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Count von Keyserling & Ku Hung-ming

 

 

Count Hermann von Keyserling (1880-1946), a Baltic German aristocrat, best known for his travel  writings and philosophical musings, left behind a detailed account of his meetings with Ku Hung-ming in his Travel Diary of a Philosopher, published in 1925.

 

 

I spend many hours each day with Ku Hung-Ming and his friends and supporters. He is a man of such wit and such a fiery temperament that I am sometimes reminded of a Latin. Today he was explaining at great length how wrong the Europeans, and especially the sinologists are, in considering the development of Chinese culture quite by itself, without comparison with that of the West: for both have evolved, according to him, within the frame of an identical formula. In both there has been an equivalent of antiquity and medievalism, renaissance and enlightenment, reformation and counter-reformation, Hebraism and Hellenism (to use the terms of Matthew Arnold), rationalism and mysticism; and the parallel is to be drawn even in detail: even in China, for instance, there has been a Bayard. I do not know Chinese history sufficiently in order to test the soundness of these comparisons, and I rather suspect Ku Hung-Ming, as I do the majority of his countrymen, of practising rather too cheap a form of intellectualism, such as flourishes, for instance, in Southern Italy. This much, however, is true: all historical conditions are special manifestations, brought about by particular circumstances, of the natural forms of human life, which are the same everywhere; and since all possible combinations of circumstances vacillate round a few types whose sequence appears to be subject to one rule, it cannot but be that all peoples of comparable temperament also pass through comparable stages. Now Western Europeans and Chinamen are singularly comparable; they belong essentially to an identical fundamental type, the type of the “men of expression,” to which the Indians and the Russians, for instance, do not belong.

It must be possible, therefore, to establish historical parallels. Nevertheless, my attitude towards the value of such comparisons is sceptical. Time may possess one single significance in itself — it certainly is not so in reference to men. The Chinese are men of long, and we of short, breath, for us mobility, for them quiescence is the normal condition. How, then, can one make valid comparisons? We boast of our rapid progress: thanks to it, we will probably always remain barbarians, since perfection is possible only within given limits and we are perpetually changing ours. Nor do I accept it as agreed that we will continue to advance for long at the same rate: every direction in life is limited inwardly; we too will one day reach the end, and probably earlier than we think. — I have often heard the following argument, especially in India: since all cultures we are aware of start at a relatively high level — and this is correct — this presupposes that there has been before an exceedingly long period of slow ascent. Most certainly not! Every idea contains within itself, not only in theory but de facto, the whole of its consequences; it strives for actuality; it becomes embodied wherever matter permits it to do so, so that, as soon as the mental processes are set in motion at all, they take place with great rapidity. For this reason, as long as consciousness is asleep, aeons may pass before anything new happens; this may occur either in the primordial state or, as in China, at a certain level of culture which has once been reached. But once it has been wakened, development takes place with extreme rapidity. How long was the span of time from the awakening of the Greek spirit to its perfection? A century. How long did it take from the discovery of the principle of aviation until it was applied perfectly in practice? Not ten years. In the same sense it may very well be that we too shall shortly come to an end, and stop progressing at a level of development which will be not nearly so far ahead of that of China as we suppose. For in the modern sense of the word we too are progressive people only for the last hundred years.

Ku Hung-Ming does not miss a single opportunity of having a dig at Laotse. His fundamental thesis is that Confucius is the infinitely greater of the two because he understood significance as profoundly as Laotse, but did not retire from the world, but expressed his profundity in his mastery of it. If Confucius really had been, and had achieved, what Ku asserts of him, then, of course, he would be incomparably greater. However, this is not so. It would appear to be contradictory to nature that the same man should live altogether in profundity and prove himself, at the same time, to be a mighty organiser of the surface; each one of these problems requires a special physiological organisation, and I know of no accredited case in which a man possessed both to a similar degree. Kung Fu Tse and Laotse represent the opposite poles of possible perfection; the one represents the perfection of appearance, the other perfection of significance; the former, perfection within the sphere of the materialised, the latter, within the non-materialised; therefore they cannot be measured with the same gauge. But Confucius must no doubt appear greater to the Chinese because they are practical to the extreme as a nation, and to this extent they have no direct relation to profundity as such. The more I see of the Chinese, the more I notice how uninteresting their thoughts are. Their thinking is not their essential quality: their existence is the expression of their depth. Thus Ku Hung-Ming is far more important as a man than as a writer and as a thinker.

