Tiersen is in town, and the French are back. Much prevaricated against this event taking place at all. After all, as this blog has reported, the Chinese masses (or at least the mass media) has not been friendly of late to France. In addition to prevaricating against the mayor of France for hosting the Dalai Lama, the Chinese media also recently mocked Sarkozy for standing on a miniature stool to give his speech at Normandy.
Beyond the political aspects inherent in a French-sponsored program in Beijing, the European competition was another great force seeking to hem in the French in East Asia.
After all, had not the Germans, with their persistently organized Goethe Institute, occupied the Yugong Yishan concert hall for the past nights? Moreover, had not these same Germans left an intimidating legacy, having filled the hall with Germanophone hip-hop groups (“mit phattisten Beats und groovigsten Bass-lines…” breathed the deep green press releases) and German heavy metal rockers? Looking into the depths of the German dance floor on one of those nights, I thought of the notion of Germans in East Asia. And because I read about the past, and dwell within the past as my vocation, I was inevitably reminded of some documents I unearthed last summer in the Berlin Bundesarchiv: documents with names like INVENTAR 64, and
[German Students go to Japan] 德国学生去日本 “Deutsche Studenten fahren nach Japan,” 3月1940 [R901/58079]
[Hitler Youth Delegation to Japan Meets with Ribbentrop] 去日本的希特勒青年团de Ribbentrop 招待, 12 月17日1939年. “Japanfahrer der Hitlerjungend bei Ribbentrop.” [R901/58777]
or, if you prefer Cold War socialist internationalism, documents like:
[Plan for the Activities of the Chinese Delegation on the Occasion of the Opening of the German State Opera in Berlin] Plan fuer den Aufenthalt der chinesischen Delgation anlaesslich der Erooffunund der Deutschen Staatsoper Berlin” Ministerium für Kultur papers, DR 1 / 303
As a side note, INVENTAR 64 contains a great deal many more documents about German-French competition in East Asia in the late 1930s. The Germans were so vexed by the tenacity and the aptitude of French propaganda in Shanghai, for instance, that their reports from that city fulminated against specific French cultural attaches – how could they be stopped? How could German, rather than English or French, take the place as THE preeminent European language in East Asia? To what extent could the cities of East Asia be flooded with German culture, displacing the noxious British variant or the French tradition?
And so when Yann Tiersen arrived on Friday night, the Germans had left a massive wake; Beijing had already been swept by les allemandes! How could the French possibly compete with the incredible puissance of German soft power as displayed so mightily, so craftily, so dexterously, so adroitly, so “am groovistigen-sly” on the previous nights?
Nevertheless I think the French won, because they abided in blissful solitude, ignored what everyone else was doing, refused to get uptight, and just did their thing, which was to play viols with sensitivity and madness and sing their chansons.
And so to Tiersen:
Seeking the concert from Beijing’s gleaming maroon Line 5 subway, I ended up in the on the arm of a charming young lady from Xiamen who had used the slender opening of my question to a young man in the 地铁 (啊，您知不知道怎么去段祺瑞旧政府的演奏堂；就是愚公移山，n’est oui?) to take command of my movements via her superior knowledge of the terrain. Her father was a stagehand at the show, she told me, she knew precisely where it was and we should go together. Since this seemed to follow Sun Zi’s commands (in essence, ask for directions if you don’t know Zhang Zizhong Road / 张自忠路, which I did not), I went along with her. Quickly the English language reared up in its inevitable way; so too did the dread letters MBA, but since we ended up talking about Tianjin (the city has a way of forcing its way forward, stubbornly, when one is in Peking) everything was fine. I wove around and walked on her left and her right, but on either side, I found, she would use the hand closest to her accompanying person /mitglieder to pile up her lustrous hair and look out curiously at the world from underneath her slender tricep, and then sort of bump into you as if to remind you, very subtlety, that hockey was a wonderful sport. (Four hours later, after the concert, I see her at the bus stop, piling up her hair at a foreign guy and smiling, saying “I study four years business”, and why not? Good for her! I admire her persistence, and only hope I can be so charming in accosting various travelers through Seattle in the hunt for secret languages, codes that one strongly desires. The hunt for code-breakers is perhaps not so easy in the West!)
We parted ways at the vermillion gate of the old warlord government; her father emerged to take her bags, a man with a flexibly haggard physique like that of old Zhang Xueliang; he had a Zhang Xueliang mustache, too, was draped entirely in black; the picture of a Chinese stagehand in a warlord government venue.
I turned to the side door, a door with in a door, immediately confronted by a gaggle of somewhat-anguished looking foreigners. “Extra tickets?” they asked, more pathetic than subway singers or the chalk-wielding placard-carriers with long stories and children one saw every so often in China. Assured in my arrogance, ticket in the pocket of a new and nicely starched white shirt, I glided past these unfortunate souls, left to beg outside the gates, bereft of all but the sonic scraps of a Yann Tiersen explosion that was soon to drop.
My books safely stashed, I swiveled up the steps and into the bar, a long rectangular venue, with an upper level bar and a stage flattening out below. Immediately I had flashes of self-recognition; among this disaggregated horde were people like me. So I got to working the room.