January 30, 2013

Where Does Evil Come From - My Thought On Massacres During Chinese Cultural Revolution

The Cultural Revolution hunted the political a...

(Caution: even though as a writer I always spare gruesome details, still, if you do not have the nerve to confront the darkest darkness of human nature, don't read this blog!)

People always put the word "kind" to all the weak individuals, but what they do not know is, the reason some of these individuals appear to be "kind" is only because they do not have chance to be evil. --- Hu Ping

I was born a year before Cultural Revolution. I don't remember much of violence diffused all over the country during my childhood. I heard there was a bullet shot on the window of our house (barely two rooms with a small kitchen), which just missed my head, while I was sitting in my nanny's lap. I heard my father's concussion was caused by 4 red guards holding his body upside down, then hitting downward to the floor of the stage - before which some hundreds of people were watching, including me, who was crying. I heard one of professors was tortured, in a way I felt difficulty to describe; I also heard some "rumors" about cannibalism that took place in some countryside of China. Still, rumors were just "rumors", the life of my first 30 years in China was "peaceful" (if we don't count the violence happened within families).

Recently I read part of book: "The Myth of Blood", a book that was written over 20 years ago and finally got published in Hong Kong in 2010. The book documents carefully about the mass massacre that took place in Dao county, Hu Nan province during summer of 1967, right after Cultural Revolution began. The brutality of this massacre was absolutely beyond anyone's imagination - during 3 months of mass murder, over 9000 people died (among which over 1000 committed suicide) in that county alone, most of them by torture. A local river ran red for months. Once this beautiful place was well known for the fishes from river, but after massacre, no one bothered eating fishes for years.

Intrigued by this book, I traced some online sources about another "well-known" massacre took place in Nan Ning county, Guang Xi province. Those sources proved the "rumors" I heard long time ago. This massacre was even more gruesome, mostly due its widely practiced cannibalism. What's even worse than just cannibalism was that the cannibalism here was often "practiced" during victims were still alive. It seems no one really know how many people died in that place during massacre, some sources say 50 or 70 thousands, some say hundreds of thousands. No one knows for sure.

These two massacres were not all happened in countryside of China during Cultural revolution. There were many other places suffered the same horrors. As Deng Xiaoping once said (source from online): we would never know how many people died during Cultural Revolution.

I was shocked, first by the brutality, second by the people who involved - they were mostly "ordinary" people. These massacres were not government "organized", or "state-promoted" crimes, they were "mass movements" that everybody participate (more or less) voluntarily. These massacres usually started by two groups of people who fought violently, yet both sides claimed loyal to Mao and Communism. And when these movement went into absolute chaos, more people involved, then the "excitement" was no longer "political", or "ideological", but absolutely frenzied and devilish.

The details were incredibly gruesome, I think they would be the best described by Mo Yan's style, not mine. However, here are a couple of them I could put in brief: in Dao County's masscare, one person tried to hang himself but he was just a little too late, he was "rescued" by his "enemies", and then tortured in many different ways until he died. During massacre of Guangxi province, it was said one old (ordinary) lady first got a heart from a victim, but after she heard that the organs from died bodies did not have the best curative effect, she threw it away, and eagerly participated the next more frenzied action in order to get a fresher one...

Ignorance does kill!

Honestly speaking, I would prefer these crazy people all had guns, so the victims could depart the earth more mercifully. The fact was, without guns, these Red guards or Red comrades were just become incredibly "creative" on killing. Again, I am not interested in details of those "techniques".

Can we blame this type of crime to Communism, or to Mao, to Chinese government? I simply cannot. It is obvious that most of participants of such movements were volunteer commoners, free to do or not to do anything that they "felt" "right" or "wrong". There were some forced actions, but certainly not all of them (I supposed not even most of them). And there was no law, no moral stance, only evils unleashed. Yes, Mao might be responsible for unleashing such evils.