 

The Travel Diary of a Philosopher, Count Hermann Keyserling, 1925

Volume 1

Volume 2

 

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Amongst White Clouds

Edward A. Burger

Amongst White Clouds is a look at the lives of zealot students, gaunt ascetics and wise masters living in isolated hermitages dotting the peaks and valleys of China’s Zhongnan Mountain range. The Zhongnan Mountains have been home to recluses since the time of the Yellow Emperor (黃帝), some five thousand years ago…

…One of only a few foreigners to have lived and studied with these hidden sages, director Edward A. Burger reveals to us their tradition, their wisdom, and the hardship and joy of their everyday lives. With both humor and compassion, these inspiring and warm-hearted characters challenge us to join them in an exploration of our own suffering and enlightenment in this modern world.

– amongstclouds.com

Further Reading:

China’s Hermit Tradition and Zen Beginnings – Bill Porter

Edward A. Burger – Director’s Facebook Page

Hermitary – Resources and reflections on hermits and solitude

 

Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds

Contemporary Short Stories from Myanmar

 

In the first anthology of short stories from Myanmar published in the West, seven of the leading contemporary Burmese language writers and seven new voices from the ethnic regions, guide us on a sweeping journey, from the cities to the mountains, of this once pariah nation. 

Written in scripts until recently censored and outlawed the anthology presents a country that goes beyond the familiar lens of isolation and dictatorship unveiling a storied and diverse landscape of people and place. 

From the child imprisoned in Yangon in the south to the jaded miner of Kachin in the north, these stories, each set in a different region and era, reflect on Myanmar’s troubled past and pose questions for the future of a country undergoing a transformation of global importance.            

Featuring stories translated from Burmese, Mon, Karen (Sgaw Karen), Kayah (Kayah Li), Shan (Shan Gyi), Kachin (Jinghpaw), Chin (Lai Hakha) and Rakhine.

Although the limited print run of 750 copies of this anthology has already sold out, an e-book version of the anthology will be made available on all online platforms soon, and as soon as it is, we will, of course, let you know.

For now though, please do read through and follow the links below, to not only read one of the stories from the anthology, but to also learn more about the long and fascinating journey, which this project has taken to reach its fruition, as well as the incredible amount of hard work and dedication that has gone in to putting this anthology together.

 

Further Reading & Listening:

The Court Martial – Letyar Tun, Hidden Words, Hidden Worlds (Asia Literary Review)

Myanmar Launch of Hidden Words Anthology – SADAIK

PODCAST – Storytelling in Myanmar with Letyar Tun and Fiona Ledger

In Conversation with Letyar Tun & Lucas Stewart – Writers Centre Norwich Podcast:

Listen to the podcast on Soundcloud from the WCN’s website here or on Player.fm here

An Interview with Lucas Stewart – Asia Literary Review

The People Elsewhere: Unbound Journeys with the Storytellers of Myanmar – Lucas Stewart

Hidden Worlds – The Irrawaddy, July, 2014

Shadow Signatures (A Legacy of Burmese Literary Pen Names) – Lucas Stewart, 2014

The Lady, the Writers and the Ex-Prisoners – FreeSpeechDebate, February, 2013

Parallel Lines – San Lin Tun (New Asian Writing, 2011)

Burma or Myanmar? Burmese or Burman? – U Khin Maung Saw

The Women of Burma – Daw Mya Sein (The Atlantic, 1958)

Modern Burmese Literature – U On Pe (The Atlantic, 1958)

 

Persons frequently ask…

“What is China’s real religion? What do people believe and worship?”

“Do they believe in an after-life? And what are the conditions of this life?”

With the first of its many volumes published by T’usewei Press, Shanghai in 1914, “Researches into Chinese Superstitions”, is a thorough, if not exhaustive, study of the questions posed above. Written and compiled by the Rev. Henri Doré, “Researches into Chinese Superstitions” is a multi-volume collection of the ‘superstitions’, which ‘swayed the family and social life’ of the Chinese people at that time.

As mentioned in previous articles, there was great interest is this area of Chinese life at the turn of the last century. Fortunately, like Dr J.-J. Matignon’s study of the subject, these studies by Doré also managed to avoid the sensationalism to which other studies around that time succumbed. Indeed, whilst Rev. Doré was a Jesuit missionary, it could be said that his own beliefs only strengthened his objective or nominal approach when it came to recording and examining these Chinese ‘superstitions’. Therefore, whatever reasons Doré may have had for producing this work, they should not deter us nor distract us from examining what is presented within the many volumes of this collection.

