Scotland/China news

The pandas in 'The Beano'

by Website Editor, 3 July 2012

Edinburgh Zoo's pandas have finally reached the pinnacle of Scottish culture - they have been honoured with an appearance in 'The Beano'.

Tian Tian and Yang Guang are "cover stars" alongside the famous 'Beano' characters Dennis the Menace and Gnasher, who pay a visit to the zoo and use the pandas to play tricks on their sworn enemy "Walter the Softy".

Mike Stirling, Editor in Chief at the Beano, told The Evening News, "our giant panda pals were happy to pose for The Beano’s artists and actually turned out to be giant pranksters, sharing a few wild, menacing tricks of their own".

The special issue of the comic also included a competition for a VIP visit to meet the pandas, and is being given away free to young visitors to the zoo.

Your Website Editor - who enjoyed 'The Beano' regularly in the, cough, 1960s - also liked the photo of a penguin asking "why do pandas wear fur coats ?", while a panda replies "because we'd look silly in denim jackets !"

Music and pandas at SCA AGM

by Barry Moore, Glasgow Branch Chairman, and Website Editor, 24 June 2012

The 46th AGM of the SCA was held on 16 June in the impressive surroundings of the Senate Room of the University of Glasgow, courtesy of the Confucius Institute. Some 20 members braved appalling weather and, after the formal business, enjoyed a fascinating presentation by SCA Vice President Eddie McGuire on Chinese music and instruments.

The photos below show the performance by Eddie McGuire and Laura Durrant.

His talk ranged from bone flutes of 9,000 years ago to the so-called “Yellow Music”, such as “Shanghai Jazz” popularised by American musicians such as Buck Clayton and his band, but frowned upon by the Nationalist “New Life” movement in the 1930s.

Eddie demonstrated not just a wide and deep knowledge of the subject, but he was also able to show, and in many cases, play, some of his unique collection of Chinese instruments. These included bamboo flutes (di-zi), the bawu (with its brass reed that led to the development of the concertina), bronze gongs and cymbals. Many ancient instruments were made from natural resources ; hard wood and silk for bows, stones, resin from trees, bamboo for wind chimes and flutes, wood blocks and coconut shell, used in a type of fiddle (er-hu), and to simulate horses’ hooves in some musical pieces.

In addition to exhibiting and playing the various instruments Eddie provided an array of posters, books, pamphlets, records and posters to complement his talk.

He noted that the further back you go in time, the more similar human songs, tunes and instruments become. For example, he compared ancient Chinese “jade bells”, made from slabs of that valuable material, to the “lithophones”, or resonant slabs of slate, found in northern England and Scotland. Others, such as the er-hu, or “upright fiddle”, yangqin (hammered dulcimer) and pipa (lute) have links to Middle Eastern and Persian music, while the suona, still used in Chinese marching bands and ceremonies, is very similar in concept to the Breton “bombard” or, indeed, a bagpipe chanter. Other instruments demonstrated included ocarina (xun) ; Chinese mouth organ (sheng) ; and Chinese zither (gu zheng).

Eddie did, however, have a more modern surprise for the audience - a performance in honour of the pandas at Edinburgh Zoo. Laura Durrant, dressed as a panda, leapt out to perform the dance she had devised for Children’s Classic Concerts. Her energetic and graceful movements, against scenery of bamboo plant and river, blended with Eddie’s specially composed music - including the tune of a panda song co-written by Fong Liu. Laura’s panda then played cello before ending with a lively Panda Dance. Eddie even donned a panda costume himself, as can be seen from the photos. Tian Tian and Yang Guang would, we are sure, have enjoyed it all as much as the AGM's human audience.

New Confucius Institute at Strathclyde

A Scotland-wide centre for the promotion of Chinese language and culture is to be based at the University of Strathclyde, Education Secretary Michael Russell announced on 6 June 2012.

The new Confucius Institute - to be known as the Confucius Institute for Scotland's Schools (CISS) - will focus on offering support to schools around Scotland in their teaching of Chinese language and culture. It will initially work with 10 existing Confucius classroom hubs, with the intention of expanding the network in primary and secondary schools across the country. This Institute takes forward some of the co-ordination role previously undertaken by the now defunct Learning & Teaching Scotland.

It will be based in the University-based SCILT, Scotland’s National Centre for Languages, part of the University of Strathclyde’s Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.

This is the third Confucius Institute in Scotland, following the ones established in the University of Edinburgh in 2007 and in the University of Glasgow in 2011.

For news of a Hanban award for CISS in 2014, see this story.

China and its place in the world

by Website Editor, 8 June 2012

Jim O'Neill of Goldman Sachs Asset Management is the man who invented the acronym BRICs - Brazil, Russia, India and China - to describe the four most significant growing economies in the modern world. So he was an excellent choice to address the opening ceremony of the 4th European Confucius Institutes/Classrooms Working Symposium on 6 June.

