I have read some outrageous books and as a result have lost my innocence. In English, to lose one's innocence also means to become sly and devious, and that is what has happened to me. My innocence was lost in the University of Pittsburgh library. It was there that I borrowed a book called The Pleasurable Experiences of a Foreign Devil in China, which was about the travels of an American in China. On the surface, this American seemed to be (...) passionate about Chinese culture—as soon as he disembarked in Shanghai, toward the end of the Qing dynasty, and saw what Chinese people were like, he became crazy about them. I could have been very pleased that other people like us, but not in this case, because this fellow was a "sadist" and a "bisexual" [Wang uses the English words here and below, and I have put them in quotes.— Trans.] or, in Chinese, a bisexual sadist. There is no way that being liked by this sort of person could please you, unless you happened to be a masochist. (shrink)
We've had quite a number of outbreaks of "culture fever": The first one was apparently in 1985, when I was studying overseas, and friends told me the fever was raging at home in China. When I came home in 1988, I was in time for the second one. And over the last two years there has been a fever of cultural criticism, or "discussions on the humanist spirit." It looks as though the phenomenon of culture fever has certain similarities to (...) a flu epidemic. The first two fevers were fairly respectable, and at least provided information on some of the things that had been achieved in the social sciences overseas; but the latest one has been no good at all, consisting as it does mostly of the airing of complaints. It is claimed that the attitude of society toward intellectuals in the humanities is incorrect; that the intellectuals themselves are incorrect; that since Confucius said "The gentleman understands what is moral; the small man understands what is profitable" [Analects IV. 16], we should be trying to emulate the gentleman. Probably other things too have been said, but I believe that these have been the main points of most discussions during this outbreak of cultural criticism fever. Wang Shuo has come in for a good deal of abuse this time, in the same way that, in Water Margin, Lei Heng the "Winged Tiger," county head of Yuncheng, is jeered at in the courtesan's house when someone tells him, "It would be easier for a dog to grow horns than for you to know the proper way to behave here!" Culture is just this sort of establishment, and the riff-raff are definitely not allowed to set foot inside it. Looked at in this way, culture is a set of values centered on the self, and implies a closing of the ranks against outsiders. But I have no wish to think too badly of others, so I shall just say that the "culture" which is so much in favor this time is a kind of moral strength which demands that we should all preserve our personal integrity and not be tainted by material desires. We cultural workers are like Tang dynasty Buddhist monks, and the material desires of the everyday world are like the female scorpion spirit. We must not be seduced by the sorceress and sleep with her, for then, when we have lost our original yang essence and the pure seed has left us, we will no longer be virgins, and will not be fit to go to the Western Heaven and worship the Buddha. […] But if I go on talking such rubbish, other people may not acknowledge me as a cultural worker and may deprive me of the right to discuss cultural issues. What I am trying to say is that if this fever continues, I shall soon no longer know what culture is. (shrink)
I was born in the city of Beijing. As a child, I used to climb to the top of the highest building in our courtyard—it was in Xidan—and look in all four directions. I could often see as far as the Temple of Buddhist Virtue at the Summer Palace. From Xidan to the Summer Palace is at least 20 li [one li = 1/2 KM]. Some years ago I was living in the Changchunyuan section of Beijing University, which is only (...) a few li from the Summer Palace, and eight out often times when I looked out of the window to try to see the Temple of Buddhist Virtue, I could not. The air in Beijing is always rather hazy, so that you cannot see clearly, and is slightly irritating to the throat; but when I was young, it was not like this. Now I have grown up and become a "greaser"—by which I mean that my shirt-collar is covered with oil. Living in Beijing City, I have to change my shirt almost every day, whereas when I was overseas, I could wear the same shirt for several days. There are many cities in the world that are notorious for their pollution—I have visited Milan, Los Angeles, London, etc., though not Mexico City—and as far as I can see, the situation in Beijing is bad even by their standards. (shrink)
Because my wife is doing research on women and has read a raft of theoretical books on feminism, we often discuss our respective stand-points with each other. As intellectuals, we will inevitably have standpoints quite close to some kind of feminism—my feeling is that if someone does not respect women's rights, that person cannot be called an intellectual—but there are an awful lot of different theories of feminism , and it is important to know which kind.