As far as a study of religion as a factor in social life is concerned, it may make little difference whether the anthropologist is a theist or an atheist, since in either case he can only take in to account what he can observe. But if either attempts to go further than this, each must pursue a different path. The non-believer seeks for some theory – biological, psychological, or sociological – which will explain the illusion; the believer seeks rather to understand the manner in which a people conceives of a reality and their relation to it. For both, religion is part of social life, but for the believer it has also another dimension.

E. E. Evans Pritchard, Theories of Primitive Religion, Clarendon Press, 1965

Links to the Volumes in this Collection on Archive.org:

Volume I, Volume II, Volume III, Volume IV, Volume V, Volume VI, Volume VII, Volume VIII, Volume IX, Volume X, Volume XI (Original French), Volume XII (Original French), Volume XIII, Volume XIV, Volume XVVolume XVII (Original French), Volume XVIII (Original French)

President Yuang Shikai - Ming money ceremony 1914

The Ventriloquist

Photograph by Fan Ho (何藩)

The Ventriloquist

IN THE YEAR of Keng Shen, I happened to visit Yangchow. One evening a friend introduced me to a famous ventriloquist named Kuo Mao-erh. I invited Kuo and my friend to my quarters at the inn, where we dined and drank together until a late hour. After the meal, Kuo agreed to favour us with a display of his talents. A large silk screen was placed to the right of our table. Kuo took his position in the shadows behind the screen, while my friend and I sat in pleasant anticipation…

A long silence is broken suddenly by voices; two men are meeting on the road. The greetings are loud and boisterous. One of the men, older than the other, invites the young man to his house. They walk down a rough road, enter a gate and cross a small courtyard to a house. A door slams shut. Wine is poured. The two men talk and joke.

The young men protests. “Too much drink,” he pleads. The other laughs. More wine is poured. Cups clink. The wine is sipped and guzzled. The guest gets to his feet. He moves unsteadily and his host assists him to the gate. Laughter. Goodbyes. The young man staggers down the road. The gate is closed. The bolt slips into place.

The young man stumbles along. He slips, sprawling to the ground. Silence. A second set of footsteps approaches. The newcomer’s foot strikes something soft. A curse. A drunken groan. The newcomer reaches down, assisting the drunken man to his feet. He helps the man walk down the road.

They halt. The drunken man is half-dragged forward, then propped against a wall. The other steps back. “Ho! Watchman! Open the city gates!” No reply. Somewhere in the distance a dog barks. Others join in. Still more dogs add to the chorus – some young, others old; some close by, others a long way off.

The watchman shuffles along the wall. He climbs down. A large gate swings open. The newcomer assists the drunken man along. At a house, they pause. The newcomer pounds on the gate. Nothing stirs. He pounds again. Louder. The gate creaks open. A man curses. Wrong house. More dogs join in the barking.

The drunken man is helped to a second house. The newcomer pounds again. The gate opens. A young woman thanks the man for helping her husband home. The man chides the drunkard and then he takes his leave. The gate closes. The bolt slides into place.

The young woman, panting, struggles with her drunken husband. She drags, pushes, cajoles him across the courtyard and on into the house. She helps him into bed.

“Tea!” he moans.

The woman goes into the kitchen. A fire crackles; the tea hisses and it steams. It is poured into a cup. The woman returns to the bedroom. The drunken man has passed out. He snores. His snores rise and fall with a thunderous din. The woman sighs. She grumbles. She returns to the kitchen where she pours the tea back into the pot. Back to the bedroom. She blows out the lamp. She slips off her clothes. Now there are two sets of snores.

A temple gong breaks up the serenade of snores. The hour of the Rat. A cow moos. The bed creaks. The young man groans. He vomits, groans again, then he vomits again. “Tea!” he wails. The woman snores on. He mutters. Curses. The bed creaks a second time. Once again – two sets of snores rise up.

The cocks crow. First one, and then another, and finally many others, each one crowing in a different key. The bed creaks. The woman yawns. She pulls her slippers from next to the bed. They squish. She shakes them and a slippery, watery bile plops onto the stone floor. An angry cry. Curses. The woman reaches over; finds a second pair. She gets up, dresses and goes into the kitchen. Kettles clack, fire crackles and food is sliced and chopped.

