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First the People

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This is not a chronicle of errors and mistakes made during COVID-19.

This is the story about the inevitable, simultaneous failure of each of the institutions designed to operate in our interest.

It is the story of how we respond to fragility with resilience.

Read more

The post First the People appeared first on Epsilon Theory.

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30 days ago
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European slaves in the year 1000

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Valerie Hansen has a new book just out:

THE YEAR 1000: When Explorers Connected the World — and Globalization Began.  New York:  Scribner, 2020.

A NYT review of Hansen's landmark volume is copied below, but let's first look at some interesting language notes concerning the background of the word for "slave" (Chapter 4 is on "European Slaves"; the quotations here are from pp. 85-86).

The demand for slaves [in addition to that for furs] was also high, especially in the two biggest cities in Europe and the Middle East at the time–Constantinople, the capital of the Byzantine empire, and Baghdad, the capital of the Abbasid caliphate, in present-day Iraq. The residents of Constantinople and Baghdad used their wealth to purchase slaves, almost always people captured in raids on neighboring societies.

In the early 900s, a Muslim observer named Ibn Rusta noted that the Rus "treat their slaves well and dress them beautifully, because for them they are an article of trade. Adam of Bremen commented on the gold stored on the island of Zealand in Denmark, which Scandinavian pirates had accumulated from trading slaves. The Vikings, Adam said, "have no faith in one another, and as soon as one of them catches another, he mercilessly sells him into slavery." So many slaves came from Eastern Europe that the meaning of the Greek word for "Slav" (sklabos) shifted sometime in the 1000s from its original meaning, "Slav," to take on the broader meaning of "slave," whether Slavic or another origin.

The earliest written description of the Rus comes from Ibn Khurradadhbih (820-911), a Persian official who identified the Rus as one of the fair-haired peoples living in the lands of the Saqaliba, the Arabic catchall term for the peoples from Northern and Eastern Europe. ("Saqaliba" is also the origin of one of the many words for "slave" in Arabic.) "They carry beaver hides, black fox pelts, and swords from the farthest reaches of the Saqaliba to the Sea of Rum," or the Black Sea. Beaver and fox pelts commanded the highest prices because of the density of their fur.

Slavery was widespread across Eurasia.  In a recent post, Diana Shuheng Zhang aptly rendered Chinese "núzi 奴子" as "young Turk", see "Captivating translation: young Turk with flowing charm" (3/26/20).  I should have provided a note to explain that "núzi 奴子" literally meant "servant; slave" in medieval Sinitic.  It was my old friend, Elling Eide (1935-2012), the Li Po (701-762; evidently born in Central Asia and part Turk himself) specialist, who never tired of telling me that the word was often used to refer to Turks.

When I first visited my relatives in the Austrian Alps in the late 60s, I soon grew fond of the word "ciao", but didn't quite know what it meant because it was used in situations where In English I would have said both "hi" and "bye".  Imagine my surprise when I discovered that I was essentially saying to the person to whom I was speaking that I was their humble servant / slave.

Borrowed from Italian ciao ("hello, goodbye"), from Venetian ciao ("hello, goodbye, your (humble) servant"), from Venetian s-ciao / s-ciavo ("servant, slave"), from Medieval Latin sclavus ("Slav, slave"), related also to Italian schiavo, English Slav, slave and Old Venetian S-ciavón ("Slav"), from Latin Sclavonia ("Slavonia"). Not related to Vietnamese chào ("hello, goodbye").


Word History: The Italian salutation ciao, which is now popular in many parts of the world outside Italy, originated in the dialects of northern Italy. In the dialect of Venice, ciau literally means "servant, slave," and is also used as a casual greeting, "I am your servant." Dialectal ciau corresponds to standard Italian schiavo, "slave," and both words come from Medieval Latin sclāvus. Declaring yourself someone's slave might seem like an extravagant gesture today, but expressions such as Your obedient servant or Your servant, madam were once commonplace in English. Similarly, the Classical Latin word servus meaning "slave" is still used as an informal greeting in southern Germany and in Austria, the Czech Republic, Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, Romania, Ukraine, and other parts of central Europe that were formerly part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. At the opposite end of the world, in Southeast and East Asia, one even finds words that originally meant "slave" or "your slave" but have developed into pronouns of the first person through their use in showing respect and humility. In Japanese, for example, the word boku is used to mean "I, me," especially by boys and young men, and it comes from a Middle Chinese word meaning "slave" or "servant" and now pronounced in Mandarin.

