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 that reflects our interests and disposition.
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.
More Other People’s Thoughts:
- Other People’s Thoughts, China Heritage
Other People’s Thoughts XXV
The Espresso Martini
‘Wake me up, then fuck me up.’
— request from an unnamed fashion model to
David Bradsell, a Soho bartender,
to make a new cocktail in the late 1980s
In 1963, MLK said:
‘Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects all indirectly.’
Humans are stuck with the fact that heterodoxy exists at the fringe with the cranks. No one has a way to sort one from the other, except in retrospect. So if you regulate the cranks out of existence, you also shut down meaningful progress. The price of that is incalculable.
— Bret Weinstein, 19 June 2021
Half Full vs. Half Empty
Political optimists are always walking around with a scowl, pessimists with a smile, because optimists are always disappointed and pessimists are always relieved.
— Amos Oz
Advice to Would-be Napoleons
‘My Lord, you can do anything you like with bayonets, except sit on them… ’
— Talleyrand to Bonaparte
Jon Stewart Goes Zoonotic
‘Maybe a bat flew into the cloaca of a turkey and then it sneezed into my chilli and now we all have coronavirus.’
— Jon Stewart on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, 17 June 2021
From Now to Eternity
Gatsby believed in the green light, the orgastic future that year by year recedes before us. It eluded us then, but that’s no matter — tomorrow we will run faster, stretch out our arms farther…. And one fine morning — So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, The Great Gatsby
A Famous Nemo
‘I helped Andy become recognized, but he helped me to remain unrecognized.’
— Allen Midgette, Andy Warhol’s double
‘The rules are simple. They lie to us, we know they’re lying, they know we know they’re lying, but they keep lying anyway, and we keep pretending to believe them.’
— Elena Gorokhova, A Mountain of Crumbs
Vale Apple Daily
‘I would not wish it to be said, when they come for me, that I was silent when other people were being muzzled. The campaign against Apple Daily is clearly motivated by the desire to put a dissenting voice out of business. The law is merely a means to a political end, deployed by a regime which likes to praise the rule of law but scorns to practice it.’
— Tim Hamlett, ‘The fantasies of an ex-Hong Kong leader with a toxic legacy’
Hong Kong Free Press, 27 June 2021
Apple Daily’s Demise & Hong Kong Freedom
— Lee Yee 李怡, 28 June 2021
When Cancelled in Chengdu
Diplomacy does not always pay. Though [John King] Fairbank has written: “the Maoist revolution is, on the whole, the best thing that has happened to the Chinese people in many centuries,” the Peking mandarins are not grateful—at least if I am to believe the sharp comments made about him by Assistant Minister Chang Wen-chin during a private evening party that I had the pleasure to attend. The crime of the great American scholar had been to describe new China in historical perspective! (Unreconstructed Sinologists…) For Peking, flattery is not enough: it must be done in the style and with the terminology of the New China New Agency. Below this level, everything is calumny.
— Simon Leys, Chinese Shadows (1974)
躺平/ Taking it Lying Down
‘What can you make out of a day that starts with getting out of bed?’
— Friedrich Karinthy
Truth be Told
‘He’s such a liar that not even the opposite is true.’
— Ferenc Molnár
‘He looks like an old woman who looks like an old man.’
— Anton Kuh
‘Of her birds, I remember only an untidy canary whom she named Onan for reasons which will not escape those who know their Scriptures.’
— Alexander Woollcott
China Watchers Then & Xi Jinping Watchers Now
Friedell was one of those enchanted spirits who are observant over the whole range of human experience from everyday behaviour up to the most exalted level of creativity: indeed he scarcely recognized the hierarchy, and took it all as an isotropic universe of delicious excitement. Finding everything significant, he was in a good position to appreciate the perennial charm of the charlatan, whose expertise is to convince the hayseeds that they share the same propensity for universal insight. It is not enough for the mountebank to unleash a theory that explains everything: to be successful, he must convince his gormless onlookers that the same theory has always been in their possession, but now stands revealed. They reward him for what he has discovered in them, and buy his snake oil as a vote of thanks.
— Clive James, Cultural Amnesia, pp.239-240
The civilized are most so as they die
Egon Friedell committed suicide
By jumping from his window when he saw
Approaching Brownshirts eager to preside
At rites the recent Anschluss had made law. …
Forestalling them was simply common sense,
An act only a Pharisee would blame,
Yet hard to do when fear is so intense.
Would you have had the nerve to do the same?
The normal move would be to just lie still
And tell yourself you somehow might survive,
But this great man of letters had the will
To meet his death while he was still alive.
So out into the air above the street
He sailed with all his learning left behind,
And by one further gesture turned defeat
Into a triumph for the human mind.
The civilized are most so as they die.
