival cognates are less uncommon as written words.
²⁸The first academic paper in 20th century American scholarship to even have the word ‘violence’ in the title is Adams TS (1906) “Violence in Labor Disputes”, Publications of the American Economic Association, 3rd Series, Vol. 7, No. 1 (February 1906), pp. 176-206. It also uses the word “violence” in the first paragraph more than any other scholarly paper in English had up to that time. This was then followed by a number of works which demonstrate clearly how a new concept of violence was taking place in the context of the rise of organized (unionized) labor – see John Haynes Holmes (1920) Is Violence the Way Out of Industrial Disputes?. Throughout the 20s, 30s, and 40s, English-language scholarship addressed a number of topics which today seem familiar – juvenile delinquency, the effects of comic books, television, and film upon children, etc. Few of these works frame their concerns in terms of “violence”, or even mention violence, a word which is in fact absent most of the inter-war and post-war literature dealing specifically with international aggression, strife, peace, war reparations, etc. “Violence Itself” does not in fact become an object of broad scholarly concern until the late 1960s, beginning in earnest with the papers in The Journal of Philosophy, Vol.66, No.19, these being from the Sixty-Sixth Annual Meeting of the American Philosophical Association (2 October 1969). The contributions to this issue of the Journal of Philosophy were an attempt to respond philosophically to the militant disturbances and the student protests at Columbia University and elsewhere, and the 1968 Democratic National Convention in Chicago, once again demonstrating that the idea of Violence Itself was born in the crucible of civil unrest. In the prior century, the word “violence” was used most often in connection with the weather and natural phenomena, Biblical literature, the emancipation of slaves in the ante-bellum South, attacks upon African Americans in the post-bellum South, the conflict between labour and capital, and crime. The word rarely occurs in descriptions of either the War of 1812, the American Civil War (or the works of Stephen Crane, by the way), or the macabre works of or review of the macabre works of Poe. Crime reporting in The New York Times uses the word “violence” with increasing in the years after the Civil War – noting, obiter, that the first US daytime armed bank robbery took place in 1866, which was the same year the ASPCA was founded. Hannah Arendt’s On Violence appeared on shelves in 1970, but her work is best regarded as a contemporary continuation of a Continental tradition going back at least as far as Hegel (Philosophy of Right, 1820) and Marx, in which “violence” is understood in the context of political activity (and not: political activity addressed in the context of violence, as it is today). In Arendt, the word “violence” refers mainly to force or to power, but not specifically to the character of wrongful-harms or wrongful harm-causing – that is, to those things typically designated crimes. It is not to be wondered at that On Violence followed hard on the heels of proletariat revolutions around the world, the dying gasps of colonialism, and the worst of domestic riots associated with the Vietnam War protests and the Civil Rights Movement. So when, exactly, did “violence” start to become contemplated in the West as a phenomenon in its own right, as a “disease”, as a health issue? The Seville Statement on Violence was issued in 1986, but even here the enemy was not war, intraspecific atrocity, or even Violence Itself, but what its signatories thought was the strong determinism of EO Wilson and sociobiology, which seemed to them to doom Mankind to war in perpetuity. The date we are looking for is 2002. That is when the WHO – despite over half a century of grand and grandiose declarations – finally issued a report on “the problem of violence.” The project’s house-of-cards foundation was laid by those scholars took up residence on Gilligan’s island – vide World Report on Violence and Health – here: http://www.who.int/mediacentre/news/releases/pr73/en/. We are left, at last, with an innocent and simple question, one which scholars are either unwilling or unable to answer: If “the problem of violence” had been in plain sight since the dawn of human existence, and has forever been one of humankind’s most intractable problems, why then did it take so long for anyone to write about it as a problem – that is, as a problem in and of itself? And with a world lately bathed in the blood of the Holocaust, why did it take the scholars and the researchers of the last half of the 20th century another two decades to discover Violence? Was the Armenian genocide, the massacre in Nanjing, the continued lynching of African Americans in the post-bellum South, the two world wars, Nazi atrocities, the Korean War, and Vietnam not quite violent enough? And if violence is in fact (and not just by stipulation or hypothesis) a disease, disease entity, or symptom of disease, why did the UN’s global hygiene secretariat wait 40 years to issue a report on the subject?
