井底之蛙

1/13/2013

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…)

11/26/2012

Rustic poetry

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 11:22 am

The contrast between the center and the periphery is a common theme in Chinese literature. To be an official sent from the capital to the provinces, or a sent-down youth sent from Beijing to a village in the Northeast is a great inspiration for art. A very fine example of this comes from, Pricne Dan, as discussed by Andrew Chittick. ((Chittick, Andrew. Patronage and Community in Medieval China: The Xiangyang Garrison, 400-600 Ce. State Univ of New York Pr, 2010.)) The Xiangyang garrison was an outpost of central power along the middle Yangzi, and thus the relationship between the local elite and central power (the capital in what is now Nanjing) was very important both for the central power (who needed local support to hold of the northern hordes) and for local elite (who were legitimated by connections to central power.)  First, the poem

At dawn depart from Xiangyang town, by evening  lodge at Big Dike inn.
All the girls of Big Dike bloom voluptuous, startling  young men’s eyes.
Going upstream one’s job is poling, downstream row a pair of oars;
Four-cornered dragon streamers encircle  the pole in the river’s midst.
Jiangling’s three thousand  three hundred  li, midpoint  of the west pass road,
But whether  it is clear or blocked-how can you figure how long it takes?
Men praise Xiangyang music, but the music made is not that of my country.
Guided by stars, braving the wind, I’ll sail back to my Yang province.
Lustrous unrestrained girls like creeping vines tangle around  the long-lived pine.
Though  their loveliness perseveres in spring, when the year is cold they are no use to me.
The  yellow goose joins heaven  to fly, anxiously pacing the middle way.
The cartwheels  turn  in my guts; whom must my love be with now?
Yang province rushes wrought in circles; a hundred cash buys two or three thickets’  worth.
If I cannot  buy then  I will return; empty hands will clutch  and embrace me.
Creeping  vines arise from baseness; they rely on the   surface of the long-lived pine.
Yet can one slight a death  by frost? The noble becomes entangled with another.
I hate to see so much lust and pleasure, stop me, don’t speak to me.
I won’t be a crow that flocks in the forest; suddenly I feel I am called to go.
Chittick points out that this poem seems to echo many elements of provincial culture. Xiangyang elite culture centered around violence, song, and dance, rather than the literary culture that dominated the center, and there are elements of this in here.1 More significantly for me it gives an almost timeless view of the Chinese elite’s view of the provinces. Voluptuous girls trying to entangle you genders the relationship between a properly ordered, patriarchal center and the more loose provinces. People in the provinces are poor, so your money (and status) go further there. The poet/prince is tempted by the idea of staying here and raising a rebellion, but of course he decides to go back to the center, just as so many sent-down youth did.
  1. Chittick explains the provincial grammar and usage in the poem []

3/24/2012

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.”

 

2/5/2012

From all the junks, the one I need more is music

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 5:57 am

Slate has a piece up on the Asian-ization of Western classical music. It’s more historically informed than you might think for a Slate piece, although it seems to be lurking in the author’s mind that Classical Music is a universal component of Western Culture. In fact  a lot of it was created for the aristocracy, and there was only a fairly brief period1 when major cities were supposed to have a symphony orchestra supported by bourgeois ticket-buyers. Paarlberg points out that Jews dominated violin performance for years, so its not surprising that the torch is being passed to a new subgroup.

I mostly wanted to mention this as a great way to plug Richard Kraus’s fine book Pianos and Politics in China: Middle-Class Ambitions and the Struggle over Western Music in China. Kraus deals with the role of Western music in defining (and denouncing) China’s new middle class. Although other forms of Western music were important in creating modernity in Asia ‘classical’ music was an important class signal, just as it was in the West. Under the Communists the music of the urban elite had to be swept away along with the elite.

This Cultural Revolution piano announces that Art should serve the workers, peasants, and soldiers, but its still a piano.2 During the CR, of course, any sort of Western music was problematic. The big bold quote from Chairman Mao saved this piano from being smashed, but lots of its brethren. were not so lucky.

This dates from the early 80′s I think,3 and is one of the oddest Chinese propaganda posters I have ever seen. Yes, things changes fast during the Reform era, but a housewife whose kid is learning the violin? Less then a decade after the fall of the Gang of Four? The class symbolism of music may have made the quickest comeback of anything during the reforms. And apparently, its one thing that it pretty similar in Asia and among Asian Americans.