Outside a pounding, on the gate. “Almost dawn,” a voice shouts out. “Get that lazy son of mine up. It’s time to slaughter the pigs.”

The woman shakes her husband. He grumbles, dresses and leaves the house to accompany his father to the pig pens. Food is thrown in for the swine. Grunting and squabbling, they fight over the slops. Sounds of slurping and of gulping. Water being drawn up from a well. Water being poured into a kettle. A fire crackles. Later, water boils.

A pig now squeals. The young man grunts and curses. The squeals grow louder. “Tie him good!” the old man warns. A knife is being sharpened on a whetstone. Now an axe. A desperate final squeal – cut off midway. Silence. The soft sound of blood flowing. Now an axe chopping bones. Now a knife slicing meat. Finally, meat being washed.

“Dawn,” the old man announces, “Time to set up the counter.”

Silence.

In time, there are sounds, distant at first, then growing nearer. The shuffling of feet. Loud voices rise. “I’ll have the ribs.” “How much?” “Did you save the feet?” “No, too much!” “Where’s the kidney and the liver?” “No, not that cut.” “When was the pig slaughtered? Last week?”

Coins clatter on the wooden counter. “Where is the head?” More coins clatter. “Some pork for a roast?” Fresh meat slaps against the wood. “Yes! That’s the piece.”

The sounds grow in intensity. Many voices join in. The voices and the sounds all blend – cutting, chopping, the clatter of coins, questions, answers, laughter, cries, insults – until they are all running together in a great, unintelligible jumble. Then…

Nothing.

Silence.

At last the act of the ventriloquist is finished.

Master of the East Pavilion

Translated by Gene Z. Hanrahan

50 Great Oriental Stories, Bantam, 1965

‘Master of the East Pavilion’ is a nom de plume, which has successfully cloaked the identity of the author ever since this tale was written; shortly before the end of the nineteenth century.

people-elsewhere_front-cover

The People Elsewhere

Unbound Journeys with the Storytellers of Myanmar

Lucas Stewart

In a five year journey all across Myanmar, Lucas Stewart travels from Yangon in the south to the northern limits of Kachin State in search of the literary luminaries of the country’s recent past. He bonds with censored and jailed writers, poets, publishers and booksellers, recording their stories of heritage and resilience. In his conversations with students at an Aung San Suu Kyi rally or sharing stories with a Kayah farmer in his village house, the long-suppressed literatures and languages of minorities such as the Chin, Kachin, Shan and others shine through. The People Elsewhere is a vivid tableau of time and place, and an ode to the ethnic richness of Myanmar.

Penguin Books/Viking

…This book isn’t a memoir but a weaving of two stories. On the one hand it is a simple journey through the writers of a country that is undergoing a transformation many thought would never come; this is a story set in the ‘now’, where change can be seen and touched. The other story is much more complicated: it tells of a country in which the ‘now’ is not as important as the ‘before’, where history and the lessons learnt from it, cannot be easily set aside or forgotten…

Lucas Stewart, The People Elsewhere, Viking, 2016

Available from Penguin/Viking and in digital formats from Amazon.

 

Praise for ‘The People Elsewhere’:

‘Lucas Stewart’s book is an exquisite map of the many literatures of Myanmar, of the human impulse to express oneself through story and song… In scenes alternately warming and harrowing, it braids travel, history and literary criticism in a most ingenious way to give us an unforgettable portrait of a country long forgotten by the world.’

Chandrahas Choudhury, Author of Clouds and editor of India: A Traveller’s Literary Companion

‘The People Elsewhere is a vigorous and compelling travel parable … In a vivid and tenacious tour through some of the country’s militarily-sealed borderlands, Lucas Stewart explores with great generosity and kinship how previously banned or censored languages are still being preserved in some of remotest and educationally-marginalised areas in the world.’

James Byrne, Co-editor of Bones Will Crow: 15 Contemporary Burmese Poets

‘Lucas Stewart’s journey across Myanmar offers a fascinating insight and a rare glimpse of life through its storytellers … Anyone wanting to discover Myanmar’s rich cultural heritage and how these endearing, diverse and remarkable peoples did more than just survive will find this an important and essential read.’

Nick Danziger, Photojournalist and Author of Danziger’s Travels.

