The Chinese are coming…

Last night on SBS the BBC2 documentary from early last year commenced. Fascinating. Do watch next Wednesday night at 9.30.

Travelling across three continents, Justin Rowlatt investigates the spread of Chinese influence around the planet and asks what the world will be like if China overtakes America as the world’s economic superpower. In the first of two films, he embarks on a journey across Southern Africa to chart the extraordinary phenomenon of Chinese migration to Africa, and the huge influence of China on the development of the continent.

While many in the West view Africa as a land of poverty, to the Chinese it is seen as an almost limitless business opportunity. From Angola to Tanzania, Justin meets the fearless Chinese entrepreneurs who have travelled thousands of miles to set up businesses.

On the ABC News at 7 Alan Kohler had presented this very telling graphic of Where Global Growth Is Coming From.

120117 Where global growth is coming from

This morning in The Illawarra Mercury we read:

BlueScope Steel has started work on building its new factory in China, which is expected to employ 400 people when it reaches full production.

A ground-breaking ceremony was held last month in the Xi’an High-Tech Industries Development Zone, where BlueScope will invest about $60million to establish a building materials production base, a new posting on the development zone’s website said.

BlueScope says it employs about 2000 people in China, with 57 sales and marketing offices, a metallic coating and painting facility at Suzhou, 80km west of Shanghai, and several building systems manufacturing facilities.

The new plant at Xi’an, in central western China, will cover an area of almost 13ha, with 50,000sqm of floor space, and will be positioned to capitalise on the booming construction industry in that country…


Both these make a bit of a nonsense of the  complacency of the Guardian review of the BBC doco:

The Chinese are taking over the world. Such, at least, is the premise of The Chinese Are Coming (BBC2). Justin Rowlatt investigated what Chinese influence meant for African countries, nicely skewering racist presumptions about China as he travelled. Intriguingly, the Chinese have often revivified old British colonial infrastructures. But are they as rapacious as we were? Tough call. Zambians resented their new imperialist yoke, while Angolans and Tanzanians seemed pleased by their countries’ reinvigoration.

Could the Chinese do the same for Britain? Probably not. At least Africans have stuff – copper, cobalt, cheap labour – that the Chinese want. What do we have? Our coal and oil are depleted, our manufacturing base destroyed; our only surplus is celebrities. Perhaps we could trade Myleene Klass and Stephen Fry for an overhaul to the railway network. The Chinese probably wouldn’t go for that.

The Chinese have come, in fact, just getting on with it. And there is very little The West can do about it.

What a transformation!

I have been putting together a DVD for M’s 50th birthday and Chinese New Year. He has now been in Australia from Shanghai since December 1989. That year he saw this:

3Student Protesters, Shanghai, 1989

Student protesters on the streets of Shanghai 1989

The city he grew up in was like this:



Now look at it!


That last one is Chinese New Year 2011 in Shanghai.


And I’ve been reading…

…quite a few books.


I did finish My Dog Gave Me The Clap (2011) yesterday. And I do recommend it. The author doesn’t look quite as one might expect: that’s him top left. But we are warned:

The author swears this isn’t one of those semi-autobiographical first novels. Although we once heard him say it was, he’s adamant that was a joke. Maybe it’s just as well he clarified that point for us. Adam’s dog has already said he ‘resents the implication’ and we can only speculate as to what the chickens will say if, and when, they read chapter nine.

That said, this is a wonderfully grungy novel about Saul, a part-time muso and part-time teacher. Saul is the kind of guy who hangs out in his mate’s backyard planning the best way to acquit his unemployment benefit on booze. He’s trying to resolve the big questions in life – like what thoughts he should put in his negative thought diary, how to avoid the compulsory office teabreak and what the hell happened at last night’s drunken Akubra photoshoot.

One thing Saul knows already is that there are some gigs you simply don’t want to get. My Dog Gave Me The Clap is a discomforting, in your face, compelling and funny book about masculine identity and missed epiphanies.

