Other People’s Thoughts XL

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 compiled 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.

The year 2023 ends with this, the fortieth chapter in Other People’s Thoughts.

— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
27 December 2023


More Other People’s Thoughts:

Other People’s Thoughts, XL


Brazil (1985)

Terry Gilliam’s Orwellian Christmas nightmare begins with sleigh bells jingling as a child asks her mother how Santa can get in without a chimney. Cue a Swat team bursting through the ceiling to snatch her father, leaving her mother clutching a docket for him as she stands whimpering in the newly demolished front room. Could there be a more meaningful seasonal message than: “Keep the receipt”?

The 25 best Christmas films – ranked!, The Guardian, 14 December 2023

‘The Holidays’

Sir Humphrey: I wonder if I might crave your momentary indulgence in order to discharge a by no means disagreeable obligation which has, over the years, become more or less established practice in government service as we approach the terminal period of the year — calendar, of course, not financial — in fact, not to put too fine a point on it, Week Fifty-One — and submit to you, with all appropriate deference, for your consideration at a convenient juncture, a sincere and sanguine expectation — indeed confidence — indeed one might go so far as to say hope — that the aforementioned period may be, at the end of the day, when all relevant factors have been taken into consideration, susceptible to being deemed to be such as to merit a final verdict of having been by no means unsatisfactory in its overall outcome and, in the final analysis, to give grounds for being judged, on mature reflection, to have been conducive to generating a degree of gratification which will be seen in retrospect to have been significantly higher than the general average.

Jim Hacker: Are you trying to say “Happy Christmas,” Humphrey?

Sir Humphrey: Yes, Minister.

— Sam Freedman, The Top Ten Books on British Politics, 9 December 2023

The Nativity of Jesus

— ‘Nativity’, from Giulio Aleni’s 1637 Chinese Illustrated Life of Christ @artukdotorg 天主降生出像經解, published in Quanzhou and posted by Craig Clunas, 22 December 2023

Drinking the Future

Water is going to be bigger than ever. #WaterTok — essentially millions of people watching other people add syrups and powders to giant tumblers of water — doesn’t seem to be slowing down. Look for an uptick in water sommeliers, the “premium hydration” category, and wearable hydration sensors. New ways to use waste to make water will pop up, like cacao water from what’s left after the cocoa bean is harvested. Water stewardship will matter more, with consumers looking for food and drinks that require less water to grow or produce like dry-farmed beans, snacks made with nopales and beer from companies that use a pond filtration system.

— Kim Severson, How We’ll Eat in 2024, 26 December 2023

Curb Your Enthusiasm

“As Curb comes to an end, I will now have the opportunity to finally shed this ‘Larry David’ persona and become the person God intended me to be – the thoughtful, kind, caring, considerate human being I was until I got derailed by portraying this malignant character.”

— Larry David, quoted in Vanity Fair, 14 December 2023

Boris Johnson fronts the Covid inquiry

‘The country chose to elect a clown and what it got in return was a farce.’

– Alex Andreou, Oh God, What Now?


I had to chuckle when I read my colleague Pamela Paul’s excellent column on the Columbia School of Social Work and she quoted a school glossary that uses the term “folx.” Why spell the word with an “x”? Because some apparently believe the letter “s” in “folks” renders the term insufficiently inclusive. I kid you not.

— David French, What the University Presidents Got Right and Wrong About Antisemitic Speech, The New York Times, 10 December 2023


There have been scores of books published on the man over the years, but it is still Seymour Hersh’s 1983 The Price of Power that future biographers will have to top. Hersh gave us the defining portrait of Kissinger as a preening paranoid, tacking between ruthlessness and sycophancy to advance his career. Small in his vanities and shabby in his motives, Kissinger, in Hersh’s hands, is nonetheless Shakespearean because the pettiness gets played out on a world stage, with epic consequences

— Greg Grandin, A People’s Obituary of Henry Kissinger, The Nation, 29 November 2023

Lessons in Democracy: The Republic





自由自在  @ZYZZ337799, 2023年12月22日

Lessons in Democracy: The People’s Republic

中國的民主是人民民主,人民當家作主是中國民主的本質和核心。黨的十八大以來,黨深化對中國民主政治發展規律的認識,提出全過程人民民主重大理念並大力推進,民主價值和理念進一步轉化為科學有效的制度安排和具體現實的民主實踐。全過程人民民主, 實現了過程民主和成果民主、程序自主和實質民主直接民主和間接民主、人民民主和國家意志相統一,是全鏈條、全方位、全覆蓋的民主, 是最廣泛、最真實、最管用的社會主義民主。

Xi Jinping’s Apotheosis














The Three Confucian Bonds in the Xi Era




Venal Officials & the Masses




Being in Charge


— 網絡梗

‘If God doesn’t exist then who’s laughing at us?’

making christian music does not mean i can’t suck dick no more. the two are not mutually exclusive. i am allowed to get on my knees for multiple reasons.

