Read-along: Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio

KeskusteluAncient China

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Read-along: Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio

Tämä viestiketju on "uinuva" —viimeisin viesti on vanhempi kuin 90 päivää. Ryhmä "virkoaa", kun lähetät vastauksen.

tammikuu 16, 2013, 5:53 pm

At the end of our Red Chamber read along, Lola suggested Pu Songling's Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio as our next title. While there are multi-volume complete translations available, Penguin offers a nice one volume selection of 104 stories translated and edited by John Minford (Chinese University of Hong Kong), also the son-in-law of David Hawkes. Minford translated the Strange Tales in Southern France.

''All I want is that I have white rice to eat, fish for soup, good wine and fine tea to drink, and in my home ten thousand volumes of books and a thousand stone rubbings. I want to not have to go out all year or to see any vulgar person that someone tries to introduce to me. After I have lived like this for 70 or 80 years, I shall be a citizen of the Kingdom of Eternal Happiness.'' The man who said this, according to a 1987 exhibition promo in the NYT, Li Rihua, would probably add a fast internet connection to his wishlist (but not a Facebook account). Secure in Hobbitland, scholars such as Li Rihua, Pu Songling or their Western equivalents Montaigne, Montesquieu or Thomas Jefferson enjoyed their rural retreats, separated from the world in turmoil (as told in Woman Wang).

With the year of the water snake fast approaching, please join me in this read-along. I suggest we start at the beginning. I've already read the last story, no. 104 Stir-fry, though, and probably ruined my Google browsing history, as I unsuccessfully tried to find an image of a rattan dildo - which sounds rather uncomfortable. Google helpfully presented rattan canes (more in line with the material properties of rattan I had in mind). The story plays on the boundless Chinese appetite and cooking skills that make the weirdest ingredients palatable.

So welcome to this virtual Chinese studio where we will indeed encounter some strange stories.

tammikuu 16, 2013, 11:05 pm


All right then.

I have that Penguin edition.

How did you come to read the last story first?

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 22, 2013, 5:28 pm

I unsuccessfully tried to find an image of a rattan dildo

Try setting your SafeSearch: off.

So, the rattan dildo came before the steam powered driven one.

103 is a prime, how nice.

tammikuu 17, 2013, 6:07 pm

Welcome aboard. Primes are overrated. 24601 is a much better number than 24611.

>2 LolaWalser: Must be my rebellious diligence! The author's annotated preface faces story 104.

>3 vy0123: I am living dangerously, always searching with SafeSearch:off. GoogleNanny all too often tends to misdirect/re-interpret my multilingual queries. Still no luck. Instead this thread is ranked first. Immortality, here we come. Following the other term of "cantonese groin", we arrive at van Gulik's explanation of this dual purpose/edible sex toy. The unsuspecting wife's "mistake" ends up doing what it is intended for. So is the story a more risqué Chinese variant of an American hash brownie joke?

tammikuu 17, 2013, 6:33 pm

Whoa, four posts in, we're already discussing edible sex toys. (My lovely Chinese sex artifacts over 5000 years shows jade, stone, copper, rubber, wood, porcelain and bamboo dildos--I expect a rattan one would probably be closest to bamboo.)

I read the introduction. Only one remark so far: I regret his decision to skip the "flowery" nicknames, they create such an atmosphere.

tammikuu 17, 2013, 10:46 pm

Primes are useful. The bigger the better.

Over Christmas giving a sex toy sold out due to fifty shades of grey,
if true, does that relate to any here referenced?

tammikuu 20, 2013, 9:30 am

Googling van Gulik's Boschniakia glabra identifies a suitably shaped candidate (no indication of size). While the following listed uses correctly (for an aphrodisiac) trigger the blood circulation, it seems to mostly reduce it:

1. for impotence: due to shenyangxu (kidney yang deficient) condition
2. for constipation: due to qixu (qi deficient) or blood deficient
3. for infertility
4. for excessive uterine bleeding
5. for yeast infection from cold deficient womb
6. for high blood pressure
7. for bleeding of the kidneys and/or bladder
8. for inflammation of the kidneys

>6 vy0123: Not in the great state of Alabama where the distribution of sex toys ("any device designed or marketed as useful primarily for the stimulation of human genital organs") "shall be punished by a fine of not more than ten thousand dollars ($10,000) and may also be imprisoned in the county jail or sentenced to hard labor for the county for not more than one year."

Down in Alabama, repressive books such as Fifty Shades of Grey are still helping to ease the iron clasps around their collective hearts (and other parts, cf. The Frog Prince's Iron Heinrich - 'Tis the band round my heart that to lessen its ache, when I grieved for your sake, I bound round my heart." Again, and yet once again there was the same sound, and the prince thought it must be the wheel breaking, but it was the breaking of the other bands from faithful Henry's heart, because it was now so relieved and happy." The English Wikipedia entry about The Frog Prince would greatly benefit from the material and interpretations listed on its German cousin entry).

No. 1 - Homunculus
Too much yoga drives one mad. There is an interesting discussion going on how much of the medieval visions and religious experiences was caused by malnutrition (cf. Joan of Ark). Given its literal title "The man within the ear", I would have titled it "Demon at large". The dream and peril of seeking solitude looks to me as a recurring topic in Chinese literature.

tammikuu 20, 2013, 10:10 am

Too much yoga drives one mad.

Oh, har!

Well, I can't better that summary.

Fasting is an ancient tool in the spiritual sweepstakes game.

tammikuu 21, 2013, 5:02 am

Too much yoga drives one mad.

Yoga and capoeira go better together.

tammikuu 21, 2013, 10:30 am

The third and fourth stories (Living dead, Spitting water) creeped the hell out of me! These are amazingly effective. Roll over, Lovecraft, Poe, with your tedious jungle-tangle of pompous verbiage!

(Oh--should we mention we SPOIL in here? SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS SPOILERS!!)

Detail that actually made my hair stand on end: they dislodge the corpse from the tree and discover that The finger holes were long and narrow as if they had been bored by a carpenter's awl.

Fantastic, utterly fantastic.

And with the old woman, it's the inexplicability of it: why was she spitting water? Why was she attacking them spitting water? Was she trying to talk? Was she trying to kill or contaminate them?

The fifth story, Talking pupils, was deliciously bizarre, creating a truly original final image--one eye socket empty, both pupils nestling in the other one.

I'm loving this.

tammikuu 21, 2013, 10:36 am


Nice. Wonder what it looks like without slo-mo.

tammikuu 21, 2013, 6:50 pm

Capoeira is a martial art (performed mostly by men) whereas yoga is a physical-spiritual exercise (performed almost uniquely by women in the West). No wonder Wiki states that the Vatican warned that concentration on the physical aspects of meditation "can degenerate into a cult of the body" and that equating bodily states with mysticism "could also lead to psychic disturbance and, at times, to moral deviations." Who wouldn't trust the Vatican given its century-old expertise in moral deviation?

Lola, Lola, Loooola. No. 2 is too fine a story to just jump over it. Well, here are no. 3 and 4.

No. 3 - Living Dead
Zombie attack! Saved by a poor motion detection routine and an official certificate. Contrary to you, Lola, I found the finger curls unconvincing. The linked joints of a human hand turn it into a poor awl, self-defeating the torsion. What speaks against a good old clawing into the tree? The BBC, by the way, is just showing woodworking documentary. In the episode about Grindling Gibbons, they showed how different types of wood and grooves require different tools.

What I also found notable is that all the guests sleep in individual beds. In Europe at that time, they would have shared one bed. It is also important to wear your trousers before you escape.

No. 4 - Spitting Water
The perils of fracking for a curious cat. They break the first rule of horror movies: Stay indoors and stay locked-down. Never engage with strangers and always carry an umbrella.

Next up, no. 2!

tammikuu 21, 2013, 9:38 pm

Oh, I didn't mean to preempt your summaries--you go ahead and do them in sequence! Number 2 was all right, melancholy with that final image of the ghost bidding goodbye to his relatives.

Regarding the holes, I think we are picturing it very differently--there's no torsion anywhere in my impression, I saw the zombie smashing her hands into the tree--trying to grab the poor guy--so that the fingers bore INTO the tree. And the creepy image is that of her fingers tunneling further, or even elongating, creating these abnormally long holes, longer than normal fingers. Or longer than the fingers on a normal corpse! Like those on Max Schreck's Nosferatu!

The fury and the horror of it!

tammikuu 22, 2013, 5:11 am

Lola you fox spirit, slooow down will you.

One story at a time.



I only unboxed a Christmas gift yesterday to find a kindle

and now have the correct Penguin edition.


tammikuu 22, 2013, 5:57 am

Location 459 of 7429
5. A man eager to climb famous mountains must have the patience to follow a winding path. A man eager to eat a bear's paw must have the patience to simmer it slowly. A man eager to watch the moonlight must have the patience to wait until midnight. A man eager to see a beautiful woman must have the patience to let her finish her toilette. Reading requires patience too.

tammikuu 22, 2013, 9:56 am

LOL! It's true, I'd rather be chasing rabbits.

SO? Impressions, ideas, notions, remarks, notes, eh, eh, eh?

Speaking of the Penguin edition, I think these are splendid enough to do them ALL, I'm breaking out my French coffret as well. Yes. That'll fill in the time.

tammikuu 22, 2013, 5:58 pm

>13 LolaWalser: Perhaps your tree drilling works on a rubber or very soft wood tree. Otherwise, I prefer my bear hug technique, clawing into the sides of the tree. Max Schreck's curved nails are unsuitable for telescope drilling.

What I find important is that it is Bruder Baum (brother tree) that saves the guy. Man's best wooden friend whose health concerns us all - Hans Erni's famous (well, famous in Switzerland) poster Rettet den Wald). There is the famous dichotomy between the good, protective individual tree (ent) and the frightening and dangerous woods.

Another aspect is trying to understand what the unexplicable is hiding. Has there been a massacre of four people, including a (raped) girl who in her agony clawed herself into the tree? Assigning the responsibility to a zombie is perhaps easier than accept the evil within our midst.

The recent craze for zombies (and humping vampires - both forms of necrophilia) is interesting too. Unlike a person suffering from dementia, a zombie is not only cognitively impaired but also does not feel anything. Its affective system is not working (except for hunger and scenting brawns and brains). A zombie is the opposite of a robot, pure primitive nature that attacks humans in a mechanistic fatality.

Finally, one might ask which taboo is broken in this story: Laying down with the dead which happens to be one of the frightful tasks in one of my favorite Grimm fairy tales: Märchen von einem, der auszog, das Fürchten zu lernen (The Story of the Youth Who Went Forth to Learn What Fear Was): "On his third and final night in the castle, the boy heard a strange noise. Six men entered his room, carrying a coffin. The boy, unafraid but distraught, believed the body to be his own dead cousin. As he tried to warm the body (with his own body heat), it reanimated, and, confused, threatened to strangle him. The boy, angry at his ingratitude, closed the coffin on top of the man again." Both stories teach the kids not to fool around with the dead, a message lost on the Twilight generation as they are no longer confronted with actual, decomposing dead bodies.

The taboo broken in story no. 4 is to break the lock-down. Not so long ago, cities were locked down at sunset, houses were similarly locked to keep strangers, bad wolves and ghosts out.

tammikuu 27, 2013, 1:12 am

SO? Impressions, ideas, notions, remarks, notes, eh, eh, eh?

If the intention is to do them ALL, chapter two in Too Much to Know is on note-taking.

Water and crone. A strange combination. I've reached the start of no. 5. So far, the stories haven't scared the crap out of me, but I don't dare to read them just before sleep.

tammikuu 27, 2013, 10:56 am


I love that Grimm story. Do you know Gogol's story "Viy", J-C? And have you seen the movie? (Mosfilm, 1967, English subtitles)

A young seminarian must spend three nights praying in the church over the corpse of a girl.


Number six, Painted wall, is okay for bedtime reading!

Interesting that the translator has "apsaras" appearing in this story, and a "troll" in the next. Have these completely shed their ethnic overtones? To my ears the former is still Indian, the latter Scandinavian.

tammikuu 27, 2013, 11:09 am

What a great read-along. Mind if I come along for the ride? I see I have missed The Three Kingdoms and The Story of the Stone, but I hope we get a chance to perhaps do The Outlaws of the Marsh / The Water Margin next!

In the meantime, I have dug out my Penguin Classic and will catch up this evening.

tammikuu 27, 2013, 11:16 am

Interesting ! the first story is Homunculus ? so they skip the first one.

I need to get the content list to match my version.

tammikuu 27, 2013, 11:52 am

According to the second episode in this series

where he visits a bear sanctuary then bear bile farm, a bear's claws will grow, curl back, penetrate the paw and go around again if left uncut. It may have been the inspiration for the girl's finger-nails drilling into the tree in no. 3.

tammikuu 27, 2013, 12:45 pm

>12 jcbrunner:

In the story of no.3 living dead. they did share a bed. and the store owner didn't explicitly told them about the dead body.which was shroud in a separate compartment, cover with paper ,and the room was dimly lit with candle. I believe they never check the room before falling asleep.

The fun part is after the guy manage to make it out of the room,chasing by the zombie, and the whole small town was dead silence, .just like what it would happen in a bad dream.

tammikuu 27, 2013, 1:20 pm

>23 kafkachen: They didn't share a bed in this translation.

"In an alcove to one side of the room the men saw a row of four beds and exhausted from their day's journey, they threw themselves down and were soon snoring loudly".

They also did know about the corpse before going to sleep:

"When they entered, they saw a lamp burning on a small table, beyond which curtains were draped across the room. Through the curtains they caught a glimpse of the corpse itself, stretched out on a trestle-bed and covered with a paper shroud"

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 27, 2013, 1:38 pm

>24 Conte_Mosca:

About the bed, the translation is wrong. "複室中有連榻" ,連榻 is one single platform to sleep on. otherwise, the guy wouldn't be able to kick his friend.

As for the second part, the original description didn't really tell the story 'through' the eye of the 4 travelers. it is terse, so I could be wrong. but it is certain that the owner didn't explicitly told them .

tammikuu 27, 2013, 5:37 pm

Welcome aboard! Comparing Giles's version of story no. 2 (no. 1 everywhere else), it looks like Minford's focus is readability, whereas Giles hovers close to the original text: "My eldest sister's husband's grandfather, named Sung Tao, was a graduate." Not exactly "call me Ishmael."

On the other hand, I prefer Giles' title "Examination for the post of guardian angel" to Minford's "An otherworldly examination" because the interesting aspect of the story is that heaven uses the downstairs selection procedure. One should also read Cecil N. Parkinson's essay on the two basic methods of personnel selection, found in his more famous Parkinson's Law: The British method based on connections (guanxi) or the Chinese method based on examinations. The fairness of the Chinese method can be gamed as the rich can invest much more time than the poor to train their kids to pass the examination. The French send their kids to special prep schools before they sit the entrance exams to the (egalitarian) grandes écoles. Chris Hayes' recent book Twilight of the Elites features a similar account of rich New York parents jockeying their kids into a supposedly egalitarian school.

One of the lessons of the story is a variant of the Winner's Curse. Often, the best candidate for a job isn't the one looking for it most eagerly and loud (especially true in case of female applicants). While his wish to care for his mother is altruistic and selfish at the same time, his sacrifice honors the Confucian ideal to the fullest.

Regarding the beds, I think this illustration fits. Based on my Swiss army experience with similar sleeping arrangements in Alpine cabins, it offers plenty of opportunity to kick your neighbor while sleeping.

>19 LolaWalser: Wonderful, Lola. I just watched the movie with really good FX for the 60s. I love how they call the protagonist "philosopher". The depiction of both the clergy and the peasants looks both quite accurate and dismal to me. Is it a stab against young Stalin the seminarian? Coming from a Zwinglian protestant, highly intellectual religious approach I am always awed by visceral religiosity which is very strong in Orthodox Christianity. During my visit of Kiev's Monastery of the Caves, I was quite shocked to see babushkas almost humping the caskets of the saints and had to be restrained by the priests. These babushkas would not have been averse to spend three nights down there.

Finally, I copied Minford's findings list for reference (p. 490). First the Penguin edition number, then the corresponding number of both Allen Barr 1984 and Zhang Youhe's Chinese 1962 edition. A star indicates one missing story, three hyphens a batch of missing stories. I wish he would also have indicated whether a story is to be found in Giles too. To me, the selection process looks like the translator ran out of time. While I think a complete three volume edition would not have been a commercial success, a two volume edition should have been attempted (the Penguin Story of the Stone has been split into many, many parts).

1-2, 2-1, 3-3, 4-4, 5-5, 6-6, 7-7, 8-8, 9-9, 10-10, 11-11, * , 12-13, 13-14, 14-15, 15-16, 16-17, 17-18, 18-19, 19-20, 20-21, 21-22, 22-23, 23-24, 24-25, 25-26, 26-27, 27-28, 28-29, 29-30, 30-31, 31-32, **, 32-35, *, 33-37, **, 34-40, 35-41, 36-42, 37-43, 38-44, 39-45, **, 40-48, 41-49, 42-50, 43-51, 44-52, 45-53, 46-54, 47-55, 48-57, ***, 49-61, *, 50-63, 51-64, 52-65, 53-66, **, 54-69, *, 55-71, **, 56-74, 57-75, *, 58-77, *, 59-79, *******, 60-88, 61-89, 62-90, **, 63-93, 64-94, **, 65-97, **************, 66-112, ****, 67-117, ******, 68-124, *, 69-126, 70-127, 71-128, ***********, 72-140, ****, 73-145, *********, 74-155, 75-156, *****, 76-162, 77-163, 78-164, *, 79-166, *****, 80-172, *, 81-174, ********************, 82-195, 83-196, **, 84-199, *********, 85-209, *********, 86-219 --- 87-246, ***, 88-250, 89-251, *, 90-253, *, 91-255, 92-256, **, 93-259, *, 94-261 --- 95-296 --- 96-332 --- 97-401, ******, 98-408, 99-409 --- 100-438, ***, 101-442, ************, 102-455, **, 103-458, ---, 104-250b

tammikuu 27, 2013, 10:43 pm

>26 jcbrunner:

榻 , Is a big chair rather then a bed, in the style of traditional Chinese furniture , it might look like this ( more likely without a cushion )

On second thought , I must be wrong about they didn't realize sharing a room with dead . it would be hard to miss the decoration.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 27, 2013, 11:55 pm

>26 jcbrunner:

I really like how the author choose his title. most of them are 2 words( 2 Chinese characters). single word like Homunculus is a good translation IMHO.

The title of the first story is 考城隍 (An otherworldly examination) , 城隍 is a deity guarding castle(城) and its moat(隍 :water) . the word itself first appear in 'YI' (易)。It is a popular temple around Asia, the earliest one still exist was built at 3rd century(in China). There are 2 groups of deities in china, one from heaven and the other from underworld. 城隍 is from the underworld. ( the underworld deities will no doubt show up more in this book).

The topic of examination is a major subject too. since that was what the author dreaming about , at 18 years old, he pass the elementary exam (秀才),and spent the rest of his life trying to pass the next grade. but never made it. he was too good to fit in the system.

Edit: Story number 30-31(Mr. yet), is among the best of this subject)

tammikuu 28, 2013, 2:47 pm

Is the bed a platform bed, kang? Depending on the size one could line up lots of people on it. (Everything I Know About Chinese Furniture I Learned From The Dream Of Red Mansions)

The complete French translation of the stories (503, including some labelled as "apocryphal"), by André Lévy, begins with what is #2 in the Penguin, and the title matches Giles: Examen au poste de génie tutélaire.

(Glad you liked Viy, J-C! The Soviets turned out some impressive fairy tales and fantasy in the sixties-seventies. Yes, there's lots of puns to be made there. :))

tammikuu 28, 2013, 6:07 pm

Thank you, kafkachen, for your helpful explanations. I still have to get used to your LT member name as Little Kafka sort of makes me cringe about Kafka's self-esteem issues (though Kafka wasn't little and actually a fitness freak following the Müller style müllern).

When you talked about the gods of the underworld, I immediately thought about Orpheus as a wanderer between worlds and the tale told in Ovid's Metamorphoses. Perhaps we will find time to discuss the similarities and differences between the two later on.

Isn't the Chinese examination scheme a bit like the race to be the lucky sperm (whereas each sperm is already in a quite privileged position)? A lottery of wits where the path of happiness lies in the zen-like acceptance that participation means winning?

>29 LolaWalser: The French translation in coffret is currently unavailable at and the newish paperback version is combined with three other titles (if you use Look-inside, Amazon presents you a reportage about Bangkok nights - I alerted Amazon about this issue but they usually take their time to respond to exotic topics). Anyway, how is the quality of the French translation? Generally, I find the flowery nature of French not a good match for Chinese (at least that was the case with the early translation of Sun Tsu which deviated quite a bit from the original).

Finally, I like Conte Mosca's idea of reading The Water Margin next. I might even buy a Folio edition if they include all notes and pick a less garish color. Turquoise for 3K is a crime.

tammikuu 28, 2013, 7:35 pm

kang would be : 炕, mostly made of brick with heater underneath, pu songling was quite destitute that his character in story have to sleep more often on a 榻。

503 stories, if he was doing it many decades ago, the french translator must be resourceful. there are roughly 20 editions found (from Qing dynasty ), many are incomplete, the most complete one has 488 stories.

The Chinese examination since Ming dynasty was so awful it is widely view as one of the reason why china is so much under developed in the past 2 hundred years.

