Sunday, October 16, 2016

USCPFA Member Presented Ralph B Atkinson Award

Yesterday, ACLU Board of Director Elliot Ruchowitz-Roberts presented member Gerry Low-Sabado with the Ralph B. Atkinson award. Gerry, through her research into her own family's history, unearthed a buried and forgotten Chinese history of Monterey and Pacific Grove. Said Pacific Grove Mayor Bill Kampe, who also presented Gerry with the City of Pacific Grove's Certificate of Recognition,"The fishing village was a remarkable achievement for that time." And Gerry's research, said Sue Parris, a Pacific Grove resident and member of the National Coalition Building Institute,"is responsible for bringing us around."
The Atkinson Award, named for the distinguished civil rights advocate, Ralph B. Atkinson, is awarded annually to a member of the community who advances civil liberties. Senator Sam Farr, a past recipient, also sent Gerry a certificate.
Congratulations, Gerry!

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Member John M Interviews Head of China/New Zealand Friendship Assoc

In the 1930s Rewi alley and others popularized the idea of INDUSCO small scale cooperatives . in the 1950s in China there were mutual aid teams and small cooperatives. Why has that been revived today?
JOHN: What is the guiding movement behind the cooperative spirit that exist in China today ?
DAVID: Why now we are working mainly in the poorer provinces we are essentially a poverty reduction project based. We started off using New Zealand government funding which was poverty reduction. So we had to have a poverty reduction element. Now the training programs have changed a bit so they can assist any cooperatives. It is an essential part of Chinese government policy to make the east and west, the cities and rural areas, more equal. To help to Assist the more marginalized areas. The move to the west or poorer regions in general. Part of their rural economic development policy is to establish more rural cooperatives. There are two approaches to their policy cooperatives or large scale farming systems. Cooperatives fit very well into larger scale farming systems because there is more farmland available as more and more people migrate into the cities, more and more farmers have the opportunity to lease land. The scale is improving and with the coops they can definitely improve the scale not necessarily thru collectivizing their land but often thru the marketing system where they can Market things often it takes engagement in the broader Market so much more efficient scale of economy .
To mainly work in projects that involve collective marketing . That is the greatest benefit. For example a small scale operation in the west of Gansu province can get contracts to supply Beijing  companies. Some of our larger more successful cooperatives are starting to export. They are even starting to export now because they have the production scale to enter  that kind of market. 
JOHN: Can you give me some idea of the scale of this whole Cooperative effort that your group is directly involved with. Who is your group?
DAVID: My key group, I as a representative of the China friendship society .  I am the key International person I am working with two people , ONE is as a colleague from Shandan Bailie School who, also, is a representative from gong he , the ICCIC  (International Committee for promotion of Chinese Industrial Cooperatives) He has also been to Massey University where he's done a Masters Degree in rural Economic Development. The other is a Canadian who has lived in China for 20 years, he's a World Bank expert.
It is a very good small team . The  projects that I have been involved with started in 2006 in the northwest and started on a quite small scale initially . We focused on two projects in one small county and established that as a model county. then extended that to four other counties in that district. Then we started to expand into other provinces.  Initially into Shaanxi province. our counterparts have included the agricultural departments who are responsible for rural economic development and heads of economic management stations. They have been our key counterparts in china. Plus Often we have used the Womens federation because we are trying to assist with womens' development in those rural areas.
 .  Very often women are left behind because the men have gone out looking for work .women actually run the Farms. The all China women's Federation is trying to promote the participation and development of women in society.
The Cooperatives cover a wide range , anything from animal husbandry to fruit growing right through women's handicrafts we have quite a focus on those recently.
JOHN: Can you give me some sense in all these Cooperatives about how many people we might be talking about?
DAVID: They all start very small sometimes a minimum of 10 or 12 people . I think that an indication of the success of our cooperatives is that they quite rapidly increase; we still have cooperatives of 30 to 40 people people. Our biggest one in fact is over 500 members. I think that there is a danger when they become too large that the management and the membership become too distant. One of the keys to the success and sustainability of the cooperative's is the transparent relationship between the members and leadership. There must be very good open transparency and Trust by the members in their leaders.
  So that is the scale we have co-ops in the west of Gansu that Supply to companies in the east.
JOHN: so if you had a ballpark number to give me 10,000 people might be involved in this or you have no idea currently?
DAVID: Initially our projects up to 2013 were funded by the New Zealand government aid. Since then they have cut out funding to China. Let's say there are about 90 coops, mainly in Gansu and Shaanxi, but also one or two in other provinces . We considered at that point that we had assisted about 20000 households. Since then the New Zealand government money has ended we got some money from a wealthy businessman in Xianyang in Shaanxi. He gave us enough money to keep the program going but we changed the nature of the program rather than working with specific Co-op scattered throughout their locations and developing model cooperatives we are now offering training programs . they are quite specific and anybody can come, they might be for marketing, they might be for accounting. it might be for management we ran one very recently in Communications which is very important for coops. Communication to industry and to local governments in marketing. 
John:  question do you know something about digital green 
David answer :: those things are always around another aspect of what we're trying to develop is a marketing brand. Branding will often be more effective in pre-production. Women's handicrafts are often keen on identifying their products as handmade.
John: I will send you this link about digital green. It has to do with education and Farmers taking videos with their cell phones  and propagating farming methods thru call phone pictures  that others can use.  
David : I know that we are using the internet for communicating ideas.  I am not really up on that but I know the Internet is becoming more important . In fact the   training course that we had for women's handicrafts Cooperative specifically was on marketing and marketing products thru shops and villages.
John: we talked about the  scale and scope of the things that you're
doing and that now you have moved to the area of training programs Is there any possibility of going back to using part of the old model of expanding cooperatives in particular areas . Is that doable if there were funding?