²⁹See R v Billinghurst  Crim LR 553, Newport Crown Court: Judge John Rutter: June 12 and 13, 1978. The case concerned the reasonable limits of consent to the risk or prospect of experiencing intentional physical harm-causing in sport, insofar as such harm was or should have been reasonably foreseeable to a consenting athlete and participant. The ruling makes clear that while rugby is a contact sport, and that sometimes in rugby players do in fact throw or trade punches, consent to participation in a rugby match is not or should not be taken as consent to be either punched or assaulted in a manner which is or should be considered properly outside the scope of fair and reasonable play. The court so held, citing public policy as a principal or determining factor. The language throughout, though sometimes less than unequivocal, allows and in fact insists upon the intelligibility of making and sustaining a distinction between non-wrongful “violence”(rugby is a contact sport, it is rough, and may be described as “violent”) and wrongful-violence (the nature or kind of aggression which would lead or cause a player to punch another player is unacceptable, and to punch another player would be to manifest to an inappropriate degree aggression, and so or thereby commit a wrongfully-violent act. There’s a great deal of literature on the subject which tackles the rational of violenti non injuria fit in the context of sport and rough play (Yes. I said “tackle.”). The relevance of this body of literature to “the problem of Violence” seems not to be widely acknowledged or appreciated.
Inspired by the skills of martial artists Bruce Lee and Jackie Chan, 18-year old Tim Vukan and his friends were intrigued by this ancient art. After seeking guidance and training from Ving Tsun Gong Fu instructor Jan Hantelman, a connection was made for life. He shared with us stumbling across a tiny Chinese bookshop and discovering hundreds of books detailing the very art he loved. Intrigued by the images he found within the pages, he often went back to look around. It was here that he found the book that would change his life: Chinese Shaolin Kung Fu. Being the only book he found written in German, it became a part of him, attached to him day and night. After watching a live performance from the Shaolin monks in Hamburg he knew it was time…
After six years of intensive training and teaching in Hamburg and Münster, Tim took the plunge and moved to Dengfeng, Henan to practice directly at the source. Home to many academies and thousands of students, he chose to study at Wushu College where a little girl took him by surprise: “The best teacher I had was a nine-year old girl. She taught me high kicks and how to perform very difficult techniques. She taught me to be honest and kind to people.”
What was the most difficult part of your course?
The most difficult part was we had to train very hard every day no matter what condition our bodies were in. Training started at 5:30am and continued all day until 6-7pm. After three weeks of intensive training, I couldn’t walk up the stairs and suffered from heavy muscle tension pain in my legs. Once I was lying in bed, I felt calm and peaceful until the loud Chinese march music woke me up in the morning and it started all over again. This pain is necessary to understand your body. If you want to perform Shaolin Gong Fu and to reach a high level we must go further to feel what it means to have focus.
In Chinese there is a saying 先苦后甜, which means after hard and bitter work there will be sweetness. It means that we have to work hard if we want to achieve something. Everything we do is to gain a deeper understanding of ourselves and to learn how to control our body and our mind in different situations. Our body is sometimes weak. Learning Gong Fu is a way to train our minds to tell our body what to do and when to stop. I learnt jianchi 坚持 – it doesn’t matter if we fail or succeed, it is more important to go on. Our body and mind each have their own language and we are able to control our body with our mind. If there is a strong mind and a clear heart, there is a strong body. Many diseases are based on an imbalance of our body and our mind. If we stay focused in the moment, we can prevent illnesses and have a happier life! Gong Fu is a way to choose health and happiness in your life.
After Henan, Tim moved to Yangshuo, Guangxi province to continue with taiji quan classes. There he met a woman who was offering taiji sword lessons and became her student, learning taiji next to the Li river. She taught him many things like Chinese cooking and the art of bartering. He felt happiness getting to know a culture which he had always wanted to learn more about.
During his travels in 2004, he really enjoyed Hangzhou. Growing up in Hamburg, he was a part of nature. In Hangzhou, he found he could still have that in the beautiful mountains and bamboo forests surrounding the city. From the beginning of his martial arts career, he often came into contact with Chinese medicine. In 2005, he decided to start studying it. In ancient times, masters of Gong Fu were often also doctors of Chinese medicine – it was a natural progression. Zhejiang Chinese Medical University offered him a place.
