Reading the Text

Some of the posts on this blog are just bits of original texts by others with minimal interpretation from me.  Those texts obviously mean enough to me that I want them to receive greater circulation.  Yet, I am reticent about telling you what you should think.  If I describe my thoughts, it is usually identified as such with an implication that the reader is free to decide otherwise.  Still, it disturbs me to observe that people come across these texts, glance at the subject title and then jump to conclusions without paying to the specifics of the text.  So I am going to recommend strategies for reading these texts.

Here I am reminded of what Paul de Man wrote in The Resistance To Theory:

My own awareness of the critical, even subversive power of literary instruction does not stem from philosophical allegiances but from a very specific teaching experience.  In the 1950s, Bate's colleague at Harvard, Reuben Brower, taught an undergraduate course in General Education titled "The Interpretation of Literature" (better known on the Harvard campus and in the profession at large as HUM 6) in which many graduate students in English and Comparative Literature served as teaching assistants.  No one could be more remote from high-powered French theory than Reuben Brower.  He wrote books on Shakespeare and on Pope that are models of sensitive scholarship but not exactly manifestos for critical terrorism.  He was much more interested in Greek and Latin literature than in literary theory.  The critics he felt closest to, besides Eliot, were Richards and Leavis, and in both of them he was in sympathy with their emphasis on ethics.

Brower, however, believed in and effectively conveyed what appears to be an entirely innocuous and pragmatic precept, founded on Richards' "practical criticism."  Students, as they began to write on the writings of others, were not to say anything that was not derived from the text they were considering.  They were not to make any statements that they could not support by a specific use of language that actually occurred in the text.  They were asked, in other words, to begin by reading texts closely as texts and not to move at once into the general context of human experience or history.  Much more humbly or modestly, they were to start out from the bafflement that such singular turns of tone phrase and figure were bound to produce in readers attentive enough to notice them and honest enough not to hide their non-understanding behind the screen of received ideas that often passes, in literary instruction, for humanistic knowledge.

This very simple rule, surprisingly enough, had far-reaching didactic consequences.  I have never known a course by which students were so transformed.  Some never saw the point of thus restricting their attention to the matter at hand and of concentrating on the way meaning is conveyed rather than the meaning itself.  Others, however, caught on very quickly and, henceforth, they would never be the same.  The papers they handed in at the end of the course bore little resemblance to what they produced at the beginning.  What they lost in generality, they more than made up for in precision and in the closer proximity of their writing to the original mode.  It did not make writing easier for them for they no longer felt free to indulge any thought that came into their heads or to paraphrase any idea they happened to encounter.  The profession is littered with the books that the students of Reuben Brower failed to write.  Good readers often are spare writers and in the present state of literary studies, that is all to the good.

In the following, I will offer three examples of specific texts posted on this blog.  I believe that these texts have not been read closely enough by everyone, as the main points of those texts seemed to have been missed because people considered only general principles.

Case Study #1An Ambiguous Nation

This post was motivated by Ralph Jenning's article in Kyodo News on the Chinese independent writer Yu Jie with respect to his thoughts on Japan.  I reproduced the relevant section in Jennings' article and then I translated some of the actual writings of Yu Jie.

Although my blog does not accept comments for technical reasons, I have noted the comments on other blogs.  There are some speculations about just what transpired with the Jennings article, whether it was deliberate distortion or honest misunderstanding from lousy translations.  I could not illuminate any further on that subject, nor was it my intent to pursue this line of inquiry.  I only want to correct the record on behalf of Yu Jie.  There are also some comments about the characteristics of the Chinese people.  I wince and I am annoyed because I have no idea what that means and I have no intention of dealing with such idle speculation, before or after.

What I was looking for within Yu Jie's text were responses to specific questions that were laid out.  Yu Jie's interview with the founder of the Monument To The Great Asian Sacred War contains this exchange:

- "Japan waged the war to liberate the Asians from the western imperialists."
- "My grandfather and grandmother were killed by the Japanese in their Hebei campaign. The Japanese military killed millions of Chinese citizens. Why is this known as 'liberation'?"
- "We don't want to get hung up with the past dead."

The question that I want to know is what the reader might say to the person who lost his grandparents to 'get over it' in the light of those callous statements about 'liberation.'  I don't want any grandiose statements about morality, ethics, compassion and all that.  Just what would you say, face-to-face and eye-to-eye, to another sentient human being with that piece of personal history?  I think that is the key as to why we are stuck here.

If you insist, I will tell you what I think is necessary.  There is a small number of ultra-rightists in Japan whose comments are magnified in the Asian media.  I do not believe that they represent the mainstream Japanese opinion.  Yet, the majority in Japan is either embarrassed, intimidated (as in: if you speak up, an ultra-rightist sound truck is going to show up outside your home and/or workplace to harrass you 24 hours a day with diatribes of hatred) or too polite to say anything about these ultra-rightists so that the Asian nations now believe that those opinions are mainstream in Japan.  This is why there are international crises.  It is up the to the majority of the Japanese people to condemn those wayward opinions each and every time in a vociferous manner.  In the end, I don't think the average Japanese can pass the test above -- look at a Chinese person who has lost family members during the war (and there must be many since 20 to 30 million Chinese people perished) and tell them to "get over it" even as their fellow Japanese citizens complain that the Chinese are ingrates for not thanking their Japanese 'liberators.'  If and when the change happens, the weight carried by the small number of Japanese ultra-rightists as well as the small number of Internet forum participants at Chinese websites will dwindle into insignificance.

For comparison, let's imagine what would happen in the United States or Germany if some German citizen proclaimed that the Holocaust never occurred and besides the Jews should have been happy to be liberated (Arbeit macht Frei (Work makes freedom) was the greeting sign at the Auschwitz extermination camp!).  Discourse is impossible immediately after this assertion.

