Language

Beijing man prints erotic Ming novel, fined ¥10,000

It feels like China’s obscenity laws are ready for a challenge like Lady Chatterley’s Lover. However, a sudden overhaul of this antiquated legislation doesn’t seem likely – to this day, people still get punished for printing 《金瓶梅》(The Plum in the Golden Vase), an erotic Ming dynasty novel that is considered a literary classic. According to Shanghaiist, a man with the surname Zhou was fined  ¥10,000 for illegally printing this notorious work:

According to The Beijing Cultural Law Enforcement Agency, our man Zhou set up his own super-secret publishing house in Tongzhou district, and printed over 2,000 copies of a Qing dynasty version of the book (believed to be a more complete version than the current abridged one) between March and April. All the copies and a stapling machine have since been confiscated, Sina reports.

Zhou has also been fined 10,000 yuan (around $1,535) for his crime, and his actions are the first to be punished under amended regulations that took effect in January, which ban individuals from printing or publishing materials without legal permission.

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Yan Lianke on famine advice and today’s China

The New York Times recently published a short piece by Yan Lianke [ 閻連科 ], the author of Dream of Ding Village [《丁莊夢》] and Lenin’s Kisses [《受活》]. As you might expect, his description of modern China is rather bleak, even compared to the horrors previous generations in mainland China experienced – Yan was too young to remember much of the famine caused by the Great Leap Forward but recalls what his mother told him about survival:

Holding my hand, my mother pointed to the white clay and yellow earth of the wall, and said, “Son, you must always remember, when people are starving to death they may eat this white clay and elm tree bark, but if they try to eat that yellow earth or the bark of any other kind of tree they will die even faster.”

As many other writers who lived through the Mao era, Yan doesn’t have much good to say about contemporary China, but offers little in terms of solutions. For him, it might be about survival, though – the last writer to offer any alternative is still locked up in prison.

A Random《禮記》Quote on a Wall

When I was walking around last night I came across this quote on the wall of a middle school:

“Isn’t that classical Chinese? I thought Mao got rid of all that.” The quote was attributed to 《禮記·中庸》, which is the “The Doctrine of the Mean” from The Book of Rites. I had to look it up, even if I knew it wouldn’t be worthwhile; whenever there’s a quote like this, it’s invariably something that an ultra-conservative octogenarian back in the early Zhou dynasty thought would be a great way to round off a graduation speech.
And yes,  that was the case this time as well. I found a decent bilingual version of  “The Doctrine of the Mean” translated by A.C. Muller. It turned out the two lines are spliced together from different parts of the text.  The first part, “栽者培之”:

We can also know that Heaven develops each thing according to its preparation. Thus, Heaven nourishes the growing sprout, and throws down the leaning tree.

The second part, “雖愚必明”:

If someone else gets it in one try, I will try one hundred times. If someone else gets it in ten tries, I will try one thousand times. If you are able to follow this Way, then even if you are stupid, you will become enlightened.

So basically, this is the message: ‘It doesn’t matter if you’re not the brightest crayon in the box: you’ll eventually learn something if you work hard, and those who work hard will be rewarded’.

The school, by the way, is Peiming Middle School [培明中學], founded in 1925. It’s name comes from the ‘pei’ and the ‘ming’ from the quote above.

Charlie Brooker on Internet Hyperbole + Kate Bush

I love Kate Bush – she added some flair and emotion to my otherwise dull childhood. It’s hard to describe her music without going into full-on hyperbole: ‘cosmic’, ‘mind-expanding’, or plainly ‘awesome’.

Recently, she gave her first live performance since 1979 and there were of course lots of people excited about that. In his latest column, “This awesome dissection of internet hyperbole will make you cry and change your life”, Charlie Brooker uses a friend’s disappointment about the gig to launch a tirade against the over-the-top language that now permeates the web:

Perhaps the impossible-to-live-up-to tidal wave of praise came about in part because [Kate] Bush had been clever enough to ask people not to stand around like mindless absorption pods, dumbly filming the gig on their smartphones. Maybe, with those smartphones tucked away, a sizeable percentage of the audience was being shocked by the reality of their first non screen-parlayed experience of the past five years. It must be like eating salt and vinegar crisps for the first time after weeks of a sense-numbing heavy cold: the sheer rush of unmediated reality almost takes your face off.

But maybe the praise reached deranged heights because nothing’s allowed to simply be “very good” or even “great” any more. We’ve ramped up the hyperbole: it’s amazing; it’s awesome. We focus on the personal impact: it’ll rock your world; it’ll change your life. You’ll be so stuffed full of wonder you’ll split at the seams.

He’s right, of course. Nowadays, it’s impossible to post an Instagram photo of a cupcake without describing it in words that were just a generation ago reserved for describing the most awe-inspiring sights that anyone could hope to see. Sites like Buzzfeed with their horrible genre of clickbait headlines make awe and wonder seem commonplace and even boring. Brooker is not far off the mark with imagined headlines like “The Late Leonid Brezhnev Just Invented the World’s Most Awesome Dance Move. What This Teacher Tells Her Class Will Change Your Life Forever. You Won’t Believe the State of this Guy’s Asshole.”

I wonder if this tidal wave of hyperbole and ‘awesomeness’ has hit China yet. (Clickbait certainly has.) If you know any good examples, you can leave a comment below.