Letterhole Diary – December 2018

HE WHO controls the past controls the future, and it the country’s rewriting of its own past that will ensure 2019 belongs to China. The Chinese state has, over the past year, been conducting a brutal, quasi-genocidal campaign of repression against the Uyghurs, a largely Islamic Turkic ethnic group in the country’s vast, thinly-populated Xinjiang province. China, of course, has insisted its ‘re-education’ camps are harmless, if it admits they exist at all.

This displacement of Uyghurs by Han Chinese immigrants has been ongoing since the 1750s, when the Qing dynasty first conquered the region. But for Han colonisation of the country’s western provinces to be legitimised, China must scrub clean that history. That’s because historians can see in current events an echo of the Dzungar genocide, a deliberate campaign of extermination undertaken by Qing forces in the 1750s that paved the way for early Han (and indeed Uyghur) settlement in the north of Xinjiang.

The Dzungar were a Mongol ethnic group that formerly inhabited Dzungaria, the old name for northern Xinjiang. Their rise in the 1600s upset the balance of power in Mongolia and Central Asia, and the Qing dynasty made various attempts to pacify the region and extend its authority over the region; this eventually culminated in the final conquest of 1758. But the Dzungars’ refusal to accept the supremacy of the Qianlong Emperor was answered by genocide. As many as 600,000 people – 80% of the total Dzungar population – were exterminated or died from disease. To this day, China refuses to recognise the genocide. It will do so as long as it remains political convenient.

Spare a thought for José Mourinho, who enters 2019 unemployed. You can’t deny his dismissal has been a long time coming, not just because of shambolic performances, but also because of the toxic atmosphere that has become typical of his management. It’s hard to see where Mourinho could go next. I suspect he’ll make a brief return to Italy – at Inter or Milan – but his time at the very top of European football has probably come to an end. And honestly, he deserves it.

You can’t lay the blame squarely at Mourinho’s feet, however. Ed Woodward, the club’s chief executive, has spent several years buying luxury attacking players with no thought to squad cohesion, and given the task of fitting them all together to a manager known for his defensive play. It speaks to some pretty serious problems within Manchester United’s set-up; the club is in dire need of a Director of Football, and it’s an issue that will surely rear its head once temporary boss Ole Gunnar Solskjær’s honeymoon period is over.

Tweet of the month

An important moment this month was the election of a successor to Angela Merkel as the leader of her Christian Democratic Union, Germany’s governing party. The winner was Annegret Kramp-Karrenbauer, mercifully known by her initials, AKK. She’s considered something of a continuity candidate, and you could tell by Merkel’s beaming face that she was the chancellor’s choice, too.

AKK and Merkel are similar politicians: both possess a careful, considered, grown-up approach to politics. They’re also political moderates, although AKK has a slightly more conservative, religious leaning. Nonetheless, she was the sensible choice, although it’s not impossible that this impression of continuity won’t inspire voters in the next federal election. AKK’s victory has stymied the Green surge for now, but unless she can offer some of the change and dynamism that Germany’s lacked in recent years, it may not be a permanent reversal of fortune.

Film of the month

Letterhole rating: 9/10

The Shining
Stanley Kubrick, 1980

The Shining is the perfect winter movie. Like all horror films, it’s lost some of its impact with age, particularly one so relentlessly parodied, but it remains a dark, tense, brooding film of wintery isolation, and the perfect antidote to saccharine Christmas television.

There are a few things that make it such a an enduring classic. Firstly, it’s the sense of mystery and opaqueness the film maintains. We’re never treated to any kind of explanation or denouement; whether Jack Torrance (a darkly comic Jack Nicholson) has gone made with stress, or overtaken by the spirits of an ancient Native American burial ground (the hotel is replete with native art and iconography) is left entirely for the view to work out. Whatever the interpretation, the film’s exploration of the darkness at the heart of the human experience is a powerful one.

Secondly is the setting. The Overlook Hotel, with its winding corridors, shifting, space-defying, impossible layouts and weird, unsettling decor create a kind of disconcerting claustrophobia. Scenes in which Danny, the child, is riding around the halls on his tricycle carry with them a real menace, built purely on the setting alone. It’s a real masterwork of horror.

Essential reading

7 Dec Jonathan Wilson writes for goal.com about how the tactical innovations of Pep Guardiola and Maurizio Sarri encapsulate the evolution of the Premier League.

10 Dec In a Medium article, Yuri Geigin investigates whether Jeanne Calment, the oldest woman ever to have lived who died in 1997, wasn’t quite who she claimed to be.

12 Dec In the wake of the Jilets Jaunes protests, Michael Sweeney writes for the Boston Globe about what they get fundamentally wrong.

13 Dec Mollie Goodfellow reviews the latest must-have Christmas gift by YouTuber Zoella for the New Statesman, and in doing so examines how she has built her personal brand to exploit her audience.

14 Dec Stephen Bush, writing in his New Statesman column, argues that remain campaigners cannot win a second referendum unless they campaign for free movement.

28 Dec In the Manchester Evening News, Jennifer Williams investigates the extraordinary lengths the city went to court Channel 4.

31 Dec Writing for Forward, Michael Colborne details the terrifying rise of the far-right in Ukraine, and wonders why nobody seems to be paying any attention.

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