Tànsuǒ, Nashville’s New High-End Chinese Restaurant

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Mar 212017

A new Chinese restaurant just opened in Nashville:

Meaning ‘to explore’ in Cantonese, Tànsuǒ serves as an exploration of contemporary Chinese cuisine reminiscent of China’s night markets and traditional street fare. Hand-picked by Chef Maneet Chauhan, Executive Chef Chris Cheung brings his acclaimed expertise and familial heritage in Asian cuisine to curate a menu filled with dishes using humble ingredients presented in an extraordinary way.

I have not had the chance to try it out yet, but the interior is quite fancy, and I don’t think I’ve ever seen Chinese tone markers used in a brand name before. Also looking forward to hear how Nashville decides to pronounce the name.

1982 World’s Fair – China Pavilion

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Mar 152017

The 1982 World’s Fair was hosted in Knoxville, and the China pavilion was easily one of the most popular attractions. It was also my earliest exposure to China. This New York Times article from the time contains many of same themes one sees in today’s China coverage, including rampant cultural commercialism, testy negotiations, “difficulties in communication”, and fear of loss of face:


KNOXVILLE, Tenn., May 4— China’s participation in a world’s fair for the first time since 1904 has produced a dramatic exhibit that grew out of difficult negotiations that came within a breath of failure.

The pavilion is easily the most heavily visited one at the fair. The Chinese estimate that at least half of the quarter-million people who have turned out for the first four days of the fair have been through the China pavilion.

Virtually everything inside the pavilion is available for purchase, even the most intricate and expensive objets d’art….

For China’s part, said Lu Fengchun, commissioner general of the pavilion, the exposition was an opportunity for his country to expand its ”policy of open-door economics” that began in 1979 when diplomatic relations with the United States were established after 30 years without such ties….

Apparently, it was a fear that their exhibit might not compare favorably with those of other nations that caused the Chinese almost to reject the invitation to participate….

What Mr. Roberts described as ”difficulties in communication” plagued the prospect of Chinese participation for much of last year….

Finally, after three days of negotiations again in Peking, the Chinese agreed to come to Knoxville. The fair officials agreed to pay for shipping the large exhibit to the fair, to pay for some basic construction changes in the pavilion and to provide technical assistance in preparing the exhibit. The cost to the fair was more than $1 million.

Bill Wallace, Knoxville’s WWII Era Doctor and Missionary in Wuzhou

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Feb 242017

An interesting profile on Bill Wallace, who was born in Tennessee and spent much of the 1930s and 1940s as a missionary and doctor in China.

Wallace was not the only foreign missionary martyred in China during the tumultuous years of a Japanese invasion, civil war and the beginnings of communist rule — which ended the missionary era. But his life story became as familiar to Southern Baptists of several generations as that of Lottie Moon, the missionary heroine who died serving China several decades before Wallace arrived.

Born in Knoxville, Tenn., in 1908, Wallace was the son of a doctor and as a boy tagged along with his father on patient rounds. At age 17 — while working on a car in the family garage — Wallace heard God’s call to medical missions. He answered yes, recorded the commitment on the back leaf of his New Testament, and never turned back.

After college, medical school and a surgical residency at Knoxville’s General Hospital, Wallace turned down a lucrative offer to become a partner with an outstanding surgeon. He was appointed in 1935 as a missionary to China by the Southern Baptist Foreign Mission Board — 10 years to the month after he made his garage commitment.

He went to Wuchow (now Wuzhou) in southern China, where missionaries at the Baptist-run Stout Memorial Hospital were desperately praying for a surgeon.

Wallace is apparently quite well known among Southern Baptists. A book has been written about his life, as well as a short documentary video:

He nearly died from typhoid fever in 1948. After recovering, he kept right on working in Wuchow after the communist defeat of the Nationalist Chinese in 1949 — earning even the grudging respect of communist soldiers as he treated their wounds.

But missionaries were no longer welcome in China, and the start of the Korean War in 1950 sparked an intense anti-American propaganda campaign. Wallace’s arrest came in December of that year after local authorities “found” a gun under his mattress during a search and accused him of being a spy. He died in jail less than two months later.

Confucius Institute -10 Years in Memphis

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Feb 242017

I posted an article recently about a state legislator’s opposition to the three Confucius Institutes in Tennessee. I don’t think they’ll be closed down, and neither do they:

On Feb. 11th, local time, during the Chinese Lantern Festival, the Confucius Institute at the University of Memphis held its 10th anniversary celebration. Commissioned by Hanban, the tour group of Sichuan Normal University presented a cultural feast composed of Chinese drama, martial arts, dance, vocal music and folk music. The theater was fully packed.

