This was an evening very much unlike any other. For a long time, I had my eyes on China Central Television’s Spring Festival Gala — itself often ridiculed. I wondered why eight emcees were needed — but loved it when in early 2011, a CRH high speed train model rolled into the studio.
I was totally unexpected for something like this to happen to me, for my remote control to be replaced by a microphone, and for me to be standing in the centre of the stage in front of thousands — instead of leaning back on the comfy chair.
This completely changed on Wednesday, 17 February 2016, in the city of Portsmouth, right on the southern coast of England. I was to emcee, along with another host (a lady), the Cultures of China, Festival of Spring Year of the Monkey gala to a massive audience in Portsmouth’s King Theatre. ▶
The average academic talk is where you’ve students all facing one way, staring at a speaker, and then trying to make sense of this. Then you realise that when I do seminars and events, I wanted to make it the exact way both the speaker and attendees want it. We decided shifting tables so that most of us ended up looking at one other — much like a semi-roundtable — would be the best idea. And that’s exactly how the classroom was arranged for the first China Media Centre seminar, which took place today.
Vincent Ni, who’s now with the BBC World Service, came today as speaker to deliver an extremely insightful talk — insightful as it was also thought-provoking and very much what you expected from a distinguished journalist with a lot of experience. He has covered the elections in Myanmar / Burma, the Arab Spring, and much more. He has also worked previously in China-based media, moving recently onwards to media based in the UK. ▶
My wife Tracy seems to have this urge to push me to challenge after challenge. Most academics default to being shy most of the time, which was why I thought my involvement in this 2nd Global China Dialogue would be, at first, a long ways off. In reality, though, it turned out to be anything but.
My roles were finalised merely days before the event started. I had confirmed roles of being both a Discussant, and a Speaker. I was supposed to offer my 2p regarding how others on the Civilised Dialogue – Transcultural and Comparative discussed the issues of the day, and give a presentation on Urbanisation and the Fabric of China’s Internet.
Spanning two full days, the event featured attendance of up to 70 people, and a great variety of noted speakers, commentators, and specialists from all walks of life. ▶
I’ve been in just around 250 cities in 24 countries and territories, so I am seeing more and more cities that look the same. And Milton Keynes, or MK for short, sure counts as one of the weirder cities I’ve been to.
For a start, it’s in essence Shangdi (in Beijing; just by Zhongguancun), but rotated about 40° or so; otherwise it’s not unlike newer parts of Zhongguancun and northern / northwestern Beijing (especially around the Xi’erqi area). There are huge avenues (not unlike China), but that’s it; otherwise, it’s all square / rectangular office buildings.
I think I summed it up pretty well on Facebook:
Britain-ise Zhongguancun and Shangdi, turn the thing 40 degrees around, wave a magic wand, and kaboom: you get Milton Keynes. ▶
What has happened on 13 November 2015 in Paris is certainly disconcerting. This is no way to enjoy the night late on Friday. Much as we are aware increasingly of the risk of attacks that “just happen” in the post-9/11 world, nobody expected things to — boom, just happen like that.
Obviously what happened in Paris is just dreadful — it is just so totally wrong when harmless, innocent lives are taken. The fact it happened just on the opposite side of the English Channel also meant it wasn’t too from home, here in London.
World reaction, though, was just one of outright sympathy. Every city that had a major landmark lit it to the colours of the French national flag. The countries closest to me did so as well. Just as of late, Bern donned its Federal Palace the French tricolour; the same happened in Shanghai with the Oriental Pearl Tower. The news from China, in particular, that they decided to join in this, was encouraging, because hitherto I had thought China to be rather ideologically removed from the rest of the world. But it is a positive sign that the country is being taken seriously as a key player on the world stage these days.
But what took my breath away was how this was done in London. ▶
Over two hundred people came as the event kicked off in the afternoon hours of 31 October 2015. Local and Chinese media covered the event, and we had speakers and key guests from the University of Westminster, Hebei enterprises (with some making a very long trip over to London from China), and others, including support from the Chinese Embassy in London. The ribbon cutting kicked the event off into gear, with speeches also made (as usual), but a lot of entertainment as well — including Peking Opera, Cheongsam, and solo guitar performances. Messages of congratulations from Hebei in China were also read — it was quite an important event, with 66 pictures of Hebei displayed throughout Fyvie Hall.