Source:  American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, Fifth Edition


Selected readings

"Slavs and slaves" (1/17/19)

"Cool slave / guy / tofu / whatever" (5/12/18)

"The bearded barbarian" (8/26/15) — especially this comment

"Misogyny as reflected in Chinese characters" (12/25/15)

The BBC History Magazine HistoryExtra podcast just produced an episode with the title of "Medieval Globetrotters" in which Valerie Hansen is interviewed about her new book.  Here is the link.

The NYT Editors' Choice for April 14, 2020:

"12 New Books We Recommend This Week"

See the 5th one, by the distinguished Yale historian, Valerie Hansen:

THE YEAR 1000: When Explorers Connected the World — and Globalization Began, by Valerie Hansen. (Scribner, $30.) Today we tend to believe that globalization began in the late 1400s, but Hansen, a history professor at Yale, shows that global connections extended back to the early 1000s and that in many ways life then resembled life today. "Hansen draws upon nearly 30 years of research to make her case. She has examined contemporary records, travelogues, art, artifacts and more, and consulted with archaeologists, Arabic scholars and other experts around the world to paint the fullest cross-cultural picture possible," Christiane Bird writes in her review. The book, she concludes, is a "highly impressive, deeply researched, lively and imaginative work."

Here's the complete review:

"When Globalization Really Began" (accompanied by the famous painting, "Leif Erikson* Discovers America," by Hans Dahl [1849-1937].)

*Leif Erikson, Leiv Eiriksson or Leif Ericson (ca. 970-ca. 1020).

By Christiane Bird

    • April 14, 2020

  THE YEAR 1000
When Explorers Connected the World — and Globalization Began

By Valerie Hansen

In the year 1000, the world was on the move. Traders and pilgrims were sailing across the Indian Ocean, to and from East Africa, Arabia, India and China. Slaves were being marched from Central Asia, Eastern Europe and Africa to Constantinople, Baghdad and Cairo. The Maya of the Yucatán Peninsula were traveling as far north as the Mississippi River Valley and as far south as Colombia. And then, in the most significant journey of the era, the Vikings sailed to Canada, connecting these trade routes and creating a round-the-world loop. Globalization, Valerie Hansen argues in her fascinating new book, "The Year 1000," had begun.

Today, we in the West tend to believe that it wasn't until the late 1400s and 1500s, when Europeans sailed to the Americas and around the Cape of Good Hope, that the world became interconnected, and that it wasn't until the 20th century that globalization developed. But, as Hansen shows, the Europeans were only using existing trade routes, and by the time they ventured forth, globalization, with all its pluses and minuses — cultural exchange and conflict, winners and losers, the growth of technology and the loss of tradition — was already well underway. One of the book's surprises is its demonstration of how much life in the early 1000s resembled that in the 21st century. In those years, a citizen living in Quanzhou, China, could buy sandalwood tables from Java, ivory ornaments from Africa and amber vials from the Baltic region; attend Hindu, Muslim or Buddhist religious services; and, if well educated, read a Japanese novel or the latest writings of Islamic scholars.

The Stanley Woodward professor of history at Yale University, where she teaches Chinese and world history, Hansen draws upon nearly 30 years of research to make her case. She has examined contemporary records, travelogues, art, artifacts and more, and consulted with archaeologists, Arabic scholars and other experts around the world to paint the fullest cross-cultural picture possible.

Playing a strikingly central role in the early years of globalization was religion. Time and time again, Hansen shows, leaders converted their peoples to the religion of a more powerful neighbor in the hopes of gaining commercial and political advantages. These conversions had little to do with belief and everything to do with pragmatism, and led to the demise of some smaller religions (like Manichaeism in Persia) and the explosive growth of others, in ways that still resonate today. Hansen writes, "We live in a world shaped by the interactions of the world in the year 1000: 92 percent of today's believers subscribe to one of the four religions that gained traction then."