What continued to strike me is, all these horrors, almost vanished from people's mind immediately after they ended. No body talked abut it, neither no one was punished by laws (of course there was no law). Most of those murderers, those who ate other humans organs, flesh, just went straight back to their "ordinary" life, many of them even played victims of history. It seems some were later arrested for murder, but how those "trials" went I do not know for sure. What I can be quite sure is that majority of these people who committed the most horrible crimes in human history lived peaceful lives until they died, or some of them are still alive. The whole massacres were all forgotten. No one mentioned them at all, until this book of "Myth of Blood".

Or maybe the reason of such crimes were forgotten by many is precisely because they were committed by "many"?

I somehow understand this type of "oblivion", because it is indeed too dark to mention. Except, dark history would not evade repeating itself just because we choose to forget. As matter of fact, similar crimes happened also during Great Leap Forward, which was only several year earlier than Cultural Revolution. "Good" thing is, many crimes - include cannibalism - happened during Great Leap Forward were covered by "starvation" - a much more sound and face saving term than "massacres".

Another side of story is, there are things that Chinese people chose NOT to forget, such as how the intellectuals were persecuted, how the "precious" Chinese tradition was destroyed, etc. Think carefully, it is not that strange at all, because those who write history can choose what to write, what not to write, and in China (also elsewhere), it is "intellectuals" who write history, so "understandably", after cultural revolution, intellectuals' fate was much better documented than those peasants who lived in countryside, despite the fact that what happened in countrysides were much more "serious".

I am not an expert in history, but by my limited knowledge, I still have to say, I simply could not find any part of human history darker than this part of Chinese history. The reason for that is, these massacres were not "wars" between nations, neither state organized, but just "mass movement" consisted of "commoners", yet they reached a stunning level of destruction and brutality.

How could such things happen? If we cannot blame these horrors to minority powerfuls, or those abstract ideas, such as "communism", where can we find an answer for such insanity exhibited by these mass "common" people? Were they just temporarily possessed by Evil?

If so, where does the EVIL come from?

January 26, 2013

To Defeat The Fear Of Death


The best way to defeat the fear of death is to love life more.

Pinyinizing Chinese Characters - Advantage or Disadvantage?

SANSEIDO CO.,,SYOEN, VOL1.No.1, 1937, Septembe...

Recently I participated a discussion in a Chinese forum about Pinyinizing Chinese characters, or making Chinese script from current character form into alphabetic system. People who proposes this idea believe that learning Chinese characters is way to hard for children, therefore they believe that language - more specifically the character system, which doesn't have connection between writing script and pronunciation - is a big barrier for the diffusion Chinese culture (they still had that dream that China really should be the center of the earth, and Chinese should be international language, not English!).

They use Chinese American kids as example, argued that lots of these kids hate to learning Chinese characters, and their English reading and writing skill developed way faster and easier than their Chinese. I would not argue this part, but I personally found this idea of pinyinizing Chinese not so appealing because, first of all, I do not believe that Chinese writing/reading skill are that hard to learn, and I either don't believe English is an overall easier language than Chinese. I understand that Chinese writing system maybe hard to learn only during the beginning period, because you probably do need to memorize all those characters "from scratch" - because there is no connection between writing and pronunciation. However, as long as 3 or 4 (even just 2 or 3) thousands characters were mastered, the rest of Chinese language learning becomes a piece of cake - you literally don't need to make much effort at all. So, these first a few thousands characters really become a lifetime saver. The reason for this is because most of Chinese words were composed by these basic characters, so if you recognize them well, you would have no problem to know most "compound words", which are the most of Chinese words made of.

I believe that a high school graduate Chinese student should have no problem to understand any Chinese documents, include fictions, magazines, and some professional documents as well, because they usually handle much more than 3 or 4 thousands characters. That's why there is no Chinese reading and writing test in graduate school entry exam designed for all applicants in Chinese universities, but on the contrary, in United States, GRE is for all students its English language part is not only difficult to foreigners, but also lots of American students.

