井底之蛙

Postings by C. W. Hayford

Contact: hayford [at] froginawell.net

Wikipedia: Do Your Bit, Or, Mao Zedong Gets 100,000 Hits

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 1:50 pm

Catching up on my reading, I came across a Wilson Quarterly post about Wikipedia, “In Essence: The Wikipedia Way,” which reports on an article by Richard Jensen, “Military History on the Electronic Frontier: Wikipedia Fights the War of 1812” The Journal of Military History (Oct. 2012).

Richard Jensen is a hardworking historian who does his bit to urge us all to do our bit. Wilson Quarterly uses his article to talk about the Wikipedia article, “War of 1812.” They note that “more than 2,400 self-appointed editors contributed to the 14,000-word article. Some 627 people spilled 200,000 words’ worth of digital ink arguing over its exact content. In April 2012, it garnered 172,000 page views.”

You could see the same pattern in China articles. “Mao Zedong,” for instance,  has been viewed 120,0082 times between June 26 and July 23. That’s right: 120,0082, though it will have changed by the time you click this link. The article has had nearly 10,000 edits, more than 400 editors.

Part of the fascination of Wikipedia is going backstage by clicking the “Talk Page” tab. Lots of juicy nonsense mixed in with the occasional words of wisdom1.

The articles on the major events of modern Chinese history are numerous. Most are too long and filled with quirky trivia. Some are useful summaries of what readers should know, some are … well, let’s just say they are not quite so good. You decide:

  • Xinhai Revolution (how many Wikipedia readers will know that this is the “1911 Revolution”?)

We could go on.

Moral: Those 100,000 readers need you.

On the internet “nobody knows that you’re a dog,” so don’t let the editing go to them.

 

 

 

 

  1. in this case, you have to click on the “Archived” links to see the back discussions). You can look at the individual edits by going to the “View History” tab []

Seek Truth from Farts

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:31 pm

My passing comment on Alan’s Seek Truth from Facts mentioned that I once saw “Seek Truth From Farts.” Maybe it was a misprint, maybe a comment.

Then I ran across a posting on the Harvard-Yenching Facebook which linked to a Waseda University collection of Japanese painting.

https://fbcdn-sphotos-d-a.akamaihd.net/hphotos-ak-prn1/s720x720/148556_147913225361069_116530357_n.jpg

 

 

Pigs in the News and In Wikipedia: Or, Lipstick on a Frog

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 1:40 pm

Vladimir Putin is on a roll. He has been having a fine time poking the US in the eye over the Edward Snowden kerfuffle,  but at a news conference he declined to comment: “In any case, I’d rather not deal with such questions, because anyway it’s like shearing a pig – lots of screams but little wool.”

That reminded me that it’s been too long since we talked about pigs. Just because we’re Frog in a Well doesn’t mean that we can only talk about frogs – in fact, pigs are our, well… bread and butter. I will modestly call attention to my piece, “Pigs, Shit, and Chinese History, or, Happy Year of the Pig!” Frog In a Well  (January 27 2007). You can find several more by clicking the “Pigs” link on the right hand column of this page.

Putin seems to be using one of the many, many colorful pig sayings. My father, who grew up on a farm, had a bunch of them, mostly unprintable. Wikipedia is good at accumulating this sort of thing. A succession of people edited the article “Lipstick on a Pig,”  which gives examples of usage going back decades, but the Wikipedia article  “Pig in a Poke” is even better. Many languages have a rough equivalent. It turns out that in  Latvia you say “Buy a cat in a sack.” Who knew? Wikipedia “Pigs in Popular Culture” has an extensive section of pig-related idioms.

Right. But what about China?

Wikipedia has many faults. It is a great grab bag, not an encyclopedia. But, as the computer software people like to say, “that’s not a bug, it’s a feature.” China and pigs is a good example. If you want to have some idiotic fun, go to Wikipedia, any page, and in the upper right hand corner you will find a “Search” box. Enter “~Pigs + China” (without the quotation marks). The tilde (~) means that you don’t want articles with this word in the title, but all  Wikipedia pages with the following words in it.

Amazing. I got 7,259 hits. Of course, this includes duplicates, off the wall irrelevances, rock songs, and pig iron, but also a fascinating variety of things you would not have thought to look up: “Coprophagia”, Dutch Pacification Campaign on Formosa,” as well as straightforward finds such as “Science and technology of the Song Dynasty.“And that’s less than a dozen of the hits, leaving more than 7,000 to go.

This search, random though it may be, is a dramatic way to see the central role that pigs played in Chinese history.

And oh, young people today just don’t know the classics — the Muppets’ “Pigs in Space.” Vladimir Putin’s soft power sneers can’t compare. YouTube has tons of them: Pigs in Space at YouTube.

