Erenlai - Looking at the World from Other's Eye 透過他人的眼睛看世界
Looking at the World from Other's Eye 透過他人的眼睛看世界

Looking at the World from Other's Eye 透過他人的眼睛看世界

 
 
Here is an offering of the traditions, insights, experiences and stories of others so as to enter into their world, enrich our personal development, stir up our consciousness and open our eyes. A path to embracing everyone everywhere…

就算我們的生活經驗再豐富,總有我們沒看到的、沒想過的或沒體會到的事物。在這裡,讓我們一起來分享不同的觀點、論述與生命故事。但願因心界的開放讓我們學會更大的包容力,讓我們能全心去接納那些跟我們完全不同的他者

 

Wednesday, 14 July 2010

When hip-hop meets traditional Taiwanese music

Kou Chou Ching is a hip-hop band formed in Taiwan in 2003. They blend rap lyrics sung in Taiwanese, Hakka and Mandarin with musical samples from diverse traditional Taiwanese sources and live Eastern instruments such as suona and bong-ze.

In this interview with eRenlai in Chinese, Kou Chou Chin's two MCs, fishLIN and Fan-Chiang, introduce their very singular conception of hip-hop, detail their interest for Taiwanese musical traditions, and evoke the very diverse reactions to their music.

Tuesday, 13 July 2010

All species are not equal

 

 

In our modern societies, appearance and beauty is hugely important. Women always think they should be prettier and men worry about baldness. While this is sad, it is not the saddest aspect of the beauty dictatorship. Even animal species are subject to our aesthetic whims and some risk disappearing because they are not attractive enough.

 

If you connect to the WWF or IUCN websites you will see pictures of well known and charismatic animals such as tigers, whales, polar bears and pandas. Of course we all admit they are beautiful and all need our protection, but these animals eclipse other lesser known species. Have you heard about the almiqui or the turkey vulture? They are threatened species too but they have a huge handicap when seducing potential supporters: they are ugly.

Scientific studies have shown that a few charismatic and cute species command a great portion of our attention. Specially, threatened large mammals such as elephants or chimps monopolize the attention of conservation organizations and people. Certain groups are overrepresented so the endangered species protection is skewed. To be honest, we are less aware of a small lizard that dies because of deforestation rather than the orangutans that share the same jungle. Most people do not care about the fate of a small, seemingly insignifiant reptile.

For many years now only, a few species have had our attention and donations but maybe it is time to focus on less charismatic species. Thus, the EDGE ( Evolutionarily Distinct and Globally Endangered) of Existence program, part of the London Zoological society, was founded in 2007 and focuses its efforts on unheard-of species. The work of this program is totally different to how other conservation organizations work. A lot of organizations think that saving charismatic species will benefit every species in their ecosystem. But this theory is too simple: for example, the worldwide protection of whales has no positives consequences for sharks. Even small or ugly species have their role to play in the ecological chain and their extinction is very problematic as well, despite their unfortunate appearance.

Interistingly, the most famous protected species all have common features: most of them are mammals, they are big ( or if not, they are at least cute) and they are considered as active and intelligent. Of course all the famous species do not have all these specificities - pandas are cute but they are by no means active.

Besides this beauty/cuteness criteria, the fact that most popular animals draw in more research funding to scientists is another factor that explains why they are better protected and have a high visibility. Who can blame a scientist for seeking funds to continue his or her research? Another important factor is to offer a chance for species to become popular is the commercial potential of these species. For example, thanks to the recent movie ‘March of the Penguins', the Emperor penguin became very famous in the United States and one can now find various products such as coffee mugs, books or notebooks emblazoned with pictures of this cute penguin. We can not deny that if we want to buy a coffee mug for mothers’ day we will choose the one with a lovely picture and not the one with some ugly, weird animal. After all, we are human: we prefer beauty to ugliness.

Almiqui

But in this beauty contest of endangered species if the winners are mammals, the losers certainly are snakes, insects, arachnids and amphibians. Because most of the time they are ugly and small - and sometimes very poisonous - people do not tend to consider them as useful species. Thus in the protection of threatened species we should start considering ecosystems as a whole and not only the most charismatic species in an ecosystem. If we want to protect our beloved tiger or our cousin the chimp, we have to protect their whole habitat. Once again, there is a long ecological chain which needs all of its links to work: from the smallest, most ugly insect to the cutest, the most appealing mammal.

Among some of the most ugly species on earth, the eRenlai team elected the purple frog and the almiqui as the ugliest endangered species. According to the EDGE top 100 of most endangered amphibians, the purple frog ( which can only be found in western India) is at third place with a limited conservation attention. The almiqui, which can only be found in Cuba, currently has no conservation attention.

While you are reading this article you can look at some photos that could scare children, or even you! But please do not look away from these species, it is time to face the ugly part of our ecosystem and maybe even to appreciate it.

So from now on, when you watch a cute baby tiger on a wildlife TV show, I hope you will also think about all of the small and ugly threatened species that the cameraman was not willing to show you.

 

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From left to right: Helmeted hornbill, long-beaked echnida and turkey vulture.

Monday, 05 July 2010

Tea break with Taipei's only Rabbi

Born in Vienna, Austria in 1918, Rabbi Dr E. F. Einhorn has witnessed huge global change throughout his 91 years.  He moved to Taipei in early 1975 where he has since served as Rabbi.

Belying his age, Rabbi Einhorn is the Chairman of Republicans Abroad Taiwan; Honorary Representative Asia and Pacific Region for the Polish Chamber of Commerce; and Honorary Secretary of State for Montana, USA, among several other roles.

Here Rabbi Einhorn discusses his role as Taipei's Rabbi and shares some insights on how he remains motivated after so many years of dedicated activity.

Tuesday, 15 June 2010

One who meets God

An interpretation of a prayer by Alberto Hurtado

Alberto Hurtado was a Jesuit priest born in Chile in 1901. He is the founder of the Hogar de Cristo foundation which provided shelters to children in need. He died in 1952. He was canonized on October 23, 2005, by Pope Benedict XVI.

Monday, 31 May 2010

Culture or rapture

To ask what is culture or what does it stand for may seem to be easy, but there are probably as many meanings to that word as there are cultures and subcultures or maybe even more. For instance, one can say that a culture is often in relation with some kind of religion. Sometimes they are even understood as being an inherent part of one another. Thus there are good things and bad things those two have in common. The one that is absolutely brilliant is their almost magical property of being impervious to any and all criticisms. And isn’t this convenient?

This is in fact something that one comes across quite often in Taiwan. How many times have you heard the phrase: “Well, it’s just a different culture.” And the discussion ends. It doesn’t even have to do anything with criticising one culture or another. Naturally this answer may be perfectly suitable for some situations. It doesn’t really matter if you eat with chopsticks or a knife and a fork. Both achieve the same effect and such a low-consequential decision deserves very little if any justification. You may as well say you just like chopsticks better. But what if you were trying to eat a steak with your chopsticks and I would suggest you use a knife, so you can cut it into smaller pieces? If you don’t like what I’m saying you can just utter this magic formula and that’s it. It’s a bit silly, but most people will just ignore it.

