Jaime FlorCruz Displays ‘China Junk’ in Manila Exhibit

by Jaime FlorCruz

It makes sense to declutter and downsize, a la Marie Kondo. I’ve been trying to do just that, with modest success. This exhibit may be a step forward.

Of course, we must be smart about what we discard and what we keep.

I treat these things, stuff, not as mere dusty collectibles but as living records and reminders of my past, of China’s as well, and of my 47-year journey in China.

I believe in the need for introspection, soul searching if you will. It’s my way of taking stock of myself and, as I write try to write my memoir, to reminisce and to discern. To me these objects show what is not seen. They tell us about life, culture and values. We need to treasure them lest we fall into the trap of historical amnesia.

I acquired and have kept this China junk not for monetary considerations. I did so perhaps because I am a China and history buff and they appealed to me as study materials. As a writer and storyteller they appealed to me because I see stories in them. Old pictures, carvings, clothes, hats and fabrics, furniture, whatever, they tell stories to me. Many of them happen to be aesthetically attractive too.

“Let the past serve the present, let the foreign serve China.” That’s a Mao quotation that resonates. We can learn things from this old junk.

A section of the exhibit shows some of my “maomorabilia”: Mao pins, banners, posters. Red Guard arm bands.

One of my favorites is a vintage poster which shows Mao inspecting a China-designed Dongfeng-brand sedan, probably circa early 1960s. A beaming Chairman Mao inspects what looks like a prototype of a Dongfeng (East Wind) sedan, escorted probably by Chinese engineers who designed and produced it. It’s a curious scene because Chairman Mao was known to preach “plain living and hard struggle.”

In the 1970s and 1980s, there were very few cars on the road, even in Beijing. They were all government-owned and for official use only. Now there are over 5 million cars in the Chinese capital, mostly privately owned – and many more are planning to buy one.

Dongfeng Motor Group, headquartered in central Wuhan City, was established in 1969. It now produces a fleet of sedan cars and trucks and in 2017 was No. 65 on the Fortune Global 500 list of companies with estimated revenues of $93 billion and 180,000 employees.

One section shows posters of Chinese women as depicted during the early years of my China exile in the 1970s. Women then were shown strong and charming, sans cosmetics and elaborate hairdos, and doing jobs that men did. “Women prop up half the sky,” Mao declared.

I juxtapose these with a few old calendars and ads, popular in the 1930s and 40s, advertising cosmetics, beer, cigarettes and cosmetics featuring women in cheongsam dresses. This, I thought, must be what Maoists had in mind when they ransacked and burned “four olds.” Feminists today would surely see them as examples of “objectification” of women.

Years after the Cultural Revolution, these political posters went out of fashion. As people started to discard them, many ended up in Beijing’s antique markets. That’s where I found these posters. While most market-goers snubbed these old, fraying posters. collectors and history-buffs like me vied for the best and rarest of them.

My collection is not limited to Cultural Revolution relics. We show an array of knickknacks – porcelain, wooden carvings, Tibetan bangles, old scissors, measuring rulers, bells—so that viewing them will be like peering into a kaleidoscope: you see a medley of collectibles.

I treasure many of these because they tell stories about their creators. They tell us about China.

In spite of the disastrous Cultural Revolution, I am happy to note that the Chinese industry and creativity are very much alive.

Even after retirement from the frontline of reporters’ trenches, I continue to serve as a “bridge” in my own limited ways by serving as a professor at Peking University’s School of Journalism and Communications, where I teach a course on media and news literacy. I frequently serve as a commentator in Chinese and foreign television programs and also give lectures in Philippine and U.S. schools and universities.

The exhibit opened on Jan. 19 in a museum in Intramuros, an old district of Manila. It was attended by over 200 invited guests and featured a Q&A on stage between Jaime FlorCruz as interviewee and two local journalists. The exhibit will close on Feb. 17.

Photo: Ana Florcruz

Photo: Ana Florcruz

Photo: Ana Florcruz

Photo: Ana Florcruz

Photo: Ana Florcruz

Photo: Ana Florcruz

Photo: Ana Florcruz