I arrived back in Shanghai in early January. Daytime temperatures were down around freezing, night-time temperatures dipped lower. My life as a "refugee" was not quite over. For two weeks I lived at "Captain International Youth Hostel" on Yan An between the Bund and the Old Chinese City in Shanghai. I picked it because its location was ideal for finding an apartment in the Old Chinese City, where I had lived before.
It had been four months since I had left Shanghai, largely because of a visa problem. The first thing I noticed heading south on Sichuan, then west on Fangbang to the Bank of China, was that the pace of construction had not abated. As before, I found myself stepping over broken concrete where sidewalks were being replaced and skirting piles of construction materials and staring up at the scaffolding on buildings that were either rising out of nothing or being remodeled or given a face-lift. "Expo 2010" was coming and the Chinese, always conscious of "face," wanted to present a good one. I also witnessed the usual bad manners that I think no amount of pep talks by Shanghai Mayor Han Zheng is going to remedy for Expo. Among other things, he was promoting a "you first" policy, the idea being that if you and someone else arrived at the same gate or ticket counter or whatever, you let the other person go first. Ha! Not on your life in Shanghai. I also heard the loud clearing of throats followed by the spitting up of huge mouthfuls of phlegm. This habit the mayor does not bring up in his pep talks, believing it to be—and I think he is right—incurable. But I am not critical. It was nice to be back in Shanghai, and the raspy sound of a throat being cleared told me that I was.
Up Fangbang at Henan, opposite Yu Yuan Garden, I went into the Bank of China, where I have an account. After getting cash from an ATM machine from my bank in California, I waited to deposit some of it. That is the only way to move money between the two accounts. The United States government won't allow direct deposits to a Chinese bank. The Chinese government reciprocates the inconvenience in the other direction.
But it was slow going today because a guy was throwing a fit at the only open teller window. A security guy came by but did nothing, likewise the branch manager. His tantrum went on for some time. The Chinese seem to handle such incidents as they do the occasional fits of young children—with patience.
Eventually I made my deposit, then headed north up Henan to Fuzhou and the bookstores. In Paris, just a few months back, I had become increasingly interested in history (Refugee). Perhaps I am a fool but hanging out on the street in such a historical place induced a desire to know more about the past. Maybe it was the names of the streets such as rue Victor Massé; maybe it was the names of places such as Place Clichy, Place Pigalle, or Place de la Madeleine. Who were these people whose names were given to rues, boulevards , places, and more? When in school I didn't care about history—I was only interesting in now, meaning right now—but now, suddenly, I did.
My interest had continued in Los Angeles while visiting my brother. In fact, it grew; it began to consume me. There I had begun to read "Our Oriental Heritage" by Will Durant—my brother had the entire "Story of Civilization" series by Durant—but I could not lug it around with me even if my brother would loan it out. I wanted to see what the Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore had in the way of history books. I asked one of the sales assistants—销售员—what they had on China. I was a little embarrassed doing so. I pictured a vast collection and was surprised that I had not spotted it. More surprise! It wasn't much. They had two or three drab-looking books, didactic in tone, that read as though written for civil servants taking exams. One, discussing philosophy, criticized Lao Zi for being "incomplete." Incomplete in what sense, I wondered. I decided to pass on buying any books on history.
I did, however, come across a book on Shanghai that I had seen before—Carl Crow's Foreign Devils in the Flowery Kingdom. I bought it. Crow was a journalist in Shanghai from 1911 to 1937, when he was forced to leave because of the Japanese invasion. He writes well of the period between the wars and of Shanghai's "glory days." He was a guy who got involved in Chinese culture, unlike many of the multi-national, globalization expert-expats these days. When the Japanese invaded, he became a refugee, fleeing with a single suitcase and his overcoat.
While staying at Captain hostel, I began to ease my way back into Shanghai life. I worked on getting my tourist visa converted to a business visa so that I could stay for six months. I was advised that a business visa was the way to go. I began to look for an apartment in the Old Chinese City where I had lived before. And I began to replace some of the poetry and philoslphy books that I had given away when I had left four months earlier.
In two weeks, with the help of Chinese friends, I had an apartment in the Old Chinese City. But this time it was deep in the back alleys. I had two rooms in an old building constructed with poles and bricks and with a ladder connecting the two rooms. From the upper room I could see the Pearl Tower across the river as well as the World Financial Center. They were the face of the new China. In the old China that I lived in there were rats—老鼠—and cockroaches—蟑螂—and flying termites —白蚁—and, as the landlord told me, one good neighbor—好的邻居—down below and one bad neighbor—不好的邻居—next door. When I tried to ask in what way the bad neighbor was bad, the subject was changed. I guessed I would find out soon enough. A week later my new visa came through. I was now a "business man." I tried to look ruthless, shifty. By then I had discovered at least one thing about my bad neighbor. He did not speak to me. When you said "Ni Hao" or anything else, he looked the other way. Also, instead of talking with his wife, he argued with her. And she whined. At the end of every sentence the pitch of her voice dropped mournfully about an octave.
On a positive note, I quickly renewed relationships. Before leaving I had in fact gone around town and told some of my closest friends that I was going away for three months. I even took them some going-away presents, reversing the customary pattern of giver and receiver in situations of departure. I had no idea, really, whether I would be back or not. I just had a feeling. The receptions I got were heart warming. Even when I poked my head in the doors of the local liquor store and massage parlour I was greeted with beaming smiles bordering on astonishment. And how nice it was to be getting liter bottles of wine again—葡萄酒—for 14 yuan or about 2 USD and brandy—白兰地— for the same—and a foot massage—脚按摩—for 30 yuan or about 4.40 USD. Maybe I could live with the rats, cockroaches, termites, and the 不好的邻居 (bad neighbor). Maybe they were not bad. I would wait and see. In Paris I had been translating a story titled "A Loss May Turn Out To Be A Gain." It seemed odd that I was doing it because at the time I had no intention of returning to China. But I liked the story. If you are Chinese, you probably know the story; but if you're not, you probably don't. Let me acquaint you with it a little.
