Other People’s Thoughts, XIII

Other People’s Thoughts is a section in the Journal of the China Heritage site. It is inspired by a compilation of quotations put together by Simon Leys (Pierre Ryckmans), one of our Ancestors, during his reading life.

Pierre remarked that the resulting modest volume of quotations was ‘idiosyncratically complied for the amusement of idle readers’ (see Simon Leys, Other People’s Thoughts, 2007). Our aim is similar: to amuse our readers (idle or otherwise); as is our modus operandi: to build up an idiosyncratic compilation, one that reflects the interests of The Wairarapa Academy for New Sinology and its coterie.

In collecting this material, and by adding to it over time, we accord also with a Chinese literary practice in which quotations — sometimes called yǔlù 語錄, literally ‘recorded sayings’ — have a particular history, and a powerful resonance.

The character ‘record’ 記 in the hand of Mi Fei 米芾, or ‘Madman Mi’ 米癲 of the Song. Source: 好事家貼.

The most famous collection of recorded sayings is The Analects 論語, compiled by disciples of Confucius. Then there is the timeless 5000-words of Laozi’s The Tao and the Power 道德經, as well as the Chan/Zen 禪宗 tradition of what in English are known by the Japanese term kōan 公案, dating from the Tang dynasty. Modern imitations range from the political bon mots of Mao Zedong to excerpts from the prolix prose of Xi Jinping’s tireless speech writers, and published snippets from arm-chair philosophers and motivational speakers.

Other People’s Thoughts also finds inspiration in the ‘poetry talks’ 詩話, ‘casual jottings’ 筆記 and ‘marginalia’ 眉批 of China’s literary tradition.


— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
22 August 2018

Other People’s Thoughts Index

Other People’s Thoughts, XIII



I work all day and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there,
unresting death a whole day nearer now.

Philip Larkin

T.S. Eliot

I had a great friend in England. His name was T.S. Eliot. The Poet. Now, there are people out here that might not know that he was a famous English poet. As a matter of fact he was born in St. Louis and moved to England. He wrote me a letter, and he said ‘I’d like a picture of you with a cigar on it.’ You know, one of these.

So I sent him a picture of me, and he returned it. He said, ‘I want a picture of you smoking the cigar.’ So I sent him one smoking a cigar, and we got very well acquainted. And I had read up on T.S. Eliot., Murder In The Cathedral and a few things like that, and I thought I’d impress him. And all he wanted to talk about was the Marx Brothers. That’s what happens when you come from St. Louis.

Groucho Marx

Thanks for Nothing

Once in Montreal, a priest put out his hand and said: ‘I want to thank you for all the joy you’ve put into this world.’ Groucho shook his hand and shot back: ‘And I wanna thank you, for all the joy you’ve taken out of this world.’ (Groucho Marx)


The minute the phrase ‘having it all’ lost favor among women, wellness came in to pick up the pieces. It was a way to reorient ourselves — we were not in service to anyone else, and we were worthy subjects of our own care. It wasn’t about achieving; it was about putting ourselves at the top of a list that we hadn’t even previously been on. Wellness was maybe a result of too much having it all, too much pursuit, too many boxes that we’d seen our exhausted mothers fall into bed without checking off. Wellness arrived because it was gravely needed.

Before we knew it, the wellness point of view had invaded everything in our lives: Summer-solstice sales are wellness. Yoga in the park is wellness. Yoga at work is wellness. Yoga in Times Square is peak wellness. When people give you namaste hands and bow as a way of saying thank you. The organic produce section of Whole Foods. Whole Foods. Hemp. Oprah. CBD. ‘Body work’. Reiki. So is: SoulCycle, açaí, antioxidants, the phrase ‘mind-body’, meditation, the mindfulness jar my son brought home from school, kombucha, chai, juice bars, oat milk, almond milk, all the milks from substances that can’t technically be milked, clean anything. ‘Living your best life’. ‘Living your truth’. Crystals.

Taffy Brodesser-Akner
How Goop’s Haters Made Gwyneth Paltrow’s
Company Worth $250 Million
The New York Times, 25 July 2018

Not To Be & To Be

The documents produced by Christian, Jewish and Roman writers form the most significant evidence.

These abundant historical references leave us with little reasonable doubt that Jesus lived and died. The more interesting question — which goes beyond history and objective fact — is whether Jesus died and lived. (What is the Historical Evidence that Jesus Christ Lived and Died?, The Guardian, 14 April 2017)


Study for ten years with no thought of reward, then produce scholarship without a wasted word. (Han Rulin)

板凳甘坐十年冷,文章不寫一字空。—— 韓儒林


Every once in a while, Trump’s allies give us the gift of phrases that seem to succinctly illustrate the problem that the commander in chief has with truth and facts:

Daniel Politi, Truth Isn’t Truth!
Slate, 19 August 2018

не правда

MOSCOW (The Borowitz Report) — Vladimir Putin is reportedly ‘very close’ to firing Rudolph Giuliani as Donald J. Trump’s attorney, a source close to the Russian President confirmed on Monday.

According to the source, Putin allowed Trump to hire Giuliani in the first place because ‘it’s important to let Trump think that he has some autonomy from time to time,’ but now the Russian President has apparently determined that ‘enough is enough’.

