ANREN, China — To many Chinese, Liu Wencai is the archetype of the despotic landlord from pre-Communist days, one who exploited his tenants, tortured those who fell behind on rent in a “water dungeon” and forced new mothers to breast-feed him as a longevity therapy.
But his grandson Liu Xiaofei, 70, has spent the past two decades trying to prove that his grandfather was not only a good man, but actually aided the Communist forces in Sichuan Province.
“The ruling party has no integrity, so I have to tell the truth,” Mr. Liu said in an interview.
He said he was not seeking his grandfather’s formal rehabilitation but simply trying to establish that the government fabricated stories to advance its political goals.
“By inciting hatred through propaganda, they turned humans into beasts,” he said. “I want to tell the truth so our nation won’t repeat these mistakes.”
Mr. Liu, a retired oil-well construction worker, spends his days at a computer in his apartment in Longchang, in southern Sichuan, working on a book based on research that includes more than 1,000 interviews.
When he travels to the town of Anren, where his grandfather’s manor was turned into a museum in 1959 to showcase evil deeds he is reported to have committed, Mr. Liu gives impassioned speeches to visitors, pointing out which exhibits — essentially, all of them, he says — are fake.
Mr. Liu said it was a single sentence his mother uttered in the late 1960s, during the Cultural Revolution, that sent him on his journey, a one-man battle even family members consider doomed in a tightening political climate.
“The underground Communists’ command headquarters was right in our manor,” he said she told him. “Those words were engraved in my heart.”
On a misty morning, Mr. Liu walked past cafes, bars and design stores lining the streets of Anren, now a tourist destination known as the township of museums, for the Liu family manors and other cultural sites. A luxury hotel has been built for vacationers and parents visiting their children at the Confucius International School, which promises to prepare pupils for top foreign universities and boasts of being housed in a school that Liu Wencai built in 1942, where tuition fees were waived for poor but talented pupils.
Many residents seem to remember Liu Wencai favorably.
“If you ask if people here think Liu Wencai was good, that goes without saying,” said Dai Rongyao, 89, who was selling embroidered handicrafts.
Liu Wencai, born in 1887, amassed huge wealth in the 1920s in the Yangtze River port of Yibin, dominating lucrative businesses including the opium and weapons trades under the wing of his younger brother, Liu Wenhui, a Nationalist warlord.
In 1933, Liu Wenhui retreated to the Tibetan region of Kham, after losing a battle to a warlord nephew, and Liu Wencai returned to his hometown, Anren, and sponsored road, water and electricity projects as well as the school.
In 1942, Liu Wenhui, long at odds with the Nationalist leader Chiang Kai-shek, met with Zhou Enlai and began clandestinely cooperating with his Communists.
In 1946, at the start of the Chinese civil war, Liu Wencai financed a Communist guerrilla force of around 50 people while allowing its command headquarters to be set up in his manor, said Mr. Liu, who said he learned this from a close aide to Liu Wencai who has since died. (A provincial government history says that underground Communists took advantage of Liu Wencai’s conflict with a rival to secure weapons from him.)
Liu Wencai died in October 1949, the same month that Mao Zedong proclaimed the founding of the People’s Republic. In December, his brother Liu Wenhui openly joined forces with the Communists, and the Nationalists retreated from Sichuan to Taiwan.
The Liu family, like many wealthy Chinese, considered fleeing to Hong Kong, fearing what might happen under the new Communist government, Mr. Liu said. But Liu Wenhui urged them to stay, insisting the family would be treated well as the party’s friend.
Instead, the family’s property was seized and its members attacked in a series of political campaigns. In 1958, local officials eager to demonstrate their fervor for Maoist class struggle presented Liu Wencai as the prototype of the exploiting landlord. His coffin was dug up, and his remains were scattered.
In 1959, the landlord’s residence was turned into a museum, featuring a “water dungeon,” an underground space half-filled with water. A woman who claimed to be the dungeon’s sole survivor described it as filled with human bones.
By the early 1960s, Liu Wencai was nationally notorious as the “chief representative of the landlord class for 3,000 years.” His brother Liu Wenhui, who in 1959 became forestry minister and escaped persecution under Zhou Enlai’s protection, was powerless to reverse the propaganda campaign, though he was secretly upset.
“What the hell are they talking about?” was his private comment on one newspaper article about Liu Wencai, according to his grandson Liu Shizhao.
In 1965, the Sichuan authorities commissioned more than 100 life-size clay sculptures that the museum installed as the Rent Collection Courtyard, which purported to show how Liu Wencai and his lackeys bullied peasants to extract rents.
Replicas of the statues were exhibited in Beijing later that year, drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors. In 1966, just before the onset of the Cultural Revolution, a documentary about Liu Wencai was released, and stories of his crimes were subsequently included in textbooks.
Denunciations of the landlord and the evil he ostensibly personified surged during the Cultural Revolution. Family members came under attack. A cousin of Mr. Liu who fled to Xinjiang was murdered along with his wife and children, as were many other people in China branded as “landlords.”
The frenzy subsided only in the 1980s, when liberal voices were tolerated to some extent. In 1988, the provincial authorities admitted that the water dungeon was an invention, and it was drained. But these beginnings of a re-evaluation stalled after the 1989 Tiananmen crackdown as the party tightened its grip, Mr. Liu said.
In the museum, Mr. Liu pointed out items he said never belonged to his family.
A visitor asked, “This is your family?”
“I’m Liu Wencai’s grandson,” Mr. Liu said.
“Can we take a picture with you?” the man shouted excitedly, pointing at his friends.
Mr. Liu became the group’s tour guide, and the man, a railway official from Guizhou who said he had visited the museum on a school tour in the 1970s, was startled when Mr. Liu said that nearly everything on display was fake.
Xiao Shu, the pen name of Chen Min, who in 1999 published “The Truth About Liu Wencai,” a book that was soon banned, said the party would be reluctant to restore to respectability a villain of its own making.
His book was accused of “negating the legitimacy of the new democratic revolution,” when the party persecuted landlords and distributed their property to poor peasants, he said. “This is the basis of the regime’s legitimacy, so they don’t dare face the truth.”
Wu Hongyuan, 60, a retired county propaganda official who served as the museum’s director in the 1990s, said the process of restoring the truth could not be rushed. “The museum is too sensitive, and Liu Wencai is too famous,” he said.
Mr. Wu said he tried to recast the museum to more accurately present Liu Wencai’s life, but anytime he altered something, he said, former underground Communists in Anren would protest to the authorities.
Li Weijia, 98, was one of those protesters.
“He never protected party members!” insisted Mr. Li, in a hospital ward reserved for senior officials in Chengdu. “That’s confusing black and white!"
At the end of his trip to Anren, Mr. Liu visited Chen Fahong, 86, a former worker in Liu Wencai’s manor.