One night a man named Sai Weng loses his horse. The beast simply wanders away. Now Sai Weng's neighbors—邻居—hear about his loss and come to comfort him. But Sai Weng is very philosophical about it:
In fact, he tells them that it could be the opposite, something good.
Some days later, in the middle of the night, Sai Weng's horse returns with another horse, in fact a very fine, spirited one. And the next day Sai Weng's neighbors come to congratulate him. But again Sai Weng is philosophical. He tells them that it is true he has gotten a free horse but that it is hard to tell whether this is good fortune or impending disaster:
As the story goes, Sai Weng's son becomes especially fond of the new horse, the spirited one, and is riding it one day, not being careful, and is thrown. His left leg is injured in the fall and he can never again walk the same. But Sai Weng is philosophical:
He says it doesn't matter; it could possibly be a good thing.
Yes, an astounding attitude. But consider what follows. There is a war in which his son is exempted because of his bad leg. All the other young men are drafted and die on the battlefield.
This reminds me of something else: a poem I have been translating:
In great brevity it says:
萧 means "desolate" and 萧萧 is the sound that the wind makes.
Maybe my 不好的邻居 (bad neighbor) is actually a 不好的邻居 (good neighbor), and maybe my rats and cockroaches and termites are ... Well, who knows? Perhaps a more vivid imagination than mine can come up with something.
Now that I had an apartment, I began to replace things that I had gotten rid of before. But I did so cautiously. I still felt like a refugee, like someone who might be ordered out at any moment. But perhaps there was some wisdom here. I also began to resume my old life in Shanghai to a certain extent. But I was looking for something new too.
About as soon as I'm back in Shanghai I see "issues" developing between the United States and China that could threaten my stay. I'm reading news items in the Shanghai Daily that don't agree with the facts as I know them to be, and I'm noticing censorship on the Internet when I go there for more information.
One Saturday my friend Xing Xing, a university student, comes over for lunch. We go over to Sipailou, the big food alley here. We sit in one of the hole-in-the-wall restaurants with little tables and backless stools while they fire a plate of vegetables out front and steam a fish in the back. We talk about the translation of a poem by Li Bai for awhile, then discuss Taiwan. The issue has come up because the United States is planning to sell six-billion dollars worth of arms to Taiwan. We also discuss Internet censorship and the planned meeting of Obama with the Dalai Lama.
I can understand China's objection to the arms sale but not the meeting with the Dalai Lama.
"People think it shows support," Xing Xing says. She sees the Dalai Lama, as the Chinese government does, as a "troublemaker." That is all she sees about the Dalai Lama in the news and has come to believe it.
"It doesn't necessarily imply support," I say. "In the West it is the style to meet with anyone, controversial or not."
I didn't bother mentioning that the Dalai Lama was the spiritual leader of Tibet and highly respected outside of China.
She sort of buys this and later tells me that she explained this view to friends over the holidays. I don't know weather they bought it of not.
One of the problems in China is that you cannot get any information about the Dalai Lama on the Internet. Do a search on "Dalai Lama", then click an item on the results page and you get This webpage is not available; specifically, "Error 101 (net::ERR_CONNECTION_RESET): Unknown error.".
Like other young people I have talked with, she was disturbed by this. Young people feel like their government is treating them like children. They are also disturbed by being cut off from Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. No big loss there in my opinion. But then I am peculiar; trendiness turns me off. But there was a principle involved. What adult wants to be told, no, you can't see this. We, your government, know what is best for you. Isn't this Big Brother at work? I see a tight look on the face of every young person in China whenever censorship is mentioned.
As I was starting to do research on historical topics, I was beginning to see how extensive the censorship was. I was also beginning to notice how slow Google searches were. Was the government doing this deliberately to discourage its use and give Baidu a competitive advantage? In all other countries I have worked, Google has been extremely fast. In fact, its reputation is based upon being lean, fast, and uncluttered. I finally switched over to Yahoo and Bing because of the slow response on Google. Ironically, part of the reason I was doing research on the Internet was that the books I needed were not available in China.
It was in this same timeframe that US-China relations were being described in the Chinese press as "strained." For about two months the strain increased. But the strain all seemed to be on the China side. Other than the arms sale, which was in fact nothing new—Bush had set it up in 2002—the US was not doing anything unexpected. Obama was meeting with the Dalai Lama, which just about every other world leader had done. Hilary Clinton was criticizing China for Internet censorship. She was correct. Censorship was extensive, probably more so than she was aware; and certainly the Chinese government was aware that they were doing it. There were also very good reasons to believe that China had attempted to hack Google email accounts of "dissidents." Then there was the trade issue involving undervaluing the Chinese yuan. This was simply a fact. Every economist knew it. The reason was that it gave China a trade advantage. It made their goods cheaper so they would sell more, while they would import little because of the higher cost. This meant a lot of money flowed to China and little flowed the other way. Still, they acted like the abused party, stating that China would not be pushed around. At one point, Premier Wen Jia Bao, who is generally a likeable character, stated that the value of the yuan was "fair and reasonable." How could that be if it were undervalued, which he didn't say it wasn't? China was flexing its muscle. But for once the United States was smart. It sat back, relaxed, and let China throw its temper tantrum.
Now I am a China supporter. I would not spend as much time in China if I did not like it. But I hope to not be a fool, agreeing that up is down, right is left, green is black, and red is yellow. At some point one has to respect the facts or live in a state of delusion.
