The Dragon has awakened!
Read this scholarly insider’s look at China . . . it’s customs, history, politics, cuisine, love life, literature and art, philosophy, and much more. Witty and informative, this unique book explains aspects of Chinese culture and history often confusing to natives and foreigners alike. All the characters described in this work are real and all the events true. Each chapter offers a vignette of Chinese life and these chapters form, in toto, a kaleidoscope of China’s past and present. The author includes his translations of some of China’s greatest poetry.
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By Eugene William Levich
Trafford PublishingCopyright © 2016 Eugene William Levich, Ph. D.
All rights reserved.
The Master said, "How admirable Hui is! Living in a mean dwelling on a bowlful of rice and a ladleful of water is a hardship most men would find insupportable, but Hui does not allow this to affect his joy. How admirable Hui is!"
Confucius, Analects, Book VI, 11. D. C. Lau, trans.
I completed my own East Asian voyage of discovery and never suffered disappointment — except perhaps during my first two or three days in Taibei. After having spent a week walking around Tokyo, a fascinating city, I found Taibei in early September, somnolent under the peak of the dry season, to be dusty, provincial, and drab. The city lies in a bowl, surrounded by mountains, and acrid exhaust fumes from low quality gasoline seemed to hover over me like an evil cloud. But I soon discovered a Taibei fascinating in its own right and a rural Taiwan that seemed wild and beautiful almost beyond imagination. Enormous mist-covered jade-colored mountains rise right out of the sea. Vast fields of wild orchids, waterfalls, hot springs, rare and gorgeous butterflies, and tribes of monkeys swinging from tree to tree amazed me as I hiked along mountain trails that sometimes hovered narrowly and precipitously over ravines hundreds of feet deep. Sometimes old Japanese army bridges crossed those ravines, the wooden planking long-ago rotted away, the hiker forced to jump precariously from cable to cable. In places one could pick up pieces of jade right along the trail. A favorite hot spring at just the right temperature for soaking aching muscles formed a pool in a small cave, and just outside ran a pure stream for cold plunges. From the crest of Yushan (Jade Mountain, also known as Mount Morrison) — the highest mountain in East Asia — one could see both the Pacific Ocean to the West and the Taiwan Strait to the East just by turning one's head, and one might even receive waves from the pilots of jet fighters flying at one's own altitude just a few yards distant. The peak is above the clouds and climbers awaken early in the morning to view the sun break through a seemingly endless mother-of-pearl sea of clouds — a truly unforgettable experience. The first Portuguese sailors to land in Taiwan did not name it Ilha Formosa [beautiful island] for nothing.
I lived for a week at the Taibei International Students' House. Two of the three other UChicago grad students and I decided to find an apartment together, the third being married and having his wife and son with him. We contacted the office at the Stanford Center and they suggested that we see a realtor, Mr. Tang, who turned out to be a personable and energetic fellow in his mid-fifties.
Mr. Tang found for us an attractive four-bedroom apartment on Wenzhou Street, a popular living area for senior Guomindong (Kuomintang) officials, within easy walking distance of the university. We, at first, were very happy with the apartment. One day, however, my Chinese neighbor invited me in to see his apartment, one identical to ours. In China, it is considered perfectly polite to ask complete strangers how much things cost. My neighbor thus asked me how much we were paying for rent. I answered that we paid monthly N[ew]T[aiwan]$3,500, or US$100. He laughed when I told him, and said that his rent was less than half of ours. I was very angry with Mr. Tang, feeling that he had taken advantage of us — but after getting to know him better, I developed a great admiration and affection for him.
Mr. Tang, a teenager at the beginning of China's long "War of Resistance" against Japan, enlisted in the army, rose to the rank of major, and ended up commanding an infantry battalion. At the end of the war he had the opportunity to learn English (and some French), as his battalion had been ordered to Vietnam to accept the surrender of Japanese troops there in liaison with American forces. During the subsequent civil war, Mr. Tang's unit ended up in Taiwan. He expected that it would remain on the island only a short while and then be redirected to the battle on the Mainland, but that never happened. Mr. Tang, tragically, like so many Nationalist soldiers, never saw or heard from anyone in his family again, normal contacts between the Mainland and Taiwan being completely severed for decades. One must remember the extraordinary importance of family in Chinese society to fully appreciate the severity of Mr. Tang's loss.
