And every other province and land that had self-determination stolen.
- Scott Scummo Morrison winning an election Labour ‘couldn’t lose’
- Boris Johnson
- Waking up on January 1 as Australia burns
I wrote that this morning after I got up, haven woken twice in the night with that pit in the stomach inescapable dread I’ve had too often in the last ten years. Nothing on that list was a surprise. That doesn’t mean each of them aren’t individually and collectively an avoidable tragedy. It’s far from an exhaustive list as well. Indigenous deaths in custody, trans women being murdered and ‘bathroom bills’, ICE and detention camps everywhere, Muslims being targeted globally, who remembers Christchurch was only last March, on and on and on, all the things that gave me sleepless nights and left me grieving.
And waking up through this night, more of the same is coming: straight white people taking and taking, not giving a shit, destroying the world, and destroying anyone not like them. All that suffering we could have avoided. That’s our past and that’s our future.
It’s been twenty years.
I usually let this day pass, and have done consistently since 2008. I don’t go to any vigils, mourning happens every time I read of another death. Another murder. Over the years, the reasons have changed, but primarily TDOR is a day for my aunties, sisters, siblings and cousins and I don’t want to be around cis people or masc people performing mourning for what is overwhelmingly a list of people murdered for being feminine. Feminine and Black and brown and Indigenous and sex worker.
22 in the States. That we know of. 331 worldwide. Again, that we know of.
We know those numbers do not reflect reality, just like official numbers of how many of us there are. I was reading the report Being Transgender in Belgium yesterday, published in 2009 (and its followup published in 2018), which came up with figures of such rarity, the entire trans population in Belgium would almost be wiped out by those 331 murders. Which proposes two questions: If the incidence of trans people is so staggeringly low, 1 in 10 or 20 or 30,000, why is there so much attention on us from medical reports and legislation and experts having opinions over decades, and the vast corpus of published research, for a few hundred people out of eleven million? And why are cis people — mostly male, but let’s not forget feminist cis women and their history in this — so determined to not just murder us, but erase us from existence and memory?
I say, ‘us’, knowing there is legitimate disapproval and frustration especially from Black and Latina trans feminine people (21 of the 22 murdered in the US were Black) with white-presenting trans people claiming ‘us’, and I know how pale I am. I’ve been writing back into my history recently, spending a lot of time with those aunties and sisters in Aotearoa, back when we were called transsexuals, trannies, shemales, and the only job open to us was sex work. I remember them on K’ Road and Vivian Street, Māori, Pasifika, and a couple of Pakeha women. Women, not trans women or trans feminine or anything else, ’cos that’s what we were and that’s what we aspired to be, no matter how hard the path. I remember fists and guns and knives and iron bars, and the constant fear, or just being hit by the disgust or hate or ridicule. I was lucky. I got out. I have dance to thank for that. But there were a few occasions if things had gone slightly different, a cop car hadn’t cruised past at that moment (on more than one occasion, also ironic, no?), or friends in a car hadn’t, or something to interrupt what was about to happen, I wouldn’t have made it. So, ‘us’.
A difference in recent years is we’re no longer just being remembered and talked about on one day of the year for having gotten ourselves murdered. Every day I see my beautiful sisters and feminine siblings utterly shredding it, and truly, that it’s possible at this moment for them to live their lives so fully and openly and to be loved for all of their selves brings me much joy. And I want to remember my aunties and sisters from whom I learned to live my truth (as we say today), and who burn brighter for me the older I get. Some of them probably made it out, quite a few wouldn’t. The other violences were AIDS and drug addiction, and these ravaged us. Doing the remembering, then. Each one of these deaths hurt. All the deaths that shouldn’t have happened and lives unable to be lived hurt.
Like I said to the guy behind the counter at Rapha while we yarned about Taiwan, me with a way more alcoholic than I expected Weinschorle in me, buying the Women’s 100 jersey because it looked so good on the other riders, and I’m a sucker for certain intense colour combinations which make my eyes ping, “I feel kinda manipulated here.”
This morning, I discovered the quote in the zip pocket, which for some stupid reason touched me, even though I know fully well the “have it all, do it all, your only limit is your belief” thing is very much for and available to a certain, specific subset of people, while the rest of us have to navigate the intersections. Still, just as others have done the navigating before me, showing paths in the liminal spaces, so too do I do this with others in mind.
I also expect next year’s jersey to have 2019’s Transcontinental overall winner, Fiona Kolbinger’s dead brilliant quote in the pocket: “I could have slept less.”
“For a long time I failed to believe in my own capabilities but on a remote dirt road near the town of Krivača, close to the Bosnian border, I realised that there really was no distance I could not handle.”
