No Sacrifice, No Victory: Building Chinese collective narratives

Whoever has won the US presidential elections, China is ready. The movie Sacrifice (金剛川 2020) tells us why.

by Wong Tsz (王子)

Background

The time was June 1953, the Korean War had been going on for three years, Chinese volunteers were still fighting tirelessly in a war they believed was necessary to defend their motherland. The mountains of Kumsong set the foreground of the last major battle of the war. In the valley of the mountains lies the Kumsong River (金剛川). Chinese engineers were ordered to build a bridge on the river to ensure the logistical support to the troops stationed in the mountain. The bridge was destroyed seven times by UN artillery and air raids and seven times it was rebuilt by brave Chinese volunteers. The movie Sacrifice – the original title of which is “Kumsong River” (金剛川) – narrates the perspectives of three soldiers at this scene.

The reasons behind China’s involvement in the Korean War were manifold: a communist alliance, the wider impact of Maoism, Chinese national security interests, economic incentives       from Soviet Russia to its eastern neighbors and the need to consolidate domestic political control in mainland China shortly after defeating the Nationalists. The official terminology in China for the Korean War is ‘抗美援朝’ – ’Resist US Aggression and Aid (North) Korea’-, a term that avoids explicitly mentioning of the term ‘war’: the Chinese were helping the Koreans while the Americans were the demon. This perspective would of course be interpreted very differently in South Korea and in the West. The Korean War was the first ‘hot’ war of the Cold War, and the distress of a communist expansion in East Asia was clear and imminent. For many years, this conflict  has been a very sensitive part of Chinese history – but things are changing.

Continue reading “No Sacrifice, No Victory: Building Chinese collective narratives”

Feature Interview①: Europhotonics, LeX Paradise, and EMA

The Euroculturer has invited Lex Tan Yih Liang, a student in the Erasmus Mundus Europhotonics Master’s programme to feature in this edition. Originally from Malaysia, Lex is an active member of the Erasmus Mundus Student and Alumni Association (EMA) as well as a founder of travel website ‘LeX Paradise’ since 2009, which is followed by over 3,000 people on Facebook. (http://www.facebook.com/LexParadise)

LeX Tan Yih Liang Profile
LeX Tan Yih Liang

1) Hello, Lex, nice to see you here. Could you briefly introduce yourself and your Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme, Europhotonics?

Sure, I am Lex from Malaysia, an ordinary guy that dreams big. I love technology, entrepreneurship, and traveling. I guess those interests lead me to this prestigious Master’s programme, which is the Erasmus Mundus Master’s program, Europhotonics. It is a Master’s program that focuses on ”light”, or “photon” as it is known scientifically. In the field of photonics there are endless areas to explore and develop. These include laser technology which is used in the medical field, but also in machinery; renewable energy such as solar energy, and wind energy; consumer devices such as lighting, smartphones, and screen panels; optical devices such as telescopes, microscopes, and cameras. I have to say it is a great Master’s programme and I am finishing it later this year 2013.

2) Why did you choose to come to Europe to study one of the Erasmus Mundus programmes? And after studying Europhotonics for over two years, what do you feel about the choice you made two years ago?

I choose this program because I have a strong interest in technology, especially in renewable energy and the IT sector. Secondly, the Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme is one you would not want to miss out on if you like to travel. Lastly, this Master’s programme also offers entrepreneurship training and courses in its curriculum. That’s why I am in this program right now.

What I feel about my decision to take part in this programme? Simply awesome! Totally! I made the right choice, no regrets!

Lex 2_LeX Paradise Banner
LeX Paradise Banner

3) Could you tell us about LeX Paradise? How did it all start?

I founded LeX Paradise back in 2009 when I was living  in South Korea. It was just a virtual space for me to write down my travel experiences in Korea. Four months into my stay there, Korea Tourism Organization (KTO) organised a contest for people that write about South Korea. I was really curious about the contest, and ended up joining.. I continued to write more about my travels and I was getting more familiar with Korea. At the end of the contest, I received an award as one of the top 30 travel bloggers. All of the winners were invited to a luxury trip around South Korea. I met many professional travel writers, youtubers, and entrepreneurs in the travel industry.  From that point on, I learned to improve as a travel writer, webmaster, and internet marketer.