@LilNasX, 17:05 • 30/11/23 from Earth

Dear God

Dear God, don’t know if you noticed, but —
Your name is on a lot of quotes in this book
And us crazy humans wrote it, you should take a look
And all the people that you made in your own image
Still believing that junk is true
Well, I know it ain’t so, and you know

XTC, 1988

We Didn’t Start the Fire

Harry Truman, Doris Day, Red China, Johnnie Ray
South Pacific, Walter Winchell, Joe DiMaggio
Joe McCarthy, Richard Nixon, Studebaker, television
North Korea, South Korea, Marilyn Monroe

Rosenbergs, H-bomb, Sugar Ray, Panmunjom
Brando, “The King and I”, and “The Catcher in the Rye”
Eisenhower, Vaccine, England’s got a new queen
Marciano, Liberace, Santayana, goodbye

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning, since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it

Joseph Stalin, Malenkov, Nasser and Prokofiev
Rockefeller, Campanella, Communist Bloc
Roy Cohn, Juan Peron, Toscanini, Dacron
Dien Bien Phu falls, “Rock Around the Clock”

Einstein, James Dean, Brooklyn’s got a winning team
Davy Crockett, Peter Pan, Elvis Presley, Disneyland
Bardot, Budapest, Alabama, Krushchev
Princess Grace, Peyton Place, Trouble in the Suez

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning, since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it

Little Rock, Pasternak, Mickey Mantle, Kerouac
Sputnik, Chou En-Lai, “Bridge on the River Kwai”
Lebanon, Charles de Gaulle, California baseball
Starkweather homicide, children of thalidomide

Buddy Holly, Ben Hur, space monkey, mafia
Hula hoops, Castro, Edsel is a no-go
U2, Syngman Rhee, Payola and Kennedy
Chubby Checker, Psycho, Belgians in the Congo

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning, since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it

Hemingway, Eichmann, “Stranger in a Strange Land”
Dylan, Berlin, Bay of Pigs invasion
“Lawrence of Arabia”, British Beatlemania
Ole Miss, John Glenn, Liston beats Patterson
Pope Paul, Malcolm X, British politician sex
JFK – blown away, what else do I have to say?

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning, since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
No, we didn’t light it, but we tried to fight it

Birth control, Ho Chi Minh, Richard Nixon back again
Moonshot, Woodstock, Watergate, punk rock
Begin, Reagan, Palestine, terror on the airline
Ayatollah’s in Iran, Russians in Afghanistan

“Wheel of Fortune”, Sally Ride, heavy metal suicide
Foreign debts, homeless vets, AIDS, crack, Bernie Goetz
Hypodermics on the shore, China’s under martial law
Rock and roller, cola wars, I can’t take it anymore

We didn’t start the fire
It was always burning, since the world’s been turning
We didn’t start the fire
But when we are gone
It will still burn on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on, and on

Billy Joel, 1989

The Ivy League Flunks Out

Roger Cohen wrote in The Times that Netanyahu let Hamas grow stronger while taking a “‘kick the can down the road’ approach” on a two-state solution. As the Palestinian issue vanished from the global agenda, Palestinian fury grew.

That is no excuse for what Hamas did on Oct. 7, but Oct. 7 is also no excuse for Israel’s relentless bombing in Gaza.

I think this is still America. But I don’t understand why I have to keep making the case on matters that should be self-evident.

Why should I have to make the case that a man who tried to overthrow the government should not be president again?

Why should I have to make the case that we can’t abandon Ukraine to the evil Vladimir Putin?

Why should I have to make the case that a young woman — whose life and future ability to bear children are at risk — should not be getting persecuted about an abortion by a shady Texas attorney general?

Why should I have to make the case that antisemitism is abhorrent?