Only the most powerful god can wandering into underworld at will, for example the monkey in 'The Journey to the West', but many characters of po songling manage to do that also. and I just find out , according to the helpful content list you have provided above, number 47 陸判 ( Zhang Youhe's ed.) is missing ! that one is very popular and one of my favorite. awwww.

tammikuu 29, 2013, 11:18 am

Thank you, kafkachen, for reminding us the Dream was all about the lifestyles of the rich. Yes, the French translation (dating from 1995 or so) includes some stories of uncertain provenance--unfortunately there's not much about them in the introduction. Speaking of other complete translations (into European languages), there seems to exist an Italian one--from 1926!--a Russian one from 1955, and German, from 1992.

The link is in Russian, but just scroll to see a photo of--so it says--the table at which Pu Songling entertained guests: Pu Songling museum in Zibo

If they meant to recreate his study, it doesn't look very cosy...

J-C, the translation is fine (French flowery?! Vous délirez, mon ami.) there are some interesting differences to the English, but without knowing Chinese I can't say it means much. For instance, in the Exam story, Minford has "departed spirit" (once the hero finally owns his death), where the French has "dieu". I think French is a literal translation. Minford's "troll" is "griffon des montagnes", and there are no apsaras (nymphes célestes, rather), although another Indian demon, yaksha, appears in Homunculus, as in Minford.

The most interesting addition in the French edition, besides the extra stories, are Songling's commentaries appended at the end of the stories (not present in all, though).

For instance, the story about Talking pupils (Quand les pupilles se parlent...) is followed by an anecdote about an old lecher who, in company of friends, unwittingly ogles and makes crass comments about his own daughter-in-law, and next by a musing on punishment by blinding.

tammikuu 29, 2013, 1:22 pm

Just flip to that page again, yaksha(夜叉) is the exact word pu songling use in Homunculus. perhaps many Indian deities had follow Buddhism into the East .

For the Apsaras (nymphes), po songling use 天女散花,which is originate from Indian Vimalakīrtinirdeśa-sūtra (Translated to Chinese in AD 183), so I guess it mean Apsaras .

tammikuu 29, 2013, 6:19 pm

If you add some cushions, maybe a carpet and some plants, Pu Songling's tea room doesn't look uncomfortable at all. Kafkachen's mention of Ming bureaucracy reminds me I still have to finish 1587, its "mean girls" and the unending name-dropping had made me stop. Wouldn't it be more apt to talk of Pu as a Qing bureaucrat. His lifetime sees the utter despair and chaos of the Ming collapse transformed into the golden age of the Kangxi Emperor, whom, in my ignorance, I look at as a Chinese Peter the Great.

>32 LolaWalser: Cruel Lola, crushing my illusions, I'll have to buy the German translation then, probably not all five volumes though. Incidentally, it is published by a small Swiss imprint situated between a nice lake and Zurich's military airport.

I will also have a look at Judith Zeitlin's Historian of the Strange: Pu Songling and the Chinese Classical Tale. She highlights (in the intro readable at Amazon) the word "strange" must capture the meaning of three related Chinese words/concepts yi (different), guai (anomalous) and qi (marvelous) - perhaps extra-ordinary would be a better word to catch those different strands. In German, the standard definition of what constitutes a novella speaks of a "unerhörte Begebenheit", an unanswered, uncommon, unsuitable, strange moment/culmination.

No. 5 - Talking pupils
As Lola already mentioned, the tale couples two loosely connected stories, further enriched by Pu Songling's own comment/addition. Firstly, we are introduced to an environment hostile to women in public with staring, stalking and catcalling. Peter Hessler's River Town: Two Years on the Yangtze includes a wonderful vignette about the prevalence of unashamed staring by the Chinese (Jared Diamond, I think, also mentions this most human but impolite of traits). In the West, the 1970s must have been the decade of stalking. The German car stalking ballad Im Wagen vor mir meets the Chinese situation of the story except that the German girl flees while the Chinese one fights and punishes her stalker.

The second part of the tale mixes an eye infection (external invasion) with probably a cataract or glaucoma. It presents the common man concept that a sufferer has caused/is responsible for the disease himself (often resulting in social ostracism, cf. Susan Sontag). The two creatures point out the correct treatment to restore eyesight (although applying it only to one eye). The Chinese stalker is punished for his sins with the permanent loss of one eye.

tammikuu 30, 2013, 9:14 am

Hmm, For the last couple of days the bizarre image of the two pupils relocating to a single eye (and some weird cone like growth covering the other) has been popping in and out of my mind at highly inconvenient moments.

I have also taken great care not to make eye contact with any young women on the tube, just in case my intentions could be misconstrued!

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 1, 2013, 9:47 pm

When I visited Nālandā, it coincided with a rare gathering of monks from many countries. As part of the group from Cambodia, there was a sexually attractive young woman, an apsara in real. In physical appearance she was solid, buxom but slim, just like the stone drawings at Angkor Wat. She wore a bra, unlike in the scene in this newspaper story or that French war painting. For me, 天女散花 is more delicate than an apsara. The scattering of flower 散花 , what does that mean? a flower, de-flowered? is 天女 equal to 白富美女? take two from three for white 白美 beautiful Zhao Hongxia.

No. 6 is plot for porn with props, cast Al Gore as the guard who comes looking.

helmikuu 3, 2013, 1:32 pm

>35 Conte_Mosca: The London Tube is claustrophobic by nature, so you are safe there. Wikipedia confirms my gut feeling: The Tube is 30 cm narrower in width than Vienna's underground wagons. Londoners are quite stackable. The prize must go to Zurich Local Transit (S-Bahn), though, for reducing legroom to the minimum, aptly lampooned as a Lambada seating arrangement.

>36 vy0123: While Al Gore, promoting his new book, has beefed up again to Sumo class, isn't it his wife Tipper Gore with the porn/horror movie name that made a fool out of herself, ruining all covers with those awful stickers?

If porn deals with the mechanics (the moving of parts), I'd say that No. 6 - The Painted Wall is the opposite, making those synapses fire (mind). The action of the story is thrice removed. We are told about a certain Meng Longtan (1) who visits a monastery with his friend (2). It is this friend who daydreams, experiences the rêverie (3). One might even call for a further level as the action is told compressed into part of a single sentence.

The story captures well the shocking, explosive, revolutionary aspects of hair. In a reverse-Samson, the apsara is tamed. A similar combination of a religious institution with erotic wall decorations is to be found in Rome's Villa Farnesina with Raphael's famous frescoes. A more recent version of the old motif of breaking into the wall (Alice, Narnia, Matrix, Harry Potter, ...) occurred in the 1980s music video Take on me by the Norwegian pop band a-ha. The Painted Wall combines this with the fantasy of a genie, a virtual sexy personal assistant. The open-ended story really requires a sequel about the sorrows of graduate Zhu.

helmikuu 4, 2013, 10:46 am

>34 jcbrunner: j-c
I have not read 1587, the ancient Chinese was so good at writing history leaving behind them tons of information, however most of them are political or military history, what interest me most is the cultural history, the society of average people, I have been scraping up information on how much did po songling made a year. could he afford to buy books , how destitute he has been. so far that background knowledge has add a lot of spices while reading the story.

For No 6. the monk said something at the end , "幻由人生,貧道何能解" , ( could someone please show me the English translation ?) although those concept were copy from Buddanism, po songling was by no mean an avid follower, he was using it to tell the dilemmas of mortal life. he care more about the secular world, his exam, or other thing he ardently covet . what the monk said can be explain like this, if you had spent most of your energy in pursuit of something, you will have it one day, in your daydreams . and it could be as good as the real thing .

helmikuu 4, 2013, 11:17 am


I'm guessing, is it "The source of illusion lies within man himself"?

I wonder what's the oldest example of the disappearing-into-the-picture motif?

helmikuu 5, 2013, 4:52 am

The source of illusion lies within man himself?

Wernicke-Korsakoff syndrome?… ‘a malnutrition-related brain illness that affects vision, muscle coordination and memory, and that can cause hallucinations.’

I wonder what's the oldest example of the disappearing-into-the-picture motif?

I wonder if it goes back beyond textual traditions, as drug induced rituals and story-telling transmission of cultural memory.


a picture search on Tipper Gore and stickers shows up a badge of the first and second family in '93. The hairdoos look like they're from the Tootsie '82 movie, not in the category of porn/horror, revenge porn.

helmikuu 13, 2013, 5:12 pm

Soooooo. Our leader's playing hooky. Hookay.

Tale #7, The Troll. A student--why is he studying in a temple, is he studying theology or is that just a nice relaxing spot for study?--makes a short trip home and on his return to the temple discovers dust and cobwebs everywhere. But never mind that. Off he goes to sleep, only to be rudely awakened by a TROLL. A hideous monster. They wrangle with the bed linen a bit and by golly the student escapes with his life intact. Points to the student for stabbing the creature! that took some courage.

Resident monks claim ignorance of any and all trolls. SUSPICIOUS, if you ask me.

helmikuu 14, 2013, 1:56 pm

I have no idea what to make of Tale #7. If there is a hidden meaning, it eludes me! And what happened to the monks in the period from Sun returning home for the wheat harvest until the incident itself?

helmikuu 15, 2013, 10:58 am

I don't know that there's anything more to it than that. A sighting of an ogre. I like the matter-of-factness of these anecdotes, the realism of the "uncanniness". Number 9, Catching a fox, has a similar non-sequitur-like feel: man catches fox, tries to tie it up, fox disappears.

Now #8, Biting a ghost is disgusting and creepy! We are so used to zombies taking bites out of people--but vice versa?! Brrrrrr.

helmikuu 15, 2013, 1:31 pm

Well these vignettes certainly create the scope to expand the tales yourself to give a back story. What was the ghost's story in #8? It didn't feel like a random act. And the fox (fox-spirit) in #9 had an objective too, clambering up Sun's bed and along his body.

helmikuu 15, 2013, 3:33 pm

>41 LolaWalser: You are doing just fine without me. Neg-otium prevented me from otium. I don't know but somebody will probably already have compared the scholar-gentlemen of Rome and China. Romans did require a villa for their studies.

No. 7 at first reminded me of Henry Fuessli's The Nightmare which features an incubus (not a troll). The tragic events around Oscar Pistorius are an almost modern reenactment of No. 7 with lethal consequences instead of only holes in a fabric.

No.8's visit by a (spurned?) dead woman, burdening his subconscious conscience? The ghost is surprisingly passive-aggressive. It is the man who inflicts violence upon the ghost and who is saved by his mocking wife (who sleeps in a separate bedroom).

Meanwhile, the first volume with 81 stories of the German translation has arrived Umgang mit Chrysanthemen. In the introduction, the translator remarks that there are six gods, humans, demons, animals, hungry devils/hunger demons ("Hungerteufel" - a concept that seems to exist in German and Chinese but not in English) and hell creatures.

One interesting aspect the translator notes (which I naturally cannot verify) is that its classic Chinese form makes the Strange Tales impossible to be read aloud. They must be read not told - which, if true, makes it a solitary experience whereas the classic strange tale or horror movie is best enjoyed in company as a social experience, watching a lone protagonist face the horror. In the Chinese tales read up to now, we find a surprisingly large number of survivor girls. Western horror tales are often quite willing to kill off the protagonist.

helmikuu 17, 2013, 3:12 am

>43 LolaWalser:
no.9 catching the fox, I like the last sentence .how so small a distraction like nudging a head could lost hold of the hard-to-catch fox. this is a common theme in this book: a fleeting moment of joy, now you catch it, now you don't, one can replace the fox with gold , or any precious that could show up when least expected, and slip away so quick that you would think it was an illusion .

One other story with comparable theme is no.20 of chapter 5, ( sorry my version has no index). but the man managed keep the gold in his hand after the river of gold disappeared.

helmikuu 17, 2013, 3:34 am

>41 LolaWalser:

At Ming\Qing dynasty. temple is like a community center. and a public school for those who cannot afford to hire a private teacher to teach at their own house.(the teacher would normally live in the temple). it could also serve as a lodging place for people far away from home. especially those who are looking for a quiet place to study and prepare for exam.

Po songling had spent over 50 years as a teacher, and perhaps countless winter in a temple somewhere , you can safely bet that he would wish a troll had tramping into the temple to break the humdrum of life.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 17, 2013, 3:56 am

>45 jcbrunner: JC

As you have known, there are Vernacular Chinese and Classical Chinese, the later one is probably not something to be read aloud. (except poetry) However, the source of many stories po songling adopted had been passing from generation to generation reading aloud by storyteller in tavern or in the form of Chinese drama. we can still trace the source of many popular stories in other literature with different style of narrative.

Interesting point of view about the survivor, I guess someone have to live to told the story.

helmikuu 18, 2013, 4:00 pm

Thanks so much for these colourful illuminating remarks, kafkachen!

helmikuu 18, 2013, 6:14 pm

>47 kafkachen: The Catholic church and many of its orders are still active both in providing education and pilgrimage tourist accommodation. Like McDonald's, they offer dependable if austere services to weary travelers in strange locations.

>48 kafkachen: Ambrose Bierce's most famous short story An Occurrence at Owl Creek Bridge rests on the idea that one might very well think so.

No. 9 is puzzling. Catching the fox was an act of self-defense; holding on to it and even trying to murder it both greedy and cruel - thus not rewarded. The connection with the magical world achieved in sleep was broken. I wonder what would have happened if he did go with the flow and force (qi) and had released the fox by unbinding the tie. Captured European gnomes usually offer instructions.

A similar Grimm tale is Hans im Glück with its zen message.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 20, 2013, 3:22 am

For No 6. the monk said something at the end , "幻由人生,貧道何能解" ,
( could someone please show me the English translation ?)

It speaks of the turbulence of life and the wish to escape troubles.

A wise man, recognizing that the world is but an illusion,
does not act as if it is real, so he escapes the suffering

A quote from the Hindu Prince Gautama Siddharta,
the founder of Buddhism, 563-483 B.C ?

helmikuu 24, 2013, 6:52 am


A pity Ambrose Bierce himself didn't live to tell his story.

helmikuu 27, 2013, 5:28 pm

Bierce also deprived us of the ending to his own life's story. Hasta la vista, thanks for the fish! and was never seen again.

No. 10 - The Monster in the Buckwheat and No. 11 - The Haunted House are of the same pattern, explaining the inexplicable. In no. 10, the story helps understand a work accident (or even a friendly fire caused while shooting at an imaginary monster. The peasants are surprisingly well armed with spears and bows.). In no. 11, an unsafe house rented out to an unsuspecting scholar, probably poisoned by gas (or the nearby green slime of a Chinese river?). Force majeure is again the easier explanation to escape liability for a haunted house.

What is the meaning of the little play-in-the-play in no. 11? Is it a foreshadowing/mimesis of the scholar's death?

A bit over a week ago, I managed to see the Awakening the Night exhibition in Vienna's Belvedere, which - as in most theme exhibitions - included the good, the bad and the how-could-the-curator-include-this? (The prize in the last category goes to the photography of a nude Charlotte Rampling and another model posing in front of the Mona Lisa in the Louvre. If anyone finds a connection with the topic of "night", please don't hold it back.). In the gift shop, I had the chance to browse the text-rich catalog to the Städel exhibition Black Romanticism, I mentioned before, which is now until June in the Musée d'Orsay. Hopefully, it will find its way to Vienna, eventually. It is interesting how much Romanticism re-imagined and re-modeled earlier tales. The Gargoyles of Notre-Dame actually are a 19th century re-adaptation by Viollet-le-Duc, as the wonderful book I linked shows. The 21st century has now Disneyfied some of the chimeras. Perhaps they need to add a Batman statue to keep up the popular appeal.

helmikuu 27, 2013, 7:10 pm

>53 jcbrunner: Charlotte Rampling in the film The Night Porter also starring Dirk Bogarde, set in Vienna.

helmikuu 28, 2013, 5:15 pm

>54 affle: The question is not whether somebody manages the easy game of six degrees from Vienna but what it has to do with the "night" theme. My best guess is that it was photographed at night because the crowds are already murder around la Gioconda. Adding two living nude women would cause madness. Another strange case was Napoleon crossing the Alps in KHM's 2011 exhibition Winter Tales: Depictions of Winter in European Art from Bruegel to Beuys. Napoleon was not a fool, he didn't cross the Alps in winter time unless the merry month of May has been re-engineered.

helmikuu 28, 2013, 6:37 pm

Speaking of gargoyles, I read a monograph recently which mentioned that the Oxford University, notably, is still actively building them, with modern models (in dress and features I suppose, there weren't many pictures of those).

What is the meaning of the little play-in-the-play in no. 11? Is it a foreshadowing/mimesis of the scholar's death?

They re-enacted a murder he committed in his depraved youth!

I love these "inexplicable horror" stories. The monstrous and ghostly domain keeps irrupting into the sane, practical human lives.

maaliskuu 2, 2013, 4:53 am

New Oxford gargoyles shown off (actually grotesques), among these I like Tweedledee/-dum and the Dodo best, though they all are too cutesy. Good gargoyles have a threatening, archaic force derived from the subconcious (they are the anti-putti). It is wonderful how Oxford preserves and updates traditions into stone. It also shows commitment to a building, a statement that they expect the building still to be there in a hundred years' time (in contrast to many cheapo modern structures which reach their end-of-life after 30 years).

On one end of the spectrum, you have the closed world of most mysteries where at the end of the book, there is resolution and closure. On the other end, you find Ionesco's theater of the absurd. The Chinese strange tales, up to now, have been leaning towards Ionesco's side, as they do not want to explain something strange like legends do with their in-universe plausibility.

In no. 11 we have a haunted house that uses some but not all senses to shock people. The owner is shocked by touch, a kinetic, material transformation horror while the renter experiences a (visual) flash-back. For completeness sake, I would have liked the house to show off the magic of all senses. I am not fond of this fragmentary Monty-Pythonesque approach "and now for something completely different" which foregoes closure.

maaliskuu 4, 2013, 5:17 pm

And now for some product placement. The next two stories are brought to you courtesy of the great state of Georgia.

No. 12 Stealing a peach
A personal recollection of a magician's performance during a Spring festival turns into a reverse Wilhelm Tell situation where the magician pushes the mandarins into compensation for his son's life, wagered for a fruit not in season. In contrast to today where exotic fruits in northern winters are imported from the global south, the Chinese magician procures his peach from heaven. His boy gains access via an Indian rope trick (similar but different from a Jack and the Beanstalk approach). The security system in heaven is good but not perfect: The robbery succeeds, the fruit drops to earth but the robber is shredded and his body parts are raining down on earth. Given the plight of his son, the magician emotionally blackmails the mandarins in handing him a generous purse. To everyone's relief, the boy emerges sound and safe out of a basket.

My inner David Copperfield says that the drop of the peach and body parts could be delivered by a strategically placed catapult. The tricky part is fooling the people about the ascent of the boy. With a bit of smoke, an exchange could be made. The boy hides himself in the basket while a suitably boy-like piece of cloth is drawn to the top of the Indian rope. The version quoted in the notes complicates the matter further by repeating the act of disappearance with the magician himself.

Fitting to my gargoyles theme, the Swiss National Museum offers a small exhibition about animals and mythical creatures from antiquity to the modern age (01.03.2013 – 14.07.2013) called Animali, probably because of the Italian input in its design. It is interesting to note that the word "animali" (animals) refers to beings with a soul (anima, cf. Artistoles' work De Anima) in contrast to the word "bestia" (wild animal, beast). Creature in turn contains an act of making by a designer: What immortal hand or eye could frame thy fearful symmetry? The Zurich exhibition, though, features only a stuffed lion.

maaliskuu 7, 2013, 3:58 pm

No. 13 Growing pears

This is a very famous story about avarice, charity and social obligations. Is the street vendor socially obligated to charitable giving? Is it still an act of giving if the beggar's behavior comes close to extortion? The street vendor fails to comply with what society (the onlookers, the waiter) agree as normal behavior - similar to the recent story about the un-Christian and math-challenged US pastor stiffing a waitress.

The social faux pas is artistically if severely punished by the Taoist. While the cart seems not to have been totally damaged, the street vendor lost his merchandise of the day, quite a blow for a poor person.

Is the street vendor the anti-Eve, clinging on to the paradise's fruit? Not sharing but trading? The Marxist angle of the story is rather weak ("to each according to his needs"), at least compared to a Christian one. Firstly, Christ's rage against the merchants in the temple could, given better FX, have rivaled the Taoist. Secondly, one of the key messages of Christianity is that the act of giving is its own reward. Martin of Tours shares his cloth without any expectation of compensation. Christianity also asks to give the best to those most in need (unlike US Republicans who want only poor services for poor people). Most religions, actually, include a social obligation of charity, of sharing without reciprocity, something fundamental in the sense of Hans Küng's world religion or more generally inherent in the human condition.

The second aspect of the story is touched upon by the Chronicler of the Strange's own commentary: He urges the rich to give more charity to the poor. This, however, only eases the strains in a very unequal world. Instead of institutionalizing a dependency and a venal power structure where begging becomes sort of a job, redistributive taxes and public services are much better of improving the lives of les misérables.

maaliskuu 8, 2013, 11:40 am

>59 jcbrunner:

This is one of the popular story, and thanks for the insightful analysis.

maaliskuu 9, 2013, 8:54 am

I am really enjoying this read-along, so thanks for all the insight and comments. Tales #12 and #13 are my favourites so far, although I am not sure I could explain why!