 

 



  1. o.k. a century or so []
  2. This actually made me wonder how ‘classical’ a piano would have been in China, as for me a piano would not necessarily bring up thoughts of a classical orchestra. []
  3. via Landesberger []

1/21/2012

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) []

1/18/2012

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. []

4/15/2011

Zhang San and Li Si’s Excellent Adventure

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 7:30 am

China Hush reports that the Chinese film and TV industries have been ordered to stop making time-travel dramas, on the grounds that “The producers and writers are treating the serious history in a frivolous way, which should by no means be encouraged anymore.”

I find this convenient if wrong-headed. Convenient because while Americans may talk about what what our history means to us it is hard to pin down what historical orthodoxy is. China makes it easy. Wrong-headed because the Chinese government is very big on encouraging young Chinese to identify with “5,000 Years of Chinese History.” Getting people to do that is actually hard, and time travel might help.

David Lowenthal talks about time travel stories in The Past is a Foreign Country. Modern science fiction stories are only the tip of the iceberg, as there are countless stories of a knock on the head, a strange dream or a pact with the devil sending people to the past. Although lots of these stories are about about how you can use your amazing knowledge to make money gambling, or fix the present or whatever, many of them deal with how disconcerting and foreign the past is. In some stories you can’t talk to people, they may kill you for being a heretic, or you might starve to death. In any case, you will almost certainly want to go home. I have not watched any of these TV dramas, but all of them seem to open with the past being frightening and dangerous, but with the hero eventually finding their feet and, of course, true love. This would seem to be good from a Chinese nationalist perspective, since all these people are traveling to a past that is supposed to be ‘theirs.’ If Americans want to go a long way into the past we visit King Arthur’s court, which is obviously in a foreign country, and thus if we don’t identify with it and have to kill everyone to liberate them, that’s o.k. Chinese kids should -like- visiting Ancient China Land, and apparently they do.

Needless to say there are some serious problems. The past is really different from the present in ways that are being ignored in these stories. Sex and lust were probably the same things in the Qin Dynasty as now, but love? I doubt many people are learning much about the past as it is understood by historians from these shows. On the other hand, the official line seems to be that history is a nationalistic catechism to be memorized, respected, and bored by. That’s even worse. The article also reports that there is to be a ban on productions of the Four Classic Novels. Again, the problem is apparently a lack of respect for the treasures of Chinese culture, and you can see the point. If you let the current generation of Chinese youth get their hands on these stories they might portray the Monkey King as some sort of  turbulent troublemaker or Li Gui as a drunken hoodlum. Heck they might even imply that Baoyu was gay! Far better to stick these stories in boring classrooms and museums than to risk what might happen to them in the present.

 

Via Jeremiah Jenne

1/28/2011

Year of the Hare… um “Rabbit”?

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 12:19 pm

February third is the Lunar New Year, celebrated in East Asia as the New Year or Spring Festival.

The Reuters article “Chinese Ready for Upheaval, Sex in Year of the Rabbit” is a lively explanation that each year in the Chinese system has its own character. Since the Year of the Rabbit is full of motion and excess, the article predicts lots of sex scandals. Since both Brad Pitt and Angelina Jolie were born in rabbit years, the article says they would be well advised not to tie the knot next year.

The Wikipedia article “Lunar New Year” leads to articles on holidays observed according to lunar systems, including Rosh Hashanah. The Chinese New Year article is long and full of more details than most of us would need, but the principal menace to humanity is that following the links will take you to so many fascinating places that the rest of the morning is shot.

Traditionally New Year lasted for fifteen days. When I lived in Taiwan my landlord explained that back on the mainland in the old days, New Year was when the rice bin got emptier and the outhouse got fuller.

But I’m still not sure why it’s “rabbit” and not “hare.”

Added Later: The University of Southern California US-China Institute has a nice collection of Rabbit postage stamps from the PRC, Macau, Taiwan, and the US in its Talking Points of February 2-16. And also rabbit stamps from Australia, Bhutan, Canada, France. Gambia, Guinea-Bissau, Guyana, Japan, Laos, Latvia, Malaysia (Children’s Pet Series), Marshall Islands (1999), Mongolia, Nevis, New Zealand, Philippines, South Korea, Thailand, Uganda (1999), and Vietnam.

You can tell when your culture has real “soft” power by the number of stamps issued around the world for your holidays!