In his book The Road Ahead, Bill Gates writes that modern developments in information technology mean that engineers already have the capability to produce real sensations. They can put goggles on you that show colored pictures and give you stereo earphones so that what you see and hear is controlled by computer. Once the hardware and software are sophisticated enough, we will not be able to tell the difference between electronic sounds and images and real sounds and images. The hardware (...) and software available at present are probably not yet that sophisticated and are not at the stage where this would be feasible; but in the past twenty years technological progress has been amazing, and we must prepare ourselves psychologically for the day when it does become possible. (shrink)
In the summer of 1997 one could scarcely enter a bookstore in Beijing without encountering WangXiaobo's pensive and defiant look on the cover of dozens of books displayed at the entrance. Wang had suddenly died in the spring of that year at the age of forty-five. Born in Beijing in 1952 to a family of intellectuals, he remained attached to China's capital despite periods of separation, such as during the Cultural Revolution, when he was sent to (...) Yunnan to "learn from the peasants" and taught in a "people-run-school" in Shandong, and also during the 1980s, when he studied in the United States . Wang always returned to Beijing, in the late 1970s to study economy and business at the People's University and in the late 1980s to teach there. After retiring in 1993, he devoted his time to writing: poetry, novels, essays, non-fiction, and a movie script. (shrink)
[Bertrand] Russell, in On Authority, wrote about a kind of hieratic authority which in the past lay in the hands of the clergy, and said that in the West, intellectuals are the descendants of these clergy. He also said that Chinese Confucianism possessed a hieratic authority, which leads us to think that China's intellectuals are the descendants of the Confucians. The knowledge that clergy and Confucians possessed came from a few sacred books, such as the Bible and the Analects. But (...) modern intellectuals, though they may not be wholly human, are at least partly so, and have no sacred books in their hands. They make people believe in them wholly on the basis of knowledge, and this knowledge can itself win people's confidence. The strange thing is, that this latter kind of knowledge cannot bring authority with it. (shrink)
Twenty-five years ago, when I went down to the countryside to live and work in a production team, I took a few books with me, one of which was Ovid's Metamorphoses. The people in our team looked through it many times, read and reread it, until it was as ragged as a roll of dried seaweed. Then people from other teams borrowed it, and I spotted it in several different places, looking more and more dilapidated. I believe that in the (...) end the book was read to death. Even now I still can't forget what a sorry state it was in. Life in the team was very hard—We didn't have enough to eat, we couldn't get used to the climate, and many people got sick; but the worst hardship of all was that there were no books to read. If we had had a lot of books to read, Metamorphoses would not have disappeared so tragically. On top of this, we never had the pleasure of thought. I do not believe I was alone in this experience: As you sat lonely and forlorn under the eaves in the twilight, and watched the sky slowly darken, you felt that you'd been deprived of your life. I was young then, but I was scared of having to go on living like that, of growing old like that. To my mind, that would be even more frightening than death. (shrink)
Before The Bridges of Madison County was released, several editor friends of mine wanted me to go and see it, and to write a short article about it when I had. The movie has finished showing now, and I never did go to see it. This was not because I was being deliberately snooty about it, but chiefly because there was a debate around the movie that I found very irritating; and as a result, I did not have the slightest (...) desire to go and see it. Some people said the novel advocated extramarital affairs and should be criticized. Others said that it was completely opposed to extramarital affairs and, therefore, should not be criticized. Thus, The Bridges of Madison County came to be welded together with "extramarital affairs." If I had seen the movie, I also would have had to make an evaluation of extramarital affairs, and that is something I hate doing. My basic judgment of The Bridges of Madison County is as follows: Firstly, the story is made up, not true. Secondly, even if it were true, it is about Americans, and has nothing to do with us. Some comrades may say that, whether or not it has anything to do with us, we have seen the movie and so we must have a moral judgment of it. This reminds me of something that happened almost twenty years ago. It was when the Paris Opera came to Beijing and performed La Dame aux Camélias, and some of the audience said, "The lady of the camellias is a prostitute! And the male lead is no good either: Put Marguerite and Armand together and all you've got is a whore and ha client!" If Dumas fils were alive, I'm sure he would be enraged to hear such an assessment. If the French singers had been aware of such comments, they too would have said, "It was stupid of us to come and perform here. Performing opera is very tiring, and what do they see while we're singing our hearts out? A whore and her client! "That was over ten years ago, and I do feel that Chinese audiences should have made some progress by now—one would never have expected that that is not the case. (shrink)
To this day I still do not know exactly what sort of people are to be regarded as intellectuals, and what sort of people are not. When I was being re-educated in the countryside during the Cultural Revolution, a military representative once told me that I was a "petty bourgeois intellectual." I was only seventeen at the time, had received six years of primary school education, and was barely literate, so I felt I did not deserve to be called an (...) intellectual. By the way, I also felt I did not deserve the appellation "petty bourgeois." My family lived on wages from the government; even our furniture belonged to the government. We had not set up a stall to sell cigarettes in front of our house, so where did he get the term "petty bourgeois"? As for myself as an individual, it was only right and proper that I should belong to one social class or another, and I was not against doing so. However, to this day, I do not know in what class intellectual youths should be counted. In my opinion, if one insists on making comparisons or analogies, they should be counted as lumpen proletarians or the like. But this is taking the subject too far. (shrink)
In 1992, when Li Yinhe and I had completed our collaborative study of male homosexuality in China, we published a monograph and wrote a few articles. We remained in touch with some of the friends we had made in the course of the research, and also received many letters from readers. Over the past few years, even though we have not carried out any more detailed research into it, we have been constantly thinking about this social issue.
