Erenlai - Displaying items by tag: east asia
Friday, 27 September 2013 11:53

Learning Chinese the Traditional Way

In this video we talk to different students of Chinese about their experiences learning it, what the hardest aspect of it is, and the aides and help they have found along the way.


Tuesday, 12 November 2013 13:33

An Interview with Liz Hingley

Liz Hingley is a British photographer who holds a first class BA Honours in Photography from Brighton University. Her work has been recognized with many international awards, including the Prix Virginia in 2012. She is currently living in Shanghai and working on her new project in the city. On an interview with her over Skype, we discuss her experiences in Shanghai. 


Friday, 01 November 2013 11:18

Yi Studies on the Move

In 1995, a group of scholars, from the Yi and Han nationalities as well as from a few countries outside China, gathered at University of Washington in Seattle, at the initiative of Professor Stevan Harrell.


Thursday, 31 October 2013 13:50

Water in Classical Chinese Literature

The Yangtze River is the longest river in Asia and one of the longest rivers in the world. The Yellow River is the second biggest river in Asia and the sixth biggest in the world. Both are the most important rivers in the history, culture and economy of China.

Ever since the early history of China, the water of the Yangzi was used for sanitation, irrigation and industry. The vastness of the river meant it was often used to mark borders and was an important consideration in war tactics.

The Yellow river is seen as the cradle of Chinese civilization. The most prosperous civilizations in the history of China were mostly situated along this river. Therefore, it is not surprising that images of water are apparent in ancient Chinese culture and particularly in Chinese poetry.


Saturday, 05 October 2013 09:25

Film Review: Surname Viet Given Name Nam

The film Surname Viet Given Name Nam was the the second of two opening films of the five day Taiwan International Ethnographic Film Festival 2013. It's being held at the Wonderful Theatre, just opposite exit 6 of Ximen MRT - catch it before it's over.


Wednesday, 16 October 2013 07:57

Publishing Debate part 2: Are you sure we're still really free?

The Cross-strait Trade on Services Agreement is a mirror into a possible dystopian future, in which appears a undemocratic Taiwan, lacking in freedom. Regardless if you're for or against the opening up, the publishing industry should take this opportunity to reflect on their own problems.

By Sharky Chen (the head of commaBOOKS Publishing House), translated from the original Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photo by 楊忠銘.


Sunday, 06 October 2013 16:19

Publishing Debate part 1: Greater Freedoms Grant Greater Power


The Cross-strait Trade on Services Agreement does not, nominally at least, extend to the publishing industry, but it has unleashed an explosive debate in the publishing industry. Those in favour and those against both agree that 'freedom' is at the heart of Taiwan's publishing industry and that it's a value that must be upheld, but they hold opposing views of the effect that the implementation of the agreement will have on the industry. This special two part series allows two publishers on opposite sides of the argument to air their views, giving the reader a fuller picture of the possible advantages and drawbacks that the agreement will bring. The second article is available here.

What does the publishing industry really have to fear from the Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement?

By Octw Chen (A long-time publishing industry insider), translated from the original Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photo by 楊忠銘.


Under the pressure of China's large capital is Taiwan left with no other option and destined to go under? The strong "soft" power of the vital and diverse space cultivated by publishing freedom might just exceed our expectations...

Are we really seeing things clearly when we talk about the Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement?

A new debate has broken out in Taiwan surrounding the signing of the Cross-strait Trade in Services Agreement. What's interesting is that it was in the publishing industry that the controversy first blew up, despite the fact that this industry has no direct relationship to the content of the agreement. Despite the fact that the publishing industry wasn't one of the industries under discussion in this agreement, some of the topics discussed are very interesting and deserve further discussion. However, it's necessary to first state that what follows is limited to the publishing industry and that this essay is unable to make a more comprehensive judgment on the merits of the trade agreement as a whole, or to state with authority what effect it will have on other industries.

According to the views expressed by Hao Mingyi in his piece 'We have less than 24 hours left', which was the subject of much debate, Taiwan's publishing industry is a model for cultural industry that will quickly be swallowed up and obliterated when the market is opened up. Publishers on the other side of the strait need only kill us softly with cash injections and these 'essentially small scale, micro-industries' will 'all be outgunned, unable to escape going under or being bought out'.

Is this true? Is the publishing industry in Taiwan really so weak that it can't even withstand one blow? This assertion really is rather horrifying and it certainly serves the function of scaremongering well, the only unfortunate thing about it though is that it does nothing to explain the status quo.

In a creative and innovative industry it's hard to succeed just with capital

It's true that we have countless micro-publishers. We also have a publishing market that is the most liberal, fortified and competitive in the history of the Republic of China. However, because of this, in the best-seller lists, it is the small to medium sized publishing houses that are strongest when it comes to innovation, influence and competition.

In the 2012 Books.com.tw top hundred overall bestseller list, the hundred books came from forty-four different publishing houses. This would be hard to imagine in a country like the United States – the bestseller list in America is the province of six major publishing groups (Oh yeah, that's right, now there's only five!) – the fact that Taiwan's bestsellers aren't concentrated in a few publishing houses is testament to the fact that no one publishing house in Taiwan enjoys market dominance.

The bestseller list has another peculiarity, which is that small to medium-scale publishing houses feature prominently, making up more than half of the total, with even a few legendary one-man publishing houses. These small- to medium-scale publishing houses have little fear of the capital of larger-scale publishing houses and they even outperform them by quite a margin in the bestseller rankings.

'Is this particularly out of the ordinary?' you might ask. Of course it is. This is indicative of the fact that Taiwan's publishing industry is still based on innovation and creativity and that you can't dominate the market with just capital. There have been competing investments from Hong Kong, Japan, the UK and the US in Taiwan's publishing market, but no single publishing group or foreign investor has achieved market dominance and no foreign investor has been able to use their vast capital and resources to defeat the innovative and creative small- to medium-scale publishing houses.