If I am a little quiet, it is probably because I have little to add to the insightful comments from others, but rest assured I am still here, and enjoying the journey :-)

maaliskuu 10, 2013, 6:09 am

Thanks for your appreciation. While I feel no compunction about discussing with myself on the internet, doing so in company is both more pleasurable and enriching. Please share your impressions. In contrast to the earlier horror stories, no. 12 and 13 are closer to fairy tales, although the Chinese preference of ambiguity does not make the moral message explicit.

The German translation of no. 13 shows a far more aggressive/transgressive monk. Minford's monk cuts with a hoe, the German translator's uses a sword. Minford quotes the monk as saying: "Meanness is something we monks find impossible to understand." In German "Als Mönch habe ich kein Verständnis für den Geiz" ("As a monk, I can't understand/tolerate avarice."). The meek English "find" is an assertive "have" in German. The near-passive act of understanding in English turns into a warning in German. The monk subsequently goes on a punishing spree. It would be interesting to learn whether the German or the English rendering matches the Chinese tone of the story.

A second aspect the story illustrates are Chinese crowds. While crowds watching exotics is universal, the more closed a society is the stronger the gawking crowds. In any Westerner's account about China, being gawked at features prominently. The reverse is certainly also true, but in the West, it is more suspicious glances than crowds that exotic foreigners attract. According to a German travel book about China, crowd watching is a Chinese pastime meriting its own expression: "kan re nao" - enjoy watching a bustling scene, to go where the crowds are. The crowd is an important player in the street vendor's public humiliation. His avarice is publicly cut down to size.

maaliskuu 10, 2013, 11:58 am

Well, I take a different angle on the stories of Taoist trickery--damn religion! (The robust anti-clericalism isn't limited to Taoists in Chinese folklore, I always enjoy the digs at Buddhists too.) That monk especially deserves to be flogged through the streets. How DARE a bloody parasite threaten a man's livelihood by ruining his trade.

I was relieved that the story (both stories actually) didn't turn out to have some dreary Christianist moral about getting pie from heaven, by and by--no, in both cases it's nothing but tricks. The giant peach is obviously as fake as the boy's death, and the pears didn't come from "nowhere", they were actually taken from the vendor's cart.

Religion is a smoke and mirrors magic show, set up to bilk the working man.

maaliskuu 10, 2013, 2:40 pm

>63 LolaWalser: Isn't the story about a double violation of the principle of proportionality?

The street vendor could easily have spared the pear. It isn't a crushing church tax like the Mormon tithe which is due even if a church member or his/her family have to go hungry (one of the many uncharitable revelations of the Romney campaign). It also isn't a contribution to build temples or sustain a prince of the church. Instead, it is a sample-sized offering.

The monk in turn violates the principle of proportionality by going ballistic. Teaching a lesson did not require him to harm the vendor's business (especially his equipment). Interestingly, we are shown bad behavior by both protagonists.

maaliskuu 10, 2013, 2:54 pm

I think that is why I liked #12. I didn't get the sense I was being guided on rails to a particular moral position.

#14 though is a different matter...

maaliskuu 10, 2013, 9:22 pm

Look what I found! A perfect illustration for the "Two pupils" story!

maaliskuu 10, 2013, 11:52 pm

>62 jcbrunner: jc

Your comment drive me to peruse the text more carefully. in the Chinese version, the monk was quite polite in begging."Meanness " is accurate, while avarice would be too assertive then the original text, and he was using a small herb digging hoe .

>63 LolaWalser:,Lola, I like your point of view, as the author is widely regard as a secular writer, there is not much religion motive behind his stories.

About stinginess, around 1670 , the economy of china is in great recession* . even the rich suffered from it. as you can read from the side note by the author in No.13.

*chap7, Economic History of late Imperial China , Mio Kishimoto (1997, Tokyo: Kenbun Shuppan)

maaliskuu 11, 2013, 12:11 am

No. 12,

One more word about the peach , the one he was suppose to steal was from the garden of 'The Heavenly Queen Mother ', who, according to folklore, are specialized in growing peach, except it would took her 3000 years to harvest a single peach, a bite from it would grant immortality.

In 'Journey to the West' , the monkey god (also a specialist of peach) would raze the whole garden.

maaliskuu 11, 2013, 12:20 am

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 12, 2013, 9:16 am

Having read of Derrida's
the meaning of a word is a function of the distinctive contrasts it displays with other, related meanings. Because each word depends for its meaning on the meanings of other words, it follows that the meaning of a word is never fully “present” to us, as it would be if meanings were the same as ideas or intentions; instead it is endlessly “deferred” in an infinitely long chain of meanings. Derrida expresses this idea by saying that meaning is created by the “play” of differences between words—a play that is “limitless,” “infinite,” and “indefinite.”

source: mobile online Encyclopedia Brittanica
I'm curious to know the French take on 62's no. 13 German, English comparison.
Can the original or earliest copy of the Chinese be pictured here of that?

maaliskuu 12, 2013, 9:30 am


Oh poor baby! An eye transplant will see to that, though.


The French has: "Nous autres religieux qui avons quitté nos familles ne comprenons plus ce qu'est l'avarice." (We religious people who have abandoned our families don't understand avarice any longer.) German has that extra-strong flavour provided by "kein" (none)--"kein Verständnis"--NO understanding.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 12, 2013, 10:20 am

By the way, they skip a good one before No. 12 Stealing a peach. it was a story about friendship between man and ghost, the longest one so far, I hope the translator didn't skip it because of the length of text.

maaliskuu 12, 2013, 10:33 am

The original text "出家人不解吝惜"

出家人 : monk,
A common noun, IMHO, "We religious people who have abandoned our families" is overkill.

不解 : do not understand,
A polite way to deny, instead of "oppose", "not allow"

吝惜: stingy ,吝 stingy, 惜 treasure.
Again a modest way to depict the attitude of street vendor, Not avarice. which would be 貪。

maaliskuu 12, 2013, 10:47 am

Oh, I wasn't accurate with les religieux=religious people, there isn't a single English term for the French--les religieux would be members of religious orders but also, depending on context, more broadly any non-laypeople. French for monk is moine.

Pu's comment on the story chastises the pear vendor as "narrow-minded" (borné, overtones of stupidity, obtuseness, lack of savoir-vivre) and entreats to generosity.

maaliskuu 12, 2013, 10:59 am

I guess the vendor would have faired no better had he said "sorry, but I donate to my chosen charities via gift aid to benefit from pear tax relief"...

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 12, 2013, 11:48 am

74 Lola

Pu start with "鄉人憒憒,憨狀可掬,其見笑於市人,有以哉……omit ......蠢爾鄉人,又何足怪"

鄉人 : noun, farmer, countryman
憒憒 : being in annoying mood
憨狀 : simple-minded, unsophisticated.
可掬 : full of.
其見笑於市人,有以哉 : The crowd laughed at him for a reason.

The unsophisticated countryman was in a bad mood, and the crowd laughed at him because of that.

蠢 : stupid
蠢爾鄉人,又何足怪: for this stupid countryman, there is nothing to be surprised at. (
sarcastically )

maaliskuu 17, 2013, 5:20 pm

Minford seems to be quite faithful a translator.

>74 LolaWalser: I find the French gendered distinction moine/religieux - religieuse puzzling. Languages are usually quite good at coming up with named pairs. While thinking about this, I keep wondering why a priest is more often called "father" than "brother" (frater) while a nun stays a "sister" (except the hierarchical mother superior). It's still a man's world. The men in red elected a papa and not a mama.

出家人 : monk - so a monk is a man cast away from his family? A similar idea to Luke 14:26 "If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple."

No. 14 The Taoist from Mount Lao

A city slicker books a real man seminar in a monastery but didn't expect the actual physical chores. The author obviously never did so personally: "After a month or so of this, his hands and feet were a mass of blisters." Umm, no. The human body adapts quickly, building up callused skin. Furthermore, wielding an ax would mostly cause muscle strain (unused upper and back body muscles) not open hands. Anyway, our protagonist discovers that monasteries were primeval economic engines, labor camps for which he volunteered.

It is not all bad though, as the evening recreation makes up for it: Son et lumière with the moon godess Chang'e offering a strip-tease, sorry, a "rainbow skirts" dance - Chinese men then lusting mostly after those crippled feet. Chang'e 3 is the name given to the Chinese lunar rover which is planned to land on the moon this autumn.

The Karate Kid program is of little appeal to our protagonist. The 100% satisfaction guarantee makes the master teach his guest a mind-body trick. Having failed the "corpore sano" part, this trick targets the "mens sana". His juggernaut skills do not work as well at home as they did in the monastery. His man seminar has only swelled a bump on his head.

The tale reminds me of Hic Rhodus, hic salta, an Ancient Greek reality check (Wikipedia only offers German, Dutch, Italian, Spanish, Croat, Russian and Ukrainian articles).

maaliskuu 17, 2013, 5:56 pm

Well, the counterpart to "moine" would be "nonne" (nun)...

I find it curious (and amusing) that a philosophy as rarefied as Taoism came to be popularly associated with a mass of circus trickery and "magic" skills. Maybe because it is so opaque? Poor Wang doesn't seem to have grasped the Tao at all.

maaliskuu 18, 2013, 12:59 am

>77 jcbrunner:

Very good comment that match the style of humor in the article as well.

maaliskuu 18, 2013, 2:11 am

出家人 is a general word to designate people who practice Buddhism or taoism, 家 is home, Many believe that family love could be a hindrance
for spiritual practice. so one ought to leave his family ,and not to marry. I guess that is still the norm today.

As a pictogram , 家 means pig under a roof, (豕 is a pig). imagine what would happen to the pig that live happily under a roof.

I think 'les religieux' is the same general term .

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 18, 2013, 9:11 am

imagine what would happen to the pig that live happily under a roof.

Straw, wood, or brick?! :)

(The Story of the Three Little Pigs, by Unknown, Illustrated by L. Leslie Brooke)

maaliskuu 18, 2013, 9:30 am


maaliskuu 25, 2013, 7:04 pm

With all those pigs floating down the rivers, there must be many an unhappy home ...

Germany is also a pig-friendly country (although Denmark is Europe's main pork producer). "Sauwohl" (happy as a pig) is a feeling that one wants to prolong. Of a lesser intensity is "pudelwohl" (happy as a poodle) because these French dogs are filled with the devil.

No. 15 The Monk of Changqoing

We already had in no. 2 a prolongation of life after death. A zombie is a living body without a soul. Here we face the inverse: A soul looking for a body. Fortunately for the old monk, he just happens to witness a riding accident which allows him to snatch the soulless body of the accident's victim.

While the death of the young man is unfortunate, the real victims are the wife, the concubines and the family who have to live with quite a change in behavior. The monk stays true to his vows - instead of accepting the rebirth and riches. He visits his old monastery, has a look at his own body's grave and returns home to his perplexed new family which has to endure his instant transformation from Siddhartha to Buddha.

After a few months, the monk renounces the world and retires to the monastery. He reveals his soul to his former disciples (and stays for good). Despite the family's pleas and attempts at bribery with gifts, he takes up his former position (totally messing up the career plans of his deputy monks).

maaliskuu 28, 2013, 10:39 pm

Despite the garden's polluted pond water, floating dead fish, once you've experienced the elliptic passages in the hall of memory at Chengdu, preferably during a lantern and fireworks festival, all Buddha temples seem less and derivative.

maaliskuu 28, 2013, 10:51 pm

家 means pig under a roof, (豕 is a pig)

Where, when is that explanation first recorded and by who⁄from?

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 29, 2013, 2:49 pm

>85 vy0123:

Sorry if this reply might sound rude, it is a common sense for people that use mandarin .

edit : Many online dictionary will explain it too. for example :


maaliskuu 29, 2013, 5:03 pm

It makes sense to keep animals inside the house in colder climates. I appreciated the animal heat emitting from the cows and horses sharing the same barn during my military service in Switzerland's winter. Barns without animals were noticeably colder. Fortunately, we didn't have to share a barn with pigs, as their smell is much more obnoxious than that of horses or cows.

No 16 - The Snake Charmer

The snakes reminded me of the film Green Snake Lola promoted in the Red Mansion read-along. Also the use of the same word for blue-green. Minford's footnote adds black to the context dependent color options of qing (green).

Snakes apparently can be social animals. The snake charmer is lucky to have found such pet-like specimen. The taming and re-release into the wild worked fine (in contrast to Switzerland's unique wild bear that had liked civilization a bit too much and had to be put down). The re-encounter almost turned lethal. I expected the story to end right there (morale: Never trust a scorpion not to sting.). Instead, it ends Disney-style with the lonesome snake charmer looking out for new adventures. Perhaps to his best, as the tale and film Green Snake showed that too much attachment to a snake isn't wholesome.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 30, 2013, 7:29 am


Feel free to be yourself or not. It is the Internet. I suppose commonsense changes radically for mandarin speakers, writers from time to time. There is no equivalent to the OED that show use of the word in context through time? The first time I noticed 家 or 豕 without knowing the meaning was in an anime series† the scene was of a wall image of the tree of life being shot to pieces whilst rendering 家 or 豕, visually, it looks like an elaborate 下, an association with ‘root’ or ‘descent’ ?

†IMDb: Ghost in the Shell (1995)
A female cyborg cop and her partner hunt a mysterious and
powerful hacker called the Puppet Master.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 30, 2013, 12:52 am

> 88

While we can trace the origin or the first usage of many multi syllable words , for instance '天女散花',it is impossible to trace the first recorded of most single word. because the Chinese characters is well over 2 to 3 thousand years old in writing history. modern English is like 7 hundred years old.

However, since the word are mostly pictogram, it carry the original meaning in it, which can be depict by its component. (“宀”, "豕")。instead of finding the first recorded and by who⁄from , they are many etymology book deconstruct the word and trace their changing form .

One of the conveniences in Chinese character is you can still read literature that had been written 2 thousand years ago without translation , But Beowulf (8th century) untranslated is probably too daunting a task for a casual reading.

maaliskuu 30, 2013, 2:08 am


The most famous snake in folklore must be the 'Tale of the White Snake Madam' (白蛇傳), a popular story dating back to Song dynasty(960—1279), which might have some impact on every snake story since then.

Most earlier transcription to be found is in 'Story to caution the world' , chapter 28.

maaliskuu 30, 2013, 9:13 am

Ssssssssserpentsssssss! Last year I read a short selection of Japanese fairy tales about snakes--now some of those were seriously creepy. (L'oeil du serpent)

Incidentally, am I wrong in feeling that for some reason the West isn't big on sex with reptiles? Can't think of any examples at all, whereas Asian lore seems to teem with it.

Wait--just remembered a lovely Croatian fairy tale about a snake who turns into a beautiful girl (except for her little forked tongue), marries a chap, but is found out by his mother and forced into her real form runs away.

Are there any Irish folk tales about snakes at all? ;)


I have a huangmei version of Madame Whitesnake! From the 1960s.

maaliskuu 31, 2013, 2:20 am

Snake is less evil a symbol in the east, in japan , white snake signified financial gain, in India or south east Asia , temple is decorate with seven-headed serpent, the Naga, as for the Chinese, snake is put in zodiac probably as early as the creation of writing system. and , with detest, also serve as a food in south china , Thailand and the nearby area.

One funny thing is snake usually has a slang name in different area. for example, the Chinese Mocassin has a dozen of names, some call it 'one hundred step snake' (百步蛇), which means dead is guaranteed after a hundred step, a cool joke saying that if you get bit by one, find another 10 so you could guaranteed 1000 steps to walk home with.

maaliskuu 31, 2013, 5:08 pm

Snakes are, fortunately, not very prominent in Northern Europe. If I read the data correctly, you are more likely to get shot that die of a snakebite in Western Europe. The domestic snakes are also rather small and worm-like. Thus the emphasis on any trip to Southern Europe to watch out for poisonous snakes ... Mythologically, the European snake is bunched together with the dragon (Lindwurm, wyrm).

No. 17 The wounded python

The author seems to have had limited practical encounters with actual pythons. Otherwise he would have noticed that pythons prefer to strangle their victims before they started the digestion process. Does the python in the illustration stand on its feet? A very Sarlacc-like story!

Why does the author feel it necessary to compliment the younger brother when he was just fulfilling his human and Confucian duty? Given that the elder brother was already absorbing all damage possible, was it really a brave act?

huhtikuu 1, 2013, 5:18 am

Snakes are popular as winter food in China. Snakes hibernate and are therefore fatter at the start of winter. They are considered warming in cold weather and help improve a man's sex life (as do donkeys, scorpions and turtles, waitresses in China have assured me; it is a common explanation to laowai in restaurants, it seems). Having the snake's pancreas with a shot of maotai rice wine is considered particularly "strong". It becomes a yellowish fluid when mixed.

A few things about snakes from Eberhard's Dictionary of Chinese Symbols:

It is regarded as clever but wicked and treacherous. Treacherous people are said to have a "snake heart". Formerly snakes were objects of worship. Some snake-gods demanded the offer of a young girl on a certain day each year until a hero disguised in women's clothing could come along and kill the snake.

Dreams about snakes are interpreted in various ways. It is lucky to dream that a snake is chasing you. In Taiwan dreaming about a snake means you are going to lose wealth.

Snakes are supposedly very sensual creatures, and since they are "apparently" very attracted to the smell of women's underwear, they can be caught in this way.

huhtikuu 2, 2013, 10:24 am

So, the recipe for catching a snake begins with "First, catch a woman..."

The beastie theme continues in #18 with a harrowing tale about... but I shall leave the summary to J-C, monkeybrite. Such density of depravity and legal infractions on a single page!

huhtikuu 2, 2013, 3:26 pm

"First, catch a woman..."
In the late afternoon of course. The Chinese bath in the evening.

huhtikuu 2, 2013, 8:25 pm

*annotating cookbook*

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 2, 2013, 11:07 pm


"Snakes are supposedly very sensual creatures, and since they are "apparently" very attracted to the smell of women's underwear, they can be caught in this way."

That come from folklore of your home country ? would be funny on a porno forum though.

huhtikuu 2, 2013, 10:59 pm

After traveling and living in many Chinese country (China, Hong Kong, Singapore,Taiwan ), I find very few cultural symbol share between them or any generalization can be apply without bias. but one can easily making stereotype out of them.

"In Taiwan dreaming about a snake means you are going to lose wealth." , I spent 10+ years living in Taiwan and never heard of that.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 3, 2013, 1:40 am

> 98 Kafkachen

It comes from A Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, first published in the language of Goethe as Lexicon chinesischer Symbole in 1983. I picked up the English edition while living in Hong Kong around the year 2000. The author was "lecteur" at Peking National University from 1934-5 and specialised in the symbolic language of the Chinese. Born in 1909, he "later became director of the East Asian collections in the Museum of Folk History in Leipzig" before moving to Turkey.

In my country snakes are small, just like where JC Brunner lives and we do not have much folklore about them. That said, one of the things that has struck me in Asia was that scolding is dirtier than in European languages. If you've lived in Taiwan and Singapore, you are certainly familiar with the expression chau chi bye. There is nothing equivalent in my mother tongue. Now that is Fukien (or Taiwanese or Hokkien), a rather rough language (or dialect), but the Cantonese say the same with one world less. The same expression is used in Indonesian and Javanese (who actually go one step further). Instinctively, I had expected that people who are taught to control their emotions and submit to the group to use more subtle wording.

I sometimes also wonder about Eberhard's descriptions. I find them rather too Freudian. On the other hand I have checked some details with Chinese friends and in some cases they confirm them. Eberhard seems to concentrate on old sources in his dictionary.They maybe as unfamiliar to modern Chinese as many of many Western fairy tales and traditional stories are to modern Disneyfied Europeans. They may still show some relevance in reading stories from centuries back. Unfortunately, my version of Eberhard's book has few footnotes.

By the way, "Kafkachen" is a cool name!

huhtikuu 3, 2013, 5:45 am


1934, judging by the quote above, that is more like a horoscope fortune telling kind of book. might want to be caution learning foreign culture in it.

Yes, the chinese scolding is probably the dirtiest in the world. I might have misunderstood it, but that, along with the women underwear thing, or any generalization with smack of trolling does not bobe well, probably would not give us much insight into the works of po songling either.

huhtikuu 3, 2013, 6:49 am

> Kafkachen

You are underestimating the book. It is meant to be quite serious. Usually, a lemma starts off with the serious meaning and then brings some more anecdotal facts, often with a Freudian undertone. This fits the time and place of the author's upbringing (Mitteleuropa, first half of the 20th century).

The expression "snake heart" is in use, and that was in the first part of my description.

And for the record, the Chinese are outsmarted in their scolding by the people of Nanyang.

huhtikuu 3, 2013, 9:35 am

Oh, them awesome folk of Nanyang!!! (Where is this place and how do we avoid it?)

I'm partial to cursing that involves any and all deities. You wouldn't believe the configurations of (bestial, incestuous) coupling and the diseases one may wish to befall the Almighty, or by his leave. In Russian.

I've always found English to be sadly lacking in this regard. Whereas in Italian I could happily exclaim all day long "cazzo cazzo cazzo 'nfottuto strafottuto!", what joy is there in the Anglo "dick" when it can entirely legitimately be a person's name? A real distraction.

Speaking of regional differences (in anything), HOW sad is what the modern media and globalisation have wrought?! Not that long ago one could discover disparate dialects forming a mile apart. There was a difference between a Dobosh-Torte made in Szoreg, and the species in Szeged, a distinction now lost to the ages. People on island A looked strangely similar yet somehow completely dissimilar to those on Island B, a stone throw's away. Etc.

huhtikuu 3, 2013, 9:42 am

Exactly, they can curse in 3 minutes without using the same word twice.

