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The Elements of Typographic Style

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Entries in China (37)


Retreat of the Elephants

Certainly not an easy read, but Mark Elvin's The Retreat of the Elephant is an amazing compendium. The book provides an overview of 4,000 years of environmental history in China, and clearly shows that the ruling powers in China have been interacting with nature - on a huge scale and with mixed results - for a long, long time. Four thousand years ago, there were elephants throughout most of the area that what would later become China. Today, wild elephants are found only in small part of Yunnan province in the extreme southwest of the country. According to Elvin, "this pattern is the result of a protracted war with human beings which the elephants lost".

Once you start reading this book it is hard to put down. Especially if you work in China. It talks about humans, and elephants, and deforestation, and mountains and rivers, and ethnic marginalization, and Chinese colonialism, and the rise of Buddhism, and, perhaps most importantly, how all of these things fit together. I highly recommend this book. Am posting on it now because I just finished reading it - for the second time (thx, Jeff). [NOTE: Image is Fan Yi, Zhong Kui Riding an Elephant, Yale University Art Gallery]. 


Interview No. 3

Our third household interview in Xijiang (see Xijiang Landscape) was with this delightful 88-year-old Miao man. He only spoke Miao, but this was not really a problem because Mr. Yu Yong Fu from the Leigongshan Nature Reserve (see First Plot) was with us and could translate. More problematic was that the gentleman was extremely hard of hearing and all the questions had to be shouted - repeatedly.

In spite of these difficulties, we learned that 30 years ago all of the local forests were collective forests and that management decisions and harvest allocations during this period were made by a village committee.  Most of the decisions about what happens in the forest are currently made by the provincial Forestry Department. We also learned that there had been no big fires during the last 30 years (see Fire Hydrant).


What Does Your Ceiling Look Like?

Architectural detail in the one of the 8,707 rooms at the Forbidden City in Beijing, China (see Forbidden City and Hinge Plate). Certainly one of the most ornate, intricate, and carefully painted ceilings I've ever seen.  


Straight Lines

One of the reasons that the wet rice fields of Southeast Asia are so strikingly beautiful is that they are planted with such neatness and care.  I never knew that they used a string to make sure that all of the rice seedlings were in perfect straight lines. [NOTE: Rice field shown is outside of the village of Lang De in the state of Guizhou, China (see Welcome and Matriarchs). The Miao have reportedly planted rice here for 500 years.]



Miao still life from the village of Wudong in Guizhou, China (2010). 


Steep Slope, Slippery Path

Older Miao man in Xijiang, Guizhou slowly walking down a steep sidewalk with his cane.  The wooden sign above his head summarizes quite well the current situation in this community. It is indeed a steep slope and a slippery path to maintain cultural identity while trying to maximize the economic returns and touristic potential of the traditional dress, music, and dance of your Miao ethnicity. [NOTE: It starts by putting up signs in English...].


Chili Peppers

A good counterpoint to the freezing temperatures and ice in New York right now. Image shows fiery chili peppers (Capsicum sp.) spread out to dry on the floor of a Miao house in Xijiang, Guizhou (see Xijiang Landscape and Fields of Gold).


Roof Tiles

They say it takes about 30,000 clay tiles to roof a Miao house (see Roof Aesthetics). And these are carried about 40 tiles at a time to the construction site. [NOTE: Several dozen clay roof tiles are very heavy].



We were heading into Beijing from the airport at 1:00 AM after flying for 16 hours.  All was dark and the driver had the radio on. The eerie sounds of pingshu, or traditional Chinese story telling, filled the cab. For the time and the place and my state of mind - it was a delightful dose of surrealism. [NOTE: The voice on the clip is that of Shan Tianfang, a well-known pingshu performer].


The Web at Wudong

This magnificent spider web is on the gate, just before the bridge, at the main entrance to the Miao village of Wudong. People walk by it all day long, glancing up, then continuing on their way. No one bothers it. Nice metaphor for Wudong. A web of complex interactions, cultural norms, and government policies woven carefully together into something very beautiful.