Other People’s Thoughts XLIII

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.

We start the Lunar Year of the Dragon with this, the forty-second chapter in Other People’s Thoughts.

— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
25 March 2024


Other People’s Thoughts I-XLI:

Other People’s Thoughts, XLIII




— 唐伯虎


Where was the dead body found?
Who found the dead body?
Was the dead body dead when found?
How was the dead body found?

Who was the dead body?

Who was the father or daughter or brother
Or uncle or sister or mother or son
Of the dead and abandoned body?

Was the body dead when abandoned?
Was the body abandoned?
By whom had it been abandoned?

Was the dead body naked or dressed for a journey?

What made you declare the dead body dead?
Did you declare the dead body dead?
How well did you know the dead body?
How did you know the dead body was dead?

Did you wash the dead body
Did you close both its eyes
Did you bury the body
Did you leave it abandoned
Did you kiss the dead body

Harold Pinter, 1997

Nothing but a heartbreak

‘Heartbreaking: The Worst Person You Know Just Made A Great Point’ — headline of an article published by ClickHole in February 2018

He Who Bore Witness

A passage from the diary entry of 16 August 1936, much quoted since the diaries were published, gives some idea of the depth of anger he already felt then, and which helped propel him leftwards: ‘If one day … the fate of the vanquished [i.e. after the defeat of Nazism] lay in my hands, then I would let all the ordinary folk go and even some of the leaders, who might after all have had honourable intentions and not known what they were doing. But I would have all the intellectuals strung up, and the professors three feet higher than the rest; they would be left hanging from the lampposts for as long as was compatible with hygiene.’

I Shall Bear Witness: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1933–41, translated by Martin Chalmers, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 1998, p.225

Victor Klemperer

So, who was Victor Klemperer? Hans-Joachim Petsche has tried to sum up the impossibilities of this life, of Victor Klemperer’s twentieth century:

A German nationalist, a liberal, a cosmopolitan, an anti-Bolshevik, an anti-Communist, a Jew, a Communist even?

He was probably first of all a German Jew whom Germans made into a Jew, who never again wanted to be among the losers and nevertheless found himself on the losing side. Is it possible to make oneself more of an unperson than Klemperer? Not a proper German, not a proper Jew, not a proper liberal, not a proper Communist. No representative fate, no typical hero. He was timid and vain, called himself egotistical and unfeeling, had neither the common touch nor was he sympathetic to youth, technologically uneducated and plagued by self-doubts in his own ability as a scholar. With what mischievous and wise good-humour he smiles from his photos, while those who knew him, said how light-hearted he was.

The Lesser Evil: The Diaries of Victor Klemperer, 1945–1959, translated by Martin Chalmers, London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson, 2003, p.xiv

Navalny’s Funeral

Tens of thousands of people went to say goodbye to a convict who died in prison – who for the state was not just a nobody, but a marked enemy, “included in the register of terrorists and extremists” and all the rest – and until nightfall on the day of his burial, the day after and the day after that, people kept coming and coming, covering the grave with flowers – this has never happened before with politicians, artists or poets. National history is being written in real time despite the state – not just without its involvement – overcoming its reluctance to see those people, that grave and those flowers.

— Oleg Kashin, A Great Farewell. What Putin will Never Get, 5 March 2024

What are we without this?

What are we without this?
Whirling in the dark universe,
alone, afraid, unable to influence fate —
What do we have really?
Sad tricks with ladders and shoes,
tricks with salt, impurely motivated recurring
attempts to build character.

What do we have to appease the great forces?
And I think in the end this was the question
that destroyed Agamemnon, there on the beach,
the Greek ships at the ready, the sea
invisible beyond the serene harbor, the future
lethal, unstable: he was a fool, thinking
it could be controlled. He should have said
I have nothing, I am at your mercy.

— from Louise Glück, The Empty Glass, 2001

Atrocity is once again becoming ambient

Everyone I know who has seen the film can think of little but Gaza. To say this is not to claim a one-to-one equation or comparison with Auschwitz. No two genocides are identical: Gaza is not a factory deliberately designed for mass murder, nor are we close to the scale of the Nazi death toll. But the whole reason the postwar edifice of international humanitarian law was erected was so that we would have the tools to collectively identify patterns before history repeats at scale. And some of the patterns – the wall, the ghetto, the mass killing, the repeatedly stated eliminationist intent, the mass starvation, the pillaging, the joyful dehumanization, and the deliberate humiliation – are repeating.

— Naomi Klein, The Zone of Interest is about the danger of ignoring atrocities – including in Gaza, The Guardian, 14 March 2024

An Answer

Many of us like to ask ourselves, ‘What would I do if I was alive during slavery? Or the Jim Crow south? Or apartheid? What would I do if my country was committing genocide?’ The answer is, you’re doing it. Right now.

