Monday, June 23, 2008

The failure of taste

I have commented before here on how, er, strange Chinese taste can be - by Western lights, anyway: either charmingly unsophisticated or terminally naff, depending on your mood. Grown women touting Hello Kitty accessories, Richard Clayderman revered as a great classical pianist, The Eagles crowned "the greatest rock band in the history of the world, ever", etc.

However, there is now a new exemplar of this odd capacity to completely disregard the canons of good taste (and tact, sensitivity, common human decency) that obtain in most of the rest of the world, a new nadir in the annals of China's shortcomings of taste.

Wang Zhaoshan, Vice-President of the Shandong Provincial Branch of the Chinese Writers' Association, has recently written this "poem" on the Sichuan earthquake disaster:


This rough-and-ready translation is provided by the estimable Leah and "a friend" (yes, I have basically just pinched this post off her blog - I hope she won't mind):

To whom can I cry over this disaster,
The President calls out to me and the Prime Minister cares for me,
The voices of the Party's love and the nation's compassion spread into the debris.
To have one billion people crying together for me,
Even becoming a ghost is lucky enough.
The tanks are like silver eagles saving the children,
On the left are the army uncles, and on the right are the police aunties.
Love from the whole nation, to have it is worth dying.
My only wish is to have a TV screen in front of my grave,
To watch the Olympics and to cheer with the others.

Really quite gob-smackingly TERRIBLE, isn't it?

As I observed in a comment on Leah's original post, it inevitably puts one in mind of McGonagall - though without any of the charm. William Topaz McGonagall (wonderful middle name!) was a great favourite of the marvellously deranged British comedian, Spike Milligan, and was also celebrated in the splendidly entertaining Book Of Heroic Failures by Stephen Pile, a loo-side book of mine for many years. He was one of the great Victorian eccentrics, a native of Dundee in Scotland in the latter part of the 19th Century who achieved a wide celebrity - or notoriety - for his prolific, clunking doggerel. One of his most infamous verses was on the Tay Rail Bridge disaster of 1879, which rivals Wang's piece above in its crassness. McGonagall, however, was so beguilingly unself-conscious about his poetic inadequacies that it's difficult not to develop a soft spot for him. His work is a riot of accidental humour. As Pile memorably said of him, he was "so giftedly bad that he backed unwittingly into genius".

Wang, however, though unintentionally hilarious, cannot, I feel, be enjoyed in the same easy spirit. This work is so tactless in its subject matter, so heavy-handed in its propagandizing (that line about the tanks leaves me dumbstruck!), so downright sick in its conception that it produces more winces of pain, horror, or embarrassment than innocent guffaws.

I am relieved to report that Wang has been widely derided by Chinese netizens for this piece. However, their criticisms seem to have been directed mainly towards its blatant toadying to the ruling Communist Party. No-one seems to have commented on its monumental tactlessness. Or on the fact that it is simply very, very, very bad.

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