Alec Ash

Alec Ash is a writer and journalist in Beijing, and founding editor of the Anthill

Posts by Alec Ash

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Rana Mitter: my first trip to China

 

Rana Mitter is Professor of the History and Politics of Modern China at Oxford University and author of some really excellent books, including A Bitter Revolution. Sweeping behind the digital sofa of my old blog, I found this video interview I did with him in Oxford in 2008. He talks about his first visit to China, to Guangzhou in the late 80s, back when foreigners were still a rarity. Here it is, with Mandarin subtitles to boot (but hosted on Youtube, so 要翻墙).

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Dung sweeping festival

Forced labour on the Inner Mongolian grasslands – by Alec Ash

 

The blades of a hundred wind turbines chugged languidly, stirring the dry morning air over an expanse of cracked grasslands pock-marked with horse droppings. A klick away, inside our ger, we reluctantly pushed off our blankets to meet the morning and rubbed the sleep from our eyes. It was a grudging start to the day, but missing breakfast would be worse.

We were in the Huitengxile grasslands, Inner Mongolia – an Englishman, a French woman and a Russian, like the start of a bad joke. It was 2010, it was Qingmingjie – tomb sweeping festival – and we had the long weekend off from our language school in Beijing. None of us had been to Inner Mongolia. It sounded exotic. Horses and horizons, that kind of thing.

Our host, who had rented us the ger, gave us each a plate of flat noodles with chopped veg and a mischievous smile. I may have imagined the mischievous smile.

“Would you like to participate in a traditional Mongolian activity today?” he asked, stoking the dung-fueled samovar.

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Fixed gear bicycles illegal in Gulou

 

We don't generally post news on the Anthill, as it's designed for narrative writing and there are too many China news aggregators anyway. But this is breaking news I discovered myself and have to share: the municipal authorities for the Gulou area of central Beijing have, as of midnight last night, made riding fixed gear bicycles in the area against the law.

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Boredom and inspiration

Fragments from an artist’s mind

 

Contemporary artist Guo Hongwei’s fridge is full of Chinese yam. I assumed he had a taste for it. It turns out he is mushing them into paste to use on canvas. Art over hunger.

Just a short titbit today, snatches of a conversation I had with Hongwei when I visited his studio a short ride from Beijing’s 798 art district. It’s a large space with high windows and a dusty musk. Various surfaces are covered in sketches, photographs, cuttings, pressed leaves, dead butterflies, scissors, protractors, cups of tea, rolls of loo paper, an old sewing machine and a basketball.

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Finding my Way

Revelations from a Taoist mystic

 

The Taoist priest looked at me askance and guessed correctly that I was British.

I was in his temple three days before the Chinese new year, following an artist I was writing about who was there to light incense and drop money into the collection box for good luck in the year ahead. The red-faced deity guarding the box stroked his metre-long beard and accepted the bribe.

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