The audience that packed the Signet Library in Edinburgh included 150 directors and delegates from 70 Confucius Institutes in Europe, as well as senior representatives of Chinese embassies and consulates across the continent ; a large delegation from Hanban, presidents and chancellors from Chinese universities such as Shanghai Fudan, Peking, Xiamen and Tianjin Nankai ; and Scottish business people.

O'Neill stressed four key points :

  • China is "the single most important national economic consideration for the current generation"
  • the 2008 crisis may turn out not to have been a bad thing for China, as it accelerated some helpful changes in policy<
  • China's own economic future is becoming more dependent on itself, rather than being dependent on the rest of the world as has been the case for much of the last 30 years
  • China is trying hard to solve its own economic problems, unlike some other countries at the moment !

He focused much of his subsequent commentary on "the Growth 8", eight countries which collectively make up around a quarter of world GDP and which, he explained, "can no longer be regarded as traditional emerging markets". These are China (10% of world GDP), Brazil (4%), Russia (3%), India (3%), South Korea (2%), Mexico (2%), Indonesia (1%) and Turkey (1%).

Like any good economics talk, O'Neill's presentation had some fascinating statistics and forecasts. For
example :

  • the contribution of the "Growth 8" to the increase in world GDP from 2001-2010 was greater than that by the G-7 major developed countries, and around half of that came from China
  • the increase in Chinese GDP from 2010-2011 - just one year - was equivalent to creating "one Greece every eleven weeks"
  • the increase in BRICs GDP from 2010-2011 - just one year - equivalent to creating the Italian economy, the eighth largest in the world
  • by 2020, China's share of world GDP is expected to reach 15%, around the same as the Eurozone - as he said, what implications might this have for the leadership of global financial institutions such as the IMF or the World Bank ?
  • the combined GDP of the BRICs countries is expected to exceed that of the US by 2020, perhaps even by 2015

In terms of the global economy, O'Neill was fairly bullish. He said Goldman Sachs expects the world to grow at an average annual rate of 4.2% in the decade to 2020, compared to an average of around 3.4% in the last 30 years. He noted that China and the other growth markets are already dominating world consumer spending, and that western countries with high-quality products and services the Chinese and others want can continue to do well.

Finally, he noted that economic growth is fundamentally based on population ("having over one billion is a bit of an advantage...") and productivity. Given that the BRICs countries and another 11 key emerging market countries have some 70% of the world's population, if they can move towards higher levels of productivity, the world will, he concluded hopefully, be "a better place for many than it has been in the past".

SCA note - although Mr O'Neill's talk was a fascinating tour of the global economic scene, please do not take it as gospel for your own investment decisions ! The usual caveats to investment commentary apply.

The Confucius Institutes Symposium

The Confucius Institutes Symposium ran from 6-8 June, and was organised by The Confucius Institute for Scotland in the University of Edinburgh. The delegates spent two days discussing such topics as 'The development of the Confucius Institute', 'Confucius Institute Assessment and Evaluation', and 'Hanban 2012 Key Projects', as well meeting educators from Scottish schools and universities and enjoying some traditional Scottish hospitality and sightseeing (despite the persistent rain).

Private view of Asian Art at Bonhams

by Website Editor, 27 March 2012

On 20 March 2012, around 40 SCA members and friends attended a Private View ahead of the recent Asian Art auction at Bonhams in Edinburgh.

The evening was an opportunity to learn about the Asian art market, handle the lots, and meet the auction house experts. A varied collection of porcelain, jades, ivories, paintings and furniture from China and Japan was on display. Ian Glennie, Head of the Asian Art Department, and his colleague Asha Edwards gave a series of "table-talks" on selected highlights, as guests enjoyed refreshments provided by caterers Ginger Snap.

The photos show our members enjoying the event ; Ian Glennie of Bonhams discussing several key objects ; and Asha Edwards of Bonhams describing a collection of blue and white bowls from the salvaged Nanking Cargo, from a vessel which sank in the South China Sea in 1751 (lot 224).

Notable Chinese lots included an enamelled white metal (Chinese silver) tea service (lot 160), estimated at £1,500-2,000, but which went under the hammer for a staggering £35,000 after intense interest from both China and Europe. Another significant success was a famille rose Straits porcelain tray (lot 259), estimated at £80-100, that sold for £980 – there is apparently new interest in returning such items to Singapore and Malaysia where they were originally made.

There was also an excellent collection of armorial and export porcelain, featuring coats of arms of a number of leading Scottish families, which sold particularly well despite limited recent interest in this area of collecting (lots 295-334). Finally, an attractive 19th century hardwood three fold dressing screen, estimated at £300-500, made a very creditable £3,200 (lot 411).

For more details of the auction and the lots, see this page on the Bonhams website.

After the auction, Mr Glennie told us “we were delighted with the successful outcome of this second Asian Art sale at Bonhams in Edinburgh, and look forward to helping local owners sell some of the very interesting Chinese items that we know exist in Scotland”.

For a report of our later visits to Bonhams, see here for 2013 and here for 2015.