“We had rice and meat to eat then. He was kind,” Mr. Chen said of Liu Wencai in his modest yard amid onion fields. “After liberation” in 1949, he said, “we had only bran and grass to eat.”
Mr. Liu said that, looking back, the family regretted having trusted the Communists.
He recalled a song sung in his family after Liu Wenhui sided with the Communists, envisioning a paradise under the party’s rule.
“There is a good place beyond the mountains,” it goes. “There, rich and poor are equal.”
Chinese broadcaster CCTV has also complained about the Chinese flags that were used over the weekend during ceremonies at the Rio games. The small stars on the Chinese flag are supposed to all point toward the flag’s large star, but at the Rio games, the flags have small stars all pointing upward.
“The national flag is the symbol of a country. No mistakes are allowed!” CCTV declared.
To make matters worse, it was later revealed by Chinese media that the flags were manufactured in China.
Κάνουν και οι πρόεδροι της ΛΔΚ γλωσσικές γκάφες, με κινέζικα χαρακτηριστικά, εννοείται.
China’s Censors Scramble After Xi’s G-20 Speech
Censors in China are working overtime to scrub the Internet and social media of any mention of a slip-up made by Chinese President Xi Jinping made during a speech in Hangzhou before the Group of 20 Nations leaders’ summit.
In a speech Saturday to the Business 20 (B20) summit, which advises the G-20 leaders on policy decisions, Xi talked about the global economy and quoted an ancient Chinese phrase: "Make the tariff light and the road smooth, promote trade and ease agricultural policy." [轻关易道，通商宽农]
But because the last character in the phrase for agriculture is very similar to the one for clothes, he ended up saying “taking one’s clothes off” [宽衣] instead of "ease agricultural policy." [宽农]
The phrase was quickly censored on China’s Weibo microblog website, after many comments on the slip-up began to surface. Searches for this term return no results, suggesting it has been removed. Such content is also censored on the Chinese mobile messaging app WeChat.
A Twitter user said, "Xi mistakenly read 'easing agricultural policy' as 'taking off clothing' means that he did not read the texts beforehand, nor does he care about the content."
Another joked that "'Taking off clothing' promotes communication. ... To run business, you must take off clothes first."
A commenter on an overseas Chinese blog says the incident reminds him of the story of "The Emperor's New Clothes." "The reality is that the child shouting that the king is naked is silenced," he writes on his blog.
Badiucao, a Chinese cartoonist, drew a cartoon picture depicting a naked Xi in a neon adult toy signboard with the caption "promoting trade and taking off clothing."
Politicians often misspeak, both in China and around the world. But this gaffe is reopening discussion of Xi’s education credentials, long a sensitive but widely discussed topic.
Xi left school when he was a middle school student during China’s Cultural Revolution to work in the countryside of western Shaanxi province. In 1976, Xi, like many of his peers at the time who missed out on nearly a decade of education, was recommended to Tsinghua University. There was no national college entrance exam during the Cultural Revolution.
From 1998 to 2002, Xi studied Marxist theory and ideology education in Tsinghua and obtained a doctorate degree in law. Some critics have questioned Xi’s academic capability, suggesting his thesis may have been plagiarized or written by others. Xi has never commented on the controversy.
He and many of Kaifeng’s Jews, as well as their supporters abroad, said the clampdown did not spring from outright anti-Semitism, which is relatively rare in China. Shanghai and Harbin, a northeast city, have organized displays and events celebrating their role protecting Jews who fled persecution in Europe.
“It’s fear about religion, not just us Jews,” the businessman said.
Until a few decades ago, the Jews of Kaifeng seemed destined to fade away, an obscure memory at the intersection of two ancient civilizations.
Their forebears, possibly merchants from Persia, settled in Kaifeng when it was the vibrant capital of the Northern Song dynasty and built a synagogue here in the 12th century. For hundreds of years, they prospered largely free of persecution, surviving the rise and fall of successive dynasties.
But their numbers dwindled as they intermarried with China’s ethnic Han majority. The synagogue crumbled away. By 1851, when European missionaries acquired a 17th-century Hebrew Torah in Kaifeng and later presented it to the British Museum, few if any residents could read it.
Still, even after decades of Communist rule, some residue of Jewish identity survived in Kaifeng. Parents and grandparents told children of their roots and warned them not to eat pork.
The revival here took off in the 1990s as Jewish tourists, scholars and businesspeople from around the world who were curious about this remote outpost of Judaism began to visit and share their knowledge. Several years ago, two organizations, the Sino-Judaic Institute and Shavei Israel, set up offices and offered classes in Hebrew, Judaism and Jewish history, partly to counter Christian missionaries operating in Kaifeng.
Παρά ταύτα, μου είχε κάνει εντύπωση μια νεαρή Κινέζα που μου έλεγε πριν από καμιά οχταετία πως η λέξη Ισραήλ ήταν συνδεδεμένη στο μυαλό της με κάτι κακό.
A few days after Hong Kong localists Sixtus “Baggio” Leung Chung-hang and Yau Wai-ching called China “Chee-na” during their swearing-in ceremony as the city’s newly elected legislators, Leung went on radio to defend himself.
First, he tried to pin it to his “accent”. When the radio host pointed out that he seemed to have no problem pronouncing China properly on other occasions, Leung admitted that he did use the word “Chee-na”. But he shrugged it off as nothing important or offensive.
“In the oath, it doesn’t mention any specific person… I don’t know how we could have offended anyone,” Leung said. He then went on to say that even Sun Yat-sen, the founding father of modern China, used the term at some point in his writing.
To understand why so many people, including those who don’t like the central government in Beijing, feel offended by Leung and Yau’s antics, some historical perspective is needed.
The Chinese word 支那 [Chee-na] first appeared in the Buddhist scriptures of the Tang dynasty (6th century). It is believed to be the phonetic translation of the ancient Sanskrit word “cina”. Some see this as the origin of the English word “China”, but there is no conclusive evidence to support that.
For most of its history, the term has had no derogatory meaning. Some scholars even argue that it is actually not the name of any particular country, but a loose expression for “land of the east”.
The Chinese themselves almost never use it. In fact, even Zhongguo – the Middle Kingdom – was not often used in ancient times. Before the 1911 revolution, China existed not as a nation state in the Westphalian sense. It was a civilisation with an unbroken line of imperial dynasties. People referred to themselves as “people of the great Qing” or “people of the great Tang”. Few would call themselves “people of Zhongguo”, even fewer would use “Chinese”.
The word “Chee-na” was introduced to Japan – whose writing system borrowed heavily from Chinese – in the Tang dynasty. But it was used only as a geographic term rather than the name of any particular country or people.
For centuries, Japan followed its neighbour’s tradition and addressed China by its dynasty name. This changed after the outbreak of the Opium War in 1839 between China and Britain. The humiliating defeat of the Qing empire and the loss of Hong Kong shattered China’s millennia-old worldview and its sense of cultural superiority. The Chinese civilisation entered a century of sharp and painful decline.