David: I think there is because we have just had a very recent project that is not coming from the New Zealand government but the friendship society. It is to go on some new areas. We are targeting areas where Rewi Alley worked. So how did I get involved that quick. We are looking at an area of the border between Jiang Xi and fujian province where Rewy Alley worked in. now we are looking at a project in central Fujian and in Sichuan province. There is an opportunity for other areas as well but at the moment we only have funding for this. 

  I  think we will work more initially with a model team to start with. I think it is important in a new area that some sound cooperatives are established as model demonstration sites. John so this is funding from the New Zealand friendship association yes yes very small scale funding John how much small-scale Funday David this project is being kicked off with as little as $16,000 NZ, about 12,000 US dollars. That allows three visits with two experts and I will join them on the last visit to do an evaluation . After that how we extend the project has yet to be determined funding is a very big issue for us.

John so if you were to receive international corporation matching money from the US China people's friendship Association and one or two agricultural persons would that be of interest to you guys.?

David: absolutely we would be very pleased to receive financial support.

John: I would have to come up with a proposal to do that

David: we could come up with a specific proposal and do an outline for you such as what criteria are attractive to your end

John: I am not on the national board but I am on our Western Regional Board. So it is possible and our national Convention is in our western region next year

David: That really comes back to the question how did I get involved. We have to go back to Rewi Alley when he worked with the cooperatives in the late 1930.He worked with Soong Qing Ling, Edgar Snow, MA Haide[ the American Doctor George Hatem ].
 We do have an American link there to the original gong he. Currently there is an American who is the vice chair of Gong He in  Beijing,  we still use that organization. Gong he still exists, still struggling again for funding.
JOHN : Did I tell you I I met him Rewi Alley in 1986, the year before he died
DAVID : that would have been 1986
John , I met him in 1984, very impressive man ancient history
JOHN: So that's how you got involved and you initially got funding from the New Zealand government. Who had the idea to put this together.
DAVID , my colleague in Shandan ,who had been involved in Gong He and myself. Because it that time I just completed a post graduate diploma in Development studies and was very interested in this aspect of development. Social Community Development and using cooperatives as a tool for Rural Development we are working very much in the legacy of Rewi Alley  but it is in the modern climate. The Chinese government policy is very supportive of that climate. One of our points of difference with the approach of the Chinese government is that in our cooperatives we have a much more participatory bottom up approach so our co-ops are able to be established in a sustainable  way because of the  relationship between membership and Leadership. It is a real form of community democracy
JOHN yeah it encourages more Democratic participation.  So  then this  sometimes is a contradiction with the Chinese government that their approach tends to be a little more top down.
DAVID: it has been but more and more where we work particularly in Shanghai and Gansu we are getting more and more support from the local government. They are still starting to provide funding for the trainees to come . However our trainers don't actually receive fees for their work, they are doing the work for expenses, for virtually no fees. My colleague from shan Dan is taking 3 years leave from shan dan, they will pay his salary. so we're not talking about $1,000 a day world Bank developmenalist, here think we are talking about volunteers who have a passion for this kind of work.
JOHN : One of the questions that I had was looking at what we called contradictions Mao dun I know you have had successes what are the things that you would think of as failures. One of our earlier failures was when we were trying to establish model cooperatives. I remember one Township where the local government felt threatened by our coming in there. Generally local governments were very respective because under the Western development plan they were charged with three tasks. One Infastructure development  roads, schools, etc. second Technical development they have adequate expertise there .the third is Social Development so that's an area they really struggle with.  So they really recognize the value of that kind of work .  So there is a lot of flexibility in the policy that has come down from Beijing thru the political level to the county. There were some early problems there but we've learned