It really is very funny and very sharp in portraying some of our societal foibles and blind spots.

Adam Morris is also in this band.

Here are the other reads:

smiley-happy005smiley-happy005[3]smiley-happy005[5]smiley-happy005[8] Kate Grenville, The Lieutenant (2008) – a very satisfying imaginative reworking of First Fleeter William Dawes (Rooke) and his relations with the Cadigal.

smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[14]smiley-happy005[16] Jessica Au, Cargo (2011).

Fiona Hardy chats to Melbourne writer, and former Deputy Editor for Meanjin Jessica Au about her debut novel Cargo.

In Cargo, we follow Frankie, Gillian and Jacob as they navigate their way through first loves, the dissolving of family lines, and the loss of youthful naïveté. Despite the characters being teenagers, this is very much a book for adults. Do you think the appeal lies in the fact that adults today are still presented with similar issues to those in your novel?

Well I wonder: do we ever really ‘grow up’ in a way? Of course we learn and shift and change, but somehow I think a lot of the things we go through in adolescence continue to reverberate throughout later life. When you’re growing up, adulthood can seem like a bit of a holy grail – a place of knowing and certainty and control – when of course that’s not the case (at least not for me anyway). There’s always going to be a bit of rawness, of wanting… that old ‘if only’ vein.

Also, even though Cargo is set very much in the ‘now’ (the voice is all present tense, for example, and the story spans over one summer), I feel that the writing itself has a strong inflection of nostalgia. There’s a real difference I think between living those years and looking back on them with new self-awareness or regret. It was the latter that I was trying to hone in on here. The ‘cargo’ of the title is a small nod to this – idea that these characters will carry the weight of what happens to them in the book for a long while after…

See also Jessica Au’s Cargo reviewed by Bel Woods.

smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12] John Tesarsch, The Philanthropist (2010).  This was a complete unknown. I found myself really enjoying the writing and admiring the wisdom.

John Tesarsch’s accomplished first novel The Philanthropist is a book about parents and children. It is about what we pass on, and what we inherit in turn. ‘The best thing a father can do, of course, is be there for his children. I wasn’t, because I was following false gods’ declares Charles Bradshaw, protagonist. He is speaking uninvited at the wedding of his mortified daughter, in the penultimate scenes of both the novel and his life. Here, Charles addresses the book’s underpinning theme, for The Philanthropist is also about money – the most imposing and controlling of the false gods Charles refers to.  Money inherited and endowed, the novel tells us, corrupts, controls, defiles, destroys – for generations. What Charles receives from his father he gives in turn to his son, with ever more cancerous consequences; each generation in the Bradshaw family more reliant on – and more deformed by – what their money can buy. We are exposed to other examples of this genealogical decay, for almost all of Tesarsch’s finely drawn characters bare the scars of their parental relationships – or lack thereof. Perhaps this is the way of the world, as Philip Larkin would surely agree.  In any case, The Philanthropist presents a deep and quietly sad exploration of the inevitably disastrous ways in which one’s parents might, without meaning to, ‘fuck you up’. It is a compelling read. – Alice Robinson in review linked at the title.

smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12] Michele Giuttari, Death in Tuscany.

I don’t know of another crime series written by as senior a detective as Michele Guittari, former head of the "squadra mobile" in Florence. His novels are based in part on his experience as a detective, and give insights into investigative procedure, but he also has a tendency to gravitate toward big conspiracies and standard plot devices. I have to mention as well that he evidently persecuted a pair of journalists with an alternate view of a real case that is part of his plot in his first novel, A Florentine Death, jailing one and kicking the other out of the country for the crime of contradicting the cop’s theory of the Monster of Florence case in both his police work and his own book on the case. In A Florentine Death, Giuttari offers a serial killer (an unavoidable cliche, it seems, in crime fiction) as well as an overarching conspiracy that’s not (quite) as grandiose as that of the Da Vinci Code. In the newly translated A Death in Tuscany, the crime is more ordinary, the murder of a young girl who is possibly an illegal immigrant, and the conspiracies that are offered are less grand (one involving the Mafia, naturally, and the other a group of Freemasons…

I found this an interesting read, though the Masonic bit is weird: they turn out not to be quite what one might expect and do seem rather unlikely. The mafia-style corruption, on the other hand, is very well presented.