He served in the army through World War Two and the subsequent civil war and then was retired, receiving a small lump sum as his total military severance pay, the equivalent of about US$125. He lived in a cheap hotel for two weeks, ate in cheap restaurants, drank a few bottles of beer, and then realized all his money was gone. After serving his country for twenty years, he had not a cent in the world, no pension, no family and, apparently, no future. No governmental unemployment insurance or welfare system existed on Taiwan.
But Mr. Tang did speak English. He first went to work as a "house boy" and gardener at the home of an American army officer in Tien-mu, the little rich colony of American military advisors and their families. He then found odd jobs washing cars for American personnel at the U. S. Military Assistance and Advisory Group's base in Taibei; a former commander of hundreds of Chinese soldiers, he now performed menial labor for American NCOs. He cleaned their homes, did their laundry, and shopped for their food. He discovered that the Americans needed things in Taiwan that their inability to speak Chinese and their unfamiliarity with the Chinese market made it difficult for them to acquire. He could find them anything they wanted: an auto mechanic, furniture, antiques, train tickets, apartments, girlfriends, anything. Anywhere there were Americans there was money to be made for an enterprising, intelligent, English-speaking Chinese former battalion commander. He managed to get himself appointed as the realtor of choice to the foreign students and staff at the Stanford Center.
He woke at five every day, washed by pouring buckets of cold water over himself in his courtyard (having no hot water in his flat), and was on the move all day, every day, hustling to earn a living. As was typical for Chinese people, he took no days off during the year except for the Chinese New Year. He worked seven days a week. Some weekday evenings, for pleasure, he studied French literature at one of the local universities, working towards a Bachelor of Arts degree. He told me he had saved enough money and was going to marry, at age fifty, for the first time. One has to respect a man like that.
Because no system of welfare or unemployment insurance existed in Taiwan, if you had no family to help you, and if you didn't work, then you didn't eat. I never saw a beggar in Taiwan during the entire time that I spent there, though I traveled to almost every obscure part of the island. The Chinese do not in general believe that life (or the government) owes them a living, or that they enjoy a right to happiness. In this, I think, they differ in outlook from most Americans — including, probably, myself. The Japanese, I have read, view life as a beautiful cherry blossom, and if that blossom is sullied in any way, then life no longer is worth living — hence the traditional importance of suicide in samurai culture. But Japan over centuries suffered few wars and almost no invasion attempts by foreigners. To the Chinese, with their age-old famines, civil wars, floods, droughts, and foreign invasions, life is something to be treasured, no matter how sullied it has become. The objective of a poor man is to live one more day. Mr. Tang's struggle to survive illustrates this view.CHAPTER 2
The delicious wine of Lan-ling is of golden hue and flavorous.
Come fill my precious glass, and let it glow in amber!
If you can only make me drunk, mine host, it is enough; No longer shall I know the sorrow of a strange land.
Li Bo ... Shigeyoshi Obata, trans.
I have attended many banquets in my life, yet one stands out above all others in my memory. The Stanford Center provided it in honor of that year's newly arrived faculty and students, of which I was one. The Stanford Center occupied a building on the campus of Tai Da, National Taiwan University, the Republic of China's most prestigious educational institution. The banquet took place at a catering establishment adjacent to the campus, just off Roosevelt Road (Luosefu lu). I assume that this establishment provided such a marvelous banquet because they had newly opened and were in the process of establishing their reputation.
Following the custom at Chinese banquets, the guests sat twelve to a table around a lazy susan. The dining room held about ten to twelve tables. The director of the Stanford Center that year, an American professor of Asian Studies from a Midwestern state university, served as master of ceremonies. He sat on an inflated round tube because he suffered from a persistent boil on his rear end. For a reason that will become clear to you shortly, I cannot remember most of the dishes served at this banquet. I do remember the shark's fin and the bird's nest soups, the sauté of fish lips, the Peking duck prepared three different ways, and the only dish that I didn't like, sautéed sea slugs. The number of dishes seemed endless. Each was exotic and (except for the slugs) extraordinarily delicious.