Over the next few days, the source indicated, Putin is likely to replace Giuliani with a handpicked successor, Arkady Lubetkin, a criminal-defense attorney who has represented several prominent Russian Mob figures.

After hearing anecdotal reports of Giuliani’s appearance on NBC’s ‘Meet the Press’ on Sunday, Putin initially theorized that the nonsensical nature of Giuliani’s utterances had to be chalked up to ‘an error in translation’, the source said.

After reading an official transcript of Giuliani’s statements, however, the Russian President was apparently ‘flabbergasted’.

Pravda is not pravda?’ Putin reportedly said. ‘What is this bullshit?’

Andy Borowitz
The New Yorker
21 August 2018


The world is being undone before us. History is once more moving, and it is moving to fragmentation on the basis of concocted differences, toward the destruction of democracy using not coups and guns to entrench autocracies and dictators, but the ballot box and social media.

Richard Flanagan
The World is Being Undone Before Us
The Guardian, 4 August 2018

Imbeciles within the Gates

Social media gives legions of idiots the right to speak, when they once spoke at a bar after a glass of wine, without harming the community. Then they were quickly silenced, but now they have the same right to speak as a Nobel Prize winner. It’s the invasion of the Imbeciles. (trans. Flora Sapio, with modification)

«I social media danno diritto di parola a legioni di imbecilli che prima parlavano solo al bar dopo un bicchiere di vino, senza danneggiare la collettività. Venivano subito messi a tacere, mentre ora hanno lo stesso diritto di parola di un Premio Nobel. È l’invasione degli imbecilli».

Umberto Eco

Chinese Grass

Grass, like nearly everything else in China, is subject to political interpretation. Historically, the Chinese have taken a dim view of grass. In Peking’s parks, the dirt is swept daily, since cleanliness is prized, but gardeners relentlessly uproot any tuft of grass. Grass breeds disease, generations of Chinese have been taught. Additionally, Communist doctrine teaches that grass is decadent, since it is usually associated with leisured classes and generates exploitation — one man hiring another to cut it.

In the pragmatic years, though, when the town fathers of Peking were. allowed to gaze at their city without ideological blinders, they recoiled at what they saw. Peking, capital and presumed showcase of the most populous nation on earth, was a mess — overcrowded, disorganized, dreadfully polluted.

An emerging generation of Chinese environmentalists has sought to repair the wreckage by planting trees and, yes, grass. But history does not die without a fight. So it is that on some weeks students at Chinese elementary schools can hear a lecture one day from an earnest ecologist on the virtues of grass and another from a functionary of public health on the merits of its destruction.

Tom Stratton, amused by the ongoing struggle between tradition and modernization, had early on spotted a fresh plot of grass on the shoulder of a new highway overpass near his hotel.

It was on this hard-won and possibly temporary bit of green that he sat cross-legged in the heat of a summer’s afternoon to read David Wang’s journal….

Carl Hiaasen & Bill Montalbano
A Death in China
New York, 1984, p.57

Naipaul on Himself

I am the kind of writer that people think other people are reading. (V.S. Naipaul)

V.S. Naipaul

It is hard not to note a certain turning in the air when V.S. Naipaul is mentioned, a hint of taint, a suggestion of favor about to go moot. He has become a question, as in ‘the question of Naipaul’. One catches the construction ‘brilliant but’: brilliant but obsessive, brilliant but reductive, brilliant but so dazzled by the glare off his particular circumstance — the Indian not an Indian, the Trinidadian not a Trinidadian, the Englishman never an Englishman — that he stays blind to the exigencies of history. Increasingly now he is consigned to this role of the special case, the victim of a unique cultural warp, the outsider obsessed (notice the vogue for ‘obsessive’ as a dismissive adjective) by disgust for his colonial origins, the reductive (ditto ‘reductive’) wog with a taste for the high table.

Joan Didion, Without Regret or Hope, 12 June 1980

On Exactitude in Science

In that Empire, the craft of Cartography attained such Perfection that the Map of a Single province covered the space of an entire City, and the Map of the Empire itself an entire Province. In the course of Time, these Extensive maps were found somehow wanting, and so the College of Cartographers evolved a Map of the Empire that was of the same Scale as the Empire and coincided with it point for point. Less attentive to the Study of Cartography, succeeding Generations came to judge a map of such Magnitude cumbersome and, not without Irreverence, abandoned it to the Rigours of sun and Rain. In the western Deserts, tattered Fragments of the Map are still to be found, Sheltering an occasional Beast or beggar; in the whole Nation no other relic is left of the Discipline of Geography.

Jorge Luis Borges, ‘Del rigor en la ciencia’, 1946

Knowing the Place for the First Time

Borges is a gentleman. When people come up and tell him what his stories really mean — after all, he only wrote them — he has the most wonderful line you’ve ever heard. ‘Ah, thank you! You’ve enriched my story. You’ve made me a great gift. I’ve come all the way from Buenos Aires to X — say Lubbock, Texas — to find out this truth about myself and my story.’

Norman Thomas di Giovanni, translator


‘Excuse me, I can’t stand up.’

Groucho Marx, suggested epitaph