Barrelled Thoughts #47 – Defining the Moral Line: Domestic Violence in Chinese Culture

Thursday, August 21, 2014

Last weekend I was asked to research a common topic in Chinese culture; one that is hushed, yet at the same time undergoing a revolution of sorts in the last decade: domestic violence.
My boss and mentor wanted to know why I thought Chinese media was so quick to publish raw, unadulterated images of domestic violence—particularly against children—depicting pixel after pixel of the bruised and battered. He told me that such images would never be allowed to go to press in the UK, leading to the logical question of whether it’s acceptable to publish such images just because the child is from abroad.
But why would someone want to publish gruesome pictures in the first place? He told me the following.
“My personal opinion is that domestic violence, whether it be against a wife or a child, is shocking, and if you constantly seek to keep the horror of it from people by deciding what they have a right to see and what not, then there is a risk of it being swept under the carpet and dismissed as something almost cavalier.
“Most of the time I tend to feel that if something is widely published abroad, that is where the law [to publish] applies, and the journalist’s role is to report on what’s happening without attempting to edit things for those that might be offended. However, if you start there, where do you stop? What is morally the correct approach to stories like this?”
His concerns mirror the ones I’ve heard recently after the widespread airing of U.S. journalist James Foley’s execution by ISIS Islamic radicals. Yes, it was a terrible ordeal; yes, a precious life was lost, but to what extent should the world be exposed to the images of truth?

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Daoists of Mt. Lao Pt. 1 – Wesley Holzer [EN]

Submitted Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Translator’s note: This story is retold faithfully, leaving out no details from Pu Songling (蒲松齡)’s original. But unlike the myriad translators who have come before me, I have elected to forgo the inevitably ill-fated strategy of maintaining the original author’s ingenious structure and infallible flow in Chinese. For scholarly pursuit, such a translation is understandable – perhaps commendable – but it does not make for good reading. Stubbornly trying to render the linguistic conventions of 18th century Classical Chinese into modern day English is the main reason that more than 150 years of translations of Liaozhai Zhiyi read almost identical to one another: all very academic. My aim is, instead, to give you something worth flipping through while relaxing on the couch, sitting on the train, or (heaven forbid) wasting away in the office.

“The Daoists of Mt. Lao” (勞山道士) is one of the most enduring tales from the 18th century masterpiece Tales of the Strange from Liaozhai (聊齋誌異) for its moral of humility and patience. A well-off young man heads to the mountain to learn the mystic arts of the immortals, bust struggles when reality at first falls short of his expectations. This is the first of a two-part translation of the story. – W. Holzer

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Monks and Sinners – Wesley Holzer [EN]

Submitted Thursday, May 8, 2014

Translator’s note: Author Pu Songling (1640-1715), a native of Shandong, China, was like so many great talents largely unknown during his troubled life of frustrated ambitions that never amounted to the career he envisioned. It may be of consolation to his wandering spirit that his magnum opus collection of supernatural stories, Liao Zhai Zhi Yi 聊齋誌異 (Tales of the Strange from Liaozhai), is widely regarded as among the finest Chinese prose produced in near-modern times.

Audiences came for the ghosts and wherefoxes, but they ended up staying for the exquisite turns of phrase and moral lessons neatly tucked into each carefully crafted story. The following is a translation of one of the 492 tales usually included in what some label the Chinese answer to One Thousand and One Nights. – W. Holzer

A Monk’s Sins

Upon dying an unfortunate and sudden death, Mr. Zhang found his spirit taken into the custody of infernal envoys who issued him a summons to see their master. He followed them to the netherworld, where Yama, judge of the dead, was reviewing the records of life and death. As the transcendental judge flipped through the pages, he flew into a rage – for his spectral servants had grabbed the wrong soul! – and once berated and rebuked, they were tasked with bringing Zhang back to the world of the living where he rightfully belonged. But as Zhang was heading out from the capital of the dead, he asked his otherworldly escorts if they could first take him to do a little bit of sightseeing.

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