But there was even more here. About a month into my latest stay I found CoastNews.com blocked. Apparently I, who write for CoastNews.com, was now subversive. Apparently a word, a phrase, an idea—something—caught the attention of the filters and my words were banned in China. I did not know whether to be flattered or outraged. For awhile I was simply baffled.
Well, I began to tell myself, the government is different from the people, the government is different from the culture—文化; the government is not the language—语言—or the food—食物—or the music—音乐 ...
I had my problems with the United States government too, so in the end I was not too surprised.
It is interesting to note that it was only when I needed information, when I was planning to do research, that I became aware of the full extent of the censorship problem. But I guess life is like that; until a problem directly affects you, you don't fully comprehend it. You only think you do.
Does that mean the Chinese government is bad. Of course not. Or maybe I should borrow the wisdom of Sai Weng and say it is not clear yet. China does know how to get things done. It does have clearly articulated policies and a social agenda that includes caring for its people. It has corruption but it goes after the bad guys and they pay. Compare this to the United States, which goes nowhere other than to war without thinking; which has policies that change to the opposite with every new administration without every benefitting the people; which regards "the people" as a pejorative for those who do the work and then are discarded under the latest scheme for enhancing shareholders profitability; and which richly rewards the baddest of the bad. So why must China engage in the kind of control of news and information that Hitler, Mussolini, Stalin, Franco, and other radical big bads did? "Social stability" is the stated reason, but maintaining the power of the "party" is the real reason. But like Sai Weng, let's wait and see. It may not be a bad thing.
Nevertheless, despite a lack of books and frequent "webpage not available" messages on the Internet, I am determined to fill in some gaps in my knowledge of history, a subject, as I said, that I cared little for till recently. It was only when I realized I did not understand certain conditions in the world that wanted to know more. But now my thoughts are interrupted by a sarcastic voice, one I often hear, which asks:
"Whatever are you talking about, man? If there is something you don't know and didn't want to ask your teachers, perhaps I can explain it to you?"
Let me put it like this: A few years ago I spent a lot of time on Place de la Madeleine in Paris. It is a major shopping "destination" in the city. Carl Crow calls the Old Chinese City a "mean place." I don't quite agree; I think of it more as an honest place. Place de la Madeleine, with another shade of meaning to "mean," you might call a "mean place." I saw so many older couples there, the women in furs, sparkling with jewels, the men in fine long coats. But they all looked unhappy; they looked like the living dead.
On the sidewalk between a boulangerie and a boutique. Tall woman, face lined with wrinkles; shorter man, heavy set, brutal looking:
Man: "Hast du alles?" ("Do you have everything?")
Woman: "Nein, ich habe Kopfschmerzen." ("No, I have a headache.")
Man: "Wollst du etwas zu essen?" ("Do you want something to eat?")
Women: "Nein, ich habe Bauchschmerzen." ("No, I have a stomach ache.")
Man: "Ich auch." ("So do I.")
Woman: "Morgen werden wir wieder einkaufen gehen." ("We will go shopping again tomorrow.")
Man: "Einverstanding." ("Okay.")
Did they have what they wanted now, I asked myself. Had World War II been unnecessary? Had all that gasing and burning of bodies been a waste of time? Had they really just wanted to go shopping, Einkaufen Raum (shopping space)?
Sarcastic voice again:
"You need help, man. You were not properly toilet trained. The war was a long time ago. It is water under the bridge."
Taking my cue from Sai Weng again, I say: "I'm not so sure. I see so many ..."
In fact, I do see much evidence that World War II is still with us. And I read almost daily some item about it in the newspaper or on the Internet. It is our "gold" standard of industrialized violence. I have also wondered for years about the atomic bombing of Japan. How could the United States have done such a thing, I have asked myself. Although I still don't agree with it, with a little reading I now know why. Let us unravel the past. Let us dig in the graveyard. I hear moaning over there by the fence.
Sarcastic voice: "Sick, man, sick. Let it go!"
I said that the older couples walk around Place de la Madeleine like the living dead, but maybe I should say stagger. They now have their lebensraum (living space); with their money they act like they own Paris. But the price has been high: see the gutted look on their faces.
I'm not sure that one—or let us say society—does. One, or society, simply plods on vacuously. In hanging out in Place de la Madeleine for three months, that was the look I saw in many well-to-do "foreign" shoppers' faces. In many ways I think Europe has never recovered from World War II. True, they have buried the dead but the dead can be heard moaning in their graves in far off fields, making for an unpleasant shopping experience in upscale Place de Somethings.
If you don't get the picture, read or reread Anne Frank's book, then multiply your feelings by 30 million. The result is an incomprehensible amount of grief. Stop the nonsense of daily living—turn off the engines of industry for an hour or so—and you feel the sorrow. It hangs in the air, blows in the wind, and in Autumn falls from trees, scuttles along the ground, and accumulates in damp clumps by fences.
Oh, but where is the levity in all this? I feel nothing but oppression. In Lapis Lazoli the "ancient, glittering eyes" of two Chinamen are "gay," meaning here light-hearted, despite a world of suffering. But then Yeats wrote this poem before World War II. Would the Chinamen have felt the same way after the Rape of Nanking? Or would they have wept inconsolably on the mountain? Would they have torn their thinning hair so that it was unable to support a hair pin as in "Spring View" by Du Fu?
The Russian army did about the same thing to the women of East Germany. And Little Joe, what about all the Poles you put down? Has the "riff-raff" really been forgotten so quickly?
Have we learned anything from all this? Just this: If you want to do something genocidal, be sure it doesn't look genocidal. Unless of course you are a fundamentalist or the "religious" sort. Then your ism justifies their isn't.