We hear a lot about the pressure of education in China, did you feel a lot?
The Chinese education system can be very challenging for foreigners. First to master the language and then to get used to the way of teaching. Asking questions doesn’t have much space in classroom; it’s very different to the west. Chinese students are not used to communicating with their teachers, only listening to gain information. This caused a lot of pressure while studying. Preparing for a test required memorizing and repeating facts instead of putting the theory into our own words like back home. Every culture has its own specialties, especially when it comes to education. Now, I often meet young people in the clinic telling me about their life and study and that it made them sick. Young students are often overwhelmed with pressure. I start telling them my story, hoping to inspire them to find their own way to learn.
You’ve founded your own company, how has that been? Do you have good support?
I founded Wushan TCM, a Chinese medical network, with the goal to connect the east with the west and to offer Chinese medicine education to students and current practitioners. There are live webinars and recorded online courses about the theory and practice. I also arrange local treatments for foreigners with Chinese medicine and take care of the language translations and clinical arrangements. I work in cooperation with Chinese medical doctors whom I’ve met during my studies and practice over the past twelve years. I want to help people to come to China and to gain their individual experiences.
You’ve studied tai chi, TCM and lots of other ways of healing. What would you say is the best medicine?
In our modern times a practitioner has to have knowledge from both western and Chinese medicine to offer the patients the most accurate and suitable diagnosis and treatment. Even though western and Chinese medicine are very different from each other, they can be combined in many different ways. While western medicine is treating the illness, Chinese medicine is treating the symptoms of the patient and finding the source. An example of how they work in harmony would involve undergoing surgery for an external injury (western) followed by Chinese medicine to strengthen the patient help to recover in a more comprehensive way. Both medicines have their limitations and their benefits.
I won’t say that TCM is the best medicine. I believe Chinese medicine can help a lot of people, where western medicine cannot. Above all, the best medicine is when people take better care of themselves and gain more understanding of how we can keep healthy and prevent illness. It’s about our lifestyle, our emotions, our living and working environment, our family situation, our nutrition and so much more. I want people to gain more sensibility about their lives and what makes us ill.
What plans do you have for the future?
I would like to combine my life in China with the life in the west. At the moment, I am preparing the German natural license test to be allowed to work and to treat in Germany with Chinese medicine. In the future I want to offer more lectures, seminars and tours in Hangzhou and to give more students the great opportunity to learn from professional doctors. More and more foreigners are interested in coming to China to study TCM. I want to help them however I can. The world will become more connected. Let’s become a part of it!
Tim Vukan has been studying and practicing Chinese medicine for more than ten years at the Zhejiang Chinese Medical University in Hangzhou. He founded Wushan TCM in 2008 to connect Chinese medicine practitioners and students by offering Chinese medicine online courses and training tours to enable an authentic education in the theory and clinical field of Chinese health cultivation methods. To learn more, visit the website at www.wushantcm.com.
I first visited Georgetown, the capital city of Penang Island, Malaysia, in 2008. This was just before Georgetown gained Unesco World Heritage designation. I vividly recall the beauty of the decaying historical buildings dating back to the late 18th century British colonial rule. The multi-coloured shop houses with peeling paint stood stoically, telling countless stories of the centuries gone by.
In 1786, Britain established Georgetown to rival the Dutch trading port Malacca in a bid to gain control of the important trade routethrough the Straits of Malacca which connected Europe, the Middle East and India to the west with China, Southeast Asia and Japan to the east.Georgetown began attracting Chinese, Indian and Malaysian merchants and settlers. Each group broughtalong their language, food and religion making Georgetown a very special mix of cultures living together in harmony.
Georgetown’s Unesco World Heritage zone is a compact, easily manageable area that you can walk around in two to three hours. Start at the grand KapitanKeling mosque, built in 1801 by Indian Muslim settlers with its Mughal-style domes and Indian-Islamic minaret, from where the call to prayer can be heard five times a day.
Then wander around Little India with Bollywood music blaring from shops and colorful silk saris on display. Tantalizing skewers of tandoori meattempt you to stop and nibblewhile tables piled with samosas and Indian sweets are hard to resist.Then further to the north, near the coastline are the British colonial buildings that now house banks, western bars and restaurants.