Now imagine another situation like genital mutilation, a practice that can make you a sexual cripple, is a threat to your health and I could keep on going. I don’t think the “it’s a different culture” is enough of a justification. Extraordinary claims or actions need extraordinary evidence or reason, so who are we kidding? There are cultural practices that ought to be scrutinized and criticized.

There is no doubt that culture relates to human values and consequently to human well-being as well. Everyone has heard “cultural values” at some point.

Although religion has been challenged by science in many domains, it seems as it still retains its prime in the discourse on morality and human values. It indeed looks like religious and cultural values are the ones most often used as moral guide-posts. Some people even go as far as to say that we would know no morality, so we would apparently be killing each other on sight if it was not for the moral imperatives of religion. In fact, to many people it appears science can’t tell us what we should value. Science deals with facts and values seem to simply belong somewhere else. What a clever detour. Is this not to say that values are a certain type of facts? They are facts about the well being of conscious creatures and these facts can be observed.

Everybody knows it is possible to live in a failed state where people murder and torture each other on daily basis. We know it is possible to move from there to an arguably better state and we also know there are right and wrong answers to how to move along this continuum. Seems to me then that when we talk about values we effectively talk about facts, because there are truths to be known about how humans and human communities can prosper. There are indeed right and wrong answers to the question how humans flourish.

Or is it a good idea to subject women to pain and suffering by publicly beating them by their partner while people around watch and do nothing? It is not their business after all. Is this truly the best way to encourage healthy emotional relationship and good behaviour? Can we say in the almighty spirit of tolerance that this question has no answer or that the answer doesn’t matter? It’s simply a different culture, a different habit.

But do not confuse tolerance with apathy or indifference. Of course there might be different ways to achieve the optimal state of human well-being, but that is not to say there are simply no wrong answers to that question. There are also all kinds of food that are healthy for you. Some are probably less healthy for you. Nevertheless there is a clear distinction between food and poison. Why doesn’t this fact that there are right and wrong answers about human nutrition tempt people to say there are no rules?

How dare you question the practices of an ancient culture, such as punching a woman in the face when you don’t like what she said? I say who are we to pretend that we know so little about the human well-being that we have to be non-judgemental about such a practice? This is not necessarily a legal question, because even if something like that is forbidden by the law, it doesn’t me unfortunately that it ceases to exist in the culture. In Taiwan for example maybe you wouldn’t even dare to call police, because you would “lose your face” by doing so.

Apparently, generally speaking, people value difference of opinion when talking about morality. Killing an infidel might be moral for my neighbour. Others will be happy with just a mutilation of their children’s genitals. Others fulfil their morality by meditating on compassion or giving strangers their last penny. It is just a different culture. It is a different religion.

If you show up on a biology conference and say you don’t like evolution and you don’t believe in it, nothing will happen. Nothing will happen because you’re not an evolutionary biologist. If we want to talk about facts, certain opinions must be excluded. This is the meaning of having a domain of expertise, this is how knowledge counts. If every opinion counts, than effectively no opinion counts. It just doesn’t matter what Joe from the gas station thinks about evolutionary biology.

How did we convince ourselves that there is no such thing as moral expertise or even a genius in the area of morality? I wonder who came up with the mantra of tolerance saying that every opinion has to count or that every culture has a point of view worth considering.

I think that most people would agree that a group of suicide bombers does not have a point of view on biology or physics worth considering. How is the ignorance of such a group any less obvious on the subject of human well-being?

Maybe it would be better if we allow simple rigorous observations to propose the answers rather than keep on listening to all the mambo-jumbo that is coming on us from all the directions. Or you’d rather rest assured that all that nonsense is equally tolerated? I’m certainly not saying that we should silence everyone, but I’m saying that we should not probably be basing our actions on such evidently random opinions

Photo by C. Phiv

 

Thursday, 27 May 2010

以虛寫真漫畫人生:2010年法國安古蘭漫畫大獎與佳作介紹(一)

法國安古蘭國際漫畫節FIBD, Festival Internatonal de la Bande Dessinée)於今年一月底舉行,這項盛會已有三十多年歷史,堪稱歐漫界的坎城影展,獲獎作品不一定是最賣座的暢銷書,但漫畫節向來勇於頒獎肯定藝術上有所成就的作品,不過也因此遭人批評走向過於精英路線。今年漫畫節「大獎」頒給了老將巴會(Baru),「最佳作品獎」則由年輕漫畫家薩杜夫(Riad Sattouf)的《暴衝帕斯卡》獲獎,有些歐漫觀察家認為,這是漫畫節希望平衡外界批評而做出的選擇。


藍領之子 邊緣發聲:2010年大獎得主巴會

「我來自法國東部,我啊,是個法義雜種(batârd),我以此自豪。」男子一頭白髮被黑色T-shirt襯托得更顯眼,他對著鏡頭微笑著。

這就是巴會(Baru),法國安古蘭漫畫節2010年大獎得主(le Grand Prix)。

巴會原名艾維‧巴會雷亞(Hervé Baruléa),1947年出生在法國東北部洛林省。這個地區昔日以工礦業著稱,吸引了不少義大利、烏克蘭與北非等外籍勞工前來謀生。後來礦業沒落,工廠關閉,地方產業力圖轉型。巴會的父親就是來此落地生根的義大利外籍勞工,母親來自法西的不列塔尼半島。

巴會本來是體育老師,1982年在當時著名歐漫雜誌《領航者》(Pilote)開始發表作品。說起他從事漫畫創作的源由,他說是「為了公開告訴眾人世界的走向」。他說他當時受幽默漫畫家來瑟(Reiser)啟發,早逝的來瑟作品隨性瀟灑,刷刷幾筆直指人生百態。

藉著漫畫《庄腳少年藍調》Quéquette Blues) 與《我住法國小蘇聯》Années Spoutnik),巴會以自己出身的勞工階級入畫,訴說法國市井小民的故事,不是只有英雄將相或正妹型男才是書冊主角。巴會1995年在法日同步出版《陽光公路驚險記》(l’Autoroute du Soleil),這部作品在兩地均獲好評。


六○年代年少回憶

三十多年漫畫生涯過去,巴會出版了十來本作品,《庄腳少年藍調》獲得1985年安古蘭漫畫節最佳首部作品獎,《薩伊德的拳擊大夢》le Chemin d’Amérique)與《陽光公路驚險記》也先後於1991年與1996年獲得安古蘭肯定,頒贈重要獎項「最佳作品獎」(le Meilleur Album)。

《庄腳少年藍調》是巴會較早期的作品,他以第一人稱描寫1960年代的年少回憶。他詳實地描寫一點也不浪漫的法國工業小城,工廠高爐聳立。那是個年輕人穿西裝打領帶把妹的時代,鄉下樂手用手風琴與破英文演唱「滾石」樂團的歌,賣力地想要跟上時代潮流。剛成年的巴會跟著朋友鬼混,總被取笑還是個處男,但他並不想找個人隨便拋掉處子之身,即使老是被嘲諷。