Also reading Peter Firstbrook, The Obamas: The Untold Story of an African Family, which I am finding quite fascinating on colonial and precolonial East African history, but not all that relevant really to understanding Barack Obama.

… Firstbrook traveled to the African nation of Kenya, where he visited the towns and countryside around the shore of Lake Victoria still dominated by the Obama clan and other families that constitute the Luo tribe.

The Luo tribe originally resided in what today is the Sudan. Tribal members gradually migrated south and east through about 600 miles of swamp and jungle and desert before settling in what today is Kenya, a territory colonized by the British until a grant of independence during 1963.

The Luo people believe that blood is thicker than water. So they are proud of Obama, although he knows little about their culture. “The Luo will never consider Obama to be a white man,” Firstbrook comments. “Regardless of where he was raised or what he might say or do, they will always see him as an African – a true Luo with an ancestry that can be traced back two dozen generations.”

The genealogical aspect of Firstbrook’s book is important, given Obama’s world prominence. Yet for me and possibly many other readers, the book is more fulfilling when read as a contemporary family detective story, with Firstbrook as the guide and eventually the answer man to questions directly related to the Obama family.

In fact, Firstbrook may now know more about Obama’s roots than does the president himself. In the book’s prologue, Firstbrook says Obama has never heard from his Kenyan family tales such as “the extraordinary story of how his grandfather fell in love with his grandmother, nor the tragic circumstances of their separation.” Neither has Obama heard suspicions about how his father really died in 1982. Firstbrook’s research has yielded plausible narratives. I will not become the spoiler in this review…

I am now on a biggie in both Ozlit and Indigenous Lit: Alexis Wright, Carpentaria (2006). It won the Miles Franklin on 2007. I know Nicholas Jose is a great admirer, and I am so far most impressed. See what this left-wing blogger said in 2007: Review: Alexis Wright, Carpentaria:

I have this strange feeling when I drive through Port Augusta. I feel like I’m about to finally leave the bland, suburban world in which I live (Adelaide) behind, and enter Australia.

It had never occurred to me that if I drove far enough north east of Port Augusta I might finally reach a place where Australia stopped and some strange, surreal other world began – the mud flats of the coastal Gulf of Carpentaria.

Actually, I didn’t find that out by driving there at all.

Instead, comfortably ensconced in my Adelaide house, I’ve just read Alexis Wright’s superb new novel Carpentaria.

It is another world about which she writes, a world where highways of the sea are as familiar to those who know them as roads on dry land, and where an Aboriginal activist can emerge from communities of despair to challenge the murderous might of a big mining company…

Capricornia is set in a fictional Gulf township called Desperance. “Desperance is Australia really at the moment,” Wright explained to ABC radio journalist Phillip Adams on July 3, “a really desperate place at the moment. We see it every day as indigenous Australians.”

Desperance is divided into its white Uptown community and two mobs of pricklebush dwellers, Norm Phantom’s Westside mob and Joseph Midnight’s Eastside mob. The pricklebush communities are at war with each other, and Uptown wants to put the bulldozers through the lot of them. Outside of town is the mine, inflaming and dividing the community so as to pursue its commercial venture without opposition.

Wright has dedicated Capricornia to two indigenous men, Doomadgee’s recently sacked Mayor Clarence Walden and Gulf country activist Murrandoo Yanner…

Wright told the ABC’s Kerry O’Brien recently that Yanner is a “hero, he’s our hero in the Gulf of Carpentaria. He’s one of the strongest young men I’ve come across. He’s fighting for land rights, for people’s rights every single day…he’s just growing stronger every day.”

Yanner inspired the character Will Phantom in Capricornia.

