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 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.
— Geremie R. Barmé,
Editor, China Heritage
26 September 2022
National Day of Mourning for
Elizabeth II in New Zealand
More Other People’s Thoughts:
- Other People’s Thoughts, China Heritage
Other People’s Thoughts, XXXI
Vale ER II
How we will miss not knowing what she thought! In a time when everyone has opinions, the queen adhered to the discipline of never revealing hers.
— Tina Brown, ‘Queen Elizabeth II Understood the Weight of the Crown’
The New York Times, 9 September 2022
The monarchy allows us to take a holiday from reason; and on that holiday we do no harm.
— Martin Amis, The New Yorker, 20 May 2002
[(Hong Kong:) On Her watch a fishing village became an international metropolis;
On His watch an international metropolis has become a village of idiots.]
— A note on flowers placed at the gates of Buckingham Palace, September 2022
‘From the darkest days of our past, and the appalling atrocity of slavery, which forever stains our history, the people of this island forged their path with extraordinary fortitude. Emancipation, self-government and Independence were your way-points. Freedom, justice and self-determination have been your guides.’
— Prince Charles in Barbados
‘The appalling atrocity of the slave trade, and the unimaginable suffering it caused, left an indelible stain on the history of our world. …
‘While Britain can be proud that it later led the way in the abolition of this shameful trade, we have a shared responsibility to ensure that the abject horror of slavery is never forgotten.’
— Prince Charles in Ghana, November 2018
You hear that Mr. Anderson?… That is the sound of inevitability…
— The Matrix, 1999
Einmal ist keinmal
Einmal ist keinmal, says Tomas to himself. What happens but once, says the German adage, might as well not have happened at all. If we have only one life to live, we might as well not have lived at all.
— Milan Kundera, The Unbearable Lightness of Being
Amazing China 厲害了，我的國
Amazing China may well boast of opulence nowadays, but it lacks substance; its vulgar fireworks may dazzle some but the tenuous light of meaningful culture is fading. Make no mistake: these are not the workings of Fate, they are the machinations of Man. This era of misrule betrays both the true betterment of China and the greater weal of humanity. It debilitates the spirit and suffocates the soul. This is the way it is, and this is why it is. And this is how we now find ourselves in a state of frustrated disbelief.
— Xu Zhangrun, ‘A Farewell to My Students’
ChinaFile, 9 September 2021
Let’s by all means grieve together. But let’s not be stupid together. A few shreds of historical awareness might help us understand what has just happened, and what may continue to happen.
— Susan Sontag, 24 September 2001
The writer Christopher Hitchens, speaking in 2003, captured the spirit of the time. “Watching the towers fall in New York, with civilians incinerated on the planes and in the buildings,” he said, he felt something he didn’t grasp at first. “I am only slightly embarrassed to tell you that this was a feeling of exhilaration. Here we are then, I was thinking, in a war to the finish between everything I love and everything I hate. Fine. We will win and they will lose.”
— Christopher Hitchens
2004, the administration was so deeply entrenched in its own ideology that a senior adviser to Bush told journalist Ron Suskind that people like him—Suskind—were in “the reality-based community”: they believed people could find solutions based on their observations and careful study of discernible reality. But, the aide continued, such a worldview was obsolete. “That’s not the way the world really works anymore.… We are an empire now, and when we act, we create our own reality. And while you’re studying that reality—judiciously, as you will—we’ll act again, creating other new realities, which you can study too, and that’s how things will sort out. We’re history’s actors…and you, all of you, will be left to just study what we do.”
The great question of America’s twenty-year war in Afghanistan was not whether the Afghans were fit for democracy. It was whether democratic values were strong enough in the US to be projected onto a traumatized society seven thousand miles away. Those values include the accountability of the people in power, the consistent and universal application of human rights, a clear understanding of what policies are trying to achieve, the prevention of corrupt financial influence over political decisions, and the fundamental truthfulness of public utterances. In the first two decades of the twenty-first century, the American republic was fighting, and often losing, a domestic battle to uphold those values for its own citizens.
— Fintan O’Toole, ‘The Lie of Nation Building’
The New York Review of Books, 7 October 2021
The Same Old Song
Gimme an F…
Gimme a U…
Gimme a C…
Gimme a K…
What’s that spell?
What’s that spell? …
yeah, c’mon on all you big strong men
Uncle Sam needs your help again
he’s got himself in a terrible jam
way down yonder in Vietnam
so put down your books and pick up a gun
we’re gonna have a whole lot of fun
and it’s 1, 2, 3, what’re we fighting for?
don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn
next stop is vietnam
and it’s 5, 6, 7, open up the pearly gates
ah, ain’t no time to wonder why
whoopee! we’re all gonna die
well c’mon generals, let’s move fast
your big chance has come at last
gotta go out and get those Reds
the only good Commie is one who’s dead
and you know that peace can only be won when we’ve blown ’em all to kingdom come
well c’mon on Wall Street
don’t be slow …
there’s plenty good money to be made
by supplin’ the Army with the tools of the trade
just hope and pray that if we drop the bomb
they drop it on-a Vietnam
well c’mon mothers throughout this land
pack your boys off to Vietnam
c’mon pops, don’t hesitate
send ’em off before it’s too late
be the first one on your block to have your boy come home in a box
and it’s 1, 2, 3, what’re we fighting for?
don’t ask me, I don’t give a damn.
— Country Joe and the Fish, Fish Cheer
1969 Woodstock Festival
The 9/11 deaths were used to justify the invasion of Afghanistan, “Shock and Awe”, targeted assassinations, torture, offshore penal colonies, gunning down families at checkpoints, air strikes, drone attacks, missile strikes and the killing of dozens and soon hundreds and then thousands and later tens of thousands and finally hundreds of thousands of innocent people. The corpses piled up in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Libya, Somalia, Yemen, and Pakistan, justified by our beatified dead. Twenty years later these dead haunt us like Banquo’s ghost.
— Chris Hedges, ‘The Evil We Do Is the Evil We Get’
10 September 2021
In an environment like this—in an understimulated environment where the only stimulus besides your own blockage is the mediocrity of your colleagues—survival can be difficult. Ignorance is a subtler enemy than vulgar xenophobia. Because it’s the enemy within, requiring no demagoguery to stir it up. No uniforms. No rifles. Nothing incendiary. Just a job, a job title, a college. It’s latent in the college. You dedicate your life to knowledge and your society can only reward you by placing you in an institution. And yet the real tragedy is that you yourself regard this as a reward, being placed behind high stone walls in the midst of the woods, where you can’t hurt anyone, where you can only hurt yourself. Frankly it’s a miracle that not everyone has committed suicide.
— Joshua Cohen, The Netanyahus
The Ultimate Horizon
For Catholics, how we pray shapes what we believe. The old ritual physically aims us toward an altar and tabernacle. In that way it points us to the cross and to heaven as the ultimate horizon of man’s existence. By doing so, it shows that God graciously loves us and redeems us despite our sins. And the proof is in the culture this ritual produces. Think of Mozart’s great rendition of faith in the Eucharist: “Ave Verum Corpus” (Hail True Body).
The new ritual points us toward a bare table, and it consistently posits the unity of humankind as the ultimate horizon of our existence. In the new Mass, God owes man salvation, because of the innate dignity of humanity. Where there was faith, now presumption. Where there was love, now mere affirmation, which is indistinguishable from indifference. It inspires weightless ditties like “Gather Us In.” Let’s sing about us!
— Michael Brendan Dougherty, ‘Pope Francis Is Tearing the Catholic Church Apart’
The New York Times, 12 August 2021
My name is Ruben Blum and I’m an, yes, an historian. Soon enough, though, I guess I’ll be historical. By which I mean Ill die and become history myself, in a rare type of transformation traditionally reserved for the purer scholars. Lawyers die and don’t become the law, doctors die and don’t turn into medicine, but biology and chemistry professors pass away and decompose into biology and chemistry, they mineralize into geology, they disperse into their science, just as surely as mathematicians become statistics. The same process holds true for us historians in my experience, we’re the only ones in the humanities for whom this holds true—the only ones who become what we study; we age, we yellow, we go wrinkled and brittle along with our materials until our lives subside into the past, to become the very substance of time. Or maybe that’s just the Jew in me talking… Goys believe in the Word becoming Flesh, but Jews believe in the Flesh becoming Word, a more natural, rational incarnation.