 

 

What Do Lin Yutang and Lin Biao Have in Common? They Were Both Memory Holed

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 2:17 am

Global Voices, a quite useful and smart blog, on January 30 posted Two Versions of Mao’s China: History Retouched as Propaganda, which has an set of uncanny “before and after” photos of the sort we’ve become all too familiar with. It’s not surprising to see Lin Biao being airbrushed out of posters and photos after he went from being Mao’s “closest comrade in arms and successor” to falling (literally) from grace.

But a set of photos further down the page caught my eye. The original 1927 version (the one on the bottom) shows Lu Xun (front row right), his wife, brother, Sun Fuyuan, another friend, and Lin Yutang (back row center), but in the second version, dated 1977, Lin and the other friend have been artfully “disappeared.”

Lu Xun With (1927) and Without (1977) Lin Yutang

Lu Xun With (1927) and Without (1977) Lin Yutang

I’m afraid that for too long Lin Yutang was also airbrushed out of Western accounts of China before the 1949 Revolution. Until the work of Qian Suoqiao, now of Hong Kong City University, Lin couldn’t get much scholarly respect. Since Qian is a friend, I should write a little more about his heroic contributions at some point in the future, but for now, let’s just appreciate the irony of the two airbrushed Lins. (more…)

Ungraded Love or Double Standards? Stanley Fish, Stephen Asma, and Confucius

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 8:10 am

Stanley Fish, no stranger to controversy, has a piece on the New York Times online blog, Opinionator, Favoritism Is Good (January 9, 2013). Fish is known for such books as There’s No Such Thing As Free Speech: And a Good Thing Too,  He vigorously responds to the critics of his March 2012 Two Cheers for Double Standards, published during the early phases of the presidential campaign when Rush Limbaugh and Bill Maher both made colorful and offensive remarks. Many said that we had to condemn both the right and the left in order to be fair.

“Enlightenment liberalism!”  cried Fish, and proceeded to explain why even-handed treatment of friend and foe was wrong.  The classic liberal stance was “the transposition into the political realm of the Golden Rule: do unto others what you would have them do unto you. Don’t give your friends a pass you wouldn’t give to your enemies.” That is, “fairness is the great liberal virtue.” Dangerous, says Fish: “Limbaugh is the bad guy… why should he get an even break?” If you treat the good guys and the bad guys the same way, you are withdrawing from moral judgment.

That argument outraged more readers than any column he had written. An avalanche of comments asserted that merit and a single standard should rule. Fish responds by defending the double standard: “it’s not only O.K. but positively good to favor those on your side, members of your tribe. These are the people who look out for you, who have your back, who share your history, who stand for the same things you do. Why would you not prefer them to strangers?”

Giving preference is not prejudice but morally grounded, he continued. The classic liberal sees the individual as “what remains after race, gender, ethnicity and filial relationships have been discounted.” This is wrong:  “personhood is the sum of all these, and it makes no sense to disregard everything that connects you to someone and to treat him or her as if the two of you had never met.”

Pop quiz: Does this remind you of anyone? Confucius called for “graded love.” You don’t treat your family the same way you treat a stranger. (more…)

Credentialism and Other Modern Traditions: It’s a Post-Authentic World

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:12 pm

A note to those who are imprudent enough not to follow the Japanese side of Frog in a Well:  Jonathan Dresner has a smart, witty, and informative piece, Credentialism and Other Modern Traditions which riffs on the proposal to make 和食 [washoku, Japanese cuisine] an “intangible cultural asset.”  Jonathan is especially sharp about the idea that Japanese food is uniquely unique, which plays along with my comments on “authenticity” in my piece on Chop Suey.

Meanwhile, Bruce Springsteen’s keynote speech to the South by Southwest Music Conference in Austin took on the critics who wanted to keep rock and roll pure. Springsteen said we live in a “post-authentic world” with new forms, genres, influences, and instruments he couldn’t have imagined when he started out. Whether an artist is using a computer or a guitar, “there is no pure way of doing it, there’s just doing it.”

It’s all chop suey. We can still decide that something tastes awful, but we can’t dismiss it simply because it’s not “authentic.”

 

Who’s Afraid of Chop Suey? Or, The Politics of Authenticity

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:47 pm

 

I humbly report that I have a piece –  “Who’s Afraid of Chop Suey?” — in the most recent Education About Asia (Winter 2011). The journal has generously made it available online for free (click here).

Chop Suey offers a convenient way to talk about the fate of Chinese food and cooking in the US before recent times, when the level of care and appreciation rose tremendously. The piece also argues that it is a mistake to dismiss the dish for not being “authentic.”

