Other People’s Thoughts, XVI

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.

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.

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 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.

Quotations marked [JM] were suggested by John Minford.

— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
4 December 2018

Other People’s Thoughts Index

Other People’s Thoughts, XVI

The Century We Live In

Le siècle où nous vivons est un siècle pourri.
Tout n’est que lâcheté, bassesse,
Les plus grands assassins vont aux plus grandes messes
Et sont des plus grands rois les plus grands favoris.
Hommage de l’auteur à ceux qui l’ont compris,
Et merde aux autres.

The century we live in is a rotten century.
Everything is but cowardice and baseness.
The greatest murderers attend the highest Masses
And are the greatest favourites of the greatest kings.
Homage from the author to those who understood this,
And to hell with the others (shit to the others).

(Georges Brassens, 1940s) [JM]

Keyboard Warrior 键盘俠

A person who behaves aggressively and/or in an inflammatory manner in online text-based discussion media, but at the same time does not behave similarly in real life, potentially due to cowardice, introversion or shyness.

鍵盤俠(keyboard man)是一個網絡詞語,指部分在現實生活中膽小怕事,而在網上佔據道德高點發表」個人正義感「和「個人評論」的人群。


— online definitions

Open Cesspool

Part of the reason is that we tend to forget that technology is only as good as the people who use it. We want it to elevate us; we tend to degrade it. In a better world, Twitter might have been a digital billboard of ideas and conversation ennobling the public square. We’ve turned it into the open cesspool of the American mind. Facebook was supposed to serve as a platform for enhanced human interaction, not a tool for the lonely to burrow more deeply into their own isolation.

(Bret Stephens, How Plato Foresaw Facebook’s Folly, The New York Times, 16 November 2018)

Ever More Trumpy

Trump can’t change, no matter what the voters tell him. He just gets ever more Trumpy, grasping for the last thinning hairs of his far-right conspiracies as they circle the bathroom sink.

(Richard Wolfe, Donald Trump’s unchecked hold on power has come to an end, The Guardian, 7 November 2018)


‘Listen, Isaac, I don’t know exactly who the fuck you think you are, but I’ll tell you what you’re not. You’re not a real person, all right? You’re not a dynamic individual. You’re not a font of creativity and innovation. No, you’re a weak, backstabbing pussy. And you want all those cunts over there to think you’re some kind of good guy, but the truth is you’re just too scared to ever let your feelings or desires show. And you’re glad to see me go down not because it’s about time the oppressors were punished but because it kills guys like you to see guys like me enjoy our fucking allotment of years on this planet. Because it is utterly impossible for you to enjoy yours. I never did anything so bad. I never forced anybody to do anything. And don’t tell me about power in the workplace. That’s all that exists in the workplace. That’s all the workplace is for. For some people to exercise their power to do what they want, to create what they want, to profit how they want, and to experience pleasure and joy, or at least a momentary cessation of anxiety, how they want. All kinds of people. All kinds of power. What the hell do you think capitalism is? Or America. And that’s the dark horrible truth. Maybe it’s too late for you to gain anything from this knowledge, but you would do well to make sure Molly understands. Because this world is getting more savage, more unforgiving, every fucking day. See you around.’

(Sam Lipsyte, Show Recent Some Love, The New Yorker, 19 November 2018)

Qin Rules

Eyes wide open I was fully aware of what I was doing and psychologically prepared for anything untoward that might befall me. That’s why I was not particularly perturbed by the initial wave of ‘gentle breezes and mild rains’ that consisted of the elimination of online material related to me and the blocking of my name. At first, I simply took no notice; moreover, it did not disturb me unduly. The wondrously efficacious methods of the age-old Qin tyranny are now but shabby techniques employed by the Newly Ennobled One. Although separated by two millennia, and despite variations on the theme, there has been no significant evolution [in how Qin methods are being imposed on today’s reality]. All in all, it comes down to the same old thing: ‘make people keep their mouths shut’. So what is happening to me is hardly a surprise!


(Xu Zhangrun 許章潤, And Teachers, Then?
They Just Do Their Thing!
China Heritage, 10 November 2018)

A Meeting of Minds

Later, after my own talk, during which I spoke critically about conditions in Chinese tech factories, a prominent computer scientist approached to tell me how wrong I was. The workers of Foxconn, a Taiwanese manufacturer with massive facilities in mainland China, are there willingly, he insisted, and life in the rural provinces where many of these workers come from is miserable. When I asked about the factories’ infamous suicide nets, he said that most workers enjoyed their working conditions and that it was useless to argue for anything better. We jousted passive aggressively like that for a few minutes, my pious morality against his evasive apologetics. But more important than the specifics of these arguments is the worldview they reflect. An increasing number of tech elites seem untroubled by China’s ghastly human rights record, its dire working conditions, or even how the country’s vast security apparatus uses sophisticated surveillance technologies to oppress and imprison hundreds of thousands of Uighurs, a Muslim minority concentrated in the far west Xinjiang region.