This is the simple reality of Taiwan's publishing market since the end of Martial Law in 1987.

The assertion that Taiwan's publishing market is too unconstrained, that it lacks security and as a result is too easy to infiltrate or 'invade', not only demonstrates an inability to understand the status quo, but also an ignorance of the way a free system functions.

The publishing market is already a healthy ecosystem

If Taiwan's publishing industry is defenseless, why hasn't it been monopolized by a major publishing group? I my opinion, this is because of publishing freedom. In Taiwan nobody can stop you starting up a publishing house or starting a publishing branch of your company or even just striking out on your own as a self-published author without need of a company, you just need to apply to the ISBN centre of the National Central Library for your own ISBN – you can even call them up to complain if they're not quick enough about it.

As this industry is so simple, in the past few decades many people working in the publishing industry have resigned their posts at big companies and starting out in their own micro-publishing house, making waves in the book market with a lot more capacity for innovation than bigger companies. This is an industry that is impossible to monopolize, because the industry allows for new people and companies on the scene, not only in terms of the lack of a structural hierarchy but also in terms of the ability to do business. You don't need to have a lot of capital to play the game and there's no burdensome entrance fee. The Books.com.tw top hundred bestsellers' list tells us that you can make an impact on the bestseller list with just your own individual intelligence and hard work.

You'd be hard-pressed to find another industry in Taiwan that values individual creativity so much, and this is all due to the individual transactions of the readers as they choose this book or that. Anyone seeking to dominate the market wouldn't be able to do it just by buying up all the existing publishing houses, they would also have to pay off all the editors to prevent them from setting up shop themselves. How can one clamp down on the freedom to start one's own business? And how also, can one dictate reading preferences to readers on a national scale? If capital could warp preferences when it comes to buying books, then the top hundred bestseller list should, by rights, be dominated by big companies.

I believe that Taiwan's publishing market is already a healthy eco-system, it is strong enough and determined enough to withstand 'invaders' from abroad, these 'invaders' could even be said to strengthen the industry by challenging it. This is the truly formidable power of Taiwan's publishing industry.

The best defense is in not erecting walls around ourselves

In an article in Next Magazine under the title 'A great place for reading', Zhan Hongzhi, the founder of Cite Publishing stated, 'Historically, the places where there was most freedom to print and publish often became the places were cultural renaissances took shape amongst a diverse range of voices.' Such was the Dutch enlightenment, wherein many French and English thinkers, because their views were proscribed in their own countries, were forced to publish their most important works in the Netherlands. Freedom and openness pushed the Netherlands to be a country at the forefront of European thought at that time, attracting a talented elite, allowing this small Western European country to cut a formidable figure on the seas in competition with the English and the Spanish. Dutch navigators were more or less engaged in global trade even then.

Freedom and liberty forged the Netherlands' golden era, likewise, publishing freedom is an extremely valuable soft power for Taiwan. It represents not only the collecting together of ideas, but it serves to awaken our minds – only places where there is publishing freedom will win the recognition of intellectuals.

What's most startling about the viewpoints that have been put forward concerning the publishing industry amidst the controversy surrounding the trade in services agreement is that these commentators seem to see Taiwan's clear strength as its weakness. The firm ground of freedom is seen as unable to withstand even one blow. When we should be upholding freedom, we instead build a high wall to cut ourselves off. This viewpoint is blind to the reality of the publishing industry, and underestimates its strength. If this viewpoint becomes the popular one, then that is a pity for Taiwan and if it goes further and becomes government policy, than that will be a tragedy for Taiwan – as our greatest advantage will be destroyed by our own hand.

We do need to protect Taiwan's publishing freedom, but the best way to do this is not to build ourselves a greenhouse, that will, on the contrary, destroy competition within the industry. The best line of defence is to continue to give free reign to competition, only then will the industry continue to cultivate publishers with determination, who will, when unhappy, be able to go their own way and start up influential independent publishing houses. To ensure that the eco-system continues to be balanced, innovative, free and diverse, this is the only way in which we can safeguard Taiwan's publishing industry.


Wednesday, 02 October 2013 16:10

When Dreams Don't Pan Out


Translated from the original Chinese by Conor Stuart, photo by Cerise Phiv.

Dreams have the dual meaning of hope and desperation: they can represent longing for the future, or they can be an unrealistic fantasy.

"中國夢" (Chinese Dream) . In the middle of August this year, I embarked on my first steps onto Chinese soil. From when I entered the airport, these three characters followed me on my trip. In the papers, in the media, even slogans written on walls at the side of the road, these three characters appeared at every turn. According to the Chinese government, the meaning of this phrase is 'Realize a rich and powerful nation, to reinvigorate the Chinese nation and to make the people happy'. On the surface, this dream not only looks to have a very solid definition, but it seems to have the power to be passed down from the top to the bottom rungs of society.

When conjuring up the Chinese Dream, it's very hard not to associate it with the American Dream, which took its origins in the nineteenth century, which consists of the idea that if you only work hard, you will not lack for opportunities and was pursued and yearned for by people the world over. And now, a rising superpower is staking a new claim in an attempt, it goes without saying, to replace it. Only, amidst this atmosphere of prosperity for all, I can't help but feel a little troubled: Don't dreams represent people at their most unconstrained? People under the same roof often have different dreams from one another, so how could more than a billion people all have the same dream?

By chance, it was at the end of August when I was jettisoned into this dream. Fifty years before, on 28th August, the American civil rights leader Dr. Martin Luther King made his famous speech which featured the famous line "I have a dream", which is probably one of the most widely known dreams in the world. The dream Dr. King describes is one in which "the sons of former slaves and the sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood [...] that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character." So, the American Dream actually turns out not to be realizable with just hard work, certain people are already pre-excluded from it. Half a century has since passed, and even though the US has already elected its first black president, I'm not naive enough to think that Dr King's dream has been realized. One need only open one's eyes to see the multitude of dividing lines that exist in the world today, and what keeps us apart is not only race, but also gender, sexuality, class and even religion...