Yes, that was how I started LeX Paradise!

4) There are many Erasmus Mundus students who wish to run their own travel website given that we travel a lot as part of the curriculum, but it is not easy to keep it running since we normally have very tight schedules. How do you juggle with your studies and your extra-curricular activities as a travel writer, especially considering LeX Paradise is getting bigger and bigger every day?

Really? I met some of them but not so many. Are you one of them? If anyone is interested to start one, let me know – we could discuss it. (You can contact Lex here).

You are quite right about the amount of work as Erasmus Mundus students have to complete. It is not easy to manage all the activities alone. For that reason, contributors play a big role of maintaining the website as well as ensuring that quality contents continue flowing into the website. So that’s mainly how I get by.

And finally, LeX Paradise is not as big as you think but yes, it is getting better.

5) Have you heard about the MA Euroculture programme before? What is the first impression you had upon hearing the name of the programme? Let’s put it another way: if you were to meet a MA Euroculture student for the first time, what kind of questions would you ask to keep the person interested?

I heard about it when I was at the EMA-General assembly. What came to my mind was a Master’s program that covers a wide range of European cultures, including politics, social issues, communities, and of course Culture.

As for the question, it would depend on where that student is from.

To a European student I would ask: “What has the main influence of European culture been over the past decades?”.

To a non-European student: “What is the main difference between European cultures and the culture of where you are from?”

Lex 1_EMA moment
EMA moment

6) You are an active member of the Erasmus Mundus Association (EMA). Could you briefly introduce your job as Promotion Team Coordinator in the EMA-Southeast Asian Chapter (EMA-SEA Chapter)?

As a Promotion Team Coordinator, I am responsible for promotion-related activities in the region, managing social media platforms, brainstorming on promotional events, providing latest Erasmus Mundus information to all the potential candidates as well as representing EMA-SEA Chapter for EMA events. Those are the main features of my job.

7) How did you get involved with the association, and what do you like most about the EMA?

At the beginning, I was a member of EMA, just like anyone else who registers once they start their Master’s program. From time to time, activities were organized online, and I got involved in some of them.

At one point, I thought I should get more involved in the association by contributing with my experiences but also to gain new skills and expertise. For that reason, I ran in the board member election of EMA-Southeast Asian Chapter and I was elected. So, that’s the actual starting point from which I became very involved in the association.

EMA provides a platform for students and alumni to explore endless opportunities including social networking, soft skills, professional development, mentoring, activist, community development and many more. It is a hub for all Erasmus Mundus Awardees to connect, share and make the world a better place.

This is what I really love about EMA.

8) What is the easiest way for other Erasmus Mundus students to be more active in the EMA?

Since EMA members are spread out all over the world, it is hard to get everyone together to tell them more about the association. One of the ways to contribute that I could suggest for other EMA member is to start with online virtual events. For example, participation in webinars, online professional speed dating, online conferencing, as well as in the discussion board. This is one of the best ways to start, and it is the way I started as well. Another way is to get to know EMA members locally and start organizing events and hangouts in your area.

Lex 3_LeX Paradise moment
LeX Paradise moment

9) One of the two themes of the 4th edition of The Euroculturer is “Welcome home”. Have you been back in Malaysia yet since you started MA Europhotonics, and if you have, how did it feel to be back? Do you think your experience as an Erasmus Mundus student in Europe drastically changed your perspectives toward your home country?

I haven’t been back to my home country yet, but I can imagine how I am going to feel about it. I think I am going to feel very glad to be back home again after such a great time in Europe, feel loved and cherished to meet all my loved ones, and feel a sense of responsibility by being part of a local and global community that strives to make the world a better place.

I think my experience as an Erasmus Mundus student in Europe changed my perspectives toward my country, especially those perspectives that could improve and develop my country, Malaysia!

10) Lastly, could you please tell us about your plans after graduating from the MA Europhotonics Programme? What kind of work do you want to do? Also, will you still be a travel writer then? 

