Sunday, 20 February 2011

Yuan Xuefen and the Price of Petrol

I’ve a soft spot for the Zhoushan archipelago 舟山群岛, that scattering of hundreds of islands off the coast of Zhejiang province, a few hours’ sailing from Shanghai. Shengshan 嵊山, the easternmost of the permanently inhabited islands, was my first destination when I travelled China’s far-flung corners in 2001, and I’ve recently been revisiting the research I did for a history of the largest island, Chusan, which for a few years in the 1840s was in fact British territory.
So this morning I took a look at the main daily paper on Zhoushan, the Zhoushan Evening News 舟山晚报, and a couple of stories stood out for very different reasons.
The first is one that will affect Zhoushan’s million-strong population just as it affects the rest of China: the price of petrol and diesel is rising again just two months after the last rise. 93-grade petrol is to go up by ¥0.28, breaking the psychological ¥7 barrier for the first time. “I regret not filling up,” one internet user is reported a saying. “I’m off to queue up now!” There was apparently a rush for the pumps in Dinghai 定海, Zhoushan’s capital, and warnings to motorists to fill up in Zhejiang province if they were planning to drive into neighbouring Shanghai, where the prices are even higher.
The other story is of the “local girl does good” variety, with a sad twist. Yuan Xuefen, one of China’s leading proponents of the Yueju 越剧 style of opera, also known as Shaoxing opera, has died at the age of 89 in Shanghai, where she was honorary director of the Shanghai Yueju Opera. What with the Communist Party tripping over itself these days to promote what it calls “intangible cultural heritage”, i.e. all the things that make China Chinese but which are more touchy-feely than they are concrete, Yuan Xuefen had of late been lauded as an ambassador for Yueju. The Communist Party’s discovery of such “intangible heritage” is of course squarely at odds with the way it mercilessly hounded Yuan Xuefen during the Cultural Revolution, though this is a point on which the Zhoushan Evening News is tactfully, and respectfully, silent...

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