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
4 June 2023
More Other People’s Thoughts:
- Other People’s Thoughts, China Heritage
Other People’s Thoughts, XXXV
A Woman Warrior’s Appeal
— from a pamphlet released at the Bird’s Nest National Stadium by a female protester on 3 June 2023
To Be, Then Not
Non fui, fui, non sum, non curo
I was not; I was; I am not; I do not care.
— Epicurean epitaph
“Good Russians” are people who actively participated in creating the regime and upholding the regime who then decided they were against the war. They are people who most loudly declare that they have no responsibility for this war, but often are heavily implicated in creating the conditions that strengthen the regime that made this war possible. So when people say “good Russians” they’re not necessarily talking about dissidents. They’re talking about people who they feel take up all the attention on the international stage. Because of their prior positions of power, they have a lot of connections, they have a lot of media exposure, and their voices talking about how much they oppose the war are once again louder than Ukrainian voices. So that’s what the phrase “good Russians” refers to.
— Masha Gessen, 24 May 2023
Infiltrating Minds, Hearts & Souls
We must optimise ways to study Xi Jinping Thought so that it can infiltrate our minds, our hearts and our souls.
— Cai Qi 蔡奇, Secretary of the Secretariat of the Chinese Communist Party, 23 May 2023
‘If you’re not absolutely loyal you’re absolutely not loyal’
The crux of absolutely loyalty to the Party lies in ‘being absolute’. It is a kind of loyalty that is singleminded, thoroughgoing, unconditional, pure and unadulterated.
— Li Hongzhong 李鴻忠, Tianjin Daily, 10 October 2016
Count me out!
No matter how the Soviet tinsel glitters
upon the canvas of a battle piece;
no matter how the soul dissolves in pity,
I will not bend, I will not cease
loathing the filth, brutality, and boredom
of silent servitude. No, no, I shout,
my spirit is still quick, still exile-hungry,
I’m still a poet, count me out!
— Vladimir Nabokov, 1944
“So you’re writing about the star-fuckers who host these things?” Anthony Scaramucci asked, when I called him this spring. He was, in fact, describing himself, but he did not seem offended by my request for an interview. “I’m a wholesale provider of this shit,” he said. “I understand this shit.”
Long before Scaramucci became a household name for his eleven-day stint in the Trump White House, he was known as a hedge-fund manager who hosted a business conference called SALT. To attract attention to the conference, he booked private gigs by Maroon 5, Lenny Kravitz, Will.i.am, Duran Duran, the Chainsmokers, and others who might please a roomful of mostly middle-aged finance types. His conferences tap into the power of aspirational proximity; in other words, he helps well-paid shmegegges get close to their heroes.
“We’re in love with fame,” he said. “Our entire society is addicted to it.” The addiction extends to the wealthiest among us, he went on. “But let me give you the bad news for rich people: They can only go four places. They can go into the art world, or private aircraft and yachting, or charity—naming buildings and hospitals after themselves. Or they can go into experiential.” He adopted the voice of a big spender: “ ‘I’m super loaded! I have a Rolls-Royce!’ Well, fuck that. There’s ten thousand of them. But if I tell you, ‘You are one of a kind!,’ now you’re special.” As we spoke, he was stuck in midtown traffic, which occasioned a mood of patient contemplation. “You’ve got to think about it as a pyramid,” he said. “The widest part is eating at McDonald’s. The narrowest part is ‘I paid two hundred million for the Basquiat.’ Because that’s one of a kind. I’m taking a piece of the immortality that artist created, and I’m owning it. Freud said we’re ultimately hysterical because of our own demise. This is why we do these things. I have to prove that I’m really living.” He paused to let that sink in, and then returned to the voice of the big spender: “So Andrea Bocelli is going to sing at my daughter’s event.”
— Evan Osnos, How to Hire a Pop Star for Your Private Party, The New Yorker, 5 June 2023
To live so fully, so galactically, so contagiously, with so much daring, candor, zest and, yes, energy that no one is ever going to believe it when you die.
— Wesley Morris, Tornado. Treasure. There Was Nobody Like Tina Turner., 25 May 2023
At one point, Murdoch even lobbied Trump to concede. “Rupert called Trump before Biden’s inauguration to tell him to accept defeat graciously and that he had left a good legacy and that this stolen election stuff would drag everyone down,” the source said. Trump refused. “Trump threatened to start his own channel and put Fox out of business,” the source said. Murdoch seemed trapped by the people he radicalized, like an aging despot hiding in his palace while the streets filled with insurrectionists.
