Friday, November 30, 2018
Thursday, November 29, 2018
The mysterious case of disappearing Chinese Marxists shows what happens when state ideology goes badly wrong
These days, the most dangerous thing to do today in China is to believe in the official doctrine itself
Today’s Cambodia is the emblem of the antagonisms of the “developing” part of our world. A short time ago, they condemned the last surviving Khmer Rouge leaders for their crimes – but where is Cambodia now, when (officially, at least) it settled accounts with the Khmer Rouge horrors? Full of sweatshops, child prostitution all around and foreigners owning most of restaurants and hotels – one form of misery is often replaced by another marginally better version. But is China not caught in a similar, although less extreme, predicament?
In dealing with critical voices, Chinese authorities increasingly seem to resort to a particular procedure: a person (an ecological activist, a Marxist student, the chief of Interpol, a religious preacher, a Hong Kong publisher, even a popular movie actress) suddenly disappears for a couple of weeks before reappearing in public with specific accusations raised against them. This protracted period of silence delivers a key message to citizens: China can exert impenetrable power on anyone without any requirement of any proof. Only when this is accepted does legal reasoning follow.
But the case of disappearing Marxist students is nonetheless specific. While all disappearances concern individuals whose activities can be somehow characterised as a threat to the state, the disappearing Marxist students legitimise their critical activity by a reference to the official ideology itself.
In the past few years, Chinese leadership decided to reassert ideological orthodoxy. There is less tolerance for religion, and texts of Marx, Lenin and Mao are massively reprinted. However, the message that comes with that is almost always, “don’t take it seriously”.
The disappeared students were doing exactly what was imposed on them: action upon official ideology, solidarity with over-exploited workers, ecology and women’s rights, the list goes on. Two of the best-known examples (at least in our media reports) are those of Zhang Shengye and Yue Xin. While strolling in the campus, Zhang, a graduate student at Peking University (also known as “Beida” university) in Beijing, was all of a sudden surrounded by a group of men in black jackets from a black car who, after beating him heavily, pushed him into a car and drove him away. Other students who filmed the event on their mobile phones were also beaten and compelled to erase the recordings. From that moment, nobody heard anything about Zhang.
Yue Xin, a 22-year-old student at the same university, who led the campaign to clarify the suicide of a student raped by a high party functionary, also disappeared. And when her mother tried to unearth what happened to her daughter, she too went missing. Yue was a member of a Marxist circle which combined struggle for workers’ rights with ecological concerns and a Chinese version of #MeToo. She joined dozens of other students from different universities who went to Shenzhen to support workers in a local robot factory in their demand for an independent trade union. Soon after, in a brutal police crackdown, 50 students and workers disappeared.
What triggered such a panicked reaction in the party leadership was, of course, the spectre of a network of self-organisation emerging through direct horizontal links between groups of students and workers, and based in Marxism, with sympathy in some old party cadres and even parts of the army.
Such a network directly undermines the legitimacy of the party rule and denounces it as an imposture. No wonder, then, that in recent years China closed down many Maoist websites and prohibited many Marxist debate groups at universities. These days, the most dangerous thing to do today in China is to believe in and take seriously the official ideology itself.
However, we should avoid the trap of throwing all sympathy behind Marxist students, hoping they will somehow win, or at least compel the party to change its line into taking workers’ concerns more seriously. We (and they) should rather raise a more basic and disturbing question: why is it that states in which Marxism was elevated into the official ideology were precisely the states where any independent workers’ movement was most brutally crushed and exploitation of workers given a free rein?
It is no longer enough to just to express regret that the Chinese party is not effectively faithful to its Marxist ideology. Rather, we must query whether something is wrong with the ideology itself, at least in its traditional form.
Monday, November 26, 2018
Monday, November 19, 2018
Tuesday, November 6, 2018
Monday, November 5, 2018
- John Boyle O'Reilly, "A White Rose"
THE red rose whispers of passion,
And the white rose breathes of love;
O the red rose is a falcon,
And the white rose is a dove.