The Chinese Dream, the American Dream and Dr. King's dream remind me of the era of illusion in Taiwan spurred by the lines "Having a dream is wonderful, hope is never far behind" (有夢最美,希望相隨, you meng zui mei, xiwang xiangsui). These lines, a slogan from an election campaign (Chen Shuibian's election campaign), used the simplest of words to inspire hope in countless people, as if just believing in these words, one could emerge from the darkest of times. However, the reality of the situation is that dreams can't dispel the differences between people and they give us a clear direction, as for Taiwan this turned out to be an even more ambiguous and tumultuous era than what had gone before.

Perhaps, as we sing the virtues of dreams, we often forget that dreams have the dual meaning of hope and desperation: they can represent a longing for the future, if you naively believe that where there's a will, there's a way", allowing you to release your unlimited potential. Or, on the other hand dreams can be an unrealistic fantasy because what you yearn for is so distant from reality, so, in the end, it can only ever be a dream. Of course, if we get to the core of the issue, as the Diamond sutra says, everything in this world is simply a "phantasm". 


Monday, 01 July 2013 14:26

The shape of rituals, happiness, and camera lenses

 

“A photograph is not only an image, an interpretation of the real; it is also a trace, something directly stencilled off the real”

~Susan Sontag

I like to shoot boring things; and this makes the act of photographing a wedding quite difficult, because I need to capture touching moments. This is not entirely my problem, but is rather related to the fact that emotions in weddings are always expressed in similar ways, so after attending two or three you become tired.


Monday, 01 July 2013 13:06

Goodbye, my dear sister

 

I have been thinking for a long time how to start this article. What tone of voice can I use to remember you, my dearest sister?

I’ll start from the day when you resolutely decided to leave us.

It was the summer of 2009, I am a little bit fuzzy on the exact date. September 18th? September 20th? It seems like something that happened very long ago. A few days before, I had come back from the disaster area of the Morakot Typhoon. At that time, my only thoughts were of getting home, I wasn’t aware that it was all an omen of you leaving.


Tuesday, 25 June 2013 11:19

After the Quake: Rituals in North Western Sichuan


Rituals organize and symbolize a way of living together. Through the enactment of rituals, a community expresses its fear, its solidarity and its longings. In traditional societies, performing rituals enables people to organize time and space into a meaningful universe, to renew their commitment to the group to which they belong, and to cement an alliance among them, with nature and with the supernatural.
The variety of ritual forms is astounding. It reflects the richness of cultural forms, artworks and humane inventiveness. Among the ethnic minorities who, all together, account for almost ten percent of China's population, those living in the southwest may offer the widest repertoire of ritual performances. Caring for the souls of the dead, exorcising ghosts so as to cure illnesses, rejoicing at marriages, New Year or at harvest time. The four rituals mentioned here all take place in Sichuan province, among people of Yi, Qiang and Ersu ethnic origins.


Tuesday, 18 June 2013 16:09

A Centre for the Middle Country

The Beijing Centre for Chinese Studies (TBC) opened in 1998 and is located on the campus of the University of International Business and Economics in Beijing. 

In this interview with Father Thierry Meynard SJ, director of TBC, we learn of his story leading up to being named director, his thoughts on the importance of learning about China, and a detailed explanation of the services that the Centre provides.

Programs and contact: http://www.thebeijingcenter.org/


Friday, 27 September 2013 17:45

Thinking outside the box: Inventing words and Chinese variants in Taiwan


When reading in Chinese, particularly literature and academic essays on literature or on certain blogs, you'll notice that the author uses combinations of words that don't exist in any dictionary as compounds - this practice, known as 「造詞」(zaoci), is frustrating when one is first trying to get to grips with academic writing or blogs, but eventually you start to appreciate the wit and creative charm behind it. If you've ever read The Meaning of Liff you'll get an idea of what this achieves and the possible comic effects.

This can be done for several reasons.

The first is to translate a foreign concept (or what was once only a foreign concept) into Chinese, many of these are simple but amusingly to the point, examples include 無政府主義 (no-government-ism) as a rendering of 'anarchism', 天主教 (master-of-the-heavens-religion) for Catholicism, or 利己主義者 (interest-self-ism) as a fancy way to say 'egotist' or for someone who subscribes to a self-interested ideology. A lot of these subsequently end up in the dictionary. More recent and artistic examples of this kind of word include both 「多音交響」(duo1yin1jiao1xiang3) "many-tones-symphony" and 「眾聲喧嘩」 (zhong4sheng1xuan1hua2) "many-sounds-clamouring" which attempt to render Mikhail Bakhtin's concept of "heteroglossia" into Chinese. These are usually found in academic articles and the source language equivalent is normally still placed in brackets behind the word to indicate that this is an experimental attempt. These words are also often translated differently in mainland China and Taiwan. 

Another form of zaoci, however, is simply to create a new word by blending aspects of existing words. This form is more interesting and harder to identify, but can sometimes catch on and enter common usage. The technique is generally taking two words (normally consisting of two characters each) and taking one character from the first and one from the second to make a new word. These examples are quite hard to find, as they are essentially invented by the individual on the spot. Here's a short list of some of the more artful ones that I've discovered so far, feel free to add more in the comments box.

1. 「索愛」(suo3ai4) which blends 「索討」(suo3tao3), "to ask for", with 「愛情」(ai4qing4), "love," to mean someone who acts in a cutesy manner to try and get what they want - a near synonym for the mainland Chinese term 「賣萌」(mai4meng2) and the term 「撒嬌」 (sa1jiao1).

2. 「魘醒」(yan3xing2) which is an abbreviation for 「從夢魘中醒來」, "waking up from a nightmare".

3. 「熹亮」(xi1liang4) which combines 「熹微」, "the faint sunlight just after dawn" with 「光亮」(guang1liang4), "bright", to get a synonym of 「微亮」(faint light).