I do a little goggling , and the book did seem a serious one, and might even free of racial discourse popular at Nazi era.

I wonder if they gave red light warning to citizen traveling to China around 1934, especially north east China, a war zone invading by many . not a good time to explore.

huhtikuu 3, 2013, 10:42 am

Nanyang is the word for "the Southern Seas", and from the perspective of Zhongguo that is what Europeans call Southeast Asia. I used to work with a friendly Chinese manager who got consultants in the office to explain him the pleasures of ITIL. He then explained them what this word meant in his native Indonesian, particularly if followed by the word "bau". I shall not translate that here, fearing to be banned by Tim (it happens to the best of us, right?). And regarding "dick": once the former Dutch prime minister Kok almost had a foreign minister called Dik, both surnames although they can also be first names (with Cok for both men and women). I would have loved to see how CNN would have reported about any White House visit of the two gentlemen.

As for Eberhard, I do not recall his book to be racist. It is an encyclopedia with a Freudian twist. And regarding Beijing in 1934, I suppose embassies there also stayed open until the KMT government moved to Chongqing. I would have to look up how long Westerners remained living in compounds under their own jurisdiction and security, but unfortunately have no time for that now.

huhtikuu 3, 2013, 6:36 pm

Wow, snakes, cursing, bestiality and ITIL - you guys are really stretching the limit!

ITIL is the go to approach to experience the wonders of a command economy in a capitalist economy. ITIL will provide you with the best service as long as your preferences fit into what the plan envisions for you ... The perils of international branding are a goldmine for language lovers from Mitsubishi Pajero to Twix (which was called Raider in many markets for years to disassociate itself from the homophone activities of a pajero.

Re Germans and Austrians in China in pre-WWII, Shanghai was one of the few places that offered open immigration to Jews and political refugees. Three to four thousand Austrian Jews found sanctuary there. In Nanjing, you had also Siemens manager and good Nazi John Rabe who heroically tried to limit the Japanese atrocities during the rape of Nanjing.

Swear words are in a perpetual arms race to retain their shock value. As the shock value is debased (Gresham's Law), speech is saturated with swear words bereft of their original insulting meaning. This creates trouble for translators who have to rebase the swearing. Bruce Willis' catchphrase is rendered in German as "Schweinebacke" (pig's hindleg), a neologism for the American expression lacking a German equivalent in common usage. Swear words also create difficulties in language courses. A common method is to select outdated mild swear words (such as German "verflixt" or Italian "accidenti").

PS You can not be banned on LT for using bad language, especially if it is masked in a foreign language (used to great effect with Chinese curses in the short-lived TV series Firefly).

The evening shower of a Chinese Susanna is just the right moment for the cold-blooded snakes to be in the mood. There is also this shock video that is making the rounds: American country music and snakeploitation (YT, warning: not for the faint of heart, humans and animals get exploited for ratings).

Finally, we arrive at the heavy burden Lola so nicely delegated to me. Well, I must say my jaw dropped to the floor having read No. 18 - The fornicating Dog. Bestiality is a common topic in Greek mythology from Leda to Europa. What makes the story so repulsive is the piling on of transgressions:

Firstly, you have the act of bestiality instigated by the woman. Interestingly, there has been a number of man-on-cow court cases recently in Switzerland where the perpetrator was punished most easily for trespassing to chattels, breaching food safety laws and finally animal rights. Given that the victim is unable to seek justice, prosecution is difficult. In the Chinese case, though, the roles are reversed - with an aggressive sex hound.

Secondly, the death of the husband perpetrated by the dog, the woman acting at best as an accessory to involuntary manslaughter. Charging the dog and the women with murderous adultery and condemning them to a horrible death can hardly be seen as a matter of justice.

Thirdly, and in my view the most vile and transgressive act, their action is transformed into a circus act for the gawking public (see the linked snakeploitation video linked above) by the government officials.

Doesn't the reader of this story become complicit as well, as he reads about the misery of that women and dog? Minford states that the Chronicler of the Strange is not "passing judgment or being pornographic" in his poetic comment. I find the lines have quite a mocking tone. Overall, I agree with the 19th century editors. In a selection of tales. I don't think this bizarre story merits inclusion.

huhtikuu 3, 2013, 9:37 pm

A real shocker, indeed. I must say, though, that while it may seem bizarre in the context of the collection (something we have yet to see), I couldn't help wondering whether it was included because it was based on something real, an item from the black chronicle so weird Pu just couldn't resist writing up. Disappearing foxes, trolls and other imaginative fare are fine enough, but when truth is stranger than fiction...

I had the same reaction to the policemen's behaviour. Whatever the woman and her pup got up to, what they did was somehow even worse. I was surprised by that, actually; perhaps it's all the Judge Dee books I've read, but I thought classical Chinese officialdom was rather upright and incorruptible... I can't imagine what they did was legal.

Lastly, the mention of torture. Gulik has no qualms about including it in his T'ang-period procedurals--torture was a regular part of interrogation in the Chinese judiciary for centuries (at least). I'm curious to find out what sort of opinions surrounded it--was there a Chinese Beccaria, for instance? I'm sure there must have been.

huhtikuu 4, 2013, 5:33 pm

>107 LolaWalser: As we have seen in the robbery case in Red Mansion, the higher Chinese officials were very fond of their own studios and didn't like to practice management-by-walking-around. Reliance on reports lets the lower ranks siphon off funds and misbehave. Getting caught by an auditor (such as Baoyu's father) had monumental consequences but carried a low risk of actually happening.

Buddhism will object to torture: "A disciple of the Buddha shall not himself kill, encourage others to kill, kill by expedient means, praise killing, rejoice at witnessing killing, or kill through incantation or deviant mantras. He must not create the causes, conditions, methods, or karma of killing, and shall not intentionally kill any living creature. ... This refers to killing or destroying, but it can also mean injuring or torturing."

Lola, you might be interested in reading Steven Pinker's The Better Angels of our nature, which I am currently reading. He presents the trend of diminishing violence in society, albeit covered in a smug layer of US Conservatism (leftmost viewpoint presented is David Brooks) and Harvard myopia of the kind described in The Name of the Rose.

huhtikuu 4, 2013, 6:53 pm

I can't abide the blighter, but I might read that if only so I can say I'm criticising it with full knowledge of what he said. (I already had a couple discussions of his idiotic thesis sight unseen.)

I didn't realise he was an avowed political conservative although it always made sense that he'd be their darling. The only book of his which is not a complete waste of time is Language instinct.

huhtikuu 6, 2013, 6:52 am


Do you or anybody else know of any introductory books you would highly recommend for making it easier to approach the Classical Chinese Vocabulary Notes mentioned a wee while ago? As a first baby step, I am getting a feel for the current Pinyin but really I want to explore the language in the earliest original form for a period of interest, say from the formation of the Tang and the spread of influence of Buddhism.

huhtikuu 6, 2013, 10:21 am

>110 vy0123:

Man, that lexicon book can cure my insomnia. very good compilation but would be a tough road up the mountain. also , I can see at least 70% of the words are no longer in use today.

I assume you can read modern chinese, the way I approach classical chinese, is from reading the original , find one that is coupious in notes and commentary by popular comtemporary scholar. that will help a lot more then any lexicon or dictionary, also you might want to avoid classical philosophy (論語,大学etc) .because they are ambiguous in nature and notes make it even more so. 春秋左傳 would be a good choice to start with, I recommend the one comment by 楊伯峻 。starting from this era also make it easier to understand 典故 in later works.

If you want to focus on Tang , then peotry is the best thing from that period, or maybe some prose (唐宋八大家)。

For introductory books, I like this one :
文字蒙求 ,it is for children in Qing to learn words, but I find it very interesting, also teach me a lot of the original meaning of word.
Another one is 字源,publish by 藝文印書館,which talk about how the character change its form.
But those only serve to wet your appetite, finish a whole book of prose or a book like 春秋左傳, is the only way to get through the threshold.

I always admire westerner who take up the task of learning Chinese, when I first try to learn english ( or japanese ), grammar is the major headahce, Irregular verbs, tenses, past participle, singular\pural ,etc, most of them simply has no Chinese equivalent. and it occurred to me I might not be able to learn Chinese if it was not my first language.

huhtikuu 6, 2013, 11:38 am

It is a hard time to learn Chinese. In two to five years, character recognition will have advanced sufficiently to make instant translation ubiquitous. For me, learning the characters (kanji in my case) was just too time consuming and frustrating as even knowing more than a hundred did not help understand even short easy texts.

As soon as computers will do the hard task of reading and writing Chinese, learning the language will be a lot less difficult (butchering tones excepted).

>109 LolaWalser: You are much better of reading the great Norbert Elias, a very funny writer too, if you accept academic humor about flatulence. While Pinker comes close, he fails to realize that violence is always a consequence of inequality. He also neglects non-physical violence (cf. mean girls), strangely for someone so in love with his own image.

huhtikuu 6, 2013, 11:56 am

How can anyone with half a brain quote David Brooks on anything?


kafkachen, I hear often that Chinese grammar is really simple. I suppose the biggest obstacles are the script, and pronunciation, if one actually aims at being understood in speech.

I once composed a "poem" in Chinese using a dictionary (with not a clue about grammar) and presented it to my colleague (Chinese), who thought (well, said) that it was great! (But then what do mere scientists know about poetry...) Anyway, when I told him how I put it together he couldn't stop laughing. Kept it on the wall above his bench until we left.

I still buy "Teach yourself Chinese" type material but it looks more and more they'll get cracked open only after retirement...

huhtikuu 7, 2013, 3:26 am

>112 jcbrunner:
Computer totally take over the writing part. but reading , especially classical literature , are the ice-cream I never want computer to help eating it .

>113 LolaWalser:
I have never took any grammar lesson for mandarin,I guess there is no grammar in Chinese, as long as you can separate verb from noun ,and adjective, you are good to go, back at school, we mostly learn by reading comprehension. classical Chinese only start at junior high school. and more in senior high. in college , unless you are major in Chinese literature, there are no more Chinese class.

However ,in term of appreciating the classical literature, school only teach 1/100000 of what is out there.

Here is an article talk bout how damn hard it is to learn chinese , quite a humorous one, for your reference

Oh, sorry about the digression.

huhtikuu 7, 2013, 5:23 am


I now understand why you ask me the origin of 家。In that lexicon book, word are explained in excerpts from some classical literature, but they are not the earliest extant usage.

Regarding OED, the first lexicon book is probably "説文解字", compiled around 106 AD, but there was no study about 甲骨文(oracle) until very late at Qing dynasty. which is the earliest writing form to survive. I guess scholar at Han dynasty (106 AD) had seen many oracle character because ancient bronze ware were still around by then.

Tang poetry is one of the hardest to understand. here is an excerpts from the link above :
" This is because classical Chinese really consists of several centuries of esoteric anecdotes and in-jokes written in a kind of terse, miserly code for dissemination among a small, elite group of intellectually-inbred bookworms who already knew the whole literature backwards and forwards"

huhtikuu 9, 2013, 6:07 pm

>114 kafkachen: A great essay full of very true remarks I enjoyed re-reading.

There is always grammar (the rules). Just like the old joke of the man noticing for the first time that he has spoken prose all his life.

The enjoyment and mastery of a language comes from passing beyond the toils of parsing and translating chunks of characters and words to a direct absorption into one's brain. It is as if there were no translation occurring at all. The same is true with reading. Many of those not enjoying to read have not mastered how to read without pain.

Many learners of Latin never manage to go beyond the basic parse words (identify subject and verb, seek objects and modifiers) and then translate, then refine the sentence. At this level, one may understand a language but not live in it or enjoy it.

No. 19 - The God of Hail

Welcome to this special X-men episode where we meet Professor X and Storm (who actually hails from Africa) on a Chinese mountain.

The situation reminded me of Bled in Slovenia, a wonderful spot marred by the remnants of socialist and the excess of capitalist tourism. Pu Songling doesn't seem to have had much experience with mountains. Otherwise his protagonist wouldn't have been surprised that his approach wouldn't go unnoticed. Height eats up time - an ascending group that isn't far away will still take quite some time to arrive at their destination (a phenomenon that caused Western forces in Afghanistan much suffering).

The visitor, arrived in this special wonderland, meets the God of Hail who is just on his way to inflict damage on the visitor's home province. The visitor tries to intervene and limit the damage of his neighbors by directing to uncultivated land. He succeeds, without having to pay a price for it. Western fairy tales usually would in a similar situation demand either a sacrifice or the completion of a task. The God of Hail alters his mission target out of guanxi. Firstly, though, he performs an exit in style. Whooosh!

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 9, 2013, 11:08 pm

The whole article exist to wrap up an exalting elevation, a performance start with smoke, alternating between deliberation and dynamic swiftness of hummingbird. end with sound and tactility. as if the author have actually seen the granduer of a thunder god taking off.

Here is the original

神出,至庭中,忽足下生煙,氤氳匝地。俄延踰刻 (slow),極力騰起(fast),裁高於庭樹(slow);又起(fast),高於樓閣(slow);霹靂一聲,向北飛去(fast),屋宇震動,筵器擺簸。

huhtikuu 10, 2013, 11:25 am


You really make me want to hear it!

What a very obliging deity that was.

huhtikuu 10, 2013, 5:10 pm

>118 LolaWalser: Lola. if you copy the passage into Google Translate, you can have it read aloud by a soothing Chinese female voice. Google translates the excerpt as follows: "God, to the court, suddenly the first step to the smoke, dense Zade. Russia extended over engraved highly Jumping, cut above the Tingshu; underway, higher than the pavilion; thunderbolt soon headed north, building vibration, the feast placed toss."

Minford: "The God left the hall and went out into the courtyard, where seconds later a cloud of mist could be seen billowing out from beneath his feet. He hovered above the ground for a moment (slow), then lifted off with massive force (fast), reaching first tree-top (slow), then roof-top level (slow). Finally, there was an almighty crash of thunder, and as he soared up into the sky (fast), and northwards, plates rattled on the tables and the whole building quaked."

We have a staged lift-off! It's a bird...It's a plane...It's the God of Hail.

Deep textual analysis manages to reveal discoveries hidden in plain sight (and formerly well known), such as the Virgil's acrostic in the opening lines of the Aeneid "a stilo m(aronis) v(ergili)" which can be found in "Arma virumque cano, Troiae qui primus ab oris / Italiam fato profugus Laviniaque venit / litora, multum ille et terris iactatus et alto / vi superum saevae memorem Iunonis ob iram ..." The Dutch anthem Wilhelmus also features an acrostic achieved by its greedy length of fifteen stanzas.

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 10, 2013, 7:14 pm

Curses, J-C, you made me discover a new toy, but you DIDN'T invent another hour to the day! I hope the cadence of the Chinese sentence is closer to that in actual speech than in some other languages I tried.

Curious that about Virgil-- is it really an acrostic if you have to transpose letters into the meaningful phrase? It's probably impossible to exclude coincidence, no? (Btw, what do you mean by "formerly well known", I didn't notice that in the article?)

Reminds me of the discovery of a new muscle in the head, some while (mid-1990s?) ago. You'd think there had been at least as many dissections of cadavers as of the Aeneid!

The muscle is still controversial, though...

Muokkaaja: huhtikuu 11, 2013, 2:48 am

>119 jcbrunner:

It must be super fun to read Virgil or Ovid in Latin,

Minford omit a stop and acceleration action between the tree-top and roof-top (又起), I suspect he would have dart off from the ground when no mortal was around, but cautiously choose the roof-top level after several stopping.

>120 LolaWalser:

Lola, I am curious, are your day job relate to working with muscle in the head ?

huhtikuu 11, 2013, 3:00 am

117,118 ~ You really make me want to hear it!

Will someone sing it with autotune and upload to Vimeo? Anyone?

huhtikuu 11, 2013, 7:59 am

>120 LolaWalser: Haha, I just fed Google Translate some poems for enunciation. While the pronunciation is very good, stress and structure are lost - our robot overlords still have some work to do.

I think the transpostion enlarges the potential vocabulary as the letters a Latin word may end in is limited. "Formerly well known" means that the same method of digital water mark was used in other poems. So, this is more of a relative discovery, similar to the digging up of Richard III whose burial location was known but for the detailed location (They already found him on the first day of digging.).

>121 kafkachen: My Latin reading is more aspirational than actual, just like my collection of unread New Yorker issues ... That said, in German there are excellent and cheap dual language editions available where one glance at the other page helps to unlock mysterious passages.

To me, it looks like the God of Hail has a real take-off problem, a vertical albatross gaining grace only at great height.

huhtikuu 11, 2013, 8:26 am


No, the mysterious sphenomandibularis isn't my professional concern, although theoretically it could be. I see mostly cells and molecules on my end, and the occasional small furry animal.


I subscribe to this request!


Isn't it amazing in how many ways we pack meaning in speech? Choice of words, tone, emphasis... I was reading recently about the development of AI, and the first efforts in translation and speech recognition are comical in their naive reductionism--translate every word into another word, and you'll get it. You'd think anyone who even just tried to learn a second language might have told them that approach was wrong.

Speaking of the God of Hail, he's actually HERE as I type. Three to five mm, not very intense, substituting for the snow we were promised.

huhtikuu 13, 2013, 6:16 am

*sigh* If only the mountains and water of China are as Mont Blanc and Lake Geneva.

huhtikuu 15, 2013, 5:56 pm

>125 vy0123: you accidentally a word. Lakes and rivers can be cleaned up. Most of Europe's rivers and lakes were horrible dumps only half a century ago. Now many are at drinking-water quality levels. Taking a gulp from the Blue Danube is something you do at your own peril though. After swimming in the Danube, our dog smelled like toxic sludge ...

Beautiful spring has arrived in Vienna, while Zurich managed to burn its snowman at the stake with complications (triple the usual time, so not very welcome in time-conscious Switzerland). The world, unfortunately, can't live without tragedy.

No. 20 - The Golden Goblet
We are back to ghost stories. This time with a haunted house conquer your fear challenge. Actually, the night isn't fearful at all but a wedding party (sort of Dance of the Vampires like) with ghosts and the protagonist as a guest of honor who doesn't act honorably by stealing one of the golden goblets. The Chinese ghosts are very polite to their guest of honor and let him keep his loot. I had expected to see hellish fury (but the strange tales aren't morality plays). It also isn't a Les Misérables circumstance where the stolen/given church silver serves as startup capital for the protagonist. Years later, the protagonist still possesses the goblet and restores it to the rightful owner as an honest magistrate. Perhaps it is ok to take from the dead hand and give to the living?

What I liked most about the story was the Chinese legend about the two stars Altair and Vega separated by the Milky Way who can only meet once a year. It reminded me of the underrated fantasy romance Ladyhawke with Michelle Pfeiffer and Rutger Hauer (as well as Ferris Bueller).

huhtikuu 16, 2013, 4:34 am

In Chinese folklore, the fairy fox (狐仙\狐狸精) is a very powerful creature, unlike ghost , they don't just kill people, they usually do that AFTER wrecking havoc on life of the person bewitched . few exception, Anything short of kill on sight will be a failure . that is why you can see people are very mean to them.

Today, 狐狸精 is still a popular word to describe female involve in extramarital affair.

huhtikuu 18, 2013, 1:24 pm

Stories are getting longer and foxier.


In English "foxy" is similar to "sexy". Calling one a fox, depending on the context, may imply cunningness or sexiness, if it's a woman, in which case she may also be called a vixen (female fox). David Garnett's Lady into fox is a story about a woman who literally turns into a fox, creating quite a predicament for her husband who desperately tries to hang onto her, at least as a pet. I think Garnett meant it purely as a tongue-in-the-cheek fable, but it could be seen as having something of the supernatural about it, like these Chinese tales.

Vixens are enchanting, therefore magic.

huhtikuu 20, 2013, 8:57 am

In German, the male fox Meister Reineke is a stock character in many fairy tales and stories. Its female counterpart, often in the diminutive Füchslein isn't as prominent. At least, it has its own Janacek opera: The Cunning Little Vixen (excerpt YouTube).

No. 21 - Grace and Pine

The scholar as a superman. Kong Xueli, descendant of Confucius, finds himself cash-strapped in foreign territory and is adopted as a teacher into a fox ghost family. He teaches the son Huangfu in a mixed plan of lessons and drink. All is not well in the mansion: Kong is locked-in and develops sort of a tumor. Help arrives in the form of Huangfu's sister grace who performs surgery at age fourteen. A female Chinese Doogie Howser? More likely a fox ghost, as she spits out a healing bolus (not FDA approved), rubs it into the wound and then swallows it again. Kong is smitten but that is the closest of body fluid exchanged they come (except for a repeat). Instead Kong marries their cousin Pine. The marriage completed, Kong and his wife are tele-transported home with a gift of 100 silver taels (which would pay for just one banquet in Red Mansion! Interestingly, the amount of silver of a tael varied from province to province.). Kong starts a successful career and has a son with his foxy lady. Happy end?

Not so fast, as there is a second adventure. Kong runs afoul of his superiors and is sent away alone. There he encounters Huangfu again. They enter a house in a village within a thick forest. Kong brings along Pine and junior to the family reunion. They meet Grace, now also married. Having revealed their fox identity, the family asks Kong to protect and defend them.

Kong finds himself in the eye of a storm, battling against a giant monster (fortunately, as a scholar he is well equipped for just such a task). The monster is carrying Grace in its arms, King Kong like. Our Kong rescues Grace but dies in the process. Fortunately, Grace still has a few health points to spend. With another bolus, Kong is resurrected. Conveniently, the rest of Grace's husband's family was wiped out by the storm, so they can all live happily together at Kong's residence with the foxes living in a closed off garden compound. With chess, wine and conversation as well as a good-looking son, the story ends in Chinese bliss.

huhtikuu 24, 2013, 5:41 pm

Les jours s'en vont je demeure, hanging in there upside down all alone. Christmas Carol time.