After Europhotonics, I will definitely return to my home country for a while and will be back again in Europe to do a PhD or to launch a start-up. As usual, my work will be very technological.

Of course, once travel writer, forever travel writer. Once EMA member, forever EMA member!  

Thanks, Lex for sharing your story with The Euroculturer Magazine. We wish you all the best with everything you do, especially your studies, LeX Paradise, and your engagement with the EMA.

Interview by Eunjin Jeong, 2013-14 EMA Programme Representative of MA Euroculture.

Gangnam Style – Decoding Transculturalism in Pop Music

In this article, I wish to demonstrate a comprehensive overview of how “Gangnam Style” reflects certain phenomena of Transculturalism. One thing I find most intriguing in music is precisely the ‘invisibility’ which gives immense space of imagination. I do agree that with visual aids, certain messages can be notably transported to an individual audience, but it may also undermine the musicality.

© Marcus Yeung
© Marcus Yeung

Wong Tsz│wongtsz@gmail.com

The YouTube 2012 super-hit “Gangnam Style” brings new perspectives of how transculturalism can be interpreted in the context of the modern pop music industry. To understand transculturalism in music, one must first differentiate different models of musical exchange. Ethnomusicologist Krister Malm summarised musical exchange into four categories, which musicians could be directly engaged with[1]:

1. Cultural exchange: a phenomenon which allows newly emerging musical expressions during the process. This often occurs on a person-to-person level.

2. Cultural dominance: the process when a powerful society or group within a society imposes its values on another in a formally organised fashion.

3. Cultural imperialism: occurs as cultural dominance, often increased by the transfer of money and resources from the dominated to the dominating cultural group.

4. Transculturalism in music: a result of the growing transnational corporations and global marketing network in music industry. Transculturalism involves the merging of different elements from different kinds of music taking place in an industrial environment. Transcultural music is therefore an industrial product without roots in any specific ethnic group.

“Gangnam Style”, along with other pop music videos (MVs) available online, gives a valuable overview of the current development of the pop music industry in a transcultural context. What can we tell from “Gangnam Style” in the scope of Transculturalism in music? I note a few aspects which may serve as analytical perspectives:

1. Music for free. The conventional revenue of the music industry relies on music sales; the listening or viewing of MVs online at no cost, especially on YouTube, has proven that the phenomenon of sharing music through a mature social media worldwide has changed the shape of the music industry, where the music industry may eventually profit from the bottom-up popularity spread by individual internet users. (Further reading: Christopher Cayari, “The YouTube Effect: How YouTube Has Provided New Ways to Consume, Create, and Share Music”[2].)

2. Beyond Lyrics. With visual context, more than singing along, the audience may also ‘dance along’; the ‘horse dance’ for instance proves this by the immense quantity of “Gangnam Style” replicas on YouTube produced by individuals. The ‘horse dance’ may immediately correlate viewers into the context of “Gangnam Style”. Although dancing along with music in an unified gesture is not new in the history of pop music, (one obvious example would be the Village People’s “YMCA”)[3], the main difference I note here is that the ‘horse dance’ has no direct connotation to the lyrics but, on the contrary, it associates with other visual contents in the music video. One may find Roland Barthes’s Semiology theory useful in decoding the meanings of signs; ‘horse dance’ could be taken as once example. At the beginning of the MV (at 0:18), PSY walks into a stable full of horses and start waving his wrists in crossed arms, making a direct connotation to horse riding. (Further reading: Paulo Emanuel Novais Guimarães, “What did Barthes mean by ‘semiotics’? How useful is his account for social theory and for accounts of ideology?”[4].)

3. Three-minute music. The common ABA or ABACA[5] format of popular music can be well-observed in “Gangnam Style”. The 3:39 duration coincides with the common length of pop songs, or so called three-minute music. I note that the attention span of the audience is no longer limited to an audio media, but to a visual one as well. Academic research on the same issue has indicated the cause and effect relationship between the popularisation of pop music and its influence on teenagers’ attention spans, which is also around three minutes long[6].

