Monday, January 17, 2011

Nicely put

As I ploughed through the editing of yet another article of limited intellectual acuity the other day, my ordeal was momentarily ameliorated by this gem.  It's from an article by a "special correspondent" for the Los Angeles Times, written in the early 20th century on the topic of Shanghai's notoriety as the vice capital of the Orient.  It is deliriously flippant throughout (at least, it seems so to me; although it is perhaps rather difficult to judge attitude and tone of voice in such a different era) - something that my Chinese author rather missed out on.

The line that particularly had me quaking with laughter was this:

"The wholesale generalization upon Shanghai’s wickedness indulged in by missionaries here, and by missionary authorities and supporters at home, is more than uncharitable; it is cruel, and false. This city holds many upright, clean-living, honorable men of spotless character. The fact that they are in a minority does not justify their being so indiscriminately libeled."

How little things have changed in 100 years! 


stuart said...

Haha! Great find, Froog - the old ones are the best!

Reminds me of an old volume I came across online a while back (some sort of Brit official's diary, I think). So much of it was pertinent to present-day China it was untrue.

Not sure when the thing kicks off this year, but enjoy the pyrotechnics when they start!

Cedra Wood said...

I'm so enjoying the excerpts you post from these things!

Part of the reason, possibly, is that it reminds me of one of the best wage-earning jobs I've ever had (and will have again in a couple of months), which was reading hundreds of high school essays a week--scoring the composition portion of the standardized exams administered to every English-speaking 10th-grade Texan.

It is nothing short of tragic--no, really, it makes me droop a little bit as I acknowledge the fact again--that it would be a violation of trust and policy to relate some of those gems to you (at least publicly). But imagine, if you will: thousands upon thousands of teenagers from every imaginable socio-economic niche, responding to a single prompt, their lives and personalities condensed to two pages of their own handwriting. Because the exams had been scanned and presented to us as digital images rather than typed documents, this also means any original drawings on the test booklets were preserved (in all their [what I'll call for lack of a better word] glory).

The opportunities for full-blown hilarity are obvious--and believe me, there were many--but I think what really surprised me was how many of the responses were truly thoughtful, engaging pieces. I had expected to be depressed by what would surely be indisputable evidence of the slow, strangling, txtspk-assisted death of the language (and our educational system), but there wasn't a day I didn't laugh, and cry, and consider something from an angle I hadn't before. (Which is not to say there wasn't an overwhelming percentage of utter bird-cage-liner--there was--but the whole thing was rich with humanity and humor [and hormones].)

Perhaps above all, it was helpful to be reminded that no matter what stresses I imagined my life to be under, at least I wasn't sixteen anymore.

Froog said...

The Year of the Rabbit (surely the lamest of all the Chinese zodiac animals?) gets under way on February 3rd. We're already being plagued with occasional little ripples of explosions more than two weeks ahead. I am dreading it, Stuart, dreading it.

Your ethical rigour does you credit, Cedra - although I have to say I don't think I would feel quite so constrained about passing on the odd amusing highlight from such source material. Removed from its wider context, without a name (or perhaps even a year) attached to it, it would be anonymous and untraceable - and probably not even readily recognisable by its author (should he or she somehow happen to stumble across it).

I had a job a few years ago grading recruitment exams from Chinese university students applying to one of the major international accounting firms - that used to throw up a lot of humdingers, which I had no qualms about sharing with friends. The best one, I think, (I can't believe that I haven't used this in a post before, but I can't seem to find it in a search of the blogs!) was the candidate who suggested one way to improve company morale might be to introduce a causal Friday. I think that's an idea China seriously needs: EVERYTHING must happen for a reason - even if it's only on one day of the week.

Cedra Wood said...

You give my character too much credit, Froog--my restraint, it must be admitted, is more fear-based than honor-based. If I'd had the foresight to create a blog that didn't emblazon my real name everywhere (including, in my paranoid fantasy, the watch lists of my employers), I might approach the subject differently (bronc-riding vs. birdwatching).

Having said that, I am going to cave (doesn't take much, does it) and elaborate.

A recurring highlight: clearly they'd had the concepts of metaphor and simile hammered into them, had been assured that it would enliven and enrich their offerings--and likely, had received explicit instructions to employ at least one, NO MATTER WHAT IT WAS. Some of them were valiant attempts (I wasn't going to let her down like gravity does to everything.), some didn't quite get it yet (My eyes grew wide like a wide cornfield that never ended.), and some defied description (The bloodthirsty beasts dragged him down into the murky abyss, unwrapping him like he was a meaty package left by Santa for their pleasure. God rest his soul.)

Yes, causal Friday's not a bad idea in any country. It certainly beats causalgia Friday, which was mandated by the only governmental post I've ever held. (At least, I think that's what that pain was.)