本書畫風雖然不像現在的巴會成熟,作者誠懇地帶著我們走過1960年代的法國小城,少年郎急著「登大人」,不管用性愛、狂歡或幹架。六十年代的威權式教育讓他們感到苦悶,玩團或把妹是少有的宣洩出口,他們不想像父執輩一樣被工廠綁住一輩子。


lilou_FIBDA2010_02

沒落城市忠實入畫

《陽光公路驚險記》的背景同樣設定在作者熟悉的工業小城,描寫這些沒落城市的蒼涼,也觸及法國內部的移民與種族問題。

作者用了一個黑色幽默場景開場。話說某煉鋼廠試著拉倒某座老舊高爐,退休員工們在旁看好戲,順便向他們昔日的忠實「夥伴」致敬。當高爐被拉倒,老員工們的昔日榮耀彷彿也跟著灰飛煙滅,眾人垂頭喪氣地離去。

義裔少年阿雷克斯的父親也是這批老員工之一。阿雷喜歡找北非裔帥哥卡寅鬼混,某天卡寅鬧出桃色糾紛被迫跑路,阿雷只好跟他沿著「陽光公路」南下避風頭。這兩個移民後裔不但惹上了極右派份子,還成了毒販追殺的目標。這對倒楣鬼如何逃出生天,巴會以動感十足的手法讓讀者跟著他們一路奔逃藏躲。


敏感議題大膽觸及

《薩伊德的拳擊大夢》一書設定在1950至60年代阿爾及利亞獨立運動時期,這段歷史在阿法兩國間鑄下相當深刻的傷痕,至今仍是法國近代史上一個敏感議題。巴會選擇了一個看似與大時代無關的拳擊手薩伊德當主角,這個阿爾及利亞小子離開了恐怖活動頻傳的祖國,成了法國與歐洲冠軍。他甚至去了美國,在擂台上發光發熱。

然而,現實還是像條瘋狗一樣緊咬著他。身為名人的薩伊德難以置身事外,支持法國殖民政權的人鄙視他,阿國地下組織則威脅他付「革命稅」,否則就用命來抵。沒有人能輕鬆地脫身,薩伊德不想選邊站都不行,歷史的洪流轟轟地吞噬了許多無辜者的身家性命,只要你是法國人或阿國人,你就毫無選擇,被迫參與這場血腥的戰鬥。

《英雄不怕出身低》l’Enragé)的主角安東也是個家境不佳的少年拳擊手,一開場他就坐在法庭內。他究竟是被告,還是原告?跟著他回憶過往,我們看到了一個法國清寒少年想要功成名就的歷程。等安東真的名利雙收,身邊有著許多比拳擊還危險的誘惑等著讓他粉身碎骨。當安東靠拳賽賺到第一筆錢,他跪在地上向鈔票膜拜,直嚷:「快呀快呀,錢錢們趕快錢生錢啊。」他想藉此得到父親認同,可是老頭從現金到拳擊冠軍腰帶一概不收,安東一輩子似乎都在為了獲得父親的認可而搏鬥。

有的創作者藉著想像力逃離自己身邊熟悉的世界,創造出自己的異次元世界;也有些創作者從自己身邊的事物發想,從看似平凡的環境轉化出奇花異草來。巴會走的就是第二種路子。他來自法國工業小城,他出身移民勞工家庭,他描寫這個階層人們的喜樂與哀愁,他也因此為異國類似的故事感動,用漫畫一筆一畫為他們留下存在的痕跡。

法國知名漫畫家羅塞爾(Régis Loisel)曾說:「巴會是漫壇武士。」是的,他是個來自民間,用畫筆為民間發聲的尊貴武士。


巴會照片攝影 /Crochet.david

【註】時報文化曾於 1998年分上下兩冊出版Baru作品L’Autoroute du Soleil,作者名與書名分別譯為「巴魯」及《太陽高速》。


■ 巴會官方網站  http://baru.airsoftconsulting.info/Accueil.aspx

■ 巴會紀錄片「巴會世代」http://www.dailymotion.com/video/xb76fg_generation-baru-extraits-du-film_creation


■ 安古蘭漫畫節官方網站 http://www.bdangouleme.com




本文亦見於2010年6月號《人籟論辨月刊》

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Thursday, 27 May 2010

以虛寫真漫畫人生:2010年法國安古蘭漫畫大獎與佳作介紹(二)

布洛奇(Blutch)可說是法國漫畫新浪潮不可忽視的要角,他去年獲頒安古蘭漫畫節大獎,除了照慣例在今年舉行個展外,他也把自己小時候鍾愛的漫畫《藍袍小兵》les Tuniques Bleues)引薦給漫畫節觀眾,多少有向大眾漫畫致敬之意,這部漫畫的主角就叫做「布洛奇」。

布洛奇展比起上屆得主杜比與貝比昂(Dupuy & Berberian)展低調單純得多,沒有逗趣的大型藝術裝置,展場就只有布洛奇的圗畫創作,觀眾最後可在展場附設的放映室觀看以布洛奇為題的紀錄短片。


華麗與衰敗共生:2009年大獎得主布洛奇個展

走過布洛奇個展,光看觀眾反應就相當有趣。他為法國文學刊物繪製了一系列諷刺漫畫,不少觀眾看了竊笑。也有一組系列畫作以幽暗的粉彩色調為主,畫中青春肉體與衰老發胖的人體並存,有時奇怪的不明物體佔據畫面,有時作者嘗試捕捉人物的動態感,編織出生命與衰敗共存共生的世界。展場入口有幅粉彩畫作頗引人注意,畫面上只有兩個背影,左邊的西裝男子頭部是把草,右邊的藍衣女子有著一頭熾艷的紅髮,那是布洛奇為名導亞倫雷奈(Alain Renais)新片《愛情瘋草》(Les Herbes Folles)繪製的海報。

布洛奇個展不像傳統的漫畫展,他並沒有像大多數作者把漫畫出版品原稿一頁頁地拿出來展示就好。他拿出了許多從未出版的私房畫作,展現出創作者在成熟技巧與自發性揮灑的來回追索,它們就像一片片瑰麗奇異的拼圖,為我們拼湊出創作者內心宇宙的一方天空。

展場雖然看不到布洛奇的爆笑童年記事《小小克里斯提昂》(le Petit Christian),也沒有驚心動魄的《羅馬宮闈秘史》(Péplum),樂迷們也看不到《完全爵士》(Total Jazz)原稿,漫畫家誠摯邀請我們參觀他創作的後花園,又是一方天地。


攝影/David Rault


■ 漫畫家布洛奇介紹 http://mypaper3.pchome.com.tw/lilou/post/1262676460

■ 安古蘭國際漫畫節官方網站 http://www.bdangouleme.com




請見2010年6月號《人籟論辨月刊》

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想閱讀本期更多精采文章,請購買本期雜誌!