4. Overcoming the language gap. “Gangnam Style” is composed mostly of Korean lyrics, with very little use of English. The role of the lyrics in the song is thus less prominent to the non-Korean audience yet, on the visual level, the body language (dance), together with the easy to remember melody, compensates the language gap. Similar examples of such a module, especially among non-English language pop songs which gained huge popularity worldwide, are:

  • “The Ketchup Song” (“Aserejé” in Spanish)[7], 3:29, ABA form, also with similar hand movements and key phrase “Aserejé, ja deje tejebe tude jebere…”
  •  “Dschinghis Khan”[8], 3:30, ABA form, similar hand movements (a different horse dance), and key phrases “Hu! Ha! Hu! Ha…” and “Dsching… Dsching… Dschinghis Khan! He, Reiter; ho, Leute; he, Reiter, immer weiter…”
  • “Macarena”[9], 3:50, ABA form, a repetitive set of body movements which coincides with the key phrase “Heeeeey Macarena!”

I identify here three key elements among the given examples which gained success worldwide: 1) easy to remember lyrics (key phrase) and melody, 2) simple and memorisable body language, 3) dance melody.

5. Gangnam Styles. Gangnam Style was quickly reinterpreted in many different languages and derivative works: from lip-dup to various translations and adaptations of the lyrics. Most videos are produced by ordinary internet users, although the quality of such videos varies, it is one noticeable trend that by re-creating and instantly sharing such derivative works, pop music videos no longer serve as a one-way communication channel in the context of social media: the involvement and reaction of audiences to certain MVs may give new perspectives of understanding the reception of pop culture in a wider scope. A pop song which gained success in one market could therefore be quickly transformed and gain success in others. German pop song “Dschinghis Khan”, for example, was translated into 10 different languages in Europe and Asia and gained worldwide success; which is more feasible when the copyright of a work is controlled by a big record company. (Further reading: Gill, Phillipa, Arlitt, Martin; Li, Zongpeng; Mahanti, Anirban, “YouTube Traffic Characterization: A View From the Edge”[10].)

6. Music as a product vs. The star as a product. When an artist (or the music industry) finds more profit and opportunities in commercial settings, one may also argue that the artist (the star) is also a commercial product or, at least, a representation of certain products/brands (such as Madonna’s Pepsi commercial in 1989[11]). This phenomenon is not entirely new in the pop music industry: long since Elvis Presley, record companies find it extremely profitable to cast singers in films, usually low-budget productions, and embed their music into the film[12]. How such representation could eventually effect music production itself is another topic worth exploring.

When we talk about transculturalism in music, it is always tempting for composers, musicians, and music producers to look for new elements in other cultures. The presence of transculturalism is particularly noticeable in visual media; when MVs are mostly available in pop music nowadays, the effect of transculturalism is more understandable than in music without visual elements. How and why certain visual images were adopted in the “Gangnam Style” MV is, however, a different issue; for example, why the ‘horse dance’? It might be something to do with the horse racing culture in the Gangnam area, one of the richest districts of Seoul where people can afford such an extravagant hobby, but it is highly doubtful how far such an embedded meaning could be decoded by an audience without any background knowledge of the particular culture. Perhaps this brings a call of more awareness of indigenous culture in music, especially in the dimension of social media.

Despite the limited textual and musical analysis in this article, as I mainly focused on Transculturalism, I wish to demonstrate a comprehensive overview of how “Gangnam Style” reflects certain phenomena. One thing I find most intriguing in music is precisely the ‘invisibility’ which gives immense space of imagination. I do agree that with visual aids, certain messages can be notably transported to an individual audience, but it may also undermine the musicality. From “Gangnam Style”, I find a lot of similarity when I compare it to some earlier examples of MVs. If one believes that music is the common language of mankind, in modern times where music is getting more and more ‘visual’ and less merely ‘audio’, more reproducible and sharable, I ask: are we closer to ‘music as a common language’, or is it actually ‘music videos as a common language’?


[1] Krister Malm, “Music on the Move: Traditions and Mass Media,” Ethnomusicology 37,3 (1993): 340-343.