Most of us might be wondering why Hebei was “such a big deal”. Here’s why Hebei’s key: It is the “other host” to the 2022 Winter Olympics. Victory on 31 July 2015 has not meant that solely Beijing has nabbed the games whole. Events will be shared between Beijing and Hebei, with central Beijing and Yanqing hosting some events, then Zhangjiakou (specifically Chongli) hosting others. It’s probably not all too nice to win gold in China in 2022 — if you forgot which province you won it from! The other big reason why “Hebei must be it” is the creation of a new megalopolis that will dwarf Tokyo and Yokohama in comparison — Hebei is joining the larger Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei metropolitan region, which will see in the mix the Chinese capital, a central municipality, and dozens of major cities in Hebei. Already now, we’re unifying standards across three jurisdictions so that the greater Beijing-Tianjin-Hebei area is reality sooner. If you’re into major developments in North China, you cannot afford to “just ignore” Hebei.
It was a fantastic time entertaining visitors, and me and the other host pulled this off in both English and Chinese, often with one person alternating between these two languages on the fly (even if just for a bit). For once, it was quite an experience introducing senior academics I work with (instead of myself being introduced by the distinguished scholar, which happened more frequently my end!) onto the stage — there was a lot of mutual appreciation. ▶
The month of October 2015 has been increasingly busy for me — first was getting things right for the University of Westminster & SMG event on 21 October 2015, and today, it was all about getting as many people together as possible for the China Media Centre’s Fresher Party, which in spite of rather short notice, meant a crowd turned up — and it was a big one at that. We just about ran out of seating in one of the university’s larger classrooms!
There was obviously cake to go along, as well as a lot of drinks (I had spent the afternoon getting these back from the local Sainsbury’s along with other Centre staff members). Before this, though, both Centre director Prof de Burgh and I briefed all those here with what the Centre was up to. I also announced my role as the organiser of all academic seminars for the year 2015/2016, and that we’d be having people over to present still within this term. ▶
Being interviewed on the lawn at College Green in central London, right next to the Houses of Parliament, was and remained a very unique event to me. The BBC got together around six people from all walks of life — including lawyers, artists, academics, and independent journalists — and filled an entire hour of programming with discussions and debate, with the Chinese President in town.
The way we conducted the interview and the programming itself was, certainly to me, quite unlike any other. It was held in the open, right next to other “camera & mic” setups by other media outlets (such as TV stations). We had no cover, no cameras, three microphones (microphones only, since this was an audio-only show), and stood around in a circle. It was in fact none other than like a good old chat — except you handed over the mic to the person who wanted to speak. At the end, we tuned in live to the Chinese President’s address to the Houses of Parliament and gave our quick 2p on how the talk was. Consensus was we did in fact actually like it.
I myself believe that things like today’s live interview is a great way to share voices freely, a principle I stick to dearly. Everyone was given almost equal microphone access and on-air time, and every view was so different and unique. The discussion wrapped up by noting how down-to-earth the Chinese President’s comments were and how this was welcomed and made a difference. ▶
I’ve done the entire London Tube system before I tackled those in Beijing and Shanghai, and I’ve been in both cities in China longer than what some might call “healthy”. (For Beijing, that’s 14 years in one go; for Shanghai, these included two visits in just one month in July 2009.)
So when my wife thought it was high time to “guide Brits coming into China for the trains”, I thought that it was also high time to introduce Britons to the way the rails work in China. Apart from a full-fledged post on Tracking China, I also took the time to compare the Beijing and Shanghai equivalents of London’s Central, Metropolitan, Northern, Piccadilly, and Victoria lines — or what could be the closest equivalents.
And this is when I ask all Londoners, Beijingers, and Shanghai folks to chime in. Is what I am posting below absolute rubbish — or can you somehow relate to these?… ▶
I did something I haven’t been doing for a fair while today at 14:30: speaking in front of an audience of 100+ people. (Stage fright is a one-off thing, though; never mind my last speaking gig in front of close to 100+ was in spring 2014…)
My 30-minute “blah” was about a myriad of things — all related to media, journalism, and the like. Things such as framing the news, covert (and not so covert) agendas, and pigeon-holing people. Things such as really trying to make sense of anything from the refugee crisis in Europe to Corbyn leading Labour (what the media thought, and what the academics thought). Things such as how social media was such a big game-changer, and how the Chinese Great Firewall couldn’t 100% define what happened inside the People’s Republic. ▶