Sunday, January 28, 2018

Pornography in the heart of Shanghai?

If I were to ask you what the three largest events held on this planet were, you’d probably guess the Olympics; probably even the World Cup too.

But how about World Fairs?
 
An Expo (for, of course, that is its proper name) is a global multifaceted event where extraordinary exhibitions, diplomatic encounters, business meetings, public debates and live shows take place at the same time – according to expomuseum.com, that is. And according to that same web site, “a typical day at Expo would be: navigating over the Arctic Ocean thanks to digital technologies (Russian pavilion, Expo Yeosu 2012), seeing a robot play the flute (Expo Aichi 2005) and engaging in a debate on energy efficiency in cities (Expo Astana 2017) during the day, and listening to a concert of Santana (Hanover 2000) or seeing a performance of the Cirque du Soleil (Zaragoza 2008) in the evening.”
 
So why am I blathering away about Expos? And what’s this reference to pornography (which, be honest, is the main reason you have decided to read this blog, isn’t it?) Read on…
 
Well, a newly-opened museum in Shanghai now offers visitors a glimpse into the history of the World Expo movement. It’s located, not surprisingly, in a 9,000-square-metre space on the redeveloped site of the Shanghai Expo 2010, and it’s billed as the world’s only museum dedicated to the history and culture of World Expo fairs.
 
It even has its own subway station (on Line 13).
 
 
Inside, eight exhibition halls display around 3,000 objects relating to expo fairs through the ages. Just inside the first hall is a timeline showing the plethora of world fairs since the middle of the 19th century. I had never realised just how many there were…
 
 
The very first world expo was held in London in 1851. I never thought I’d come all the way to China to learn about the Crystal Palace – designed by Joseph Paxton – and a technological innovation in itself. It took me right back to my BBC days when I produced and presented a series of programmes in the 1980s on Victorian Builders, with the second programme concentrating on the life and works of Paxton.
 
Planned like a great greenhouse, the Crystal Palace was built from iron and glass pieces which had been produced in Birmingham. It was 564 metres long and 39 metres high, and had been designed to be set up and dismantled with ease, a bit like a massive Meccano set. It was later relocated to Sydenham, where it was renamed the New Crystal Palace. (Unfortunately it was destroyed by fire in 1936.)
 
 
And here in Hall 1 is a massive (1:100 scale) model of the structure. What a way to start an exhibition on World Expos!
 
 
Since 1851, there have been many events held throughout the world which have been called "World Fair", "International Exposition", "Universal Exposition", "World Expo", or simply "Expo".
 
By the 1920s there were so many of these events that the Bureau International des Expositions (BIE) was formed to try and bring some kind of order to it all and to help control the quality and frequency of the events. With the exception of the 1964-5 New York World Fair, all of these events since World War II have been held under the auspices of the BIE.
 
But back to the 19th century. Of all the world’s cities, Paris can lay claim to being one of the most influential in the history of the world expo movement. It was the only city to hold six events in less than a century: 1855, 1867, 1878, 1889, 1900, and 1937. The transformations these brought to Paris included the construction of new bridges, avenues, and buildings that changed the face of Paris for ever.
 
 
Prior to the Great War, machines were given premium locations at all world expos. Machines, and the engines that powered them, were displayed in huge galleries. The 1851 Great Exhibition in London had a Hall of Machines; the 1855 Paris Expo also had one that was 1000 metres long; the hall built at the 1915 San Francisco Expo was so big that a small airplane was able to perform a flight in its interior!
 
This is a model showing what the Paris Expo Machines Hall would have looked like…
 
 
… which you can compare to the actual vista below…
 
 
Over in Austria, just 18 years later, the Vienna Exposition commemorated the 25th anniversary of the coronation of Franz Joseph 1. It displayed the industrial might of the Austro-Hungarian Empire as a strategic gateway connecting East and West. Expo 1873 was responsible for the renovation of Vienna with a rerouting of the Danube and the reconstruction of the Ring – the oldest part of the city. The Palace of Industry was topped by its rotunda, which was then the largest dome in the world. It had 16 galleries on each side, and its engine hall and hall of arts were the highlights of the expo.
 