During my time overseas, I often noticed that when people made value judgments about current events, they would do so from two separate standpoints: One was that of national or social dignity, and seemed, as it were, to be the warp of the events; the other was that of personal dignity, and seemed to be the weft. When I came back to China, the weft appeared to be missing, and even the word "dignity" had an unfamiliar feel to it.
I have enjoyed reading fiction since I was young, and until I was twenty-eight I believed that I could write it myself. Then I read a novel by [Michel] Tournier and changed my mind. Imperceptibly, great changes have taken place in fiction. The difference between modern fiction and classical fiction is as great as the difference between the car and the horse-drawn cart. The finest of the modern novels cannot be read ten lines at a glance. Let me cite an (...) example, so that my readers can come to share my point of view. The first sentence of Marguerite Duras's novel The Lover is "I was already old." Innumerable vicissitudes are contained in that phrase. If you read on carefully, you will discover that more or less every sentence is written like that, and my views on modem novels were formulated by reference to The Lover. The great modern novels always contain a lot of information and are extremely elegantly written, delighting those who read them and scaring those who would like to write fiction. Of the classic writers, only the Russian Chekhov occasionally writes in this way, but by no means all his works command reverence. I have to confess that modern novelists used to shock me greatly. The novel by Tournier that I read, called Death and the Maiden, was only the first of a series of shocks. (shrink)
I'm now in my forties, but my teacher is still alive and well; so I'm still one of the junior generation. When I was a graduate student, my teacher told me that I didn't have enough background in Chinese traditional studies, and in a burst of energy I went off and read my way, albeit in a rather random fashion, through everything from the Four Books to the Cheng brothers [Cheng Hao and Cheng Yi, Confucian scholars of the Song dynasty] (...) and Zhu Xi. My studies had started off with fiction, and the Four Books came afterwards; I had started off as an "educated youth," and became a student later. Doing things that way round, one can expect to have problems; but even so, when I read the ancient classics, I still feel some singular emotions, which I cherish purely because they are my own. When I finished reading the Analects and closed my eyes to think about it, I felt that to utter those great truths so often and so earnestly Confucius must have been a very sweet and naive old man. His students were always hanging on his every word and, in his concern for them, he said that A could do this, or B could do that, like an old lady listing the characteristics of her grandchildren. Sometimes the old gentleman had a furtive side to him, as in the chapter "The Master went to see Nanzi" [See Analects VI. 28; Nanzi was the wife of Duke Ling of Wei]. When he emerged, he insisted that he had committed no "impropriety." In a nutshell, I liked him, and if I had been born during the Spring and Autumn period [722-481 b.c.e.], I would have gone and studied under him, because the atmosphere round him was like that of the Pickwick Club. His ideas were actually pretty ordinary, and there is nothing special about them to win our admiration. The ceremonial on which he laid such particular emphasis was in my view much the same as the rituals performed during the Cultural Revolution—I've been through all those morning requests for instructions and evening reports myself and it wasn't very interesting. It may be indispensable for the very young, but for educated adults it is a burden. However, if I'd gone along to be taught by Confucius, I would have gone for the atmosphere, and I would not have expected to learn much. (shrink)
Chaucer tells this story: A knight commits a serious crime and the king hands him over to the queen for disposal, whereupon the queen orders him to answer one question: What is a woman's greatest wish? The knight is unable to answer the question then and there, so the queen gives him a time limit. If he cannot answer the question in that time, his head will be chopped off. So the knight journeys far and wide to find the answer. (...) Eventually he finds it and saves his own head. There would be no story if he did not find it. It is said the noblewomen discussed the answer and all found it to be correct. It was: "A woman's greatest wish is to be loved." If that were today, women's rights activists would probably disagree, but in the Middle Ages, this answer would get full approval marks. (shrink)
My wife was a student from among the "workers, peasants, and soldiers" and studied history at university. One day, during her junior year, a female student from a country village announced loudly in class, "I don't know what a eunuch is!" She looked very pleased with herself when she had said this. Other students in the class chimed in: "I don't know either." "Neither do I." My wife is a very straightforward sort of person and she said shyly, "Oh, I (...) think I might know—a eunuch is a man who has been castrated." Someone asked, "What does ‘castrated’ mean?" and she blushed scarlet and was unable to speak. She was only a girl at the time, and it upset her very much to admit in front of everybody that she knew what eunuchs and castration were. For a long while she felt miserable, not daring to see anybody or to say anything. (shrink)