To save our problems to the next day that it isn't worth????
The second problem is that we had a coop they really received some bad seed the whole Co-operative membership lost faith in the cooperative and that almost destroyed that cooperative. Generally I think that with our management process that they are aware of those kinds of issues. There was another early problem we had where the market price that we were offering to the farmers as members was much more than the spot price of the market. So the the members dropped the contract with the co-op and went to pick up the spot price. Which then destroy the credibility of the marketing ability of the Co-op. So then it is a matter of communication [Farmers ] Don't Run Away renegotiate. So those are some of the problems co-ops are faced with.
John : you mentioned some cooperation with the all-china women's Federation. Has that been on a local scale or a national effort
DAVID: It has been on a local level. In Shanxi, , it has been on a provincial level filter right down to the county so that hierarchy has worked very well for  In Gansu more at District level rather than provincial level.
JOHN: in my personal view I've always considered the all-China women's Federation a really powerful National tool that could do a lot, probably a lot more than it is doing but it has the potential because of the migration of men to the cities. There are huge numbers of women left in the countryside they can be organized. That organization has a lot of history organizing women.
DAVID : Yes, that's right, completely right that's why we use them. Our first project in Shanxi was through the women's Federation. And we've had co-operatives that were even run by 
women. There was one very effective woman in a very remote area of a county in the southwest corner of Shanxi province running a pig coop. She was the leader there .Very, very capable. 
This is one thing that we did find out that was very exciting not only do they have poverty  but they have a Poverty of opportunity and when they are given opportunity then they develop very fast and leaders emerge and We very much encourage the participation of women if not as a leader then, [ she be  ] involved in the leadership group
John: that is a wonderful phrase Poverty of opportunity that may be something that I need to lead this with.
I remember one story that you told me knowing that 2 years ago about improving livestock giving people piglets I remember you told me about how they had arranged this gate.
DAVID :  it was a different project and animal husbandry project in GUI ZHOU 
It was not a Cooperative project in specific it was to increase the growth rate
of young animals.
A very simple technology these animals are housed and the young animals need
Higher nutrition you know we pay attention to our children and make sure that they get their nutrition even if we can't afford it. So we have a creep fence where young animals get under a bar to get better access to quality food and the other animals ended up eating the straw. A very simple technology. Technologies are better managed by the local technicians the local expertise then by our cooperatives . BUT we found in our very first project we had a technology objective. We found that that they weren't needed. Once the Cooperative was established and that the Management system in place  they were able to seek the technology that was needed. There is another area we are really interested in.
That is the concept of the farmer field school that is a little bit like your digital green approach the farmers getting together and teaching each other.

Saturday, October 1, 2016

World Premiere: The San Francisco Opera’s Dream of the Red Chamber 红樓夢

The War Memorial Opera House was packed the night my husband, Kenny, and I had the pleasure and honor of seeing San Francisco Opera’s production of Dream of the Red Chamber.  红樓夢 ! The performance was mesmerizing in all of its aspects: storytelling, singing, lyrics, ingenious stage designs and costuming.  As an added bonus, author Cao Xuqin’s beautiful poems in Chinese were also displayed on screens on both sides of the stage.  Truly, this classic Chinese novel has been successfully transported to the American opera stage!  I had wondered if that was possible to turn a 2,500-page Chinese classic into a 2-act western style opera, but in the end it turned out to be a once-in-a-lifetime experience!