Turn a corner and head towards the Chinese area with colourfulclan houses, temples and shops. Bustling hawker stalls line the streets, selling Penang’s famous street foods like CharKwayTeow, Chee Cheong Fun and HokkienMee. The Chinese community has roots from Hokkien, Cantonese and Hakka and they here are a linguistically talented bunch who easily switch between conversations in Cantonese, Mandarin, their own Chinese dialects, English and Malay.
By the time I visited in 2008, much of the historic area had fallen into disrepair. Then came the Unesco World Heritage designation breathingrenewed life to Georgetown and historic buildings were restored and converted into cafes and boutique hotels. Previously, Georgetown mainly offered budget guesthouses and one very top end hotel. Now, there’s a growing range of boutique heritage hotels for visitors to choose from.
Campbell House was one of the first boutique hotels to open in Georgetown, and work on converting the building into a hotel began even before the Unesco World Heritage listing was announced. The owners, wife and husband team Nardya Wray and Robert Dreon, both saw the potential in Georgetown and had faith in its future. Nardya has a personal history with Penang, having been born in Malaysia before moving to UK andthen often returning to Penang to visit family.
Robert and Nardya bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience, both coming from successful careers in London’s luxury hospitality industry.The couple embarked on restoring the hundred-year-old corner shophouse, completely gutting the building down to the original beams and structure.Working tirelessly over three years, they lovingly restored the building and filled their dream hotel with antique furniture sourced from around the region.
Campbell House offers eleven suites, each with an individual character representing a different element of colonial Malaysia, such as the Colonial Room with a four poster bed or the Sari Room graced with a headboard made from sari silk.
The rooms are luxuriously appointed and feature modern fixtures and technologies like flat screen TV’s, Nespresso machines, chilly central air-con, rain head showersand newplumbing. You may be staying in a heritage hotel with antique furniture, but you will not lackfor any modern comforts.
Campbell House is located on Campbell Street, right in the heart of Georgetown and makes a great base for exploring the city. The next street over is LebuhChulia, one of the main roads of Georgetown, where you’ll find many bars and street food.
Leaving behind the chaotic colourfulstreetlife and stepping into the peaceful tranquility of Campbell House, the first thing you will notice is the lovely lemongrass scent. Then the friendly receptionist will get you checked-in and pull out a map to show you where to find the best food and attractions.
Respecting the original architecture, there are no elevators in this three story house, but the hotel staff will use a clever pulley system to get your luggage to the top floor. Smoking is not permitted indoors, but you can do so on the rooftop terrace.
As is the tradition in Malaysian houses, guests have to leave their shoes in the public area before proceeding upstairs to the rooms. This ensures that the living areas are immaculately clean and you get the warm feeling that you are an honoured guest in a private house. Each guest receives personalized attention and you can even make special requests for breakfast to suit your dietary needs. The library invites guests to lounge and chat with each other and we had many lively conversations with our fellow travelers there.
Rooms are cleaned twice a day, and atnight they will leave iced tea and some sweet treats in the fridge. The soft and fluffy king-sized feather-topped bed is so comfortable, there seems to be a magic spell around it because as soon as you lay down you almost immediately fall asleep.
Breakfastis served in their Italian restaurant from 8am-12pm, so guests can leisurely sleep in or go out for an early morning walk before temperatures get too hot and still have ample time to return and enjoy breakfast.The breakfast spread includes a basket of freshly baked bread, a selection of housemade jams like coconut, orange marmalade and pineapple, a large platter of fresh fruit and a choice of entrée such as Eggs Benedict or Welsh Rarebit.
Their Italian Restaurant, Il Bacaro, draws on Robert’s Italian roots and offers an alternative to local cuisine. As much as I love curries and fried noodles, sometimes you just crave a fine Italian meal. It’s become a trendy dining destination for travelers and locals alike.
Georgetown is a city you can come back to again and again and never grow tired of.The Unesco World Heritage designation came just in time to save many heritage buildings from demolition. Though developmentis bringing about changes, its soul and authenticity still remains, just a scratch beneath the surface. The introduction of a heritage hotel like Campbell House means you can now visit Georgetown and stay in style and comfort.