Even More! McDonalds, Pepsi, and Coca Cola Celebrate Chinese New Year by Daniel Gilroy at ChinaSMACK has a series of TV commercials from organisations who have created ad campaigns to “welcome in the Chinese New Year (and of course try and make some big sales).” Lots of fun to watch.

BTW, ChinaSMACK, which “provides English translations of current social issues being discussed on various Chinese forums” frequently has smart and insightful reports on advertising, pop culture, and current hot topics in China.

12/12/2008

Great Expectorations: Puke, Spitting, and Face

Filed under: — C. W. Hayford @ 7:20 pm

What’s the difference between puking and spitting? Is one involuntary and the other on purpose? Joel, at China Hope Live reports that maybe you see the difference differently if you’re Chinese or if you’re not.

His nicely argued piece,  Thinking Behind the Spitting takes off from an interchange between a Chinese language teacher and a class of North American students. The teacher explained:  “ means both ‘to spit’ and ‘to vomit,’ but if you change the tone — — you can say ‘to spit’ with a third meaning: spitting to show your contempt for someone.” The big distinction in her mind was voluntary vs. involuntary actions. Spitting is involuntary.

She was quite taken aback when her students explained that in their little culture, people controlled their spitting — what did they do, she asked, swallow it?

Spitting goes way back in the cross cultural dialogue. I recall hearing a friend of my parents retailing what I later found was a classic 19th century story:

An American to Chinese: “I hear that in your country you eat dogs.”

Chinese to an American: “I hear that in your country you blow your nose on a piece of cloth and put it in your pocket.”

Responsible authorities in China have long worried about losing “face” in front of the world community. In the 1930s the Nationalist government’s New Life Movement aimed, among other goals, to eliminate public spitting. Evidently they didn’t succeed in wiping out the habit as the following governments had a series of campaigns right down to the Olympics. Yet every meeting room that I went into in China had a large spittoon and people used them.

Someone should have warned the Chinese 1970s factory that made decks of playing cards intended for Americans to use in playing “poker.” They labeled the package with two pinyin syllables that most closely represented the Chinese pronunciation: “Puke.”

I wish that I had known about China Hope Live when I wrote my piece  “The Truth About Lies,” a review of Arthur Smith’s Chinese Characteristics and Susan Blum’s Lies That Bind: Chinese Truth, Other Truths which looked at “face” and “lies.”

Joel has a bunch of insightful pieces, for instance “Chinese People Like it When You Lie to Them.”

Another sharp piece talks about Chinese national face and the Olympics, which includes a genial definition of “face” from Lin Yutang’s My Country and My People:

Face cannot be translated or defined. It is like honor and is not honor…. It is amenable, not to reason but to social convention. It protracts lawsuits, breaks up family fortunes, causes murders and suicides….  It is more powerful than fate or favor, and more respected than the constitution. It often decides a military victory or defeat, and can demolish a whole government ministry. It is that hollow thing which men in China live by. (195-196)

Shakespeare’s Falstaff asks “What is honour? a word. What is in that word honour? what is that honour? air.

Who’s right?

I’m not too worried, but maybe I’m too phlegmatic,

6/24/2008

You lost to a girl?

Filed under: — Alan Baumler @ 1:56 am

yeoh

Reading through 中华民国文化史 (Cultural History of the Chinese Republic)1 I found something interesting in the section on 国术. 国术 is a term for what today would be called 武术, i.e. martial arts. Although there was a lot of interest in physical education in China in the 20s and 30s traditional martial arts were not part of this, as they were often seen as backwards peasant stuff. The Guomindang did make some efforts to encourage the modernization of the martial arts, however, setting up the 中央国术馆 (Central Martial Arts Academy) in Nanjing in 1927. Eventually there would be provincial-level organizations as well. At first the Academy seems to have been organized like a traditional martial arts school with masters and disciples but in 1929 it was reorganized as a more modern type of school. The top rated teachers were 王子平,吴图南,姜容燕,胡容华 (), 陈志和 () the younger teachers included 张文广, 李锡恩,傅淑云 () As the () indicates two of the top five teachers and three of eight were women.

This actually surprised me a lot. In movies and fiction there may be a lot of female martial arts experts, and there were certainly some in reality as well. Still, this ratio strikes me as a little high. In 1933 there was a national martial arts exam and of the 427 competitors only 9 were women. Was this part of an attempt to modernize the martial arts? Was it a regional thing, since the academy drew heavily from the Northwest and followers of 张之江? Has anybody written anything on this?

  1. 编 史全生,吉林文史 []

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