Category Archives: Asia

On Minding the Body

A thought that keeps returning to me lately: “From Confucianism to Daoism to Buddhism to Martial Arts and Taijiquan to Acupuncture and Massage and Traditional Chinese Medicine: the Chinese have always been so mentally one with the body.”

It’s more astonishing because we in the West have not been this attuned, owing to our religion’s historical (and literal) demonization of it. Only very recently–the last two or three centuries–have we tried to make peace with it.

Back to Blogging Again–Elsewhere, and Elsewhat

But not here. I’m blogging with my History of China students here. Why?

Crazy, beautiful backstory: Several eons ago, I wrote a “Must-Reads Before Dying” post that the inimitable Stephen Downes challenged for its omission of Confucius. I met his challenge with a cheeky “Confucius? Really? Too stuffy for students” type response:

And Stephen, notice the sentence before this update? Of course there are omissions…. The Dao De Jing? A deep book, but too ponderous and opaque next to the joyous alternative of Zhuangzi. The Analects? Sure, though far from a literary masterpiece.

Fast forward to, oh, the last three years teaching the entire history of China six times over (it’s a semester course, so I get to watch that epic story twice a year). With each turn to the “100 Schools of Thought” of Classical China, during its very un-classical and downright barbarous Warring States Period, I’ve had the pleasure of re-visiting Master Kong’s Analects and, with each re-visit — and re-read, and reading of new translations (my god, the Ames and Rosemont philosophical translation is rich), and re-annotation — and I’ve had the pleasure of esteeming and enjoying him more and more. (Prof. Robert Eno of Indiana University has an excellent, free “teaching translation” here.)

So, Mr. Downes: a mega mea culpa. You were so very right — and your philosophical background, which you recently pointed to in a Stephen’s Web post defending the value of a philosophy major, showed that value in your challenge to that “Must-Reads” post. Do I still love Zhuangzi and Laozi and the Daoists? Absolutely. But Confucius has grown on me with each new read until now, he — and Mencius and Xunzi — are even more “must-read before dying.” The bloody Chinese hit the jackpot in terms of ancient wisdom. Crazy cool.

So anyway, yeah: not much calling to write about technology in education any more (obviously, as the silence shows). But to use it to write alongside, with, to, and for students? And anybody else interested in what the world’s oldest living civilization may have to offer the young upstarts like our own? Oh, yes.

Anyway, that’s how this blog started, years ago. It was for my students. I began because I was making my freshmen in Korea blog about history and literature, and pulled the old “practice what you preach” thing by blogging alongside them.

Now, though, it’s China and the West in the ultimate civilizational stand-off. Drop by and join the conversation if you’re interested (and here’s the class blog, chocablock with readings to catch you up if you want an education in Chinese history that has nothing to do with textbooks and everything to do with provocative reads and questions).

Consider that an invitation. Here’s the card:

Writing China screenshot

Comedy, Race, and Louis CK’s Blind Spot

Jokes that educated people can make, and that uneducated people won’t get:

It’s interesting to compare this Indian-American guy’s perspective with that of Anglo-American Louie CK — a clearly smart (and NSFW) guy who somehow seemed not to learn about world history in his American education. Watch, and notice how narrow his definition of “the world” is when he imagines time-traveling as a white man:

If he’d gotten out of his time capsule anywhere but Europe (or America), odds are he would have been not deferred to, but laughed at. One reason the Portuguese and Spanish were so violent to other cultures during the Age of Exploration was that the people they encountered found them strikingly unimpressive. Da Gama and others complained in their reports that the goods they brought to impress foreign kings were laughed at for their low quality, as were the religious ideas with which they offered to “save” or otherwise improve their hosts. Indians, Muslims, and Chinese had advanced economies, smooth and respectful international trade relations, reasonably tolerant religious relations, and highly literate cultures. For most of their history, “white men” didn’t.

It’s funny how a guy as smart as Louis CK can’t know that the world laughed at white people until only a few centuries ago, when the industrialization of weapons made that laughter less easy to risk. His view of the world only seems to include Americans — black and white ones — and vague Romans who gave America Jesus.

Again, I love Louis CK’s work and imagination. He’s intelligent as all hell. And that’s sort of the point: intelligent people can still be stunted through a poor or provincial education system.

Imagine how much richer Louis CK’s work would be if he’d been taught about the rest of the planet.

Chinese Communist v. American Capitalist TV, cont’d: Jon Stewart Weighs In

More on the problem of “freedom of expression” in Western television programming and the Chinese Communist Party’s move to reduce the influence of American-style programming (trash TV) in favor of more socially healthy content: John Stewart nails so much that is troublesome about unregulated American television in the first clip, and the popular Chinese drama “Bu Bu Jing Xin” (“Startled with Each Step”) I wrote about earlier this week is embedded afterward as a pretty compelling alternative form of TV that entertains without bottom-feeding.

First, Stewart:

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Next, China: This is episode 2. The hip 21st century Beijing city girl, age 25, finds herself, Dorothy-in-Oz style, trapped in palace life of the early Qing Dynasty court in the Forbidden City, inhabiting the body of a young candidate for betrothal or concubinage to the Emperor Kangxi or one of his fifty-odd sons. Several of those sons (the “Princes” named by order of birth in the episode below) are as bewitched by her mysteriously unconventional values and conduct (being 21st century) as they are by her beauty. One of the Princes, number 4, as she knows from the history classes she took three centuries later, will end up succeeding to the throne after a period of intense rivalry and intrigue against his brothers.

If it sounds all-too-stodgy and schooly, swab your ears and shoot your expectations: the writers do a great job of adding laughs along the way as our heroine’s modern ways clash with the intensely traditional (and often intensely superior) culture of the Imperial past.

Here it is:

View all 35 episodes, with English subtitles, on Viki.