Case Study #2The Counterattack Against Jiao Guobiao 

This post was motivated by an essay written by former Beijing University journalism professor Jiao Guobiao regarding two famous Henan women.  In return, Jiao was being criticized.  There are several more essays that attempt to defend Jiao which I have not translated (e.g. here and here).

I was hoping that people would pay close attention to what Jiao actually wrote.  Instead, the light on the original critical essay was shined towards a hypothetical issue of international law (Would the United States army be justified to roll into Beijing during the Korean War?), and the defenses of Jiao were centered about the abstract rights of intellectuals to freedom of speech.  All of that is fine, except nobody is reading the actual texts, and that is my gripe.

In this case, the actual texts scream for a direct response on a narrow question, which somehow nobody was willing to face up to:

On one side, Jiao wrote in fairly severe language: 

Recently, the 2004 Chinese-language media awards were announced and Mrs. Gao's Ten Thousand Letters won the top prize.  On March 7, 2005, the New Beijing Daily reported her reflects at receiving the honor, and she made a highly inappropriate comment.  She said: "The book was published and got good reviews.  Some newspapers and websites carried excerpts.  A foreigner came to me to ask to get it translated and published internationally with quite favorable terms.  It is good for the national media to publish it because that will increase circulation, touch people's conscience and awareness of this epidemic.  As for publishing it internationally for whatever reasons for whatever profits, I have no interest and I have categorically refused to do so."


What is wrong with a translated version outside China?  At the very least, one reason for publishing it is to make the world more aware of AIDS.  Do you only want the Chinese to become more aware of AIDS, but not the rest of the world?  What have the foreigners done to offend you, Mrs. Gao?  How did they mistreat you?  When you were oppressed inside China, did not foreign opinion helped you and gave you moral support?  Did your international prize not come from the outside?  Is not the reason why your anti-AIDS situation is turning for the better and the Chinese government is supporting you due to world opinion?  But you want to "refuse categorically" as if the foreigners are setting up a trap on you.  If you, Mrs. Gao, are were really bright and firm, you would be fooled by them.  Is that the case?  I don't understand why Mrs. Gao could say something so stupid!  Are you getting too old?

On the other side, Gao replied with dignity:

If [Jiao] is a responsible journalist, he should have verified the facts.  At the very least, he should have asked me directly about my views on the AIDS situation.  I never hide my views from anyone under any circumstance.

I am old and infirmed, but I still want to inform the media that there are illegal blood stations obtaining blood at night. ... In order to make more people aware of these truths, I had to get out of my sick bed in the hospital and spend my own money to ask a doctor to accompany me with medical equipment to go to Beijing to attend the award ceremony at the First Chinese-language Book Media Awards for books published in 2004.

During the awards, a reporter from New Beijing Daily interviewed me.  I mentioned that a Japanese businessman requested that he be allowed to translate my <<Ten Thousand Letters>>.  I refused.  I said honestly that I cannot think only about the royalty fee.  My family was victimized during the Sino-Japanese War.  My fifth little sister was still an infant when she was killed by a bomb from a Japanese airplane!  On March 7, New Beijing Daily published the original article that everybody has read.  That newspaper exposed the presence of the illegal blood stations and their perils.  I am very grateful for that, but perhaps some people were displeased or unnerved.  Here, I state clearly that many things in Professor Jiao Guobiao's article are different from the facts.

I am not here to tell my readers who is right or wrong here.  But things were definitely not what Jiao wrote.  You will have to make up your mind for yourselves.  You can say that Jiao is a sloppy journalist or that Gao is a senile woman, and I don't care.  But I feel that this is a more direct and important question than anything else that people seem to prefer to address instead.  You need to look at Gao directly and tell this apparently genuine AIDS fighter, face-to-face and eye-to-eye, what your opinion of her is.  You have the prerogative to tell her that she is senile or a traitor to the people, and that is your decision.  But you better consider your statement based upon what is known (which is mainly from these texts or any other research that you choose to carry out yourself).

The secondary question is just why no one was willing to look at this question head on, because that says plenty about the partisan nature of the commentators.

Case Study #3Grandpa and Grandma Speak Up  (The Hong Kong Link REIT IPO)

This is an old story but it has re-emerged into public consciousness as the plaintiff (Grandma Lo Siu-lang) has filed an appeal at the very last moment.  The subject is the Link REIT IPO, which was derailed by the lawsuit filed by a public housing tenant.  Until the court case settled, this IPO is on the shelf, possibly forever.

It has been asserted numerous times that this plaintiff had probable cause.  Perhaps.  But it would seem that many of those assertions are based upon legal theories and arguments beyond what the plaintiff has presented herself, such as abstract appeals like "We must stop government-business collusion!"

The post contained a direct translation of the press conference given by the plaintiff herself.  This was the most extensive statement made by the plaintiff herself.  I ask the reader to look through the text and provide a legal argument based upon what she said (as opposed to what her lawyers or any other opponent of the Link REIT IPO have to say).  In other words, I ask the reader to examine the text and not inject his/her personal opinions, because her personal case ought to be determined by herself.  This is the rule of the law, which must not be held sway to the most current popular opinion.

Personally, I can't make any sense of her argument, as this press conference has gone down as one of the more bizarre episodes in history.  Such being the case, then this entire lawsuit is someone else's arguments.  So this turns the whole case into a different light, doesn't it?  I offer this challenge, and you can decide for yourself.  Please read the text and prepare your own case on that basis.  If you decide to present an extraneous argument not supported by her statements, then it is contemptuous of both the plaintiff and the rule of the law.