But I hear the voice again: "Lighten up, man. You're going to make yourself sick on this stuff."
Okay, man, I hear you.
They have many young woman in the bookstore to be sure that you find something and buy it, the more expensive the better. On this day one of the girls was trying to talk me into expensive—700 yuan, I think—software to learn Chinese.
"我有很多朋友," I said. " 我的朋友教我中文."
("I have many friends," I said. "My friends teach me Chinese.")
"You learn faster with computer," she countered.
"不对, 不对," I said. "我有很多问题计算机."
("Not so, not so," I said. "I have many problems with computers.")
She, as you will notice, speaks English; I speak Chinese. She doesn't know it but we're having a language exchange in real space and time, not virtual. That's a novelty these days.
Soon she resigned herself to the fact that I wasn't buying the program that her boss told her to promote. Since she was actually standing in front of me during our "live chat" session, let me describe her briefly. She was short and had reddish-brown hair rather than standard-issue black, and she wore a gray coat as did all sales assistants—销售员—at Shanghai Foreign Language Bookstore. She also had an impish grin, which might have been missed on a low-resolution webcam.
"A lot of people think China is mysterious," she told me. "But not to me. Egypt is."
I think we had been discussing the word 神秘的, which means mysterious.
She asks me if I have seen a movie about mummies—木乃伊—and reincarnation—转世—in which two lovers come back to life 300 years later. The murdered woman was a queen. She and her lover had been murdered by the king when he discovered their affair. I admit that I have not seen this film. It is a frightening, or 可怕的 , film. She looks nervous and excited just talking about it. Love, mystery, murder, and reincarnation—how exciting! Her eyes sparkle, wide-open, round orbs, as she tells me about it.... Later I buy a 10-yuan book for practicing Chinese characters—I don't want her boss to get on her case for not making a sale—then go down the street to "Cova Coffee" and buy a latte. With the money I have saved by not buying software I can buy many lattes.
Cova Coffee is new. It's in the mid-Bund area, one block off Zhongshan, which runs along the Huangpu River. The mid-Bund area doesn't always do that well. The tourists head straight for Zhongshan. But Cova Coffee is doing okay now. It has been "discovered" by people would live and work in the area.
I called my friend Coco just before I went to Cova. She was sick and thought I wanted to bring her coffee.
"I have coffee my house," she said hacking.
I tried to explain that Cova is a coffee house and bar but she did not understand.
"You sound like a 木乃伊 (mummy)," I said but I don't think she understood that either. We understand about one half of what we say to each other—not enough for good communication. But Coco is pretty and, for some reason, she thinks I'm smart, so we keep at it. "Pretty brains until it rains, then life becomes a puddle." I was still trying to rid my mind of Gertrude Stein's "Tender Buttons" but failing.
I had a copy of Shanghai Daily with me and read a story that called Google's decision to pull out of China "wrong and dishonest." It was hard for me to make the connection and the story wasn't specific: What was wrong about the decision? What was dishonest about it? Just a week before the Chinese government was saying that it was fine if Google wanted to leave. I think the Chinese government was surprised that any US business would do anything other than for the love of money. It had also looked like they wanted them out to make more space for Baidu, but were surprised and a little insulted when Google actually did it.
A few days later I read an article titled "Life After Google Proves No Problem." I realized that I was not reading news; I was reading carefully orchestrated propaganda. I found it irritating. I quit reading the newspaper.
The latte was good, with a nice layer of cream on top. I drank about half, then stirred in a little brandy from a flask I carry around with me. It was even better. I looked around at Cova. It's in one of the old Bund buildings that has character. It has a polished brass bar and mirrors enhancing the sense of space. The wood is mostly dark. You can think there.
A few weeks earlier I had been over at Starbucks in Yu Yuan Garden with Xing Xing. It was crowed with expats and tourists, and noisy. We talked for awhile about school, then suddenly she asked me:
"Do you know about Tiananmen Square?"
I presumed that she meant the Tiananmen Square Massacre. I said that I did.
She looked troubled. She said she had never heard of it until recently when a Korean friend mentioned it to her.
I told her what I knew about it.
"It wasn't just students," I said. "There were merchants and others involved in the protest. It went on for weeks."
Finally, of course, the army shot many of the protesters and ran over others with tanks.
"It was not one of China's great days," I said.
She looked upset. Xing Xing is not a radical student. She is not a "dissident." She loves her country. But she did not look happy hearing this.
I tried to add some perspective:
"It's dirty laundry," I said. "The United States has dirty laundry too, plenty of it. But you can read about it in the United States. Maybe that is the difference."
I didn't like the crowd in Starbucks. It was noisy and sweaty, not a good place to think. We went out and walked around the alleys of the Old Chinese City. We looked at swamp eels in tubs and garlic and tomatoes on bicycle carts. It was still cold but the sun was out and it felt refeshing.
He was an artist.
For awhile he even lived a Bohemian life.
He was mostly a vegetarian.
He was a passionate non-smoker and rewarded his men who gave up the habit with a gold watch.
When he was younger he was against anti-Semitism.
He was a brilliant orator able to inspire huge crowds.
He was also anti-communist and anti-captialist.
He was for the nation, that is, a nationalist.
His name was Adolph Hitler.
In the final days of World War II, with the Allies approaching Paris, he ordered his commander there, von Cholitz, to destroy the city. Von Cholitz refused to obey the order. When it was clear that Germany itself would be invaded, he ordered Albert Speer, Minister of Armaments and War Production, to destroy the industrial facilities in Germany as a "scorched Earth" measure. Speer refused. When Hitler shot himself, many of his men lit up cigarettes to celebrate.