Campbell House is a World Luxury Hotel Award winner and is ranked #1 on TripAdvisor for B&Bs in Georgetown. Rooms range from 600-800RMB per night.Air Asia flies from Hangzhou to Penang, transferring in Kuala Lumpur.
The Hyatt Regency welcomes Raul Avendano, a 31-year-old chef from Chile, to “spice up” their restaurant and buffet. This South American hottie creates a flavor so refreshing it will whip your taste buds into shape and wake you up from a world of slumber. This talented chef started his career in the hotel business studying administration, but after one year he decided it wasn’t for him. He changed majors to be in the kitchen and everything fell into place.
“When I put on my uniform and take my knife, I feel different. I get this intense feeling, just taking the raw ingredients and transforming them to something incredible.”
Raul has been cooking in top hotels all over the world. After four years traveling in Mexico, he moved on to Macau to open a new branch of the Banyan Tree. He was also the chef in the pre-openings of Dubai’s exclusive beachfront bar and restaurant Zero Gravity and the Grand Hyatt Casino Hotel in the Bahamas.
His Mexican Flautas are a good place to start if you are unfamiliar with Latin cuisine. Succulent chicken breast cooked in a tomato base and wrapped in a crispy flour tortilla, topped with sour cream and fresh salad. Next, we tried the Pork Loin Roulade with onions, garlic, dried cranberries, nuts and apple sauce, pan seared and finished to perfection in the oven. This was served with roasted potatoes and a chorizo-like sausage. If that wasn’t tantalizing enough, the final surprise was the Green Lamb Chops marinated with lemon and served on a bed of creamy quinoa risotto that really got our tongues tingling! We managed to have a chat and find out ‘more’ about the man himself for all you readers of MORE Hangzhou.
So Raul, you have quite the resume! Can you tell us which of your experiences have been the most rewarding so far?
A great place for me to work was Dubai. It was challenging at first because of the religion and restrictions. In Chile, we like to cook with red wine and experiment with new ingredients and spices, but there I could not use alcohol or pork. But, the supply of fresh meats, vegetables and spices was endless and we had good contacts with the suppliers. In the end, I really honed in on other techniques and flavors. It was a memorable time.
We all know how difficult it is to get certain ingredients here. Why did you choose China?
The fascination came from when I was a kid, you know. Growing up, I loved the Chinese movies with Jackie Chan, and I was amazed by the different culture and, of course, the food! Then I worked Macau and I learnt so much! I thought “I’m here! I’ve done it.” China is a place that people from the west think they know until they arrive here and it all opens up. It’s a whole new world. After I left Macau and went back to South America, I thought… “Something is missing in this kitchen… the woks!” Working on a line with these tools and producing a different taste was incredible, and I am happy to be back working with a talented group of individuals.
What’s the greatest difficulty you have here?
It has to be the language. I’m learning slowly but it will take time. I always say “I have no problems, just challenges,” and because I have no problems, I have more time to find solutions. I love working in this team. To these chefs, it isn’t just a job, it’s their passion and that’s what make this food very special.
Where did your motivation come from? Did your mum cook at home?
Oh no, my love for cooking comes from my Dad’s side of the family. My aunt and my Grandmother, they have good taste. My teachers too, they really inspired me to do more. I hope the people in Hangzhou can be open to try new flavours and enjoy eating my food as much as I enjoy creating it.
If you would like to join the taste fiesta, then head down to the Hyatt Regency hotel for their Latin Festival which lasts until April 10th. The buffet, which includes the dishes we tried, will run you 348RMB from Sunday to Thursday and from Friday to Saturday 368RMB (both prices have a 15% service charge).
Raul is in the process of creating a whole new a la carte menu that will be available after the festival with other dishes of Latin taste to tease you too! For more information on this, go ahead and contact the hotel or pop by for a sneaky peak at Raul himself hard at work in Café at the Hyatt. Buen Provecho!
To be honest, this is not exactly how I saw my Saturday morning going. After a good deal of persuasion, I had given in and decided to come to CrossFit Qiantang to see what all the fuss was about. Standing in a room full of about twenty-five athletic-looking sorts limbering up, little did I know that I was about to experience what would be one of the more intense twenty minutes worth of exercise I had done in my life.