Aaron Bushnell

Anwar Ibrahim to Olaf Scholz

“Where have we thrown our humanity, why this hypocrisy? … What I reject strongly is this narrative, this obsession, as if the entire problem begins and ends with the 7th of October . It did not begin with the 7th October, and did not end with the 7th of October. It began four decades before that, and it is continuing daily.” …

“We oppose colonialism, or apartheid, or ethnic cleansing, or dispossession of any country, be it in Ukraine, or in Gaza. We cannot erase 40 years of atrocities, and dispossession, which have resulted in reaction, and anger, from the people,” Ibrahim said in a joint news conference with German Chancellor Olaf Scholz, following their meeting in Berlin.

Anwar Ibrahim, 11 March 2024




The Kindle

‘Sorry to all people who make Kindles. But somebody gave me a Kindle once, it just made me so unhappy, the whole idea of it was so meagre and dull.’

Bill Nighy, 14 March 2024


Less coherent than vaguely allusive, Thiel’s public speeches rarely add up to straightforward policy proposals. At times, Thiel’s public politics—like his seemingly stochastic choice of projects to fund—seem to have been conjured by an artificial intelligence trained exclusively on Twitter accounts with anime avatars. … Whatever the current thing is—to paraphrase one popular meme—Peter Thiel is probably against it. Or else he’s funding it. Who can possibly say?

— Tara Isabella Burton, The Temptation of Peter Thiel, 15 November 2023

What Resembles the Grave but Isn’t

Always falling into a hole, then saying “ok, this is not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of the hole which is not the grave, falling into a hole again, saying “ok, this is also not your grave, get out of this hole,” getting out of that hole, falling into another one; sometimes falling into a hole within a hole, or many holes within holes, getting out of them one after the other, then falling again, saying “this is not your grave, get out of the hole”; sometimes being pushed, saying “you can not push me into this hole, it is not my grave,” and getting out defiantly, then falling into a hole again without any pushing; sometimes falling into a set of holes whose structures are predictable, ideological, and long dug, often falling into this set of structural and impersonal holes; sometimes falling into holes with other people, with other people, saying “this is not our mass grave, get out of this hole,” all together getting out of the hole together, hands and legs and arms and human ladders of each other to get out of the hole that is not the mass grave but that will only be gotten out of together; sometimes the willful-falling into a hole which is not the grave because it is easier than not falling into a hole really, but then once in it, realizing it is not the grave, getting out of the hole eventually; sometimes falling into a hole and languishing there for days, weeks, months, years, because while not the grave very difficult, still, to climb out of and you know after this hole there’s just another and another; sometimes surveying the landscape of holes and wishing for a high quality final hole; sometimes thinking of who has fallen into holes which are not graves but might be better if they were; sometimes too ardently contemplating the final hole while trying to avoid the provisional ones; sometimes dutifully falling and getting out, with perfect fortitude, saying “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”

— Anne Boyer, What Resembles the Grave but Isn’t 

Kyrenia, Cyprus, 29 August 1933

History in this island is almost too profuse. It gives one a sort of mental indigestion. At Nicosia, a new Government House has replaced that which the riots destroyed in 1931. Outside it stands a cannon presented by Henry VIlI of England to the Order of St John of Jerusalem in 1527. This bears the Tudor arms. But the coinage, struck to commemorate the jubilee of British rule in 1928, bears the arms of Richard Coeur-de-Lion, who conquered the island and married there in 1191. I landed at Larnaca. A few miles off, in AD 45, landed Paul and Barnabas.

Lazarus is buried at Larnaca. So are two nephews of Bishop Ken, Ion and William, who died in 1693 and 1707. Dates begin with an Egyptian notice of 1450 BC. Fame arrived at the end of the twelfth century, with the rule and culture of the Lusignans: to King Peter I, authors so various as Boccaccio and St Thomas Aquinas dedicated books. In 1489 Queen Catherine Cornaro surrendered her sovereignty to the Venetians, and eighty years later the last Venetian commander was flayed alive by the Turks. The three centuries of oblivion that followed were ended by the Treaty of Berlin, which leased the island to the English. In 1914 we annexed it.

— Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana, 1937

The Polls

President Biden’s shaky approval ratings: “When I look at these polling numbers, it’s like walking in on your grandma naked. You can’t get the image out of your mind.”

— Maureen Dowd, James Carville, the Cajun Who Can’t Stop Ragin’, 23 March 2024

Heavy the Head

You will continue as Queen for as long as you possibly can, for one reason. — Because those are the rules. — No. Because those that come after you are not remotely ready to take over. — No, but I wasn’t either. Remember? I was so young. — Ah, no, no. You were always ready. You were born ready. You are one of a kind. By contrast, this lot… Mmm? The good thing is, it’s not our problem. This is where we will be, you and I. Right under this stone. We’ll never hear the screams from inside there. — What? — You know I’m right. The system makes no sense anymore to those outside it, nor to those of us inside it. All human things are subject to decay, and when fate summons, even monarchs must obey We’re a dying breed, you and I. Oh, I’m sure everyone will carry on, pretending all is well. But the party’s over. The good news is, that while Rome burns and the temple falls, we will sleep, dearie, sleep.

