postcard front coverLenaCHINA ON MY MIND……In more ways than one! On September 22nd, I returned from a week in China. I was one of about 100 guests at the University of Animation in Changchun, for an international conference on comic, animation, and gaming. Most of the guests were from animation, with a small comics group, including yours truly. I never met any of the gamers; I think they were off playing games on their laptops. Changchun is notable as the site of the puppet government during the Japanese occupation of China. I visited the Imperial palace of the last emperor, Puyi, which has been turned into a museum. If you’ve ever seen the film, “The Last Emperor,” you know the story (if you haven’t seen it, go out and rent it right now!), but visiting the Imperial palace/museum really clarified it for me. The poor guy was a puppet all his life, torn from his mother at the age of 3, dressed in heavy brocades and stuck on a throne, and the poor kid didn’t have a clue as to what was going on. In photos, he looks like a deer caught in the headlights, and you really feel sorry for him. The most amazing part of Puyi’s story is the ending: after the war, he was a prisoner in Russia for 5 years before being turned over to China, and the poor guy begged Stalin to keep him in Russia because of his fears of what the Chinese would do to him. But they didn’t execute him! They put him into a re-education camp where he had to work, but his labor consisted of gardening. You can see photos of him, a normal citizen now, sitting cross-legged, darning his socks. When he got out of prison, he became–what else?–a gardener. He even married again and raised a family before dying of natural causes at the age of 60. A happy ending!

After the conference, which was, like so many conferences I’ve attended, so full of stuff going on that you had a hard time choosing what to see, the university sent a group of us on to Beijing for a 3 day guided tour. Like all guided tours, there was a daze-making insanity to it, but it was fun. We gathered in the hotel lobby at 7:30 every morning and were herded into buses and taken to the Wall, the Forbidden City, Tienanmen Square, you name it, until we were dizzy.

Our guide was a very cute university student named Lena (that’s her picture up top, in Tienanmen Square) who I thought of as “the manga girl” because that’s what she looked like. She told us stories in her adorably accented English. My favorite was about the last Empress, whom Lena referred to as “the bad lady.” “The bad lady” started as a lowly concubine to the emperor, who had so many concubines that most of them never even saw him. She bribed a palace eunuch to find out where the Emperor was traveling and arranged to be there ahead of him. When he arrived, he heard her playing music and singing, and wanted to meet her. She charmed him so much that she was promoted to wife. When he died, she made her nephew emperor, but he wanted to make reforms, so she had him imprisoned in his room on trumped-up charges. Eventually, he hung himself, but most people believe she had a hand in it. Then she had a second nephew made emperor, but he didn’t work out either, so she had him killed, and even personally pushed his wife into a well! Finally she made her 3rd nephew, 3 year old Puyi, the next emperor — after all, what can a 3 year old do? — and died shortly after. Lena said, “I admire her (because she was so strong) but I hate her.”

I returned home to foggy San Francisco to find a scan of the cover of my soon-to-be-published book awaiting me on email, and here it is, next to Lena. “Forbidden City: the Golden Age of Chinese Nightclubs” isn’t out yet (My publisher says Autumn, so any minute now…) but already, on October 17th, I’ll be doing a presentation on the book at a fabulous pre-Halloween costume event called “The Cool Black Ball”, and here’s a link to the website:

and a link to a great youtube video:

You’ll see some images from the book on the video. Dress in black vintage or snazzy black party clothes, come to the Ball, and say hello!


One response to “CHINA ON MY MIND…

  1. Hi Trina;
    How was the Black Ball?
    I’m sending you an article from the L.A. Times on a screen writer and now director who is making films on movie characters. Gave me the idea you should do a screen play on one of the early women cartoonists. Yes? May be he’s a contact.

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