您可以選擇紙本版PD 版

海外讀者如欲選購,請在此查詢(紙本版PDF版訂閱全年份

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Thursday, 27 May 2010

以虛寫真漫畫人生:2010年法國安古蘭漫畫大獎與佳作介紹(三)

法國青年漫畫家利雅德‧薩杜夫(Riad Sattouf)以《暴衝帕斯卡》(Pascal Brutal)第三集獲得今年安古蘭「最佳作品獎」,之後又馬上以影片《國中囧男生》(les Beaux Gosses)獲得法國影壇大獎,可說是雙喜臨門。

Friday, 30 April 2010

Noblesse oblige

Travelling is a wonderful thing, but once in a while one must check himself. Culture shock is a very real thing and every traveller has to deal with it. One of the more general rules says that one should be polite and reserved. Delete all the characteristics of your personality and really try to appear as a general representation of a human being. But when you go back to the places that you came from you are off the hook...Or are you?

My recent trip to old mother Europe proved rather enlightening. The Taiwanese are in general very polite and helpful, always trying to do their best and to appear as well-mannered as possible. But all these things are relative. Other nationalities may see such helpfulness as being noisy and annoying and so the polite thing to do might be just leaving them alone. On the other hand if you want to be a part of the global community maybe you should look around and try to adapt, even if  only a little.

I’ve heard many things during my stay in the Czech Republic. Apparently I was being too proper, too polite, even snobby. I would not dare to ask for shop assistants that would smile at me, but am I asking for too much if I want them to say “hello” to me? Even with all the hard labour these people are doing every single day I don’t think it is overwhelmingly exhausting to say a word even if it is a hundred times that day. The French can do that, the English are managing and the Taiwanese even manage to do it with a smile on their faces almost every single time.

It would not be fair however not to present the argument I have heard more than once from my fellow countrymen. That wishing “a nice weekend” for instance to somebody you don’t know and who is only a customer is just fake and insincere. It robs you of your precious time for nothing but a plain lie. And I have to say that being a member of that splendid nation, I can’t say the Czechs are overly voracious. It seems like it is too much work to be nice to other people, very well strangers. But I’m sure there is an argument for assuming that all strangers are potential hostiles. Is that your kind of society?

The Communism regime sure did some work on us. Maybe that’s what led to inventing a kind of humour that not many foreigners understand, as well as all the bad anticipations.

They say that good manners are a gateway to success and bad manners are a gateway to a good hiding. Unfortunately it appears that success is something that won’t be forgiven if you live in the Czech Republic. Needless to say, in the past, regime success usually came hand in hand with some wonderful Party activity. So that is where the heartburn stems from. But can the Communists be blamed for everything? It has been more than twenty years since the Velvet Revolution. Of course the opposition will say that the Communism regime was present for more than forty years. Who wants to wait another twenty years?

Maybe it can start with that simple “hello” and “good day to you.” Good manners are not a duty, but a privilege. How else can we change things? Improve things? We start from ourselves, we show our good side, our civilised side. Can we be a little pleasant and a bit forgiving? Does it matter that the other person does not want you to have a nice day? It shouldn’t because one can be better than that. Things will not get better by themselves, simply because people want them to. Noblesse oblige. If we want all that is around us to improve, it should probably come from the centre.

So be a better man. Say “Hello.”

(Photo courtesy of B. Girardot http://flickr.com/photos/litanies)

 

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Dreams: Their forgotten remembering function

 

As I walked my dog near the faculty housing complex at Taiwan’s National Chi Nan University, two other dogs came running up. Their owner wasn’t far behind – the woman who’d just moved into the house behind ours. Her English was excellent and she seemed interesting. I invited her to the Tuesday night dream group I lead at the campus English Corner. She said she was busy but promised to come the following week. I rang her doorbell later and gave her an article that explained the Montague Ullman experiential dream group method we use.

Next week she showed up in the group late. Those of us sitting around the circle had just finishing introducing ourselves. I asked if she’d care to say something to the others before we begin.

“I’m not staying,” she announced. “I only came by because I promised. What you do in this group goes against what I teach my students about dreams.”

“What is it you teach?” I asked.

“The research shows that dreams have no meaning and should be forgotten.”

“I would like to invite you,” I put it to her, “To put aside what you’ve read about dreams just long enough to experience for yourself what actually happens here in the next hour and a half between a dreamer and her dream.”

She rose to her feet. “No,” she said. She walked out of the room.

I removed her empty chair and had everyone close the gap in the circle. Besides myself, eight individuals remained: undergraduates from the Departments of Social Policy and Social Work, Applied Chemistry, and Chinese Literature; a graduate student from the Department of Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language; a faculty member from the Department of Information Management; a 12 year-old girl from the local elementary school; and two women from outside the university, whom we’d never seen before. They drove over from a nearby mountain town to practice their English. Neither had any idea what a dream group was. When I called for a dream the elder of the two raised her hand. Her name was Yi-San. She taught Chinese at the junior high school in town.

“You have a dream?”

“Yes,” she said in a soft voice. “But I’m afraid my English is not good enough.”

“Don’t worry. Not good enough will work fine in this group,” I said. “When did you have this dream?”

She thought a moment. “Oh… When I was about ten or eleven.”

The professor who had just walked out told us dreams should be forgotten. I wondered how she and her scientists would explain those that are unforgettable and stay with us for a lifetime.

“Tell us your dream.”

“For a week I had the same dream every single night…” she began.

“Don’t tell us anything right now except the dream itself,” I cautioned. “Say it slow so we can write down every word.”

Yi-San told her childhood dream:

I was in a place and that place was my house, around my house area. And there was some Indians ran after me. They run after people who live there. I was in that area because that was my home town. I ran and ran and ran. Every time when Indian almost get me I fall down and pretend I was die and then I escape to be catched. I was nervous and scared in that situation. And then when that Indian cross me, he thought I was dead, and he cross me to find someone else to catch one, I run again. Very soon, another Indian run after me again. Over and over I pretend fall down and die to escape to be catch up till I awake.

Yi-San told us the place was real – the area around the house where she lived at that time. She called her attackers in the dream Indians because they looked every bit like American Indians, with painted faces and feathered headdresses – but in the dream she knew them to be the aboriginal people of Taiwan. She’d never seen one of these aboriginal tribesmen and so in the dream pictured them as Native Americans. Her feeling in the dream was, “I thought I would be killed.”

Members of the group took the dream as their own and brainstormed about its feelings and metaphors. Then I invited Yi-San to come forward and tell us what she could make of her dream.

Yi-San said:

“I remember that the house [we lived in when I had that dream] was dark– so I ran in and ran out without light.”

“My family, we just moved in a few months before. I didn’t like that house because it’s far away from town. There are fields around the house and we didn’t have lots of neighbors. The neighbors were not nearby.”

“I couldn’t forget that dream until I grow up. One day I decided to go to Peru to find an answer. In Peru there are Indians. So I went for two years. I didn’t find any answer.”