It is another story with Emperor Hirohito of Japan. Although a somewhat shy public figure, he knew very well what was going on. War plans bore his stamp of approval and he was adept at working behind the scenes. Nevertheless, he and the royal family were exonerated from any responsibility for the war in the East by General Douglas MacArthur, who was appointed Supreme Commander of the Allied Force in Japan after the war. MacArthur ignored the advice of many members of the imperial family and intellectuals of the time, who felt that Hirohito should abdicate. Instead, only military personnel were held accountable. It is felt to this day that this is one of the reasons Japan has not come to grips with its responsibility for the war. It is as if Hitler were exonerated from his responsibility for the war in the West and went back to painting water colors. In fact, Hirohito did go back to his hobby, marine biology, and even published papers after the war.
MacArthur even granted immunity to the physicians of Unit 731, the notorious group that performed lethal experiments on both prisoners of war and civilians. Most victims were Chinese and Korean. The activities of Unit 731 included vivisection without anesthesia, weapons testing on human subjects, deliberate infection with syphilis, infestation with plague fleas ... A deal was made: In return for turning over the data from their "experiments" they were granted immunity. More than 10,000 people were subject to their experimentation. Because of the brutality involved, the United Nations has labeled the actions of Unit 731 "Crimes Against Humanity."
Again, MacArthur's judgement comes into question.
And what about guys like Joseph Stalin? What about the runt with the personality cult who was so fond of sending people he did not like on long journeys to their destruction? Did he ever get his? Probably, though it will probably never be known for sure. Interior Minister Laventiy Beria, who himself felt threatened by a possible purge—he had grown too powerful for Stalin—was the likely person. Warfarin, a powerful rat poison, was the likely cause. How fond the Russians are of poison! According to Vyacheslav Molotov's memoirs—yes, the guy of cocktail fame—Beria bragged that he "took him out." Stalin was 74-years old by the time he died of what appeared to be a stroke. By then he had sent many on a long journey to their death.
And what about the guy with the big title, "His Excellency Benito Mussolini, Head of Government, Duce of Fascism, and Founder of the Empire"? How did the leader of Fascism fare in the end? How did the master of propaganda and media control end his days? How did the Big Brother of all Big Brothers come out? Following military defeats by the Allies in 1942 and 1943, the "Grand Council of Fascism" removed him with a note of no confidence, asking the king to resume full constitutional powers. Mussolini didn't think that they meant it and showed up for work the next day. The king informed him that they did mean it and had him arrested. In 1945, at the end of World War II, he and his mistress were executed by Communist partisans in Italy while trying to escape to Spain. The "leader" of one of the most pernicious isms the world has even know was gone, taken out by the partisans of another ism.
And you did note where he was headed, did you not? Right, Spain. Italy was a major supporter of Franco and the Nationalists in the Spanish Civil War, supplying some 50,000 troops, 660 planes ... and "Francisco Paulino Hermenegildo Teodulo Franco y Bahomonde, Salgado-Aranjo y Pardo de Andrade," with a name nearly as long as Mussolini's title, died of a ripe old age without firing squad or poison. All statues and portraits of Franco are currently banned, and any street named after him has been renamed. Some 300,000 people lost their lives in the Spanish Civil War, when the general overthrew the elected government. Pablo Picasso's "Guernica" lives on as a reminder of the deadly work of the German Luftwaffe and the Italian Facisist Ariazione Legionaria.
And what did it cost—多少钱?—for Mao Zedong and the Communists to "liberate" the people of China from the Republic of China? About 3,200,000 casualties. And later, to free China of the "liberal bourgeoise," the cost may have been as high as three million loose thinkers. While things have eased up since the days of the Cultural Revolution, all books in China must be screened by the General Administration of Press and Publication, and China continues to hold pubic book burnings.
This brings us back to an old question: With such heaps of atrocities in the world, and the deep pool of sorrow they create, how does a person "move on"? The same question applies to groups of people—"society," if you want to call it that—but what we are really talking about on the lowest level is the individual who makes up groups of people. A pep talk from a family member, a friend, the major, or the president isn't going to help much for the level of sorrow we are talking about. Recovery, if possible, is going to take years, even generations. Yet many people appear to move right on as if somebody else did it and it is none of their business. They deny the connection that we all have to history and the past. Apparently even Hirohito, though responsible, at the highest level, for Japan's atrocities, found he had better things to do than think about his victims. They were water under the bridge, or blood down the drain. They were the memory of shit that happens when you forget to wear your smiley face. It is unlikely, however, that the relatives of his victims restarted their lives so easily. Hitler also moved on, though to another world, feeling only that he had failed in his mission but not that he had done anything wrong. Did Franco morn for his victims? Not likely. What about Mussolini, who almost made it to Franco's Spain to take refuge? Not enough propaganda, was his excuse, I suppose. Guerneca? With the right spin, it could sound like he had done the good citizens of Guerneca a favor. And Mao, now with his picture on all those RMBs? The blood, the shot in the back of the scholar's head ... do all those RMBs make it worth it? Are the eyes of those two old Chinamen—老的中国人—still gay?
Fine for Hirohito, Hitler, Mussolini, Franco, Stalin, and Mao, but are there oceans of grief welled up somewhere? Is that what all the "clinical depression" and all those pills are about? Is that the unknown connection the pharmaceutical companies don't want you to know about? Is it the past hidden away somewhere, stuffed into dark corners, old warehouses with creaking doors, buried in fields among the mustard weeds where Jack and Jill played once upon a time till Jill fell down when Jack pushed her and Jack fell upon her with burning thighs and a hand over her mouth? Was there a story trying to tell itself over there by the fence that was falling down around the house tangled in dead vines but no one was listening and everyone was taking some kind of pill and saying, "Oh, I don't know what it is but I just don't ... the way it was ... it doesn't seem ... could you, please? ... help ... me ...." All the while Hitler is adding a splash of yellow to a water color while Hirohito is pondering the effect of the ocean's depth on his experimental data and Mussolin has just had a satori, realizing that words alone are not enough, there must be images too, brilliant images, bright and shining like polished bayonets in the sun ... ism, Fascism, Communism, imperialism, Nazims ...
