Showing posts with label colonialism. Show all posts
Showing posts with label colonialism. Show all posts

06 February 2022

Recensione libro: Daniele Ruffinoni e la Concessione Italiana (2018) di Bologna, Alberto e Michele Bonino, ****


L’area della ex Concessione italiana di Tianjin, in Cina, custodisce ancora oggi alcuni degli edifici progettati dall’ingegnere torinese Daniele Ruffinoni tra il 1913 e il 1915. La vicenda professionale di Ruffinoni a Tianjin, sino a ora praticamente inesplorata, fornisce l’occasione per riflettere su uno scambio intellettuale e tecnico tra l’Italia e la Cina e sul suo significato attuale, mentre ci si interroga sempre più sulle opportunità offerte dal grande Paese asiatico. 

Questo libro intende fare luce su una vicenda certo poco nota, ma per questo non meno significativa, dell’architettura italiana dello scorso secolo e sull’odierno stato di questi luoghi, a seguito di recenti processi di trasformazione. Quali le ragioni e il contesto storico in cui si è svolta la progettazione della ex Concessione italiana di Tianjin? Chi era Ruffinoni e come ha sviluppato la sua attività professionale in Cina? Quali strumenti metodologici mettere in campo per la lettura critica di questa storia? Quali le strategie progettuali seguite nella trasformazione recente della ex Concessione?


Ricostruzione meticolosa dell'opera di un architetto italiano in Cina. Il lungo viaggio, il rientro prematuro, la difficoltà di approvvigionamento dei materiali, le complicazioni legate allo scoppio della Grande Guerra.

Al di là di considerazioni storiche e politiche sull'esistenza stessa di quella concessione, il libro ci porta per mano nella Cina di inizio XX secolo, con l'ultima dinastia imperiale agli sgoccioli e la nascita della repubblica. In questo contesto si incontrano architetti e costruttori italiani e cinesi, a lavorare sul francobollo di terra che è Italia e tale resterà fino al 1947 quando sarà ovviamente restituita alla madrepatria.

Leggi qui le mie recensioni di libri sulla Cina.

20 February 2018


Morning around town. Museum of the city, today entrance is free, lucky us. We can learn about the history of Macau, a mix of Chinese and European cultures. 

Given the Portuguese were here for 500+ years obviously there is lots of Christian heritage, though if you look around the main cathedral has collapsed long ago, only the façade is left and no one seems to be in a great hurry to rebuild it.

Huge crowds are channeled in one direction only through narrow cobbled streets, after all this façada is still one of the main attractions of Macau.

Other than gambling, Macau is well known for the manufacturing of matches and fireworks.

In the afternoon we visited a "Venetian" complex, complete with canals and gondolas, several of which are driven by Italian (I know they are, I talked to a couple of them) gondolieri one is a woman.

The choice for food is infinite, I'd like to try a Portuguese restaurant but Lifang's stomach was rumbling a bit and we decide to play it safe and go for a Hunanese eatery in the food court.

It was interesting to come to Macau, but I would lie if I said we were overwhelmed. Perhaps because we do not gamble, or perhaps we did not give it enough time, tomorrow we're gone again. Maybe it would be a good idea to return and spend a bit more time but somehow I was not able to get a feeling for the soul of this land.

29 August 2017

Film review: A United Kingdom (2016) by Amma Asante, *****


From director Amma Asante, starring David Oyelowo (Selma) and Rosamund Pike and set against the breath-taking backdrops of the African savannah and period London, A United Kingdom celebrates the inspiring real-life romance of Seretse Khama, King of Bechuanaland (modern Botswana), and Ruth Williams, the London office worker he married in 1948 in the face of fierce opposition from their families and the British and South African governments.


A historical narrative of one sad page of the decline and fall of the British Empire after WW II. There are two levels to the story: a personal tale of love and a non-fiction account of the birth of a new African country.

Churchill is depicted for what he was: an anti-democratic imperialist, who would go back on his promises to try and salvage the decomposing British empire. But the prejudice of blacks against whites is displayed as well at length.

In the face of all these difficulties, it was a remarkable feat for the young leader to pull off a national reconciliation that would make Botswana a unique success story in post-colonial Africa. One of very few examples where the leaders who took over power from the colonial rulers actually improved their nation's lot and did not squander national resources for personal gain.

Highly recommended movie to understand a very special part of Africa.

25 November 2013

Film review/recensione: The lover /L'amante (1992), by Jean-Jacques Annaud, *****

testo italiano di seguito


The Lover is director Jean-Jacques Annaud's adaptation of Marguerite Duras' minimalist 1984 novel. Set in French Indochina in 1929, the film explores the erotic charge of forbidden love. Jane March plays a French teenager sent to a Saigon boarding school, while Tony Leung is a 32-year Chinese aristocrat. They look at each and they both see a blinding white flash; it's kismet. He offers her a ride in his limousine and soon they meet in his "bachelor room" where they revel in a wide variety of creative sexual encounters. However, they both realize their love is doomed.