The book is filled with legendary characters. There's Freydis, a feisty Viking woman who, upon finding herself surrounded by hostile Amerindians, pulled out her breast and "slapped" it with her sword, scaring her would-be attackers off. And there's Harald Bluetooth, the Danish king who, though raised non-Christian, converted his kingdom to Christianity in order to unite it; Bluetooth technology, which brings computers and mobile phones together in a similar manner, is named after him.

At times, Hansen's narrative bogs down in mind-numbing descriptions of dynasties and tribes. Occasionally, too, her use of the professorial "we," in phrases like "as we'll see in the next chapter," is irksome, drawing the reader out of the world she has created and into the lecture hall. But these are minor disturbances in an otherwise highly impressive, deeply researched, lively and imaginative work.

[Thanks to Tony DeBlasi and John Mullan]

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31 days ago
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🔥派克特Pact X 大狗BigDog🔥:通天塔 ⛩Lyrics Video⛩

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Follow them on Weibo @PACT派克特 @BIGDOG王可
Song Title: 通天塔
Artist: @PACT派克特 @BIGDOG王可

Lyrics Video By: @Fire Panda


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45 days ago
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This is your phone on feminism

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A couple of weeks ago, I gave a talk in Austria on smartphones and cybersecurity.

“Put up your hand if you like or maybe even love your smartphone,” I asked the audience of policymakers, industrialists and students.

Nearly every hand in the room shot up.

“Now, please put up your hand if you trust your smartphone.”

One young guy at the back put his hand in the air, then faltered as it became obvious he was alone. I thanked him for his honesty and paused before saying,“We love our phones, but we do not trust them. And love without trust is the definition of an abusive relationship.”

We are right not to trust our phones. They serve several masters, the least of whom is us. They constantly collect data about us that is not strictly necessary to do their job. They send data to the phone company, to the manufacturer, to the operating system owner, to the app platform, and to all the apps we use. And then those companies sell or rent that data to thousands of other companies we will never see. Our phones lie to us about what they are doing, they conceal their true intentions, they monitor and manipulate our emotions, social interaction and even our movements. We tell ourselves ‘it’s okay, I chose this’ when we know it really, really isn’t okay, and we can’t conceive of a way out, or even of a world in which our most intimate device isn’t also a spy.

Let’s face the truth. We are in an abusive relationship with our phones.

I ‘m really proud of this piece. The rest of it is here.

Comments here at CT v. welcome especially as there’s more I’d like to say about Kate Manne. Anyone here read ‘Down Girl, the Logic of Misogyny? Her thing is that while sexism is the rationalising part, misogyny is the law enforcement branch of patriarchy. (this is a scandalously short and impertinent summary. It’s a fantastic book and I recommend reading it.) I’m thinking that, analogously for surveillance capitalism, exploitation is the rationalisation and predation the policing mechanism. But not sure if that quite works, i.e. if the terms match up, as well as the overall analogy.

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263 days ago
The world tech built.
264 days ago
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263 days ago
Link to full piece at the end.
266 days ago
Do you have an abuser in your pocket, purse, or backpack?
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Family BASIC in 2019

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In preparation for an article I’m writing on hobbyist Japanese Famicom programmers in the 80s, I’ve spent the past few days diving into a quirky bit of software from Nintendo called Family BASIC. If you’ve never heard of it before, FB was a Japan-only release for the Nintendo Family Computer that built an interpreted programming language into a cartridge, allowing users to program rudimentary games, utilities, and music compositions on their console using a custom keyboard peripheral. In partnership with Sharp, Nintendo released a custom modification of a Hudson-developed BASIC they called NS-HUBASIC—i.e., Nintendo Sharp Hudson BASIC).

Family BASIC’s commercial lifespan was relatively short-lived. Technically its first release was for a Sharp-manufactured television called the My Computer TV C1, which had an integrated Famicom and an early version of NS-HuBASIC called Playbox BASIC. Besides some slight UI differences and variations in its “pre-installed” software, Playbox BASIC was nearly identical to Family BASIC. The first FB cartridges shipped in July 1984 with software v.1.0. This was quickly supplanted by v.2.0, which itself received some bug fixes and an update to v.2.1A. In February 1985, Nintendo released a hardware upgrade (with much-needed RAM) along with a new software version—v.3.0—which added many new BASIC keywords and capabilities.

A Japanese ad for Sharp’s My Computer TV C1, which featured an integrated Famicom and the first iteration of what would become Family BASIC.

It’s fascinating to ponder an alternate history where Nintendo pushed the Famicom’s PC-like features and kept improving Family BASIC with more memory, better features, and improved hardware, but that future was not destined to be. Instead, seven months after FB v.3.0, Nintendo released Super Mario Bros., and the Famicom’s future as a console would be set in stone forever. The platform would no longer be programmed, but played.

What’s equally interesting is what FB became despite Nintendo’s lack of official involvement. Much like the U.S. and Europe, Japan had a thriving hobbyist PC culture throughout the 1970s and 80s, though served by different manufacturers and publishing outfits. U.S. mainstays like Apple and Commodore were available in Japan, but they were far surpassed by domestic PC companies like NEC and Sharp. And hobbyist programmers were largely served by the magazine マイコンBASIC (or MyCom BASIC), a monthly publication that included PC computing news, reviews, cartoons, tutorials, and type-in programs.

A MyCom listing for a game called The Legend of Satan, published in September 1987. It’s a space shooter, natch.

I had purchased a few issues of MyCom from Yahoo! Auctions while searching for board game advertisements, and I was amazed to see listings for Family BASIC programs as late as 1988. When I poked around the Internet, I found a Japanese site that meticulously catalogued all the FB listings that appeared inMyCom during the magazine’s run. I was floored when I found out that one or more FB programs appeared in every monthly issue of MyCom from September 1984 to April 1996 (yes, 19-ninety-6), totaling more than 300 homemade Famicom programs. I was curious about finding out more but quickly realized that spending close to $20 per imported issue would be financially untenable. Serendipitously, in February 2019, a kind soul known as pc-986 uploaded an astounding cache of beautifully-scanned MyCom issues to Archive. And thus an obsession began.

So what can you do with Family BASIC? Long story short, it’s a programming language built atop an already highly-constrained platform. Family BASIC predates the hardware mapper technology that extended the Famicom’s capabilities, so you’re stuck with the limitations of the stock architecture, minus the backend necessary to host and run BASIC. Perhaps most jarring to a modern programmer is the pre-set palette of built-in sprites and background tiles. Since there is no RAM allotted for tiles, you’re stuck with those burnt to ROM. To their credit, Nintendo provided an incredibly flexible set of pre-made tiles. For sprites, you get Mario and Lady from Donkey Kong, several spaceships, enemies from Mario Bros., a race car, a few custom characters, and a few other miscellaneous tiles. For background tiles, there are mountains, Donkey Kong Jr. platforms, ladders, and various other abstract bric-a-brac that hobbyists managed to wrangle into convincing approximations of many different genres, from shooters to RPGs. With some time and creativity, you can concoct myriad creatures and architectures using Family BASIC’s smattering of tiles.

The v.3.0 manual includes a grid of the available background tiles (excluding the English alphabet and Japanese katakana) and some examples of how to use them.

The BASIC implementation is robust and well-designed. Like all BASICs, it runs much slower than a native assembly application, so it takes a lot of work to get responsive controls and smooth animation. But Nintendo built in lots of thoughtful hooks to make game creation simpler. There are custom commands for sprite definitions, palette manipulation, animation, sound, and collision detection. And on the computing side, you get simple conditionals, loops, math operations, arrays, a very useful DATA/READ/RESTORE command trio, jumps and branches, the crowd favorite PEEK and POKE commands for hardware manipulation, and, surprisingly, a CALL statement, which allows you to inject machine language routines in your code. (In fact, MyCom ran a 9-month series in 1987 on how to use these features, culminating in an impressive scrolling tutorial.) And if you don’t read Japanese, you’re not out of luck. English translations of most of the v.2/v.3 manuals are available online, though it takes some time to assemble the various sources and piece them together. For me, it was most useful to skim the official resources, then work through a few MyCom programs to get a handle on the language and its capabilities.

Multiple emulators support Family BASIC, its keyboard, and (tape-based) saving features. I’d highly recommend Nintaco, a fairly new, Java-based emulator that works cross-platform and includes all manner of useful FB utilities. Most impressive of these is the Family BASIC Background Editor, which lets you circumvent FB’s built-in background editor in lieu of a more modern interface. I have no idea why Nintaco’s developer would put so much care into an interface that only a small number of people would use, but I’m exceptionally grateful that they did. It’s an incredible time-saver.

Nintaco’s Family BASIC Background Editor

When I started thinking about my own FB project, I decided to design a Japanese sugoroku, partly because that’s a component of my other research interests, and partly because I wanted to make a game well-suited for the platform. FB action games don’t always feel great, and they can only be so complex, so I thought a turn-based movement/logic system would work well. I also thought I could make a pretty good approximation of sugoroku’s cell-based board layout using tiles and fill each section with tiny vignettes assembled from FB’s preset graphics. I also knew the game logic would be relatively simple to implement. Sugoroku, in a nutshell, is a race-to-the-finish style game that relies solely on the luck of the die roll. In the sugoroku variation I adapted (called “jumping” or “leaping” sugoroku), player progress is non-linear. Each board space has a list of numbers (corresponding to one or more die faces) and their destination spaces. So space 1, for example, might have you leap to space 6 if you roll a 2, leap to space 8, if you roll a 4, and so on. I didn’t have room to include destination numbers on each board space, but I thought that was a reasonable visual concession, since the computer is handling the numbers. Additionally, not all rolls allow you to move, and I made 4 an unlucky roll in all spaces (as a nod to the Japanese superstitions surrounding that number). In sum, there is no strategy or player choice—you roll and move, and that’s it.

Initially I thought the sugoroku’s theme would be Japanese ghosts, so I input ghost names in the custom data structure I created to store each spaces’ coordinates and destinations. After I got the game logic working, I realized I wouldn’t be able to make representative ghost illustrations in the limited tiles I had for each board space, so I spent some time “sketching” in the background editor and settled on a new theme—visiting an art museum. I loved the look of the borders in each board space, and I could fill the remaining interior tiles with tiny abstract assemblages that looked like modern art pieces. Once I’d drawn the entire background, I swapped the ghost names for artwork titles and built a little routine to print them on the right side of the screen, since I had an extra column of graphical space to fill.

An early prototype with the basic layout and logic in place, along with a ghost name written in the right graphical column.

Part of the challenge of working in Family BASIC is the Famicom’s limited resolution for displaying code. You can only view a small number of lines at a time, and with limited error messages, debugging is a tedious process of hitting an error, LISTing the pertinent lines, carefully making edits (it’s easy to overwrite other lines), running the program to check your edits, and on and on. Nintaco allows you to copy/paste code in and out of the emulator, so I started copying my source to Notepad to use as a reference while I was debugging. It’s not ideal, but it does save some editing time.

If you hate your eyes, please enjoy debugging BASIC at Famicom resolution.

One limitation I did enjoy was the need to plan my programming in advance—on paper. BASIC uses line numbers to organize code, so even with the best intentions and ample line allotments, you can run into situations where you’ve exhausted all of your line numbers. FB v.3.0 added a helpful renumbering keyword, but I was working in 2.1A (because I wanted the authentic experience), so I had to renumber a few times by hand. Fortunately, I had planned most of the program in my notebook beforehand, so I knew roughly how much space I would need. Most of my line numbering problems were a result of adding feature I hadn’t originally planned.

Mapping out program flow in my notebook before I started typing.
Plotting the sugoroku board and its data structure.

