Other People’s Thoughts, XVII

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
28 December 2018

Other People’s Thoughts Index

Other People’s Thoughts, XVII


It is the existence of democratic institutions that enable different people to express their points of view within a legal framework that sets the boundaries of the political process. That’s a very rough definition. We have suddenly discovered that this framework is on the verge of a breakdown. The system of institutions that functioned for two and a half centuries has rusted through, and we have to figure out how it’s all going to work in the twenty-first century. (Garry Kasparov, in Masha Gessen, ‘Garry Kasparov Says We Are Living in Chaos, But Remains an Incorrigible Optimist’, The New Yorker, 4 December 2018)

Tenets of The Satanic Temple

  1. One should strive to act with compassion and empathy toward all creatures in accordance with reason.
  2. The struggle for justice is an ongoing and necessary pursuit that should prevail over laws and institutions.
  3. One’s body is inviolable, subject to one’s own will alone.
  4. The freedoms of others should be respected, including the freedom to offend. To willfully and unjustly encroach upon the freedoms of another is to forgo one’s own.
  5. Beliefs should conform to one’s best scientific understanding of the world. One should take care never to distort scientific facts to fit one’s beliefs.
  6. People are fallible. If one makes a mistake, one should do one’s best to rectify it and resolve any harm that might have been caused.
  7. Every tenet is a guiding principle designed to inspire nobility in action and thought. The spirit of compassion, wisdom, and justice should always prevail over the written or spoken word.

(The Satanic Temple)

Let Them Eat Cake

Later that month, Archbishop Viganò sent a letter to his friend Cardinal Raymond Burke, the American leader of the anti-Francis resistance, regretting that he could not attend the cardinal’s birthday party at a Tuscan seminary.

The reason, Princess Gloria explained, was that he was in hiding. ‘He had a good excuse,’ she said.

Still, it was a shame because it was a great party. Cardinal Burke — as close to her, she said, as a ‘family priest’ — ate birthday cake in the shape of a red cardinal’s hat, held champagne in one glass and blessed seminarians with the other, and watched fireworks light up the sky in his honor.

‘The good people know how to party,’ she said with a laugh, adding that Cardinal Burke deserved it, ‘because he’s been so persecuted.’ (Jason Horowitz, ‘The ‘It’ ’80s Party Girl Is Now a Defender of the Catholic Faith’, The New York Times, 7 December 2018)

Sushi for Two 二人壽司

I seem to have become the seaweed wrapped around you;
Can you accept the embrace of my clumsy form?
Can you stomach the bright sea-urchin eggs sprinkled all over me?
Loving you I must love squid, cucumber, crab meat.
Countless rice rolls return from the past to disturb us, as we search for ourselves.
Green tea or sake? We hesitate at a thousand crossroads.
Reaching to where you are soft and sinewy, I encounter hidden thorns;
Your soft-shell crab-claws — like spider’s legs – seek sweetness from me
Shedding layers of clothes you pause, I seem to shudder;
Coming near the coiled core is like touching a hidden pain
My own flavour is unknown to me, my rawness drives you away,
But you carelessly unfold, your pungency hurts me.
We lie silently side by side on the dish, like passing strangers,
A word or two exchanged, but stomachs heaving with old grievances.
Without love, evening meals are mere consumption of matter;
Without a home, is the soul of a clam the only trusty shelter?
From different cities we come, from different winters;
We enjoy each other’s bright colours, so why is love so hard?
I chew slowly, gradually digesting the filaments from your deep ocean;
In the loudness you are still, I melt on your tongue.

(P.K. Leung 梁秉鈞, trans. John Minford)

Huawei In & Out of Court


The dastardly actions of the Canadians disregard all legality; this is an offense both to principal and to decency. (Official Chinese reaction to the arrest of Meng Wanzhou, CEO of Huawei)

Pissed Off

‘It goes to show you: you get into a tickle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.’ (Nancy Pelosi & Donald Trump, 11 December 2018)

Teresa May’s Grand Tour

May has now embarked on a harum-scarum tour of European capitals — a sort of National Lampoon’s Brexit Vacation, designed to really get you into the holiday mood. Alas, the EU has made it very clear that there is nothing for her in these particular Christmas markets. ….

I mean … wherever we are, ‘shitshow’ doesn’t cover this postcode. See also ‘clusterfuck’. Even relatively new coinages like The Thick of It’s ‘omnishambles’ are cracking under the strain. We are now in that semantic endzone where the brand name itself comes to connote an entire genre of awful. ‘Brexit’ is now so far the runaway market leader for words to conjure up chaotic malfunction that you simply ask your pharmacist for it by name. (Marina Hyde, ‘Guys, it’s 108 shopping days till Brexit, and we’re grabbing maces’The Guardian, 11 December 2018)

Ecce Homo

Any man who has once acclaimed violence as his method must inexorably choose falsehood as his principle. (Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn)


A few years ago, the following announcement was heard on Hungarian radio: ‘There are only two of us in the studio tonight. But don’t worry, there’s plenty to discuss because one of us knows everything and the other knows everything even better.’ This insistence on knowing everything better (jobban tudni) is a particularly Hungarian vice, and is the backdrop to the impact that Arthur Koestler had on British cultural life (and, furthermore, many of the Hungarian Jews who were his contemporaries, scientists such as Teller, Von Neumann and Wigner, did indeed know better).