[2]  Christopher Cayari, “The YouTube Effect: How YouTube Has Provided New Ways to Consume, Create, and Share Music”, International Journal of Education & the Arts, Volume 12 Number 6 (2011). http://www.ijea.org/v12n6/v12n6.pdf.

[3]  “Village People Set “YMCA” World Record at the Sun Bowl,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uAYHQWz3i7I.

[4]  Paulo Emanuel Novais Guimarães, “What did Barthes mean by ‘semiotics’? How useful is his account for social theory and for accounts of ideology?”, IDEATE: the Undergraduate Journal of Sociology, University of Essex 8 (2012): 1-7, available online: http://www.essex.ac.uk/sociology/documents/pdf/ug_journal/vol8/2012sc301_pauloguimar%C3%A3es.pdf.

[5] On different forms of music please refer to “Music Theory Blog”, available online: http://musictheoryblog.blogspot.de/2007/02/musical-form.html.

[6] Michael Z. Newman investigated the attention span of pop songs on teenagers in “New media, young audiences and discourses of attention: from Sesame Street to ‘snack culture'”, Media Culture Society  32 (2010): 581,  available online: http://mcs.sagepub.com/content/32/4/581.

[7] “Ketchup song original and full,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h5D5N8TgBFw.

[8]  “Eurovision 1979 Germany Dschinghis Khan Dschinghis Khan HQ SUBTITLED,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube,  http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eAEUrp2V4ss.

[9]  “Los Del Mar – Macarena (Live 40°),” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=41DyPamC1_M.

[10]  Gill, Phillipa, Arlitt, Martin; Li, Zongpeng; Mahanti, Anirban, “YouTube Traffic Characterization: A View From the Edge”, Technical Reports, HP Labs, HPL-2007-119 (2007), available online: http://www.hpl.hp.com/techreports/2007/HPL-2007-119.pdf.

[11]  “MADONNA – LIKE A PRAYER PEPSI COMMERCIAL,” [n.d.], video clip, YouTube, http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=h8qtsUaoVak.

[12]  Elvis Presley made 31 movies between 1956 to 1969, other notable singers in movie includes: The Beatles – ‘A Hard Day’s Night’ (1964), David Bowie – ‘The Man Who Fell to Earth’ (1976), Madonna – ‘Desperately Seeking Susan’ (1985), Deborah Harry – ‘Hairspray’ (1988), Whitney Houston – ‘Bodyguard’ (1992). All these films featured singers’ song(s), and eventually boosted the sale of records.

Wong Tsz new profile Wong Tsz, Contributing Writer

Wong Tsz, from Hong Kong, moved to Europe for MA Euroculture (2010-12) after obtaining his BA in Language and Translation. Currently, he’s a PhD student in Musicology under DFG Research Group ‘Expert Cultures from the 12th to the 16th Century’. Wong Tsz played in various orchestras in Hong Kong and in Europe, including the Hong Kong Youth Symphony Orchestra, Open University of Hong Kong Orchestra, Göttingen University Orchestra, Groningen Students’ Orchestra MIRA, and currently in Academic Orchestra Göttingen AOV. He’s not only keen on playing music but is actively engaged in academic research. His Master’s thesis gives an in-depth study of Gustav Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde under the scope of Orientalism theory by Edward Said. His current PhD project ‘Matteo Ricci in East West Music Exchange’ gives a detailed analysis to trace the early models of music exchange between China and Europe in 16th century.

Mr. Help – Being an Asian girl in Europe

Dear Mr. Help,

We are girls from South Korea, Mainland China and Hong Kong. We’ve encountered several problems while living in Europe as students of MA Euroculture and need your help.

1. Just call my name, correctlySouth Korea (Eunjin Jeong, Euroculture 2011-13)

Mr Help Eunjin
If only I could be called correctly…

Hello, Mr. Help. My name is Eunjin. I have a problem with people not knowing how to say my name correctly. I’ve tried many things and even told them to call me “Engine”. But how long do I have to be the compartment of a car? I do not want to use an English name like some do because I want to keep my Korean identity intact. It was okay until I went to Sweden for my third semester of MA Euroculture. Then, disaster began. They started to call me “Eunyin” and, very painfully, I’ve received several emails with the title “Mr. Jeong”. Should I give up being called correctly in Europe?