“I went back to Taiwan. I got married with an aborigine.”

“That dream is always in my mind. How to make it clear, or find the answer. I dreamt the same dream every day in that week. I dreamt it the first night. Then the second night dreamt it again. Then I went to bed the third night and dreamt it again.”

We set the dream aside and questioned Yi-San about the little girl who dreamed it.

Yi-San said:

“That house was our second house.”

“We had a house from the time when I was born until I was 4 or 5 years old; but it belonged to my father’s family. When my father’s brothers split the property amongst themselves we lost the house. We moved to another place. We moved about 1 or 2 times after that to houses that weren’t ours.”

“Then my father had money to build a house and we moved when I was 10.”

“We all didn’t like that house – including my brothers, sisters, and me. (I’m the eldest) – except my father; because he chose that place and built the house. The land was cheap because it was far away from town.”

“At that time it was a hard time. Before we moved in that house my father was seldom at home. He worked in Japan. My mother worked hard. We often feel not safety.”

“I didn’t feel safety when I was child. My father always work far away.”

“I was eldest. Have to take care of brothers and sisters, support mother. I felt got lot of abilities on my shoulders to carry.”

“I thought that house had ghosts.”

“At night we didn’t dare to go to the bathroom alone. The others company, be a line waited outside the bathroom door for our turn.”

“My mother was not very healthy.”

“I was very shy but active inside. Appearance looks shy, thin.”

I asked Yi-San if she would care to say more about “active inside.”

“I had a lot of dream about future but nobody knew at that time. “

“I always wanted to fly away from home. Always look to the sky.”

“When I was a child my relatives tell me I liked to jump, to run, to speak a lot, always say hello to everyone.”

“When I get older I change. About 7 or 8.”

“I wanted to travel around the world, and do something great, be the great person. Know different kind of countries, people.”


Yi-San became choked up with feeling and fell silent.

The group waited.

The professor who had walked out told us dreams had no meaning. I wondered how she and her scientists would account for the tears Yi-San fought back. To reconnect with one’s deepest feelings is not meaningful? As a little boy I too had wanted to “be the great person.” Yi-San’s words brought an uprush of emotion in me too. How many of us can measure up to the big hopes and dreams of the innocent child we once were?

“I felt sad,” Yi-San apologized when she’d recovered herself and could speak. “I wanted to cry.”

I asked her if she’d like to go to the next stage of the Ullman process. She said yes.

I explained how the playback stage worked. One of the group members read the first piece of Yi-San’s dream back to her.

Yi-San didn’t know what we wanted her to do.

I explained again how the playback worked. The group member read the next segment of Yi-San’s dream back to her.

Usually in the playback the dreamer is able to connect each of the dream’s metaphors with her waking-life situation before the dream; and come to a much deeper, and often very different, understanding of herself and her life because of the dream’s unabashed truthfulness and its inclusion of much important information that escaped waking notice. But this is all Yi-San could say:

In the dream I was worried about how I could rescue those people. I can do nothing, just running.

* * *

I felt fear, nervous.

* * *

When I face to difficulty what I do is escape. I used to be when a child, if I didn’t do school homework well, I pretend I having headache or stomachache. But not now.

* * *

I think I heard from my grandmother, she taught us in ancient time have in Taiwan those aborigines that cut person’s heads off [some aboriginal tribes in Taiwan were headhunters]. Once my grandmother when a little girl she went to the forest and lot of aborigines run out. She with friends run and run and she drop into a hole and pretend she is dead. That aborigine cross her and she didn’t be killed but someone be killed at that time and cut head away.”

* * *

What I curious about: why did I dream that dream for several days?”

When Yi-San was finished I asked her if she’d like to hear what others in the group thought about her dream. She said yes.

The view of the group was that Yi-San was much closer to the various levels of the dream than she realized. On its simplest, most immediate, level, the dream expressed the fears she and her brothers and sisters felt living in this dark and (she feared) “haunted” new house their father built way out all alone in the fields, far from town and from any neighbors. The children dared not go to the bathroom alone at night. They feared for their lives. Yi-San, the eldest, was a responsible girl. During the day she helped out her mother with the younger ones. But asleep at night she was very much the little child again, and prey to her siblings’ same fears about being moved to a place so far away from town when the mother was not well and the father was frequently absent. That the fears take the form of Taiwan’s aboriginal headhunters is undoubtedly due to the grandmother’s tale of her own childhood encounter with aborigines one day when she and her playmates ventured too far from town.

Some members of the group also discerned a deeper level to this dream, as evidenced by (1) Yi-San’s lifelong concern with finding “the answer” to it – and her venture to South America, a place with Indians, in search of that answer; and (2) her marriage to a Taiwanese aborigine when she returned to Taiwan.

Yi-San said she never found an “answer” to the dream; but she herself, of course, was all along the dream’s “answer.” On its deepest level, the dream announces to her who she is. She had the dream at an age when her unique form of greatness was just beginning to wake up in her and assert itself. The terrifying images in the dream were a self-portrait – and a clue to the distinctive spiritual destiny that was to be hers.

claire_shen_15_dreamsThe dream occurred again and again, night after night, for a whole week because the dream’s scenario was supercharged, drawing its emotional impact from the two different levels on which the dream operated. The terror and the fear for her life, understandable from the lower and most obvious level of the dream, are even more pronounced on its higher, more subtle, level. We are all most afraid of what we don’t know. What always remains most unknown and unknowable to us is what we most deeply are. It’s our real greatness that terrifies us the most, because that’s the part of ourselves we least understand.

When a special and deeper, almost shamanic, nature first begins to emerge in the exceptional child, it asserts itself in ways that aren’t so easily comprehensible. Especially if coupled with outside fears or insecurities, it can strike terror into the child’s heart. When I was five, living in the bland Miami suburbs, I unaccountably had a nightmare that I hid under my bed in terror because there was a big wild bear at the window that wanted to get me. Among the Native Americans, a child might have an overpowering dream of an eagle, a wolf, or a bear – and thereby begin to be acquainted with the emergence of some deep inner aspect to its own individual nature. Yi-San’s inner nature was somehow akin to that of the aboriginal Taiwanese – an almost vanished people, very different from the Chinese. That this is the case is attested by her eventual marriage to an aboriginal man. My dream was of the great bear. Because the bear hibernates in the winter the bear spirit in some Native American cultures is said to be associated with sleeping, intuition, and dreams. Sleeping is indeed very important to my creative process, as is dreaming. I can only write early in the morning when I first awake and my mind is still not that far removed from its dreaming, or creative, mode. My way of working with dreams in the Ullman group is largely intuitive; and I have found that the unique value and importance of the Ullman dream group in the university curriculum is that it trains and sharpens the intuitive and creative powers of students subjected to a life-long education that is too narrowly intellectual. I have remembered that bear dream my whole life. It announces to me something I very much need to remember for it tells me my true nature and mission, which is different from the natures and missions of so many of those around me. I need to be me, not them. It’s the same with Yi-San and her wonderful aboriginal nature. The “answer” to her dream is to be who she most truly is and do what she does best, and what perhaps only she can do.