An ism is an object—a rock or a brick or a gun held at your head telling you that you must do something or think a certain way. An ism is a knife held at your throat or a club held high above your head. They are without respect or kindness or sensitivity. They are not at all about you. Just walk away from them; just take a hike.
But what about the violence, the rape, the murder? The done deeds? How do you walk away from that?
Countries want to disassociate themselves from brutality and rape and murder. They deny a relationship of these crimes with their precious national identities. They say, "never again," after three minutes of silent prayer, then turn back on the engines of industry. A new government is formed denying any relationship to the old one. Right, Berlusconi? With your moneyed hands around the throat of the media, you're still no Fascist, are you? Right, Medvedev? Those "crueler" measures to fight the "scum" in Dagestan have nothing to do with riff-raff and purges and Poles and Stalin, and you're not an admirer of the personality cult, are you? But maybe his statements are mostly bluster, which the Russians like. He is reported to be on the milder side.
But from what interior place comes the violence, the desire to murder, rape, and mutilate? Is brutality an instinct? Is rage a "natural" thing? Something "organic" that might even be good in some contexts? What would Sai Weng say? Or would he refuse to comment?
I don't know. I don't feel the desire myself and am maybe not fit to comment. I'm in uncharted territory.
Says Anne Frank, a victim of a brutal system:
"I don't believe that the big men, the politicians and the capitalists alone, are guilty of the war.... There's in people simply an urge to destroy, an urge to kill, to murder and rage, and until all mankind, without exception, undergoes a great change, wars will be waged, everything that has been built up, cultivated, and grown will be destroyed and disfigured, after which mankind will have to begin all over again."
Pretty strong words from a 14-year old. But she was the victim of one man's madness and perhaps experienced early development.
It is interesting to note that she wanted to be a writer but she wasn't completely sure of her abilities. A lot of young writers experience that feeling. She concluded that if her abilities were not good enough she would write for herself. As it now stands, she has been published in over 30 languages and is famous world over. As Voltaire has suggested, in every bad situation there is some form of compensation. I guess that was hers.
I read an article about a guy in San Diego, California, John Albert Gardner, who raped and murdered two teenage girls. I was trying to get a grasp on the darker side of human nature. Says Gardner:
"I was aware of what I was doing, and I could not stop myself." He said he was in a rage and "pissed off at my whole life and everyone who had hurt me and hurt the wrong person."
"Rage," according to the The Psychology Wiki, is a state of anger so intense that one loses control of one's actions ..."
People in a rage, it says, get a rush of adrenaline, which gives them great strength. They may not be capable of coherent thought.
Sounds like John, who got a life sentence, rather than the death penalty, for revealing the location of one of his victims.
In war, acts of brutality usually occur when soldiers snap. Take the case of the Haditha Massacre in Iraq in 2005. A roadside bomb killed Lance Corporal Miguel Tarrazas, who was driving a Humvee as part of a supply convoy. Two others in the Humvee were seriously injured. This was the "trigger" to the events that followed. At the scene in the street, marines shot and killed five Iraqi men, a taxi driver, and four teenagers. None of these people had an apparent relationship to the roadside bomb. There was then the report of small-arms fire from a nearby house, although this report was later disputed. Nineteen people were then killed by the marines in three adjacent houses, including a grandmother, a grandfather, and children.
Charges were brought against the marines, but so far all have been dropped.
The Mai Lai Massacre (1968, South Vietnam) does not seem to have a specific trigger to it; rather, loose the comments of a commanding officer and a general attitude of disrespect for the Vietnamese seem to be the cause. Stated Dennis Bunning of Charlie Company, "I would say that most people in our company didn't consider the Vietnamese human."
On the eve of the attack at a Charlie Company briefing, Captain Ernest Madina stated, "They're all V.C. No go and get them." They did. They slaughtered even babies and old men and women in a village where no resistance was shown. Women were gang-raped.
According to a BBC report:
"Soldiers went berserk, gunning down unarmed men, women, and children, and babies. Families which huddled together for safety were shown no mercy.... Some of the victims were mutilated with the signature 'C Company' carved into the chest."
As many as 504 civilians were killed. Fourteen officers were eventually charged but only one, Second Lieutenant William Calley, was convicted. He was sentenced to life in prison, but President Nixon had him released pending appeal. Eventually, Calley served four years and one-half month.
If you are the kind of person who believes there is no justice in this world, this would certainly make a good example. Or if you, like Anne Frank, believe there is a dark side to human nature that needs transformation, this would also make a good case. "Heart of Darkness" comes to mind along with "Apocalypse Now." Joseph Conrad's novel and Francis Ford Coppola's film make it even harder to imagine the "gay eyes" of Yeat's Chinamen.
And was the United States ashamed of this? Yes, for at least two days. But I never heard anything about the gang rapes or the "C Company" signature on victims' chests. Maybe that wasn't considered important.
Soldiers need to to watched. Ask them to kill and they are likely to do more. It goes back to ancient times when the rule was "to the victor belongs the spoils." And until recently women were part of the spoils. So I'm wondering: Do female soldiers get to rape the men these days? And do they want to?
The "voice" says "stop it." Okay.
It has been said that war rape is more about power, control, and humiliation than pleasure. I don't usually spend much time thinking about such things but I would guess that is probably a true statement. And gang rape? I guess I will pass on thinking about that. But it doesn't sound like a lot of fun, not unless you enjoy pulling the wings off butterflies. I don't know what Sai Weng would have to tell his neighbors about gang rape but I suspect very little that would be positive.