Japan, on the other hand, quickly reinvented itself after the Meiji Restoration. It was the most successful, in fact the only, Asian country that transformed peacefully from an ancient regime into a modern nation state. Japan gradually lost its respect for the giant across the sea and started to look at China with contempt and a predatory interest.
The first Sino-Japanese war in 1894 ended in total disaster for the Qing court. The Chinese elite were shocked to their core. Within two decades, the Qing dynasty was overthrown and China was declared a modern republic.
Initially, China and Japan enjoyed a decade-long “golden relationship” shortly after the war. Many Japanese intellectuals were genuinely sympathetic towards China and hoped to get their Asian brethren back up on their feet.
Many Chinese revolutionary leaders – from Sun Yat-sen to Chiang Kai-shek and Zhou Enlai (周恩來) – lived or studied in Japan. The modern Chinese language, in turn, borrowed extensively from Japanese. “Chee-na”, together with many other words like “economy”, “democracy” and “police”, was reintroduced back to China.
At that time, the word had no obvious derogatory implication. In the run-up to the collapse of the Qing empire, people increasingly stopped seeing the Manchurian court as the legitimate representation of the Chinese civilisation. Japanese scholars ceased to refer to China as “the great Qing”. More and more of them started to use the word “Chee-na” as a neutral geographical expression.
Sun and some early Chinese national revolution leaders did use the word in their writing at that time as they refused to see themselves as the subject of the Qing and the modern Chinese state had yet to come into being.
But then the meaning of the word started to undergo a dramatic transformation. It was increasingly used in Japan as a demeaning way to address China and its people, implying that they were a sub-class. Japanese scholar Sato Nobuhiro, founder of the “Greater Asia” concept, used the term in his influential book, A Secret Strategy for Expansion, to suggest that China existed not as a political entity but a mere geographic expression. His work became the intellectual inspiration of Japanese imperialism towards China.
“Chee-na” quickly became a taboo word in China. While in Japan, it was used more and more as an insult. The Chinese government banned the use of the word shortly after the establishment of the republic. In 1930, the Nanjing (南京) government formally requested Japan to stop using it to address China. The Tokyo civilian government complied but the imperialist advocates continued to use the word. It implied that China was not worthy to be recognised as a sovereign state and it existed only as a geographical expression. This was used to justify Japan’s aggression.
The psychological association of “Chee-na” with Japanese aggression and invasion became inseparable following the outbreak of the Second Sino-Japanese War. It was widely used in the propaganda materials of the Japanese military.
Youngspiration duo remains in legislative limbo over oath-taking
Today, using the word will inevitably bring back that painful history to Chinese people everywhere, particularly those who had witnessed and endured all the horrors of the war.
When Leung and Yau used the word in their “oaths”, they perhaps intended to insult the government in Beijing. But by picking a word so emotionally associated with the memory of foreign aggression, they succeeded in offending all Chinese.
19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (with More Ways)
by Eliot Weinberger, with an afterword by Octavio Paz
New Directions, 88 pp.
The Ghosts of Birds
by Eliot Weinberger
New Directions, 211 pp., $16.95 (paper)
Some people, and I am one, feel that Tang (618–907 CE) poetry is the finest literary art they have ever read. But does one need to learn Chinese in order to have such a view, or can classical Chinese poetry be adequately translated?
In 1987 Eliot Weinberger, who has written brilliant essays on topics as various as the mystical I Ching (Book of Change), Buddha as “impostor,” Albanian Islam, and a connection between Michel Foucault and George W. Bush—and who has translated Chinese poetry, too—published a little book with Octavio Paz called Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei. There Weinberger and Paz choose a four-line poem by Wang Wei, one of the best Tang poets, and present it many ways: in Chinese characters, in a transliteration into modern Mandarin, in a character-by-character literal translation, and in seventeen different ways translators have tried to put it into English, French, or Spanish.
They find that none of the translations is perfect (there is no such thing as “perfect” in such matters), but that some are very worthwhile as poems on their own. Weinberger writes that a good poem contains “living matter” that “functions somewhat like DNA, spinning out individual translations that are relatives, not clones, of the original.” Now, in 2016, we have an updated version of the book, called Nineteen Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (with More Ways), that offers sixteen additional offspring, three in German, for a total of thirty-four.
The title of the poem is “Deer Fence” (or Deer Park, Deer Enclosure, Deer Forest Hermitage, and others). Weinberger’s literal translation reflects the five-characters-per-line of the original:
Empty/mountain(s) [or] hill(s)/(negative)/to see/person [or] people
But/to hear/person [or] people/words or conversation/sound [or] to echo
To return/bright(ness) [or] shadow(s)/to enter/deep/forest
To return/to shine/green/moss/above
Of the finished translations, this one by Burton Watson is among Weinberger’s favorites:
Empty hills, no one in sight,
only the sound of someone talking;
late sunlight enters the deep wood,
shining over the green moss again.
How good are the good translations? How much of the original do we get?
Some of the art of classical Chinese poetry must simply be set aside as untranslatable. The internal structure of Chinese characters has a beauty of its own, and the calligraphy in which classical poems were written is another important but untranslatable dimension.1 Since Chinese characters do not vary in length, and because there are exactly five characters per line in a poem like this, another untranslatable feature is that the written result, hung on a wall, presents a rectangle. Translators into languages whose word lengths vary can reproduce such an effect only at the risk of fatal awkwardness. (Watson’s translation, above, does about as well as one can do; instead of five characters per line it gives us six English words per line.)
Another imponderable is how to imitate the 1-2, 1-2-3 rhythm in which five-syllable lines in classical Chinese poems normally are read. Chinese characters are pronounced in one syllable apiece, so producing such rhythms in Chinese is not hard and the results are unobtrusive; but any imitation in a Western language is almost inevitably stilted and distracting. Even less translatable are the patterns of tone arrangement in classical Chinese poetry. Each syllable (character) belongs to one of two categories determined by the pitch contour in which it is read; in a classical Chinese poem the patterns of alternation of the two categories exhibit parallelism and mirroring.
Weinberger knows all of this and sensibly begins his inquiry at step two—after all the untranslatables have been set aside. Now the question becomes: How can one make another poem from the twenty bundles of meaning that the Chinese characters offer? Weinberger criticizes, astutely if sometimes unkindly, almost every translator he cites. He says the images in Wang Wei’s poem are more “specific” than they are in a translation by Witter Bynner, and he has a point, but does he need to write that Bynner sees Wang Wei as “watching the world through a haze of opium”? Sometimes, too, Weinberger’s standards seem not to apply uniformly. He scolds Chang Yin-nan and Lewis Walmsley for writing that the voices in the hills are “faint” and “drift on the air.” These characterizations are not in the original, and for Weinberger are “a classic example of the translator attempting to ‘improve’ the original” and even show “a kind of unspoken contempt for the foreign poet.”