— Emily Chappell
First placed woman, 2016 Transcontinental
Time taken: 13 days, 10 hours 28 minutes
Wednesday in Linz. I had to pick up some requirements for S.J Norman’s Rest Area and pick up Kali Rose from the train station, all the way from Amsterdam to be the person in the bed in the van of Rest Area. I had an hour to kill, and had planned Sunday for mediæval art (did not happen), so went to Ars Electronica.
I’m rethinking my museum-ing, or at least for the moment not taking hundreds of photos, editing and blogging scores. These are simply things I liked and felt motivated enough to photograph. There’s so much in the museum, and much of it is temporal, interactive, and 3-dimensional; photography doesn’t serve these well.
I sent “Your unreadable text message to +43 664 1788374” for Stefan Tiefengraber’s your unerasable text. My phone autocorrected. It was pushed to the shredder then sat there, unshredded. The pink of the Biolab was so, so, very hot, florescent, candy, neon pink, rendered as something less than all those and fuchsia by my camera. Markus Reibe’s Protected Areas 2 is the closest thing to recognisable, non-interactive, 2-dimensional art I saw, on a wall documenting the history of what was digital / new media / computer art, and what I just call art these days. The atrium of Ars Electronica was bus yellow and grey cement. If I had time, I would have spent hours here with hundreds of photos.
The Cultural Revolution: A People’s History, 1962–1976 is Frank Dikötter’s final book in the trilogy covering China and Chairman Mao from 1945 until his death in 1976. An earlier, much shorter work covering the Republican era makes it something of a quartet. I haven’t read his work prior to these four — he’s been publishing on China for 25 years, and has been Chair Professor of Humanities at University of Hong Kong since 2006. He’s one of a handful of China historians who I will always read and look forward to whatever they write next.
I started with him in 2010 with The Age of Openness: China Before Mao, followed that up a few months later with the first proper of the trilogy, Mao’s Great Famine: The History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958–62, then The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957 in 2013, and finally this. Unlike Mao’s Great Famine, or The Tragedy of Liberation, the Cultural Revolution has been covered by far more historians, and sits fresh in the memories of people in their forties. Writers like Liao Yiwu (The Corpse Walker, God Is Red, For a Song and a Hundred Songs) and others of the large crop of early-’00s writers covering Tiananmen Square and post-Tiananmen politics if not explicitly writing about this period nonetheless reference it. And if anything this is its weakness.
It’s difficult to say this work has a weakness, when I think the previous two are some of the finest and most meticulously researched in any of the subjects I read (I’m holding the likes or Caroline Walker Bynum and Susan Mann as my exemplars), it might simply be my familiarity with the subject, both from reading and from friends in China. For most readers, especially if they slam the trilogy one after the other it’s a horrifying, relentless work of history, and that has no peer I can think of for 20th century Maoist China.
One thing I am unsure about though, and I’ve found this in other writers on Mao (like Jung Chang) and on the other singular figures of 20th century despotism (like Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot) is the ease with which so much power and capability is assigned to them. What I remain unsure on in all my reading on China under Mao is the complicity of others. It’s that question, if he was indeed an individual in all this why didn’t they stop him? If not, why, during those three decades of his rule, did they not see the repeating patterns of behaviour and rule, and not make the same bad decisions over and over. Were they fucking stupid? It’s not that there’s an absence of resistance in this book, in fact there’s plenty of it once we get down to the regional and village levels, but perhaps what I’d like to read is a history of Mao’s China without him in it.
What The Cultural Revolution illustrates, in a way I think no other work on the subject has done so clearly, is that this period was essentially a continuation, or a reinvigoration of the Great Leap Forward. Certainly it was a total war against culture and history, and it demonstrates just how rapidly a culture can be erased (a couple of weeks if you’re curious as to how fast your world can vanish), but the preparations for nuclear war, the inland industrialisation, the return of collectivisation and all that went with this, were all methods of that genocidal period a decade earlier.
Maybe I throw around the term genocide too freely. It seems to me it’s not used enough. I think with Mao and his mob it rests on whether the deaths of tens of millions and the destruction of culture were intentional. Is ‘I don’t care how many die as long as I achieve my goals’ intentional, or merely indifference? What about engineering chaos for the same ends which as a side-effect result in what we currently call collateral damage? What about if you say, “It is better to let half of the people die so that the other half can eat their fill.” If that half die because you ‘let’ them, is that genocide, or something else? If we have to ascribe intentionality to genocide, then the most recognition of culpability we can expect from a perpetrator is “Oops, my bad.” Which is approximately as much as the current ruling party of China says — the same party of all these three books, ruling in unbroken succession. Or maybe, “30% my bad.” Because the final ruling by the party on itself for all these atrocities was “70% good, 30% bad.”