(Jacob Silverman, Silicon Valley’s Chinese Dream, The Baffler, 21 November 2018)

Lies Down Under

We are more than the sum of our deals.

(Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison, November 2018)

Good Luck

Australia is a lucky country run mainly by second rate people who share its luck. It lives on other people’s ideas, and, although its ordinary people are adaptable, most of its leaders (in all fields) so lack curiosity about the events that surround them that they are often taken by surprise.

(Donald Horne, The Lucky Country, 1964)

An Axiom from Cui Shi 崔寔

Distort not the Tao to suit the times,
Betray not oneself in search of fame.


(Cui Shi, Han dynasty, ‘On Rulership’ 崔寔《政論》)

Wang Shuo on Jin Yong



(王朔:我看金庸, 1999)

Ol’ Blue Eyes in Oz

And during a 1974 tour to Australia, he said the wrong thing to the wrong people at the wrong time.

‘The broads who work in the press are the hookers of the press. I might give them a buck-and-half, I’m not sure,’ Sinatra told a crowd at Melbourne’s Festival Hall.

(Frank Sinatra, 1974)




Sara worked Saturdays at The Book Shop, 17 North Main Street, Wigtown, for three years while she was at the Douglas Ewart High School. When I say ‘worked’, I use the word in its loosest possible terms. She spent the entire day either standing outside the shop, smoking and snarling at people trying to enter the building, or watching repeats of Hollyoaks on 40D. Although she was generally punctual, she often arrived either drunk or severely hungover. She was usually rude and aggressive. She rarely did as she was told, and never, in the entire three years of her time here, did anything constructive without having to be told to do so. She invariably left a trail of rubbish behind her, usually consisting of Irn-Bru bottles, crisp packets, chocolate wrappers and cigarette packets. She consistently stole lighters and matches from the business, and was offensive and frequently violent towards me. She was a valued member of staff and I have no hesitation in recommending her.

Monday, 14 March 2014

(Shaun Bythell, Diary of a Bookseller, p.55)

Eating Out

At one Swabian restaurant, the waiter apologetically retrieved a bowl of noodles made with eggs. At another, when we asked if we could just please get a veggie plate, the owner threw up his hands.

‘Vegetables?’ he huffed, motioning us out. ‘This is a traditional Bavarian restaurant; we don’t have vegetables!’

(Pamela Paul, On a Family Road Trip Through Germany:
Fairy Tales, Castles and Cuckoo Clocks
The New York Times, 29 October 2018)

A Musty Pulpit

After work I went for supper with Alastair and Leslie Reid in the cottage they rent from Finn and Ella in Garlieston. Alastair spoke of his first trip to America, which he took via London. A lecturer at the University of St Andrews, from which he had recently graduated, had given him the telephone number of a friend of his in London called Tom. Alastair duly arrived in London and telephoned ‘Tom’ to see if he could put him up for the night. ‘Tom’ turned out to be T. S. Eliot. Stewart Henderson, another friend who was there for supper, asked him ‘What did he smell like?’ to which Alastair — with no pause for thought — replied, ‘A musty pulpit, which is exactly what he would have wanted to smell like.’

(Shaun Bythell, Diary of a Bookseller, 2014, p.113)


I’m afraid of losing my obscurity.
Genuineness only thrives in the dark.

(Aldous Huxley, Those Barren Leaves, Part 1, Chapter 1) [JM]

Life Outside

Life outside China is so very different. Conditions here are so much more conducive to genuine artistic achievement. Life is so much richer, and one can give one’s imagination free rein. Artists need this freedom in order to live; without it they simply wither and die. There are still a lot of issues I haven’t thought through properly. But right now I have no desire to do so. Life is such a fleeting thing! [to quote a poem by Cao Cao, 155-220 CE] It is essential to grasp every opportunity we have to do serious work or else we’ll have lived a life full of regret. What I need most of all now is peace of mind. I can’t abide all this ideological struggle. It’s bad for me personally, and even worse for my art.

(Fou Ts’ong 傅聰 writing from Warsaw to his father
Fou Lei 傅雷, November 1957. Trans. John Minford)

The Artist

It’s the artist’s job to create sunshine when there isn’t any.

(Romain Rolland, Jean-Christophe, ‘La Foire sur la Place’) [JM]

If I Could Tell You

Time will say nothing but I told you so.
Time only knows the price we have to pay;
If I could tell you I would let you know.
If we should weep when clowns put on their show,
If we should stumble when musicians play,
Time will say nothing but I told you so ….
The winds must come from somewhere when they blow,
There must be reasons why the leaves decay;
Time will say nothing but I told you so ….
Suppose the lions all get up and go,
And all the brooks and soldiers run away;
Will Time say nothing but I told you so?
If I could tell you I would let you know.

(W.H. Auden, Collected Shorter Poems 1927-1957)