But keep this in mind. A soldier out of control is not a good soldier. The United States Marine Corps has developed a "Combat Mindset" for training marines. It has been well articulated by Jeff Cooper, a former Marine Lieutenant Cornel. It differentiates four color-coded levels of alertness.
The United States Marine Corps adds one other color, Black. This is for being actively engaged in combat.
As you can see, a good soldier is not a soldier who is out of control: He or she is not acting in a rage and has not gone berserk. He or she is an effective killer, however.
Army Times recognizes the mental perils of too much time spent in higher combat mind states. In an article titled "Readiness & Recovery" in Army Times, Major Chad Storlies says combat stress symptoms are "only minimally explained by soldiers' opinions and attitudes about killing." He claims symptoms occur "because their minds and bodies have largely forgotten hot to recover to a more relaxed state ..." Not being able to shift gears can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Imagine that you have just killed five people in house-to-house combat. Their bodies lie in bloody heaps on the floor of a house in a third-world village. A small, dark-eyed girl whom you almost shot weeps over the body of her mother. Once the village is secure, your next job is to return to mindset White. But of course with all the mental imagery flashing through your mind—especially the image of the little girl clinging to the body of her mother—this may not be easy to do. Major Storlie suggests, among other things, deep breathing. I don't know why he doesn't mention heavy drinking. I thought that was the most common way to "chill out" in the army.
This can prevent what we were talking about earlier: killing innocent people in a rage or going berserk.
I don't think I would make a very good soldier. Just writing this makes me feel ill.
Xing Xing is coming tomorrow. We are going to take the ferry across the Huangpu to Pudong for some lunch. I will do some breathing exercises on the way over. I will look up at the Pearl Tower as we approach the landing. It's right nearby. I will think about how pretty it looks at night, sparkling like a jewel over Pudong New District. That will make me calm. I will also have a glass or two of wine with lunch. That, in fact, relaxes me more than deep breathing and calming thoughts. I will do my best to be in a state of White all afternoon. I even hope to laugh if we can think of something really funny. In Reader's Digest, that magazine once found in every doctor's and dentist's office, there used to be a section called "Laughter, The Best Medicine." There's some truth in that idea. In her confinement in the "Secret Annex," where Anne Frank and her family hid out for almost two hers, she said she wanted to go back to being a kid again and "laugh till my tummy aches." That sounds good too, although at my age it might look a little unbecoming.
Why can't these guys who want to kill other people try that for a change? Why can't the ism mongers deal in jokes, not heavy artillery? And why can't those who do the killing flop on the ground and laugh themselves sick? Picture two armies telling each other jokes until mindset Red or Black becomes unthinkable. What a novelty that would be.
I came across an interesting statistic on World War II. It was found at the beginning of the war that only about 30 percent of US soldiers were firing their weapons. Why? They didn't want to hurt anyone. Basic training was then altered so that recruits were shooting at lifelike targets that fell over backwards when hit. This got recruits used to the notion of shooting someone and weapons use increased considerably. The heart hardened.
Then of course the problem shifts to forgetting and bad memories—不好记忆力. The results are mixed there among the researchers. One report indicates that drugs could be produced to help patients forget traumatic memories, but the Presidential Council on Bioethics has raised objections. The council says that blunting the "sting" of bad memories may not be a good thing. Have they been consulting with Sai Weng? Another study shows the mind can be tricked into forgetting. But then what about Memorial Day? Would we all just take a pill or develop the knack of forgetfulness—your choice in democratic countries, the ruling party's or the state's in others—and be done with the whole thing?
I'm going to think about this over in Pudong tomorrow. Unless I get a stomach ache laughing.
In the poem "Water Fairy," Zhang Yanghao says:
He is talking about the dress of officials and issuing a warning to those who chose to wear them. A brief look at history shows how right he is. Even the few good officials have seen their share of disastrous endings. Add corruption and psychotic thinking and you are likely to end up like Joseph Stalin eating rat poison for dinner.
Zhong Yanghao ends his poem with this line:
He is talking about someone who has just retired and has now taken up a simple life of walking outdoors in the country.
Why not even take up a bit of silliness, as suggested by Edward Lear in "The Table and the Chair":
Lear did not have much respect for the "real world" and the usual activities of humankind.
I am sometimes sadly amused by the "news" broadcasts in China. The other day I listened to a news show on economics. A University of Beijing professor stated in an interview that the "human rights era" was over; that the European Union was no longer supporting the United States on human rights. He claimed that the EU was now in line with China and only cared about free trade untied to human rights and social issues. Was someone holding a gun at the back of the professor's head? He seemed to have not the least awareness of the amoral message of his words. Indeed, he seemed to be celebrating a new era in which responsibility no longer counted. He also claimed that China had "lead the way " at the Copenhagen Climate Conference. Blocked the way is what China did, I believe.
But things are not much better in the United States with Sarah Palin and the Tea Party and those old rascals, the Republican Party, which ought to be called the Crackpot Capitalist Coalition. The Republicans block or dilute every reasonable attempt at reform that Obama and the Democrats try. The result is that the Republicans and Democrats simply cancel each other, and nothing ever gets done.
But let's get away from the gold belt and the purple robe of "government." There's only disaster there. Let's take a walk, you can hardly be aware ... Let's go to the Bund and take the ferry to Pudong. Let's walk the river bank and count the number of boats and the number of overweight foreigners on the embankment. Let's buy a beer and watch the afternoon sun slating over the Bund and glinting on the water of the Huangpu river. Let's look at all the fresh new flowers on the embankment, yellow and pink and purple, with the yellow ones the brightest, the most radiant. There is something almost mad about them, as though they had been planted by van Gogh and some mad Chinaman friend. Now here was something good about Expo. Those flowers would probably not be there if it were not for Expo. Expo was designed to show that Shanghai was a world-class city, and world-class cities have flowers. Yes, look at Paris, look at San Francisco. China was not to be outdone in the matter of flowers.