This is a great novel and a major addition to the storehouse of progressive Australian literature.

It is clearly an extraordinary novel. A top read of 2012. smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]smiley-happy005[12]

South African War and my family…

Sorry, Sirdan! I am sure the Nel family were in this too somewhere…


That’s 1 NSW Mounted Rifles. My rather roguish great-grandfather John H Christison was one of them.


  • Absorbed first contingent units that became A and E Squadrons NSW Mounted Rifles
  • Original strength: 405
  • Subunits: three mounted rifle squadrons (later numbered B, C, and D squadrons), five after absorbing A and E squadrons
  • Commanding officer: Lt Col. G. C. Knight
  • Left for South Africa (B, C, and D squadrons only): 17 January 1900 on Southern Cross
  • Service: February 1900 – March 1901 in Free State, Transvaal, and western Cape Colony including charge at Diamond Hill (12 June 1900); absorbed A Squadron NSW Mounted Rifles in March 1900, 1st WA Mounted Infantry April 1900, and E Squadron NSW Mounted Rifles in May 1900
  • Fatal casualties (B, C, and D squadrons only): 10 killed or died of wounds, 13 died of disease
  • Decorations (B, C, and D squadrons only): three DSOs (A. J. Bennett, M. A. Hilliard, F. L. Learmonth), two DCMs (L. F. Hayward, F. W. P. Rudd), one Queen’s Scarf (A. H. Du Frayer)
  • Returned to Australia: 29 April 1901 (B, C, and D squadrons only)



SA_MedalsSee also the source of the pictures above: About the Boer War.

My cousin Ray Christison notes:

From the late 1970s I made an effort of researching the life of John Hampton Christison. I have a listing of his addresses from 1880 until 1889. He seemed to fall off the radar after the divorce in 1891 and then he pops up again in the Boer War. He enlisted in the 2nd [sic] NSW Mounted Rifles and embarked from Sydney in 1899. Interestingly one of his companions was Peter Hancock, the Bathurst farrier who was shot with Breaker Morant in 1902. When he enlisted he gave his address as Regent Street, Mittagong – the home of his parents David and Catherine. I have John’s campaign medal from the Boer War which has bars for Witterbergen, Diamond Hill, Johannesburg, Driefontein & Cape Colony. He was wounded at Rhenoster Poort. When John returned from South Africa he obtained a job on the West Australian Government Railways and eventually rose to the rank of Station Master.

Fascinating stuff. I really had no idea, but thanks to the rather wonderful thread on my recent post Mainly family I now do.

00 Overview

war graves


My cousin Ray has written an excellent post on this. “I just may begin blogging his biography,” he says of John H. Please do!

Idiot box? Only if you want it to be… Part 1

I mentioned in my farewell to ranting that TV had been interesting lately. Here are some examples.

The No. 1 Ladies’ Detective Agency

I have been a fan of Alexander McCall Smith for years now: see here, here and here.

As I said in April 2011:

See this great post: The Charming Quirks of Others: Alexander McCall Smith and the art of fiction. How can anyone resist the sheer wisdom of this guy?

It is not because you are  beautiful; not because I see perfection in your features, in your smile, in your litheness- all of which I do, of course I do, and have done since the moment I first met you. It is because you are generous in spirit; and may I be like that; may I become like you – which unrealistic wish, to become the other, is  such a true and revealing symptom of love, its most obvious clue, its unmistakable calling card.

And in April 2008:

The thrust is gently conservative, with a folk wisdom that has much to commend it. I see that captured in a quotation I planned to use myself, but fortunately Kerryn Goldsworthy has used it in a review in the Sydney Morning Herald, thus saving me some typing:

For the most part, we treat others in a matter-of-fact way; we have to, in order to get on with our lives. But every so often, in a moment of insight that can be very nearly mystical in its intensity, we see others in their real humanity, in a way that makes us want to cherish them as joint pilgrims, almost, on a perilous journey.

Po-faced indeed would be any reader who is not drawn in and delighted, even if at the expense of an odd cringe or two — the latter probably being therapeutic.