— Inside Rupert Murdoch’s Succession Drama, Vanity Fair, May 2023
A Eulogy for Logan Roy
‘I loved him, I suppose, and I suppose some of you did too, in whatever way he would let us and we could manage. But I can’t help but say he has wrought the most terrible things. He was a man who has here and there drawn in the edges of the world; now and then darkened the skies a little; closed men’s hearts, fed that dark flame in men, the hard, mean, hard-relenting flame that keeps their hearths warm while another grow cold, their grain stashed, while another goes hungry, and even has the temerity to tell that hard — funny, yes, funny, but hard — joke about the man in the cold. You can get a little high, a little mighty when you’re warm.
‘Oh, yes. He gave away a few million of his billions, but he was not a generous man. He was mean, and he made but a mean estimation of the world. And he fed a certain kind of meagerness in men. Perhaps he had to because he had a meagerness about him.
‘And maybe I do about me too. I don’t know. I try, I try.’
— Ewan Roy at the funeral for his younger brother, Succession, season 4, episode 9
Cat food Ozymandias
Oof. Look at that thing. Jesus. He never sent you pictures? You never saw this? Did he? No, I never saw this. No? Did you guys? No. Yeah. He got it on a deal. Oh, man. He was really pleased. It was a… It was a dot-com pet supply guy who built it, I believe. (Kendall chuckles) Shiv: (Laughing) What? But that guy decided against. Yeah. Shiv: Really? Yeah. Shiv: You serious? Was he in a bidding war with Stalin and Liberace? Right? Pop sort of… I think he didn’t wanna go in the ground. And I think… He didn’t wanna think about it too much. So I think he just went in for it at auction and boom! Wow. Cat food Ozymandias. Connor: I think it was five mil all in. But that’s forever. Yeah. Obviously. Five mil? Good deal. Yeah. Come on, I’ll show you around. Shiv: It’s also a tax write-off, ’cause it’s technically a residence. (Kendall laughs) (Connor sighs)
— the Roy siblings discuss Logan Roy’s mausoleum, Succession, season 4, episode 9
The Stork Club, NYC
And then there was the night a well-heeled customer gave the doorman a $1,000 tip and asked him if it was the largest tip he had ever received. “No,” the doorman said, “I received a $2,000 tip about a year ago.” The customer asked who had given it to him. The doorman replied, “You gave it to me.”
— from an obituary for Shermane Billingsley, The New York Times, 19 May 2023
“I’ve been lucky enough to enjoy a comfortable measure of success in my various careers,” he added, “but let’s be honest, I’ve been virtually everything you can’t respect: a lawyer, a mayor, a major-market news anchor and a talk-show host. Pray for me. If I get to heaven, we’re all going.”
— from an obituary for Jerry Springer, The New York Times, 27 April 2023
More but Never Most Absurd
— a Chinese saying
On Avoiding Clichés
Ramped up, amped up, ratchet up, gin up, up the ante, double down, jump-start, be behind the curve, swim against the tide, go south, go belly up, level the playing field, open the floodgates, think outside the box, push the edge of the envelope, pull out all the stops, take the foot off the pedal, pump the brakes, grease the wheel, circle the wagons, charge full steam ahead, pass with flying colors, move the goal posts, pour gasoline on, add fuel to the fire, fly under the radar, add insult to injury, grow by leaps and bounds, only time will tell, go to hell in a handbasket, put the genie back in the bottle, throw the baby out with the bathwater, rearrange the deck chairs on the Titanic, have your cake and eat it too, a taste of one’s own medicine, stick to one’s guns, above one’s pay grade, punch above one’s weight, lick one’s wounds, pack a punch, roll with the punches, come apart at the seams, throw a wrench into, caught in the cross hairs, cross the Rubicon, tempt fate, go ballistic, on tenterhooks, hit the nail on the head, a nail in the coffin, joined at the hip, welcome with open arms, rub shoulders with, shoot oneself in the foot, dip one’s toes into, have a leg up, dance to the tune of, the next shoe to drop, in the DNA of, the gold standard, a gold mine, land mines, a run for the money, money to burn, penny-wise and pound-foolish, lap of luxury, off the charts, over a barrel, late to the party, it takes two to tango, behind the eight ball, pride of place, final straw, full throttle, no holds barred, red flag, silver lining, on a silver platter, in the rearview mirror, bargain basement, silos, morph, meme, trope, mind meld, warp speed, inner demons, have skin in the game, game changer, change agent, strong suit, ground game, ground zero, inflection point, tipping point, playbook, page turner, singing from the same hymnal, singing a new tune, straight out of central casting, the devil’s in the details, take the bull by the horns, the canary in the coal mine, chickens coming home to roost, beat a dead horse, pony up, the straw that broke the camel’s back, open a can of worms, buy a pig