But I send you a cream-white rosebud,
With a flush on its petal tips;
For the love that is purest and sweetest
Has a kiss of desire on the lips.
Sunday, November 4, 2018
Friday, November 2, 2018
Surviving British paintings on religious subjects from this period are extremely few. The early history of this panel-painting is unknown, but as the inscriptions on it are in English, it must have been made for British usage. Such a combination of images, labels and texts is more usually found in prints from this period, but no engraved prototype for this work has so far been found.Source
The painting is inscribed as follows: 'O MAN THOW WRETCED CREATVRE HOW MAIEST THOVE DELITE IN RICHES BEWTY STRENGTH OR OTHER WORDLY THINGE. REMEMBRINGE THINE ENEMYES WHICH CONTINVALLY SEEKE THEE TO DESTROYE & BRINGE THEE TO NOTHING BVT SINE SHAME AND FYER EVERLASTINGE. THEREFORE FAST WATCH & PRAYE CONTINVALY WT FERVENT DESIER VNTO IESVS THE MIGHTIE CAPTAYNE WHO ONLY IS HABLE TO DEFEND THEE FROM THEIR FIERIE ASSAWLTS.' in bottom cartouche; 'COVETVSNES' on the miser's arrow, lower left; 'GLOTONY', 'SLOWTH' and 'LECHERY' on the lady's three arrows, centre left; 'GRATIA ME SVFICIT TIBIE, 2 COR[.] 12.' on scroll by Christ, top; 'BE SOBER THEREFORE & WATCH FOR THOW KNOWEST NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE HOWRE.' on scroll, centre right, above Death the skeleton; 'BEHIND THEE Y STEALE ¦ LIKE A THEIF THE TEMPORAL LIFE TO DEVOWER' on shield (oval target) of Death; 'PRYDE', 'WRATH' and 'ENVYE' on three arrows of devil, bottom right; 'TEMPORANS', 'GOOD REISINES', 'CHASTITY', 'ALMES DEEDS', 'AND COMPASSION', 'MEEKENES', 'CHARITY', 'PACIENS' on scroll encircling central figure of Man.
The original purpose of this panel is not known. It could have been for personal devotional use. The trompe l'oeil framing of the cartouche at the bottom is incomplete, suggesting that it might have formed part of a larger structure, such as a funerary monument. The main inscription warns the viewer of the human soul's vulnerability to the vanities and dangers of the world. The central figure - Man - wears classical military attire, and much of the imagery is martial, suggesting that the panel could have been painted for a soldier. The figure is being invested with a shield of Christian Virtues (whose names are inscribed on the white scroll that spirals protectively about his figure) by an angel.
The painting is full of meticulous detail, such as the office from which a male figure aims the broad arrow of covetousness from a sporting crossbow. On the desk lie piles of coins, open books and purses, one of which has a projecting handle. From nails in the panelled settle back (echoing the nails on Christ's cross above) hang a string of papers, and a pencase and inkwell on a cord. The richly dressed lady above wears a jewel with an hourglass device suspended from her waist, presumably alluding to the time wasted by slothfulness. The figure immersed in a pit of flames, bottom right, has the visual attributes of a devil: horns, pointed ears, a tail emerging from the naked flesh of his back, a fringe of hair along his arms, and wings. Above him is a skeleton, representing Death aiming his dart - a long spear - at the figure of Man.
Among thick clouds, above this earthly group, small winged child angels turn their heads to the figure of the resurrected Christ, who stands grasping a large wooden cross. The features of Christ and of the man below appear to be identical. It is extremely unusual to find a representation of Christ in a British painting of this period because, following the Reformation in the late 1540s, it was not permitted to display religious images, at least in public.
The dating of this work presents a puzzle. It had long been thought to date from about 1570, as the lady wears a fashion of c.1567-9. Moreover, it bears similarities of handling with another rare English religious painting on panel, the Allegory of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Statens Museum for Kunst, Copenhagen, reproduced Dynasties, p.74, fig.35, and Jones, p.142, fig.136) signed and dated 1570 by the Antwerp-trained Hans Eworth (active 1540-c.1574). Indeed, the present work had sometimes been tentatively attributed to Eworth himself. Dendrochronological analysis carried out by Dr Peter Klein in 1997 seems to show conclusively, however, that the earliest possible dating for its creation is about 1596.
