Other People’s Thoughts, XXXVII

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 character ‘record’ 記 in the hand of Mi Fei 米芾, or ‘Madman Mi’ 米癲 of the Song. Source: 好事家貼.

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
31 July 2023


More Other People’s Thoughts:

Other People’s Thoughts, XXXVII


Good and Bad Luck

… are like a pair of chopsticks that you hold in our hand. You need both of them to grasp the full variety of life’s banquet.

Zhang Yihe, published on Weibo, April 2013 and recorded on paper in April 2016



Imagine what the Jetsons might have chosen for dining-room furniture, if they’d lived in Prague in 1922, and if their cartoon heads hadn’t been filled with Sputnik propaganda, but instead had been programmed with Kafka.”

— Wayne Koestenbaum, Figure It Out

X Marks the Spot: Elon Musk

He wants very much to be funny, but manifestly is not; he wants to be seen as brilliant and heterodox and fearless, but has the opinions and tastes and politics of a very rich middle-aged man who isn’t especially curious or literate; he sees himself, or anyway sells himself, as a visionary and a pioneer, but has revealed himself time after time to be a classically cretinous capitalist. Musk’s vision for humanity is grandiose and obscure; his impulse to stomp on anyone unlucky to find themselves working under him has always been more clearly and shamelessly expressed. His big ideas unfailingly reveal themselves to be either grubbing for state subsidy or “buy and pave a space, and put up a gate at the entrance.” 

— David Roth, Burning Down the House, 14 May 2023 

Musk, the Ultimate Asshole 

“Most of our experienced factory workers come from unionized environments, and we asked them what benefit did they see in unions,” he added. “They said, ‘Well, if their boss was an asshole, they had recourse.’ ”

“I said, ‘Let’s make a rule: There will be no assholes.’ I fired someone for being an asshole. And I only had to do that once, actually.”

Elon Musk on worker’s unions, 2009

Exuent Six Emperors 

  • “Have I played my part well in the farce of life?” — Augustus, (Suetonius, The Life of Augustus)
  • “You leave the setting to court the rising sun.” — Tiberius, (Tacitus, Annals)
  • “O dear, I’ve made a mess of it.” — Claudius, (Seneca, Apocolocyntosis)
  • “Oh, what an artist dies in me!” — Nero, (Suetonius, Life of Nero)
  • “What are you doing, comrades? I am yours and you are mine!” — Galba, (Suetonius, Life of Galba)
  • “O dear, I think I’m becoming a god!” – Vespasian (Suetonius, Life of Vespasian)

Prigozhin’s Mutiny

What began as a mutiny morphed into a circus.

Tatiana Stanovaya, The New Yorker, 27 June 2023

Cats vs. Natives

Of the cats, he said: “We take the side of the kiwi and the kākāpo and the kea and every other species that’s in danger because of these pricks.”

— Chaos at New Zealand feral cat hunting contest as video of children chanting with dead animals emerges, The Guardian, 28 June 2023

A Demonic Suction Tube

‘A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death.’

— Martin Luther King Jr., ‘Where Do We Go from Here: Chaos or Community?’, 1967

You’re Fired

Trump’s aide says to him, “Sir, I had a dream you got your parade. It was miles and miles long winding through Washington DC. Joyful Americans lined the route, literally in the millions. People were laughing, cheering, playing in the street. You were riding in the most beautiful carriage.”

Trump asks, “Was I happy?”

The aide answers, “I don’t know, sir. The casket was closed.”

Trump discursus

A man is running to run the government he tried to overthrow while he was running it, even as he is running to stay ahead of the law.

Maureen Dowd, The New York Times, 23 July 2023

DJ Trump on Xi Jinping’s X Factor

“Think of President Xi. Central casting, brilliant guy. You know, when I say he’s brilliant, everyone says, ‘Oh that’s terrible’,” said Trump.

Trump added: “Well, he runs 1.4 billion people with an iron fist. Smart, brilliant, everything perfect. There’s nobody in Hollywood like this guy.”


If there were truth in advertising, Republicans would have to rename themselves the Opposite Party. They were the party of law and order. Now they want to abolish the F.B.I. They were the party that revered the symbols of the nation. Now they think the Jan. 6 riots were like a “normal tourist visit.” They were the party of moral character and virtue. Now they couldn’t care less that their standard-bearer consorted with a porn star. They were the party of staring down the Evil Empire. Now they’re Putin’s last best hope. They were the party of free trade. Now they’re protectionists. They were the party that cheered the Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision, which argued that corporations had free speech. Now they are being sued by Disney because the company dared express an opinion they dislike. They were the party that once believed that “family values don’t stop at the Rio Grande,” as George W. Bush put it. Now some of them want to invade Mexico.