in a poke, cash cow, rabbit hole, dog days, dog whistle, bells and whistles, tool kit, third rail, the tip of the iceberg, the light at the end of the tunnel, the arc of history, speak truth to power, break the glass ceiling, the writing’s on the wall, between a rock and a hard place, beyond the pale, take the wind out of the sails of, that ship has sailed, sinking ship, tidal wave, roller-coaster ride, gravy train, tanked, cratered, Rubik’s Cube, Rosetta Stone, Rolodex, poster child, problem child, rock star, pundit, national treasure, charter member, heavy hitter, heavy lifting, political football, throw a Hail Mary, full-court press, hit a home run, play with house money, laser-focused, secret sauce, red meat, piece of cake, bread and butter, cherry-pick, low-hanging fruit, sticker shock, kick-start, kick into overdrive, kick the tires, kick the can down the road, where the rubber meets the road, an albatross around the neck, a feather in the cap, long in the tooth, armed to the teeth, cut one’s teeth, rib tickler, spine tingling, pull the wool over the eyes of, pull the plug on, pull the trigger, loosen the reins, sweep under the carpet, throw under the bus, throw for a loop, read the riot act, lead the pack, the short end of the stick, at the drop of a hat, the jury is still out, hung out to dry, as if that weren’t enough, it would be an understatement to say, it would be no exaggeration to say, despite or perhaps because of, what goes around comes around, for all intents and purposes, make a long story short, the fact of the matter, to be sure, truth be told, a who’s who, famously, arguably, literally, zeitgeist, mantra, optics, granular, narrative, interrogate, paradigm, venue, robust, compelling, fever pitch, pitch perfect, picture perfect, perfect storm, take by storm, eye of the storm, back burner, petri dish, echo chamber, hot button, hard wire, go viral, bingeable, blockbuster, on steroids, testosterone-laced, metastasize, contextualize, preternaturally, outsize, gobsmacked, turbocharged, weaponized, apocalyptic, existential …
— Michael Massig, Tip of the Iceberg, The New York Times, 27 April 2023
A Reader’s Comment
I plunked all of these into ChatGPT. Here’s what it said.
It’s time to kick-start our business and ramp up our efforts. We need to think outside the box and push the edge of the envelope to stay ahead of the curve. Let’s double down and pour gasoline on our growth. We can’t afford to go south or belly up now. We need to level the playing field and open the floodgates to new opportunities. It’s time to grease the wheel and circle the wagons to charge full steam ahead.
We’ve been growing by leaps and bounds, but we need to make sure we’re not caught in the cross hairs. We can’t afford to cross the Rubicon or tempt fate. We need to hit the nail on the head and find the silver lining in every situation. We have skin in the game and we’re not afraid to stick to our guns. We need to stay laser-focused and keep our eye on the prize.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though. We have to deal with our inner demons and tackle the straw that broke the camel’s back. We can’t sweep things under the carpet or throw anyone under the bus. We need to be the game changer and the change agent. We need to lead the pack and play with house money.
In the end, it’s all about the perfect storm. We need to take the bull by the horns and kick it into overdrive. We need to pull out all the stops and take by storm. It’s a roller-coaster ride, but we’re armed to the teeth and ready to cut our teeth. With hard work and determination, we can weather any storm and come out on top.
We do seem to be at the stage of human intellectual decay where anyone who is a multibillionaire is also automatically described as a “philanthropist”, when in many cases “misanthropist” would be more supported by the evidence.
— Marina Hyde, What does Jeff Bezos’s new fiancee see in the world’s third-richest man? Must be his enormous philanthropy, The Guardian, 26 May 2023
Ron De Sanctimonious
‘The shlubby Stalin of the sunshine state.’
— from Randy Rainbow, Welcome to De Santis!
Greatest Country in the World
Take the best moment in Aaron Sorkin’s imperfect show for HBO, The Newsroom, when the fictional news anchor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels) is attending a symposium. A sophomore asks a question about why America is the greatest country in the world. “There is absolutely no evidence to support the statement,” McAvoy replies, to consternation.
We’re seventh in literacy, twenty-seventh in math, twenty-second in science, forty-ninth in life expectancy, one-hundred-and-seventy-eighth in infant mortality, third in median household income, number four in labor force, and number four in exports. We lead the world in only three categories: number of incarcerated citizens per capita, number of adults who believe angels are real, and defense spending, where we spend more than the next twenty-six countries combined, twenty-five of whom are allies.