No. 22 - A most exemplary monk

Chinese quality control has apparently always been dismal (despite China ranking first in ISO 9001 certificates). Even the grim reaper collects the wrong brother Zhang (who is fortunate not to be one of the 95 millions named Wang). Brought by devil assistants to Yama, God of Death, manages to get a guided tour of hell - the Nine Dark Places, the Mountain of Knives, the Forest of Swords. Chinese hell is dark and pointy. Special exhibit in hell is a monk in pain, suspended upside down from his leg. The monk happens to be Zhang's brother and is punished for misappropriating alms and debauchery. According to Wikipedia, one is transferred into Buddhist hell, Naraka, by being reborn there (The images between a Burmese and a Tibetan Yama seem to differ widely.).

The hellish error cleared up, Zhang awakes back on earth. He swiftly goes to warn his brother, the monk. Repent, sinner! His brother is actually suspended upside down as a treatment to ease his suffering from an abscess between his thighs. His pain as well as his brother's revelation transform Saulus into Paulus. Meat and liquor are out, chanting sutras is in. Voilà, a most exemplary monk.

The story reminds me of Churchill's quip that the Americans will always choose the right option, after having exhausted all the others. Is it a real conversion if it is forced by ill health (cf. cancer-stricken neo-non-smokers or fasting heart disease patients). The monk is fortunate as his repentance comes in time and is successful (as is Dickens' Scrooge). La Fontaine's cricket, however, is given no mercy: Dansez maintenant!

huhtikuu 24, 2013, 6:22 pm

(Omg, just this morning I was re-reading Le pont Mirabeau in an old copy of Alcools I got the other day!)

I don't know how the Chinese etc. DEAL with all the homonyms. Imagine the endless messes in the registry!

Speaking of Buddhists and debauchery I discovered the other day that Buddhist nuns frequently engaged in casual prostitution, on pilgrimages, say, in order to pay for food and lodgings. How could I not have heard of that before? The phenomenon is recorded in tale and even pictures (Not Safe For Work, should anyone go googling).

I wonder what the attitude of the monks might have been. Anyway--quite astonishingly contrasting the Western views on proper monastic behaviour.

huhtikuu 25, 2013, 11:54 am

I nearly chose Baudelaire: Sois sage, ô ma Douleur, et tiens-toi plus tranquille. Except that our sinful monk was seeking relief not pain like your typical suicidal French poet. I just love Apollinaire, the mastery of French at its best. Their dark thoughts are to be consumed only with moderation. Compared to the Chinese scholar, the French flâneur poets had much harder lives.

Monasteries in the West served mostly to dispose potential heirs to title and fortune. What happened behind the closed doors (intra muros) didn't matter much as long as it didn't infringe upon the world. Interesting read: Virgins of Venice.

huhtikuu 27, 2013, 8:25 am

No. 23 - Magical Arts

Chinese superstition is almost a trope. The persistence of astrology and fortune-telling are a mystery to me, as their offer of comfort and explanation is based on nothing more than smoke and mirrors. In this story, it even comes to extortion and then intimidation. The third night could easily have ended bloodily. I expected at least a dead cow the next morning. The description of the fright and fight is very well done. Breaking spells with dog blood is hopefully no longer performed (despite its CSI effects in revealing the magician). Another story with a happy ending (except for the bad guy).

huhtikuu 29, 2013, 12:45 pm

Now we're in the fairy tale realm.

My Chinese colleagues are all tough-minded realists, the most "straying" some do seems to be into Chinese medicine. Acupuncture etc. But I think the reasons may be more subtle than just lack of information, say. For one thing, millennia of tradition weigh heavily, but I think views alternative to the Western were encouraged for combined economic-ideological reasons. I'll never forget the scenes Antonioni shot in a Chinese maternity clinic, of a woman giving birth using only acupuncture for anaesthetic. She was awake, talking and even eating the whole time, and hardly twitched.

huhtikuu 30, 2013, 5:25 pm

>134 LolaWalser: Expats who usually are selected from the bottom and near top of a society are by definition extremely unlike their compatriots who stay behind, far more enterprising and striving. I just read the remembrance biography written by Iris Chang's tiger mom, The woman who could not forget. Her tragic suicide was triggered by a toxic mix of (implicit) Chinese motherly pressure to be perfect and American profit-driven health care industry.

Pain is, to some extent, learned behavior. The willingness to tolerate heat and cold differs widely across the globe. Russians strip off and enjoy the mild rays of sun most Italians would consider atrocious. There are still people who let the dentist treat them without anesthetics. The pain of giving birth will be very different for somebody used to hard manual labor. Pain is also a highly subjective experience that is difficult to measure and share. See this TV "experiment" of two Dutch guys in search of the pain threshold of giving birth that has been making the rounds across the net.

toukokuu 1, 2013, 7:22 am

Acupuncture of the kind where a long needle is inserted then flicked is no different in result compared to a cancer treatment option known as nerve blotting. The sensation of a severed nerve is of a fiery dynamite fuse burn then no pain ever again. What could go wrong?

toukokuu 1, 2013, 5:06 pm

No 24 - Wild Dog

The note states that Pu Songling grew up in Shandong and must have heard about its "killing fields". Wild Dog shows the terrible options a peasant has among a soldatesca gone wild. The poor peasant prefers sleeping among the decapitated dead to disturbing the soldiers. If you lie down with the dead, ... they rise again. Thriller time!

The dead are afraid of the Wild Dog, a brain-eating wolfman. Li the peasant manages at first to keep his brain away from Mr Wolf. His advances did not stop. Li managed to get hold of a stone with which he smashed the wolfman's teeth. Spilling blood, the howling wolfman runs off, leaving Li in possession of two four-inch fangs. A conversation piece for generations!

toukokuu 5, 2013, 5:59 pm

Pretty horrific monster, especially as the drawing seems to indicate bipedal locomotion.

toukokuu 5, 2013, 6:03 pm

No 25 - Past Lives

Horse, dog, snake - the animal kingdom as an institution of punishment and redemption. The Chinese hell mirrors the class structure on earth (a contrast to medieval Christianity where kings and bishops were sinners just like everybody else). Not drinking the King of Hell's tea is a social faux pas. Losing the ability to forget the past is for most of the story dreadful but when he is redeemed, it gives him quite the head start in life.

It is nice to see Pu Songling concerned about animal welfare, not a topic I associate with China. Even his approach is utilitarian: The animal deserves better treatment because there might be a human soul within it. The Chinese must use a strange riding style if they dig their knees into their horses. In Western/English riding, you control the horse with the inner upper thighs (and the heels) - but not the knees.

toukokuu 5, 2013, 6:34 pm

Funny how eating or drinking in the underworld commits you to the place.

toukokuu 13, 2013, 4:39 pm

>140 LolaWalser: The food and drink options are better than at most airports, similar connectors between heaven and the real world.

No 26 - Fox in the Bottle
A fox isn't Schrödinger's cat and apparently not very bright. A bottle, not he best spot to hide. The story doesn't tell us if the exorcism was successful.

No 27 - Wailing ghosts
Violent deaths are poison to property values. Only rituals manage to pacify the ghosts. Interestingly, the owner doesn't care about his sick (or starving?) servants (This is compliant with the Mormon practice where paying the tithe to the church is considered more important than feeding a hungry child.). The care of the dead here indirectly helps the near-dead to live.

toukokuu 26, 2013, 6:32 pm

No 28 Thumb and thimble
A really weird story, a musing about child abuse where the victim is exposed to ridicule as a freak. To lose both parents, truly is devastating one's chances in life.

No 29 Scorched Moth the Taoist
The Pope having or not having performed an exorcism recently could learn a few tricks from Scorched Moth (great superhero name!) who acts as a necromancer to speak with and command a fox spirit. For 18 generations the fox spirit had stayed on in the capital. Achieving residency status in the east has already been difficult for earlier migrants. Back to the province, Irrlicht-style.

toukokuu 26, 2013, 6:53 pm

To lose both parents, truly is devastating one's chances in life.

Unless it's the parents who sell you off into slavery... I read the other day in Planet of slums that approximately one billion people never enter the global economy, as workers or "consumers". Presumably they live off their own, and others', shit. (Presumably the number of such people is growing too.)

Poltergeisty foxes! I love the image of them hurling things at the household, exorcisms be damned.

kesäkuu 2, 2013, 2:19 pm

>143 LolaWalser: In the documentary Urbanized I saw two weeks ago, they said that Mumbai will soon have an equal number of the inhabitants of London and New York living in slums there. Progress means that they improved the ratio of toilet seats from one per 900 to one per 600 people. Bill Gates to the rescue.

In Woman Wang and elsewhere, there is a strong case to be made that the selling off of children was an extreme measure against poverty and starvation.

Overall, I find the powers of the poltergeist foxes rather lame - like a bad Disney theme park ride (nothing beats the horror of It's a small world, though!).

No 30 Friendship beyond the grave
Crane rider is a great name - and a case for animal welfare as a fragile crane is unsuited as a bird of burden - a Chinese Nils Holgersson excepted).

Well, this tale took an unexpected turn, although it brings a satisfying end that ties up all loose ends! Is there any indication when exactly in the story Ye died? Was it the illness that killed him? Or did he die after the successful exam?

No 31 Karmic debts

Pay it forward or pay it back? Karmic accounting for the vagaries of life. The steward seems to have been terrible at math. If those 40 strings of cash were just sufficient to finance the first years of childhood, how could he have expected to provide for the child during the next ten years? A similar case of bad math is expressed by many (Western) politicians when they offer child birth tax credit incentives but then wonder why this does not result in higher birth rates.

kesäkuu 9, 2013, 5:43 pm

No 32 Ritual Cleansing
Cleanliness is next to godliness. At least one fox spirit is into self-improvement and yoga too but not so keen on ceremonies. Anti-cyclical behavior on major holidays is highly recommended. If you are late, however, you might get stuck in traffic, or in the case of our fox spirit, trapped in the drain outlet. A very bad hiding place as keeping the drains tidy is good practice. Chased off, the fox spirit saves itself by jumping into a cesspit - a dreadful outcome for someone so dedicated to a clean body and mind. The stink from the bath in the cesspit takes months to wear off.

The fox spirit returns to the Taoist only to warn him to escape from the temple close to Peking. The Ming dynasty is about to fall. Where could our Taoist hide during the long period of turmoil? There is also a slight problem in continuity as the Chaotian Temple was destroyed by fire in 1626, well before the end of the Ming dynasty.

No 33 The Door God and the Thief
In contrast to Jean Valjean's priest, the Taoist in this story doesn't own much. The thief pockets the copper coins and flees to Thousand Buddha Mountain but is stopped by guilt? or a door god. He returns the money and the Taoist lets him go. No harm, no foul.

kesäkuu 14, 2013, 6:40 pm

Is there any indication when exactly in the story Ye died?

I wondered too. No, as far as I can tell, but I think it probably happened early on. {creepy voice} He was a ghoooooost the ENTIRE tiiiiiime... Romantic story, I like it.


That last line about not rejoicing when a child is born, or grieving if it dies is pure stoicism. The only useful philosophy... if only it could be applied.

Viewing progeny in terms of karmic debts is a great relief to bad seed. Disappointed your parents? The buggers had it coming.


Is it Andreuccio of... Siena, in Boccaccio, who falls into the cesspool...? Funny how funny shit is. Universally.


I was amazed the thief was let go safe body and soul. I'd have expected a quartering at a minimum from a face like that. Probably good for spreading the cautionary word...

kesäkuu 18, 2013, 6:18 pm

No 34 is the big one, the famous one and it doesn' disappoint (I haven't yet seen any of the movie versions).

No 34 The painted skin

The story itself may be divided into subplots: 1. A fairy tale about fitting in, playing a role (cf. Goffman The presentation of self or Pedro Almodovar's La piel que habito.). This turns into 2. Fatal attraction - hell has no fury like a woman scorned, with a switch from Glenn Close to Sigourney Weaver: Ghostbusters. The story ends with another fairy tale which requires the wife to pass a revolting test to prove her love and restore her husband's heart and life (cf. Osiris. The agent of life is a phlegm bolus (cf. project Genesis).

In the story, we rediscover the roles we have seen in the Red Chamber: the brainless, penis-driven male (Bill C.) who is incapable of resisting the demonic charm of a foxy ghost in female form (Monica L.) and has to be rescued by a professional fixer (lawyers, PR) and a faithful wife (Hillary C.).

kesäkuu 19, 2013, 12:45 pm

J-C, I'm not sure these group reads are welcome here:

Maybe it's just the 20th century that's off-limits (or word puns), but I simply don't remember if anything was mentioned back when first group read started? Do you? Should we migrate?

Maybe TPTB have the means to transport threads...

kesäkuu 19, 2013, 1:30 pm

Lola, I think you overreacted a bit to the Fogies pointing out that the poem's 20th century origin. We could certainly move the threads but I don't see the necessity.

Firstly, ignoring this thread takes but one click on the x. Secondly, the works discussed are part of a world gone by. The future and the past are unevenly distributed. Bound feet are an indicator of an ancient world. So modern China, for me, starts with the republic. Spence's The Search for Modern China begins with the Ming.

Switzerland executed its last witch in 1782. In the West, I find the French declaration of human rights a good starting point of the modern world, although the ultimate game changers of water closets and electric lights didn't arrive until the 20th century in many places. So if the Fogies don't object, I think we should continue to post here.

kesäkuu 19, 2013, 2:07 pm

That's what I'm asking about, whether there were any objections. I'd hate to think of them seething and suffering in silence all these years!

Yes, clearly I too took "ancient" more as a descriptor than a strict time-delimiter. When China wasn't ancient?! It is ancient now!

I do hope they are ignoring the reads. Imagine that stern gaze cast over the frivolity of our (well, mine) comments...

Switzerland executed its last witch in 1782.

Never too quick to get on the bandwagon of women's rights! That looks late enough for some kind of record.

kesäkuu 19, 2013, 2:27 pm

This is the perfect place for the group reads of the Chinese classics in my opinion. And it must be within scope - my daughter told me I was ancient the other day, and I am only 45. By that definition, we are well within range :-)

Muokkaaja: kesäkuu 19, 2013, 3:10 pm

>150 LolaWalser: Digression: Switzerland contains multitudes and is usually to be found both in the lead and among the stragglers. Women were allowed to study at Swiss universities during the mid-19th century (an avenue for many smart foreigners, among them Einstein's first wife, and especially Russian Jewish women). The late opening of women's suffrage is a black mark, somewhat mitigated by the fact that most countries today still deny their citizens direct democratic rights on a level offered in Switzerland. The Swiss Federal government has already seen multiple female presidents (ceremonial role only and rotates annually) and governments led by minsters of a female majority.

The last witch, Anna Göldi, is famous and her story told in novels and films. Her death was actually a miscarriage of justice where an angry wife had the maidservant executed by the state (similar to The Painted Skin or the recent affair of the Czech prime minister, his wife and his mistress which used the secret service to spy on the estranged wife. In US terms: Hillary offering false testimony to have Monica executed by the government.).

China is changing incredibly fast (ruthlessly destroying/discarding its past). Vienna's Museum für Angewandte Kunst is currently showing an exhibition Eastern Promises about modern Asian architecture (China, Japan and South Korea). One case study showed a Shenzhen fishing village of 150 inhabitants which turned itself into a densely packaged urban place of 8000 souls (mostly immigrants, the ex-fishermen playing landlords) with multiple re-developments during the last 30 years.

kesäkuu 19, 2013, 8:09 pm


from the mouth of babes... ;)


What does "destroying the past" include? Someone was telling me about how little "old" architecture survives in the Far East, because of a combination of materials and climate. The ordinary or poor masses being much less likely to live in ancient structures than the corresponding classes in Europe.

Which reminds me of my mom's cleaning lady of two and a half decades, seventy cracking years old now.

She was born, raised and still lives within the confines of Diocletian's retirement home, a skip and a hop from the cardo/decumanus crossing.

kesäkuu 20, 2013, 6:06 am

>153 LolaWalser: Well, China has been settled for so long and in such a density, that it is hard not to destroy some of the past when creating new structures. Construction today seems to be too much driven by developers and speed, razing the old without regard for preservation. The example of Singapore shows that increasing levels of general prosperity will also build awareness for historical preservation.

kesäkuu 24, 2013, 10:03 am

>147 jcbrunner:

No 34 The painted skin has been adapted into movie like every other 5 years.

kesäkuu 24, 2013, 10:09 am

>154 jcbrunner:

Some of the ancient houses they have teared down was sold to collector, like Jacky chan.

Here is a recent drama of trying to move the antique out of china.

kesäkuu 26, 2013, 6:35 pm

>155 kafkachen: Which film version would you recommend? The ratings on IMDB do not sound too promising.

>156 kafkachen: I don't find moving the houses to Singapore worrisome. Isn't it similar to removing an artifact from Switzerland or Austria to Liechtenstein? A different country with a slightly different cultural context. Then again, I see works of art as great ambassadors, making people aware of foreign achievements and inviting people to visit those places.

No. 35 The merchant's son

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown or in this case, singular: one wife driven into madness by a male fox while her husband is away. Her son builds her a bricked-up panic room. He also manages to nearly capture the fox, cutting off part of his tail (hello, Mr. Freud!). The husband returns and tries to restore her health. One night, she disappears, only to be found in another room after a long search.

The son finally discovers the source of his mother's trouble: Two foxes camping out in the bush with their fox-servant. Without informing his father, the boy gathers schnapps and rat poison, mixes them and hands it to the fox-servant. All three foxes die from the poison. Both the mother and a neighbor recover from their foxy affairs. Family virtue restored, Italian Renaissance-style.

heinäkuu 3, 2013, 5:57 pm

Two stories about uncommon appetites ...

No. 36 A passion for snakes

Not really a passion but a craving or compulsion to devour snakes. Unfortunately, there is no drawing to illustrate this story, no dangling bits of snake out of the guy's mouth. I wonder how Freud would interpret such behavior?

Scatological No. 37 is stranger still, almost blasphemous in liking the protagonist's behavior to Buddha.

No. 37 A latter-day Buddha

Our night soil preacher attracts quite a gullible following of "shit-eaters". The local magistrate manages to turn shit into money with a bit of flogging and incarceration. Pecunia non olet.

Muokkaaja: heinäkuu 20, 2013, 6:07 am

Get ready for next tale.

To clear away the shit, some music, foxy ladies and gentlemen, killing and reincarnation. The intimate scene is how it may look in the next tale.

青花瓷 MV (完整版)

4:01 KTV 周杰倫 - 青花瓷 (a less visually repetitive version)

heinäkuu 20, 2013, 12:24 pm

Hawt! Pretty people with swords, one of my favourite things. (What movie is that from?)

But no tail. I'd like to see them foxy tails.

Good story.

Last week I saw a Hammer Films/Shaw Brothers crossover with Peter Cushing and David Chiang, The Legend of the 7 Golden Vampires. Unfortunately not a good movie (awful script; they should've let the Chinese make it, they know the point of martial arts movies), but, still, Peter Cushing as Van Helsing and Chinese boxing vampires--I'm glad it happened.

elokuu 4, 2013, 4:08 pm

Sorry for the summer break. My schedule should be back to normal now.

No. 38 Fox enchantment

The Seven Dwarfs showed more restraint than the Chinese scholar when faced with a sleeping beauty. His fondling reveals a bit of extra fur. His Ruskinesque flight is stopped by the foxy lady and his soul captured.

As discussed in Woman Wang, the status of Chinese widows was poor, losing her husband being an indicator of bad luck. So the desperate poor widowed neighbor girl has no other option than becoming a concubine-servant. In no time, too much sexy time and essence spilt kill the scholar.

His friend enters into a similar relationship with a foxy girl when the departed scholar's ghost starts coaching him. At first, female charms prevail. Only liberal use of incense kills the fox spirit whose recovery is blocked by skinning the animal (Samson? Is it the fur that constitutes the fox' power?). The friend recovers, but the fox spirit has to wander on, bereft of body.

Minford quotes Douglas Wile's going all in: "Post-coital enervation impressed the ancient Chinese more than any heights achieved through orgasm. ... Ejaculation brings enervation not relaxation, homeostatic holocaust not emotional catharsis." So in a Chinese view, no "post coitum animal triste". I think Wile's "homeostatic holocaust (i.e. probably systematic heat transfer) not emotional catharsis (i.e. nirvana?)" doesn't make sense to me.

Muokkaaja: elokuu 5, 2013, 1:08 pm

I think Wile is probably misusing "homeostasis" for equilibrium, steady state, which in this Chinese paradigm gets disrupted by climax (sudden high, sudden low).

elokuu 5, 2013, 5:25 pm

>162 LolaWalser: You are probably right. Ideas should not be hidden behind a thicket of big words.

I think there is a fight between two Chinese concepts: In one corner, we find cycles and complementarity (ying-yang). In the other corner, we have the idea of qi and force preservation. The laws of thermodynamics determine the winner ...

elokuu 5, 2013, 5:32 pm

No. 39 - Eating stones

While the Dutch create artificial hamburger patties, the Chinese grind their teeth on tougher stuff: Eating stones and growing one's own hair-shirt/fur is championship hermit-ing, especially as he balances this with proper filial piety.

