Who did and do the Chinese blame for the Opium Wars?

from Bernard Porter’s LRB article on  Julia Lovell’s The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China:

When it came to explaining their humiliations, the Chinese tended not to blame the invaders so much as themselves, or their Manchu rulers, or other Chinese. They were embarrassed by their own cowardice, scathing about their military leaders, suspicious of their compatriots (the Cantonese especially) for cosying up to the foreign traders, and constantly seeing traitors in their midst. They also blamed themselves for the opium trade: if corrupt local officials hadn’t been so willing to disregard the ban on its import, and the Chinese hadn’t wanted to smoke the stuff, it would not have gone on. China’s wounds were self-inflicted. ‘Worms only appear in a rotten carcass,’ was how one man put it in the 1860s. This seems to have been the usual Chinese reaction to the Opium Wars for years afterwards. ‘If a people is dispirited and stupid,’ Yan Fu wrote half a century later, ‘then the society will disintegrate, and when a society in disintegration encounters an aggressive, intelligent, patriotic people, it will be dominated.’


As for ‘revenge for wrongs inflicted’, we can only hope that the Chinese have forgiven us. There may be reasons for thinking they have. One of the most interesting findings in this book comes not from documentary evidence, but from conversations Lovell had with history teachers and pupils in Chinese schools. Officially the ‘patriotic’ line is that everything bad that has happened to China in the last 170 years, starting with the Opium Wars, is the fault of Western imperialism. Lovell sat in on a lesson on the subject. ‘Soon, the only way I could keep myself awake was by sitting at the back and keeping a count on all the students who had obviously fallen asleep.’ When it came to the class discussion, however, they all perked up: ‘We lost because we were too weak, too closed up’; ‘We had no backbone’; ‘Our weapons were three hundred years behind the West’; ‘We were too cowardly, too backward, too isolated.’ They were returning to the line their ancestors had taken in the 19th century. This may be one of the most remarkable and distinctive features of the Opium Wars: that both sides’ perceptions of them at the time, and historical memories of them since, are so inglorious.

What are the most poignant encounters with music?

…and therefore never send to know for whom the bell tolls; it tolls for thee Donne

In the review article “Hubbub”, Nicholas Spice answers:

[T]he most poignant encounters with music are inadvertent and unplanned. Church bells heard across the fields on a Sunday evening, the forlorn plinking and plonking two streets away of an ice-cream van on solitary summer afternoons, someone practising the saxophone in a neighbouring house: such half-heard music sets up momentary perspectives on our situation, touches us with sadness or strikes us with interesting incongruities. It is the literary imagination which is stimulated by music heard by chance, the imagination that enjoys the possibilities suggested by the collision of disparate realities, the imagination that feeds on the ironies which a split attention (not a distracted attention) perceives. (pp. 135-136)

What kind of half-heard music touches you?

For me, everytime I hear some fragments of the song “Streets of London” being played by a street musician on a London street or on the Tube, I am inexplicably sad. The music reminds me of a younger self listening to the song on the radio late in the evening in Hong Kong, many times. I had not dreamt that one day I would be wandering through some London streets, ‘Near where the charter’d Thames does flow‘.

Remembering and forgetting

We can only see the Sistine Chapel for the first time once, and we can never be surprised twice by the outcome of a poem or a novel, the unexpected modulations of a piece of Haydn or the wild ramifications of an improvisation by Coltrance. (from “Hubbub”, p, 131)

True, we can experience many things for the first time only once. But surely it is possible that if one has forgotten the first reading experience and returns to a piece of literary work, he or she is still capable of being surprised at the outcome, or surprised at the sudden remembering of the outcome? Perhaps there are new things to be surprised at?

On the subject of remembering and forgetting…..

Song by Christina Rossetti

When I am dead, my dearest,
Sing no sad songs for me;
Plant thou no roses at my head,
Nor shady cypress tree:
Be the green grass above me
With showers and dewdrops wet;
And if thou wilt, remember,
And if thou wilt, forget.

I shall not see the shadows,
I shall not feel the rain;
I shall not hear the nightingale
Sing on, as if in pain;
And dreaming through the twilight
That doth not rise nor set,
Haply I may remember,
And haply may forget.

Remember by Christina Rossetti

Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.


What was William Empson’s theory about James Joyce’s Ulysses?

In this LRB article, Frank Kermode answers:

It was in 1948 that he [Empson] first outlined the theory in a letter to his wife: Bloom would like to make love to Molly but hasn’t done so for ten years, since his first son died, though he is keen to have another child. If he could get Molly away from Boylan and ‘get her to bed with Stephen’ he thinks he could manage it provided Stephen preceded him – perhaps when Stephen returned to Eccles Street, as he promised. Joyce was apparently ‘shy’ about this bit of narrative, and hid the point from his readers. Not from Empson, however, who expounded it several times adding more and more detail in evidence: for example, in two successive issues of this journal [London Review of Books] in August and September 1982, and finally in the posthumous collection Using Biography. He reached a point where he could not believe an unprejudiced reader could help finding what Joyce had rather cravenly hidden; and in any case he would presumably have given up the hope of a triangular arrangement by the time he started Finnegans Wake. But we are to understand that his desire for it had been urgent, and Empson studies it with appropriate intensity: the triangular outcome is ‘amply foretold’.

Of relevance here is Empson’s own relation with his wife, Hetta Crouse. He wrote the poem “The Wife Is Praised”, which consists of the following lines:
Did I love you as mine for possessing?
   Absurd as it seems, I forget;
For the vision of love that was pressing
   And time has not falsified yet
Was always a love with three corners
   I loved you in bed with young men,
Your arousers and foils and adorers
   Who would yield to me then.

If you enter a bathroom where a woman is standing naked… how do you display true tact?