I would like to think that in the next decade or so Dikötter’s works become less remarkable as more historians write ever more fine and detailed works on 20th century China. I do think some of the criticisms of his work are valid, in particular that it’s “more like a catalogue of anecdotes about atrocities than a sustained analytic argument”. But against that is the fact there are sod all historians writing on 20th century China compared to say 20th century Germany or Russia. Guangdong history alone could and should occupy entire departments, yet here we are, still treating China as a monolith. Worth reading all three at once, not just for history, but as a lesson in how easily a dictatorship can grow and devour continents.
I am getting such a kick out of reading this. Definitely going to be on my Book of the Year list.
The Sea Is Ours: Tales from Steampunk Southeast Asia, edited by Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng was published last year, so it’s been on my Want List for, I dunno, pushing a year, I guess. And I have no idea where I heard about it. Not io9 with its monthly list of what’s new (and what will I do for skiffy if io9 vanishes — any more than it already has?); not on Islam and Science Fiction, so that rules out the obvious ones; possibly on Twitter, but searching social networks is the 4Chan of the internet, so, no idea. Whoever brought it to my attention, and into my grubby mitts, well done!
Bill Campbell is responsible for The Sea is Ours, he of Mothership: Tales from Afrofuturism and Beyond, which at the time I wasn’t so into. He’s also Rosarium Publishing, where these anthologies are published. And it’s worth mentioning the publication costs were crowd-funded on Indiegogo: a mere $10,000 brought this rather good collection to print.
Funny thing is, I’m not much into either steampunk or short stories, yet here am I blabbing about both. My ambivalence for short stories I have a feeling I’ve mentioned recently; it’s primarily that I like sinking deep into a story and the characters, for at least a day, ideally much longer, though my reading speed nixes the latter. Short stories at 15 minutes a pop leave me wanting more, it’s like reading the first chapter and being denied the novel.
Steampunk on the other hand, in its typical form, there’s no ambivalence: I find it contrived, a literary and cultural cul-de-sac dangerously uncritical of itself. And this is me talking about context again. The signifiers steampunk plays with are rooted in high industrial colonialism, sliding between mid-19th century Age of Steam proper, and early 20th century post-steam final years of the European imperialism. In fact while technologically rooted in a non-internal combustion engine alternate timeline, steampunk often sits firmly in pre-war 1914 in cultural, social, political signifiers. And I’m basing this on a rather small population of books read, but of those I have, and of my other reading, this is my impression. I also just don’t get the brass, clockwork, steam aesthetic. Partly because the era it fetishises sits atop colonialism and genocide in the real world, and partly because for me it’s even less plausible than dragons and magic.
So, we’ve established my hostility to short stories and steampunk, and yet here we are, me saying this is an excellent collection, I’m loving reading it, I want another, Volume 2: The Sea is Still Ours (2 Sea 2 Furious, or something). I love it because of the list of countries I’ve categorised and tagged this post under, countries I don’t mention enough these days, and though I never lived in any of them, I passed through most at one time or another when Guangzhou was my home. There’s a familiarity in the writing and stories, it’s like coming out of Hong Kong airport into the glorious damp heat on Chek Lap Kok and physically remembering where I am.
There’s another thing in the stories I’ve read so far (about half), which is requisitioning the signifiers of steampunk for use by the other side. It’s another alternate timeline, where the colonised got their hands on the technology of the European empires, merged it with their own technology, culture, world, and turned it against the aggressors. A world where the Maya civilisation resisted the Spanish empire enough to trade with the Philippines, where the Philippines themselves charted a different course. When I’m reading these stories, I keep thinking steampunk was made for this, using the technology of the age of colonialism to imagine other potential histories. It’s a far more satisfying genre written like this.
I was also thinking — and this is thanks to the work of editors Jaymee Goh and Joyce Chng — how refreshing it is to read stories that aren’t coming out of the United States (putting aside that it was published there, by an American publisher, and that a couple of the writers live there). Dasniya and I spent an afternoon on the grass in front of the Reichstag yesterday soaking in the warm sun, the conversation moved — as it usually does — to those awkward words, inclusion, diversity, how to talk about one’s work while avoiding the reductionism of these terms yet also needing to make clear that the concerns these terms signify is central. And this is where this collection succeeds for me: certainly within the domestic situation in the States it would be categorised using these terms, but the stories themselves, it’s like a chorus of an entire world from somewhere else, and in this world these words — if they even appear — are framed on their terms. It’s like when I made the fantastic shift from reading feminism coming from Anglo-Euro-American countries to that coming from Arabic, Turkish, Persian, Chinese writers and never looked back.
Bill Campbell, Jaymee Goh, Joyce Chng: more please! And I’d love one with Taiwanese, Cantonese (Jihng Yāt and steampunk pirates!), the sea-facing countries of the north.