News & opinion on Greater China and the even Greater Beyond: by Biff Cappuccino.

Thursday, November 18, 2004

My reply follows this letter below from
There seems to have been some controversy caused by what I thought was an obvious truism: "It is a cruel joke of history that troubled times tend to produce the most gifted of men." Biff Cappuccino writes [letter, Nov 16] that Cervantes is "hardly a first-rate writer ... most likely because he wrote at a time when free speech was insufficiently protected". Then he goes on to name [Paul] Theroux and [H L] Mencken as great writers. I suspect Biff and a frighteningly large number of Asians view Anglo-American culture as the pinnacle of world culture. And by extension, they revere writers from Japan and Taiwan who slavishly imitate their white masters in the UK and US. Biff's narrow view of the world sees writers as boring little typists producing reading material for bourgeois drones on the subway. In any case, gifted people of the past weren't just "writers" as we think of them today, but often officials, painters, musicians and adventurers. Biff also states, "And as to the claim that conflict produces the best writers, I have to wonder who he's referring to?" I am referring to Du Fu, Gunther Grass, Mikhail Bulgakov, [Fyodor] Dostoevsky, [Akira] Kurosawa, [Charles] Dickens, [Alexandre] Dumas and others who wrote about the turbulent times they lived in. Open up your mind, Mr Cappuccino, the world is bigger than Taiwan, Japan, America and England. There are fascinating people living in Africa, India, South America and everywhere, not just in the lands of your colonial masters. Try reading a book by [Jorge Luis] Borges or [Amos] Tutuola, and you might enjoy it! There is more to the world than "legally protected free speech" and "multiparty democracy", believe it or not. It is an insult to all of our ancestors to see these modern political rights as prerequisites for culture and wisdom. The culture of free societies is mostly a glut of shallow entertainment which has nothing to teach those living under repressive governments. I take offense at Daniel McCarthy's comparison of me to Jane Fonda, a ditzy and typically American actress, who went on a little photo op to Hanoi [letter, Nov 16]. However, I do admire Ho Chi Minh for his moderation and wisdom. Ignorant fanatics like McCarthy, apologists for the ARP (American Republican Party), will never accept that Ho Chi Minh, though a communist, was a moderate who respected Confucian culture (his father was a Confucian scholar) and opposed war with the US. In any case, outside America people aren't so idiotic as to be frightened to death by the magic word "communist". I hope Asians in particular would have some sympathy for Vietnam's war of resistance against US invasion. Finally, what does my previous letter have to do with justifying the Chinese Communist Party? There are many talented writers and artists in China today, and they have adapted to their nation's system of government. These people don't justify the CCP's actions, but to say that all Chinese people are ignorant because of their government's restrictions on freedoms is just childish.
G Travan California, USA (Nov 17, '04)
Dear Gunther Travan: The authors you offer, as far as I know their work, are story-tellers. Care of libraries, TV, and Hollywood, those of us growing up in free countries have access to practically every sort of plot. Many of us tire of stories, turn to non-fiction and will only read fiction if it's packed with original ideas. This is where the best works of Twain, Wilde, Maugham, Theroux, etc. come in. Naipaul's essays far out-do his dry fiction. Michel Houellebecq is on his way, but still a novel or two short of truly good stuff. I don't care if the next good novel is written by a Martian. I only care that I like it.

And I don't mind if the author has a master, is a master, was a master, or is thinking of becoming a master. Speaking of which, where are these masters that you and Frank keep spotting? Are they hiding out in the satanic mills of industry with their running dogs and giving orders to their frantic fascist captains? I thought this kind of jargon went out with WWII. But maybe this is a case of China holding on to its traditions? The closest thing in modern English that I can think of is: Who’s your daddy? So, who is your Daddy? Do I have one? And if I don't have one, how do I get one?

You know, I sincerely wish the best for China. If the next brilliant author is Chinese: terrific! I can read his or her work in the original language, the way it’s supposed to be read. But I just don’t see how patriots suffering from hallucinations of nonexistent masters and nonexistent races expect to help China. It’s this sort of thinking which has held it back for a century. Lu Hsun wrote about you seventy years ago: Ah Q.

Biff Cappuccino

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