It is fair to say that Chop Suey in most restaurants is very likely to be a gooey mess — too salty, too sweet, too mushy — but it is dangerous to say that it’s not authentic. “Authenticity” is  too often used to police the cultural borders against intruders, cosmopolitans, hybrids, and mongrels, and  assumes that “authentic” means pure and unspoiled, “true to itself.” Good enough. I”m all for it. But who gets to decide what’s authentic? The House Un-Authentic Activities Committee?

Years ago I got a lesson in the ironies of authenticity angst. I had just come back from Taiwan, where I had spent a lot of time in restaurants and street stalls which had cooks and customers who were trained in the old ways on the mainland. I thought I knew something about authentic Chinese food.

I searched up and down the streets of Boston Chinatown for the place with the dimmest lights and the most Chinese customers. I found just the spot and ordered  the Special Lunch or ke fan. This was a cup of soup and a mound of rice with your meat or veggies on top, served on a flat plate. I politely turned down the spoon they brought and demanded  chopsticks. Only after a few minutes of chasing the rice around the plate did I look around to see that all the old Chinese men, the ones whose authentic presence had drawn me in, were eating with spoons.

I had demanded chopsticks because I was worried about authenticity. What was I thinking? I was a six foot blue eyed blond. Did I think that if I used chopsticks nobody would notice that I wasn’t Chinese? The actual Chinese in that restaurant didn’t worry about authenticity: All they wanted to do was to get the food into their mouths. No matter what they did they were still “Chinese.”  They were sensible; I got rice all over my shirt.

By the same authenticity test, I would never have ordered Chop Suey. Somehow Chop Suey wasn’t “Chinese,” or at least not authentic Chinese. In the following years I came to realize that just as there are regional cuisines inside China, there are regional Chinese cuisines outside China. American Chinese cuisine is one of them, and it’s just as authentic as can be. I’ve had dreary Peking Duck in China and excellent sweet and sour pork in the US.

A few years ago, I came back to Chop Suey, or at least to the idea of it. For a book about how Americans thought about China, I wanted to write a biography of a food item that started in the 19th century and came down to the present.  The ups and downs of Chop Suey show a great deal about Americans, some of them of Chinese ancestry, many of them not.

Some recent good books beat me to the punch. Jennifer 8. Lee,  a New York Times reporter, got out into the field to talk to people about how the Chinese restaurant business actually works, and combined this with some pretty good library research. Her  The Fortune Cookie Chronicles: Adventures in the World of Chinese Food (New York, NY: Twelve, 2008) is lively and full of smart points. She argues that the close-knit world of Chinese restaurants set them up for the same type of  “cloud sourcing,” or “group entrepreneurship” that fueled the take off in Silicon Valley computer industry. She tells a lively story of creativity and constant innovation.

Andrew Coe’s  Chop Suey: A Cultural History of Chinese Food in the United States (Oxford University Press, 2009) also tells a good story based on delving into historical records. J. A. G. Roberts, China to Chinatown: Chinese Food in the West (London: Reaktion, 2002) follows Western reactions to Chinese food over the last few centuries.

On a more theoretical but still accessible level, Daniel Little’s Understanding Society blog piece,  “Cultural Authenticity and the Market” (here) shows us how to use the idea of authenticity without spilling philosophical rice on our philosophical shirts.

Besides, everything is an authentic something or other. The touts on downtown Nathan Road in Hong Kong used to offer “genuine” ROLEX watches. Smart tourists wouldn’t bite when they noticed the RALEX or ROLOX logo, so a few years ago the touts began to ask “do you want to buy a fake Rolex?” People bought them so they could have a cute story to tell their friends.  These watches were “authentic,” that is, “authentic fakes.”

So let’s not get all authenticer than thou.

Dragons, Dragons Everywhere! But They Don’t Shake the World

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 3:00 pm

This week you run across dragons just about everywhere.

President Obama welcomed the Year of the Dragon from the White House (here), while Paul French did likewise from his lively blog,  China RhymingWelcome to the Year of the Dragon.  He has a particularly cool dragon from the cover of his real life murder mystery, Midnight in Peking on the Australian version, though the US version doesn’t have one. Maybe Americans are afraid of dragons?

If you think that Dragons will “shake the world,” just a reminder that there’s no evidence that Napoleon ever said “beware of China, for when the Dragon wakes it will shake the world.” I talked about this in China Rises, China Wakes? (February 12, 2010).

The release of the film, Girl With the Dragon Tatoo, inspired a bunch of people to get tatoos, some of them on body parts I didn’t want to know about.. Google images for “Chinese Dragon Tatoo“  gets pictures and pictures and pictures.