A surreal Ionesco-esque story.

elokuu 12, 2013, 5:59 pm

No. 40 - The laughing girl

Pretty Woman! A Chinese boy meets girl fairy tale that ends well. At its center lies the dark hint of a social reality of drowning the poor orphan girl, daughter of an outcast relative (fox) barely surviving at the margin of civilization. Fairy tale like, the pretty girl is supported by a ghost mother and a fairy maid.

There is also a subtle shift in perspective: Starting out from the young scholar, the titular character takes over and even has her own sub-adventure where the absence of the tale's main virtue (constance) is punished. A winning smile opens the door back into good society.

elokuu 19, 2013, 5:50 pm

No. 41 - The Magic Sword and the Magic Bag

Fun at the YMCA or a deserted temple. Ning Caichen resists the nightly temptation of a quickie with a ghost girl. Two other visitors give in to temptation and pay with their lives. Ghost girl, seeing that Ning is immune to her charms, warns him about the place and tells him how to survive. Having promised to unearth the ghost girl's bones and rebury them in a proper location, Ning spends the night under the protection of a magic swordsman who wounds the demon. Ning is given a magic bag for his journey home where he reburies the bones he has exhumed. Challenge completed!

The ghost girl Little Beauty then worms herself into the family, first as a faithful servant to Ning's mother, then as Ning's platonic friend, and when Ning's wife finally died, Little Beauty became his wife. Happy ending? Not yet as we have one MacGuffin not yet used: the magic bag catches the demon and all lived happily ever after: Ning, Little Beauty, Ning's concubine and his three sons. Another successful redemption of a fallen girl, thanks to a honorable gentleman.

elokuu 26, 2013, 5:19 pm

No. 42 - The Devoted Mouse

"No man is left behind", apparently also a saying among mice. The snake displays terrible decision-making and learning: Its best solution would have been to kill the second mouse, named Achilles, too.

Vikram Seth's The Mouse and the Snake.

No. 43 - An Earthquake

A highly detailed and realistic account of a terrible 8.5 earthquake and a rather unbelievable un-Solomonic fight for a baby between a wolf an the naked mother. PG-13 demands that the women be dressed; violence is ok.

syyskuu 2, 2013, 5:36 pm

No. 44 - Snake Island

The wisdom of the crowds is not always wrong: Some islands better stay unvisited. Mr. Zhang's exchange of body fluids with the inhabitants will not result in a positive yelp review.

No. 45 - Generosity

Or better: hospitality, as it isn't really "generosity" (showing a readiness to give more of something, as money or time, than is strictly necessary or expected) that the family does. The guest expects to have his horse fed and being himself provided with a roof and a meal. What makes the efforts of the Yangs a good deed is that they show hospitality at a level they can't afford (even damaging their roof). While the fairy tale ends well, Mr Ding should have compensated the Yangs promptly (as the Latin saying goes: Bis dat qui cito dat).

syyskuu 9, 2013, 3:57 pm

No. 46 - The Giant Fish

It's a mountain, it's a fish - or more likely a whale or even a whale herd. A Chinese Ionesco moment.

No. 47 - The Giant Turtle

Mr Zhang neglects to heed the cardinal story rule of never splitting up a group in unknown territory (or shopping sprees). It is his family that pays the price for snacking. In his revenge, Mr Zhang goes ballistic. The killer turtle misjudged the lethality of Zhang's projectile (a similar mistake happened to American civil war soldiers who tried to stop spent cannon balls rolling on the ground with their feet. The remaining force in the cannon balls ripped off their feet or hands.). The turtle-slayer is honored with a monument.

syyskuu 17, 2013, 3:09 pm

No. 48 - Making animals

Circe turned Odysseus' mates into swine. Our Chinese sorcerer here turns the boys into sheep and the girls into donkeys. The downfall of the Chinese sorcerer is his poor choice of antidote. The book illustration of the story is G-rated. The donkeys carry a set of clothes with them (True Blood is one of the few series where the re-transformed have to seek clothes to cover their modesty).

No. 49 - The little mandarin

Like all those UFO witnesses who never manage to take a good picture, our scholar is too stoned or shocked to communicate with the marching imps. The name of the Chinese Rumpelstiltskin is safe.

syyskuu 24, 2013, 5:59 pm

No. 50 - Dying together

A little horror story: Will she, won't she join ... not the dance but the final rest of her husband. Succumbing to social pressure, granny plays the fatal role of faithful Indian wife. At least, death comes without suffering.

No. 51 - The alligator's revenge

Look out for the flying mutant alligators! Evolution would not be kind to these sideways flying crocs (besides reversing the split into reptiles and avian dinosaurs - at least both taste like chicken). To catch a duck, the croc would have to pass by the duck and - like a chopper doorgunner - snap it, while correcting for the drag caused by the tail. If it can't fly upwards (as per the notes), its flight is more like hovering.

Safety instruction: Keep your alligators safely tied to the boat at all times.

Muokkaaja: syyskuu 27, 2013, 11:40 am

lokakuu 3, 2013, 5:16 pm

What is stirring in the pot?

No. 52 - Sheep skin

Number 52 offers a glimpse of shoddy quality control in hell. The king of hell, a virtual brother to off-with-his-head queen, has come to a verdict hastily without knowing all the facts. Fortunately, a clerk manages to intervene for the poor soul. A meeh-ry ending with a furry patch.

If people widely believed that animals carried the souls of dead humans, wouldn't eating animals be similar to cannibalism and murder? Notice the absence of cat skins among the animal skins in use.

No. 53 - Sharp sword

Monsieur Guillotin would approve. Botched executions were all too common (cf. Thomas Cromwell). The story combines admiration for the competent use of a quality tool with witty last words. Executioners have trouble getting their "customers" to fill out the customer satisfaction survey.

The deadly hornets plaguing China at the moment might have been good candidates for a short story.

lokakuu 3, 2013, 8:35 pm

What is stirring in the pot?

Croc or alligator, can't tell, can't see the little dragon's shape of nose.

lokakuu 10, 2013, 6:17 pm

I have never tasted either of them, though I dropped some marsh-mellows on the head of some lazy ones in Florida in a touristy alligator farm. Eating carnivores is environmentally unsound (consider all the calories necessary to produce each prior level of the food chain).

No. 54 Lotus fragrance

A story with a Chinese Greek choir about the temptation of Sang Xiao. The scholar attracts quite many female visitors who can't wait to sleep with him. Ghost and fox, they start mining his essence, draining his energy while keeping up a virtual beauty contest that turns into a showdown around sick Sang. Jointly, they cure him in an oral exchange of body fluids.

Ghost girl meanwhile manages to be reborn in the neighbour's dead and revived daughter (who happens to have been not as beautiful and smaller). A bit of dieting and Ghost girl is her old beautiful again. She can now marry Sang but not before he had married the fox first. The ménage à trois doesn't yet live happily ever after. Soon after the birth of her son Foxy, the fox spirit dies and is buried as a fox. In ten years time, the fox spirit is also reborn as a girl who is bought by Sang, so that the ménage à trois can resume in fully human form. Sang Xiao was a lucky man in his choice of supernatural partners.

lokakuu 19, 2013, 8:34 am

No. 55 King of the Nine Mountains

No. 55 is probably my favorite story so far because of its layering: (1) the fate of the fox family (2) the rise and fall of Li and implied (3) the rise and fall of Liu Bei and Sichuan/Chengdu. If I remember correctly, contrary to the story, Liu Bei had imperial relations, much better ones than his great opponent Cao Cao.

The reasons for the crushing of (2) and (3) are quite clear: the unity of China must be restored and a rebellion must crushed by the authorities. The destruction of the foxes, however, who were in fact legally renting the garden, is much harder to explain or actually a crime - though it is only recently that animals have been given legal rights of their own in (progressive) legal systems.

No. 56 The fox of Fengzhou

A Chinese version of "I Dream of Jeannie" where even the foxes have to deal with bureaucracy. One interesting aspect of the story is the free will (and sexual appeal) of the female fox compared to the often not present and barely desired wives. Is his wife, if he has one, also on board of the ship?

marraskuu 13, 2013, 5:52 pm

No. 57 Silkworm

A fairy tale with a peculiar quest: In search of manhood lost. Delivering a letter to Hainan installs the young man into a very special family. The good aunt has a cure for his tiny penis. Swallowing a bolus, his manhood is restored and quickly put to good use. First on the fox, then the ghost and, home again, the maid.

Again, a fox/ghost combo that takes good care of the hero. In the Red Chamber and other Chinese novels, the interaction among multiple wives and concubines isn't usually that harmonious.

No. 58 Vocal virtuosity

A good placebo goes a long way. A female charlatan physician manages to fool some of the villagers by an elaborate fake interaction with ghosts. In the US, she would have her own TV show and product line.

marraskuu 13, 2013, 7:39 pm

Greetings! Sorry I'd been absent--I meant to catch up after my vacation but then I had some renovations done and mislaid the books in the unholiest of messes... Actually I still haven't located them, but I'm putting up bookcases again tomorrow.

Bad week ahead but it ought to ease up after, see you cca No. 60!

marraskuu 14, 2013, 6:50 am

No worries! My library has eaten quite a few of my books too. I should start putting RFID tags on my books. In the mean time, you can have a look at the splendid preview pictures of the V & A Chinese Painting 700-1900 exhibition.

marraskuu 26, 2013, 10:25 pm

Also, have a listen to Butterfly Lovers 梁祝 (ErHu Concerto) 19:25.

marraskuu 28, 2013, 5:47 pm

Fascinating, I didn't know the erhu, though I recognized its sound. Getting such a volume out of a tiny body, snake (skin) power indeed. Thanks!

Loving competence porn (i.e. making-of videos), I enjoyed the V&A demonstration of how a Chinese silk painting is produced.

No. 59 The fox as prophet

Holding on to empty real estate apparently is a Chinese tradition. The setup is actually not necessary for the snide remark about local magistrates: A mule can be reborn to become a magistrate. The snark is strong in some of these foxes - though we encountered dumb foxes too (especially the one bottled up).

No. 60 This transformation

A strange horror story! Starting as fairy tale, it takes a turn for the worse with rather undignified treatment of the monk by the locals and a shock disembowelment. The monk succeeds in performing his stage illusion in three parts: the setup, the performance, and the prestige (effect). A repeat performance is unlikely.

marraskuu 29, 2013, 5:26 am

Apologies for butting-in - I've been a lurker here from the start, but the book is still one of very many on my Amazon wish list, so I never post, but ...

#180 - Can't resist linking Xuefei Yang's classical guitar transcription of one of the movements - I seem to remember that the particular movement is called 'Falling in Love', but it doesn't say so on the video - one of my all-time favourite guitar recordings.

marraskuu 29, 2013, 3:54 pm

>182 alaudacorax: Please do join in (and rush to buy the Penguin edition as it is quite difficult to find the corresponding story in the Giles translation widely available online). It makes little sense holding out for a Folio Society edition.

The guitar has a too warm timbre for me. I prefer the whiny twang of the erhu or violin.

joulukuu 2, 2013, 6:24 pm

No. 61 Fox control

Well, the next two stories take unexpected turns. Exorcism by penis! Stabbed to death by extended sexy times (of an ill academician no less - a great ad for this Chinese viagra). The second priapic story turns the protagonist's comparative advantage into a business. A Chinese gigolo.

No. 62 Dragon dormant

After exhaustive sex, we return to a quiet observation of a scholar in his study, kindly assisting a dragon to soar. With the dragon airborne, the serene scholar can return to his books. What would Faust have done in the presence of a baby dragon?

joulukuu 16, 2013, 6:01 pm

No. 63 Cut sleeve

The Chinese Emperor was much more considerate than US President Lyndon B. Johnson who held a flashlight to one of his secretaries he bedded and said, "Move over. This is your president." Texan style is more like wearing one of those Brokeback Mountain jackets.

This story makes me uncomfortable. We actually witness the grooming, prostitution and sexual abuse of a minor. What makes it worse is shifting the guilt to the victim: In contrast to the beginning of the tale, the fox-spirit boy is shown as the seducer and not the groomed victim of the old lecher.

Crazily, the old lecher gets a second chance by taking over a body killed by suicide. In the second round, the boy now procures a girl for the old lecher. The boy is then used to entrap the old lecher's enemy, a governor who also falls for the boy's charm and wastes away. Just before his death, the boy steals the governor's money and brings it to the old lecher.

The tale ends with a joke poem that causes a plumbing problem.

I like Li Bai's poem "The Road to Shu is hard", sort of a Chinese take on the path less traveled by or the high road vs the low road - but is its primary reading to be seen as a sexual allegory?

No. 64 The Girl from Nanking

A rather strange story of a fox girl who somehow found her patron wanting but didn't want to destroy him either, so she buys him off with a powerful remedy against warts.

The herbs and prescription complement can be enlarged to problem solving in organizations as a Garbage Can model of organizational choice where a problem is solved only if all ingredients (problem, solution, opportunity and participants) are present at the same time.

joulukuu 19, 2013, 8:40 am

160 (What movie is that from?)

A stranger on the Internet has commented that it is only MTV.

joulukuu 19, 2013, 7:18 pm

I've caught up! Lots of saxxy in these stories, foxes fatales. Human nature.

I love the little anecdotes that seem to end on non sequiturs--man wakes up, sees tiny people marching across his floor... that's it, that's the story.

joulukuu 20, 2013, 9:05 am

Court ladies preparing newly woven silk.

Copy of an 8th century painting by Zhang Xuan, performed by Emperor Huizong of Song via

helmikuu 2, 2014, 5:25 am

Happy New Year!

No. 65 Twenty Years a Dream

A Tim Burton tale where the magic lies in poetry and the scholars aim to hump everything that moves, even dead creatures of the night. A meeting of true soul mates whose story is a bit overladen with unnecessary subplots.

No. 66 Mynah bird

A fantastic friendship between man and bird is the key for a heist and an examination of possession. True allegiance can not be bought, at least not that of such a smart bird.

helmikuu 8, 2014, 7:09 am

No. 67 Lamp Dog

It is a lamp, a dog and now a fox-girl who becomes friends with benefits (mostly benefits) with as steward. His master is not happy about all these illicit nocturnal affair. First he tries and fails with external control. Next the steward himself is tasked to end this affair. He does so by baring the fox-girl, taking away the little blouse she never removed. The spell (and trust) is broken. They end the affair with a make-up feast in the field.

How does a shape-shifter hang on to his/her clothes and especially shoes? Too many movie and TV adaptations brush over this essential problem. In contrast to Superman, Spiderman is one of the few series that cares what happens to the non-superhero clothes (usually bagged in a safe place in a net).

No. 68 Doctor Five Hides

A subtle tale reminding the reader about the absolute horror China went through during and after the final Ming years. The Chinese seem to be even more prudish than the Americans in terms of nudity. Locking the scholar up naked and freezing (a preferred US torture technique in Afghanistan as it left no marks on the body and in the minds of some US war criminals isn't torture as no organ failure is occurring - apart from those that died outright from the exposure). Any way, Doctor Five Hides is lucky to find and cover himself with the five hides - both wonderful and horrible for somebody used to wearing silk.

A joke that really isn't a joke but a reminder of very dark events in the past that are hopefully over.

helmikuu 18, 2014, 6:32 pm

No. 69 Butterfly

The past is a very different place. The protagonist starts his life as a rake early, becoming a regular at the whorehouse at 14 and soon thereafter a basket case of pus and decay. He is then picked up and restored/reborn by a girl "Butterfly". He repays her kindness by lusting after her sister. Butterfly has natural means to check his urges. They have a son together and as time passes, the son is married to Buttefly's sister. Healthy and with a descendant, he can return to society. When father and son return to visit Butterfly, she has disappeared.

A strange "lost son" redemption story with fantasy elements. The most drastic element is how society deals with the sick outcasts and the rather early start of frequenting houses of ill repute.

No. 70 The Black Beast

A strange story about a tiger squirreling away parts of a deer for an even wilder beast. The tiger's plan ends fatally when the deer is stolen by humans and the black beast does not accept mistakes. Death and taxes are indeed inescapable (though Mitt Romney is doing fine on the second part and has big hopes on his ticket to Kolob).

helmikuu 19, 2014, 9:50 am

Ah, we're finally on the same page.

What you say about early frequenting of brothels brought to mind a conversation with an Indian colleague soon after I came to the US. He was 25, had never had a girlfriend, or "dated"--but he'd been going to the brothels since he was sixteen. I was struck by how shy he seemed when asked about a girlfriend (absolutely not, Indians don't have girl/boyfriends!) and completely nonchalant about prostitution.

The mysterious black beast. This reminds me of Aesop a little--he has at least one story of lesser animals bringing tribute to the Lion.

I wonder how safe it was generally to picnic on a mountainside in China.

helmikuu 20, 2014, 3:37 pm

>192 LolaWalser: The same is true for Kafka. I recently read a history of medieval Vienna and the number of brothels is absolutely astonishing, especially the conintually changing neighborhood mix of shops, brothels, monasteries, factories, so you have a monastery which is replaced a decade later by a brothel which in turn is turned into a factory and back into a monastery again. Norbert Elias for the win!

I think Aesop's lion is a noble (natural) ruler while the black beast is predatory and intimidates even ferocious beasts.

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 20, 2014, 4:27 pm

Oh, yes, Vienna--I got a glimpse of that reading about Schnitzler. Incidentally, in New Orleans I lived in a house in the French Quarter that in its long (for the US) history went from being a private mansion to casino, soda factory, and a brothel--exact sequence unknown. My apartment had an accessible portion of the attic above it and the wall decorations most likely dated from the brothel period. What book by Elias do you mean?

I was thinking of the feudal relationship between the animals--the larger (worse) beast cowing the other into supporting them. Can't be friendship (Konrad Lorenz described several cases of friendship between animals.)

Muokkaaja: helmikuu 20, 2014, 4:21 pm

Just Elias' classic Process of Civilization that shows that human progress is linked with an ever increasing control and inhibition of human activities. A funny aspect of this is today's medieval TV dramas show the kings and mistresses bonking alone in their chamber whereas they would have had at least some servants present in the room (similar in China).

Ah, the wonders and limits of animal symbiosis. In the fascinating and highly recommended animal behaviour MOOC I followed last fall, they presented an interesting case of inter-species warning systems where birds provided air reconnaissance of predators in exchange for access to food.

helmikuu 20, 2014, 4:33 pm


Increasing wealth bringing the luxury of privacy, at least for the lower classes? (The higher-ups presumably confirm their elevated status by treating servants as if they didn't exist.)

Inter-species collaboration fascinates me, thanks for that link. Lorenz's examples are very individual, though, a cat and a fox regularly hunting together, a cat and a dog, both strays, hanging out in the streets together, the cat displaying protectiveness toward the older, sick dog etc.

helmikuu 21, 2014, 8:08 am

There are some interesting books about prostitution in China. Prostitution holds less of a stigma than in the West, both for the producer and the consumer of the services. I would not know if this also applies to Taiwan, where the capital city has even outlawed betelnut beauties.

Yesterday the Financial Times ran an interesting article about the subject, covering a crackdown in Dongguang, the "sex city" of China:

The national prostitution industry is very large in scale, but it is difficult to give an accurate number. Guan Qingyou, an economist with Minsheng Securities, said in a note to investors that the industry might exceed Rmb1tn ($164bn) nationally.

He said that research shows that the value of sex industry in Dongguan is generally estimated to be nearly Rmb50bn ($8.2bn), or around 10 per cent of the city’s GDP.

The sex industry relates directly or indirectly to many other industries, including hotels and restaurants, condom manufacturers, cosmetics, travel and so on, Guan said.

maaliskuu 2, 2014, 8:09 am

>197 mercure: A documentary about Taiwan presented the thoroughly alienated world of the drive-thru betelnut booth ladies. Like Hooters in the United States, I have a hard time understanding the craving for fake attention. At least it is not one-sided, as both parties (ab)use the other as means to an end and not as an end in itself which an ethical approach would suggest.

No. 71 The stone bowl

Instead of using webcams to intrude into the personal life of others, the Chinese landlord uses servants as spies to breach the privacy of his renter. The landlord finally manages to get invited to a dinner with his mysterious renter which ends in butterflies and a drinking game. The local nobility starts to mob the poor renter into games and drinks until he has enough and departs.

In the empty mansion, only the stone bowl remains. The landlord takes it home and discovers its strange properties. It turns out to have been from the Dragon King's underwater palace (though what purpose could a bowl serve under water?). The story ends with a daoist wanting to eat the ground remains of the bowl to achieve eternal life. Bon appétit!

No. 72 A fatal joke

Cracking a joke can indeed burst your windpipe. The Chinese display a very American reflex of suing others for personal misfortunes. Given that the damage was completely self-inflicted, it is curious that the victim's family was bought off.

maaliskuu 8, 2014, 6:06 am

You are better informed about betelnut salesgirls than I am. I saw some sitting in their little boots in Taiwan and otherwise only know about them from the arthouse film Help Me, Eros. These women cater mostly to truck drivers and other low-income men and they offer them a cheap fix of physical and mental stimulation. It is cheaper than the girls that drink with you and laugh at your jokes in Chinese nightclubs and also cheaper than Hooters (which they have in Taipei). The women also do not seem trained to discuss the classics with, so supply and demand quite match each other.