He called a warning even as he fell
In case his body hit a passer-by
As innocent as was Egon Friedell.
— from Clive James, ‘Egon Friedell’s Heroic Death’
The Commonplace Majesty of Xi Jinping, or
More Cult Than Personality
‘Comrade Jinping exudes an innate spirit of nobility. His speech is suffused with gravitas and philosophical depth and, even when he expresses himself in the most accessible fashion, what he says has the power to engage people’s heart-minds profoundly. When he walks into a major venue he demonstrates a relaxed centredness, an effortless confidence that exudes majesty. Be it riding in the Royal Coach with the British monarch or when engaged in formal discussions with presidents Obama or Trump, a commanding magnetism and presence is always evident. His ‘air of nobility’ is neither alienating nor distant for its wellsprings are nurtured by his connection with everyday people; moreover, it is grounded in a self-assurance born of a wealth of political and personal experience. It is the outward manifestation of a depth of personality that is underpinned by a lifetime of understanding. The dimensions of the everyman and the air of nobility that are found uniquely in Xi Jinping are like two sides of the same coin; they are in absolute harmonious balance.’
近平同志的貴族氣質，是骨子裡透出來的。他講話沈穩而有哲理，語言平實，卻能深入人心；他走在大堂上，有一種氣定神閒、不言自威的風采。無論是和英國女王乘坐皇家馬車，還是和美國總統奧巴馬、特朗普在一起會談，他的氣場都足以鎮得住場、壓得住陣。他這種貴族氣質，又不是 ‘拒人千里之外’ 的高傲，而是源於他的平民情懷，以他豐富的執政經歷和強大的自信為前提，是長期積累和沈澱的自然外化。平民情懷和貴族氣質，就像一枚硬幣的兩面，和諧地統一在近平同志身上。
— Lin Bin 林彬, 3 June 2017
A Man for All Seasons
‘Xi Jinping is holding up the CCP’s baton and beefing up its confidence. If one tries to describe modern-day Chinese political values, it’d be cosmopolitan patriot, socialist traditionalist, environmental humanist and secular spiritualist.’
On Xi Jinping (a thought of my own)
‘He has been enshrined, but not yet embalmed, sadly.’
— Geremie R. Barmé, Late Night Live, 21 June 2021
‘It is the destiny of the emigrant that the foreign land does not become his homeland: his homeland becomes foreign.’
— Alfred Polgar
Two in One
‘But I just want to tell my side of the story.’
‘There are no sides of a story,’ Marco says. ‘There are just different stories. People either believe yours or the other one. Usually the other one.’
—Sam Lipsyte, ‘The Apology’, The New Yorker
The Embrace of Sadism
The historian Johan Huizinga, writing about the twilight of the Middle Ages, argued that as things fall apart sadism is embraced to cope with the hostility of an indifferent universe. No longer bound to a common purpose, a ruptured society retreats into hedonism and the cult of the self.
— Chris Hedges, ‘American Sadism’, 27 June 2021
The Vanilla Ice of Anti-Racism
Robin DiAngelo is the Vanilla Ice of anti-racism. A safe, familiar face that allows guilty progressives to enjoy something they’d always considered a little too “urban”. A pale imitation of something that black people with more talent have been doing for decades. A novelty act whose tone-deaf ramblings cheapen the efforts of everybody who’s gone before.
— Steve QJ
, 25 June 2021
‘Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!’
‘Goodness had nothin’ to do with it, dearie!’
— Mae West
We could take the end of the 20-year war in Afghanistan as an occasion to ask whether the United States truly needs to police the planet — or is any good at it. Perhaps it’s time to exchange armed supremacy for earnest diplomacy, and the rule of experts for the rights of citizens. Clawing power back from unaccountable decision makers could let us start debating the things that our leaders rarely even mention, like taxing carbon emissions, legalizing drugs, overhauling the prison system and shuttering overseas bases.
— Daniel Immerwahr, ‘The Strange, Sad Death of America’s Political Imagination’
The New York Times, 2 July 2021
Mel Brooks & The Producers
‘This is one of the funniest movies ever made. … I remember finding myself in an elevator with Brooks and his wife, actress Anne Bancroft, in New York City a few months after The Producers was released. A woman got onto the elevator, recognized him and said,
‘I have to tell you, Mr. Brooks, that your movie is vulgar.’
Brooks smiled benevolently.
‘Lady, it rose below vulgarity.’
— Roger Ebert, ‘The Producers’, 23 July 2000
I’ve Seen the Future…
But what the established ruling elites have yet to grasp, despite the narrow electoral victory Joe Biden had over Trump and the storming of the capital on January 6 by an enraged mob, is that the credibility of the old order is dead. The Trump era, if not Trump himself, is, unless we break the stranglehold of corporate power, the future. The ruling elites, embodied by Biden and the Democratic Party and the polite wing of the Republican Party represented by Jeb Bush and Mitt Romney, is headed for the dustbin of history.