I can’t resist — the restaurant chain P.F. Chang’s didn’t use dragons in its decor, but decided to welcome the New Year with the old Chinese custom of handing out “red envelopes” which contain a surprise, maybe a free desert on the next visit. Of course, the chain sells food that’s defined as Chinese, but there are no Chinese  in the top management. The “Chang” was chosen because it would fit on the signboards and sounded Chinese. The “P.F.” is for “Paul Fleming,” one of the creators of the Outback Steakhouse and the entrepreneur behind the chain.1

Send in the dragons.

  1. Jennifer 8. Lee, The Fortune Cookie Chronicles (New York: Twelve, 2008), p. 18) []

Dragons in the News: Is a Long a Dragon?

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 2:22 am

The Year of the Dragon is upon us – should we be afraid?

Around the English speaking world, magazine covers and editorial writers rely on the dragon as a colorful shorthand for “China”:  “the dragon is coming,” the “dragon is waking,” or  “the eagle and the dragon.” In the PRC, Xinhua, the official news agency, reports “Year of Dragon Stamp Arouses Debate among Public.” One writer complained: “The moment I saw the design of the dragon stamp on newspaper, I was almost scared to death.”

Relax. We will not need a St. George the Dragon Slayer to come to our rescue. The Chinese long is a different creature from a dragon.

Wolfram Eberhard reassures us that in “sharp contrast to Western ideas on this subject, the Chinese dragon is a good natured and benign creature: a symbol of natural male vigor and fertility,” a primordial representative of the yang side of things. 1.

Eberhard warns that “combining as it does all sorts of mythological and cosmological notions, the dragon is one of China’s most complex and multi-tiered symbols.” In the cosmology which was systematized under the Han dynasty, the dragon  stood in the east, which came pretty naturally, since the east was the region of sunrise and rain, as opposed to the west, land of the cold, dry yin, where the white tiger ruled over death. A “tiger and dragon” fight, whether in martial arts or in Ang Lee’s 2000 movie “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon,” is the clash of opposite styles.

In the Book of Changes (Yijing), says Edward Shaugnessy, University of Chicago specialist on early China, the “Heavenly Dragon” is an “organizing image.”  As the creature associated with spring and dawn, “first hidden in watery depths beneath the horizon, the dragon then appears in the fields before suddenly jumping up to fly through the summer sky. However, even the dragon cannot fly forever. When it gets too high – and too arrogant – it is cut off at the neck to descend once more into the watery depths.”2

Dragons come in all shapes and sizes, and they have the handy ability to expand to fill up all space or shrink as small as a silkworm. For starters there are “heavenly dragons (tian long),” “spirit dragons (shen long),” earth-dragons (di long),” “dragons which guard treasure (fu-cang long),” and Flying Dragons (feilong). And this is before we even get to the other dragon-like creatures, such as the qilin, fenghuang, and pixie. (If you want to know what a qilin looks like, you’ll find one on a bottle of Kirin Beer, since “kirin” is the Japanese pronunciation of qilin).

So “dragon” isn’t a great translation for the Chinese long. “A long is a long,” says Thorsten Pattberg, a scholar at Peking University’s Institute of World Literature, in a good humored column with a serious point in China Daily (January 16, 2012) (here).  He says it’s “maybe even a tianlong, but please, please do not use ‘dragon.’ That kind of linguistic imperialism happened to your unique Sichuan xiongmao once, remember? Now it’s a Western ‘panda.’” If Westerners used the correct word, long, it would remind them that they are facing something culturally new,” not a “dragon.”

(more…)

  1. Wolfram Eberhard, A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols: Hidden Symbols in Chinese Life and Thought (London; New York: Routledge, 1986), pp. 83-86 []
  2. Edward Shaugnessy, China: Empire and Civilization (Oxford 2000) p. 6. []

Names and Dates In English and Chinese

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 9:15 pm

I recently discovered Beijing Time Machine, run  by Jared Hall. His recent piece Time over Place: Naming Historical Events in Chinese (ironically, it is not dated), is a striking and useful observation:

In English, we generally recall important turning points in terms of where they unfolded. Simple place names conjure up entire historical epochs. “Pearl Harbor” marks the American entrance into the Second World War and the global struggle against fascism. “Bandung,” the conference in of newly independent African and Asian nations that pledged to stand together in 1955 against imperialism and Cold War division. And then, of course, there is “Tian’anmen.” It is doubtful that mention of the square here in China would, by itself, raise any eyebrows. But try “6-4″ (六四) and you are can expect quite a different reaction.

There is also a useful chart of name years in the sixty year cycle, which you can download to put on your desk calendar or refrigerator door.

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