In contrast, Weinberger congratulates Kenneth Rexroth, whose translation inserts much more than Chang and Walmsley’s does, for producing a “real poem” that is closest “to the spirit, if not the letter, of the original.” Most translators will agree that we should not try to improve and also that loyalty to spirit must sometimes outweigh loyalty to letter. But to look at a specific addition to a poem and decide which of these things it is doing is very difficult.
Broadly speaking, the problems for a translator, especially of poetry, and especially between languages as different as Chinese and English, are two: What do I think the poetic line says? And then, once I think I understand it, how can I put it into English? Differences in translations sometimes arise from the first problem; most, though, come from the second, where the impossibility of perfect answers spawns endless debate. The letter-versus-spirit dilemma is almost always at the center.
At the literalist extreme, there is a school of Western Sinology that aims to ferret out and dissect every conceivable detail about the language of an original. The dissection, though, normally does to the art of a poem approximately what the scalpel of an anatomy instructor does to the life of a frog. Peter A. Boodberg, a distinguished Sinologist at Berkeley fifty years ago, translates Wang Wei’s poem this way:
DEER WATTLE (HERMITAGE)
The empty mountain; to see no men,
Barely earminded of men talking—countertones
And antistrophic lights-and- shadows incoming deeper the deep-treed grove
Once more to glowlight the blue-green mosses—going up
(The empty mountain…)
Boodberg’s is an extreme example, but it illustrates the principle in this school of Sinology that the further one goes with philology and literal translation, the closer one gets to the Chinese original. About a decade ago I heard a Sinologist at Princeton rise to express the view that only in translation can the deepest meaning of a Tang poem be brought to light. (The issue was dropped after someone else asked if the reverse were also true: Does Shakespeare’s profundity emerge only in Chinese translation?)
Weinberger is contemptuous of the Boodberg approach (“sounds like Gerard Manley Hopkins on LSD”) and is closer to, but not an extremist in, an approach that puts art at the center. He admires Ezra Pound’s versions of classical Chinese poems in Cathay, published in 1915. Pound learned some Chinese characters later in his life but in 1915 could base Cathay only on translations that others had done. His genius for language apparently got him close enough to the spirit of Chinese originals that he could correct mistakes in other translations “intuitively,” as Weinberger puts it. He stops short of calling Pound’s work “translation”; he endorses a phrase by T.S. Eliot, who leavened the question with gentle ambiguity when he said that Pound was “the inventor of Chinese poetry in our time.” Whether translations or inventions, though, Weinberger finds Pound’s renditions “some of the most beautiful poems in the English language.”
In the 1930s Pound became obsessed with the Book of Odes, China’s most ancient collection of poetry and song (and, some say, guide to government). Convinced that the existing English translations of the Odes were “appalling” and “intolerable,” and that there must be a great pearl inside the closed oyster if only he could get there, Pound, then over fifty years old, began to study Chinese characters. He could now “play the game of pretending to read Chinese,” as Weinberger puts it, and unleashed his fecund imagination upon “pictographic” characters in ways that serious Sinologists knew to be utterly groundless. Professors wrote articles exposing Pound’s errors in both interpretation of characters and translations of poems.
Weinberger’s implicit riposte, which I support, is: But do you do better? One can acknowledge a long list of Pound’s technical errors (Weinberger has some, too) and still point out that phrases like Boodberg’s “antistrophic lights-and-shadows” leave a reader much further from a Wang Wei poem than Pound does. Wai-lim Yip, a scholar of poetry who knows both English and Chinese well, notes that, despite the literal errors, in Pound “the ‘cuts and turns’ of the mind in the originals are largely preserved” and the “essential poems” are “luminous.” Could one say that of Boodberg? Options in the translation of poetry are complexly interconnected, and gaining something in one place almost inevitably means losing something in another. So here is a good rule of thumb: anyone who criticizes a given translation should be ready to offer an alternative that, all things considered, works better.
Pound’s approach to Chinese poetry was deeply influenced by Ernest Fenollosa, an American who in the late 1870s and 1880s taught Western philosophy in Tokyo, where he developed a consuming interest in Chinese and Japanese poetry and art. Fenollosa died of a heart attack in 1908, and in 1913 his widow, Mary, agreed to hand all his private papers and manuscripts over to Pound. One of those papers, called “The Chinese Written Character as a Medium for Poetry,” was the progenitor of some of Pound’s more durable views on the Chinese language. Fenollosa, and Pound following him, grossly exaggerated the extent to which characters are “thought pictures.”
More usefully, though, the Fenollosa essay showed Pound what it could mean for poets that Chinese characters are free from inflections for number, tense, voice, and gender that are mandatory in Western languages. It seemed to Fenollosa that in Chinese, bundles of meaning just came along side by side. Grammar still had a place, in some simple rules of word order, but it did not affect the characters themselves and left much more room for poetic ambiguity. The meanings of Chinese characters, wrote Fenollosa, could “be like the mingling of the fringes of feathered banners.” Or:
A word is like a sun, with its corona and chromosphere; words crowd upon words, and wrap each other in their luminous envelopes until sentences become clear, continuous light-bands.
For Pound, “luminous” became an important word, and later a Fenollosan understanding of Chinese poetry, through Pound, influenced the Anglo-American Imagist movement of Hilda Doolittle, Richard Aldington, and others. Later, it also had an effect on the American poets Gary Snyder and Allen Ginsberg.
The advantages of Chinese characters in avoiding grammatical specificity (advantages to poets, not necessarily to scientists or lawyers) can be analyzed primarily as absences of subject, number, and tense. Each of these three is worth a look.
Subjectlessness. It is the norm in classical Chinese poetry, and common even in modern Chinese prose, to omit subjects. The reader or listener infers a subject. In the first line of our Wang Wei poem (“empty mountain no see person”), only a perverse reader would say that “empty mountain” should be the subject because it is a noun and comes first. Common sense hears the phrase adverbially and infers the subject to be an unstated human viewer. But how can one put this effect into Western languages that ask by grammatical rule that subjects always be stated? Most of the translators in Nineteen Ways supply an “I.” Weinberger points out, though, that when “I” is inserted a “controlling individual mind of the poet” enters and destroys the effect of the Chinese line. Without a subject, he writes, “the experience becomes both universal and immediate to the reader.” This point is correct and very important.
Another way to handle the subjectlessness, which Wai-lim Yip chooses, is to use the passive voice in English: “no man is seen.” But this, at least to my ear, again particularizes the experience too much. That marvelous sense of “both universal and immediate” remains lost. A third alternative is to leave the voice active and, following the Chinese, name no subject: “in empty mountains, see no person,” or something like that. But this often sounds broken or childlike, which the Chinese line certainly does not. Burton Watson’s “empty hills, no one in sight” is about as good as one can do.