I personally found English is hard to learn, especially its vocabulary part. Some people (in the forum) argued that English also has lots of roots, prefix & suffix, but I found roots, or prefixes work in a very different way from Chinese characters. In Chinese, you have to learn those basic characters before you go anywhere, which means these characters are basic elements on which the whole language based, but in English, understanding roots, pre or suffix, works only like "assistants", which helps a lot, but is not a "must" for beginners. So after all, memorizing words is still a major labor work for learning English, especially for those who use this language as the second language.

The second reason that I don't think pinyinzing Chinese writing system is a good idea is that Chinese language has a n incredibly huge amount of homophone characters. This makes way to difficult to distinguish words just by pinyin (or alphabets). And it is because of this shortcoming, Chinese writing system actually serves as a major complement, because of its rich variation in its visual form. I believe that Chinese characters were invented for reasons - the separate individual syllable were best to be represented by each individual character. I also realized that alphabetic languages are more vocal or acoustical - so they sound beautiful (and alphabetic system naturally became the best way to record these languages, and I believe this was why western cultures all preferred and adopted this system over Sumerian's cuneiform writing system back thousands years ago); Character based language such as Chinese are more "visual" - they looks beautiful! Personally I believe, that throwing away Chinese characters, Chinese as a language would totally lose its "charm".

I think many people would agree, that the reason that English is widely used and becomes almost as "world language" is because of its cultural influence, not because of its language facility. If so, Spanish should be the most used language, because it's easy to learn. (I heard this and hope what I heard is true)

Well, I hope those linguists who propose alphabetic system would invent some pinyinized Chinese script system, and let history speaks for itself.*

*Actually I heard they tried already but didn't succeed.

January 25, 2013

My "Mini Stereo System"

I love music, used to collect music CDs, but during recently years as my health declined, I became very intolerant about any noise, or sound, include music. However, just about current several months, my health seems to undergo some positive change, I found I miss music again.

This time, instead of being a high tech fashion pursuer, I decided to be "traditional". Since I don't like to listen to the same music again and again, I found radio suits me better than CD player (actually I did have those time when I stuck on same music for days, even weeks. But in that case, I could go on internet). I bought a small radio, old fashioned, but high quality - it's Sony! (Though as Chinese, I should boycott Japanese goods!) Also, I purchased a pair of neat speakers, it sounds like a wonder!

So all together, I spent $41 (radio only cost me $11!) on amazon, and now I really have a nice "mini stereo system".

January 19, 2013

Succeed To Be Machines, Fail To Be Humans

The Joy of Painting

Yesterday one of my students suddenly left my class 20 minutes before class ended, escorted by his father. Story really started like this:

This 10 year-old kid had tremendous difficulty on painting watercolor. Despite I taught him (like to everybody else) the basic technique of watercolor, demonstrated the first part of painting, he still could not deal with it. One of reasons he had such difficulty was that he believed - like many other kids - that he must paint everything just exactly identical as sample painting. Of course, during the course of teaching I repeatedly told them that there is no need and it's almost impossible for them to make a  exact copy of original painting, but still, this kid is still always in big trouble whenever he knew he could not make it exactly like what he saw. With each tinny step, he would just stop there, and waiting for my instruction. Then I told him (many times) that he should try by himself, even he knew he would fail, he should still try. I told him that it is better to make many mistakes and learn from them, than to make all perfections by the help of teacher and still cannot do it by his own.