Bret Stephens, The New York Times, 24 July 2023


‘Men have 3 hairstyles: parted… unparted… and DEPARTED.’

— sign in a barbershop in Mechanic Falls, Maine

Wu Ningkun and Li Zhengdao / T.D. Lee, the Nobel laureate 

Six years my junior, T.D. had been the youngest in our group of Chinese graduate students at the University of Chicago in the late 1940s; we used to call him Kid Brother. 

Now in his early fifties, the Nobel Prize winner still looked young, with a baby face and smooth skin, though visibly balding. We faced each other in two big armchairs across a tea table. As I briefly answered his questions (I did not want to outstay my welcome) about what I was in Beijing for and what I and some of our mutual friends had been through over the years, he showed no signs of strong interest or emotion. Dignified and self-assured, he looked the eminent scientist and scholar par excellence. I quickly sensed we were living in two different worlds, across an unbridgeable gap. Staying behind in America, he was able to reap successes and honors and live a happy life in security and affluence. Returning to China, I struggled through trials and tribulations and barely made it to this day of rehabilitation. Secure in the “imperialist fortress of America,” he was hailed as a patriot in Communist China, feted by every top leader of ‘the party and the government and whisked about in a chauffeur-driven Red Flag limousine as an honored guest of the state. Recalled to serve the motherland,  I  was  denounced  as  an  enemy  of  the  people  and  had  survived  labor  camps,  starvation,  and proletarian dictatorship. Even while we were chatting, my ribs ached from the jabs they had received from robust young men of the generation of Red Terror, who had ruthlessly elbowed their way onto the bus to the hotel. An amusing thought flashed through my mind: what would have happened if I had been the one to see him off back to China on that July afternoon in San Francisco? Would I perhaps be sitting in his armchair and he in mine? Oh, no, I decided right there and then, I would never have exchanged my bitter cup of lifetime reeducation for the salutatory toasts from the masters of proletarian dictatorship. No, I would not sit  in his armchair and, God forbid he should ever have been in my accursed shoes. When I was ready to say goodbye, his wife went into their bedroom and came out with a paperback edition of James Thurber’s Fables for Our Time and handed it to her husband, who inscribed it to me. T.D.’s interest in literature and fables at that was something new to me, and I was glad for it. Once when we had chatted deep into the night at the International House in Chicago, before he took his Ph.D. and went to work in San Francisco, I recalled, I had been dismayed to hear him call the Chinese classic  Dream of Red Mansions “unscientific,” because the hero of the novel was born with a “precious jade’’ in his mouth. I might have taken after Hamlet and said to him, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, / Than are dreamt of in your philosophy.” Now if someday Li were to read my life story, hopefully he might not say, “This can’t be true. Ningkun must have made it all up as a fable of patriotism for our time.”

— Wu Ningkun, A Single Tear, 1993, pp.238-239



洗脑/ 洗嘴


— 宋永毅,習近平和毛澤東為什麼搞個人崇拜?,《不明白播客》,2023年6月14日

Vale Sinead O’Connor

Sinead O’Connor, the Irish singer who sadly passed away last week. She basically blew up her musical career in the United States when in 1992 she tore up a picture of Pope John Paul II on “Saturday Night Live” in protest of the church’s cover-up of clerical sexual abuse. …

O’Connor was calling attention to hideous facts about the church a decade before The Boston Globe’s Spotlight stories put it on the national agenda. She used her musical celebrity in exemplary fashion to call out monstrous evil. She went directly after one of the most beloved public figures of the time, now canonized, and she did so at heavy cost to her career. It was an exemplary use of free speech and an extraordinary act of courage.

Nothing compared 2 her. Rest in peace.

Bret Stephens, The New York Times, 31 July 2023



— 向松祚, 2019


藍採和啊 醉酒當歌
藍採和 醉酒當歌




Mr Kissinger Goes to Beijing, again

This trip is a reminder of Kissinger’s one true innovation throughout his career: inventing the for-profit third act of a career in public service. … For at least a day, however, Chinese officials could reminisce about the era when the watchword was engagement, and Kissinger can smile that he has maintained his relevancy for yet another news media cycle.

Daniel W. Drezner, Politico, 22 July 2023

Oppenheimer: Sex & Sanskrit

Uday Mahurkar, Information Commissioner, Government of India, wrote an open letter to Nolan, terming the scene a “disturbing attack on Hinduism.” 