Numberlessness. Nouns have no number in Chinese. Weinberger notes that “rose is a rose is all roses,” but that formulation still leaves us too far inside Western-language number habits. “All roses” in English means the summation of individual roses, whereas in Chinese meigui, or “rose” is more like “roseness” or “rosehood.” (If you want to talk in Chinese about one rose, you may, but then you use a “measure word” to say “one blossom-of roseness.”) So, in the first line of Wang Wei’s poem, it is not quite right to think of shan as either singular or plural, either hill or hills. The concept is more abstract. But what can a translator write? Hillness sounds odd and hillhood almost funny. Any attempt of this kind tends to exoticize, but the supple Chinese line is not at all exotic. (It is worth noting that Western views of Eastern expression as quaint have often originated not in Eastern languages themselves but in the awkwardness that results when rules of Western languages are applied.)
Tenselessness. There are several ways in Chinese to specify when something happened or will happen, but verb tense is not one of them. For poets, the great advantage of tenselessness is the ambiguity it opens up. Did I see no one in the hills? Or am I now seeing no one? Am I imagining what it would be like to see no one? All these, and others, are possible. Weinberger’s insight about subjectlessness—that it produces an effect “both universal and immediate”—applies to timelessness as well.
But the effect isn’t possible in a Western language, where grammar always forces a choice of one tense or another. For this reason I will quibble with Weinberger’s choice of English infinitives as his glosses for Chinese verbs. He lists ru as “to enter,” zhao as “to shine,” and so on, but I am afraid that that little “to,” which comes from English grammar, subtly reinforces the mistaken notion that Chinese verbs are, or should be, conjugatable things, when in fact they are not. Moreover, infinitives in Western languages can be nouns. On stage at the Met, to enter is to shine—one noun is another. I would prefer to say ru is “enter” and zhao “shine.”
Although he is critical of nearly everyone’s translation in Nineteen Ways, Weinberger wisely adopts the position that “quite a few possible readings” can all be “equally ‘correct.’” Dilemmas about translation do not have definitive right answers (although there can be unambiguously wrong ones if misreadings of the original are involved). Any translation (except machine translation, a different case) must pass through the mind of a translator, and that mind inevitably contains its own store of perceptions, memories, and values.
Weinberger—rightly, in my view—pushes this insight further when he writes that “every reading of every poem, regardless of language, is an act of translation: translation into the reader’s intellectual and emotional life.” Then he goes still further: because a reader’s mental life shifts over time, there is a sense in which “the same poem cannot be read twice.” Here, too, I agree. But I feel Weinberger goes a bit too far when he writes that the possible word combinations in a translation are “infinite.” Perhaps we can say that possible interpretations in receiving minds are infinite, since gradations of their differences can be infinitesimal. But “word combinations” in a translation cannot be infinite.
Weinberger’s sensitivity to words and gift for clear thinking underlie nearly every page in Nineteen Ways, but in The Ghosts of Birds they spout like a geyser. The essays (some should be called poems) in this book have been published before or are continuations of a project begun before, but it is very good to have them in one place. The range of Weinberger’s interests in human cultures might be summarized as “everything everywhere from the beginning until now,” and he writes with erudition and charm. A horse in a painting from China’s “horse-obsessed” Tang era is “almost ridiculously plump, like a candied apple on four sticks.” His details often seem uncanny—perhaps fiction, a reader might wonder?—but they are not fiction. He does not footnote his sources, but when I checked his China stories I found good (not error-free, but good) bases for all of them.
A warm humanism pervades The Ghosts of Birds, and Weinberger has ways of making clear that it is universal. Sometimes, as in a gripping piece on Charles Reznikoff’s book-length poem Testimony, a particular case glows so intensely that the reader feels the universality intuitively; it could not be otherwise. Elsewhere, the sense of commonality arises as Weinberger finds something the same across a wide range of cases. “A Calendar of Stones,” for example, collects dozens of pieces of text that show how human beings from the ancient Greeks to the Jains to Buddhist monks to “the Orixás—Yoruba gods who are called ‘saints’ in Brazil,” among others, have interacted with stones. No matter where he draws an example from, Weinberger’s attitude is that human beings are amusing creatures.
Another piece, called “Changs Dreaming,” recounts the dreams, collected from Chinese texts of different sorts and times over centuries, of eighteen unrelated people all surnamed Chang. There is self-satire in the conception of the piece. Surnames do not matter in the genesis of dreams, and to suggest even briefly that they do is sufficiently eccentric to remind us that the truth is the opposite: all of us humans dream. To find so many dreaming Changs is not, moreover, as odd as seems implied. The surname Chang (now often spelled Zhang, but the same name) has always been extremely common in China; today only about fifteen countries in the world have more people than China has Changs.
In “The Story of Adam and Eve,” Weinberger goes beyond the Bible to present a surprising variety of versions of the story from Armenian, Georgian, Greek, Slavonic, Latin, Ge’ez (Ethiopian), and other sources. Every account is vulnerable to his playful barbs. In the Garden of Eden, for example, when Yahweh (God) calls to Adam “Where are you?,” Weinberger notes that He does this “although omniscient.” The bite is terse, but elsewhere Weinberger’s satire flows in cascades. He enjoys what Chinese comedians call “word fountains.” Khubilai Khan (1215–1294 CE), for example, was cruel and efficient during his early years as emperor, but later
became grotesquely fat, suffering from gout and other ailments, and detached from governing. He held huge and endless banquets of meat and koumiss, fermented mare’s milk, and was in a near-continual state of inebriation. [At his hunting reserve] four elephants would carry him, lying on a couch, in a gold-plated palanquin decked with tiger skins, accompanied by five hundred falconers and leopards and lynxes trained to chase down bears and wild boars.
In his analytic observations, Weinberger likes to cut to a core in plain language. He writes:
Confucianism taught that when the government is bad, one should head for the hills. (Taoism taught that, regardless of government, one should head for the hills.)
Professors might warn graduate students against such writing as too casual or “reductive,” but I disagree. The points Weinberger makes here are essentially correct and are much clearer than they would be if dressed up in academic jargon. In addition to its clarity, plain language has the virtue of allowing ideas from ancient times and distant places to extend into our present, just as shared humanity itself extends. The alternative of studying ancient ideas as if they are pickled specimens in a jar cannot do that. Weinberger sees lines of Wang Wei’s poems as “both universal and immediate,” and he sees much else in human cultures in that same spirit, which I think is wonderful.
1. See Simon Leys, “One More Art,” The New York Review, April 18, 1996.
Mrs. Zhou was tied up and frog-marched to a threshing yard next to the storehouse. Thirteen others were there too, including her husband, who had been seized a day earlier. The group was ordered to set off on a march. At the last moment, one of the leaders remembered that Mrs. Zhou and her husband had three children at home. They were rounded up and joined the rest on a five-mile midnight trek through the mountains.