She comes from a troubled family that includes a mentally-disturbed mother (Frederique Meininger) and drug-addicted brother (Arnaud Giovaninetti). It also appears that her family would not approve of an interracial tryst. But then neither would his family, since in order to inherit his father's wealth, he must not break from a traditional Chinese arranged marriage.


A high-quality erotic movie, of course, and a deeply romantic one. Deep passion intertwined with surrepetitiousness and sin. Very exciting.

But for me the main picture was that of colonian life in Vietnam in the French colonial time. Here we see as Asian man in control of a beautiful European lady. He is Chinese, not the colonized Vietnamese, but still an "Asian". Despite his wealth and sophistication he is still considered a second tier person by the white colonizers. But here he is in control. And she, too, frees herself from the constraint of her condition as a white lady at a boarding school, and takes her liberties with the man she loves. Or maybe does not love, but desires.

Duras said her book was partly autobiographical, which adds interest and lends credibility to the story.


Sul finire degli anni venti, in Indocina una ragazza di quindici anni, figlia di una donna povera, conosce l'uomo piu' ricco della regione. Fra i due nasce una grande passione, ma le rigide convenzioni sociali finiranno per prevalere sull'amore.


L'Amante è un film di grande sensualità ed intensità emotiva. Passione e trasgressione si mischiano per creare una miscela esplosiva. Molto eccitante. Questo è il primo messaggio che recepiamo dal film.

Tuttavia per me il secondo, e forse più importante, messaggio è quello di farci vedere la vita nell'Indocina colonizzata dai francesi negli anni venti del XX secolo. Vediamo un uomo asiatico (un cinese, non un vietnamita colonizzato) che controlla una bella donna bianca del paese colonizzatore. Nonostante la sua ricchezza e la sua sofisticata classe, egli è pur sempre un asiatico e come tale considerato una persona di seconda categoria. Ma qui è lui che domina la situazione. Ma anche la ragazza si libera delle costrizioni imposte dalla sua condizione di bianca e si prende le sue libertà con l'uomo che ama. O forse che non ama, ma che vuole.

Duras ha scritto che il suo libro è in parte autobiografico, il che accresce la credibilità e l'interesse per la storia qui esposta.

Versione italiana del DVD

10 July 2012

Film review: Sand Pebbles (1966) by Robert Wise, ****

"The Sand Pebbles" tells many stories. It's the story of China, a slumbering giant that rouses itself to the cries of its people - and of the Americans who are caught in its blood awakening. It's the story of Frenchy (Richard Attenborough, passionate!), a crewman on the U.S.S. San Pablo who kidnaps his Chinese bride from the auction block. It's the story of Shirley (Candice Bergen, not her best performance here), a teacher and her first unforgettable taste of love. It's the story of Captain Collins (Richard Crenna), ready to defy anyone for his country's defense. Most of all, it's the story of Jake Holman (Steve McQueen, who does great, maybe his best ever!), a sailor who has given up trying to make peace with anything - including himself. McQueen gives what is probably the best performance of his career. It's not surprising that he, Mako and the movie were up for Oscars. Portraying a character with conflicting loyalties to friend and flag, McQueen expertly conveys the confusion that leads into his final line: "What the hell happened?" It's to his credit that we already know.

A movie made at the time the Vietnam was escalating and beginning to raise questions in America. The parallel is obvious: China in the 1920s was a divided country with foreign powers meddling in its internal affairs and supporting the opposing sides of the civil war. Japan had invaded, the USSR supported the Communists, the Western powers supported the Nationalists. Western powers did not invade but had a military presence on the coast and, as this film shows, inland as well.

It is an anti-colonial film too. It shows how China, while not strictly speaking colonized, had been in fact the object of foreign interference and prevarication for many decades. Yet the film also shows the brutality of the colonialists' victims, with Chinese killing Chinese, sometimes for very little reason.

The human dimension of the film reminds me of Vietnam too. Frenchy falls in love with a Chinese woman and wants to marry her amidst many difficulties, just as it happened for many GIs in Vietnam.

The Blu-ray edition also contains interesting extra features, like an interview with the director and cut scenes, as well as a "the making of" featurette. This was before any CGI of course, so it is interesting to see how special effects were done in those days.

08 February 2012

Book Review: Heart of Darkness, by Joseph Conrad, *****

Heart of Darkness is a novella written by Joseph Conrad. It is widely regarded as a significant work of English literature and part of the Western canon. The story tells of Charles Marlow, an Englishman who took a foreign assignment from a Belgian trading company as a ferry-boat captain in Africa. Heart of Darkness exposes the myth behind colonization while exploring the three levels of darkness that the protagonist, Marlow, encounters--the darkness of the Congo wilderness, the darkness of the European's cruel treatment of the natives, and the unfathomable darkness within every human being for committing heinous acts of evil. Although Conrad does not give the name of the river, at the time of writing the Congo Free State, the location of the large and important Congo River, was a private colony of Belgium's King Leopold II. Marlow is employed to transport ivory downriver. However, his more pressing assignment is to return Kurtz, another ivory trader, to civilization, in a cover-up. Kurtz has a reputation throughout the region. This symbolic story is a story within a story or frame narrative. It follows Marlow as he recounts from dusk through to late night, to a group of men aboard a ship anchored in the Thames Estuary his Congolese adventure. The passage of time and the darkening sky during the fictitious narrative-within-the-narrative parallel the atmosphere of the story.