— from Andrew O’Hagan, Bigger, Deeper, and More ‘Fucked Up’, New York Review of Books, 23 March 2023
我對日本歷史的反復研讀，發現了二戰前的軍國主義日本有以下情形：經濟上要掙西方的錢，科技上要引進西方的先進技術，投資上要引進西方的資金，政治上要堅決反對西方，軍事上要準備和西方打仗。然後就深井冰了，差點一億玉碎 … 不是挨了兩顆原子彈，根本醒不過來！
The Price of Privacy — Ghosting Prince Harry
He appeared, marching toward us, looking flushed. Uh-oh, I thought, before registering that it was a good flush. His smile was wide as he embraced us both. He was overjoyed by many things. The numbers, naturally. Guinness World Records had just certified his memoir as the fastest-selling nonfiction book in the history of the world. But, more than that, readers were reading, at last, the actual book, not Murdoched chunks laced with poison, and their online reviews were overwhelmingly effusive. Many said Harry’s candor about family dysfunction, about losing a parent, had given them solace.
The guests were summoned into the living room. There were several lovely toasts to Harry, then the Prince stepped forward. I’d never seen him so self-possessed and expansive. He thanked his publishing team, his editor, me. He mentioned my advice, to “trust the book,” and said he was glad that he did, because it felt incredible to have the truth out there, to feel—his voice caught—“free.” There were tears in his eyes. Mine, too.
And yet once a ghost, always a ghost. I couldn’t help obsessing about that word “free.” If he’d used that in one of our Zoom sessions, I’d have pushed back. Harry first felt liberated when he fell in love with Meghan, and again when they fled Britain, and what he felt now, for the first time in his life, was heard. That imperious Windsor motto, “Never complain, never explain,” is really just a prettified omertà, which my wife suggests might have prolonged Harry’s grief. His family actively discourages talking, a stoicism for which they’re widely lauded, but if you don’t speak your emotions you serve them, and if you don’t tell your story you lose it—or, what might be worse, you get lost inside it. Telling is how we cement details, preserve continuity, stay sane. We say ourselves into being every day, or else. Heard, Harry, heard—I could hear myself making the case to him late at night, and I could see Harry’s nose wrinkle as he argued for his word, and I reproached myself once more: Not your effing book.
But, after we hugged Harry goodbye, after we thanked Meghan for toys she’d sent our children, I had a second thought about silence. Ghosts don’t speak—says who? Maybe they can. Maybe sometimes they should.
— J. R. Moehringer, Notes from Prince Harry’s Ghostwriter, The New Yorker, 8 May 2023
Ten Minus Ten
Yu Guangyuan poem
… we came back and, over tea, we discussed the impact of communism on China. The tension between China – historic China, Chinese society – and the communist party seems to me to be latent but constant. What surprises me most is the stupidity of all the party members we meet: the opaque, self-righteous solemnity, the parrot-like dogmatism, the absolute lack of understanding or self-criticism. Of course we are a second-class delegation. Perhaps if we were grander, we would have more intelligent guides: guides who would serve as conductors to, not insulators from the Chinese world. And yet Chinese society is a gay, sophisticated, self-critical society. Its poetry and art emphasise the insignificance of man in nature, the absurdity of his pretensions.
How has this incredible reversal, this Umwertung aller Werten, been imposed upon it? Or is it just a pendulum oscillation in the dialectic of Taoism, and Confucianism, Yin and Yang?
— Hugh Trevor-Roper, The China Journals, 25 September 1965
The mask grows to fit the monstrous face that lies underneath
Sometimes, in spite of its stolid, boring commitment to lying, a despotic regime will actually tell you all you need to know. It invents a titanic system of slave-labor camps, for example, and it gives this network of arid, landlocked isolation centers the beautiful anagram of GULAG. (Adding the word “archipelago” to that piece of bureaucratic compression was the work of an aesthetic and moral genius.) The stone-faced morons who run the military junta in Burma used to call themselves SLORC (State Law and Order Restoration Council), which was hardly less revealing. The Brezhnev occupation regime, imposed on the romantic city of Prague after the invasion of 1968, proclaimed its aim as “normalization”: a word eloquent enough in itself to send every writer and artist either hastening across the border or entering “internal exile.” The British colonial official who thought up the term “concentration camp” (because, after all, the discontented Boer families of South Africa needed to be “concentrated” somewhere, if only for their own good) was an innocent pioneer of this lethal and revealing euphemism. In the end, the mask will grow to fit the monstrous face that lies underneath.
— Christopher Hitchens, Kissinger Declassified, Vanity Fair, December, 2012