4. 「憤罣」(fen4gua4) which combines 「憤怒」 (fen4nu4), rage, and 「罣礙」(gua4ai4), worry, to mean a rage born of worry.

5. 「離聚」(li2ju4) which combines 「離散」(li2san4), "disperse", and 「相聚」(xiang4ju4), assembly, to mean when an assembly disperses.  

 Using variants is another way to make your writing more aesthetically pleasing (and also dictionary/foreigner proof). A variant is essentially another way of writing a certain character in Chinese which makes no significant change to its meaning. Some have been lost to standardization, but many are still commonly used - both versions in different settings and registers of writing. A common example is 「角色」 vs 「 腳角」. Another is the 「台」 in 「台灣」and 「舞台」 vs 「臺灣」 and 「舞臺」. Sometimes the variants are interchangeable in every combination like 「台」; at other times the variant can only be used when the word forms a verb or a noun, for example, my colleague Jiahe talks about the difference between 「鋪」 and 「舖」 below: 

 

Another colleague, loathe to appear on camera, gave me this explanation of the difference between 「掛礙」 and 「罣礙」, which the Ministry of Education online dictionary states to be the same, meaning that here, 「掛」 and 「罣」 are variants of each other:

我最早學到這個詞的寫法是「罣礙」,它意思應該是阻塞不通,也就是心中被某個煩惱淤塞了。但但後來發現「掛礙」這個寫法比「罣礙」更常見,應該是「掛」有牽掛、懸念的意思,且掛比較好寫,所以人們比較容易寫成「掛礙」。在教育部辭典上可以查到兩者皆通用。是因為語言本來就是一種約定成俗吧。

(Translation: I originally learned to write this word as 「罣礙」, the 「罣」meaning "stuffed up or congested", I interpreted this as one's heart being congested or stuffed up with some worry. However, later I discovered that 「掛礙」was a more common way of writing this word, with the 「掛」 meaning "worry" or "concern". Moreover 「掛」is easier to write, so people are more likely to write the word as 「掛礙」。The two forms of the word can be used interchangably according to the online dictionary of the Ministry of Education. This is because language is essentially just down to convention.)  

 In this second interview, I had the mainlander of the office, Yingying, discuss the variant pairs 「分/份」 and 「姐/姊」:

 

My interest in this subject really started when I changed to using the Cangjie input system - which is an entry system based on visual components of each character (if you're using a computer in Taiwan, these can be found on the bottom left corner of your PC's keys, or bottom right of your Mac's keys) : 

日 (sun radical) + 月 (moon radical) = 明 (bright) for example

Although it's slightly more complicated to learn, it's helpful in getting characters to stick in your head - but as a side effect of this entry system - sometimes strange looking characters pop up when you get a stroke in the wrong sequence, like the long list that appears when you type a sound in pinyin as shown below:

yta

In writing my thesis the title of the play I was discussing includes the character 「間」written 日弓日, but if you put an extra 弓 on the end, then you get 「闁」, a rare archaic variant of the character 「褒」 - meaning to praise. A mistroke in writing 「且」 written 月一 (and) gets you a variant of 「冉」 which is as follows: 「冄」 written 月一一. This is essentially the same as when you're typing in Zhuyin or pinyin and you have to sort through a list of weird characters, but in Changjie you generally only get one character with each combination you type, except on the rare occasions that two characters share the same canjie code, as above. Regardless if you're interested or not in the different ways to input Chinese characters, this really got me interested in why different people chose to use different variants in different situations. Have you found any interesting characters, variants or new invented words, if so feel free to let loose on the comments section! 

 

 


Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:34

Gender and Weddings in Taiwan

Red candles, ceremonial cannons, fresh flowers, everybody coming together to celebrate, but with all the throwing of fans (the bride throws a fan on the ground to represent that she's leaving her youthful temper behind her), the bride's mother throwing water at the bride's departing car (spilled water can't be retrieved, which signifies that the daughter should not go back to her old house just like the water can't be unpoured) and walking over broken tiles (which represents overcoming the past and expelling evil deities), the bride can't help but be a little overwhelmed. "Rites" are a kind of standard or a restriction, if a wedding is supposed to be for both the bride and the groom, then why are all the restrictions during the marriage rite imposed on the woman?

Translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart



Tuesday, 28 May 2013 18:26

Keening: Taiwan's Professional Mourners

Translated from the Chinese by Conor Stuart. Photos courtesy of Liu Junnan and Wang Zhengxiang

When did keening become so forced?

A Mei: 'There was always someone there saying: Now you should cry... You can't cry now...My brother and I often got mixed up, "Do we have to cry now? Or not cry?".
                                                                                                                 -Seven Days in Heaven (2010)

The film, Seven Days in Heaven (Fuhou Qiri) from the short story of the same name, describes the experiences of A Mei, the female protagonist who has been working in the city for many years, on her return to her rural hometown for her father's funeral. There was a montage in the film with a lively Spanish dance track playing in the background, in which the 'keening' during the funeral preparation process is satirized – at one point A Mei hasn't finished eating, and later hasn't finished brushing her teeth, but hears the call "the girl should come and cry", and she has to don her mourning clothes and sprint to the altar to cry – in a very memorable scene. This scene must have made a lot of Taiwanese watching laugh (at least that is what happened with my friends and I), not just because of the comi-tragic sorry figure she cut, but also because we've all had similar – even if not quite as dramatic – experiences and sentiments.

Funerals, always touch on death and separation. Being grief-stricken or crying, is a natural emotional and physiological reaction; however, having to cry or 'keen' under the strictures of a pre-formulated ritual, is hard to think of as 'natural'.

How old is traditional? How new is modern?

In Taiwanese funerals the time to cry is appointed and when that time comes you have to cry, even if you have to fake it, and it's a loud keening wail – this is an element of Taiwanese funeral culture which is often criticized as a corrupt practice. When watching Seven Days in Heaven, A Mei's embarrassment, and the laughter of the audience, reflects the distance that people nowadays feel towards funeral rites.