‘We urge, on behalf of billion Hindus and the timeless tradition of lives being transformed by revered Geeta, to do all that is needed to uphold the dignity of their revered book and remove this scene from your film across the world. Should you choose to ignore this appeal it would be deemed as a deliberate assault on Indian civilisation. Eagerly await needful action (sic)” Mahurkar, founder of Save Culture Save India Foundation, wrote.

Christopher Nolan’s ‘Oppenheimer’ sparks social media controversy, The Hindu, 23 July 2023

 Baghavad Gita, chapter 11, verse 32:





Shrī Bhagavān said: ‘I am mighty Kāla (the eternal Time-spirit), the destroyer of the worlds. I am out to exterminate these people. Even without you all those warriors, arrayed in the enemy’s camp shall die.’

Martini of Theseus

Consider the paradoxical thought experiment known as the Ship of Theseus: If Athenians removed and replaced every plank of Theseus’s ship so that none of the original wood remained, would it still be Theseus’s ship? Or would it become a different ship entirely?

Alternatively, take a dirty martini: gin, vermouth, olive brine and a garnish. But swap the traditional dry gin for one washed with mirepoix. Use Manzanilla sherry in place of the vermouth, a solution of chicken bouillon and MSG instead of brine, and garnish with a drizzle of olive oil. Is it still a dirty martini?

— Becky Hughes, The Martini Has Lost Its Mind, The New York Times, 13 July 2023

Churchill on The Bomb 

Our Germans were better than their Germans.

Oppenheimer’s wife

Oppenheimer: I am become death, destroyer of worlds 

Kitty Puening: The brat is down! Where are the martinis?


Watching the first half hour of this movie is like being waterboarded with Pepto-Bismol.

— Anthony Lane, How “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” Bring Monumental Figures to Life, The New Yorker, 31 July 2023

Barbie, II

Because it’s “A Mattel Production,” as the opening credits inform us, it wants to have its cake, eat it, mock it, smear it on the faces of the manufacturers, and still sell a shitload of dolls—or, as a recent piece in the Times suggested, “drive near-infinite brand synergies,” the sort of phrase that makes me want to move to Bhutan and raise goats. …

Maybe the movie is for Greta Gerwig. And, by extension, for anyone as super-smart as her—former Barbiephiles, preferably, who have wised up and put away childish things. Nobody else would even attempt to meld a feminist colloquium with a plug for a chunk of plastic, and, if the result is a deep disappointment after “Little Women,” perhaps depth is the wrong thing to ask for. Think of the kid in Charles Baudelaire’s essay “The Philosophy of Toys,” who shakes and bangs a toy in exasperation, before finally prizing it open. “But where is its soul? ” Baudelaire says, adding, “This moment marks the beginnings of stupor and melancholy.” Sometimes the shiny surface is enough. Or, as Barbie’s beau would say, Kenough.

— Anthony Lane, How “Oppenheimer” and “Barbie” Bring Monumental Figures to Life, The New Yorker, 31 July 2023


‘I was disappointed that they cut the scene where Oppenheimer and the Pointer Sisters do the neutron dance.’

Dave, Wisconsin, 29 July 2023, a reader’s comment in The New York Times

他她它祂牠怹: Chinese Pronouns

‘If we don’t get our act together, 25 years from now, school children in this country are going to be forced to learn 37 different pronouns in Mandarin and we cannot let that happen.’

— Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), at a campaign event, 17 July 2023

Putin’s End

But the fact remains that he is the principal author of the entire mess. The pity is that if Putin’s entourage bites the bullet and removes him or claws down his presidential status, it is far from clear that they will put Putinism entirely into reverse gear. They are drugged with the delights of his vision of Great Russia. Recommended Chris Donnelly Comment & analysis: Prigozhin’s insurrection propels Putin’s reign into its final act Ultimate power in Russia, moreover, lies with the Russian army and the FSB. All the ministries and big business are infiltrated by secret policemen. Corruption and malfeasance pervades every regional and city administration. Liberal politicians are hardly known outside educated circles, and the extra-parliamentary far-right groupings have never been more brazen. As the great poet Boris Pasternak wrote: “Getting through life is not a stroll across a field.” For nearly 24 years under Putin, Russia has been hauled back into a barbed-wire condominium from which reformers such as Gorbachev and Yeltsin struggled to liberate it. We may well discover that a coup brings an era to its end without solving its problems — and without the televised spectacle of a race of rebel military trucks along the Russian M4 highway. 