More by Lucas Stewart:

The Act of Insanity – Cha: An Asian Literary Journal, Issue 25

Shadow Signatures: A Legacy of Burmese Pen Names – The Bamboo Sea

Hidden Worlds – The Irrawaddy, July, 2014

Myanmar’s Literary Talk Shows – The Diplomat, May 2014

The Kachin: Culture of the Mountain Lords – The Dissident Blog, March 2014

SADAIK A digital manuscript chest for all things literary in Myanmar

 

Further Reading:

Burma or Myanmar? Burmese or Burman? – U Khin Maung Saw

Between Two Fires – Ludu U Hla (The Caged Ones, Orchid Press, 1998)

Modern Burmese Literature – U On Pe (The Atlantic, 1958)

Master Nan Huai-ch’in Performs Tai Chi Ch’uan (1969)
南懷瑾先生示範太極拳 (民國58年)

 

Nanhuaijin-tai-chi-quan-1969

 

In his youth, Master Nan Huai-ch’in [Nan Huaijin] was well known for his martial arts skills, skills which he retained well into his old age, as can be seen from a number of recordings available online. In early 2012, during a memorial talk, an early recording of Master Nan performing Tai Chi Ch’uan [taijiquan] was mentioned, and described as being difficult, if not impossible, to find. The speaker, Mr Zhou Xunnan, had this to say:

 

周勳男老師:南老師拍過打太極拳的錄影帶,是有美國人要學太極拳,特別請南老師到野柳,野柳當時還很荒涼,不像現在成了觀光區,南老師就在迎接太陽剛從海邊升上來的情景下打了一套太極。他穿著長袍打,打得很漂亮。這錄影帶現在台灣大概不容易找到,因為這是傳到美國當教學用的唯一南老師展現武功的帶子。

 

Nan_Taiji_1

 

“Master Nan was recorded performing Tai Chi on videotape as an American student of his wished to learn and had specially asked Master Nan to come to Yehliu [for the shoot]. In those days, Yehliu was a rather desolate place, not at all like the tourist attraction it has become now. Master Nan greeted the sun rising from the sea with a Tai Chi form. He wore a long scholar’s robe and performed most beautifully. This recording must be very difficult to find in Taiwan nowadays because the only copy of this video of Master Nan demonstrating martial arts was sent to America for teaching purposes.”

 

Nan_Taiji_3

 

However, the recording in question, has recently been placed online courtesy of the filmmaker, Tom Davenport.

 


<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/90353185″>T’ai Chi Ch’uan 1969 from Folkstreams on Vimeo.

 

 

Mr Davenport describes the history of this recording as follows:

 

“This film was the one of the first (if not the first film) made on T’ai Chi in the USA. In 1969, very few Americans knew anything about it. I had been in Taiwan as a Chinese language student with the East West Center at the University of Hawaii and had returned for another year there as a photographer. During that year, I met Nan Huai-Jin who was a Buddhist scholar living in Taipei, and like many others from mainland China, was a refugee who had fled there in 1949 when the communists took over China. I had become interested in Zen Buddhism (Ch’an) Buddhism — an interest and a practice that has continued since — and had met Professor Nan through another American friend who had attended a seven day Ch’an retreat with him. I was about 28 years old.

 

My interest in T’ai Chi at this time was mostly as a form of meditation. Americans who were interested in modern dance were also interested in T’ai Chi, and this film was picked up by the Donnell Library in New York City which was one of main collectors of new independent films. It was my first film and was funded by the John D Rockefeller III foundation.

 

The audio track was done by my Yale Classmate Tom Johnson, who is a minimalist composer now living in France. He was experimenting with electronic “white noise” which here sounds like the sea, and used clappers and wind chimes to punctuate the white noise.

 

The film was made on 16mm black and white film and shot with an old Bell and Howell camera, that was designed as combat camera during WWII. In those days, the Nationalist Chinese were fearful of a communist invasion. We shot the film on the northeast coast about a half day from Taipei. I remember that a soldier who was guarding the coast tried to stop us, but Professor Nan knew someone high-up in the military and he talked to the soldier and eventually we got permission from him.”

 

The location where the film was shot, Yehliu [Yeliu], in northern Taiwan, now a national park, is the site of some very distinctive rock formations. The island visible in the background is Keelung Islet.

 

Nan_Taiji_2

 

Filmmaker Tom Davenport is the founder of Folkstreams. He began his Zen practice in the late 1960s and leads the Delaplane Zen Group in Northern Virginia.

 

View another short piece by Tom Davenport, ‘Bodhidharma’s Shoe’, an account of a seven-day Zen retreat.

 

View another recording of Master Nan demonstrating Tai Chi: