庚子年的书架 2020: A (Chinese) Year in Books

It’s that time of year again, and this year I’m on time! Like everyone, my 2020 was, to put it mildly, unprecedented. My family and I left China two days after Chinese New Year, 2020, and as of Chinese New Year, 2021, we have been stuck in the U.S. for a year. We have undeniably been more fortunate than many people. We’ve had the support of family and the good fortune of being able to work online, but it has been a challenging year. Reading, as always, has brought me inspiration and enjoyment, and although the extra demands on my time have kept me from reading as much as in previous years, I can honestly say that a my reading this year has transformed me like no year before.

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January 6th: Business as Usual in the U.S. Capitol

I wrote this essay in the immediate aftermath of the January 6th assault on the U.S. Capitol but was uncertain whether I should share it. Today, however, three weeks since that assault, it is all too clear that the public’s attention is already moving on. We are drifting into national forgetfulness, as we have done so often before and as we must not do again. It is crucial that we remember what happened on January 6th and that it has happened many times before. Otherwise, it will happen again.

The storming of the Capitol by a violent mob on Wednesday, January 6th, left many Americans stunned. It should not have. Violent white supremacists committing insurrection with impunity is business as usual in the United States of America. January 6th was simply a repetition of one of the oldest themes in our history.

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Imagining our Way to the Promised Land: A Zoom Presentation

Hi everyone! On Saturday, September 5th, I gave a Zoom talk titled “Imagining our Way to the Promised Land: Imagination as a Path to a Better Tomorrow” as part of the forum “Love, Unity, Peace, Hope: For the Betterment fo the Global Village.” In it, I draw on literature as an example of how the imagination can be employed in more sophisticated ways and then discuss how a well-trained imagination is essential to envisioning and ultimately realizing a world different from, and better than, the one we live in today. Luckily, it was all recorded and posted on YouTube, so I can share it with you here:

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Love in the Time of Coronavirus

“Let not man glory in this that he loveth his country, let him rather glory in this that he loveth his kind.”[i]

A little over ninety years ago, in the fall of 1929, the U.S stock market crashed. The world at the time was far less interconnected than it is now, but ties of mutual dependence were already so tight that, like a string of pearls sliding down a drain, once one country went over the edge, the rest were doomed to follow. Over the next ten years, the nations of the world tried every remedy they could think of—raising tariffs on imported goods, creating welfare states, nationalizing industries, putting fascist dictators into power. None of it helped. The Great Depression lingered on. Why? Because the Great Depression was a global crisis—perhaps the first in human history—and the solutions put forward were, one and all, national solutions.

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Poems in Abomination of Winter

I get my news about the U.S. rather slowly. For example, I only just learned of the snowstorm in the Northeast. Much as I would like to gloat and taunt my NYC-dwelling friends about the fact that it never snows here in Chengdu, the reality of the situation is this: I am drinking my coffee hot, the down comforters are on the beds, I am currently wearing two wool sweaters, and although I have not yet put on any thermal underwear, that moment is approaching rapidly. All of this can mean but one thing–winter has arrived–and there is no emoji capable of accurately depicting my feelings on the subject. Continue reading

Breaking “The Great Taboo”: A Translation of Li Bai’s 李白 “Drinking Alone Beneath the Moon 月下獨酌”

There is a tradition among English-language translators of Chinese poetry to translate all Chinese poems as unrhymed free-verse. This tradition goes back at least as far as Ezra Pound–whose “translations” bear little resemblance to their originals–and is very much alive and kicking. So much so that I am borrowing the historian, Nathan Sivin’s, term–“The Great Taboo,”–to describe it.

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