2. Could we have a heart to hear talk? – Mainland China (Lili Jiang, Euroculture visiting student from Sichuan University, 2011-12)

Mr.Help Lili 2
If only we could be all cool…

Hello, Mr. Help. My name is Lili. My problem is different – it’s about the social life of my Chinese friends. I have the feeling that most of my Asian friends don’t like hanging out with European students, as they are afraid of the cultural differences. China is no different in this matter. Every time I invite my Chinese friends to a party, they always ask me if there will be other Chinese friends or Asian friends. But, on the other hand, I know that they are also looking forward to making new friends, getting to know different cultures and fitting in to the university. They once told me that their language skills are sufficient for communicating with European friends, but it’s just very hard to advance to heart to heart talks after small talk. I think it’s a big loss for both sides. What could be the solution to really help my Chinese friends to overcome this?

3. It was just noodles!!! – Hong Kong (Au Yeung Shek Ling Hilary, Euroculture 2010-12)

Mr Help Hilary 2
If only I could cook freely…

Hello, Mr. Help. My name is Hilary. I also have a problem. When I tried the WG or flat share culture in Europe, I was nervous at first but enjoyed it very much later: my flat mates taught me how to live in the local way which was great. But nothing is perfect. Well, as a home food lover, yes, I cooked food from Hong Kong for myself and my friends very often. But is it really necessary to give me negative looks when I cook food from my home? I know that European and Asian eating habits are very different but I had eaten lots of European specialties during my stay in Europe: venison, escargot, lapin, etc. If I love European food or not is not important: that I tried them is important. (Actually, I love them, especially escargot!) It really upsets me when my flat mates make disgusted faces and criticise my food without even trying a bite. IT WAS JUST NOODLES!! What can I do about this?

We look forward to hearing from you.

Desperate Eunjin, Lili, and Hilary.

Dear Desperate Eunjin, Lili, and Hilary,

mr helpHi, Eunjin. I really understand your problem. For Europeans it is difficult to pronounce your name correctly. Even if we try, it probably doesn’t sound correct to your ears. I suggest you choose a nickname for your time in Europe. It should be a nickname which fits your personality and feels like it belongs to you. Your problem with being mistaken for a male is quite easy to solve. I would suggest putting an e-mail signature beneath your e-mails in which you call yourself Ms. Jeong.

And Lili, I know exactly what you mean. I often had the same experience when walking around campus, meeting Asians or being in Asia as a European. I think there are several reasons for this. One reason might be that the party habits of Europeans and Asians are quite different. As I noticed, Asian parties generally start earlier and the biggest part is eating. For us Europeans, it starts late and is mostly about drinking, which I think probably makes a lot of your friends quite uncomfortable if they are not used to it. Another reason might be that it takes a lot of courage to overcome the initial shyness of meeting somebody who might not understand everything you say. But I can assure you that it is that way for both sides. A possible solution for you might be to combine the Asian and European way of doing something together. You could organise a culture evening where you first start with an Asian meal and afterwards go out to a party. You should especially tell your friends that most European students would love to talk to an Asian person about a lot more than just superficial small talk. Maybe a good way to get in to a ‘deeper’ conversation is to ask a question about something in European culture that you don’t understand.

Finally, Hilary. I think it is the biggest plus of the WG culture to learn something new about whoever you live with. So maybe your flat mates didn’t understand that part about living together. Of course they don’t have to love everything you cook and, as a person who knows Asian food, I can even understand if they think it looks or smells strange, but I cannot understand why they wouldn’t want to at least try it. You could invite them to a dinner where you cook some Asian food? I know from experience that most Europeans love Kung bao ji ding (Kung Pao Chicken) and Asian noodles, but need somebody to tell them what it is and what kind of taste they should expect.

Mr. Help is from Germany.