Posts tagged Confucius

China’s “Humor” or “Youmo” According to Lin Yutang

Another of my Chinese students wrote about humor, somehow this slipped my attention. There’s some worthwhile quotes he used according to Suoqiao (2007) in article “Translating ‘humor’ into Chinese culture:”

It was Lin Yutang who first coined the term in 1924 and introduced and promoted the idea of humor into Chinese culture. Lin’s translating ‘humor’ into youmo was a conscious cross-cultural act that exchange meaning between East and West culture.

To non-Chinese speakers, the Chinese term “youmo” may not have an clear relation with ‘humor.’ To Chinese speakers, “youmo” has become such an accepted term in modern Chinese today that it is used in daily life. But to bilingual speakers of Chinese and English, it would not be hard to notice the effect of transliteration between “youmo” and humor. In fact, “youmo” is one of hundreds of new words that appeared in modern Chinese. Unlike other new words, “youmo” has a specific translator—Lin Yutang, and his translating ‘humor’ into youmo was a conscious cross-cultural act that played an important role in the modern transformation of Chinese culture.

In the Chinese literary and cultural world, however, Lin Yutang was best known as ‘‘Master of Humor’’ for his translation and promotion of ‘humor’ into Chinese culture. In 1932, a group of Western-trained professionals and writers, among Lin Yutang, assumed an active leading role, launched a literary periodical “Lunyu” to introduce and promote humor into Chinese literature and culture. Because the journal was an instant success with its inaugural issue, youmo suddenly became the talk of the town so that writers of different styles and backgrounds were all tempted to try “humor”. In any case, while there is still debate concerning the politics of Lin’s journals in the 1930s, youmo has been used for so long in the Chinese language.

In ancient China, a famous Philosopher Zhuangzi said, “Above ground I’ll be eaten by crows and kites, below ground I’ll be eaten by mole crickets and ants. Wouldn’t it be rather bigoted to deprive one group in order to supply the other?’’ (Zhuangzi 1968: 361). We do not know if Zhuangzi ever had any funeral as most Chinese people do in the end. But as Lin Yutang points out, it is precisely in Chinese funerals that the Chinese sense of humor is supreme. If life is a huge farce and human beings are mere players in it for a short time, there is really no need to take death seriously. Therefore, in the Chinese mind, as Lin tells us, ‘‘A funeral, like a wedding, should be noisy and should be expensive, but there is no reason why it should be solemn. Solemnity is already provided for in the grandiloquent gowns, and the rest is form, and form is farce’’.  And Lin holds that Western observers who fail to appreciate the humor of a Chinese funeral are probably in want of humor.

Lin Yutang did a lot in his translating ‘humor’ into youmo. And the most important thing that in the case of Confucius is: Only when one’s personality is naturally developed and given full play can one achieve a high-mindedness and become broadminded and tolerant toward life with a ‘‘smile out of understanding-of the- heart/mind’’.

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“Till My Tale is Told” – Part IV – “Officially Enforced Amnesia”

“A reluctance to speak out, personal reticence, public disbelief and indifference – were compounded by an officially enforced amnesia that for decades continued to deny and ignore the individual and collective trauma, suffered by millions.  With little hope of ever living to see publication, it required stubborn persistence to record and preserve these testimonies.”  from Simeon Vilensky’s as editor of “Till my Tale is Told” published by Indiana University Press, 1999

I can’t get over how people are turned off by history, this is a subject of immense importance to inform the present and the future decisions for any country.  Then again, I’ve presented papers at history conferences and I try to tune in to the white haired academicians who are boring to listen to and I can understand the dilemma. Yes, history can be made boring by boring men and women who don’t care about the facts or about truth!!!  These “learned men” read straight from their notes and if they insert a phrase “Marx wrote…” or “Marx believed…” then that scores BIG points among those in the elites of any given university history departments.  What amazes me is that it is like the Chinese saying, “Confucius said…” I say, who CARES WHAT MARX thought?  I care about what other people thought, wrote and said.   Those victims of Soviet Marxist thought will continue to remain nameless because of the diabolical agenda enforced against Kazakhstan and other countries suffer a collective amnesia about the tragedies that happened during the Soviet period.

Here’s another poem from the book “Till My Tale is Told”  written by one of the Soviet victims Anna Barkova which was translated from Russian to English:

He lived in a cold back garret

In Judea, in ancient Greece.

“I shall borrow the warmth of a lamb’s breath,

Warm my blood with a match’s heat.”

He gazed at the constellations,

Was a beggar, sang hymns to life;

Who murdered Osip, * life’s lover,

Yet chose to leave me alive?

With all my heart I curse life,

But just as intently hate death.

Who knows for what I am searching,

Who knows for what reason I battle on?

No doubt on the Day of Judgement

I shall laugh to myself in contempt

When I hear the seraphs talk nonsense,

And see that their harpstrings are frayed.

The refuse of denunciation

Has seen sifted by God himself,

And the acting Procurator

Is the Master and Chief of the Devils.

22 January 1976 * The poet Osip Mandelstam, who died in the Vladivostok transit camp in 1938.

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