Bottles of huang jiu [yellow alcohol] distilled from rice, sat on each table, and our Chinese teachers invited us to play one of the several Chinese drinking games: paper, scissors, and stone. You know the game: two people put out their hands at the same time. "Paper" is indicated by a flat hand with fingers held together, "scissors" by extending the separated first and middle fingers, and "stone" by a fist. Scissors cut paper, paper covers stone, stone breaks scissors. Losers must empty their glasses, the objective being to make one's adversary become drunk and thereby "lose face." It is impolite to raise one's glass alone at Chinese dinners: one must always drink in mutually exchanged toasts with someone else, lifting the glass with one hand and placing the other, palm upward, fingers touching the base of the glass. At first, the amounts of alcohol poured into our water tumblers were small; but, as the evening progressed, they increased until, towards the end of the evening, they were filled to the brim. We chug-a-lugged after each toast. The Chinese toast is gan bei [dry glass]!
I can't remember what new dishes we were consuming by that time, only that they were superb. Waiters would place new delights on the lazy susan and the guests would turn the wheel to partake of whichever one caught their fancy. As the dinner and the drinking game progressed, people began to collapse or to wave away further doses of alcohol. Those people still drinking congregated at fewer and fewer tables, with everyone else crowding around to see who would give up and "lose face" next. Suddenly, I looked around and discovered I was one of only two people still left in the game. The other contender was Teacher Wang. In the weeks following our contest, I learned his fellow teachers regarded him as a laoyoutiao, literally "an old oil stick," i.e., a slippery fellow who knew his way around. During the school year following the banquet, I grew to like and respect him very much and we became good friends. I will describe in a later chapter the comically disastrous results of my invitation to him to join me for his very first Western-style meal.
But that evening, the first time I had ever seen him, he walked over and sat at my table, and challenged me to out-drink him. We toasted and chug-a-lugged water glasses filled to the brim with alcohol, drink after drink, gan bei after gan bei after gan pei. The crowd collecting around us grew in size. Both Teacher Wang and I were determined not to be the first to quit. We were like gladiators facing each other in the coliseum. The crowd around us quieted. I felt fine and matched Teacher Wang glass for glass. The bystanders became completely hushed. All at once I realized something troubling: our drinking match had morphed into a patriotic struggle: the Americans rooting for me, the Chinese for Teacher Wang. Would the American drinking champ be put under the table by the Chinese champ? In my half inebriated state the match now seemed to me like the Olympics, with two final contenders guzzling for the gold, each bearing on his shoulders the hopes and the honor of his nation. What a terrible, yet exciting, situation in which to find oneself!
I couldn't quit! Neither could Teacher Wang. We poured another round, and then another, and then another again, and then still one more. Just as I was beginning to doubt I could possibly survive even another half sip, Teacher Wang put down his glass and, looking exactly like one of Salvador Dali's melted clocks, gracefully (or was it disgracefully) slid off his chair and under the table. I had won! Accolades poured in from the surrounding onlookers, Chinese (ever gracious), American, and a sprinkling of other nationalities: a half dozen Brits, a Mexican, a pretty Austrian girl named Traudl (whom I nicknamed Strudel) and a couple of Turks, etc. I felt as if I had led the American Olympic Drinking Team to victory before the eyes of the world, and, like all Olympic victories, its glory could never be diminished or taken away. I had become a hero (of sorts) for the first (and only) time in my life! The President, however, never invited me for a congratulatory photo op and press conference at the White House.
I can't quite remember the walk back to my apartment, but a surprise awaited me there. Amazingly I still felt no ill effects from the alcohol. While I had been living at the International Student House, a Chinese businessman had come there searching desperately for someone who would agree to teach English at his busiban, an adult education school for foreign languages. He begged me to replace temporarily an English-language teacher who had become ill. I felt sorry for this businessman and agreed to teach for a week or so, until my own semester started at the Stanford Center. I enjoyed my busiban class, filled with extremely likable young adults, very motivated to learn. Awaiting me at my apartment was one of my young female students accompanied by her father, who asked me to help his daughter fill out an application form for admission to Cornell University. I felt perfectly sober and worked for about an hour with them on the application. After washing up I went to bed, feeling fine and enormously proud of myself, and slept like that famous log. It had been a great day!