In his recent LRB article on Wikileaks, “Good Manners in the Age of WikiLeaks” (recommended), Slavoj Žižek (2011) answers:

In Baisers volés, Delphine Seyrig explains to her young lover the difference between politeness and tact: ‘Imagine you inadvertently enter a bathroom where a woman is standing naked under the shower. Politeness requires that you quickly close the door and say, “Pardon, Madame!”, whereas tact would be to quickly close the door and say: “Pardon, Monsieur!”’ It is only in the second case, by pretending not to have seen enough even to make out the sex of the person under the shower, that one displays true tact.

Reading London Review of Books (2008 issues — Part III)

|As Byron himself remarked, you couldn’t expect any verse to be all good.|

|he needed his small circle of friends, for they were his sole readers and it was to them he sent the pamphlets and broadsides he printed privately from time to time.|

|There are some lives we read backwards, from bloody exit to obscure entrance, and Jane’s is one of them.|

|It’s good to remember, as every page of Tudor history is turned, the misogyny of the age, and the unconscious misogyny involved in repeating uncritically the age’s judgments.|

|[Tolstoy] is the world’s best secretary, this argument goes, better at the task than Balzac and Zola, also supposedly eager contestants, and certainly better at it than Dostoevsky and Dickens, who never applied for the job at all.|

|‘a fox bitterly intent upon seeing in the manner of a hedgehog’|

|The books are so gorgeous, so marmoreal, that I find them unreadable.|

|There’s a risk that memorialising writers, consigning them to Culture, is a way of ignoring them.|

|I suspect that Culture and Society and, still more, The Country and the City will continue to have readers when Marxism and Literature and Problems in Materialism and Culture will be found only in the footnotes of the more recondite intellectual histories.|

|Orange is blue, and pink is sea-green. And all the colours of the rainbow are black.|

Read more here.

Reading London Review of Books (2008 issues — Part II)

|‘Think of me as a boy,’ the woman begs.|

|The title of this novel comes from the Chinese national anthem:
Arise, ye who refuse to be bondslaves!
With our very flesh and blood
We will build a new Great Wall!
China’s masses have met the day of danger.
Indignation fills the hearts of all of our countrymen,
Arise! Arise! Arise!|

|in 2008, medicalised sexual thoughts make us obsess about having enough orgasms. With how much certainty can anyone say things are getting worse?|

|Is it always like Sylvia Plath said: Daddy is ‘a man in black with a Meinkampf look’?|

|Marxist philosophers should know better than anyone else that time is never going to move backwards.|

|‘Burn my letter with fire or candle (if you have either! Otherwise, wade out into the sea with it and soak the ink out of it).’|

|All literary works are anonymous, but some are more anonymous than others.|

|Writerly meaning does not always trump readerly meaning.|

|Authors can say the silliest things about their own stuff, which is one way in which they resemble critics.|

|Being Jonathan Swift’s printer was not a job for the faint-hearted.|

Read more here.

Reading London Review of Books (2008 issues — Part I)

“At the Movies” by Michael Wood — A discussion of No Country for Old Man (directed by Joel Coen and Ethan Coen)

|It says he doesn’t understand what’s happening, of course; but it also says he doesn’t believe he doesn’t understand.|

“Drowned in Eau de Vie” by Modris Eksteins

|The moderns wanted to be new, fast. This urgency demanded that the old be eliminated.|

|Modernism was the culture of an age of mass death. […] Death was both figurative and literal, evident in the mechanisation of the world and the industrial killing of modern war.|

“That Wilting Flower” by Hilary Mantel

|Where has youth gone? Why dost thou lash that whore? Why are you looking at me like that?|

|now those of us who deal in metaphors don’t know how to make machines.| 

|Spectral pedestrians are never children, though many children are killed on the roads.| 

 “Short Cuts: Blogged Down” by Thomas Jones

|In other words, for an anthology of blogs to work, the blogs it contains have to be as unbloglike – as booklike – as possible. |

“At the Movies” by Michael Wood — A discussion of Lust, Caution (directed by Ang Lee)

|In the film moderately scrutable orientals play inscrutable orientals pretending to be inscrutable orientals.|

|he is cautious as well as lustful, more cautious than lustful at this moment|

|It’s not, I think, that she is actually tempting. Only that she is a perfect picture of what temptation is supposed to look like.|

|‘complexity of combinations, contortions of the partners, everything is beyond human nature.’|

|Be cautious about lust, that story would rather sentimentally go, because even simulated lust may turn you into a human being.|

 “At Roane Head” by Robin Robertson — a poem

|Her husband left her: said
they couldn’t be his, they were more
fish than human;
he said they were beglamoured,
and searched their skin for the showing marks.|

Read more here.

Reading London Review of Books (recent issues)

|Not all interesting things are beautiful and not all beautiful ones are interesting.|

|was [Helen] abducted by Paris or did she go willingly?|

|John Lyly gives Helen a scar on her chin – the equivalent of the flaw in a Ming vase that perfects it.|

|‘Her name was burned into the pages of history …’ |

|[China …] a civilisation based on morality without supernaturalism, a great culture where the doctrine of original sin didn’t prevail and a country where no priesthood had ever dominated.| But what about ancestor-worship and  The Mandate of Heaven, to name just two things — surely these have some supernatural qualities?

|fragile-seeming gestures, songs, jokes, metaphors, teasing sentences, often have long lives in the intimacy of many minds. |

|‘the dream is not to understand everything (anything), it is to understand something else.’ |

|‘When you start separating the people from their rivers what have you got? Bureaucracy!’|

|In other words, to go forward we must go back. London is unchanging.|

|The brand name was stamped, grey on grey, above the steel-shuttered window: OLYMPIC.| 

Read more here.