For the past 20 or so years, a trend towards modernization in funerals has gathered momentum; the customs surrounding the funeral rites, often seen as esoteric were rebranded under the new moniker 'the study of life and death' (a field of study in the Chinese speaking world: shengsixue), advocated in the context of Metaphysics. A milestone in this trend has been the regulatory impact of the 'Mortuary Service Administration Act' promulgated by the Taiwanese government at the end of 2002, an act that states its purpose as essentially advocating conforming funeral customs to reflect the demands of a modern society.

If one compares the funeral model listed under the Citizen Ceremonies' Model ratified by the government in 1970 and similar models offered by funeral businesses today, one discovers that there's not much difference – clearly we haven't completely gotten rid of the old, and welcomed in a new way of doing things, but rather we've adapted and reinterpreted some of the finer details. So, before we rush to accept the traditional/modern dichotomy, perhaps we should ask ourselves what is this tradition that we are talking about? How old is it really? And what about the meaning of it should be reformed?

The shift from secular to religious funerals

To continue the example of keening, let's do a bit of historical research.

Normally people from Han culture think of funeral rites as pertaining to three separate traditions, the Confucian school, Buddhism and Daoism, at the same time, different characteristics sprang up in different localities. The fact that a funeral rite is called a rite () implies that it not only a religious activity; comparing the Confucian, the Buddhist and the Daoist traditions, the relationship between rites () and the Confucianism is much older and much deeper.

Very early on, China already had the concepts of ghosts, deities and ancestor worship, however, from the time of Confucius and Mencius, the rites, although they took their origin in belief and sacrificial rituals, developed by Confucian intellectuals from the rites of Zhou has always been secular, the main thrust of which was concerned with governing the behaviour of man. Confucianism tends to a belief that improving one's own sense of morality can give order to society, and allow one to accept one's place in life; they didn't feel the need search for consolation in imagining ghosts or deities. Therefore, the funeral rites and customs Confucianism advocated didn't include religious mysticism, but rather they reflected the 'normal' social order and social contract.

Pursuing harmony and rationality in this world, cannot ease the primal terror that people feel when faced with death, and this pursuit is unable to answer people's questions or speak to their imaginings of the afterlife. The narrative of life and death in Confucian thinking, advocating the ideas of putting the service of man before the service of spirits and that of keeping a respectful distance from ghosts and deities, is not enough to satisfy these questions; so, as Buddhism, which had come from elsewhere, and the home-grown Daoism came to fruition in the Wei, Jin and North-South dynasties, the system of rites surrounding funerals associated with Confucianism became intertwined with those of Buddhism and Daoism; with the changes in the way people think about the world, the secular Confucian orthodoxy has gradually become less dominant, under attack as it was from modern ways of thinking; supernatural religious belief was able to come to the fore in funeral rituals, revealing even more clearly the shift towards thinking from a religious perspective.

哭喪04Restraining Grief, a Thousand Year Old Ritual

However, in the midst of this trend, keening is considered an example of a more 'classic' ritual.

As the Chinese equivalent to "I'm sorry for your loss", which translates roughly as "Restrain your grief, so that you can adapt to the loss", which people today still use regularly, can attest to, the main tenet by which the Confucian system of rites deals with crying or keening during the mourning period emphasizes mediating grief by controlling one's physiological reactions. The passage 'Questions about Mourning Rites'in the Classic of Rites (Li Ji) is an early record that, even in the case of mourning for parents, the mourning period shouldn't last more than three years, the purpose of this is in the hope that people will gradually be able to exercise emotional restraint, and return to their customary life in society. This current of thought continued until after the Song (960–1279) and the Yuan (1271–1368) dynasties, when Confucian scholars gradually compiled Family Rites wherein the role of crying as a stage in funeral rites was laid down more clearly in writing, this included instructions like the following: on the death of a relative or a friend, you cry loudly (the person is dead so you can cry); throughout the period when one is offering sacrifices for the dead, one can cry if one feels sad (there's no appointed time for crying, when grief comes one may cry); but once the body has been interred, during the 'Enshrining the Spirit' ritual, one can only cry in the morning and in the evening (crying at dawn and at dusk); after a year of mourning, one should stop crying – this is where the idea of appointing the times when one could and could not cry came from in part.

As well as this, keening in this context, isn't simply 'crying', but rather it involves singing a keening song (dirge). From the perspective of the Han people, the folk keening dirges can be sung in several different ways, some are freestyle with no limitations on content, others, however, have words, but most are sung by women, such as wives and daughters on the death of an elder; during the funeral rites of the Zhuang, the Yi and the Jingpo peoples, all minority ethnic groups from the South West of China, one can always find rituals which fuse dance and keening dirges to express and relieve grief.

Can grief-stricken keening be carried out by proxy?

We can say for sure that keening is a part of a funeral culture with a long history, and it had a rich significance, and not a negative one, so is it right to label keening as a aberrant practice?

In the film Seven Days in Heaven, as well as the 'genuinely' filial daughter, A Mei, who feels bewildered by the keening ritual in the process of the funeral, there is also another classic role associated with crying: the 'fake' filial daughter A Qin, who keens professionally. In the film, A Qin is a larger than life career keener who can turn her tears on and off at the drop of a hat; the idea behind this character comes from the Chinese expression for a professional keener 'Xiaonvbaiqin'(孝女白琴 literally: filial daughter Baiqin), which formed a part of Taiwanese funeral processions (zhentou 陣頭) ten or twenty years ago. Somehow, compared to the relatives of the dead not knowing how to cry, spending money to hiring a perfect stranger who is in this profession to keep up appearances for them by 'performing' grief, seems a lot harder to reconcile with the practice of 'rites', but in Taiwan, this phenomenon has really taken off.