Regarding prostitution in modern China, I wrote a short summary of Red Lights: The Lives of Sex Workers in Postsocialist China. The authoress claimed that prostitution and related businesses make up about 12% of GDP. I have no idea how high these percentages were in other countries at an equal level of economic development. Morally, prostitutes are not seen as altogether bad, which is probably a positive element of Chinese society. At least such women are not doomed.

maaliskuu 9, 2014, 10:16 am

Not all betelnut sales girl offer sexual service. only a very very small percentage, and only on some rural area , and some unique betelnut store . and not all betelnut customer are looking for sexual stimulation.

I m currently living in Taiwan.

Muokkaaja: maaliskuu 9, 2014, 1:10 pm

I know. Betelnut girls sell betelnut, a mildly stimulant nut with its origins in India. The nut is mixed with chalk and lime before it is chewed. Having pretty girls sell such a thing seems a standard marketing technique.

Outside of India, Burma and Taiwan it is mostly popular in rural areas. Do you know how betelnut made it to Taiwan? The word "bīnláng" is a bit like the Malay "pinang".

When looking up betelnut on Wikipedia, I found some references to male/female relationships:

in Vietnamese the phrase "matters of betel and areca" (chuyện trầu cau) is synonymous with marriage and

Among the Assamese, the areca nut also has a variety of uses during religious and marriage ceremonies, where it has the role of a fertility symbol.

In Java it used to be part of marriage gifts. In old Batavia chewing betelnut was the main passtime of what we would now call "ladies who lunch", ruining their teeth in the process.

maaliskuu 10, 2014, 5:43 pm

Yes, it was understood that ogling is the main side feature of the betelnut girls (which also made it perfect TV stuff - combining three out of the four main attention catchers: exotica, women, skin - only children are missing). In the Walt Whitman biography I have read, it stated that in the 1860s around 10 percent of the female population of New York, a port city, worked as prostitutes. Prostitution is a sign of a high inequality where the government should help the exploited and provide them with better options in life.

No. 73 Raining money

Fortunately for the scholar, he had not yet adjusted his permanent income hypothesis before the money proved to be an illusion. He ended up without riches nor book discussions.

No. 74 Twin lanterns

A strange inconsequential story about a summer affair or more precisely sex, as it is his body not his brain that she craves until she dumps him. A Chinese version of Le Diable au corps (also Diavolo in corpo).

maaliskuu 17, 2014, 6:43 pm

No. 75 Ghost foiled, fox put to rout

A mystery about a missing slipper and wobbling teacups and a fox dwarf. The dwarf is evicted with bow and sword. Strange!

No. 76 Frog chorus

A frog xylophone - Muppet version, frog choir and a beetle as well as some real frogs in concert.

maaliskuu 23, 2014, 10:13 am

Forget girls, where in Toronto can I find betelnuts?! Has anyone concocted a drinking version yet?

72--I am a bad person, the severed head story made me LOL.

73--this one had a lovely illustration... I hope a situation will arise in which I can exclaim angrily: "I was looking for someone to discuss books with, not a partner in crime!" Come to think of it, vice versa would work too.

74--so there's a fling, and the guy associates the girl with lanterns, then the fling ends, and as if marking the ending there are lantern lights all around. It would better as a poem.

75--at least Zhuming had a few years peace still. Sometimes these confounding events herald complete breakdowns. Maybe that's what some of these stories are--externalizations of psychological symptoms?

76--ha, most excellent connections!

maaliskuu 26, 2014, 6:36 pm

Why don't you ask your mayor about betelnuts? If it is available in Toronto, he will have tasted it.

75 - Similar to the hypothesis that many medieval and ancient religious experiences were caused by malnutrition and food poisoning.

76 - I wanted to link to a frog band by Swiss children book illustrator Ernst Kreidolf but couldn't find an online copy. I also learned that his work is still enjoys copyrighted even though he was born in 1863. One funny element of his anthropomorphic animals is the modesty towel he paints on the dogs and cats standing on their rear legs. Frogs are allowed to march upright without modesty towels though!

No. 77 Performing Mice

First frogs, now mice, soon crickets! As a child, I visited a flea circus attraction but it did in no way live up to its advertisements.

No. 78 The Clay Scholar

A happy but brutal end to a dreadful story about the extended silent victimization of a woman. The framing of the rape is both strange and revealing: There are multiple exculpatory reasons listed: an ugly and stupid husband, a beautiful wife, normal relationship with the mother-in-law. There is still a lot of victim blaming going on: As a beautiful woman with an ugly stupid husband she must have somehow attracted the scholarly sexual attention.

Does "clay" have the same connotation/symbolism in China as in the Christian tradition (cf. Adam and Eve)?

huhtikuu 14, 2014, 8:59 am

Note that mice conveyed "'all the pathos" etc. of human existence. Could human actors do as much for mice? ;)

Interesting question about "clay", my own first association was to golems. Was he made or did he make himself.

huhtikuu 19, 2014, 11:37 am

"All the pathos" is probably a quip about terrible human actors, though sometimes there are remarkable transformations from muscle mouse to thespian.

Isn't Golem just a reference to Adam à la bande?

No. 79 Flowers of Illusion

A Chinese Parmenides turned show master offers a lesson about mind and matter. If only the fans of torture had to endure themselves some of the pain they inflict, how different would the world be?

No. 80 Dwarf

An early case of human rights where the government has to step in to protect the weak from the abuses of the strong. The true guilty are the gawking public that enjoyed the display of the dwarf for years.

toukokuu 25, 2014, 4:02 pm

No. 81 Bird

I like how the story presents snippets of Chinese social life from the exploitation in the brothel to the simple startup success in retail. Two mules apparently provide enough startup capital to create a micro business. It is however not revealed what happened to the servant. Declaring someone to be a fox works similar to the European practice of finding witches: Suddenly, murder becomes an attractive solution! I wonder what would have happened if the dead woman did not turn into a fox but had remained a dead woman (the likely outcome in reality). The son's acupuncture is also a quite questionable treatment likely to be classified as child abuse.

Like many of the recent super hero movies, there are different plots glued together into one story that would work better separately or as a sequel.

toukokuu 25, 2014, 5:19 pm

Quite a yarn that was.

likely to be classified as child abuse.

He was eighteen, and ripe for a hiding, if you ask me!

marraskuu 9, 2014, 11:20 am

With around two dozen stories left, it is high time to resume the lecture. In December, Netflix will present Marco Polo, action hero. The British Museum has produced a great animation for a cloisonné vase of its Ming exhibition.

The latest installment of Harvard's stellar ChinaX course is a bit bland, as few challenging ideas pass the double censorship of the Communist Party and Harvard. The next unit will present the Mao years and I wonder how they are going to present it, probably blame Mao for mistakes but not the party.

No. 82 Princess Lotus
It's a flower, no, a bee, resulting in a Chinese version of Superman's Kandor. The staged introduction of the guest to the king is fascinating and a stark contrast to the fast offer of the daughter. While they were wining and dining, the snake was killing the bees.

No. 83 The girl in green
Another metamorphis and rescue operation that ends well. Hornet's are nasty creatures, though, and I would have put my money on the hornet not the spider.

marraskuu 9, 2014, 1:02 pm

J-C! Good to see you! That is a beautiful invitation to the museum.

Two oddly melancholy romantic-fantastic tales. Happiness is only found in dreams--and then you wake up.

marraskuu 10, 2014, 4:44 pm

The re-design/-installation of the Asia exhibits in the MAK Vienna shows how important presentation is for the perception of objects, e.g. putting a vase formerly exhibited at eye-level on the floor. Vases and small objects really benefit from a digital presentation where one can turn the object and zoom in without risking any damage.

In contrast to the usual fairy tale structure, the reward (sexy time with the princess/ghost) is handed out prior to the completion of the task. An implicit contract?

The English word "happy" includes many elements: 1 fortunate a happy coincidence, 2 notably fitting, effective, or well adapted : felicitous a happy choice 3 a : enjoying or characterized by well-being and contentment is the happiest person I know ahappy childhood, b : expressing, reflecting, or suggestive of happiness a happy ending c : glad, pleased I'm happy to meet you - the "pursuit of happiness" in German "Streben nach Glück" will immediately trigger ideas of elusiveness such as "Das Glück is a Vogerl" (Fortune is a small bird).

The extreme rat race of the Chinese scholars' numerus clausus (1:1000) certainly promotes a sort of escapism and solving virtual problems. Musil's Man without Qualities has coined the great (Austrian) term of Mögichkeitssinn (sense of possibilities/imagination?): "So ließe sich der Möglichkeitssinn geradezu als die Fähigkeit definieren, alles, was ebensogut sein könnte, zu denken und das, was ist, nicht wichtiger zu nehmen als das, was nicht ist. Man sieht, daß die Folgen solcher schöpferischen Anlage bemerkenswert sein können, und bedauerlicherweise lassen sie nicht selten das, was die Menschen bewundern, falsch erscheinen und das, was sie verbieten, als erlaubt oder wohl auch beides als gleichgültig. Solche Möglichkeitsmenschen leben, wie man sagt, in einem feineren Gespinst, in einem Gespinst von Dunst, Einbildung, Träumerei und Konjunktiven; Kindern, die diesen Hang haben, treibt man ihn nachdrücklich aus und nennt solche Menschen vor ihnen Phantasten, Träumer, Schwächlinge und Besserwisser oder Krittler."

Some of this has been captured by management thinkers talking about "vision", though the pragmatic reply of a former Austrian chancellor is hard to counter: "Someone experiencing visions needs to see a doctor."

In the tale, the scholar interacts with the bee king. Were the Chinese not aware about the workings of a bee hive and its queen?

marraskuu 10, 2014, 7:01 pm

>212 jcbrunner:

Phantasten, Träumer, Schwächlinge und Besserwisser oder Krittler."

Die träumen voneinander und sind davon erwacht; leben und lieben eine ganz kurze Weile, und sinken zurück in die Nacht?

Interesting question about Chinese beekeeping. I doubt there is anything they didn't know, though.

marraskuu 11, 2014, 3:18 pm

Generally, I am not very fond of German romantic poetry (having had to learn by heart to many overlong schmaltzy in school), but it reminded me of the wonderful fantasy film Ladyhawke with Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer.

This article about Ancient Chinese Apiculture (PDF) states that the Chinese only discovered the king to be a queen only in 1760 (蜂王 Fengwang - Bee King - Queen, 蜂婦 Feng-fu - Bee Woman - Drone). Some in the Ming dynasty believed honey was produced out of faeces/urine. The huge quantity of industrial honey now consumed in the West imported from China, however, does not suffer from the use of urine but from added sugar and monoculture fields producing lower quality honey.

marraskuu 14, 2014, 7:36 pm

*Note to self: when necessary to annoy J-C, apply Klopstock* *take no hostages*

Come on, Hebbel's not so bad. And Heine is sublime! It's all too easy to make fun of the Romantics, but you gotta SUFFER like they did. :)

There is a movie with Rutger Hauer and Michelle Pfeiffer--who knew? Sounds hot.

Thanks for turning me off Chinese honey forever. ;)

marraskuu 15, 2014, 11:52 am

Sparing you the first 16 stanzas, I fire away with Klopstock's Lake Zurich:

Treuer Zärtlichkeit voll, in den Umschattungen,
In den Lüften des Waldes, und mit gesenktem Blick
Auf die silberne Welle,
Tat ich schweigend den frommen Wunsch:

Wäret ihr auch bei uns, die ihr mich ferne liebt,
In des Vaterlands Schoß einsam von mir verstreut,
Die in seligen Stunden
Meine suchende Seele fand:

O so bauten wir hier Hütten der Freundschaft uns!
Ewig wohnten wir hier, ewig! Der Schattenwald
Wandelt’ uns sich in Tempe,
Jenes Tal in Elysium!

Ginwaa, the Native American named Nova Scotia duck tolling retriever, is reenacting Klopstock's "silvery wave" in situ at Lake Zurich (about 200m from where Klopstock had landed on the excursion that is the topic of the poem). Switzerland played a surprisingly big role in German literature during the 18th century as explained by many excellent exhibitions in Zurich's tiny literature museum Strauhof (that is currently being privatized and produce its program with only a third of its previous budget - sic transit ...). Vienna, by the way, will soon open a special "literature museum" which will present some of the important collections of Austrian writers in the national library. Given that the existing Esperanto Museum of the same institution could do a much better job in presenting its topic, I hope they surprise me positively and use the Strauhof approach of not primarily present texts and books but objects and stories.

Most pre-WWII literature (with the exception of Kafka) needs heavy editing to be digestible today. There are just too many filler words in there to find the juicy parts even among the good authors. Terrible authors such as the Heine imitator and Austrian Empress Sisi are an acquired taste. I am sure that she would still develop her loyal followers on tumblr (given her bad teeth, selfies on instagram seem unlikely).

You haven't yet seen Ladyhawke (also with a young Matthew Broderick)? While it is a bit kitschy and romantic, it is one of the few good fantasy films of the 80s/90s.

The trouble with low quality Chinese honey is that the customer is hardly able to notice its inclusion in processed food. The extreme consolidation of food production (see the outstanding documentary Food, Inc.) leads to ever increasing "value engineering", substituting natural ingredients by cheaper ersatz goods. Louis de Funès' L'aile ou la cuisse (1976) offered an early warning about an element of modern consumption that will only become more prevalent in the TTIP age.

Back to China and duck justice!

No. 84 Duck Justice
Fittingly, this story is about the after-effects of ill-gotten gains, a cooked duck. An interesting take on egg (actually feathers) on his face/body vs. loss of face. The cleansing power of a shower of abuse!

No. 85 Big Sneeze
The story starts with a Katie Melua animal intruder in an orifice - in the nose, not the ear, in fact, and four creatures quickly devoured by the biggest among them that is growing to squirrel size.

In an Alien and Creepshow (story 2 - The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill) turn, the external creature attaches itself permanently to the body of its victim. The horror story ends without true closure as we are not informed about any countermeasures taken against the intrusion. The chronic sneezing morphed into a rather worse affliction.

Not an agreeable thought!

marraskuu 16, 2014, 8:35 am

Here is an exhibition by the po so lin museum, taking place now at taipei. the first time ever they have such exhibition out of po's hometown.
po's 11 generation descendant come to sing 俚曲 too

many rare edition are from 1840 to 1890

this is the first printing , it happened half a decade away after po pass away, the printing was not done in the best possible skill that era could produce , maybe because of the book is not a serious material for study at that era.

a facsimile of the manual script, po's manuscript is the only surviving manuscript of any ancient chinese author.

the way po's room used to be. that the bed we talk about months ago ? "榻"

those four seal is a facsimile too, the real one were taken from po's grave . along with other belonging of him that saw daily usage.

hope you like it .

marraskuu 16, 2014, 12:02 pm

>216 jcbrunner:

Is that your dog? Lovely photo, and the quality of the beach and the water surprise me.

Sparing you the first 16 stanzas

LOL! Tatsächlich gnädig, gnädiger Herr! Where have all the long poems gone...

There ought to be a "slow literature" movement too.

The sneezing story is just the kind to tell little children--boogers come to life, how graaaawsss!--only maybe not quite that horrific. Sounds like a description of a real nightmare.

>217 kafkachen:

Welcome back, kafkachen, it's great to see you! I can't thank you enough for those fantastic pictures!

Is that really his own furniture?

po's manuscript is the only surviving manuscript of any ancient chinese author.

Fascinating! I don't understand how that could happen, considering the length, wealth and intensity of Chinese literary production.

marraskuu 16, 2014, 12:35 pm

hi LolaWalser

Glad to see you too.

I didn't ask but I don't think those are pu's chair and furniture. but they surely are of the same age and same standard that he could have afford. the communist gov resurrect pu's home around 1950, and build a museum there. that place must be in ruin by that time, if any chair survived the war and element, it would have became 國家一級古寶 and the china gov will not allow any chair to exhibit abroad .

There are some stories on how the seal were discover, during the time of cultural revolution, someone dig his graves and found lots of stuff in the coffin, ah, the portrait is the only surviving drawing of ancient author too, no one knows how 曹雪芹 looks like. I think the war is the biggest reason of why no manuscript survive, but I am not expert in this area.

the english version in the picture above is the first edition , and on its right is a russian edition.

marraskuu 16, 2014, 1:31 pm

>219 kafkachen:

Yes, I thought it would be too good to be true, it's just that actual possessions--"real" artefacts of someone's long-gone life--thrill me so. :)

marraskuu 16, 2014, 2:38 pm

Wonderful pictures, kafkachen! I wish I could upvote or star your post. Thanks for taking us along to the exhibition. Turning over the individual pages of the fragile original printing looks not suitable for long-term preservation. It reminds me of reading comics that rarely stay in pristine condition.

Do you have any idea why he would use so many different seals?

PS Lola: Ginwaa the toller is my parent's dog that I dog-sit from time to time.

marraskuu 16, 2014, 9:07 pm

hi jcbrunner

They do that all the time, museum in taipei too , even though the chinese binding is flexible, still quite an eye hurting way to the fastidious mind of book lover. let alone all the crumbling at the fore edge of the books , one would think someone must have save them from being served as a wrapper for noodle .

Those printing were dirt cheap around 1950, as I read from article, could be bought at normal bookstore at beijing , but the price of ancient chinese book are skyrocketing since then, I ask the curator how much he paid for the first printing (in the first picture ), he said a recent non-completed one (without all 16 volumes) were sold for 170k RMB. not quite outrageous compare with Song dynasty printing , but still ...

Chinese scholar usually has lots of nickname and alias, beside making new name for themselves, they like to name their library . and each name will require a seal . to use as a signing tool for their artwork , and the ex libris for personal art collection. (books, calligraphy, painting ) the material of pu's seal are of the normal low quality rock , and most successful scholar would have made way more then four seals.

marraskuu 17, 2014, 2:48 pm

That tidbit about nicknames and seals is delightful. Speaking of cost of antiquities, I read a book recently by a Czech painter who visited China in the early 1950s and collected lots of ancient art prints and scrolls cheaply--he comments on that specifically! As being very different to Europe, but I also got the sense that there was SO much of it, the shopkeepers didn't value it. But, perhaps the customers were lacking too?

Artwork on paper seems to have survived better than books.

marraskuu 18, 2014, 6:01 pm

The British Museum did have an exhibition about contemporary Chinese seals last year. I like the Beijing Olympics seal logo though it would be too easy to forge to serve as a chop.

marraskuu 19, 2014, 9:07 am

you can talk dildos in the library ? wow who'd a thought

marraskuu 24, 2014, 4:15 pm

(After this drive-by from the great state of Louis Gohmert, we return to the topic.)

No. 86 Steel Shirt
Our drive-by would be happy with this story, though. As it starts out with classic strongman stuff but then takes a hard turn to the weird. The Steel Shirt master's penis is trained to take quite a beating but averse to pointy interactions. The illustrator naturally chickened out and choose the G part of the story.

No. 87 Fox Trouble
Old Mr Fox the Second knows a champion to drive out an official's fox vermin problem. Zhou the Third is highly effective at pest control and gains himself board and lodging at the official's home. A bit too unspectacular

joulukuu 1, 2014, 6:01 pm

No. 88 Lust punished by foxes
"Dirt in the noodles" seems to be a very peculiar fake problem similar to the "product solutions" for non-problems in TV shopping channels. Dirt is not the issue here, however, but a rather stronger potion increasing the chaste wife's sex drive to a near fatal encounter.

No. 89 Mountain city
A reverie about a castle in the clouds that reminds me of one of my favorite books, Italo Calvino's imaginative imaginary Invisible Cities.

joulukuu 2, 2014, 8:04 pm

Oh, that's a great call for #89, Calvino.

Foxes do get around in Chinese myth, don't they. Causing lust, curing lust, you name it, they do it. They even have mercenaries who take care of--foxes. Traitors.

The strongman one is quite funny.

joulukuu 8, 2014, 5:27 pm

No. 90 A cure for marital strife
This story was up to now the hardest to read. First the Bill Cosby approach of drugging the victim in preparation of marital rape, then the nun's enchanting of the estranged couple into a Stockholm syndrome marital bliss that reminds me of the practice of forcing women to marry their rapist.

As most of the scholars would have been in arranged marriages, loveless marriages would have been a familiar topic. While the story is told from the man's perspective, there is a hint of sympathy and understanding for the woman's suffering (even though by society standards, her refusal to comply with marital duties put her in the wrong). A ghastly story that shocks especially by its happy end. Shock and awe to capture hearts and minds.

No. 91 A prank
A Chinese Darwin award winner takes himself out of the gene pool by involuntary suicide. Grotesque as most deaths are.

joulukuu 10, 2014, 12:27 pm

But to take the optimistic outlook, at least they FOUND a cure for marital strife!

I wonder whether there is more or less call for marriage counselling in cultures that favour arranged marriages?

No. 91 reminds me of the many superstitious beliefs that acting/enacting can cause the mimicked event to happen.

Hey--is it time to start contemplating the next read?

joulukuu 12, 2014, 7:58 am

"Glücklich ist, wer vergisst, was doch nicht zu ändern ist." as the frog sings in Die Fledermaus. Harsh reality (and the Stockholm syndrome) obviates counselling services. After all, most cats and dogs grow to love their owners too ...

No. 91 is a strange tale of the human need to show off. A short stay at any skateboard rink will provide examples at self-inflicted harm. A key lesson from Canadian astronaut Hadfield's book is that eliminating risk and risky behavior is the key to success in space (otherwise known as the 6 Sigma approach of reducing variation).

Please start contemplating ... Yesterday's In Our Time about Zen was rather weak though.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 12, 2014, 11:29 am

Lol, picturing amorous Alfred as a frog... (trinke, Liebchen, trinke schnell... quak quak... trinken macht die Augen hell... quak...)