I make my living by writing. Someone once said to me, "It's no good writing like this; you've no life! "At first I thought he meant I was dead, and I got very angry. Then I suddenly thought that the word' life" could be used in a different way. Writers often go and live for a while in remote places where conditions are hard, and such excursions are called "experiencing life." This expression may sound as if it refers to a (...) corpse momentarily coming back to life, but that is not actually what it means. These writers do it in order to gain some understanding of a hard life and to write better books, and it is a very good way to set about it. This was what the person speaking to me meant by "life": He did not mean I needed to die. When I realized that, my anger turned to joy. Although I had lived and worked with a production team in a very poor area, I did not consider that I had seen enough of life. Far from it; in fact, I needed more experience of it. But I still felt that "experiencing the hard life" would be a better way of putting it. Leaving out the adjective implies that "life" means frequently having to suffer hardship—there is a presumption that life is to be understood especially in a negative sense. People of my age have all had the experience of contrasting present happiness with past misery: Listening to reports of past sufferings, eating "recalling suffering" meals, and so on. This is not the same as "experiencing life," but there are some similarities. As we all know, in the old society poor people led lives worse than the lives of cattle, eating chaff and greens—not vegetables, but wild plants—and the "recalling suffering" meals were modeled on the diet of the poor in the old society. (shrink)
I am now halfway along the road of life; if we liken the human lifespan to a single day, it is now noon. Childhood is when we wake up from our slumbers and need some time to get over our morning lassitude, before we throw ourselves into our work; at midday, our energy is at its greatest, but we already feel tiredness looming; by dusk, we just want to finish off the day's work and get ready to sink into eternal (...) rest. If you look at it in this way, as I do, work is the most important thing in a person's life. But not everyone would agree with this view. I know that in China, country folk see having children as the most important thing in their lives. You bring up your children and then you die, leaving space for them—this is a very common way of thinking. But in the towns there is a different way of thinking, though I don't know if it is very common, and that sees winning social status as the most important thing in life. If you stand in front of the wall on Babaoshan in Beijing where the ashes of the dead are placed, you can gain some understanding of this attitude. On the grave of an old gentleman there I saw written, "Deputy Department Director, Deputy Branch Secretary, Associate Professor, Deputy Director of Such-and-Such a Teaching and Research Section, etc." It would of course be better for the old gentleman if the word "Deputy" could be removed from all of those, but that word is the best evidence for this way of thinking. And incidentally, in graveyards I have been to look at in the United States, I found that only two things were written on the gravestones: One was the dates of birth and death; the other was the dates of military service. This shows that they believe these two things are the only ones worth recording about a person's life: That this subject of God came into the mortal world, and that this citizen served his country loyally. To write anything else would be superfluous. I think this is a simpler and more unaffected way of thinking though probably it is overly distressing to write in a youth magazine about what I've seen written on graves, and I should get back to the main topic as soon as possible. (shrink)
I, too, belong to the "old three classes."* At the age when I should have been in college, I went to Yunnan to dig ditches. This was bad for me; but worse, still, it caused my parents great anxiety. It has been said that worrying about their children took years off the lives of the parents of educated youth who were sent to the countryside, and that is how it was in my family. Parents always try to protect their growing (...) children, and to be powerless to do so during that exceptional decade meant they had a lot of worry. As an adult, I have had pangs of conscience about this, and especially so when my father passed away. When I think about the details, of course, it was not my fault; but those feelings never go away. (shrink)
Once upon a time, Don Quixote, the Knight of the Sad Countenance, and his trusty squire Sancho Panza were going along the road when they met a band of villagers carrying swords and sticks, on the way to attack their enemies. The noble knight asked the villagers why they wanted to fight and heard the following tale.
