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Mountains Have No Eyes

The Miniaturality of Landscape and Landscapility of Miniature

In addition to its profound influence on Chinese literary compositions, traditional Chinese aesthetics is markedly characterized by a reliance on embodiments. This aspect is neither enigmatic nor intricate; rather, it is strikingly mirrored in the evolution of visual language. We select elements that exude a certain aesthetic appeal, and subsequently infuse them with meaning through a process underpinned by internal consistency. Consequently, a tangible subject metamorphoses into a composite of signification, dramatically augmenting the density of information and enhancing communicative efficacy.

Consider, for instance, the bamboo plant. Its resilience, inherent properties, and even its pattern of growth, have all been symbolically linked to noble traits. Yet, in an ironic twist of fate, these symbols of incorruptibility and humble living (typically applied to public servants) have been commodified on the opposite end of the globe. The forces of market economics have transformed them into luxury items for decoration and hobbies, and as tangible remnants of the global expanse of colonialism. A decade ago, the laborious task of carrying bundles of Moso bamboo fetched a daily wage of approximately £10; recently, I expended £138 for a mere nine meters of the material, barely sufficient to assemble a single Moso bamboo trunk. Should my family from a decade past learn of this, they would no doubt proclaim exclamations of "divine excrement.”

The practice of bonsai holds a significant place within the Sinosphere culture. Although the art form traditionally exudes an air of "high culture," one can invariably find, for example, rudimentary pots of woody plants, sculpted to resemble gnarled pine trees, gracing yards. These plants and pots may be barely, or perhaps never, tended to, yet through the cultural lens, they persist in projecting the dignified vitality inherent in Oriental objects. Whether situated in rural gardens or urban balconies, wherever Chinese influence is present, these makeshift bonsai seem as inevitable as vegetable patches. The Chinese culture's fascination with embodiments parallels our sentiment towards land ownership. With a plot of land, any structure can be rebuilt; similarly, with an evocative embodiment, even a tiny garden can serve as a household's proud assertion of their rejection of worldly temptations, brimming with lofty ambitions typically designated to their progeny. A bonsai, while designed as an object of leisure, carries an inherent educational purpose.

I cannot help to notice that a burgeoning interest in moss has manifested in many, myself included. Perhaps this fascination stems from its distinctive visual attributes, the blatant layering of intricate detail reminiscent of a landscape deftly tamed, encapsulating the grandeur of nature's mechanisms within the dimensions of a small patch of earth. In the realm of bonsai, no element is superfluous; each leaf or grain possesses an inherent significance, contributing to the delicate equilibrium that forms the image. Bonsai symbolizes the miniature essence of a landscape and conversely, a landscape can be seen as an amplified bonsai, contingent on the presence of a logical paradigm that elucidates its components.

In the preface of Japanese Garden Design, Preston L. Houser (1996) cleverly employs a blend of humor and precision in his description: "Gardens, like their distant theme parks cousins, are fictitious environments in that they are not wild...The visitor to a garden participates in an illusory environment that often represents, ironically, a psychological reality richer than our daily experience...The garden becomes, therefore, a kind of anthology of symbolic images and patterns..."

Drawing from this, one might infer that nestled between the scale of a bonsai and a landscape, lies the garden, a concept that can be fluidly defined as the culmination of either a tangible, engineering reality or an abstract philosophical discourse. Consequently, I would advocate for a line of research that parallels Western notions of the picturesque and romanticism, particularly concerning the 'taming' or 'conquest' of landscapes. This perspective would facilitate exploration into the landscape-like qualities, or 'landscapality' (if one might coin such a term) of bonsai, and the miniaturized essence of the landscape it represents.

This experience resembles a cultural clash of my own making: not far from the bus station leading to Land’s End, at the terminus of the Great Western Railway - a symbol of a romanticized and idealized quest for pastoral simplicity dating back a century and a half, I stumbled upon a niche in a park. This enclave, cradled by bamboo (an element native to my hometown), a concrete canal, a cement wall, and miniature waterfalls birthed by a difference in elevation, evoked a surreal collage of a suburban area reminiscent of home. However, a distant gaze revealed the unmistakable landscape of Cornwall. It was as though the stage had been set for me long before I realized I would bring with me an alternative cultural perspective. It would indeed be a missed opportunity had I not embraced it.

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I always enjoy mimicking Moso bamboo with asparagus fern; I miss the odour of chopped bamboo and the noise they make in breezy dusk. It has been two years and nine months since the beginning of the pandemic; I am obstructed from visiting home, which is culturally unacceptable. This is the initial motivation of the project, which is to sprinkle some personal understandings and impressions through a formulaic visual language so that some complicated discussions can be introduced and, hopefully, support my argument in a bigger context. This is a miniature of my home, the miniature of her landscape, culture and garden; it is filled with symbols and constructed by illusions - the unauthentic but stereotypical Japanese visual features. This writing also is a miniature of academic writing. I love this kind of informal writing practise, I can list out references, but I don’t have to, which feels absolutely remarkable.

Landscape and the Dark Landscape

I have tasted dogs.

This is not a good start, but I did try dogs.

Before we venture into any judgments, allow me to set the context with some pertinent details. To begin, I cannot recall the last time I consumed dog meat, and, in the interest of humanitarian principles, I abstain from commenting on its preparation or taste. Starting with such an unconventional admission may seem peculiar, yet it paves the way for a multidisciplinary discourse - a provocative and attention-grabbing one, particularly for anglophone readers. However, given the linear nature of written communication and thought processes, I concede that I may have already lost some readers.

Before levelling any criticism at the practice of dog-eating in certain regions of China, especially from a perspective steeped in Said's "Occidental-Oriental" dichotomy, it is essential to acknowledge that mere criticism is unlikely to effectively address this issue. While I am no expert in agricultural history, I conjecture that this is a tradition rooted in times of scarcity, possibly even ancient periods. When dogs were domesticated and became integral members of families, they were likely seen more as "workers" than "companions," the latter term here indicating not merely an emotional or mental bond, but a contemporary, modern interpretation of a pet. It seems plausible that material scarcity would compel households to view dogs as a precious source of protein, especially in regions lacking suitable conditions for animal husbandry, once their duties as property guardians or hunting aids had been fulfilled.

I recall an instance during a class when I was asked to describe my provocative approach to art-making, and I dramatically declared, "Veganism is a privilege". After a theatrical pause that failed to elicit the anticipated response, I continued, "When veganism or vegetarianism becomes a lifestyle choice, it implies the existence of unseen privileges - synthetic vitamins, a robust healthcare system, protein that can be sourced from channels other than the traditional one, i.e., meat."

Occasionally, my father reminisces about an era of scarcity, a time when sparrows returned to Chinese fields after a nationwide campaign to eradicate these "grain vermin." He once recalled, "When I spotted a sparrow, it appeared to me as a morsel of meat in flight...our rice jar was perpetually empty. We went to school, returned at noon, and it was still empty. On the rare occasions when there was meat on the table, I quickly consumed two slices of smoked meat. My mother gazed at me and sighed, 'Ming-Ming, you certainly have an appetite!', and I immediately stopped eating."

In "The Consumption of Dog Meat in the UK" (2019), various statements were quoted from around the time the 2018 American Farm Bill was published. For instance, Jim Shannon declared to the Backbench Committee, "I think it is obscene, gross, and immoral that someone could, technically speaking, cook a dog and eat it themselves without breaching the law... They recognise the loophole in the law... we want to remind our Government here in the United Kingdom that it could be included in upcoming provisions on animal welfare." The report later quoted Bill Wiggins's statement from 19th February 2019, "It may seem extraordinary, but consuming dog meat is currently not illegal in the UK. Luckily, there is no evidence that dogs are eaten in the UK yet, but due to the vile way in which dogs are treated in China, I would like our country to join in setting an example to the world. China argues that, until we make it illegal, why should they?"

I refrain from taking sides in this debate. I concur that animal welfare needs to be enhanced and inhumane practices should be eradicated. However, I also bear the memories of a not-so-distant era of destitution, where the consumption of meat was an annual festivity for common folk. Hence, I find myself in a peculiar position. I would urge readers who have already taken a stance on this issue to refrain from immediate condemnation of the opposing view, for the myriad values and cultural contexts introduce numerous variables, transforming this qualitative inquiry into a woefully quantitative one. This is not merely about subtracting one economic aggregate from another; it is about the ideological conflict between industrial civilization and the traditions of an agricultural society. 

In recent years, an increasing number of scholars have bifurcated rural and urban China into two parallel entities, reflecting the vast chasm between China's rural areas, which symbolize "the old times," and her cities, which illustrate a remarkable speed of industrialization and urbanization, and the concomitant draining effect on their surroundings. Despite expressing a vehement denunciation of the Yu Lin Dog Meat Festival, the report also mentioned that 70% of dogs consumed in China were stolen. Yet, the report merely functions as a condemnation based on the values of an industrial civilization and its newly-formed, modern morality - nothing more.

Both time and "progress" follow a linear trajectory. A span of forty-five years can surely breed the unimaginable; living in two different provinces at the same age can do the same. In one province, a day-long journey on foot merely gets you to the foot of a mountain; in a much more northern one, the endless plains stretch beyond the horizon. These contrasting landscapes undoubtedly foster divergent agricultural structures. Perhaps it doesn't require a 2000-kilometre journey; maybe a couple of mountains away, one can stumble upon a way of life that harks back forty-five years. What is certain, however, is that while Star Wars premiered on the other side of the world, my father was daydreaming about catching a two-winged morsel of meat. This is why motifs from my hometown often echo the anxieties of an era of planned economy.

Frankly, if dogs were not the subject of this debate, another animal would likely take their place. Chinese authorities are undoubtedly aware of this issue, and administrative flexibility has played its role. Given that domestic public opinion also condemns the theft of dogs for consumption, and that there are luckily some moral values that transcend the crime of "violating private property," there are no additional legal restrictions on private slaughter and consumption. Instead, the government allows public morality and values to guide market development. For a country where six hundred million people earn an average of £100 per month, establishing a nationwide animal welfare supervision system akin to those in developed countries seems almost futuristic. We should place faith in morality; though it is a human-constructed superstructure, its rise, or its collapse, both follow a logical path.

Two years after the Farm Bill, Shen Zhen became the first city in China to outlaw the consumption and sale of dog meat.

This issue is essentially a debate ensnared within the bamboo-clad mountains; dog meat was a rare delicacy in the village's earlier days. Perhaps the village will fade into oblivion before we make any headway in this debate. The joys and sorrows of its residents will soon be relegated to "historical case studies," and objectivity will take center stage; our individual opinions will become inconsequential.

Red Matter, White Matter

My cousin, currently residing in Savannah, recently created a collage entitled Chinese Funeral, showcasing a talent I was previously unaware of. This was my first encounter with his finished work, and it struck me with its heavy use of red strings – a choice not intended to overload the piece with clashing cultural symbols. In our culture, funerals are referred to as "white matters", while weddings are called "red matters". His work, which provoked both laughter and agreement from me, led me to predict an impending end to my career as an illustrator; thankfully, his focus is on fashion design.

We both hail from the mountains, as does another cousin of ours. This notion of returning to the mountains was, in the past, a symbol of death and everything associated with it – a "white matter", if you will. While one might excuse themselves from a wedding, the solemn reverence for death is a universally accepted sentiment.

There's another trend that has recently gained traction, focusing on the traditional agricultural society's obsession with perpetuating the family line. This is often seen as a justification for patriarchal sexism, considering it an essential means to procure additional manpower for strenuous labor and secure an upper hand in domestic disputes that can only be resolved through physical strength. This topic lends itself to an extensive discussion, particularly in light of recent social incidents in our country. However, the artist, feeling nothing but a profound disappointment, is reluctant to delve further into this issue. He believes that the social contexts of these incidents are interconnected, directly resulting from the sexual repression and anxiety surrounding involuntary childlessness prevalent in traditional culture.


In his work, he employs the colour red – usually associated with joy, weddings, and the Lunar New Year – juxtaposed against decaying water grasses, saggy red curtains that resemble remnants of New Year's celebrations set against a melting snowy landscape. These curtains are left to decay naturally, ultimately becoming one with the mountain. It's easy to see the "outside" through these cord curtains, leading to philosophical debates. Beyond the red curtain, through the "red matter", the undeniable truth is often dismissed as mere "family squabble", becoming taboo for public discussion and lying in the grey area between law enforcement and clan influence.

People generally hope such private, unsavory news will resolve itself, maintaining respectful silence until it escalates into a "white matter" – death. While it's easy to traverse through curtains, escaping the mountains is far more challenging. Mountains persist, they loom, they hunt; they capture their prisoners, transforming them into bamboo, into bonsai, into gardens – miniatures of harrowing histories and symbols of struggle. It is an endless cycle, repeating itself in various forms and ways, and all we can do is express moral condemnation – nothing more. There's always another mountain beyond a mountain, the same horizon beyond the horizon.

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Language is restrictive, and filters are prescriptive; they reduce landscapes to small symbols until we are left with a mere dyed symbol. What I wish to express is the desire to see through appearances to the essence, to return to the basics, and to focus on the content rather than an overarching conceptual narrative.

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The movie Blind Mountain is about the miserable life of a young women being kidnapped and sold into mountains. It was filmed in 2007, but seems changed nothing domestically. 

The project wished to name itself as Blind Mountain, but what is more unfortunate than the taken name, is the reality the movie reflects, and the necessity of the very existence of the movie.