In fact, as well as "Filial Daughter Baiqin", another element of the parade tradition (zhentou 陣頭) with which Taiwanese readers will be familiar is the part called "Five sons cry at a tomb" (Wuzikumu 五子哭墓), these all play a part in "orthodox" Taiwanese funeral customs: the latter takes its origin in a Hoklo folktale; the former, on the other hand, is derived from the character 'Filial Daughter Baiqiong' in the 1970s' Taiwanese popular classic puppet theatre The Great Confucian Knight-Errant of Yunzhou (雲州大儒俠) – so these are all relatively "new traditions", so to speak. That's not to say that these more performative examples of keening don't have an element of filial piety or that they don't count as an expression of grief; however if one really goes back through historical records it becomes clear that these performances were actually invented by Taiwanese funeral homes – another relatively "new tradition" which only really started to become popular from the 1960s onwards.

 Because of its close connection with the rise of local funeral home companies, most of the professionals performing as"Filial Daughter Baiqin" normally work for relatively small organizations, often with staff shortages, and they're often responsible for weddings and other celebrations in addition to funerals - working in a variety of different roles, not just in the funeral sector, like performing as show girls on dance floats at weddings - a common sight at local weddings, celebrations and sometimes even funerals. For that very reason, the "Filial daughter Baiqin" profession is one of the most denigrated within Taiwan's contemporary funeral cultural industry, indirectly reinforcing people's negative impressions of this keening custom at funerals.

Overcoming the diametric opposition between "traditional" and "modern"

From another perspective, however, no matter if it's the services performed by the undertaker, the"Five sons crying at the tomb" (Wuzikumu) or "Filial daughter Baiqin", given that the structure of society has changed over time, the way funerals are held has adapted accordingly, making up for something that is now missing from our society (the popularization of funeral homes reflects the weakening of the bonds between people living in the same area and within families, as well as the scarcity of people familiar with rites; the rise of this kind of performative keening by professionals is not unlinked to the shrinking of families and the decline in the number of children), that reflects the psychology and demands of a bygone era. The custom does not take its origins in temples and it does not have a long history, but compared to the esoteric mysticism of the religious conception of rites, it is perhaps closer to the true essence of rites as they relate to the life of the ordinary man.

With the tide of modernization concerning funeral and burial customs, people have advocated freeing ourselves from the corrupt practices of traditional funeral customs and rites: they should be more solemn, there should be no loud mournful keening; they should be simplified and adapted to the times, there shouldn't be such extravagant decorations; one should follow religious practice, and not indulge in petty superstitions... however, these imagined "traditions" cannot be so easily homogenized, and one cannot break away from them simply by constructing modernity in opposition to them. Using the example of keening, we can even go far as to say that 'modernity' surfaces in order to resolve that which seems to be a contradiction or an aberration in any given society – here it would be the aberration would be the idea of a stranger being paid to mourn for one's relatives, but often in problematizing this aberration we flippantly iron out the creases in history, and simply thrust upon it the term 'tradition'. In this way we often remain ignorant to how the same practice, in this case keening, in a different time and place can change in the way it is carried out (i.e. from family members to professional keeners); and how this kind of aberration is a product of historic shifts within a society, and shouldn't simply be banished as a corrupt traditional practice.

Ghosts and deities remain outside of the grasp of human perception, and so judgement of whether something is good or bad is simply a product of our way of thinking and we shouldn't ignore the historical realities that lie behind apparent aberrations.

 

 

 


Friday, 26 April 2013 18:56

Peace, Love, Unity, Respect and Struggle: The Taiwanese Theatre of Party

In the following video Chen Xiaoqi, a theatre student at National Taiwan University of Arts, discusses the concept of rave parties both as a form of theatre and as a form of protest and how the interactive and decentred nature of parties affects the social aspect of the art of DJing. 


Tuesday, 23 April 2013 16:04

A Fight between David and Goliath

Non-violent resistance against the construction of a naval base in South Korea

Since 2007, a small village in South Korea has led a non-violent resistance against the construction of a naval base next door to a UNESCO biosphere reserve. The official reasons for the construction of a military base on the self-governing island of Jeju, about 80 kilometers from the mainland, are to allow for better policing of the sea-lanes and faster response to any acts of aggression by North Korea.


Friday, 19 April 2013 14:47

The Soundfarmers: Electronic Music Composes Anti-Nuclear Statement


In Dec 2012, A DJ collective called "Soundfarmers" from Taipei released an electronic music compilation "I Love Nuclear," which has been reviewed in Paul Farrelly's eRenlai article A Sonic Meltdown: A Review on "I Love Nuclear!?"

Listen to the concept behind the album. For more information, check out their website or buy the album on the Green Citizens' Action Alliance webstore.


Thursday, 16 May 2013 00:00

Amateurs in Tokyo - Reasonable Riots

Study, graduate, work, start a family,
I've tried my hardest, but I've always been down and out. Whose rules am I supposed to be playing by? What course have I been put on?
Let's break the rules! Take the piss, to get back a bit of logic!

by Zijie Yang, translated by Conor Stuart and Julia Chien from the original Chinese, photos by Park Swan


Tuesday, 05 March 2013 16:59

When did we all turn into a bunch of numbers?


Good afternoon everyone,

It's the time for the Wednesday experience sharing session once again. When this time comes around, everyone surreptitiously breathes a sigh of relief that the week is already half-over do they not? Thanks to everyone for staying this late to hear a younger colleague share with you how to calculate accurately the C/T value of your life. I see a lot of people have come, a lot of whom are older colleagues with substantial experience under their belt, you're not only higher up in the company than me, but you've also been here a lot longer, you've worn out a lot more swiveling chairs than me too, so you're probably curious about two things, the first is as to why it's me standing here today, the second is as to what C/T value is.

The two questions actually have the same answer.
The answer is my wife.

My wife is Jian Mei-en who has just been promoted to head of her section. We joined the company at the same time, and now I'm still at the same level as a rookie, but she's already set the best sales record 13 weeks in a row, raised her unit's performance by 0.5 percentage points, and after just a year and a half in the job the completion rate of every project she's worked on has increased by an average of 45%.