We always give the dreamer the last word.

Yi-San said:

“I’m glad I decided to come here.”

* * *

“What you give me really is the answer of my dream.”

* * *

“Some of you touch to my heart.”

* * *

“I never try to see myself so widely and deeply, and try to understand myself.”

* * *

“Thank you very much. It is a very good experience.”

So, what is the “meaning,” then, of Yi-San’s dream. What exactly does it “mean”? And, what specifically is it about this dream that, contrary to the dogma of some sleep researchers, should not be forgotten, but sorely needs to be remembered – not just by Yi-San, but also by us, who worked on it in the group, and perhaps even by certain individuals reading this?

The laboratory scientist claims dreams have no meaning and should be forgotten. But dreams don’t operate in the realm of science. They aren’t about science. They are all about art – naked specimens of the most basic artistic, intuitive, creative, and spiritual function at the root of human consciousness and culture. We don’t reduce a great painting, a masterpiece of fiction, or a profound religious enlightenment to mere intellectual or statistical understanding by asking “What does it mean?” and we don’t specifically dictate that it should or shouldn’t be forgotten. The fact is, it changes our lives and the lives of those around us and is unforgettable.

The meaning is not in the artwork itself but in our human lives. The power of the work of art is that it can touch us down to levels of meaning, being, human richness, and even divine compassion that we have forgotten, and perhaps left behind – and it can bring these forward again into our experience. This is also the power of dreams and we have never worked with the images of a dream in an Ullman group but what we have found that they do have meaning and they do connect with the dreamer’s life.

A ten or eleven year old girl in Taiwan dreams a dream that she never forgets. Some thirty or forty years later she is a junior high school teacher in a mountain town in Taiwan. She tells the dream in a dream group and finds herself close to tears to recall that as a little girl she wanted to “be the great person.”[inset side="right" title="William Stimson"]conducts free all-day dream groups every month in Taipei and Taichung. For further information: billstimson[at]mac.com[/inset]

One of the greatest persons I ever met was Mrs. Hankens, my Honors English teacher at Southwest Miami Senior High School. She touched something into my life that I never began even to suspect until decades later. Undoubtedly she did the same for quite a number of her students. As Yi-San sat there in the group with us working on her dream, I was again and again affected by her simple humility, openness, and honesty. I thought of Mrs. Hankens and knew immediately Yi-San was a teacher like that. She may not have risen up high in the world, but there was no doubt in my mind that seated before us in the dream group, working on her childhood dream, was “the great person.”

And this maybe is the meaning of the dream, and of dreaming in general. That it makes us remember what we most essentially are, and enables us to see that in each other.

(Illustrations by Claire Shen)

Thursday, 15 April 2010

Dreams: Their forgotten remembering function

As I walked my dog near the faculty housing complex at Taiwan’s National Chi Nan University, two other dogs came running up. Their owner wasn’t far behind – the woman who’d just moved into the house behind ours. Her English was excellent and she seemed interesting. I invited her to the Tuesday night dream group I lead at the campus English Corner. She said she was busy but promised to come the following week. I rang her doorbell later and gave her an article that explained the Montague Ullman experiential dream group method we use.

Next week she showed up in the group late. Those of us sitting around the circle had just finishing introducing ourselves. I asked if she’d care to say something to the others before we begin.

“I’m not staying,” she announced. “I only came by because I promised. What you do in this group goes against what I teach my students about dreams.”

“What is it you teach?” I asked.

“The research shows that dreams have no meaning and should be forgotten.”

“I would like to invite you,” I put it to her, “To put aside what you’ve read about dreams just long enough to experience for yourself what actually happens here in the next hour and a half between a dreamer and her dream.”

She rose to her feet. “No,” she said. She walked out of the room.

I removed her empty chair and had everyone close the gap in the circle. Besides myself, eight individuals remained: undergraduates from the Departments of Social Policy and Social Work, Applied Chemistry, and Chinese Literature; a graduate student from the Department of Teaching Chinese as a Foreign Language; a faculty member from the Department of Information Management; a 12 year-old girl from the local elementary school; and two women from outside the university, whom we’d never seen before. They drove over from a nearby mountain town to practice their English. Neither had any idea what a dream group was. When I called for a dream the elder of the two raised her hand. Her name was Yi-San. She taught Chinese at the junior high school in town.

“You have a dream?”

“Yes,” she said in a soft voice. “But I’m afraid my English is not good enough.”

“Don’t worry. Not good enough will work fine in this group,” I said. “When did you have this dream?”

She thought a moment. “Oh… When I was about ten or eleven.”

The professor who had just walked out told us dreams should be forgotten. I wondered how she and her scientists would explain those that are unforgettable and stay with us for a lifetime.

“Tell us your dream.”

“For a week I had the same dream every single night…” she began.

“Don’t tell us anything right now except the dream itself,” I cautioned. “Say it slow so we can write down every word.”

Yi-San told her childhood dream:

I was in a place and that place was my house, around my house area. And there was some Indians ran after me. They run after people who live there. I was in that area because that was my home town. I ran and ran and ran. Every time when Indian almost get me I fall down and pretend I was die and then I escape to be catched. I was nervous and scared in that situation. And then when that Indian cross me, he thought I was dead, and he cross me to find someone else to catch one, I run again. Very soon, another Indian run after me again. Over and over I pretend fall down and die to escape to be catch up till I awake.

Yi-San told us the place was real – the area around the house where she lived at that time. She called her attackers in the dream Indians because they looked every bit like American Indians, with painted faces and feathered headdresses – but in the dream she knew them to be the aboriginal people of Taiwan. She’d never seen one of these aboriginal tribesmen and so in the dream pictured them as Native Americans. Her feeling in the dream was, “I thought I would be killed.”

Members of the group took the dream as their own and brainstormed about its feelings and metaphors. Then I invited Yi-San to come forward and tell us what she could make of her dream.

Yi-San said:

“I remember that the house [we lived in when I had that dream] was dark– so I ran in and ran out without light.”

“My family, we just moved in a few months before. I didn’t like that house because it’s far away from town. There are fields around the house and we didn’t have lots of neighbors. The neighbors were not nearby.”

“I couldn’t forget that dream until I grow up. One day I decided to go to Peru to find an answer. In Peru there are Indians. So I went for two years. I didn’t find any answer.”

“I went back to Taiwan. I got married with an aborigine.”

“That dream is always in my mind. How to make it clear, or find the answer. I dreamt the same dream every day in that week. I dreamt it the first night. Then the second night dreamt it again. Then I went to bed the third night and dreamt it again.”

We set the dream aside and questioned Yi-San about the little girl who dreamed it.

Yi-San said:

“That house was our second house.”

“We had a house from the time when I was born until I was 4 or 5 years old; but it belonged to my father’s family. When my father’s brothers split the property amongst themselves we lost the house. We moved to another place. We moved about 1 or 2 times after that to houses that weren’t ours.”