About the Author
Joseph Conrad was born in the Ukraine in 1857 and grew up under Tsarist autocracy. In 1874 Conrad travelled to Marseilles, where he served in French merchant vessels before joining a British ship in 1878 as an apprentice. In 1886 he obtained British nationality. Eight years later he left the sea to devote himself to writing, publishing his first novel, Almayer's Folly, in 1895. The following year he settled in Kent, where he produced within fifteen years such modern classics as Youth, Heart of Darkness, Lord Jim, Typhoon, Nostromo, The Secret Agent and Under Western Eyes. He continued to write until his death in 1924.

A masterpiece about the greed of human nature and folly of men pursuing wealth and power at the cost of their sanity, and of their lives. The writing is disorganized, chaotic, crazy even, but that is exactly the kind of situation Conrad was trying to convey. If you get lost while reading, don't worry, you are supposed to! The Belgian occupation of the Congo was probably the cruellest of all colonial powers, at least as long as King Leopold was running the place as his personal fiefdom. (Things improved when the Belgian state took over at the begining of the XX century.) The value of life was close to zero, and the discrepancy between a white life and a black life could not have been starker. Even Africans often considered an African life worth next to nothing.

There are several additional editions of the book on, including Kindle. Just click here to choose.

Here is the American edition with hardback, softcover and audio options.

Or click here to buy your copy on

This book was made into a movie in the 1990s. Funny but Amazon only offers the DVD of this title in Italian. The movie, however, is not even close to the quality of the book. Roth does a good job, but the good news ends here. The location is a far cry from the majestic Congo river and the sequence of events is played out in an artificial way, makes it all feel very fake.

Recensione Film: Cuore di Tenebra (1993), di Nicholas Roeg, ***


Nel Congo belga, dove la vita vale pochissimo, Kurtz, funzionario di una compagnia che traffica in avorio, è forse impazzito nel suo isolato avamposto nel Congo. Il capitano Marlowe è inviato alla sua ricerca. Lo trova dopo aver attraversato l'inferno...

22 August 2008

Recensione: La Quarta Sponda - La Guerra di Libia 1911-1912 (ed. 2007), di Sergio Romano, *****

Nascita e crescita dell'occupazione italiana in Libia

Considerata a lungo un episodio poco luminoso del nostro nazionalismo, la guerra italo-turca fu in realtà molto più complessa, e meno provinciale, di quanto possa sembrare. La vollero non solo i nazionalisti, ma anche i cattolici, buona parte dei democratici e persino alcuni socialisti. Per ragioni diverse suscitò consensi nella borghesia del Nord e fra i contadini del Sud. Giovanni Giolitti, allora primo ministro, la preparò forse controvoglia perché il Paese gliela chiedeva.

L'Italia che guardava alla "quarta sponda" come alla terra promessa andò alla conquista della Libia per ansia di riscatto, ma, attaccando l'impero ottomano, rischiava di riaccendere un braciere tutt'altro che spento, con focolai prossimi a nuove scintille (crisi marocchina e guerre balcaniche) e che sarebbe esploso, due anni dopo, nel primo conflitto mondiale.

Ho letto l'edizione del 2007 ma il libro è di esattamente 30 anni prima.


L'Italia il primo paese ad effettuare un bombardamento aereo
Il libro è una descrizione puntuale degli avvenimenti che portarono alla conquista italiana della Libia, della campagna militare che ne seguì, e degli strascichi fino alla Grande Guerra, dove Italia e Turchia si ritrovarono di nuovo una contro l'altra. Il facile sbarco delle prime truppe, le alterne vicende dei combattimenti a terra, i negoziati di pace, il tutto viene trattato da Romano con la necessaria freddezza dello storico e con la meticolosità del ricercatore scrupoloso. Tantissimi i dettagli forniti, forse anche troppi da digerire per il lettore medio. Ma consola sapere che c'è tutto, o quasi, nel libro, che si legge con piacere ma serve anche da opera di riferimento cui tornare per rinfrescare la memoria.

Lettura piacevole ma che richiede un certo impegno e concentrazione, molto stimolante. Non molto utile invece il capitolo finale su Gheddafi, e destinato ad diventare obsoleto in breve tempo, al contrario del libro che probabilmente resterà valido nel tempo.

Utile anche un breve glossario alla fine, mentre come quasi sempre per i libri italiani manca un vero indice, c'è solo un indice dei nomi ed un sommario con titoli dei capitoli che comunque ne svelano il contenuto e facilitano la ricerca.

27 December 2001

6. - 27 December: drive to Pondicherry


Morning depart by car on to Pondicherry (2 hrs). Pondicherry a former French colony.

Police with French kepi hat!

On arrival check into Hotel Anandha Inn.  Later proceed for sightseeing visiting Auroville and Aurobindo Ashram.

Overnight stay at Ananda Inn/Pondy