Maureen Dowd, 9 December 2023

‘Ten No’ China Youth


No donating blood; no donating money; no to marriage; no to having children; no to buying property; no to lottery tickets; no to the stock market; no to buying into investment funds; no to supporting the aged; no to being moved by anything.


Creativity, but in a Straightjacket







Xi Jinping’s Political Reform

When ‘We’ Flourished, Under Mongol Rule



— 魯迅,《隨便翻翻》,1934年11月

The Ming Dynasty — from begging bowl to noose


— 劉軍寧

Grand Master Stroke

“Have you ever used anal beads while playing chess?” Piers Morgan asked Niemann on Monday’s episode of his talk show.

“Your curiosity is a bit concerning, you know, maybe you’re personally interested,” Niemann replied as Morgan persisted in asking about the bizarre idea. “But I can tell you no.”

Chess scandal: Hans Niemann denies using vibrating beads to cheat, NPR, 26 September 2023

Malaise, Stagnation, Tedium— it’s a vibecession!

‘Vibecession’ combines the words vibe and recession. In economics, a recession is a period of economic decline and contraction. Vibecession refers to a period when the vibes (consumer opinion and outlook) have entered a figurative recession due to negative views of the current or future economy.

美國年輕人已經為現在這個時期起了一個新名字「Vibecession」,即英語單詞vibe(氛圍)和recession(衰退)的結合體,意思是說「衰退的氛圍已經烘托到這裡了」——經濟數據顯示一切正常,但普通的人生活卻並非如此。 在現在這種經濟指數混亂的環境當中,看似好的經濟消息可能會變成壞消息。

Hasan Minaj

At one point in his show, he said the real divide in the country was not between rich and poor, Democratic or Republican, but between “the insane” and “the insufferable.”

Was a Scandal the Best Thing to Happen to Hasan Minhaj?

Suella Braveman

‘Dolores Umbridge, with less charm and worse blazers.’

John Crace


Sometimes Black students must be protected not only from words, but words that sound like other words. In 2020, Greg Patton was suspended from teaching a class in communications at the University of Southern California. The reason was that one of his lectures included noting that in Mandarin, a hesitation term is “nèi ge,” which means “that …” and has nothing to do, of course, with the N-word. Several Black students said they felt injured by experiencing this word in the class. …

The contrast in treatment of Jewish and Black students furnishes a teaching moment. In my view, the solution is not to decide whether to penalize all hate speech or to allow all of it regardless of whom it is addressed to. Administrators should certainly decry and penalize not just antisemitism but racism on campuses when it is severe and pervasive and constitutes conduct. However, anyone who has made the mistake of thinking that a healthy Jewish soul must endure ongoing calls for the extermination of Israel might at least consider that a healthy Black soul can endure a sour tweet, a talk by someone who has opposed racial preferences and even the Mandarin expression “nèi ge.”

— John McWorter, Black Students Are Being Trained to Think They Can’t Handle Discomfort, The New York Times, 13 December 2023

A Light Sleeper

Question: I’m having trouble making sense of some of the claims and counterclaims being made about what is, or isn’t, antisemitic speech and behavior. To be honest, it doesn’t help that so many prominent Jews have sharply different takes on the subject.

Answer: Two Jews, three opinions.

That sounds like a stereotype.

It is. It’s also one of the few things that most Jews agree is true of us as people.

OK, so in your opinion and a half, what is antisemitism?

It’s a conspiracy theory that holds that Jews are uniquely prone to use devious means to achieve malevolent ends and must therefore be opposed by any means necessary, including violence.

Is that the commonly accepted definition?

No, it’s my own. A more widely cited definition comes from the International Holocaust Remembrance Alliance, which defines antisemitism, in part, as “a certain perception of Jews, which may be expressed as hatred toward Jews.” But the phrase “a certain perception” raises more questions than it answers.

Jews have long stood for a set of ideas that, if not radical now, were radical in their time. Among them: monotheism, freedom, general literacy and what Jewish tradition calls “argument for the sake of heaven.”

Monotheism imposes a single ethical standard — such as “thou shalt not kill” — on all people, regardless of their country or culture. It’s the seed of the idea of universal rights. The story of the Book of Exodus has been an inspiration for all freedom-seeking people — “Let my people go!” Literacy, a prerequisite for becoming a Jewish adult, is the basis for the unshackling of the mind. And argument for the sake of heaven — inscribing dialogue and dissent into religious tradition — is central to any democratic society.