I awoke the next morning with one of the worst hangovers of my life. My head was splitting. I was nauseous and thought I might collapse if I attempted to stand up. I decided to stay in bed. Then I remembered something: I had to take my placement examination at the university that morning. I looked at my watch. The exam would start in exactly one hour. Twin images of myself fought it out in my muddled brain. "You could stay in bed," the lazy, epicurean image opined. "If you do," the stoic, responsible image responded, "you not only will miss the test, but everyone in the school will know that you didn't have the cojones to come to school because you drank too much. You'll lose face!" The epicurean twin retorted, "Yeah, but if you take the test in this condition you'll fail it, and then your career here will be over and you'll be laughed at anyway!" What a choice!
I groaned, placed one foot on the floor and decided to see if I could stand up. The stoic had won. I made it to the shower and ran cold water over my head for five minutes. I still felt terrible, but decided to see if I could survive the walk to school. I felt as if I were on the Bataan Death March, but somehow made it to the Stanford Center. It contained a long row of tiny classrooms where a single student would sit facing a single non-English speaking teacher over a small table. All classes at the Stanford Center were one teacher to one student. At the end of each hour the student was given a five-minute break, and then a different teacher would come in and start the next one-on-one class. The student went through four grueling hours of class five days a week and the homework load every night was immense. Each of those tiny classrooms had a large window facing a hallway. As I walked down this hallway, passing one of the classroom windows, I looked in and saw Teacher Wang sitting in a chair, his elbows on the table, with the palms of his hands pressed over his eyes. I knocked on the window. Teacher Wang lowered his hands and stared at me. His eyes were bloodshot and he looked terribly ill. I don't know what came over me but, without thinking, I said to him, "After the test, let's go out and have another drink!" He recoiled, looked at me as if I were a creature from another planet, groaned very loudly, and laid his head down on the table. Suddenly I felt great! My hangover completely disappeared! Was this due to schadenfreude, pleasure derived from the discomfort of others? I certainly hope not! Anyway, I started my test a few minutes later and apparently didn't do too badly.
Excerpted from China Watcher by Eugene William Levich. Copyright © 2016 Eugene William Levich, Ph. D.. Excerpted by permission of Trafford Publishing.
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Table of Contents
List of Photographs, ix,
Note On The Use Of Chinese Names And Characters Used In This Book, xi,
Chapter 1 Mr. Tang, 1,
Chapter 2 Banquet, 5,
Chapter 3 The Plight Of An Alluring Woman, 10,
Chapter 4 Equity And Justice, 16,
Chapter 5 Buying, 21,
Chapter 6 Darton's Harem, 26,
Chapter 7 Professional Courtesy, 30,
Chapter 8 The View From Gouzikou, 40,
Chapter 9 Eating, 56,
Chapter 10 Family And Marriage, 65,
Chapter 11 Filial Piety, 73,
Chapter 12 Guanxi, 81,
Chapter 13 How To Establish Guanxi, 86,
Chapter 14 The Policeman's Story, 89,
Chapter 15 Taibei Street Scenes, 92,
Chapter 16 Corruption, 104,
Chapter 17 Chinese Medicine, 107,
Chapter 18 Speaking Chinese, 111,
Chapter 19 Reading Chinese, 116,
Chapter 20 The Japanese, 126,
Chapter 21 The Russians, 133,
Chapter 22 The Americans, 141,
Chapter 23 Quemoy And Sergeant Campbell, 144,
Chapter 24 The Dirty Dozen, 148,
Chapter 25 On Sin And Baboons, 151,
Chapter 26 In The Mountains, 158,
Chapter 27 The Manchu Commando, 172,
Chapter 28 A Trial, Sun Yat-Sen, And A Massacre, 179,
Chapter 29 Cultural Differences, 188,
Chapter 30 Taizhong Experiences, 194,
Chapter 31 The Three Tortures Of Mr. Chen: A Modern Chinese Tale Of Woe, 200,
Chapter 32 Boat People, 206,
Chapter 33 Under Threat, 211,
Chapter 34 Mao And Chiang, 218,
Chapter 35 Glimpses Into China's Past And Future, 231,
Selected Bibliography, 253,