Despite FB’s limitations, I’m pleased with the results. I think the “Art Walk” theme maps well to sugoroku’s random structure. It’s possible to “leave the museum” in two turns, or you can get stuck wandering for a long time. Instead of losing a turn, you must “contemplate for 1 turn” and spend more time in front of your current painting. And perhaps my favorite small touch is when I discovered that Mario and Lady’s ladder climbing frame resembles patrons standing in front of a painting and pointing at some detail they see.

The finished game, “Art Walk Sugoroku.”

For future projects, I’ll definitely jump to FB v.3. Just as I was finishing the project, I ran into an Out of Memory error, so I was scrambling to delete REM statements (i.e., comments) and concatenate lines to save precious bytes. As a result, I had no room for a few extra features I wanted—walking animations, a bit more music, and randomized “art critiques” that would appear on the screen as the players moved.

So why make a Family BASIC game in 2019? If you’re a newcomer to the Famicom/NES, it’s a user-friendly way to better understand the platform’s architecture. Tricky concepts like attribute tables are more legible when you have to manipulate background tiles around conflicting color borders (e.g., you can see a bit of color clash in my game—note the green numbers on a few board spaces). I also find it creatively rewarding to program under severe constraints. It’s a useful exercise to program before you touch a computer, and you can often think up clever game design tricks that you might never run into if you were working in JavaScript or Unity.

For those interested, you can download the save state for “Art Walk Sugoroku” to run it in Nintaco (don’t forget you’ll need a Family BASIC 2.1 ROM) and/or check out the source code on GitHub. And if you end up making your own Family BASIC project, be sure to send it my way on Twitter.

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277 days ago
Retrocomputing at its best.
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Hu Shih and Chinese language reform

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Hu Shih 胡適 (Pinyin Hú Shì [1891-1962]) is widely regarded as one of the most important Chinese intellectuals of the 20th century.  As such, he is known as the "Father of the Chinese Renaissance".  In my estimation, Hu Shih was the single most influential post-imperial thinker and writer in China.  His accomplishments were so numerous and multifarious that it is hard to imagine how one man could have been responsible for all of them.

Before proceeding, I would like to call attention to "Hu Shih:  An Appreciation" by Jerome B. Grieder, which gives a sensitive assessment of the man and his enormous impact on Chinese thought and culture.  Another poignant recollection is Mark Swofford's "Remembering Hu Shih:  1891-1962", which focuses on aspects of Hu's monumental advancement of literary and linguistic transformation in China.  For those who want to learn more about this giant of a thinker and writer, I recommend Grieder's biography, Hu Shih and the Chinese Renaissance: Liberalism in the Chinese Revolution, 1917-1937 (Cambridge, MA:  Harvard University Press, 1970) and A Pragmatist and His Free Spirit:  the half-century romance of Hu Shi & Edith Clifford Williams (Hong Kong:  Chinese University Press, 2009) by Susan Chan Egan and Chih-p'ing Chou.

To name just a few of Hu Shih's countless achievements, he made fundamental contributions to the study of the history of Chan / Zen in China, he was responsible for pathbreaking clarifications resulting from textual research on The Dream of the Red Chamber (China's most famous novel), and he was the first scholar to comprehensively examine the evolution of Chinese philosophy from a nontraditional standpoint.  As someone whose interests straddle India and China, I was particularly struck by Hu's radically insightful chapter on "The Indianization of China:  A Case Study in Cultural Borrowing", which may be found in the volume of Harvard Tercentenary Publications titled Independence, Convergence, and Borrowing in Institutions, Thought, and Art (Cambridge: Harvard College, 1937), pp. 219–247.  As a Chinese scholar of the modern era, Hu Shih was unmatched for his breadth of knowledge and boldness in formulating new approaches to old problems.

Hu Shih was also a diplomat, having served as China's ambassador to the United States from 1938-1942 and to the United Nations (1957).  Speaking flawless English, Hu was an excellent representative of the Republic of China.  He was chancellor of Peking University (1946-1948) and president of Academia Sinica from 1958 until his death in 1962.

