Chinese Millennials, Pompeiian Scrolls, and a Win for Religious Liberty in Iowa
Good morning, everyone. Let’s start things off with a bit of good news: “For the second time this year, an Iowa federal judge has ruled that the University of Iowa violated students’ First Amendment rights when various religious student groups lost their official status. And this time university administrators will be held financially liable for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship’s fight to stay on campus.”
Also: American scientists attempt to read Pompeiian scrolls with new technology: “The two unopened scrolls that will be probed belong to the Institut de France in Paris and are part of an astonishing collection of about 1,800 scrolls that was first discovered in 1752 during excavations of Herculaneum. Together they make up the only known intact library from antiquity, with the majority of the collection now preserved in a museum in Naples.”
Roger Scruton writes in praise of nooks and crannies: “The much-loved villages of Provence and the Italian Riviera provide few examples of formal perfection. But they abound in doorways, passages and cul-de-sacs; in secret stairs and alleyways. Their walls are punctuated with votive shrines and niches; their windows are encased by architraves and moldings, often squeezed into corners to reflect the winding corridors of the life within. Basements sink away into darkened cubby-holes, and here and there, between the houses, there are sheds and troughs that serve the needs of the invisible gnomes who haunt the place.”
Family bemoans fictional account of a relative who was sent to a Soviet gulag after surviving Auschwitz: “Morris’s global bestseller The Tattooist of Auschwitz is a novel based on the story of the Slovakian Jew Lale Sokolov, who told Morris how he fell in love with a woman he tattooed while he was in the concentration camp. That book has already drawn stinging condemnation from the Auschwitz Memorial, which said in a detailed report earlier this year that the book ‘contains numerous errors and information inconsistent with the facts, as well as exaggerations, misinterpretations and understatements’ . . . Now Morris’s sequel to The Tattooist of Auschwitz, Cilka’s Journey, has been denounced by George Kovach, stepson of Cecilia Kovachova, upon whose story the novel is based. The book claims to be both ‘based on the heartbreaking true story’ of Kovachova/Klein and ‘a work of fiction’. Kovach has described the portrait of his stepmother as ‘appalling and extremely hurtful’ in a letter from his lawyers to Morris’s American publishers. ‘It has nothing to do with the Cecilia that he knew, or her history as she recounted it to him,’ says the letter, which goes on to list ‘two of the most egregious … errors’ in the book: the ‘false’ and ‘patently absurd’ storyline that Cilka is ‘presented as being the mistress of not one but two high-ranking SS camp commanders’, and that Cilka ‘allegedly steals drugs from the Vorkuta camp hospital (supposedly to protect her reputation)’.”
Kyle Smith reviewsJoker: “More than any comic-book movie to date, Joker, directed with a fierce commitment by Todd Phillips, eschews entertainment and dares to repel a sizable proportion of the potential audience. With an awful foreboding, it drills into the psychic pain of Arthur Fleck — failed clown, failed standup comic, failed human. Joaquin Phoenix gives one of the creepiest performances ever put on film as Arthur, a product of the manifold breakdowns of 1970s New York City, here barely disguised as Gotham City. Phoenix’s rancid torment jangles the nerves and turns the stomach.”
Essay of the Day:
In The London Review of Books, Sheng Yun writes about Chinese millennials, who are not that different in some respects from their American counterparts:
“A typical Chinese millennial hipster will turn up to see you wearing a snug designer jacket, really saggy jeans or super-tight leggings, and white sneakers. They’ll be carrying an eco bag: not any old cotton tote, but one that’s trending on Instagram – the LRB tote perhaps. Baseball caps and dramatic eyewear are among the most popular accessories. Unlike the urban middle-class generation that came before them, Chinese millennials (roughly, those born between 1985 and 2000) aren’t particularly drawn to such luxury brands as Chanel, whose showy logo is considered too ‘mature’. And they’re reading Sally Rooney.
“Chinese millennials are a product of globalisation. Like their Western counterparts, they don’t much like traditional marriage arrangements. We have smartphones to keep us in touch with our friends, single millennials might say, unlimited games to play and movies to watch, dating apps for hooking up, an inexhaustible supply of porn for solo sex (it has been said that porn forums in China are the most harmonious spaces on the internet, with users thanking one another for sharing content), numerous apps for ordering cabs and housekeepers, restaurant delivery within thirty minutes, fresh grocery delivery within the hour, dogs and cats to channel the sporadic parenting instinct … What do we need marriage for? In 2018, the marriage rate in China dropped to a new low of 7.2 weddings per thousand people; before that the divorce rate had increased for 15 years straight, to 3.2 per thousand. Two of the most commonly cited causes of divorce are disagreements over the division of household chores, and parental meddling – parents of only children can be extremely protective.
“The most famous, or infamous, millennial in China is probably Wang Sicong, who was born in 1988, the only son of Wang Jianlin, owner of the Dalian Wanda real estate group and at one time the richest man in Asia with a net worth of more than £20 billion. With 45 million followers on Weibo, Wang Sicong is a social media celebrity. A photograph of him gulping down a hotdog became a viral meme last year, and he celebrated his e-sports team’s win in the 2018 League of Legends World Championship by funding an online lottery to award 113 people 10,000 RMB (£1130) each – 23 million netizens took part. Educated in England (Winchester and UCL), Wang Sicong’s style is in every way different from his father’s, which is quite low-key. Wang Jr enjoys conspicuous consumption, showing off his private jet, his fancy cars, his dozens of girlfriends (who, incidentally, all look the same) and numerous pets – his chinchilla is named Putin. However, there is one subject on which he does agree with his father: in China, there can be no real success outside the system.
“Most millennials are indifferent to politics. They grew up in the post-1989 world when China was at peace and enjoying double-digit economic growth. In China’s Millennials: The Want Generation (2015) Eric Fish asks: ‘Could the country’s youth ever spark mass Tiananmen-like demonstrations again? Could their growing list of struggles ever cause them seriously to rock the boat? As they come of age, will they steer China in the direction of serious democratic reform, or will they carry on in the Leninist tradition?’ I don’t think millennials have either the drive or the incentive to take action: unlike former generations, they haven’t been oppressed or wronged or mistreated. I have been interested to note the differing generational responses to Lou Ye’s movie Summer Palace (2006), about Beijing students’ experience of 1989 and its aftermath. My mentor cried when he saw it: he was a graduate student at the time and felt it was his story too. When I saw it, I ‘got it’, but I didn’t cry because I knew it wasn’t my story. When I asked the millennials in the office about it, they said the film didn’t make any sense to them at all – they knew something horrible had happened back then, but they couldn’t relate to it. People don’t identify as idealists or rebels any longer.
“In 2018, academics from Stanford and Peking Universities published a joint study titled The Impact of Media Censorship: Evidence from a Field Experiment in China. About 1800 students from two universities in Beijing took part in the experiment between 2015 and 2017. They were offered free software that would enable them to dodge the Great Firewall of China – which blocks almost all major Western news sites and social media outlets – and browse the internet without restrictions. There was some surprise when it turned out that even elite students in China had little interest in finding out what Westerners were thinking. Only 53 per cent of the participants had activated the software (even after repeated reminders), and about 14 per cent of the ones who had activated it uninstalled it shortly afterwards. Active users were browsing content which wasn’t political. Only when there were quizzes with small cash prizes did the students visit the New York Times site or other suggested sources. When the free trial finished, the average renewal rate was low, and the users who did renew were more likely to use the software for Google searches or to access social media and entertainment sites rather than sensitive news.”
Photo: A cloudy day on Mars
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