 
This particular gallery in the museum has a number of models of the 19th century expos, all sitting against the backdrop of a spectacular video wall.
 
 
The next gallery features inventions of the time that were shown off in the numerous expos that took place in the latter half of the 19th century. The telephone, for instance…
 
 
But the garish plastic models that accompany this part of the display lower the tone considerably, making it all appear like some super-kindergarten playroom. Sad.
 
 
Throughout the museum is a collection of posters used for the majority of the expos throughout the ages. Here, for instance, is one for the 1902 Auto Expo in France.
 
 
But what is this? A poster in Amharic? Ah… no… it appears that someone has printed the Panama Pacific Expo of San Francisco poster the wrong way around. Awww… sweet!
 
 
If the earlier Expos from 1851 to the middle of the 20th century were strongly influenced by the Industrial Revolution, the two World Wars completely changed the idea of technology as a source of progress. Now the emphasis was on the promotion of human progress and international dialogue, with technology being used for human development.
 
The Expo 1958 in Brussels, for instance, was dedicated to "Progress and Mankind"; Expo 1962 Seattle was about "Man in the Space Age"; and Expo 1967 Montreal was dedicated to "Man and his world."
 
I well remember the Brussels “Atomium”, because at the ripe old age of 8, I was heavily into collecting postage stamps and I got a first-day-cover featuring the Atomium on a set of Belgian stamps for my collection. The Atomium is still standing in Brussels (one of the few things in that city worth going to see, IMHO).
 
 
Apart from the host countries using their expos to show off their best to the world, the number of participating countries increased year after year: 39 in Brussels, 62 in Montreal, 78 in Osaka, 109 in Seville 1992, 155 in Hannover 2000, and 193 in Shanghai 2010.
 
Since the Beijing Olympics of 2008, China has become very good at showcasing itself to the world; and the Shanghai Expo was no exception in this regard.
 
“Expo 2010 Shanghai,” we are told, “set a milestone in the history of World Expo with the widest participation. It marked a gorgeous chapter in the more than 160 year history of World Expo with a successful splendid event.”
 
So by the time we get to Hall 5, we’re ready for a “Panorama concept [of the Shanghai Expo] from the overview, bidding success, preparation work planning, and from the successful bidding of World Expo in 2002 to the closing on October 31 2010. It showcases the transformation of Expo Park in an area of 5.28 sq km from space.”
 
 
The mascots of Shanghai Expo are, naturally, on display, though I don’t remember ever having seen them before. )Obviously they are not as eye catching as the Beijing Olympic mascots from two years earlier.)
 
 
But mascots aside, the success of these events can often be measured by the number of visitors. 19 million people visited Hanover 2000, 22 million went to Aichi 2005 and Expo Shanghai 2010 broke the record with 73 million tickets sold, the blurb tells us smugly.
 
In fact, the 73.08m visitors equated to around 400,000 visitors per day, with all records being broken on October 16 when 1,032,800 visitors walked through the turnstiles.
 
That year also saw 246 participants, 56 visitor service centres, 11,500 metres of benches, 110,000 stools, 1,854 drinking taps, 11,000 toilet cubicles, 42,000 cooling spray nozzles, 30,000 dining seats; 250,000 portions of food served every day… the list just goes on and on. This is a good news story that the burgers of Shanghai are milking for all it is worth.
 
Apart from reading about how wonderful the planning was, and how the Chinese authorities got everything to be just perfect for such an event, we are also treated to a number of artefacts from both Shanghai, and other expos that have ended up in this museum.
 
From the Finland Pavilion in Shanghai, for instance, is this rather attractive National Day Porcelain Bird… (participating countries and international organisations selected a day as their ‘pavilion day’ to hold various activities for displaying their culture. They also sent gifts with their national characteristics to the sponsors).
 