The Zen that can be talked about isn't Zen! ;)

My top pick for the next read would be 18th century The scholars--I've a beautiful slipcased, dust-jacketed, illustrated, silk-bookmarked, brand new edition from the Foreign Press I've been fondling mentally a long time. Here's the Wiki write-up:

Would you be interested? A satire of the classical Chinese education/examination system--the basis of its government--sounds like something right up your alley. Also, it's nicely meaty at about 600 pages, with 55 chapters.

Another idea--maybe Records of the historian? Not fiction, but that would take us closer to the "ancient" designation than we have ever been so far in these reads.

However, co-ordinating the read may be a tad involved, as there are many different editions/selections of his work.

Anyway, those are my suggestions--let's hear more!

joulukuu 12, 2014, 11:52 am

Professor Bol seemed to be very enchanted by The Scholars, spending a good part of the 6th part of ChinaX on it. Here is his introduction to the Scholars. The excerpts presented did not really create a desire to read more of it ...

Sima Qian's account is too disjointed to read on its own.

joulukuu 12, 2014, 9:22 pm

The Water Margin was mentioned before and I look forward to its treatment.

joulukuu 14, 2014, 4:41 pm

Perhaps Lola can do report back about whether the first 100 pages of The Scholars are a truly enjoyable read. Otherwise I am also leaning towards The Water Margin (probably the FLP edition/2200+ pages) and looking forward to matching the heroes to the Kuniyoshi series (of whom I fondly remember seeing a great exhibition in London).

I am normally not very fond of the Tom Friedman of philosophy, Alain de Botton, but these philosophy appetizers are well made, e.g. Laozi.

No. 92 Adultery and Enlightenment
Many of these stories contain unnecessary layers that could and should have been stripped out to reveal the essence of the story. The origin story and the soldierly activity are quite unnecessary to the character test about the betrayal by his wife and friend. Also the rather ghastly sort inflicted by the government on the guilty parties detracts from the essence of the protagonist gaining salvation by refraining from revenge and leaving the world of suffering and emotion behind.

No. 93 Up his sleeve
This story too contains multiple story lines including a redemptive love story (with a very understanding wife) and a wizard entertainer whose relicts have magic powers. The poor magician is pestered and molested even in his sleep by the nosy palace souls. What remains a bit strange is the motivation of the taoist: Instead of seeking quiet salvation, he seems to enjoy the cheap tricks and the nightly poking.

Finally, Netflix's Marco Polo is really disappointing. They managed to mess up the great story of Marco Polo's life by overburdening it with unnecessary Asian clichés. The anti-Game of Thrones - a weak plot and cardboard characters.

Muokkaaja: joulukuu 14, 2014, 7:35 pm

>235 jcbrunner:

What remains a bit strange is the motivation of the taoist: Instead of seeking quiet salvation, he seems to enjoy the cheap tricks and the nightly poking.

Oh, Taoists come in for some choice abuse in Chinese literature. Or, Chinese-inspired literature (Van Gulik follows that tradition in his Judge Dee novels). Seems they had a terrible reputation--it's all con men, thieves, gluttons, rapists, fools...

I'd be up for the Water Margin (I thought it had been the subject of a group read already).

But I'm not finding any 2000+ pages edition. In English there's a Tuttle at 848 pages and a Foreign Language Press boxed set at 1642 pages. The former is published as "Water Margin" and translated by H. Jackson; the latter's title is "Outlaws of the marsh", translated by S. Shapiro.

Advice? If someone could confirm that the Tuttle edition is unabridged, that's probably the one I'd go for, being the newest translation, ack, being the newest update of an old translation. Plus the Tuttle is bound to be prettier than the paperback FLP.

joulukuu 14, 2014, 7:14 pm

Speaking of moving pictures, I saw The Inn of Sixth Happiness, based on a book by Anthony Burgess, based in its turn on a real-life figure, Christian missionary Gladys Aylward. Not a good movie by any means (Ingrid Bergman's awful acting; Curd Jürgens and Robert Donat in yellowface), and apparently wildly at odds with the real story, but what kept me watching, and what is evidently a kernel of truth within the usual Hollywood glop of nonsense, was the obsession at its centre--this English domestic's mysterious pull for China. At least as the movie presents it, that was by far the stronger impulse than any Jesus-love she felt for the Chinese specifically. (Apparently she made no converts at all--but China gained a "convert" in her--she actually renounced her British citizenship.)

So what was it? Adventuresomeness, escape from gender, some subconscious need to be important? I think I've come across people with a similar make-up, people who would have been nobodies in Europe but assumed importance in "the colonies" just by virtue of being white, no special qualifications necessary.

joulukuu 14, 2014, 7:47 pm

Bah, it seems that the Shapiro and Jackson translations don't match in length:

The version I purchased was a three volumes numbering 1605 pages; I see the current Foreign Language Press edition is four volumes and is 2149 pages long. Maybe they increased the font size and changed paper quality.

An alternative seems to be the newly augmented version of J H Jackson's 70 chapter version (848 pages; Tuttle Publishing) . The new editor, Edwin Lowe, wrote that he corrected some of Jackson's errors and slights, giving the translation some of the "original girt and flavor" of the Chinese version, and "reinserted the sanitized descriptions of sexual seduction, the explicit description of brutality and barbarity, and the profane voices of thieving, scheming, drinking, fighting, pimping lower classes of Song Dynasty China."

...but that there could be arguments for getting BOTH, as it seems that the Shapiro version is itself somewhat "sanitised"?!

Shapiro translation which is supposed to be a complete 100 chapter version (minus a little toned down vulgarity I read somewhere).

joulukuu 15, 2014, 6:15 pm

I recommend we select the Shapiro/FLP translation that should be easy to get and quite cheap. The reduced vulgarity I even see as a plus if the censorship is not too Victorian.

Whoever cast Curd Jürgens as a Chinese did not care much about authenticity (like casting Ben Kingsley as the Mandarin in Iron Man). Much of the British colonies was run and staffed by the Scots and Irish trying to get out of the rigid English class system. Even today, a single word uttered by an English person is sufficient to set social expectations for that person. An escape to the colonies can feel liberating indeed, especially if the location is at the margin of Western civilization. Graham Greene, on the other hand, writes about the long hard grip of the English social class system even into the most distant colony. A second element no longer much in the public conscience was the demographic necessity of emigrating out of crowded exploding Europe and seeking their fortunes abroad.

The useless, fat and ignorant monk such as Frère Jacques is a Western cliché comparable to the Taoist one.

joulukuu 20, 2014, 11:41 am

I got my FLP set of the Outlaws of the marsh! A 2012 printing in four volumes. Shall we aim for January?

joulukuu 21, 2014, 5:31 pm

January is fine. My copy started from Ridgmont in Bedfordshire, UK, and is currently in Belgium at Grimbergen which I assume is the ugly twin to the city of Bergen in Norway. The next pitstop will probably be Amazon's logistics center in Linz, Austria (where it will spend Xmas) as the delivery date is indicated as 29th December.

No. 94 Silver above beauty
A not so lucky Chinese Hans im Glück. What would have been the correct Chinese solution? First of all, the silver isn't that much: 4 times 40 grams for a current value of around 170 EUR. 4 taels of silver also would not be sufficient to pay for a banquet in the Red Mansions story either. So the scholar is foolish and greedy.

The alternative is a foxy threesome. We have already learned that it is not recommended to spurn freely offered services by fox spirits. On the other hand, it is important to do so with Epicurean moderation and withholding the essence - a difficult task faced with the double stimuli.

Perhaps the main lesson is to read the manual carefully even if it is printed in badly legible tiny script. Don't feed the foxes after midnight!

No. 95 The Antique Lute
The Best Offer with Geoffrey Rush featured a similar plot to this bromance heist. Given the year-long preparations, the pay-off was small. It is a bit strange that the gentleman did not have servants and drivers around who could have held the lute. Why would a gentleman go alone to his friend's house and walk home on foot?

joulukuu 28, 2014, 8:33 pm

Re: silver over beauty, talk about being a scholarly donkey!

Given the year-long preparations, the pay-off was small.

Hmm, I'd put in a year of preparations if at the end I'd get to spirit away that Guarneri that sold for millions upon millions this year...

joulukuu 30, 2014, 5:52 pm

Isn't the donkey proverbial for indecisiveness seeing multiple carrots. This Golden Retriever became internet-famous for the opposite of impulse control.

No. 96 Waiting Room for death
A Chinese ghost riders in the sky. Wouldn't it be more sensible to wash the donkey first? Washing and drying a horse/donkey is hard work.

No. 97 Rouge
Like a bitch in heat attracts all neighborhood dogs, the wrong kind of suitors turn up at Rouge's place. The pining girl is unfortunately too poor to attract respectable suitors. Her eyes for wimpy Li combined with her slutty neighbor result in a tragic manslaughter of her father.

The failed romance/comedy of errors turns into an enhanced interrogation fest where torture is the judge's procedural answer to every question. Rouge apart, every protagonist has to endure a round of torture before they can live happily ever after.

Justice in the court case is not blind but very perspicuous to a person's class.

I like Mencius' sentence about a redshirt: "He was a man who had a little ability but had not learned the great doctrines of the superior man. He was just qualified to bring death upon himself but for nothing more."

joulukuu 30, 2014, 6:01 pm

Those wise guys are so dour: memento(s) mori everywhere... Enough to put one off one's wonton soup.

Yes, for a clever girl poor Rouge sure got in a stupid bind. Can you believe Li, the dolt got all the way to the stacks without mounting a proper defence. On discrimination based on class--isn't that very common in Western lore too? At least it seems so when I watch Victorian dramas. "He couldn't have done that, he's a gentleman."

tammikuu 3, 2015, 1:01 pm

Not a fan of Chinese soups, as perhaps I have yet to taste high quality Chinese cuisine. Vienna is notorious for cheap and dire Chinese food. The Chinese restaurants prime purpose was/is? to launder money, serving food being only a second consideration.

The position of a judge in the Chinese justice, as witnessed by archduke Franz Ferdinand in July 1893, granted him extraordinary arbitrary powers acting both as prosecutor, judge and jury, liberally ordering the defendants and witnesses beaten to "improve" their testimony. Social status was probably the only viable defense mechanism.

No. 98 The Southern Wutong Spirit
While the men seem to enjoy quite nice sexual encounters with various ghosts and foxes, the women in these stories encounter rape. And it was probably more socially acceptable to claim to have been raped by a spirit than having extramarital relations. In contrast to the servant girl in the next story, the wife shows extreme passivity and compliance - even sending away her maids instead of arming them or herself. Finally, they procure external help of a ghost exterminator whose services are in high demand despite the Chinese reluctance of letting any no relative male enter the female compounds.

A shocking story.

No. 99 Sunset
A garden-dwelling poor scholar gets a sex-crazy nightly groupie and soul mate, Miss Sunset. He manages to persuade her to send out her maid on a Wutong spirit killing/castrating mission which does not amuse the gods. As the vile Wutong spirits happened to be clients of her family, her pops, the Golden Dragon King, is not pleased by this mortal interference from strangers. The maid is punished by 100 strokes, while she is placed under surveillance and has to refrain from seeing the scholar until they are reunited after his death in 30 years.

No. 100 The Male Concubine
The full contents of Chinese products have been a mystery for a long time. A boy with skin as "smooth and lustrous as lard" is repackaged into a girl and eagerly bought by a gentleman. Upon unpacking, the gentleman noticed qualitative differences to what he had expected. Fortunately for him, he manages to sell off the "lemon" to another eager buyer fully aware of the boy's sex.

Given the recent scandals of the British establishment, times have not changed much in terms of sexual slavery.

tammikuu 5, 2015, 2:08 pm

Ha. I love the matter-of-factness of it all: there's fare for every taste... taste for every fare...

I wonder what happened to boys when they stopped being boys. Would they be married off or what?

I've had "real" Chinese food twice in my life and it bears no resemblance to the average North American Chinese eatery experience. As with every other cuisine, the problem starts with reproducing the quality of the ingredients. What's served in relatively affordable (to say nothing of the cheaper) restaurants here simply isn't good enough to start with--not the meats, not the vegs etc.

It drives me insane that I can't get something as simple as a decent pizza margherita, because everything, from mozzarella to basil to flour and tomatoes is atrociously sub-par. I mean, it's not SUPPOSED to be a fifty-dollar dish!

tammikuu 6, 2015, 5:55 pm

In one story we read the young man was provided with a government post (depending probably on whether the looks were matched with brains). Then there were plenty of widows in need of fresh blood.

Pizza is such a simple dish that is incredibly hard to spoil. I certainly agree that the quality of the tomatoes has diminished in order to make them easier to shelf and to last longer, but in a pizza they are mashed. Getting good cheese in the New World is nearly impossible (what is labeled in ignorance as "Swiss cheese" is often not Swiss in origin and only distantly related to the usual qualities of cheese), but again, pizza is hardly the dish to cherish the taste of good cheese.

Montreal will probably offer a better selection than the very Americanized Toronto. I am a bit surprised about your statement about quality of Chinese food given the large Chinese community in Toronto. Anyway, I still like Chinese food but pay attention not to go to the cheaper ones as I tend to pay for their use of glutamate (although Wikipedia informs me that there is no scientific proof for the various symptoms of the "Chinese restaurant effect").

No. 101 Coral
Yue Zhong is quite bonkers in his self-harming activities as is his fanatical pious mother. The story itself takes many unbelievable turns based on improbable coincidences. It is a bit puzzling why it receives so much praise in the notes. The different linked stories of the mother, the son, the wife/Coral and the son/grandpa would work better if they were not smashed together.

No. 102 Mutton fat and pig blood
Chinese gibberish as the equivalent to Shakespeare typing monkeys.

No. 103 Dung-beetle dumplings
Unexpected ingredients in the food as a passive aggressive way to get back at the mother-in-law. The "fly in the soup" is, however, proof of tampering. A sort of divine punishment replaces the escaped? wife with a pig as an entertaining scapegoat and good solution for a bad marriage.

As we have started with the guests munching the dildo of story no. 104, we arrive at the end of this abridged collection.

tammikuu 6, 2015, 8:32 pm

This is not the place to sing the qualities of good pizza, I'll just say that the gloppy abomination most people know under that name has nothing to do with the real thing. Real tomatoes have more fragrance than tea roses, more sweetness than mango--but with that incomparable note of acidity. It doesn't matter what you do to them--there's a reason they are called the fruit of paradise, golden apples, sun's tears. Mozzarella is a gentle, bland cheese, it's virtue in pizza is precisely the blank canvas it lends to the riot of tomatoes, the basil, and olive oil, on the foundation of earthy, thin and crusty but elastic, well baked bread.

As to enjoying a good cheese, oh my god, YES, thousands of cheeses in as many different ways and recipes, they can't all be used in the same way.

These North American cows and sheep and goats--what the hell do they eat? Corn? Chicken entrails? And all that hormone and antibiotic treatment... Ugh.

I actually like MSG. It can't be toxic with such widespread use.

So here we are, the end of another fine--and very leisurely!--group read.

All the props to you, J-C, for the elegant and entertaining framing of the stories, and to kafkachen, mercure and others (much too quiet!) for the always welcome information, clarifications and comments.

I hope you're up for setting up the new read? Nobody here can do it better! :) Whenever you are ready...

tammikuu 7, 2015, 8:01 am

There was a wonderful German or Austrian TV documentary about a Russian woman scientist who had emigrated to Germany and was a world expert on tomato diversity and conservation who showed the weird range of tomatoes with gusto. The best pizza I have ever eaten was in a New York rain, but sightseeing makes especially hungry and cold rain makes warmth especially pleasant.

I'll say we start next weekend with the Outlaws which are individually already well documented on Wikipedia. I have already read the first 100 pages as I liked it so much. The strange part is the indirect motivation of doing something only because social conventions and forces prevent a better solution.

Back to the Studio. I still have to read even the first of five volumes of the complete German translation. I've just read a brutal story about villagers murdering a group of dwarf ghosts - for no better reason that the dwarfs sometimes failed to return the tools they borrowed.

The German collection advertises itself as "Chinese ghost and love stories, and fairy tales". The last group of fairy tales I like the least as the Chinese ones seem to lack the underlying moral and psychological message in classic Western ones. I wonder what it says about me that I liked the "Dreaming of Jeannie" fox ghost stories the most. Pure male wish fulfillment (often even with a happy ending)!

tammikuu 7, 2015, 11:06 am

Normally I'd welcome any opportunity to heap contempt on anything Russians might pretend to know about food (is there a worse cuisine and worse eaters on the entire planet?), but the horror in Paris put all my enthusiasms on hold.

Ironically, today was also the launch of Houellebecq's latest anti-Islamic screed, Soumission.

I didn't care for the blokey, sexist humour of Wolinski et al. and the old boys' club atmosphere at the paper, but this outrage just gained Charlie Hebdo a new subscriber.

tammikuu 7, 2015, 2:34 pm

My palate is not very demanding, so I was quite pleased with the borscht our Russian teacher cooked and brought to class. There is a Russian love for the soil similar to the French that just needs proper nurturing to flourish. In any case, the expert was probably of Germanic Russian origin, a key to immigration in Germany. She truly loved the gardening aspect of raising the varieties of tomatoes - and slicing them.

Hopefully, Europe as an open society will keep calm and handle this as a police matter. The terrorists want to incite violence and alienation. They have to be treated as the criminals they are not soldiers or representatives of a religion. The most important element will be to "follow the money" and punish the financiers of terrorism. There will always be willing foolish foot soldiers. Every bullet fired by ISIS has been paid by someone (the war has lasted too long for them to live off from only captured US stocks). Similar to anti-Mafia laws in Italy, Saudi and other gulf state nationals who channel money through foundation to finance terrorists should have their European properties confiscated and declared persona non grata. In Vienna, the government just closed a Saudi private school for hate speech against Jews and infidels in their school books.

tammikuu 7, 2015, 3:19 pm

>251 jcbrunner:

Of course they stole the borscht from the Poles, like everything else. I'd like to see how they'd have fared without them, the Germans and the Jews.

It looks glum in Europe. Muslim and black immigration is an intractable problem in that structure, and the atmosphere just keeps worsening.

Muokkaaja: tammikuu 7, 2015, 4:05 pm

The various Chinatowns in Canada and some European countries should offer you the opportunity to sample reasonable quality Cantonese food. You could try your luck with dim sum: hakau, shiomai, or the slightly more exotic chicken feet (with nails and with or without black beans; I prefer the latter), duck tongues and pig's ears. In Holland trendy restaurants serve the least exotic dim sum varieties for dinner, but they are actually breakfast or lunch dishes, traditionally served from a trolley. In the few restaurants where that tradition remains, people often rush towards the trolleys to be the first to have the first choice. Some may even sharpen their elbows. Keep in mind that the texture of food is relatively important compared to taste in Cantonese cuisine. South Asian or Southeast Asian curries as well as Sichuan style fondue (with lots and lots of peppery chillies) are absolutely not popular in this part of China. Thai food is also very bland usually.

Restaurants that serve good dim sum usually also do a pretty good steamed fish for dinner. Chinese style fried rice can accompany it, although rice is really only for those that are hungry after the other dishes were eaten. Pak soi is now available in every supermarket here (so certainly in Canada too), so that should be easy to order. Personally I prefer water spinach. Add something else and you start to get a reasonably authentic experience. You do not even have to ask for a menu, just discuss with the waiter. Although I personally enjoyed the response on a menu only in Chinese: "You won't like that, Sir".

MSG, or ve-tsin as we call it, is almost endemic in Chinese restaurants. Note that even highly expensive Chinese restaurants use chicken bouillon powder to make chicken stock. That powder also contains MSG, so even "no MSG" restaurants usually have some of that stuff in their food. At least that is what I was told.

And if you still cannot find such food, note that no restaurant is more popular in the Pearl River Delta than good old McDonald's. Hong Kong has over 200 of the chain's "restaurants" in a territory of 7 million souls.

tammikuu 7, 2015, 4:33 pm

>253 mercure:

Oh, I used to go out for dim sum regularly back in NYC, when I had a nice gang of people to share the bill with. I should make more of an effort here...

There's no food I'm not willing to try, and nothing that puts me off a priori. No animal or plant part is too strange to refuse without tasting--well--I've never knowingly eaten hair or horn.

Pickles and spices are more likely to be a problem, although not so much with Chinese cooking, it seems. The Japanese have some weird-tasting pickles, and Indian food, which I love, is prone to get killed for my taste by nuclear-power spices for which I simply lack training.

tammikuu 7, 2015, 5:07 pm

Chinese cuisine has various regional cuisines. Northern Chinese cuisine is based upon noodles rather than rice, although poor people everywhere now eat instant noodles. Sichuan food is nicely spicy by most standards. Southern China and Vietnam are prime places to test if nothing puts you of à priori: worms, donkeys, snakes, man's best friend: they are all on the menu. All food is divided into yin and yang food. A meal should balance yin and yang. But waitresses also informed me regularly (via Chinese people who interpreted) that a certain food is "good for men" (donkey, turtle, the pancreas of a snake in rice wine). In other words: that was yang food.

To my surprise I found yellow chilies in a restaurant in Shenzhen. These rather spicy chilies called Madame Jeanette are popular in Suriname and of South American origin. The Chinese in Suriname are mostly Hakka and often come from this area. That would be an interesting twist of globalisation.

lokakuu 14, 2015, 6:53 am

Outside of China the high end Chinese food in Indonesia doesn't cost an arm and a leg. Before 2008 in Bali the Chinese food at the Intercontinental was, I am lost for words. It was that good.