I’ve never been nostalgic, personally or politically — if the past was so great, how come it’s history? (Julie Burchill)


Sometimes it seems that our free western society — which without doubt provides the best lives for the greatest number of people — veers between genuinely worthwhile moral crusades (abolition of slavery, female suffrage) and pointless nagging. (Julie Burchill)

My House

Now everybody’s coming to my house
And I’m never gonna  be alone
And everybody’s coming to my house
And they’re never gonna go back home

(David Byrne, ‘Everybody’s Coming to my House’)

Jupiter Eclipsed

France today has a leader with no followers and an opposition with no leader. (Michael Mandelbaum)

Dear Anonymous

You must know by now that you are no longer keeping a bad thing from getting worse. All you are doing is disguising how bad it is, thereby helping it to become worse. (Bret Stephens, 21 December 2018)


Dictatorships are not always evil and, however anathema the principle may be to us, it is unfair to condemn a whole country, or even a whole system. because parts of it are bad.

In fact, many things in the Nazi organisation and social institutions… which we might study and adapt to our own use with great profit both to the health and happiness of our own nation and old democracy. (Neville Herderson, UK ambassador to Nazi Germany)


The fabric of reference and inner recognition on which most of western literature was founded from Dante to Tennyson is receding from our general awareness… . Ours is a culture severed by ignorance or specialization from its moorings in the past. (Michael Grant, The Birth of Western Civilization: Greece and Rome, 1964) [JM]

The Favourite

Abigail: ‘Did you come to seduce me or rape me?’
Lord Masham: ‘I am a gentleman.’
Abigail: ‘So, rape, then.’

We could use about twenty more films along these lines right away, part of a series that would constitute a kind of cinematic People’s History of Great Britain. They could rip into the brown-nosing conventions of ‘heritage films’ that have done so much to soften the brains of audiences around the world, especially in former British colonies such as the United States.

They’d expose the disastrous eras of Brit misrule, the consistently vile abuses of power over centuries, and the ghastly domestic messes of a whole series of mad queens, syphilitic princes, dim-witted dukes, and loathsome landed gentry. As for the current royal family, they’d be saved for the slapstick finale, as the basis of a film called Idiocracy II: We’re Finally Onto You. (Eileen Jones, ‘The British Royals Have Always Been Scum’, Jacobin)

On Being a Socialist

On a basic level, I am a socialist because I simply cannot fathom reconciling myself to a society where so many needlessly suffer because of circumstances beyond their control; where human dignity is distributed on the basis of luck and a social caste system is allowed to permeate every aspect of daily life; and where all of this is considered perfectly normal and acceptable in a civilization that has split the atom and sent people to the Moon …

Etiquette above equality, manners before morals, procedure ahead of program, conciliation over conflict, private vice over public good, the modern liberal increasingly does politics as the Tory philosopher Michael Oakeshott once recommended: keeping things on an even keel and refusing to set a definitive course. Problem is, while its sun-kissed officers so cheerfully steady things from above deck, the ship is sinking and many of the passengers below have already drowned. (Luke Savage, ‘Liberalism in Theory and Practice’, Jacobin)

Celebrated Murder

It is forbidden to kill; therefore, all murderers are punished unless they kill in large numbers and to the sound of trumpets. (Voltaire)

Vale George H.W. Bush

You know what? Donald Trump doesn’t even have enough time left in his life to commit even a fraction of the international crimes that Bush carried out during his decades in power, whether it was at the helm of the CIA, or as vice-president, or as president. Not even close. Journalist today believe that they’re so brave in calling out Trump’s lies, in investigating his real estate deals, in probing his associates. And yet none of them have the spine to accurately describe the well-documented, indisputable crimes committed by George Herbert Walker Bush. What we’re witnessing is a powerful media class and an elite political class whitewashing the life of a man who used his various positions not to make the world better, but to wage unthinkable wars, to undermine democratic movements, to kill innocent people, to orchestrate coups and invasions. And the reason this doesn’t happen, that we don’t talk about this, is because it’s a sacrilege in the religion of American exceptionalism. (George H.W. Bush (1924-2018), American War Criminal, The Intercept)


Q: Did you talk to other filmmakers — your peers — about Chinese censorship?

James Cameron: No. I’m not interested in their reality. My reality is that I’ve made two films in the last 15 years that both have been resounding successes here, and this is an important market for me. And so I’m going to do what’s necessary to continue having this be an important market for my films. And I’m going to play by the rules that are internal to this market. Because you have to. You know, I can stomp my feet and hold my breath but I’m not going to change people’s minds that way. Now I do feel that everything is trending in the right direction right now, as I mentioned earlier.

(Edward Wong, ‘James Cameron on Chinese Filmmakers, Censorship and Potential Co-Productions’, The New York Times, 5 May 2012)

Amusing Ourselves to Death

Evil has been fully and truly trivialized, and what really counts among the consequences is that we have been, or are rapidly being, made insensitive to its presence and manifestations. Doing evil no longer demands motivation. Has it not — bullying included — been shifting in its great part from the class of purposeful (indeed, meaningful) actions to the space of (for a growing number of bystanders) pleasurable pastime and entertainment?! (Zygmunt Bauman, with Thomas Leoncini, ‘Evil Has Been Trivialized’: A Final Conversation with Zygmunt Bauman, New York Review of Books, 6 December 2018)