I went to Expo the other day. Someone gave me a free ticket and I did not want to waste it. But I'm not an Expo-type of person. These are big events sponsored by big companies and governments to promote themselves. I would rather go to a dog show, or the park on a rainy Tuesday when no one else is there. But I'll have to admit it: Expo was not bad. I didn't see much or stay very long but I got the feel of it. I liked the Chinese exhibit and pavilion, which I believe will remain when all else is gone and Expo is only a memory. The "Pan-Pacific International Exposition" of 1915 in San Francisco is only a memory now, with only the Palace of Fine Arts, now called the Exploratorium, remaining. And the "Exposition Universelle" of 1889 in Paris, for which the Eiffel Tower was built? Une Mémoire fragile. Someday Shanghai Expo 2010 will be like those expositions: a tattered wisp of gray, almost-forgotten memory.
The Shanghai expo is extensive, with exhibits on both sides of the river and a free ferry that runs across. The United States finally scraped together enough money and they are there somewhere. If you are the kind of person who likes giant events and nervous excitement, then you will probably enjoy Expo 2010 in Shanghai. Unlike a British reporter, I did not welt under a blazing sun nor stand for hours in a long line to get through security. We both attended the same day, but I suspect his attendance was "virtual." Opening day was a little warm but not uncomfortably so; it took about five minutes to go through security. What I liked best about the Shanghai Expo may be irrelevant but a little irrelevance, like a little nonsense, may be good medicine. I liked the young volunteer helpers. They are an only-in-China thing. There were hundreds of young people there, easily identifiable by their green and white shirts and caps and eager to help you and answer questions. The bright smiles, the cheerfulness—the hospitality—adds a luster to the Shangahi Expo way beyond the glitz of the many pavilions. Bravo volunteers! You are the bright face of China and Expo 2010! Now back to my beer and the van Gogh-like scene facing the Bund from Pudong.
I was forgetting World War I, World War II, the Korean War, and Vietnam. I was doing so without taking a pill or using mental tricks. I was trying to move on to something else. But I would probably come back. Bad memories probably form the base of our good memories, or something like that; instinctively I did not want to let them go. My own "Personal Council on Bioethics" said hold onto some of them; they are the other side of the coin. Without the valley would there be the mountain? Without winter would there by spring?
I have been reading a story about how our emotions can influence our thinking. It is a called "Lost Axe":
It goes like this: A man loses his axe and suspects that his neighbor's son has stolen it. When he observes his neighbor's son, he finds that his facial expression—脸上的表情—and his style of speech and everything else about him indicate that he stole the axe. But not long afterwards the man finds the axe in his own cellar where he had left it while digging there. When he observes his neighbor's son the next time, he sees nothing whatsoever suggesting that the boy is a thief.
Emotions are lovely—they are what animate the world—but they can also misguide our thinking at times. The reverse is also true. Thought and feeling need to become friends—朋友—or even lovers—爱人. They need to work together. Unfortunately, they are often at war with each other. Or worse, a wall is built between them, so that one doesn't know the other even exists.
What if we color-coded all our emotions like the marines color-code their states of combat readiness? Would that help? What if all those emotions were visible to us and other people, or at least to sensitive people? Wouldn't it be strange, wouldn't it be wonderful and weird, walking around like that? Sometimes we would be like flowers with feet, delightful and fun to be with; sometimes we would be like Bull Thistle, something to avoid. But in fact emotions are usually kept down below a layer of logic and spoken words that only reveal a little about how we feel. I tell you I love you when in fact I hate you and want you to go away. You say you hate me when in fact you love me and are only mad because I smiled at THAT women over there. We use a lot of words "good to swell a progress, start a scene or two," but too "politic" or "cautious" to get us anywhere. While we need to take off our clothes and run through the fields naked, we are shopping at Sax for a new suit and looking at our profile in the mirror. We are seeing ourselves as others see us, or as we would like them to see us, and not as we are and loving it all the same. We have opted for an early retirement of our genitalia and don't hear the angry protest of the prisoner in our underwear. We see her but we don't. We speak to her with words that say nothing. At best we sigh as she walks away. We are not "combat ready" for love. We are not code-Red ready; we are code-White cold and indifferent. Whatever happened to the great love songs?
What happened to the passion that we used to know that we now put down with deadly force then go back to our accounting exercises or send out a few more resumes? We have allowed it to be locked away somewhere like a prisoner of war. We have been slapped down as subversive and hauled away as emotional dissidents. We went beyond the limit and said I love you meaning it. We gave our heart away and stood before her like twelve long-stemmed, red roses and said it: I love you. And someone in combat-state Red detected danger and opened fire and we fell to the ground crushing the long-stemmed roses. We added our own body-fluid color to theirs in a beautiful but terrifying pool of red in which we swam until the yellow tape went up around us and then we were stretched out flat in the back of something screaming down the street. We were separated from our long-stemmed roses but it didn't matter. We were DOA but it wasn't him or "his song" that killed us. It was all those others who oppose songs and hate butterflies and love gang rapes and murder. It was their isms that undid our dream within a dream and all that we see or seem sending us back to the songless world without mountains and valleys and rivers and streams in the one season only of winter.
His song didn't kill us. The color red did. But it doesn't matter. The walks are long and lovely here. The water fairy is fine, loves wine.
Avoid the yellow band, the purple garment. Put on your fine feathered hat, let's go.