Before the show began, the audience watched a video clip that reviews the ten–year-journey of the Confucius Institute. Kong Xiangde, Director of the Confucius Institute first delivered a speech, and extended his gratitude to the tour group of Sichuan Normal University and the audience. He hoped that in 2017, the Confucius Institute will make more contributions to China-US cultural exchanges with the support of all parties.

With rich content, the show is unusually brilliant. Xiong Jian, a National Second Rank Performer of the Academy of Sichuan Opera in Chengdu performed “face-changing”, a treasure of the Sichuan opera. Amid intense opera music, Xiong entered the stage with quick steps and turned to debut. Being simply imposing and impressive, Xiong made a “face-changing” every time he flicked his robes. The audience marveled at his performance, while the stage was engulfed by their endless applause and cheers.

On the U of M site, the article is only available in Chinese. The Chinese site is far more extensive than the English version, perhaps to make sure that “Hanban”, the government-affiliated organization that manages all CIs, sees how active they are (and keeps the funding coming in).

Tennessee State Rep Doesn’t Like Confucius Institutes

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Feb 222017

A Tennessee state legislator has issues with the three Confucius Institutes in Tennessee:

In a letter Tuesday to the presidents of three Tennessee universities, Rep. Martin Daniel, R-Knoxville, wrote that the Confucius Institutes’ close ties to the Chinese government warrant “serious evaluation of the Institute’s presence on campus.”

“They are controlled by the Chinese government absolutely,” Daniel said.

The Confucius Institute program launched in 2004 to promote knowledge of Chinese culture on college campuses across the world, including at the University of Tennessee at Knoxville, Middle Tennessee State University and the University of Memphis….

In his letter, Daniel criticized China’s “blatant disregard for human rights” and claimed the institute sends hand-picked faculty from China to the United States who are instructed to “avoid classes that cover controversial subjects that the Chinese Government has deemed inappropriate — such as student-led demonstrations that resulted in the Tiananmen Square massacre.”

There has been plenty of debate about Confucius Institutes across the U.S. and around the world, but so far they don’t seem to be causing much controversy in Tennessee. For what it’s worth, the schools themselves seem quite happy with the arrangement:

MTSU President Sidney McPhee defended the Confucius Institute in a statement and clarified the school’s relationship with the program. The university has longstanding partnerships with Chinese schools, and McPhee has traveled to China every year since becoming president.

“Our goal in our relationship with the Confucius Institute is to build our international relationships between MTSU and universities in China at a minimal cost and without relinquishing any control over our own academic programs or instructional rigor,” he said. McPhee said the Confucius Institute does not conduct or oversee any for-credit academic courses at the university. The school has control over all credit-hour courses….

Daniel said he would not propose any legislation to coerce the universities into cutting ties with the program, instead he deferred to their respective boards.

The University of Memphis got its center in 2007, followed by MTSU in 2009 and UTK in 2013. The schools likely knew what they were getting into and thus are probably not in a hurry to stop their relationships anytime soon.

Nashville’s Hot Hotpot Spot

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Feb 162017

Nashville Scene has a review of Sichuan Hot Pot & Asian Cuisine (蜀香园), which opened a couple of years ago but has steadily become one of the most popular Chinese restaurants in town:

But possibly the most adorably fun restaurant on the block is Sichuan Hot Pot & Asian Cuisine. It’s been open for about a year, but it’s taken me a while to discover it for myself, after hearing about it for months from enthusiastic customers. I have to admit I was somewhat skeptical at first. A glance into the interior reveals a sprawling space with flashy decor that includes glittering lights, a gigantic fountain and a fancy gazebo-looking structure where larger parties can enjoy group dining. All of that is fine, but in Nashville, that kind of visual pizzazz is often associated with the disappointing super-buffet version of Chinese cuisine (emphasizing quantity over quality) that dominated our dining scene for so many years.

Happily, it turns out Sichuan Hot Pot couldn’t be further from that. Hot-pot cooking, as executed here, is all about fresh ingredients that you cook up yourself in a savory broth, resulting not only in a delicious bowl of goodness, but also a social occasion, with dining turned into a diverting activity.

Check out the restaurant’s site here.