How was she so successful, you might ask? It's because found a way to raise her C/T value. At this point, you're probably even more curious as to what C/T value is? How can it change our lives?

OK, thanks for the applause. If we want to understand what C/T value is, we have to start from C/P value. I assume you all know what C/P value is: capability/price. The higher the performance of a product, and the less funds you need to invest, the higher its C/P value. As for C/T, this ratio was invented by my wife. One explanation of C/T value is that T = time and C = capability, then if we invest less time but are highly capable, then the figure we get will be larger. You're probably thinking that this is stating the obvious. The less time you spend, and the more you get done, the more effective you'll be. The pursuit of a high C/T value is what every company looks for in their prospective employees. The problem with this is, however, how to reduce the time value.

Please take a look at the screen. This is my daily schedule from when I'd just joined the company:

7:00 Get up
8:00 Walk out the door
8:30 Clock in
12:00 Lunch break
14:00 Work meeting
18:00 Off work
19:00-22:00 Leisure time
22:00-00:00 Prepare the following day's reports
01:00 Bedtime

If we consider that today is Wednesday, then the leisure time we might change to 'sharing session', this is the highlight of my otherwise dull week, everyone loosens their ties, changes into casual shoes and exchanges their feelings about work, be they important or not. However, as everyone looks at this schedule, I suspect you'll all be thinking that this is a model for a low C/T value. It's perhaps typical of how a new employee would organize their time. There's so much time wasted at each stage. 

But what I want to tell everyone is that so called 'waste' is necessary. Although this is my schedule, my wife's was the same. Man and wife are often in sync in this respect. From getting out of bed to getting to work, they stick together, if one of them forgets something the other one will wait for them, one to two hour delays aren't out of the ordinary. If you go to eat lunch together then you're going to take two hours from 12 to 2, but I'd like to ask, if your boss offers to treat you to a nice meal would you be able to refuse? Sitting at your average restaurant on the street you'll spend around an hour and a half. Considering that everyone else will go, if you stay behind at the office, do you know what they'll say about you? Not even just that, aren't you curious what the office gossip is? I'll can tell you now, in just two hours over lunch you can get a fix on the gossip in each department, isn't that well-worth the investment? Another thing is in regard to leisure time in evening. To be realistic about things, we live with my mother and she loves watching local TV dramas in the living room, would you feel OK asking your wife to tell your aged mother to turn the volume down or turn the TV off altogether? It's hard not to watch along with her, and everything else naturally gets put off until later. Not to mention, if I'd known on this particular Wednesday that I would be making a presentation to you today, would I have needed to stay up for the last few days preparing this flashy powerpoint? This is not just a problem of numbers. With a calculator, you can switch between different currencies and units of measurement, with excel, you can accurately predict the output value of different projects, after all the struggle of getting into this company, you know that you'll get your end of year bonus that will be four times your monthly salary and a performance related bonus on the Dragon Boat Festival, the Mid-Autumn Festival and the Spring Festival, and that your life is worth almost a hundred days holiday per year, and as your position in the company rises, all this will be adjusted accordingly; but lots of things cannot be so accurately calculated. Tell me, how can one put a value on the relationship between husband and wife? Is it as simple as just dividing everything by 2? Now tell me, how would you would plot the emotional exchange and cost of care of watching a local drama on TV with your mother for two hours on a profit loss statement?

However, how can we change things?
The answer is C/T Value.

I don't know how she came to the realization. One morning I woke up and the other half of the bed was empty. There was still the depression of her body left on the mattress. I shouted her name, but there was no answer. On the dining table, however, there was some warm milk. My suit pants had been ironed and were hanging on a chair, and my briefcase was ready by the door.

It was just her that was missing.

I thought I should give her a call on her mobile phone, but when I picked up the phone I realized I remembered my own number, I remembered her employee number and account, I remembered our company's Business Registration Number; but somehow I couldn't remember her mobile number.

When was it that we became just bunch of numbers?

When I eventually got to the office, as soon my head was through the door, behind the partition, wasn't she sitting there typing out a report in front of her computer like it was the most natural thing in the world?

Her eyes were gleaming as she turned her head. She said that she'd found a way to increase C/T value.

'The secret is to get up out of bed two hours earlier and to eat lunch an hour later.'

What? I stuttered. That's the secret of increasing C/T value? Get up two hours earlier? Can that be the secret to success?

It was only some days later that I understood. It was all as simple as that. However, at the same time, it wasn't as simple. I had misunderstood what she meant.

There is another way to interpret C/T value, C = Customary and T = Time. The slash in the middle indicates separation. So it means essentially to stagger your time from that of everyone else.

She got up two hours earlier than I did, so she did everything before me. Heating the breakfast, getting everything prepared, sorting out everything to be done during the working day. In comparison, I got up later, so I couldn't delay her, I couldn't try to sweet talk her. I could only follow in her footsteps, without my interference, she got things done a lot quicker.

She also misses the rush hour, and gets to work a little earlier, as well as this, as I'm not with her, or anyone to bump into her, she doesn't have to engage in the customary small talk and greetings on getting to the office, so she gets her work done a lot quicker. At lunch, she avoids the normal lunch hour, and doesn't have to undergo the hobnobbing of socializing with colleagues, which increases her productivity even more.

And what about the evening? To get up two hours earlier the next morning, she would have to go to sleep earlier, so there's no way she can even think about watching a local drama that starts at eight in the evening. Mum understands that she has to get up early the next morning, so turns the TV down so as not to disturb her, then without even washing her dishes, she goes to bathe and heads to bed. So just as I'm off work for the evening, her day is already over.

Oh, that's right! That's how my wife came to invent the time machine.