In the car on the way to the gym, after having signed up for the class, we found out what the WOD (workout of the day) was. That day it would begin with 150 Burpees, a movement which involves going from standing to lying, to standing and a jump to finish. Then, 100 Wall Balls, requiring you to throw a medicine ball to above a line high on the wall. These two exercises were to be completed as a team, shared and in rotation. The final part, 5x200 meters, would be an individual effort.
After stretching and warming up, we were put into teams of three, our team name placed on the board, thereby riling up the competitive spirit in each and every athlete present. As the countdown began from ten, the crowd erupted, and as the music got louder, the tempo in the room sky-rocketed and the anticipation became unbearable.
Then, the room exploded as the battle for supremacy began, each team pitted off against each other in an effort to achieve the best time. During the next twenty minutes, I found strength in me that I didn’t know existed as my team and trainers (and even the opposition!?) spurred me on to reach the finish line in as fast a time as possible.
So this was my experience of CrossFit, a way of working out that has taken countless countries by storm and is now rapidly spreading through the mainland of China. For a better explanation of what CrossFit actually is, I spoke with the founder of CrossFit Qiantang, The General. Summing up my experience perfectly he told me, “It’s all about stepping out of your comfort zone. CrossFit is fun, but at the same time it can be brutal because it pushes you to your limits. The purpose of CrossFit is to train at your threshold area, which means you need to push your margin out.”
What is CrossFit?
CrossFit has three core fundamentals: constant variation, functional movement and high intensity. The first, constant variation, aims to improve your overall fitness, offering new and completely different workouts each time, using muscles you never knew you had, in contrast to a more focused improvement that some sports or traditional gym training offer: “We want every single one of our athletes to have a great general, broad fitness, which means they are prepared for the unknown,” said The General. In addition, you only find out the WOD after having booked the class, so if it’s something you don’t like, there’s no backing out: “You have no idea what you are going to be doing that day, just like real life. Life is unpredictable... CrossFit is the same thing.”
Functional movement involves using non-artificial movement – many gym machines promote a movement that is not entirely natural, whereas functional movements are more daily-life based and can therefore be used more in everyday situations.
High intensity is fairly self-explanatory, the benefit being you can put in less time but get more benefit. Rather than spending countless hours on a treadmill, CrossFit can condense this into around fifteen or twenty minutes of actual workout time (not including warming up or down), and yet offers results to match and even surpass longer, less intense workouts.
Why do CrossFit?
Aside from obvious health benefits, the most valuable thing CrossFit can offer is community. Looking lost on my first time in the gym, I was warmly received by trainers and members alike, as they approached me to introduce themselves and confess their great love for CF. Jenny had been CF-ing for around six months and was quick to praise the social aspect CF offers. She’d been working out in traditional gyms for years, rarely meeting anyone new: “I would be next to a guy on a treadmill every week for five or six years and have no idea about his name or who he was. Coming to CrossFit, there is a real feeling of community; everyone is very friendly and a strong bond is formed.”
This bond can only serve to improve your workout input as when you are making that final push, those around you shouting your name are sources of admiration and inspiration, team members who want nothing more than to see you do that extra rep, sprint that last 100 meters. They expect nothing less than 100%, and that is exactly what you should give them.
Furthermore, CrossFit supports and encourages its members to leave their comfort zone behind and do things they never thought they were capable of. The General explained, “The vast majority of people in this world only want to do the things they can do well… we like to give you something that you’re not good at… just use four or five hours a week to do this and your life will change completely.” So rather than doing something which comes easily to you, something you’re used to and can handle with relative ease, why not improve yourself by doing something you’re terrible at. Makes sense, right?
Some go to church, others go to CrossFit
For most, CF is more than just a workout. It’s way of life, a way of thinking that seems to make people want more from themselves. For one member, Adriana, CF was the missing piece of the puzzle, and after discovering it, her life came together, leading her to quit her job and become a shareholder in the company. Like many of the members here, you too may find yourself starting a new chapter of your life. Discover a new you, meet new friends. There’s really no excuse, so go on down and meet the CrossFit Qiantang family.