Someone asks a climber why he wants to climb a mountain—everyone knows that climbing is dangerous and is of no practical advantage—and he replies, "Because it is there." I like this answer because it shows a sense of humor—it is quite clear that it is because he wants to climb it, but he tries to trick us by saying that it is because the mountain is there that he is itching to get at it. Apart from this, I also like (...) what the climber does, scaling sheer cliffs for no good reason. It may cause aching muscles, and there is a risk you might knock your brains out, so the average person does all he can to avoid climbing mountains. From the point of view of thermodynamics, this is the very rarely seen phenomenon of negative entropy. Because human beings always tend toward what is beneficial and avoid what is harmful, and in thermodynamics spontaneous phenomena are known as entropy-increasing phenomena, anything that tends toward the harmful and avoids the beneficial must be negative entropy. (shrink)
When I was young, I read Major Barbara by George Bernard Shaw, and there was one scene that left a great impression on me. The industrial magnate Andrew Undershaft meets his son Stephen, whom he has not seen for many years, and asks him what he is interested in. The young man has no talent for science, the arts or law, but says there is one thing he is good at, and that is telling right from wrong. Undershaft pours scorn (...) on his son, and wants to know how, if he is unable to do anything else, he can possibly do something that has baffled all the scientists, politicians and philosophers, and distinguish right from wrong. I was only about twenty when I read this, and at once I made the major decision that it did not matter what I did in my life, but I must not become a person who is capable of nothing but telling right from wrong. For that reason, I became a member of the silent majority. The people I saw when I was young had grasped only a few superficial principles and thought they knew it all. They made wild judgments about the world, and the result was that the whole world was badly damaged. It was not until I was about forty that I realized Shaw's view was rather biased; but that came later—any-how, these comments of Shaw's acted as an antidote to all those shallow, arrogant people. (shrink)
Di er ci Qimeng (The second Enlightenment), by Wang Zhihe and Fan Meijun, is a timely book in Chinese about constructing a philosophical and practical way to contend with China's postmodernization. It combines Whitehead's process philosophy with a focus on Chinese modernity in order to map out a desirable postmodern society. It addresses the problem on several dimensions from policy making to basic value systems. The range of themes can be seen from the topics of the book's twelve chapters: (...) (1) Reverence for Land—Toward a Constructive Postmodern Agriculture; (2) Becoming Fully Human—Toward a Postmodern Organic Education; (3) Survival of the Harmonious-Toward a Constructive Postmodern Harmonious Culture; (4) Beauty .. (shrink)
A fundamental way in which human thought has developed has been constantly to explain the earliest "classics" that are the source of that thought. All in all, the number of such classics is not very high, their explanations are past counting. Moreover, they are constantly increasing, giving rise to an explanatory chain deriving from the classics. In the development of Chinese philosophy, this aspect is particularly noticeable, so that one can describe Chinese philosophy as a continual explanation of the classics. (...) This holds for both Confucianism and Daoism. The main classics of Daoism are the Laozi and the Zhuangzi. These two works have been constantly reread and reinterpreted throughout history. From the late nineteenth century onward, Chinese philosophy came into closer contact with Western philosophy. Foreign concepts were brought in to provide philosophers with new "insight." Some thinkers applied this new insight or these foreign concepts to the Daoist classics. In this way, they brought a new explanation of the Daoist classics and enriched the ways of interpreting the texts.1 Paving the way in this direction were Yan Fu. Zhang Taiyan, Liang Qichao, Wang Guowei, and Hu Shi. (shrink)