K. Hearn (ed.), Dynasties: Painting in Tudor and Jacobean England 1530-1630, Tate exhibition catalogue, London 1995, cat. no. 30, reproduced in colour
K. Hearn, 'Rewriting History on the Walls', Country Life, vol. 191, May 22 1997, p.53, fig.2, reproduced in colour
Rica Jones, 'British School: An Allegory of Man 1596 or after', in S. Hackney, R. Jones, J. Townsend (eds), Paint and Purpose, London 1999, pp.140-5, reproduced in colour
Thursday, November 1, 2018
In East European Jewish folklore, the city of Chelm (Pol., Chełm; Yid., Khelem) functions as an imaginary city of fools, similar to that of the Greek Abdera, the English Gotham, and the German Schilda, among numerous others. The legendary “town of fools,” often presented ironically as “The Wise Men of . . . ,” is a feature common to most European folklores. Chelm, as was the case with its counterparts in other cultures, spawned hundreds of tales describing outlandish naiveté and stupidity that have been printed in dozens of editions in a variety of languages. Many of these are titled The Wise Men of Chelm. Chelm, located approximately 65 kilometers southeast of Lublin, had a Jewish population from at least the fourteenth century, and was a real town whose residents bore no connection to the stories. If anything, the town was known for Torah scholarship.
There are many similarities between the stories of Khelemer khakhomim (Yiddish for “wise men of Chelm”) and those of other cultures, particularly those found in the Germanic variants. The stories became part of an oral folklore and, once placed within the cultural framework of East European Jewry, were Judaized. The first publication of Chelm-like stories appeared in Yiddish in 1597, and were tales of the town of Schildburg, translated from a German edition. Hence these stories first entered Jewish culture as Schildburger stories, and it is unclear when they became connected to the town of Chelm. During the nineteenth century, a number of other Jewish towns figured as fools’ towns, including Poyzn. Over time, however, Chelm became the central hub of such stories, the first specific publication of which occurred in an 1867 book of humorous anecdotes, allegedly written by Ayzik Meyer Dik. Later, particularly in the early twentieth century, dozens of collections of Khelemer mayses (Chelm stories) were published in Yiddish as well as in English and Hebrew translations.
It is thought that the use of Chelm as a locale for such folk stories began during the eighteenth or nineteenth century, became stabilized, and then remained a constant feature in Jewish folklore. It is unclear why Chelm was the locus for these stories. Some have speculated that it was a result of a rivalry with another town. Others claim that Chelm earned its reputation purely by chance. With no documentary evidence denoting the history of the use of Chelm as a center for Jewish morons, the city’s folkloric status is based solely on conjecture.
Repeated orally and printed frequently in book form, stories of Chelm became a significant popular phenomenon in East European Jewish folklore. A number of Yiddish writers, among them Y. L. Peretz, Leyb Kvitko, and Isaac Bashevis Singer, either used the folkloric themes of the wise men of Chelm as a source for humorous or satiric stories or published their own versions of them. Others, such as Sholem Yankev Abramovitsh and Sholem Aleichem, were influenced by the stories to construct their own fictional towns that included inhabitants with similar characteristics to those of Chelm—Kabtsansk (Poorville) and Glubsk (Idiotville) by the former and Kasrilevke by the latter.
Examples of Chelm stories are:
“Which is more important, the sun or the moon?” a citizen of Chelm asked the rabbi.The melamed of Chelm was speaking with his wife.
“What a silly question!” snapped the cleric. “The moon, of course! It shines at night when we really need it. But who needs the sun to shine when it is already broad daylight?”
“If I were Rothschild, I’d be richer than he.”
“How can that be?” asked the wife. “You would both have the same amount of money.”
“True,” he agreed, “but I’d do a little teaching on the side.”