No wonder Jews have inspired so much loathing from every ruler, religion or ideology seeking to keep people in servitude and ignorance. Whenever antisemitism rears its head, it isn’t just Jews who are in the cross hairs. It’s freedom, education and human dignity — values all of us should share, whether you’re Jewish or not.

Antisemitism: A Guide for the Perplexed, The New York Times, 12 December 2023


The great Irish thinker and writer Conor Cruise O’Brien once said that “antisemitism is a light sleeper”. Well, it seems to have woken up of late. The horrendous events of October the 7th and the Israeli response, seem to have stirred up this ancient hatred. It’s agonising to see all the violence and destruction that’s unfolding, and the terrible loss of life on both sides brings me an overwhelming sadness and heartache.

— Stephen Fry, The Alternative Christmas Message, 25 December 2023

And then…

In one of the responses to Fry’s video, X user @MannieMighty1 posted a composite image of Fry next to an injured Palestinian child and wrote: “Good afternoon. My name is Stephen Fry, hopefully ‘Sir Stephen’ by next year, and I’m here to tell you about how oppressed I’ve chosen to be. Pay no attention to that malingering scruffy urchin in the next frame. He brought it upon himself…*slurp*…”

Another user wrote: “I’ve worshiped Stephen Fry for my entire adult life. To hear him conflate anti-Zionism with antisemitism has shocked me. To hear him show no care or support for the Palestinians & instead center people in this country has broken me. Smashed windows vs carrying your dead child?”

Yet another said: “We don’t have a problem with Jews, Stephen Fry, we have a problem with genocide & you know it. When it was Jews who were the targets of genocide, this country gave half a million lives fighting the evils of Nazism. Now we fight to protect Palestinians. It’s what we do. Same rules.”

— quoted in Michael Horovitz, Stephen Fry decries antisemitism in Christmas video, is pilloried online, The Times of Israel, 26 December 2023

And if thy right eye offend thee, pluck it out

“Hamas rejects any alternative to the full and complete liberation of Palestine, from the river to the sea,” says the organisation’s 2017 constitution. …The founding charter of Benjamin Netanyahu’s Likud party trolls: “Between the sea and the Jordan there will only be Israeli sovereignty.”

‘From the river to the sea’: where does the slogan come from and what does it mean?, The Guardian, 31 October 2023

In the Shadow of the Ghetto

The German Green Party-affiliated Heinrich Böll Foundation, “in agreement with the Bremen Senate,” is withdrawing from awarding the Hannah Arendt Prize for Political Thought to the Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, citing Gessen’s recent New Yorker essay “In the Shadow of the Holocaust” as the reason for the decision. …

According to an article published in Germany’s Die Zeit newspaper earlier today, the Bremen branch of the German-Israeli Society (DIG) heavily criticized Gessen’s statements on the situation in the Gaza Strip and called for the planned award ceremony to be suspended. An open letter from the Bremen DIG stated that honoring Gessen (a Jewish writer whose grandfather was murdered by the Nazis) “would contradict the necessary decisive action against the growing anti-Semitism.”

The irony of calling for the suspension of a prize named after an anti-Totalitarian political theorist in order to appease the authoritarian government of a rogue state currently committing genocide against an already-subjugated people seems to be lost on the Bremen DIG. …

UPDATE/CLARIFICATION: According to Die Zeit, the presentation of the prize, originally scheduled to take place next Friday in Bremen, will now be presented in a different setting next Saturday, but without the involvement of the Heinrich Böll Foundation (an independent political foundation, affiliated with the German Green Party, which instituted the Hannah Arendt Prize in 1994 and which has sponsored the award every year since).

— Dan Sheehan, Masha Gessen’s Hannah Arendt Prize has been canceled because of their essay on Gaza, Literary Hub, 13 December 2023

If I Must Die


“Ideas are not policies,” Dean Rusk observed while serving as U.S. secretary of state. “Besides, ideas have a high infant-mortality rate.” An even more experienced statesman, British Prime Minister Winston Churchill, commented that “hope flies on wings, and international conferences plod afterwards along dusty roads.”

The “how” is the “craft” in statecraft. Most of what the U.S. government does is distribute money and set rules. Relatively few parts of it mount policy operations, especially diplomatic ones. Doing so requires complex teamwork. Officials must master international choreographies, intricacies of law and practice, and a bewildering variety of instruments, cultures, and institutions spanning societies. The ability to do all that is a fading art in the United States and the rest of the free world. As it fades, handwringing and platitudes take its place. Officials paper over the gaps with meetings and pronouncements.