And in May 2007:

Blue Shoes and Happiness (2006) by Alexander McCall Smith follows the formula that has made the Precious Ramotswe series so popular. To quote the novel:

“Mma Ramotswe does not solve crimes. She deals with very small things…but our lives are made up of small things.”


“Take one country… with its kind people, and their smiles, and their habit of helping one another; ignore all this; shake about; add modern ideas; bake until ruined.”

McCall Smith is a conservative but not a reactionary writer. But let’s admit it: do you prefer the mind-numbingly crazy “correctness” of Robert Mugabe who now presides over the stuffing up of McCall Smith’s birth country? I think there is much to learn from McCall Smith’s gentle novels. They are apparently very popular in Botswana too. He is humane, not patronising.

In this novel, though not named, AIDS is much more present than in the earlier works. This one gets into my best reads of 2007.

The HBO TV adaptation really is superb – but so much of the delight I find in McCall Smith is in the writer’s voice – and that simply cannot be captured. See also Jim Belshaw’s excellent post.

Next entry I will talk about The Slap, leaving you for now with two things:

About the book: see Is “The Slap” as good as everyone says? (March 2011)


It’s better! Couldn’t agree less with John Collee on The First Tuesday Book Club…

Read for the humanity of it, for the felt experience of multicultural Australia. Brilliant.

:) :) :) :) :) :) Book Review: The Slap by Christos Tsiolkas.

I have hardly ever given a book such a high rating. You know something? For those whose OzLit is nostalgic — Tsiolkas is much better than Henry Lawson ever was.

And second:

Virtual travel in depth

That’s, for me, one of the characteristics of first-rate genre fiction, especially in the thriller and crime genres. And some are superb in this regard.

Second to none is Qiu Xiaolong.

6133e30cb1f7339affff809affffe904Qiu Xiaolong [on the right] was born in Shanghai, China. He is the author of the award-winning Inspector Chen series of mystery novels, Death of a Red Heroine (2000), A Loyal Character Dancer (2002), When Red Is Black (2004), A Case of Two Cities (2006), Red Mandarin Dress(2007), and The Mao Case (2009). He is also the author of two books of poetry translations, Treasury of Chinese Love Poems(2003) and Evoking T’ang (2007), and his own poetry collection, Lines Around China (2003). Qiu’s books have sold over a million copies and have been published in twenty languages. He currently lives in St. Louis with his wife and daughter.

I enthused about Death of a Red Heroine in October 2006.

Death of a Red Heroine resonates with me, because this is M’s city, and much of the novel is in the precise time and place when M knew Shanghai best; it also happens that one of M’s closest friends was a policeman in Shanghai, and thereby hangs an interesting tale indeed. Suffice to say I will probably pass the book on to M when I have finished it; I am sure he will recognise something on almost every page. M’s sister also happens to be a journalist/literary critic, as is one of the principal female characters in the novel.

If you want an authentic feel for what it is like living in China, and how the locals negotiate the politics and the system, and you want something that goes way beyond stereotypes, then read this book.

ss10 A Case of Two Cities is just as good.

Qiu Xiaolong’s books offer a look at modern day China while usually providing a very satisfying mystery story. While I found some problems with the last book in the series, I quickly became involved in this story and enjoyed it.

Telling a crime story set in a foreign country requires the author to ‘translate’, to offer the story in a way that makes sense to the reader who may never have been to that country. Certainly, relatively few Americans are likely to have visited China but author Qiu provides us with an accessible narrative. That this tale takes place in part in America provides another angle. While the author has lived in the US for over 15 years, he’s Chinese, born in Shanghai and knows the culture and the country. The changes in recent years are manifold and Qiu shows that understanding them isn’t the easiest thing for those who live with them.

Add to these lessons (an inaccurate word as there are seldom any ‘teach-y’ moments, as you understand from reading, not from exposition) the trip that Chief Inspector Chen Cao takes to the United States in this story. He is not only representing China here, but is also meeting with expatriate Chinese members of the community in Los Angeles. Chen is acutely aware that what he does and says is known back home.

