|Worshipping Ancestor General Yue Fei|
1. The People of Hangzhou City and its excellent Zhejiang University are warm,
kind and funny. We were brilliantly hosted throughout by Zhiang Bobo (aka
‘Bob’) who has just won a national prize for his translation of Plato’s Philebus into Chinese and is about to
embark on the first substantial Chinese commentary on Plato’s Republic book I. We
arrived in the middle of the annual festival of the dead and were considerately whisked off in a taxi to honour the
spirit of General Yue Fei, Tartar-repeller extraordinary (1103-42 CE).
|Don't mention the Tiananmen Tanks|
2. Under no circumstances EVER mention the Tiananmen Square incident of June 3-4
1989. A journalist on a newspaper in Hangzhou told me that although nobody had
ever made this prohibition explicit, it was universally understood. She
remembered her mother picking her up from school early that day as the
government implemented a nationwide curfew. Since the Great Firewall of China
cuts off most of the people from information not approved by the government,
most young people have no idea what the so-called ‘counter-revolutionary riot’
3. Many educated people trust their government implicitly. They are impressed
by what they call the current ‘economic miracle’ and believe they have the
government to thank for it. Some young ones, studying ancient Greek philosophy,
walked out of my Ethics lecture when I praised the deliberation skills required of ordinary Athenian citizens when serving on
the democratic Council. A senior philosopher made a detailed
case for the continuing need for Censorship on the lines of the rule of the Guardians in Plato's Republic on the ground that most
people 'do not have the ability to understand complex issues.'
|Aristotelian Ethics; Platonic Censorship?|
|Bob, Host and Plato Scholar, with Mannequins in the Tea Museum|
4. The smog is almost unbelievable. The sky is never blue (top image has clearly been photo- shopped) but always an opaque
grey haze. You can never see the stars at night. When I lectured on the
connections between navigation by the stars and the origins of Greek rational
science, there was much cynical laughter.
|Free for Citizens who Swipe Identity Cards|
5. Chinese people operate under a degree of surveillance which I would find
absolutely intolerable. You can’t buy a ticket to ride on a domestic Intercity
train without having your identity recorded. You can’t move residence and employment
between cities without applying for and receiving permission. You can’t even
take a short ride on one of the free public bikes [a system Boris Johnson did
NOT invent] without swiping your identity card.
6. The one-child policy is deeply sexist. It's not just that there are visibly more little boys than girls. Women may only bear one child; men
can have serial babies with different women provided each one has not given
birth before. If a woman wants to have more than one, she needs to move to
Shanghai, which has an aging population so its officials turn a blind eye to
mothers-of-more-than-one. But it may take her five years to get permission to
move to Shanghai.
7. The Chinese love the myth of Circe turning Odysseus’ men into swine.
this may have something to do with the Chinese calendar, according to which
those born in the year of the pig are regarded as happy and successful. By far my most
enthusiastic audience response occurred when I discussed Plutarch’s dialogue Gryllus, in which one of Odysseus’ men,
in porcine form and called ‘Grunter’ (which is what 'Gryllus' means), explains
why pigs are morally and politically superior to human beings.
|Pig-Man and Circe: Top of Chinese Greek Classical Pops|
|Jiaoran discovering Enlightenment via Tea|
|Enlightenment via Beer|
8. Tea is, for Chinese scholars, the certain way to Philosophical Enlightenment. This
was first discovered by the Buddhist monk Jiaoran. His first cup awakened him from
worldly illusions; the second offered
catharsis to his spirit; the third cup led to enlightenment and freedom from mental suffering very like the
Greek Stoic-Epicurean ideal of ataraxia (‘no-hassles’). I admit that I tried
this and got nowhere, so located three cups of excellent Rice Beer in the depicted bottle
instead. Cultural Relativism has its
Post a Comment