Obviously, this slow process drew his father's attention. He stepped out from side of classroom and realized his son did not make any progress since last couple of sessions. Also he probably heard what I told his son, and profoundly disagreed. So what he did was standing right beside his son, told him exactly what to do. His son followed everything he told him, with extremely unhappy/embarrassed expression on his face. I mentioned to the father that this is not a good way to teach art, but he openly opposed my idea, saying if I don't teach, of course his son wouldn't know. Then we had mild argument for a little while before I left both of them alone. However, just in about another 10 minuets, while I was helping other students, I suddenly heard the father declared: "sorry, we are leaving". I turned around and tried to check out what happened, I found the son already left his seat with painting on his hand, and his father told me seriously (but not angrily): "We are leaving. He is not going to paint this anymore".

I did not see how the painting looked like, but I was certain that it didn't turn out as his father wished, otherwise, he would not "order" his son to stop and leave. This proved to me that his teaching method did not succeed either.

Teaching art is so much different from teaching math, or science. In latter case, as long the theories were thoroughly explained and understood, students can usually solve the problems within no time, but in the case of teaching art, after the basic technique was explained and demonstrated, students still need lots of time to practice on their own, in order to master the technique. And it is not my belief that technique of painting should be detailed into each subject, such as how to paint trees, how to paint water. There are time to time students asked me these questions, I always told them that I only teach "how to paint", not "how to paint specifically one thing". If a student learned how to paint "a tree", she/he may not know how to paint "many trees"; if she/he learned how to paint water in small ripples, she/he cannot paint water big waves. "How to paint" on the other hand, simply involves some basic color theory and how to use painting materials, and how to build layers on painting surface, etc. Also, for realistic painting, understanding perspective, proportions and shading principle might be utmost important. So, by my understanding, as long as students understanding these issue, they should be able to deal with different different subjects without too much difficulty. And how exactly they will paint each subjects, I think it's better I leave that alone, because that's the fun part and also the exactly from where students' own styles will develop.

Yes, there are some artists out there teach people how to paint trees, or mountains, such as Bob Ross, but after lessons students would all know how to paint like Bob Ross, not how to paint their own art. I know many parents expected me teaching like that, unfortunately it is just not my way. Most parents understood my "theory" after I explained to them, but some of them don't, like this one, I would call him "tiger father". He has tremendous energy and working very hard all his life, and now he has been make sure his sons following the same path. Since very earlier age, his sons worked hard on everything possible: piano, art, math, science, etc. Both his sons came to my studio about 3 years ago, when the younger one was only about 7. Both of them didn't seem to be healthy and energetic as their father, and both were extremely quiet, extremely good at following "orders". I soon notice, the younger one had serious anxiety when he made mistakes. Once I asked him to change something, he hold the eraser, repeatedly erased the same spot with anger, even made some sort of sound which drew attention of classmates. About half years later "tiger father" suddenly canceled their art learning due to his elder son's chronic health issue. He also expressed tremendous embarrassment, which I did not know what for.

And over a year later, younger son came back to me. I still notice he has psychological issue whenever he does paintings. He can handle drawing better, probably because there are more rules to follow, such as proportion, perspective, etc., but painting, where I encourage my students to be more creative, he just could not handle it at all.

I have my reason to believe, that his energetic father trained his two son like machine. Whenever I saw his younger son made mistakes, I literally saw "fear" in his eyes, as if the unspeakable punishment would come. Another day "tiger father" told me that his elder son was accepted by Yale University, I congratulated him. But honestly, if I had kids, would I envy him? My answer is a big "NO", because I think humans are much more admirable than "machine".
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January 16, 2013

Compliments From Parents

Ming Tang, Yan Bai, Grace Tang, Ming's  parent...

Since I started art classes in 2009, I have very few American students, however, the cultural difference doesn't escape even in such an unbalanced proportion, that is how they compliment their kids: American parents's compliments were loud, directly made to their kids, Chinese parents' compliments mostly were not loud, and usually not directly to kids, but to me, such as "oh, she seems doing better," "looks like he made some progress."

Of course, I hardly heard any criticism made openly, but I know in China, I would. It is widely believed in Chinese culture that humans were born "bad", so criticism is constantly needed. By Confuciansim virture is learned and vice is always a born nature. That's why in China, education mean "discipline". It is also a custom in China that when kids doing good, people naturally praise their parents and teachers, and when kids did something bad, people would condemn kids alone.