 
… while I am rather taken with this Red Official Ware Pipa Bottle ‘Yunbaixhi’ donated by the China Pavilion at Expo 2015 in Milan…
 
 
The Papua New Guinea Pavilion, meanwhile, reflected their culture with this ‘human shaped sculpture’ made of wood and iron sheets that “reflects the lifestyle of people in Pacific island countries”. Looks to me as if these two characters have consumed far too much kava! Definitely a case of morning-after-the-night-before syndrome!
 
 
From Indonesia we are told that this "Percussion instrument comes from a Gamelan, which is the most representative music genre”. Actually the instrument is called an Angklung and its music has become the cultural identity of Sundanese communities in West Java and Banten.
 
 
According to Wikipedia, In Bali, an ensemble of Angklung is called Gamelan Angklung. While the ensemble gets its name from the bamboo shakers, most modern compositions for Gamelan Angklung do not use them. An ensemble of mostly bronze metallophones is used instead, generally with about 20 musicians.

But no matter. Next to the collection of Angklung is a Door God of Thailand's Temple of Reclining Buddha which stood at the gate of the Thailand Pavilion in Shanghai.
 
 
And now the bit you’ve all been searching for…
 
Here is what is described as Dabie Mountain Ruby Carving "Red Plum and Pornographic Fan"
 
 
I look closely, searching for anything remotely looking like naughty motifs… Nothing!
 
I half close my eyes and squint at it, wondering if the shape of the fan has some kind of sexual connotation. Nope. (But maybe I am too pure and innocent to know about such things.)
 
I look at the accompanying notice once again… Yes, it is quite clear in its description.
 
 
Finally I get out my google-translate app to find out what the Chinese says…
 
“Red plum Spring Palace Fan” it reads.
 
Nothing to do with pornography here.
 
It is only later that a Chinese friend of mine explains to me that the term Spring Palace has a double meaning… it appears it is a euphemism for pornography. The Expo Museum curators have obviously used Baidu Translate and not double checked on the result!
 
(Just think if Beijing’s Summer Palace had instead been called Spring Palace… we might all now regard Empress Dowager Cixi in a different light!)
 
We head towards the exit. But not before going through yet another hall where Beethoven’s 9th Symphony is blasting out against an impressive multi-coloured light column, surrounded by a look towards the future…
 
 
The next world's fair, Expo 2017 will be held in Astana, Kazakhstan, we are told. Hang on… isn’t that over now? Yes. It took place from June 10 to September 10, 2017. Ah well. Never mind.
 
Dubai will host Expo 2020, when it is expected to attract 25 million visitors in its 6-month run.
 
Three cities on three continents are bidding for the 2022-2023 slot: Buenos Aires, Argentina; Lodz, Poland; and Minneapolis, USA.
 
Four cities are bidding to host Expo 2025: Baku, Azerbaijan; Ekaterinburg, Russia; Osaka, Japan; and Paris, France.
 
And closer to home the 2019 Horticultural Expo will be held in Yanqing District in Beijing. It will be organised under the theme “Live Green, Live Better” (what marketing guy thinks up these silly titles?), and will be open between 29 April and 7 October 2019.
 
But if you are looking for pornography, I’d look elsewhere if I were you.

Friday, January 26, 2018

A Blaze of Glory - China's Fire Museum

Some people, it seems, can never be satisfied. Trolling through Trip Advisor I never cease to be amazed at some of the crass comments visitors come up with about the sights there are to see all over the world.

Take the China Fire Museum (also known as the Beijing Fire Fighting Museum), for instance. “An offbeat museum, but quite interesting” writes one visitor; while another opines “The museum itself is beyond boring… There is icecream and sodas available at the entrance.” (sic). For crying out loud, get a life!
 
For what it’s worth, my own opinion is that this is an excellent museum and well worth a visit, whether you are interested in fire fighting techniques or not. It goes out of its way to explain everything you ever wanted to know about the history of fighting fire in China's cities over the ages. (OK, so maybe you never wanted to know, but it’s good despite that.)
 
So let’s start at the beginning. Covering 9,500 square metres, it is the largest fire-themed museum and the only national-level fire industry museum in China. First opened in November 2011, there are now five halls spread over four floors, although when I was there, the lower ground floor (the fire experience and calamity prevention hall) was roped off. This, it appears from reading other Trip Advisor comments, to be the norm – so I never did get to see the “3D video regarding the origins of fire and its raw, unpredictable power”.
 
 
The online blurb tells you that there is capacity for between 100 to 300 people – though apart from me there were only bored looking museum guards whiling away their time with their mobile phones. Maybe that’s why I wasn’t even asked to show any ID – something that all the web sites tell you is absolutely essential to be allowed in.

One’s first thought on entering the building is that they have far too much space to fill, which explains the large open areas…
 
 
But maybe that’s not quite fair. On the ground floor, for instance, is a collection of half a dozen or so fire-fighting pumps and ladders – such as this one, used from the 1930s to the 1950s. It has a wheel base of two metres, and the ladder extends to 16 metres, apparently.
 
 
The next hall on the ground floor has a large display of calligraphy. Not something you would necessarily associate with a fire museum…
 
 
… until you discover that these works of art were done by fire-fighters – so it’s a kind of tribute to them, I guess. Some are really rather nice, such as this one from the Lhasa detachment of the Tibet fire-fighting corps…
 
 
While these two fans from Yunnan feature yet more calligraphy.
 
 
Heading to the second floor (what we Brits refer to as the first floor) there’s a historical view of fire: its evolution and use from ancient times, before 2070BC. “Fire”, we are told, “pre-exists human beings. After the birth, human beings have an intimate relationship with fire. The ancients bid farewell to the savage and wild times when learn to use fire. The character of 灾 (disaster), with the shape of fire in residence, means the disaster is caused by firing human residence. In fact, fires burn all.” So profound!
 
There’s even an old stick with holes caused, we are led to believe, by people making fire by twirling smaller sticks into it. Plenty of illustrative posters, just in case you are too thick to take that on board, too.
 
 
Very soon we meet E Bo (also known as the Prometheus of the East), who was the son of Emperor Ku, He was appointed as fire official in charge of Mars sacrifices, local fire control work and preservation of fire for the use of the public. Apparently he invented the fire calendar (not that I have any idea what that might be) and built a high platform to observe the stars in order to predict the weather and harvests.
 
What I love about this museum are the snippets of gossip recorded for our edification and delight! For instance, “The story of E Bo stealing fire is shared widely by local people telling that E Bo stole fire to demote to earth from the heaven and built high platform to protect the fire alone but starved to death unfortunately when God send flood to extinguish the fire”.
 
 
Another thing this museum excels at is the amount of drawings, paintings, diagrams and photographs depicting the destructive power of fire. Take this oil painting, for example: In the 13th year of Jianan Period, Emperor Xiandi, (208AD) Cao Cao led his army southward by water and land. His army encountered with the union army led by Sun Quan and Liu Bei at Chibi (in what is now Hubei province). Sun Quan and Liu Bei set fire attack to Cao Cao's fleet and it took a great toll on Cao's army. Cao lost this war and had to retreat and escape by Huarong Road.
 
 
Similarly, in the 4th year of Yixi Period of Emperor Andi's reign, Eastern Jin (408AD), Tao Yuanming (365-427AD) wrote a poem narrating a fire set on his house.
 
 
And according to the ‘Old Tang History, Annals on the Five Elements’, on the evening of December 25th 1764, a fire accident occurred in Ezhou (in what is now Hubei Province) in which 3000 boats were burnt and 2000 houses along the bank were destroyed by the fire. More than 4000 people died in the disaster.
 
 
It’s not hard to see why successive emperors took fire control so seriously. In the Song Dynasty, for instance, people who wanted to use fire at night time had to get prior approval from the fire chief in advance.
 
In 1015AD Emperor Zhenzong forbade any kindling to be kept in the palace, treasury, warehouse and grasslands in the capital. Anybody who kept kindling without permission which led to an outbreak of fire would be beheaded.
 
I’m particularly intrigued to learn that People who were off shift would also be inflicted with punitive punishment. (as opposed to those on shift whose punishment would not be punitive, one has to ask? Hmmm…)
 
In 1133, Emperor Gaozong issued orders that fire protection lanes were required to be built between residence areas, one lane every 50 houses. Each lane needed to be 10 metres wide. Grass roof houses were also to be replaced with terracotta tiles. Seven years later, Gaozong again issued orders following an outbreak of fire in a warehouse. This time he gave everyone just five days to remove all grass roofs.
 
Over at the Forbidden City things were well organised. There was a complete canal system with a moat surrounding it and Taipin Jars were placed in the more remote areas in case of fire. In addition, strict fireproof spacing was enforced and fireproof walls were also built.
 
 
Here’s a map showing the water system laid out in the Forbidden City.
 
 
There’s also a photo of the Capital Police Agency organising a fire fighting drill at the Forbidden City.
 
 
But despite their best efforts, accidents were bound to happen. The first train fire accident in Chinese history occurred on Feb 24th, 1889, when a train carrying kerosene was travelling from Tanggu to Tianin and collided with another train in the Xinhe section, causing the death of the driver and 20 passengers. Luckily an artist was on hand to quickly record the event…
 
 
Apart from glorifying fantastic blazes (and don’t we all love a good bonfire!), the China Fire Museum also glorifies the fire-fighters who took on the task of tackling the blazes. This is what a typical fireman might have looked like in the early years of the Shunzhi Period, when the Eight Banners Fire Fighting Organisation was set up.
 
 
In 1854 Britain, France and the USA established settlements in Shanghai. On July 20th1866, the No 1 Pump Fire Brigade was set up to become the first modern fire brigade in China.
 
 
During the Republic of China period (1912-1949) the western concept of fire control was widely learned and disseminated across China. Foreign equipment was imported and domestic protection industries began to flourish.
 
On display in the museum is also the ‘first combustion fire engine in China’.
 
(Irrespective of whether this is just a model, or the real thing, what intrigued me was the use of the words ‘combustion fire engine’, since what is fire if not combustion? But actually what they mean is that the engine driving the fire engine is an internal combustion engine. Isn’t English complicated!) This is a 1932 Cadilac engine which was modified into a fire engine. It made use of a Fiat high pressure centrifugal pump to produce the first powered fire engine in China.
 
 
As for the bits and pieces of the fireman’s standard toolkit, you can of course expect to see here loads of old style hydraulic pumps and hoses…
 
 
As well as firemen's protective suits – such as these from the early 1950s and from 1956.
 
 
And of course there are fire fighting and rescue outfits on display, such as these which include fireproof clothing, a diving suit, multi function, rescue clothing, chemical protection clothing, and so on.
 
 
And if fire fighting outfits are not your cup of tea, how about picture story books such as this one: Fire Control in Wartime, published in 1970?
 
 
Mind you, I love some of the old-style era posters such as this one: Poster Complying with Fire Control Regulations and Promoting Modernisation Drive, published by the Fire Department of Yunnan province in 1984
 
 
So, as I say, here’s everything you ever wanted to know about fire fighting and were afraid to ask. A ‘Museum beyond boring’? Give us a break, Mr Halfwit from Trip Advisor!
 
The China Fire Museum is at 70 Guang'anmen South Street, Xicheng District, Beijing. To get there, take subway line 10 to Jiaomen West, followed by a 474 bus (8 stops) or else take a 59 bus from Toaranting station on line 4 (6 stops) to DaGuanYuan GongJiaoChang Zhan.