— Robert Service, A New Road for Russia, Financial Times, 1 July 2023

秦刚:Going, Going, Gang

秦剛事件尚末完全落幕。但唯一倒霉蛋名單已經揭曉 — 王毅。



何岸泉 He is Anquan, 25 July 2023


Tradition is just peer pressure from dead people, William.

— Laura Greenwood, Fangs For Nothing (The Vampire Detective, #1)

Not Sportsmanlike

Sportsmen are singularly ill-suited to pontificating about politics because sport is as cut-throat and greedy an industry as entertainment; it’s a cross between mediocre showbiz and bad religion. …

These Empathletes are not only paid for what they do but haul in huge amounts from advertising; Lineker in particular has pocketed millions of pounds over the past 25 years urging the nation to neck as many units of salt, fat and sugar that we can manage to consume in the shape of Walkers crisps.

If in the future those who have grown filthy rich from sport could only put their money where their mouths are, the air-polluting, hot-air carbon dioxide levels which worry the likes of Andy Murray so much would surely fall.

— Julie Burchill, Andy Murray and the unstoppable rise of the sporting bores, The Spectator, 5 July 2023

Zhou Duo on Yan Mingfu

閻明復走出統戰部大樓,兩邊是夾道歡送的人群,不少人還在抹眼淚,頗有「風蕭蕭兮易水寒,壯士一去兮不復還」的悲壯氣氛!閻是個很重感情的人,看了這番情景也很受感動,竟然冒出一句大逆不道的話 :「豁出去了,我當一回中國共產黨的納吉!」我就在他身邊,聽得清清楚楚!

[Note: 納吉 is the Chinese name of Imre Nagy, a leading Hungarian communist who led a rebellion against the Soviet Union in 1956. He was tried and executed on Moscow’s orders.]


Lei Yanhong on China’s Autocrats

雷艷紅,女,副教授,出生於1975年,廈門大學歷史系畢業,獲歷史學學士、碩士,北京大學政府管理學院博士學位。2006年7月至今在中國廈門大學公共事務學院任教,主講課程 《公共財政學》、《領導科學》、《發展管理》、《科學研究與社會實踐》、《制度財政學》。





Famous Last Words 

‘This will be the last sentence spoken by a human. One scientist will say to another scientist: “Let’s try it the other way”.’

— physicist and astronomer Neil deGrasse Tyson on the end of the human race

Party Purity on the Menu




— @zhanglifan, menu at a provincial party school, July 2023

Fail. Fail again. Fail better.

The government has to pretend it knows what it’s doing. Hell, it’s not as if it is doing anything else. You have to keep alert to avoid the tumbleweed in the corridors. This is a Potemkin administration. Nothing more. Existing only to look as if it is existing. It has no ideas. No plans. Just the hope that if it waits long enough then things will somehow mysteriously get better. Hold your nerve and all that.

— John Crace, Cometh the hour, cometh the halfwit, The Guardian, 11 July 2023

NATO on China

‘The People’s Republic of China’s stated ambitions and coercive policies challenge our interests, security and values. The PRC employs a broad range of political, economic, and military tools to increase its global footprint and project power, while remaining opaque about its strategy, intentions and military build-up. The PRC’s malicious hybrid and cyber operations and its confrontational rhetoric and disinformation target Allies and harm Alliance security. The PRC seeks to control key technological and industrial sectors, critical infrastructure, and strategic materials and supply chains. It uses its economic leverage to create strategic dependencies and enhance its influence. It strives to subvert the rules-based international order, including in the space, cyber and maritime domains.’

— press release, NATO Summit, 12 July 2023

The Faces of Wang Meng 王蒙 (矇 mēng)






— 李承鵬, 老而不死是為蒙

Your Choice

For anyone who still clings to the illusion that dictatorships are likely to be prosperous, strategically wise, or internally stable, I propose a simple test. Imagine that someone wrote down the names of all the countries in the world on little slips of paper and then separated them into two hats: one for democracy, one for dictatorships. You would select one of the two hats, draw a slip of paper from it, look at the name, and then spend the rest of your life living in that country. Who knows, maybe you’d get lucky and end up in an authoritarian regime that seems stable and is producing steady growth. But I know which hat I would choose. And even if you fantasize about finding the unicorn that is a benevolent strongman, I suspect you do too.

— Brian Klaas, The Dictator Myth That Refuses to Die, The Atlantic, 26 July 2023

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