Give it a shot
For those of you thinking of joining, the first step is to sign up for one of their trial classes, either on Saturdays at 10am or Wednesdays at 8pm. The Saturday morning class will include members, so you’ll have a chance to meet the whole gang, something I strongly recommend, whereas the Wednesday evening class will include prospective members only. Also, many different membership schemes are available depending on your availability, ranging from a one-off drop in fee to a five-times-weekly membership.
Etienne Jeanne, guitarist with gypsy jazz band Three of a Kind, has been living in China for almost ten years. His Russian bandmates are based in Paris which means he mostly gets to play with them when he returns to France in the summer. This year however they are recording a new project in April and are hoping to embark on a world tour next year. I asked Etienne some questions about the band and the musical genre of gypsy jazz.
How did you meet your bandmates?
The three of us met in Paris in 2002. I had just moved to Paris when I was 18 in order to start my career as a professional musician, and met Aliocha and Vladi separately while doing gigs in Paris. It was the beginning of the "gypsy jazz revival" at the time. They were performing in an old Russian cabaret every week. I went to jam with them and found we had a strong connection right away so we decided to form a band. We've remained friends ever since.
How do you define gypsy jazz?
Gypsy jazz is a musical genre developed by the late great Django Reinhardt and Stephane Grappelli in the late 30's, on the initiative of Hugues Panassié and Charles Delauney who wanted to build and promote a unique type of European jazz. That is why the Hot Club de France were the first "strings only" jazz quintet ever, innovating jazz music with a totally new sound never recorded before.
Is gypsy jazz the hardest genre to play on guitar?
It definitely requires strong guitar skills to play gypsy jazz, but not only that. A certain knowledge about jazz and gypsy culture in general, and an acuity for improvisation are also important.
Do you think there is a large audience for this type of music?
There is undoubtedly a large audience for gypsy jazz as this type of music is getting more and more popular. When I started to play this music, it was kind of a geek thing known principally in France and a few countries around (England, Germany, Holland, Italy), and now there is a Hot Club in every major city in the world, such as San Francisco, and even in Beijing! This style of music is pleasing to the ear, non-aggressive, and visually strong as you can see guitar players and violin players going crazy on their instruments! Plus it involves the guitar, which is the most popular instrument in the world, so people tend to identify themselves with it even more, especially metal guitar players.
What's the best thing about playing to a live audience?
Two things; the reward of an intense practice at home for years when people are clapping their hands, and the freedom to re-arrange our tunes, improvise, and make people surprised with a brand new show each time. To record is to leave a trace in time, to play live is to feel carefree again.
Where's your favourite place to play in Hangzhou?
I personally like to play in JZ Club because the venue is well adapted for live performances. There are many other places in Hangzhou offering the possibility to watch live bands, but not enough in my opinion. That is why I still need to work in Shanghai regularly since there are more opportunities. Fingers crossed about more musicians coming to Hangzhou in the next few years.
Has Chinese music had any influence on the music that you play?
Chinese music had an influence on the way I write originals indeed, we also cover a few songs from the early 30's Shanghai jazz repertoire.
Which bands are you following at the moment?
In the field of gypsy jazz, there are a lot of good musicians upcoming from all around the world although I think this type of music is precisely the legacy of Django Reinhardt, and hasn't really improved yet. People tend to copy the "authentic gypsy style" too much instead of working on their own interior music, which I think wouldn't have been the wish of the creators of this revolutionary musical genre.
If you would like to see Three of a Kind playing live, you can check them out at the venues below.
April 2nd @ ABC Café (Starts at 7:30pm)
1/F, Changjian Mansion, 415 Huanxing Rd, Binjiang, 滨江环兴路415号长建大厦1楼
April 8th @ Amigo (Starts at 9pm)
8 Yugu Rd, 玉古路8号
April 17th @ JZ Hangzhou (Starts at 9:30pm)
6 Liuying Rd (Nanshan Rd) , 柳营路6号（靠南山路）
April 22nd @ Reggae bar (Starts at 10:30pm)
131 Xueyuan Rd, 学院路131号
April 23rd @ Schänke (Starts at 9:30pm)
Room -3 and 2-2, Building 32, Qingchunfang, Qingchun Rd, 庆春路青春坊32幢1-3室和2-2室