Exhausted, the group ended up at Maple Wood Mountain at the very spot where we now stood. A self-proclaimed “Supreme People’s Court of the Poor and Lower-Middle Peasants” was formed out of the mob and immediately issued a death sentence to the entire group. The adults were clubbed in the head with a hoe and kicked into a limestone pit. Mrs. Zhou’s children wailed, running from adult to adult, promising to be good. Instead, the adults tossed them into the pit too.
Some fell down twenty feet to a ledge. Mrs. Zhou and one of her children landed alive on a pile of corpses on a higher ledge. When the gang heard their cries and sobs they tossed big rocks at the ledge until it collapsed, sending them down onto the others. Miraculously, all the family members survived. But as the days passed each of them died, until Mrs. Zhou was the last person in the pit with thirty-one corpses around her.
After a week, when an order from the Party had gone out to cease the killings, a few villagers from her hometown—which was not the village where she had been living—sneaked to the cave at night and rescued Mrs. Zhou. The village leadership from the town where she lived then recaptured her and debated killing her. Instead they tossed her in a pigsty and ordered the wardens not to feed her. But some courageous villagers tossed sweet potatoes into her cell at night and she survived another two weeks until a posse of villagers from her hometown freed her.
I found that the term “sex worker” was mostly used by academics pushing to legalize the industry. Many academics feel that it’s important to respect this community by using a term that classifies what they do as a profession. But in fact, many xiaojie don’t really understand or like this name because they feel the term emphasizes sex.
The term “sex worker” reduces all their work to sex, which doesn’t reflect the reality of what they do. It doesn’t accurately represent the diverse forms of emotional work and entertainment that they’re engaged in; rather, it highlights the one part that’s stigmatized.
How does this pathway compare to the other options available to them?
Ding Yu: There’s an important class dimension. As migrants coming from the country to the city, they want to be part of this modern, developed world. They want to shed the kind of coarseness that’s associated with the countryside.
The most common other option for migrant women is to work in a factory. Most xiaojie are very well-informed about the conditions of factory work, and they know they’re not interested.
They know other women from their hometowns who are factory laborers, and there are plenty of media reports that show how it is tedious, repetitive, and arduous, how the worker is treated like a machine. They know you’re stuck in dorm accommodation, far from the city center, producing luxury items you can’t afford to buy yourself. They know you are outside the modernity and development as a handmaiden to it.
Other options, such as being a waitress or nanny or shop assistant — these positions generally see lower income and worse working conditions than being a xiaojie, which is thus not a particularly poor option.
Kang said he was especially impressed by the way Xi told the story Constant Dripping Wears Away a Stone in an article written in 1990, when Xi was secretary of the Ningde Prefectural Committee of the Communist Party of China in Fujian province, a place known for poverty at that time.
In the article, Xi said he witnessed a stone worn away by dripping during his young adulthood. "Applied to humankind, it is the perfect embodiment of the personality that rises to fight, one after another, and to sacrifice bravely," Xi wrote.
He said in the long process of developing a poor region, people should not seek their own high station but to strive for drips of progress and be willing to become a stepping stone to final success.
"Like almost every child, I was told about the story of perseverance," Kang said. "But Xi told the story in a creative way, and I think that is because he was already thinking about local development from an overall viewpoint at that time." Kang added that the book includes many examples of Xi turning old stories into something new.
Yang Zhenwu, president of People's Daily, wrote in the book's preface that it is a tradition and outstanding ability of leaders of the Communist Party of China to tell stories. He cited Chairman Mao Zedong, one of the founders of the Party, as an example.
Στο μεταξύ, it emerged on Sunday that Athens had refused to endorse an EU statement criticising the crackdown on activists and dissidents under the Chinese president, Xi Jinping. The statement was due to be submitted to the UN’s human rights council in Geneva last Thursday.
Πράγμα που προκάλεσε την ιερή αγανάχτηση κάποιων άλλων τσακαλιών (θα τραβήξω τις κοτσίδες μου, θα σκίσω τις δαντέλες μου):
Diplomats were especially piqued at the veto’s timing. Late on Thursday eurozone finance ministers in Luxembourg agreed to unlock €8.5bn (£7.4bn) in bailout loans, allowing Athens to avert default when it faces €7.4bn in debt repayments next month. “It was dishonourable, to say the least,” one EU diplomat told Reuters in Brussels. (The Guardian)
"Σας δώσαμε τη δόση για να μας καταβάλετε τη δόση, και θέλετε και κινέζικες επενδύσεις;" Κίνα-Ελλάδα-Βρυξέλλες, ένας ωραίος κόσμος, πάρ' τόν ένα και χτύπα τον άλλον...
9 χρόνια μετά το ξεκίνημα αυτού του νήματος με αφορμή τη Χάρτα 08, ο βασικός συντάκτης της Liu Xiaobo πάσχει από τερματικό καρκίνο, και θα πεθάνει σύντομα, όπως όλα δείχνουν. Επιθανάτιο του Geremy Barmé (China Heritage, όπου δουλεύουν και τα λινκ)
When Oliver Sacks learned that his ocular melanoma had returned after a period of what he called ‘intermission’, he said he wished for a ‘speedy dissolution’. In My Own Life Sacks describes the feelings experienced as a person gradually loses loved ones and friends. He calls it a kind of ‘abruption’:
I have been increasingly conscious, for the last 10 years or so, of deaths among my contemporaries. My generation is on the way out, and each death I have felt as an abruption, a tearing away of part of myself. There will be no one like us when we are gone, but then there is no one like anyone else, ever. When people die, they cannot be replaced. They leave holes that cannot be filled, for it is the fate — the genetic and neural fate — of every human being to be a unique individual, to find his own path, to live his own life, to die his own death.
A tearing away, a sense of rending, heartfelt pain and emotional despair: that’s how I responded to the news this week that Liu Xiaobo, China’s leading Nobel Laureate and pre-eminent political prisoner, had been given ‘medical leave’ from gaol to receive treatment for late-stage liver cancer.
— Geremie R. Barmé, Editor, China Heritage
Geremie R. Barmé
30 June 2017
I’ve been mourning Liu Xiaobo for a quarter of a century.
For five intense and eventful years in the late 1980s and early 1990s Xiaobo and I shared what I believe was a real friendship, something special to both of us. We weren’t pengyou 朋友 in that vacuous, Sino-American ‘everyone’s my friend’ kind of way; nor were we gemen’r 哥們兒, that smart ass Beijing version of buddy-buddiness. Much less, thank heavens, did we ever become lao pengyou 老朋友, an accursed expression that, in reality, indicates a long-term association reaffirmed by bonds of mutual benefit, imposing thereby an exploitative emotional burden on both parties. Nonetheless, we were, to use the Beijing argot, tie 鐵, iron-clad.
