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.
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.
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.