— Joshua Cohen, The Netanyahus
The only thing an old man can tell a young man is that it goes fast, real fast, and if you’re not careful, it’s too late.”
— Norm Macdonald
Paris Hilton in the Kitchen
‘If Uncle Roger tell Niece Paris to get rice cooker, she probably think she have to get Chinese guy to cook rice.’
Lu Xun on The Story of the Stone
Retired but Not Retiring
‘Unfortunately, some of us are not very wise. We know what we ought to do, when we should retire, go and hide out somewhere, live a life of ease,’ he said, smiling, as we sat in cane armchairs in an elevated, open gallery. ‘But we don’t take our own advice, do we? It’s a mystery to me.’
The Jew-Goy Dialectic
I grew up with the belief that God made the Jews as a light unto the nations, and made the gentiles because someone had to buy retail.
America: Oligarchy or Autocracy?
If we replicate the cowardice of the liberal class, if we sell out to the oligarchs as a way to blunt the rise of autocracy, we will discredit the core values of a civil society and fuel the very autocracy we seek to defeat. Despotism, in all its forms, is dangerous. If we achieve nothing else in the fight against the oligarchs and the autocrats, we will at least salvage our dignity and integrity.
— Chris Hedges, 27 September 2021
Telling it like it isn’t
We’ll tell you anything you want to hear. We lie like hell! We’ll tell you Kojak always gets the killer, and nobody ever gets cancer in Archie Bunker’s house… We’ll tell you any shit you want to hear! We deal in illusion, man! None of it’s true! But you people… do whatever the tube tells you… This is mass madness, you maniacs!
— Howard Beale, Network, 1976
The Spirits of China
The Crimes of Sun Lijun
— 公安部原黨委委員、副部長孫力軍嚴重違紀違法被開除黨籍和公職， 中央紀委國家監委網站，2021年9月30日
(On 23 September 2022, Sun Lijun, a former vice-minister of Public Security and vice-president of the China Law Society, was given a suspended death sentence that could be commuted to life in prison after two years, with no possibility of parole. He was also deprived of political rights for life and all of his properties were confiscated.)
The Hall of Fame
The ‘Hall of Fame’ is high and wide,
The waiting-room is full,
And some go in through the door marked Push,
And some through the door marked Pull.
— a jape from the nineteenth-century
No matter that you have a Ph.D and have read all of Henry James twice. If you still persist in writing, ‘Good food at it’s best’, you deserve to be struck by lightning, hacked up on the spot and buried in an unmarked grave.
— Lynne Truss, Eats, Shoots & Leaves
Let me summarize my feelings toward Asian values: Fuck filial piety. Fuck grade-grubbing. Fuck Ivy League mania. Fuck deference to authority. Fuck humility and hard work. Fuck harmonious relations. Fuck sacrificing for the future. Fuck earnest, striving middle-class servility.
— Wesley Yang, ‘Paper Tigers’, 6 May 2011
A Faux Farewell
The Trump International Hotel in D.C. was more flamboyant, more undeniable, and, in some ways, more transparent about the health of American democracy than any FEC filing could ever be. In that sense—and that sense alone—it will be sorely missed.
— Matt Ford, 14 October 2021
‘What I’ve learned is that America is about money, and if you can make your culture commodifiable, then you’re relevant,’ he [Eddie Huang] says. ‘I don’t believe anybody agrees with what I say or supports what I do because they truly want to love Asian people. They like my fucking pork buns, and I don’t get it twisted.’
— Eddie Huang 黃頤銘 of BaoHaus, 2011
One English Stanza, Eight Chinese Variations
You say that you love rain,
but you open your umbrella when it rains…
You say that you love the sun,
but you find a shadow spot when the sun shines…
You say that you love the wind,
But you close your windows when wind blows…
This is why I am afraid;
You say that you love me too…
— attributed to Bob Marley