— Chris Hedges, ‘American Sadism’, 27 June 2021
Centenary of the CCP (I)
The party has earned its birthday bash, but it can’t rest on its laurels. Xi has said that China’s greatest remaining “contradiction” — that’s code for “biggest problem” — is uneven development amid rising expectations. Continued development is threatened by corruption, debt, pollution and environmental damage, water shortages, an aging population, a poor social safety net, and hundreds of millions who still live in poverty. After 72 years in power and historic increases in living standards, Beijing hasn’t convinced people in Xinjiang, Tibet, Hong Kong and Taiwan that it is in their interest to be part of the PRC. That is a stunning failure.
— Robert Daly, Politico, 1 July 2021
Centenary of the CCP (II)
Today, China’s tight social controls, impressive infrastructure, dynamic economy, and modernizing military may lend the appearance of a well-ordered, confident, and invincible nation united around an unchallengeable leader and a unified party. Its successes should not be dismissed. But when one factors in the party’s history of fratricidal struggle
, fixation on control, obsession with ceremony, and mania for propaganda, a different picture emerges: of a system so uncertain and lacking in self-confidence that its leaders need to maintain an expensive simulacrum of national greatness to believe in their true prowess. Whatever history’s goal, its deterministic end state is unlikely to be the kind of insecure neo-Maoist techno-autocracy that needs state control and “Wolf Warrior” diplomacy to assert its greatness.
— Orville Schell, ‘Life of the Party’, Foreign Affairs, 22 June 2021
Centenary of the CCP (III)
The fervor of the Kuomintang’s youth had passed to the Communists leaving Chungking with history’s most melancholy tale: that every successful revolution puts on in time the robes of the tyrant it has deposed. Madame Chiang Kai-shek in a rare moment left a brief acknowledgment. When a number of journalists returned from Yenan with enthusiastic reports, she invited them to tea, though disbelieving, to hear what they had to say in person. After listening to their glowing tales of the Communists’ integrity, idealism and sacrifice for a cause, she said it was impossible for her to believe them. Walking to the window she stared out across the river in silence for several minutes and then turned back to the room and spoke the saddest sentence of her life. ‘If what you tell me about them is true, then I can only say they have never known real power.’
— from Barbara Tuchman, Stilwell & the American Experience in China 1911-45 (1970)
Centenary of the CCP (IV)
Those in the West who think that the C.C.P. will implode and collapse rely on an easy narrative that says the party feeds on an imported Leninist ideology that it imposes on an unwilling populace yearning for freedom and democracy. But this view fails to recognize the C.C.P. as an exceptionally successful and rapacious Chinese ruling class that knows how to tap into the yin, or nefarious side, of the Chinese culture, suck up dark matter to grow its muscles and live long, and now to threaten the West.
— Yi-Zheng Lian, 1 July 2021
Into the Great Unknown
Rumsfeld was the worst secretary of defense in American history. Being newly dead shouldn’t spare him this distinction. He was worse than the closest contender, Robert McNamara, and that is not a competition to judge lightly. McNamara’s folly was that of a whole generation of Cold Warriors who believed that Indochina was a vital front in the struggle against communism. His growing realization that the Vietnam War was an unwinnable waste made him more insightful than some of his peers; his decision to keep this realization from the American public made him an unforgivable coward. But Rumsfeld was the chief advocate of every disaster in the years after September 11. Wherever the United States government contemplated a wrong turn, Rumsfeld was there first with his hard smile—squinting, mocking the cautious, shoving his country deeper into a hole. His fatal judgment was equaled only by his absolute self-assurance. He lacked the courage to doubt himself. He lacked the wisdom to change his mind.
— George Packer, ‘How Rumsfeld Deserves to Be Remembered’, 30 June 2021
‘The only thing tragic about the death of Donald Rumsfeld is that it didn’t occur in an Iraqi prison.’
— Spencer Ackerman, The Daily Beast, 1 July 2021
Back on the Day
‘What, to the American slave, is your 4th of July? I answer: a day that reveals to him, more than all other days in the year, the gross injustice and cruelty to which he is the constant victim. To him, your celebration is a sham; your boasted liberty, an unholy license; your national greatness, swelling vanity; your sounds of rejoicing are empty and heartless; your denunciations of tyrants, brass fronted impudence; your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery; your prayers and hymns, your sermons and thanksgivings, with all your religious parade, and solemnity, are, to him, mere bombast, fraud, deception, impiety, and hypocrisy — a thin veil to cover up crimes which would disgrace a nation of savages. There is not a nation on the earth guilty of practices, more shocking and bloody, than are the people of these United States, at this very hour.’
— Frederick Douglass, 4 July 1852