From the time we first met in the autumn of 1986 we recognised in each other a similar temper: we shared existential doubts about a treacherous world that were tinged with a kind of ebullient, and often unjustified optimism. We expressed our mutuality with garrulous humor, contempt for the commonplace and hilarious one-upmanship.
What would Xiaobo think of our long-lost fellow feeling today; twenty five years have passed, and we’ve both been ravaged by cancer? My illness was treated thanks to a decent public health system that I could enjoy along with my liberty. Still, the rounds of chemo- and radio-therapy hit me so hard that I all but lost myself; it’s only in recent months that I’ve dared to imagine normality once more. Everyone who has been through the ‘Big C’ and survived its initial depredations knows that theirs is an uncertain sentence: remission, or rather what Oliver Sacks called ‘intermission’.
But Xiaobo? Tears blind me as I write. Xiaobo: diagnosed who knows when, treated now with cynical and calculating precision, the kind of precision that keeps the high-speed trains of the People’s Republic running on time. A cynicism synchronised so that this dastardly year in which Xi Jinping will duly, daresay humbly, accept a second five-year term as party-state Chairman of Everything can unfold without a political hitch. A diagnosis that, perhaps, will allow a little more time to a man who has been robbed of so much time over this quarter of a century. How did his wife, Liu Xia, put it? Her words break my heart and assault the decency of every thinking person in the world: ‘Can’t operate, can’t do radiotherapy, can’t do chemo.’
Xiaobo: Forgive me, I can’t look at the pictures and videos that the Communists are drip-feeding the media in China and internationally, purportedly evidence of the benevolent treatment you’ve enjoyed in prison and are receiving now in hospital. You’d probably laugh at me for being so fragile. I hope you’d still laugh; all I can do is weep.
We were introduced by the poet Wu Bin, a mutual friend who was, at the time, Liu Xia’s husband. I had read with excitement the hilariously unceremonious speech Xiaobo (and one immediately called him ‘Xiaobo’ 曉波 because anything more formal would have rung phoney) had made at a conference convened by the Academy of Social Sciences in Beijing to extol and promote the literature of China’s ‘New Age’ 新時期, the early years of post-Cultural Revolution Reform and Openness.
Like me, he was a graduate scholar; we were both in our mid thirties and working on doctoral dissertations: me under the supervision of my old Chinese teacher Pierre Ryckmans (Simon Leys) in Australia, him at Beijing Normal University. My friend the translator John Minford and I had just published Seeds of Fire: Chinese Voices of Conscience in Hong Kong. It was a book about the explosion in the alternative cultural world of what we called the ‘Chinese Commonwealth’: Taiwan, Hong Kong and the Mainland. Xiaobo was attracting controversy by mocking the smug littérateurs of the day, warning about the dangers of revived traditional feudal culture and China’s possible slide into the ways of the past. He was mocked, but also celebrated, as a cultural “black horse” 黑馬, an unexpected, and for many, an unwelcome, interloper. Wang Meng 王蒙, the liberal-minded novelist recently appointed Minister of Culture, dismissed him as an over-hyped wannabe.
As we chatted, even at that hurried first meeting and then later in the year when he agreed to be formally interviewed for the Chinese-language Hong Kong magazine that I wrote for, we realised that we shared a contempt for: the remnant Maoists under whom I had studied in the 1970s and of the kind that he had previously suffered; the venomous pro-Party ‘neo cons’ like the intellectual hitman He Xin 何新 (whose writings in the 1980s adumbrated the ressentiment of China today); the suffocating embrace of reformist cultural and intellectual coteries; the foreign salons of Peking run by diplomats and others, along with their condescending attitudes to the ‘pet primitives’ of the Chinese avant-garde; the paternalism of the up-and-coming, party-funded academic authorities; as well as for the tenured foreign academics who corralled the rambunctious world of lived China in neat disciplinary packages, ever mindful of not doing anything to endanger their precious visa status.
I immediately found fellowship with Xiaobo and many of our ideas chimed; we shared a pessimism about China that originated, at least in my case, with the arrest and gaoling of Wei Jingsheng in 1979. I like to think that he was sincere when he said he enjoyed my Chinese-language cultural criticism published in Hong Kong, as well as the satirical essays 雜文 that I had been writing since the late 1970s. Of course, he was delighted that I ‘got’ his barbed writing style and that I was soon able to incorporate parts of the interview we did in an expanded North American edition of Seeds of Fire that appeared in 1988.
Xiaobo was ecstatic when Li Zehou 李澤厚, a revered reformist philosopher and his bête noire, attacked me for having defended him in the Chinese media. Among other things, I’d said that Li, as well as Liu Zaifu 劉再復 — the ‘godfather’ of then-progressive literary analysis — were the self-appointed gatekeepers of China’s new cultural orthodoxy, one that cloaked itself in threadbare artistic openness and rejected truly original voices like that of Liu Xiaobo. In response, in a published interview Li Zehou spluttered: ‘This Foreign Effendi Geremie Barmé will only be happy when All-Under-Heaven in China is in chaos’ 白傑明這個洋大人唯恐中國的天下不亂！We guffawed and chortled: no wonder Mao had it in for the intelligentsia!
Xiaobo shared my revulsion for Beijing’s mini cultural hegemons, like Li Tuo 李陀, men (and they were all men) who, although independent of the Party bureaucracy, were like Mafia bosses, busy carving out a critical (and profitable) space for themselves in the ideological hurly burly of the day. As Xiaobo wrote:
The famous in China are much taken with acting as benefactors of others who caress and suckle the unknown. They use a type of tenderness which is almost feminine to possess, co-opt, and finally asphyxiate you… . Some people have the talent to excel, but shying from the dangers of going it alone, they instead seek out a discoverer 伯樂. They look for support, for security, so they can sleep easy; lunging into the bosom of some grand authority or other, and doze off in their warm embrace.
But, we also knew what the stakes were, both politically and culturally. The fate of Wei Jingsheng, the stalled purge of Spiritual Pollution in 1983, then the student demonstrations in late 1986 calling for media freedom and the resultant fall of Party General Secretary Hu Yaobang in early 1987: we knew that the People’s Democratic Dictatorship lay in wait with deadly intent. Sure, despite my years in China and involvement in the literary scene for over a decade, I had a foreign face, an Australian passport and a return ticket home. Xiaobo was wedded both psychically and physically to China and its fate. I think from the start we sensed that things would not end well. A tragedy without catharsis. But from the moment I first read him, and even more so after we got to know each other, I knew him to be a unique individual; I would gradually learn just how manic, talented, outrageous, obnoxious, loveable, treacherous and courageous he was.
In late 1988, on his first extended trip outside China, Xiaobo gave an interview to Jin Zhong 金鐘, an editor I’d worked with in Hong Kong. He said to Jin:
There should be room for my extremism; I certainly don’t mean of others that they be like me… . I’m pessimistic about mankind in general, but my pessimism does not allow for escape. Even though I might be faced with nothing but a series of tragedies, I will still struggle, still show my opposition. This is why I like Nietzsche and dislike Schopenhauer.
Two years later, following his jailing for involvement in the 1989 Protest Movement, when writing about Xiaobo I quoted the poet Joseph Brodsky. By then I was fearful he’d never escape the clutches of the Chinese state:
… the surest defense against Evil is extreme individualism, originality of thinking, whimsicality, even — if you will — eccentricity. That is, something that can’t be feigned, faked, imitated, something even a seasoned impost couldn’t be happy with. Something, in other words, that can’t be shared, like your own skin; not even by a minority. Evil is a sucker for solidity. It always goes for big numbers, for confident granite, for ideological purity, for drilled armies and balanced sheets. Its proclivity for such things has to do with its innate insecurity, but this realisation, again, is of small comfort when Evil Triumphs.
— Joseph Brodsky, A Commencement Address, 16 August 1984.
Xiaobo’s was a big personality in a country that, despite its vast size and population, is choked by extraordinary political and cultural pusillanimity. This is Liu Xiaobo’s tragedy, as well as being a Chinese tragedy: paradoxically, as that country has become greater, it has also become smaller. The difference for Xiaobo was that he always knew that his was an inescapable destiny, even as he hoped for and devoted himself to change. He wrote:
To be quite honest, no matter how vicious a tyranny may be, people should not be scared, nor should they complain; all must decided whether they will subject themselves to it or rebel. Whenever the Chinese start heaping scorn on authoritarianism, they should be blaming themselves instead. How could things have reached their present state, where the most outrageous things are taken for granted, if it weren’t for the Chinese being so weak-willed and ignorant? Tyranny is not terrifying; what is really scary is submission, silence, and even praise for tyranny. As soon as people decide to oppose it to the bitter end, even the most vicious tyranny will be short-lived. The only thing that is worthwhile is one’s own choice and the decision to accept the consequences of that choice. Why the long face of the suffering martyr when you make a plaintive criticism of the violence of tyranny? Do what everyone else does: Either stay silent or give in entirely. Move ahead cautiously, cover the hilly terrain slowly, follow the serpentine course of the river tenaciously. You won’t upset the autocrats, and you’ll win the highest accolade of traditional Chinese morality: You’ll be known as “subtle.” …What good fortune! If you’re already aware of how pitiless the autocrats are and you know that any opposition to them will only be getting disaster to fall from the skies, and still you go ahead and bash your head against a brick wall, then you’ve got no one to blame but yourself if you split your head open. You can’t blame the people who are watching you, nor can you blame the autocrats. If you want to enter hell, don’t complain of the dark; you can’t blame the world for being unfair if you start on the path of the rebel. If all you do is complain, you’ll never get anywhere.
— trans. Geremie Barmé, in Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds, New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices, New York: Random House, 1992, p.451.
During his involvement with the 1989 protests, Xiaobo articulated his ideas about democracy, rationality, freedom from hate and the need for civility and due process. They were ideas that would inform his future writing and political activism. In the end, his words and deeds may have garnered him a Nobel Prize, yet in an authoritarian system, one that since 1989 has oscillated merely between the poles of the cruel and the pitiless, they sealed his fate.
Our relationship did not survive much past his first incarceration in 1989-1990. Tragically heroic in the public sphere, in his personal life Xiaobo’s behaviour left much to be desired. I decided to treasure memories of happier times. Over the years, I’ve continued to follow his writings, I’ve expressed concern for the waves of persecution and even, upon occasion, I’ve signed on to one or two of the numerous petitions that he concocted with such regularity.
In 1989-1990 I had been involved in an attempt initiated by friends in Norway to nominate him for a Nobel Prize; so, naturally, I was delighted when, nearly twenty years later, he was awarded that recognition. The reaction of the Chinese party-state to the honour was as inevitable as it was unimaginative. At the time, I had no doubt that I shared Xiaobo’s disgust and contempt for the usually prolix progressive and new-left Chinese intellectuals who now demurred from celebrating this victory for decency, democracy and rationalism in a country that is so sadly lacking all three.
In my dealings with Chinese officialdom, in my writing and translating, as the founder of a major research centre on China, I always tried to maintain fellowship with the Other China, a China that nurtured me and that I loved from the time I was a student there from the age of twenty. Xiaobo will always be part of that Other China: the China of possibility, hope and humanity. I believe that I have always honoured our shared sensibility. I’ve often thought: if he read this or knew of that, how we’d laugh and instantly rekindle what we once had, what in Chinese is called shénjiāo 神交. It’s not simply a meeting of minds, it’s a mutuality of spirit, a solidarity of the heart.
Over the years, I have spoken out in China and elsewhere about the vengeful incarceration of Xiaobo, as well as of the plangent fate of Liu Xia. He, accused of a fictional offence and cruelly gaoled, Liu Xia, guilty by association and, although resident in one of the world’s great cities, condemned ‘to disappear on dry land’ 陸沉, as the ancient Taoist thinker Zhuangzi puts it.
I have mourned Liu Xiaobo and I have sorely missed what, for a precious five years, was, I believe, a true meeting of minds and of hearts. I have missed the easy camaraderie we enjoyed. I mourn as one mourns so many things about China, about life and, indeed, about the world. I have mourned Xiaobo, and I mourn him now. I will continue to mourn this tragic hero for the rest of my life.
Liu Xiaobo interview with Bai Jieming (Geremie Barmé), December 1986, online at: http://chinaheritage.net/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/中國人的解放在自我覺醒.pdf
G. Barmé, ‘Confession, Redemption, and Death: Liu Xiaobo and the Protest Movement of 1989’, 1990, online at: http://www.chinaheritagequarterly.org/features.php?searchterm=017_confession.inc&issue=017. & in Chinese at: 忏悔、救赎与死亡：刘晓波与八九民运, 石默奇译.
Liu Xiaobo, ‘The Tragedy of a “Tragic Hero” ‘ and ‘At the Gateway to Hell’, translated by Barmé in Geremie Barmé and Linda Jaivin, eds, New Ghosts, Old Dreams: Chinese Rebel Voices, New York: Random House, 1992.
Joseph Brodsky, ‘A Commencement Address’, 16 August 1984, online at: http://www.nybooks.com/articles/1984/08/16/a-commencement-address/, collected in Joseph Brodsky, Less Than One, Selected Essays, London: Penguin Books, 1987, p.385, quoted in Barmé, ‘Confession, Redemption and Death: Liu Xiaobo and the 1989 Protest Movement’, 1990, n.5.
Dr. Xu Zhiyong (许志永), leader of the New Citizens Movement, was released from prison on July 15, after serving a 4-year sentence. Xu Zhiyong’s defense lawyer Zhang Qingfang (张庆方) confirmed that Dr. Xu has returned home in Beijing. He was picked up earlier by the security police, a source said. (...)