Category: Uncategorized

Review of Dream of Ding Village

The following article was published in the Guardian and it somehow reminded me of another possible convener’s post. It is definitely a good idea to have a look at it, Personally I really liked it.

“…Yet the warmth from these ordinary people does not change the cold reality. The story is narrated by the dead poisoned young boy, which, to my mind, slightly undermines the novel. A storyteller as masterful as Yan Lianke does not need the assistance of a boy’s ghost. To be fair, the boy does offer an excuse for his father to return to Ding Village so the narrator’s grandfather has the opportunity to repay his villagers by killing his own son. Yet is that enough of a tragedy, or is that – like every death in the novel – a small offering? In the fictional world, the evil one is punished; yet in the real world, the truly chilling tale is that hundreds and thousands of bloodheads live on and prosper.”

Ghost Marriage

The following has been taken from an article posted in The Economist:

“IN RURAL China, the afterlife is a serious matter. After more than 60 years of Communist Party rule, the festival of Qingming or “tomb-sweeping day”, celebrated on the fifteenth day after spring equinox (April 4th this year), is enjoying a revival. Though suppressed during the Cultural Revolution, the festival was reinstated as a public holiday in 2008. An important part of traditional filial duty is to honour the souls of the departed, and Qingming is the day to tend to a deceased relative’s grave. It is also peak season for “ghost marriages”, and the time of year when bodysnatching proves most lucrative.”

(On the right is a picture I extracted from this article) If you look closely at some of the tombs, there are pictures of couples that were wedded after their death.

“Ghost marriage (minghun) is a 3,000 year-old custom practiced especially in northern China. Huang Jichun, a scholar at Shanghai University who studies Chinese folk traditions, says the majority of rural families in the north, whose relatives die unbetrothed , seek “ghost spouses” for the departed. According to custom, the bodies are buried together in a ceremony that is a cross between a wedding and a funeral. Their ghosts, it is believed, will then no longer be lonely, and the family’s fortunes will be restored.

In Guangping county of Hebei province in February of this year, an 18-year-old man surnamed Liu, who died of heart disease, was joined in a ghost marriage with a 17-year-old woman named Wu, who died of a brain tumour. The Liu clan paid 35,000 yuan ($5,600) for the body of Ms Wu, a hefty sum for a farming family in Hebei where the average income per person is around 5,000 yuan per year. Having never met in life, the two were buried together in death, and dumplings were scattered on their grave. Their honeymoon was cut short soon after, however, when grave robbers snatched Ms Wu’s body, reselling her into another ghost marriage in a neighbouring province.

“I hope the robbers get the death sentence or 20 years in prison,” says Ms Liu, the mother of the deceased young man, standing on her mud doorstep in a grey padded jacket and red slippers. Four generations of the Liu clan live in the squat redbrick building behind her. Stagnant rainwater sits in the mud streets outside. Old people push bicycles laden with empty beer bottles for recycling.

Trade in female corpses is flourishing in these poor rural areas. Bodies are typically procured through brokers, with the typical quoted price of a fresh corpse rising at least 25% in the past five years to 50,000 yuan. A Chinese newspaper last year blamed rich coal mine bosses for driving the cost of a female corpse as high as 130,000 yuan. In 2010, a bodysnatching ring was broken up in Hebei province. Its members had robbed dozens of graves in the region, earning hundreds of thousands of yuan.

Ghost marriages have long been shrouded in controversy. A record in the Zhouli, an ancient Confucian text dated from the 2nd century BC, forbids the custom, but there are records of the imperial family conducting ghost marriages in the Tang (618-907AD) and Song (960-1279AD) dynasties. Under Chairman Mao the custom was labelled superstitious and banned outright.

But Mr Huang, the scholar, believes the recent upswing in ghost marriages is in part due to China’s economic boom. Rural families are now better able to afford the steep price of a corpse bride and, says Mr Huang, the resurgent trade in bodysnatching has brought a reliable supply of fresh corpses that has spurred consumer demand.

The Liu family is hoping to lay its ghosts to rest. After arresting four of the five grave robbers, police finally returned Ms Wu’s body to their son, her original ghost husband. Not trusting the geomancy, or fengshui, of the couple’s original tomb, the Lius built a new one reinforced with concrete. Alongside the food offerings, they carefully planted a traditional baifan–a rod wrapped in white crepe to help guide the ghost couple to paradise. This year, at Qingming, they will visit the couple’s tomb, burn incense and place dumplings. Tragedy struck them in this life. Perhaps, finally, it will leave their loved ones alone in the next.”

I also found in another article that when bodies ran short, some created corpses for ghost marriages.

Why selling blood is wrong…

You say that selling blood is quite alright,

That blood is just another good.

But if your blood, your very life,

Can be sold so cheaply; nay, have a price,

Then what is it that you value dear,

Where are your values,

Are you so severe?

That you are willing to sell yourself,

Like a common harlot, you’re the lowest low,

If you believe, if you do know,

That you are profiting from God’s gift,

The gift of life, the essence of it –

Have you no morals, how can you say,

That it’ll regenerate anyway!

You have no heart, it is forsaken;

When all the crimson fluid is taken,

Maybe then, then shall you know,

That no amount of cash can flow,

Like blood within your very veins,

Money only binds you in further chains,

Could you just please, use your brains!


Forget the morals, ethics and norms,

Your sacred economics gathers storms,

To show you how wrong you really are,

That your words are so very bizzare;

Can you even fathom the desperation,

The poverty, dearth, and consternation,

Can you hope to imagine the exploitation,

The terror, pressure, and desolation,

That leads someone to give away,

To siphon blood, to go astray?

You can not truly understand,

The true supply, the true demand,

That people weaken day by day,

That they’re abused, and cannot say,

Please, just go away – I’d rather starve than hear you say,

That my blood has no meaning true,

It’s just an income source to you.

So don’t act like you know it all,

Like you hold some secret crystal ball,

The world is not so simple thus,

And that is why I make a fuss.


You say that selling blood is quite alright,

That blood is just another good.

Truth is, there’s more to it than that,

It’s life incarnate, remain so, it should.



Hillbrow and Phaswane. Life goes on, right?

..making a little bit of a background research, you might find out that the author died in 2004 (i.e. three years later, after publishing his only book) at the age of 34. Considering the young age and officially ‘unknown’ cause of death, Mpe Phaswane himself most likely died of HIV-related disease.

..and if you wanna take a look on the modern-day Hillbrow (to be precise, ten-years-later Hillbrow), you might consider going through this lovely photostory.

But the times, they are a-changin’  (c)

A deeper look at Mpe’s South Africa

During the reading of Welcome to Our Hillbrow, I was particularly struck by the use of seemingly anachronistic and brutal traditions in post-apartheid South Africa. Attached below are two links which very much illuminate two cultural phenomena in late 20th-century South Africa.

1. An explanation about South African “sangomas”, or traditional witch doctors.

2. An essay analyzing South Africa’s necklacing tradition. Long but definitely worth reading.

You, Familiar with the Streets of Hillbrow

A consequence of Mpe’s use of the second point of view to address Refentse is the reader’s involvement with the text. As one reads, Mpe’s use of the pronoun “you” makes one feel like one is Refentse, and all the events seem authentic, as if one had seen them with one’s own eyes. Moreover, Mpe uses many details to describe such a small town as Hillbrow, and therefore, by the end of the novel, one feels like they know everything about it.

What the reader knows:
– the importance of soccer to the citizens
– the detailed dangers of the streets, especially during big events
– what it means to be infected with AIDS
– discrimination (Makwerekwere)
– drug dealing and drunk citizens; prostitutes; beggars
– water scarcity
– perception of certain women
– what relationships are more or less like i.e. “Love. Betrayal. Seduction. Suicide.”
– English/Sepedi literature
– cellphone service providers: MTN and Vodacom
– emigration rate
– customs, beliefs, traditions i.e. “witches bewitch the deceased”; bone throwers
– rumors; different versions of stories
and more..

What one also comes to know are the streets of Hillbrow, in absolute detail. One knows how to get from the heart of Hillbrow, to the Refenste’s cousin’s house, and from the house to the University of the Witwatersrand.

Here is google map picture of the streets of Hillbrow that I’ve located.
The location marked in red is where Vickers is, opposite the De Gama Court. Through the map and using the directions in the book, you can see what exact route Refentse took everyday to the university from the house.

Stimela See the World (Through the Eyes of a Child)

So I’ve been unable to track down a full version of the original song, the best I could do was a snippet I found here and a remix that I found here. And trust me, I spent a long time looking for the full thing. This blog, aptly named Welcome to My Online Hillbrow has a reference in the text to the song, and the lyrics. I thought they were interesting, melancholic, and worthy of our attention. It’s a recuring motif in the text, barely 5 pages go past without it being mentioned. Sadness, love, desperation, depth.

Here are the lyrics anyway:

It don’t hurt no more
Cause I’m stealing into the night
This broken heart
Won’t you please write a letter to yourself?
Maybe we’ll touch base when I can see your thoughts
Won’t you please take this child far away?
There’s too much blood flowing around
Please be safe this child
Won’t you please take this child by the hand?
Put a smile on the child’s face so scared and knows no other
Always feeling so alone
Won’t you please take this time to right the wrong?
That wasn’t her intent to mess with you
Say it loud say it loud say it loud and clear
I made a call to the missing people’s bureau
I wrote a song I had never sung
Your voice on the other side
Such pained and old I said son
There’s no time for a second call
Try again tomorrow so I’m glued
I say take my son take my pain to my pay check and love
But please take the child
With a little help from our friends
From our friends in high places
From our friends in even higher places
We can save the child
Now won’t you please be responsible
Now take your time to take think about the needs of a child
It’s their world we’re living in
See the world through the eyes of a child imagine yourself in the same situation
You got nobody you know no other you’re so lonely say in the darkness
You were a child once
Love is a destination
Belonging and respiration in good time
See the world through the eyes of a child
Take this child away from me too much blood flowing

The Show Must Go On

Knowing Freddie Mercury’s life I could make a strong connection between Angels in America and the Queen’s song “Show must go on”. This video is to prove it, or at least to make you think deeper of AIDS, contagion, life, and many other things. Definitely worth watching it!



Sharing a Bed

In a review of a 2007 staging of Millennium Approaches, the reviewer notes an interesting approach in the staging of the play:

“The two couples Harper and Joe, and Prior and Louis go to bed and the two stories are played almost simultaneously using the same bed! Harper and Joe using the bottom as their headboard and Prior and Louis using the top end. This was a fantastic scene and perfectly allows the worlds to collide and crash into each other and utterly supports the “Fantasia” Kramer describes.”

What else could this staging decision highlight for comparison?

Drawing Comparisons

This essay draws connections from Blindness to a number of contemporary thinkers, trends and of course, works of literature. Including a small section that looks at both the Plague and Lord of the Flies comparisons that we made also in class.

“The novel can also be interpreted and taught from a philosophical and existential standpoint. Some may want to compare this novel to Camus’, The Plague (1947/ 1991), particularly regarding the insistence upon absurd logic in the face of an epidemic. From this perspective, Blindness is an allegory about the human condition. In the absence of social or cultural norms, we understand more clearly the core of humanity. Saramago’s harsh depiction of violence, rape, and loss of dignity reinforces pessimistic accounts about the cruelty of humankind.

The novel also alludes to Social Darwinist notions of the survival of the fittest. In this instance, one could compare Blindness to Lord of the Flies (1954) to discuss the implications of such an evolutionary (and eugenic) vision of society. In the novel, when all are equally blinded, power is exerted by means of force. Men with weapons rape women. Stronger men control the food supply. Yet, others with scarce resources share them with others. Thus, the novel can be construed as a reactionary moral tale of good and evil, but also reflects the humanity and kindness people can embody.”

The analysis is very shallow however and I think the remainder of the essay is more fruitful for discussion.

Also, the title in Portugese is “Ensaio sobre a cegueira” which means ‘an Essay on Blindness’.