Yes, Confucius also said something like "it is the father's fault if the son did not behave well", but that's just some old cliche that nobody really believe in real life. What is really believed by Chinese people, now and then, is that compliment definitely will spoil kids. That's why most Chinese parents just don't give compliments to their kids. In case that compliments are desperately necessary, they must be presented in very reserved way, such as indirectly, or spoken out with seriousness, or better followed by criticism, just to make sure kids know that they are not really that good.

Also, I believe generally nature plays a rule of "balance" - we treat people by how we are treated. Most of these parents were treated harshly when they were little, so they naturally get so "stingy" on compliments - which they did not have much "saving" in their own emotional account.

Not only compliment, according to Chinese tradition, LOVE, should also be expressed in reserved way. I kind of understand, if we were born "evil", how could we deserve good thing? I myself as example, I don't remember being ever held by either of my parents. My father would pretend he did not see me if he encountered me in public areas. Through all my adult life, I had not touched my parents until my last visit back in China, which was 5 years ago, when my parents both were too old and sick (and if I did not hold their arms, they probably would fall down). There is a book out there called "Chinese People - a race without hugs". My personal experience certainly proves that. But I know this is not just about my experience,   every Chinese person knew this is true, despite there plenty of exceptions.

I believe we human are such animals, that if anything that is essential to our nature was deprived at the beginning of our life, such as foods, love, more likely than not, we would struggle with this issue for the rest of our life. I don't remember where I heard a story about one person who had a "hobby" to store breads everywhere in his house only because he was once almost staved when he was a child. Same as our confidence, or self-esteem, if one was not proved by her/his parents from beginning, he/she might spent all his/her life to look for prove. So I believe, psychological wise, one of important reasons for the overwhelmingly diffused social competitions, insatiable need of career success, money and fame among Chinese people*, really stem from most of Chinese people's childhood: lack of proof from parents - our first connection with the world.

*Of course I do not mean that this social phenomenon is exclusively occur in Chinese culture, but I do mean that in Chinese culture, it appears to be overwhelmingly disseminated.

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January 15, 2013

Enjoy Life

English: Chipperfield: Badgerdell Wood. A deli...

Talking about enjoying life when life itself is under threatening is probably highly impossible, however, living under stress or fear when life is not under threatening, is unnecessary, or even self destructive.
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Should Kids Live Up To Parents' Expecation?

English: Ellen DeGeneres in 2009.
English: Ellen DeGeneres in 2009. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I have a student who tried very hard to please her parents, especially her mother, however she doesn't seem to be the type of persons who could enjoy art process. She is more active type, constantly need to be in physical activities, that's why she did not make much progress on skill wise. I know she loves her mother dearly, and her mother is extremely loving and caring as well. The student has been with me for over 3 years, and recently the student missed several classes. I have a hunch that the kid did not enjoy doing art as much as her mother wants her to do, and she probably would happier if she quit, however, her mother did not want her to quit because she would picture that as a failure of her own.

Nonetheless, I still believe her mother is loving and eventually will accept what her daughter really is. What I really mean is, sometime even a loving mothers can be blind on seeing the real picture of their kids, and on the other side, the eagerness to please parents also can somehow more or less give kids trouble on enjoying their own life. That's why when Ellen Degeneres' mother first time heard Ellen saying she did the stage performance (when Ellen was only 5 or 6 year-old) just for please mother, she was extremely upset. I read her bio years ago, really thought she was one of greatest mothers in the world.
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January 8, 2013

Political Correctness

Political Correctness is...
Political Correctness is... (Photo credit: Dave Kleinschmidt)
Political correctness was really created for people who have very poor ability of observation and judgement. This is equally, and very unfortunately to say, it was created for "majority".
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