The day I am writing these thoughts down was the 86th day since I started to count the days of being confined at home as a result of the lock-down implemented in New York City. The number of course is not the official record. But does it matter? The number is as arbitrary as how my subjectivity is entangled with the objectivity and how my experience is confusing the reality in a strange and unprecedented way.
I have been having terrible mood swings. I oscillate between desperately wanting to have solitude and feeling extremely lonely. I am paranoid.
Based on the traditional Chinese sexagenary cycle, the year of 2020 falls on Gengzi (庚子), the 37th term of a sixty terms cycle. Each term corresponds to one year. Sixty years in one cycle. The sexagenary cycle, an ancient method to reckon time, however, has never been a neutral system; written on oracle bones as its earliest form, the cycle has always been connected to the practice of divination.
It is said that cursed by the cosmic energy, the years fall on the Gengzi term are always unfortunate, punctured by disastrous events.
Looking back to the recent past in China, the most recent Gengzi year of 1960 fell on the peak of the Great Chinese Famine, the deadliest and one of the greatest man-made disasters in human history, with an estimated death toll due to starvation that ranges in the tens of millions.
In the year of 1900, at the tail end of China’s last imperial dynasty, the Eight-Nation Alliance invaded Beijing in the name of humanitarian intervention, divided the country, and led to the “Gengzi National Disaster.” Troops ransacked the Forbidden City, the Summer Palace, and destroyed countless cultural relics. Many of the historical artefacts looted then can now be found on display in museums across Europe.
While in 1840, the first opium war between China and Britain officially broke out, forcibly opening the otherwise secluded Manchurian gate. The British made up a term to humiliate and demoralize the Chinese. They call them the “sick man of Asia.”
Stepping into the 2020 Gengzi year, the “sick man” has contracted the world’s undivided attention again; this time, not as the backboneless opium addict, but a bat-eater and a virus spreader who is still unhygienic and soulless.
The Chinese blame their fate and the world’s misfortunes on the curse of the Gengzi year.
100,000 names cover the front page of the New York Times. The names become a long and solemn list. The list becomes a presentation of obituaries. The presentation becomes a black and white image. The image becomes more and more abstract. Are we zooming in or out?
The streets are burning.
That night, when the protesters of George Floyd’s murder by police cleaned out the luxury stores in SoHo, I must admit that I was a bit excited and invigorated.
There is an amusing and ironic story in the long history of looting. Before the final total destruction of the Summer Palace in 1900 by the troops of the Eight-Nation Alliance, the British and French armies had already torched the Palace in 1860, at the end of the Second Opium War. Out of the fire that subsequently burned for 3 days and 3 nights, a small, flat-faced, yapping dog was found. Presented later to Queen Victoria, it was renamed “Looty”, in honor of the manner in which it reached British shores. This Pekinese dog became Her Majesty’s favorite pet, worthy even of an official portrait.
Who is our Looty? Who is the looter?
I am mourning for Hong Kong. I had recently re-watched In the Mood for Love. I am mourning for a future in which such a mood of Hong Kong—lush, sensual, ambiguous, romantic, opaque, indecipherable—is possibly forever gone. Filmed not too long after the handover, Wang Kar-Wai had hinted at the sentiment over Hong Kong’s complex colonial history with an almost abrupt insertion of the 1966 documentary footage of de Gaulle’s visit to Cambodia towards the end of the film. The low res, black and white televised footage causes stark contrasts with the film’s lavish visuals and evocative slow-motion.
On the 87th day, New York City took the first tentative steps towards opening its doors. But the year is barely halfway through. What is worse ahead of us? What will we remember of the Gengzi year of 2020?
I rearranged the furniture in my apartment, in particular my desk because the previous position was considered bad Feng Shui. One’s back should never be exposed to an open door or stairway.
Words and text by Xiaoyu Weng
Video, sound and editing by Lane Shi Otayonii