If one just reduces one's contact with other people, and don't let trivialities influence your mood or your state of mind, then everyone can increase their productivity. Her life is 2 hours earlier than everyone else's, and she wastes an hour less for lunch. Adding it all up, she lives in a time zone with a 27 hour day.

'You can do it with me,' she offered. 'Let's go to bed together,' she said. If it had been before, I would have probably assumed she was hinting at something a little more sleazy; but to tell you the truth, this is the first time on this planet that those words have been uttered in such a matter of fact, business-like tone.

'But,' I scratched my head, I could give up watching TV with my mum; but it would be more difficult when I got off work, what was I supposed to do for fun? It didn't really seem possible. And what would happen if my mates invited me to lunch the next day. If I stayed in the office on my own, I'd probably have no friends after a few days.

I'm tired after a long day's work, it's important to have a bit of time to wind down, no?

But the light in the room was already off. She'd gone off in her time machine again.

What I'm trying to say is, figures are funny things. My wife has the best sales in the company for a record 13 weeks running, she has raised her section's performance by 0.5 percentage points, and her personal productiveness has risen by 45%, she has a high C/T value and has successfully changed her life; but you don't know what she had to give up in exchange for this.

For example, my wife and I in a typical day only get a chance to talk about our household duties around the water cooler at work. What about after work, you might ask? Please! I'm lucky if I get off at 8, and by that time she's already asleep. We talk more at the office than at home. She missed this meeting, look at us here, we're having a little drink and chatting, as well as the entire day... the entire week's work, we found the time to relax and have some fun, maybe we can even head somewhere else later, then tomorrow we'll cradle our hangovers in the rush to clock in for the day, and spend our morning staring at the computer screen doing nothing but wishing the hangover would dissipate more rapidly. And my dear wife will already be making headway into Thursday or Friday. Wednesday has already gone altogether for her and I'm still here. I know, I'm losing my wife bit by bit. If I'm lucky, we'll continue to live under the same roof, but the date line will run through the middle, she is the letter C, and I'm the letter T. There's something between us, a forward slash, keeping us forever apart. I don't know where to find a time machine that will be able to balance our C/T values.

Ok, buddy, I'm not trying to laden you all with my sorrows. Wasn't that a song, 'Don't cry for me, Argentina.'? This is just what I wanted to share with everyone today, if my wife can be this successful, then why can't everyone? If my wife gets more time by avoiding the morning rush hour and having to interact with everyone by getting up on average two hours earlier, then why can't all of you?

No, I'm not joking, I'm saying, what if we all got up two hours earlier, and ate lunch later? That way, everyone could be successful. Or rather, we would successfully bring my wife back. Think about it, if some of us can come earlier to the office, and eat lunch later, it doesn't even have to be everyone, one or two will suffice, then they can go and chat to my wife at that time, it's best if you get her talking about C/T value. When she realizeds she can't avoid people and that she's surrounded by socializing once again, she'll start to get nervous, and the only way to raise her C/T value will be to bring everything forward another hour.

If my wife continues to bring her time forward, then I can remain still? Or if I push things backward, the effect will be even better, she's already getting up two hours earlier, if she gets up even two hours earlier than that? And I go to sleep four hours later, then, she'll be pretty tired, I'll be tired too, but it should be OK, her day would be about to start, and my evening will be just about to start, maybe we could meet in the middle, on a Wednesday that's also not a Wednesday, in that fold in time, then we could meet again, I could invite her to spend a little time in the time I'm in.

That's what I've got to say, and it's also a request, thank you to everyone who was willing to give up their Wednesday evening to spend it with me. If it's possible, I hope next Wednesday, we can meet again and that we can bring our partners with us.

chenboqing-1Born in the Summer of 1983, Sodom Chen obtained his Masters from the Graduate of Taiwan Literature. His work has been awarded the World Chinese Science Fiction Prize for a science fiction novel, the World Chinese Young Writer Prize for Taiwanese Literature, the China Times Literature Prize and the United Daily News Literature Prize. He also published the novel Little City (xiao chengshi) under the penname Ye Fulu (葉覆鹿).

Text translated from the Chinese original by Conor Stuart (to view the Chinese, you might have to change the language option)

Photo © Pony Pei, Licensed by Pumpkin Creative Co., Ltd - Caption: Using action to treasure your female coworkers will mean it will be easier to possess her Holy Mary-like expression.

 

 


Friday, 22 February 2013 00:00

China’s shadow cast upon the textbooks of Taiwan and Hong Kong

In recent times Taiwan and Hong Kong have both gotten caught up in text book controversies, although these have root in different political contexts, they are both closely tied to the "rise" of China and its expansionist policies.


Wednesday, 16 January 2013 16:29

Historical Resonances: War, Colonial Experiences and Peace-Making

The following video is a recording of the Q&A from the second session of the International Austronesian Conference 2012 - Historical Resonances - War, Colonial Experiences and Peace-Making.


Wednesday, 09 January 2013 13:26

Teaching a Common Pacific History: Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano

Professor Morgan Tuimaleali'ifano discusses how the teaching of history in Fiji has been decolonized, and how Taiwan and other Pacific nations can work together to create an alternative version of history which incorporates indigenous memory and stands apart from the colonial view of history.


Thursday, 21 April 2011 16:09

The Cultural Inheritance Behind Illegal Architecture

Amongst the participants of the opening of the Illegal Architecture exhibition held in Ximen in March of this year, was mainland Chinese architect and artist Wang Shu. Perhaps aptly, given the topic of the exhibition, there was a construction crew digging up the road right beside the exhibition's marquee. Despite the repressive authoritarian thrum of council diggers and drills, Wang Shu took time out from competing with the noise to answer a few questions from the eRenlai team about illegal architecture and its role as a voice of civil society in Taipei:

Alternative (for readers in China)

Interview by Ida Wang, Nicholas Coulson and Conor Stuart, Video Editing and Subtitles by Conor Stuart.


Wang Shu's installation on the roof of the exhibition centre, The award winning "The Decay of A Dome"

 


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