— Philip and Elizabeth in The Crown, Season 6 Episode 10

Jesus bobblehead

Penny: We’re not in a rush. We’ll set a date when the time is right.
Mrs Cooper: It doesn’t matter, sweetie. The moment a man lays with a woman, they are married in the eyes of the Lord.
Dr Hofstadter: Uch.
Mrs Cooper: Uch? The bible is uch to you?
Dr Hofstadter: No, I’m sorry. That was inappropriate. As a psychiatrist, I know how important people’s superstitions can be to them.
Mrs Cooper: You want to talk about superstitions? Sheldon sent me the books you wrote, all that nonsense about superegos and ids. What bull dropped that on the barn floor?
Dr Hofstadter: His name is Sigmund Freud.
Penny: Hey, look at that. You both believe in Jewish bearded guys.
Mrs Cooper: Stay out of this.
Penny: Mm-hmm.
Mrs Cooper: At least the bearded man that I believe in preaches love and compassion. All yours talks about is why you hold in your poop and want to crawl back inside your mama.
Dr Hofstadter: It’s fascinating. How can someone as enlightened as Sheldon come from someone like you?
Mrs Cooper: I know the answer. You’re not gonna like it.
Dr Hofstadter: Try me.
Mrs Cooper: When I was pregnant with Shelly, I was driving to church, and I was praying to the Lord to give me a son smarter than his dumb-ass daddy. And I looked over and I saw a Jesus bobblehead in the Subaru next to me nodding yes. What is that supposed to mean?
Dr Hofstadter: It means, I can’t believe we’re having this conversation.
Mrs Cooper: Well, do it some more. Maybe you can knock some sense into yourself.

The Maternal Combustion, The Big Bang Theory, Series 8 Episode 23

Puppies on the Freeway

‘There are two forms of entertaining. Circus is random. And voyeuristic. It’s basically what you see on YouTube now. I call it feeding Christians to the lions. The movie term is throwing puppies on a freeway. It’s very easy. You sit there and watch and see what happens. You don’t have to write anything, you don’t have to do anything, you just sort of watch it happen, and it’s interesting. Then you get to art. Art is where a person contrives the situation and tells a story, and hopefully that story reveals the truth behind the facts. Storytelling is trying to come up with an idea that is insightful in terms of giving you a different insight into how things work or is amusing.’

George Lucas, 18 June 2007

Toothless Glamour

‘Hollywood is a community that’s so inbred, it’s a wonder the children have any teeth.’

— Barry Diller, business titan

Be Soaked as if in a River

Ancient students were leisurely and at ease, and thoroughly absorbed in what they learned. They followed a definite order. Students of today, however, merely engage in empty talk and strive after exalted position. I have always loved what Du Yu said: ‘Be thoroughly soaked as if in a river, enriched as if with fat, free and wide-spreading like melted ice, and comfortably in accord with principle. Only then can you be said to have achieved your objective.’


— Cheng Yi 程頤, Reflections on Things at Hand 2.49, tr. Wing-tsit Chan

A Living Paradox

‘… for me, performativity is enacting who we are, both our social formation and what we’ve done with that social formation. I mean, my gestures: I didn’t make them up out of thin air — there’s a history of Jewish people who do this. I am inside of something, socially, culturally constructed. At the same time, I find my own way in it. And it’s always been my contention that we’re both formed and we form ourselves, and that’s a living paradox.’

Judith Butler, 24 March 2024

SS Martha Washington, 4 September 1933

At dinner, finding myself next an Englishman, I opened conversation by hoping he had had a fine passage. He replied: ‘Indeed we have. Goodness and mercy have followed us throughout.’

A tired woman struggled by, leading an unruly child. I said: ‘I always feel so sorry for women travelling with children.’

‘I can’t agree with you. To me, little children are as glints of sunshine.’

I saw the creature later, reading a Bible in a deckchair. This is what Protestants call a missionary.

— Robert Byron, The Road to Oxiana

An Exceptional Holocaust

There are many well-known arguments for why the Holocaust perpetrated by the Nazis was different. It was higher tech. Death came faster. It was industrial in its scale. All true. But it’s also true that every holocaust is different. Every genocide has its own particular characteristics, and every hated group is hated in its own special way. By sheer numbers of dead, the genocide of Indigenous peoples in the Americas surpasses all others. In terms of modern technologies, the transatlantic trade in kidnapped and enslaved Africans, and the plantations the trade served in the antebellum South and the Caribbean, were highly modern for their times. So cutting-edge, scholars have shown, that the systems developed to transport, insure, depreciate, track, control, and extract maximum wealth from this coerced labor shaped many aspects of modern accounting and human resources management. And as Rinaldo Walcott, a scholar of race and gender, writes in his manifesto On Property, “The ideas forged in the plantation economy continue to shape our social relations.” Among those social relations are modern policing, mass surveillance, and mass incarceration. On what else does the claim to exceptionalism rest?

― Naomi Klein, Doppelganger: A Trip into the Mirror World, 2023


‘Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.’

— Lemony Snicket