He has a slight advantage – his command of English is a major reason he is on this trip – but he’s still very much a stranger in a very strange land. His primary purpose is investigation, to track someone who has fled China and now lives in the US. Untangling the threads of investment, connections and corruption are a major part of the investigation and Chen really would like to be in two places at once. On the other hand, his friend Catherine is back in America, with her knowledge of China and her qualifications at a translator, meaning of course that they end up thrown back together – not an easy time for either of them.

I was reminded throughout this book of the differences between our cultures and was fascinated. Chen is a famous poet and is a member of the Writers’ Association (we have nothing similar). Chen is extremely familiar with huge amounts of poetry of his land, which comes to mind all the time, as do classic novels. He’s at ease quoting dozens of poets from hundreds of years ago; I can’t imagine how anyone’s brain stores all that. His friends and colleagues quote from THE DREAM OF THE RED CHAMBER with ease. His thoughts and comments are peppered with proverbs and poems which I found often to be totally incomprehensible.

There are dozens of these touches that teach about the culture and ways of modern (and to some extent ancient) China and at all times the story moved, the characters were intriguing, aware, multi-dimensional. The story being told never got lost in the many details…

I was unbothered by the cultural allusions that reviewer finds “incomprehensible” – but then I have been sharing, through M and others, and learning about Chinese culture for over two decades now. It is a constant reminder that western superiority is often merely western ignorance. Qiu Xiaolong as an admirable cultural bridge as well as a first-rate mystery writer.

See also:

Now another journey.


That’s South African Deon Meyer, whose books are translated from Afrikaans. As well as being a good story, Devil’s Peak (linked above) is – to compare it with what I glean from people who know like my friend Sirdan – a very thoughtful journey into the life and mind of today’s South Africa.

The third journey is to the far north-east of England: Martyn Waites, White Riot.

Martyn Waites doesn’t believe in sparing the gore. To offset that, he is very good at engaging the reader’s interest and writes about topics that are of contemporary interest. WHITE RIOT deals with the unpleasant – but all too possible – subject of racial discrimination and racial violence in the northern English city of Newcastle.

The tale begins with a kidnapping and murder. A victim is taunted with the Muslim beliefs of his parents. He, perhaps, is not convinced of the validity of the notion of the numerous virgins that await him in the imminent paradise that he is about to enter — or not.

Kev’s mate Jason is scheduled for slaughter by a ruthless group, at first unknown by the reader. Jason has been dubbed The Butcher Boy, a reflection of his job but it seems as though someone else intends butchering him.

Peta Knight, an associate of former journalist Joe Donovan, is hired by one Trevor Whitman. Whitman has written a tell-all book detailing his time with a right-wing group calling itself The Hollow Men. He has been receiving threatening phone calls which he wishes Peta to investigate.

Joe Donovan, meanwhile, is still trying to investigate the kidnapping of his son. Years later, he seems finally to have located the boy’s whereabouts but the people who have the boy in their care and have adopted him hold him close and Joe seems to be no nearer to being reunited with his son – and his relationship with his wife and daughter is fractured. All Joe wants is to retrieve David and to have a family once more.

Waites is truly a master at building tension. He also has no scruples when it comes to subjecting his characters to violence and, indeed, death. He constructs a plot that is at once horrific yet believable. Not the least of the horrors is the concept of people cold-bloodedly manipulating True Believers into actions they probably would not contemplate, were they privy to the machinations of their leaders. The portraits of his characters are well drawn and, alas, convincing.

The author seems to delight in cliffhangers. Somehow, I wish he wouldn’t. When his next book in the series is released, no doubt I’ll have to reread at least part of this one. Perhaps I need to take a memory course!

I agree pretty much with all that. I admire the book’s politics too: very insightful and rather enlightened.

Just a note: the Emerging Writers’ Festival currently happening in Melbourne looks quite amazing!