Amazing Storyline
     Like many operas, the storyline is a bit complicated involving as it does alternate universes, competing lovers, scheming adults, greed, chicanery, and a sad ending.  Many Chinese scholars compare the importance of Dream of the Red Chamber in Chinese culture to Romeo and Juliet in western culture.  The story opens with a particular stone left behind from the construction of Heaven by 女媧 and a flower 絳珠草 existing in another world. The stone nurtured the flower with its dew for 3,000 years. Together they decided to be incarnated as mortals to experience love on earth.  Against sound advice from a monk, they pass through a magic mirror and assume human identities, one man and the other a woman.  Their fates are intertwined and their hopes dashed by those around them. Sitting in my seat, I could not help but wonder “why couldn’t they be left alone and enjoy their pure love?”  But, that’s not the story.  The idea of life being an illusion and filled with predestined suffering is deeply rooted in Buddhist and Daoist theology, both of which are prominent features of Chinese culture. 
For a complete description of the plot visit the SFO website and download the Synopsis for Dream of the Red Camber.   

The Creative Team 
Shanghai-born and MacArthur Award Winner Bright Sheng was first challenged  in 2011 by the Chinese Heritage Foundation of Minnesota to bring something great in Chinese culture to the American audience.  His thorough understanding of the classic, Dream of the Red Chamber, which he has read many times, enabled him to synthesize the 2500-page novel and bring it to the stage while keeping faith with the original.

Tony-winning American-born playwright David Henry Wang, who readily accepted Bright Sheng’s challenge to do the libretto, was unfamiliar with the novel but has a deep understanding of American culture so he could ensure that the material would touch an American audience. This duo dared in their cuts and focused the opera on the love triangle of Bao Yu, Dai Yu, and Bao Chai and made the story relevant to the modern 21st century audience.
Then American-born Taiwanese director Stan La joined forces with the others to bring his vast stage experience to the project.
Oscar-winning Hong Kong-born designer Tim Yip’s contributions can be seen in every set design and costume.
I was in awe as I watched what these four had created.

Beautiful and powerful set designs
I was very impressed by the stage set designs which so effectively support and enhance the storyline.  My favorite parts are when Dai Yu (the flower in the other universe) is in her living quarters surrounded by a bamboo grove.  Another one is when Dai Yu was burning the poetry that Bao Yu (the stone in the other universe) and she wrote together.  The set has two levels.  On one, you see Dai Yu in her flowing green outfit crying and singing.  At the same time, on a lower level Bao Yu is lamenting that he and Dai Yu cannot marry.  The staging makes it work. Simple but powerful! I like these two even better than the magnificent Daguan Yuan 大觀園 where Family Jia lived and where the setting is for the story.

The creative costume designs
Tim Yip, the production designer of Dream of the Red Chamber, purposely made his costumes somewhat abstract leaving one’s imagination to come to the fore.  Take Dai Yu’s costume for an example. She wears this flowing green elegant piece all through two acts.  Yip explained that he did it so we could “sense the body within—or perhaps the aura of character’s spirit”.  The green in this case reflects Dai Yu’s living quarters in the garden, surrounded by bamboo.

Music and Singing
Obviously, a major part of an opera is its music, both the orchestral and the vocal.  Bright Sheng as composer and co-librettist and librettist David Henry Hwang have worked wonders.  When the orchestra starts playing and the actors start singing, one’s body and soul vibrates with joy.  It is even possible at times to forget all your worldly worries.  The production uses singers from all over the world, Yijie Shi (from Shanghai, China, tenor) plays Bao Yu, Pureum Jo (Seoul, South Korea, soprano plays Dai Yu, and Irene Roberts (Sacramento, CA, Messo-soprano)  and so on. The fantastic SFO orchestra is at its usual finest.

This world-class production won the support of many people from the American-Chinese community who donated significant time and money to make it a reality.  I recognized some of the famous names like Amy Tan and Yuan Yuan Tan on the committee of Ambassadors. The Asian Art Museum of San Francisco helped introduce the community to the novel Dream of the Red Chamber and features it on museum displays.  We can be very proud of the way that Chinese from different parts of the world brought their talents together to create this masterpiece.  

If you are interested in exploring in detail the origins and meanings of the novel itself, click on this site for a full-blown course of study.

On a personal note, I feel very blessed that we were there to see the world premier!