“Then my father had money to build a house and we moved when I was 10.”

“We all didn’t like that house – including my brothers, sisters, and me. (I’m the eldest) – except my father; because he chose that place and built the house. The land was cheap because it was far away from town.”

“At that time it was a hard time. Before we moved in that house my father was seldom at home. He worked in Japan. My mother worked hard. We often feel not safety.”

“I didn’t feel safety when I was child. My father always work far away.”

“I was eldest. Have to take care of brothers and sisters, support mother. I felt got lot of abilities on my shoulders to carry.”

“I thought that house had ghosts.”

“At night we didn’t dare to go to the bathroom alone. The others company, be a line waited outside the bathroom door for our turn.”

“My mother was not very healthy.”

“I was very shy but active inside. Appearance looks shy, thin.”

I asked Yi-San if she would care to say more about “active inside.”

“I had a lot of dream about future but nobody knew at that time. “

“I always wanted to fly away from home. Always look to the sky.”

“When I was a child my relatives tell me I liked to jump, to run, to speak a lot, always say hello to everyone.”

“When I get older I change. About 7 or 8.”

“I wanted to travel around the world, and do something great, be the great person. Know different kind of countries, people.”


Yi-San became choked up with feeling and fell silent.

The group waited.

The professor who had walked out told us dreams had no meaning. I wondered how she and her scientists would account for the tears Yi-San fought back. To reconnect with one’s deepest feelings is not meaningful? As a little boy I too had wanted to “be the great person.” Yi-San’s words brought an uprush of emotion in me too. How many of us can measure up to the big hopes and dreams of the innocent child we once were?

“I felt sad,” Yi-San apologized when she’d recovered herself and could speak. “I wanted to cry.”

I asked her if she’d like to go to the next stage of the Ullman process. She said yes.

I explained how the playback stage worked. One of the group members read the first piece of Yi-San’s dream back to her.

Yi-San didn’t know what we wanted her to do.

I explained again how the playback worked. The group member read the next segment of Yi-San’s dream back to her.

Usually in the playback the dreamer is able to connect each of the dream’s metaphors with her waking-life situation before the dream; and come to a much deeper, and often very different, understanding of herself and her life because of the dream’s unabashed truthfulness and its inclusion of much important information that escaped waking notice. But this is all Yi-San could say:

In the dream I was worried about how I could rescue those people. I can do nothing, just running.

* * *

I felt fear, nervous.

* * *

When I face to difficulty what I do is escape. I used to be when a child, if I didn’t do school homework well, I pretend I having headache or stomachache. But not now.

* * *

I think I heard from my grandmother, she taught us in ancient time have in Taiwan those aborigines that cut person’s heads off [some aboriginal tribes in Taiwan were headhunters]. Once my grandmother when a little girl she went to the forest and lot of aborigines run out. She with friends run and run and she drop into a hole and pretend she is dead. That aborigine cross her and she didn’t be killed but someone be killed at that time and cut head away.”

* * *

What I curious about: why did I dream that dream for several days?”

When Yi-San was finished I asked her if she’d like to hear what others in the group thought about her dream. She said yes.

The view of the group was that Yi-San was much closer to the various levels of the dream than she realized. On its simplest, most immediate, level, the dream expressed the fears she and her brothers and sisters felt living in this dark and (she feared) “haunted” new house their father built way out all alone in the fields, far from town and from any neighbors. The children dared not go to the bathroom alone at night. They feared for their lives. Yi-San, the eldest, was a responsible girl. During the day she helped out her mother with the younger ones. But asleep at night she was very much the little child again, and prey to her siblings’ same fears about being moved to a place so far away from town when the mother was not well and the father was frequently absent. That the fears take the form of Taiwan’s aboriginal headhunters is undoubtedly due to the grandmother’s tale of her own childhood encounter with aborigines one day when she and her playmates ventured too far from town.

Some members of the group also discerned a deeper level to this dream, as evidenced by (1) Yi-San’s lifelong concern with finding “the answer” to it – and her venture to South America, a place with Indians, in search of that answer; and (2) her marriage to a Taiwanese aborigine when she returned to Taiwan.

Yi-San said she never found an “answer” to the dream; but she herself, of course, was all along the dream’s “answer.” On its deepest level, the dream announces to her who she is. She had the dream at an age when her unique form of greatness was just beginning to wake up in her and assert itself. The terrifying images in the dream were a self-portrait – and a clue to the distinctive spiritual destiny that was to be hers.

claire_shen_15_dreamsThe dream occurred again and again, night after night, for a whole week because the dream’s scenario was supercharged, drawing its emotional impact from the two different levels on which the dream operated. The terror and the fear for her life, understandable from the lower and most obvious level of the dream, are even more pronounced on its higher, more subtle, level. We are all most afraid of what we don’t know. What always remains most unknown and unknowable to us is what we most deeply are. It’s our real greatness that terrifies us the most, because that’s the part of ourselves we least understand.

When a special and deeper, almost shamanic, nature first begins to emerge in the exceptional child, it asserts itself in ways that aren’t so easily comprehensible. Especially if coupled with outside fears or insecurities, it can strike terror into the child’s heart. When I was five, living in the bland Miami suburbs, I unaccountably had a nightmare that I hid under my bed in terror because there was a big wild bear at the window that wanted to get me. Among the Native Americans, a child might have an overpowering dream of an eagle, a wolf, or a bear – and thereby begin to be acquainted with the emergence of some deep inner aspect to its own individual nature. Yi-San’s inner nature was somehow akin to that of the aboriginal Taiwanese – an almost vanished people, very different from the Chinese. That this is the case is attested by her eventual marriage to an aboriginal man. My dream was of the great bear. Because the bear hibernates in the winter the bear spirit in some Native American cultures is said to be associated with sleeping, intuition, and dreams. Sleeping is indeed very important to my creative process, as is dreaming. I can only write early in the morning when I first awake and my mind is still not that far removed from its dreaming, or creative, mode. My way of working with dreams in the Ullman group is largely intuitive; and I have found that the unique value and importance of the Ullman dream group in the university curriculum is that it trains and sharpens the intuitive and creative powers of students subjected to a life-long education that is too narrowly intellectual. I have remembered that bear dream my whole life. It announces to me something I very much need to remember for it tells me my true nature and mission, which is different from the natures and missions of so many of those around me. I need to be me, not them. It’s the same with Yi-San and her wonderful aboriginal nature. The “answer” to her dream is to be who she most truly is and do what she does best, and what perhaps only she can do.

We always give the dreamer the last word.

Yi-San said:

“I’m glad I decided to come here.”

* * *

“What you give me really is the answer of my dream.”

* * *

“Some of you touch to my heart.”

* * *

“I never try to see myself so widely and deeply, and try to understand myself.”

* * *

“Thank you very much. It is a very good experience.”

So, what is the “meaning,” then, of Yi-San’s dream. What exactly does it “mean”? And, what specifically is it about this dream that, contrary to the dogma of some sleep researchers, should not be forgotten, but sorely needs to be remembered – not just by Yi-San, but also by us, who worked on it in the group, and perhaps even by certain individuals reading this?