— Philip Zelikow, The Atrophy of American Statecraft, Foreign Affairs, January/February 2024, published on 12 December 2023

Vale Andre Braugher

Good lord, did Andre Braugher have a voice.

That voice was rich and resonant. It was a luxury sports car, capable of lulling you with its leathery comfort, then executing thrilling white-knuckle twists. He could convey the turning of a character’s thoughts with every syllable. When he spoke, you could hear the vibration of his brain waves. You could feel it in your bones.

— James Poniewozik, Andre Braugher Let You Hear Him Think, The New York Times, 13 December 2023


What is that we hear, from deep within the digital ocean? Is it the protracted bubbling whinge of superheroes in their death agonies? Are we witnessing a Götterdämmerung of the superhero movie, as a bunch of B- to A-listers, dressed sheepishly in their tattered spandex, crouch on the green screen sound stage, furtively making calls to their agents between takes and wondering if they shouldn’t have held out against superhero films, like Julia Roberts and Leonardo DiCaprio? …

The Aquaman franchise is just flatlining, floating through the dreary depths like the kind of discarded plastic bag which is going to choke the last remaining vaquita porpoise.

Aquaman and the Lost Kingdom review – terrible Jason Momoa sequel pollutes the DC ocean, 21 December 2023


… the prequel about the famous chocolatier is boring old normal bad. At best it’s totally fine in the most average way possible. How much you’ll think it’s the former versus the latter comes down to one question: how much do you like whimsy? Because Wonka tries—and fails—to get by on whimsy and little else.

Michael Walsh, Nerdest, 13 December 2023

‘Spilling Tea’

You can be forgiven for pretty much anything in America if you generate entertaining enough content. You can lie, you can cheat, you can commit all manner of sins – but if you draw eyeballs and generate headlines you will probably be forgiven. You might even become president! And you certainly won’t go broke. The talkshow appearances, the book deals, the invitations to Dancing on the Stars will come. …

The former congressman, in case you’re interested, made it very clear that he did not support a ceasefire in Gaza, where more than 20,000 people have died. What a strange world we live in, where calling for a ceasefire can get you cancelled faster than using campaign money on shopping sprees and lying your way into Congress.

Mahdawi, Are we laughing at George Santos or is he laughing at us?, 22 December 2023

The Stalker

Jenna Maroney: Hello, Maynard.
Maynard: Jenna. You shouldn’t have come here.
Jenna Maroney: Well, what was I supposed to do? It’s almost Valentine’s Day and I haven’t heard anything from you. Has the dog who gives you your orders died?
Maynard: No, Brandon’s fine. Jenna, we need to talk. I don’t think I can stalk you anymore.
Jenna Maroney: No, you don’t mean that.
Maynard: Look, I have a new therapist. I’m taking my meds. I can’t even see electricity shooting out of your head anymore.
Jenna Maroney: Well, is there someone else? It’s one of those kids from “Glee,” isn’t it?
Maynard: Jenna, please don’t make a scene.
Jenna Maroney: I always knew this would end someday. I just thought it would be with me in the trunk of a rental car.

Jenna Maroney30 Rock

New Words for a New Era






Dear Mr. Burgess

Herr Wenner has forwarded your useless letter from Rome to the National Affairs Desk for my examination and/or reply.

Unfortunately, we have no International Gibberish Desk, or it would have ended up there.

What kind of lame, half-mad bullshit are you trying to sneak over on us? When Rolling Stone asks for “a thinkpiece”, goddamnit, we want a fucking Thinkpiece… and don’t try to weasel out with any of your limey bullshit about a “50,000 word novella about the condition humaine, etc…”

Do you take us for a gang of brainless lizards? Rich hoodlums? Dilettante thugs?

You lazy cocksucker. I want that Thinkpiece on my desk by Labor Day. And I want it ready for press. The time has come & gone when cheapjack scum like you can get away with the kind of scams you got rich from in the past.

Get your worthless ass out of the piazza and back to the typewriter. Your type is a dime a dozen around here, Burgess, and I’m fucked if I’m going to stand for it any longer.

Sincerely …

Hunter S. Thompson to Anthony Burgess for Rolling Stone, 1973