The laboratory scientist claims dreams have no meaning and should be forgotten. But dreams don’t operate in the realm of science. They aren’t about science. They are all about art – naked specimens of the most basic artistic, intuitive, creative, and spiritual function at the root of human consciousness and culture. We don’t reduce a great painting, a masterpiece of fiction, or a profound religious enlightenment to mere intellectual or statistical understanding by asking “What does it mean?” and we don’t specifically dictate that it should or shouldn’t be forgotten. The fact is, it changes our lives and the lives of those around us and is unforgettable.

The meaning is not in the artwork itself but in our human lives. The power of the work of art is that it can touch us down to levels of meaning, being, human richness, and even divine compassion that we have forgotten, and perhaps left behind – and it can bring these forward again into our experience. This is also the power of dreams and we have never worked with the images of a dream in an Ullman group but what we have found that they do have meaning and they do connect with the dreamer’s life.

A ten or eleven year old girl in Taiwan dreams a dream that she never forgets. Some thirty or forty years later she is a junior high school teacher in a mountain town in Taiwan. She tells the dream in a dream group and finds herself close to tears to recall that as a little girl she wanted to “be the great person.”[inset side="right" title="William Stimson"]conducts free all-day dream groups every month in Taipei and Taichung. For further information: billstimson[at]mac.com[/inset]

One of the greatest persons I ever met was Mrs. Hankens, my Honors English teacher at Southwest Miami Senior High School. She touched something into my life that I never began even to suspect until decades later. Undoubtedly she did the same for quite a number of her students. As Yi-San sat there in the group with us working on her dream, I was again and again affected by her simple humility, openness, and honesty. I thought of Mrs. Hankens and knew immediately Yi-San was a teacher like that. She may not have risen up high in the world, but there was no doubt in my mind that seated before us in the dream group, working on her childhood dream, was “the great person.”

And this maybe is the meaning of the dream, and of dreaming in general. That it makes us remember what we most essentially are, and enables us to see that in each other.

(Illustrations by Claire Shen)

Thursday, 11 February 2010

A trip into the country of literati merchants

Of Stones and Ink (De Pierres et d’encre) is not merely a guidebook for Huizhou, a region located in South-West China a few kilometers from Shanghai. The author, a French woman named  Anne Garrigue who has been living in China for five years, offers us an extensive portrait of a place where history and art converge together sublimely.

Illustrated by Zhang Jianping, a local photographer from the region, the account first takes us back to the Zhou dynasty (11th – 8th Century BC) , during which the first commercial activities started in Huizhou. Thus, it is the occasion to recall one of the founding stones of Chinese civilization: the culture of the literati merchants. In order to increase their status in ancient Chinese society, they adopted the activities and the way of living of the literati, practicing calligraphy, painting, poetry and reading of the Classics. These merchants did not only develop the region economically, they also contributed to its cultural and architectural expansion as they encouraged education in the villages and built magnificent houses.

The book also tackles the problem of heritage protection in Huizhou, where a balance between tourism-fuelled growth and an efficient preservation of the sites is still to be found. On the other hand, the restoration of the monuments and the historical sites has permitted the rebirth of the local art crafts which, along with trading, was the origin of the region's fame. Thus, the second part of the book introduces portraits of local inhabitants (peasants, officials, craftsmen, artists) and recommends villages to visit. In fact, some of these inhabitants are descendents of the literati merchants and their testimonies also contribute to the preservation of the sites’ memory.

Next: reading note in French

 

 

 

Anne Garrigue, De Pierres et d’encre, Chine au pays des marchands lettrés, 2009,éd. Philippe Picquier, 224 p.

De Pierres et d’encre n’est pas un simple guide du Huizhou, région du sud-est de la Chine, située à quelques kilomètres de Shanghai. L’auteur qui vit depuis cinq ans en Chine, Anne Garrigue, nous offre un portrait extensif d’un lieu où se mêlent histoire et art.

Anne_Garrigue_Pierres_Encre1Illustré par Zhang Jianping, photographe originaire de la région, le récit nous fait d’abord voyager dans le temps et débute sous la dynastie des Zhou (11e – 8e siècle avant JC), période à laquelle commencent les premières activités commerçantes au Huizhou. Ainsi, c’est l’occasion de rappeler  l’une des pierres fondatrices de la civilisation chinoise : la culture des marchands lettrés. En effet, l’engouement et l’intérêt de ces derniers pour les Arts et les Lettres s’explique par la domination des valeurs néo-confucéennes dans la Chine classique, la culture leur permettant d’obtenir un statut de respectabilité incontestable. Ces marchands encouragèrent donc leurs fils à suivre de hautes études, à passer les concours impériaux lorsqu’eux-mêmes s’exerçaient aussi à toutes les activités propres aux lettrés de l’époque : calligraphie, peinture, poésie, lecture des Classiques… En outre ils appliquèrent ces valeurs morales confucéennes à leur propre exercice du commerce comme on peut le retrouver dans les slogans gravés sur les échoppes : « traiter les clients avec confiance et honnêteté », « gagner des bénéfices de façon juste », etc… Aussi ces marchands ne firent-ils pas seulement que développer économiquement leur région, ils l’enrichirent aussi sur le plan culturel et architectural ; ils contribuèrent à développer l’éducation et l’instruction dans les villages et firent construire de somptueuses demeures dont la question de la protection se pose actuellement.

De fait, Anne Garrigue consacre un chapitre entier à la question et aux problèmes de la sauvegarde du patrimoine au Huizhou où il faut encore trouver un équilibre entre leAnne_Garrigue_Pierres_Encre2 développement du tourisme à tout-va et la nécessité culturelle et économique de mettre en valeur l’héritage. Par ailleurs, la restauration des monuments et lieux historiques favorise la renaissance de l’artisanat qui, avec le commerce, fit la réputation de la région. L’auteur détaille ainsi les activités artisanales qui subsistent au Huizhou : sculpture sur pierre et sur bois, fabrication de bâtons d’encre et de boussoles. En outre, l’une des caractéristiques – et difficultés - de l’apprentissage réside dans la particularité de la transmission des savoirs car elle s’effectue de manière orale par le biais de poèmes mnémotechniques appris par cœur. Ainsi, la seconde partie du livre présente des portraits d’habitants de la région ainsi que des villages à visiter en particulier. Certains habitants sont aussi des descendants des marchands lettrés : paysans, officiels, artisans, artistes, hôteliers, leurs histoires et leurs témoignages sont aussi une contribution à la préservation de la mémoire des lieux.

L’enjeu de la préservation du patrimoine en Chine transparaît en quelque sorte dès le titre de l’ouvrage : « De Pierres et d’encre ». Ce livre, en lui-même un bel objet par la richesse et la qualité des photos, fait aussi œuvre de conservation par les mots d’un patrimoine dont la subsistance reste ténue.

 

 

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