In the test of time, however, I predict that Hu Shih's most lasting and transformative gift to China will be his elaboration of a theoretical and practical basis for the establishment of the vernacular as the national language for all the people, in contrast to Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, which belonged to the tiny percentage of literati who had mastered it during the previous two millennia and more before his time.  Naturally, there were other reformers (such as Chen Duxiu [1879-1942]; like Hu Shih, he was also from Anhui Province) who were promoting language reform around the same time as Hu Shih, but his statements concerning the essential problems that had to be faced and the requisite solutions for overcoming them were the clearest and most systematic program for creating China's new national language.

From the time I began studying Chinese language and literature, I was keenly aware of Hu Shih's awesome essays on how to remake written Chinese.  The first that I became familiar with was his "A Preliminary Discussion of Literature Reform", which was published in New Youth in January, 1917.  In it Hu laid out eight guidelines for effective writing:

  1. Write with substance. By this, Hu meant that literature should contain real feeling and human thought. This was intended to be a contrast to the recent poetry with rhymes and phrases that Hu saw as being empty.
  2. Do not imitate the ancients. Literature should not be written in the styles of long ago, but rather in the modern style of the present era.
  3. Respect grammar. Hu did not elaborate at length on this point, merely stating that some recent forms of poetry had neglected proper grammar.
  4. Reject melancholy. Recent young authors often chose grave pen names, and wrote on such topics as death. Hu rejected this way of thinking as being unproductive in solving modern problems.
  5. Eliminate old clichés. The Chinese language has always had numerous four-character sayings and phrases* used to describe events. Hu implored writers to use their own words in descriptions, and deplored those who did not.  *(VHM:  chéngyǔ 成语 ["set phrase"])
  6. Do not use allusions. By this, Hu was referring to the practice of comparing present events with historical events even when there is no meaningful analogy.
  7. Do not use couplets or parallelism. Though these forms had been pursued by earlier writers, Hu believed that modern writers first needed to learn the basics of substance and quality, before returning to these matters of subtlety and delicacy.
  8. Do not avoid popular expressions or popular forms of characters. This rule, perhaps the most well-known, ties in directly with Hu's belief that modern literature should be written in the vernacular, rather than in Classical Chinese. He believed that this practice had historical precedents, and led to greater understanding of important texts.

1. xū yán zhī yǒu wù 須言之有物
2. bù mófǎng gǔrén 不摹仿古人
3. xū jiǎngqiú wénfǎ 須講求文法
4. bùzuò wú bìng zhī shēnyín 不作無病之呻吟
5. wu qù làndiào tàoyǔ 務去濫調套語
6. bùyòng diǎn 不用典
7. bù jiǎng duìzhàng 不講對仗
8. bù bì súzì súyǔ 不避俗字俗語

In April of 1918, Hu published a second article in New Youth, this one titled "Constructive Literary Revolution – A Literature of National Speech". In it, he simplified the original eight points into just four:

  1. Speak only when you have something to say. This is analogous to the first point above.
  2. Speak what you want to say and say it in the way you want to say it. This combines points two through six above.
  3. Speak what is your own and not that of someone else. This is a rewording of point seven.
  4. Speak in the language of the time in which you live. This refers again to the replacement of Classical Chinese with the vernacular language.

1. yào yǒu huà shuō, fāngcái shuōhuà 要有话说, 方才说话
2. yǒu shéme huà, shuō shénme huà; huà zěnme shuō, jiù zěnme shuō 有什么话, 说什么话; 话怎么说, 就怎么说
3. yào shuō wǒ zìjǐ de huà, bié shuō biérén de huà 要说我自己的话, 别说别人的话
4. shì shénme shídài de rén, shuō shénme shídài de huà 是什么时代的人, 说什么时代的话

Sources:  here, here, and here.

Shortly after I began the study of Chinese in 1967, I became thoroughly familiar with these succinct, programmatic statements by Hu Shih on how to go about the important task of vernacularizing written Chinese.  I studied these two essays of his intently, and they constituted an integral part of my own approach to Chinese.  But it was only five days ago when listening to a talk by Carlos Lin that I was made aware of an even earlier essay by Hu Shih on the matter of how to reshape Chinese language in the modern age.  This was his "The Teaching of Chinese as It Is", which is part III (the conclusion) of "The Problem of the Chinese Language".  It appeared in The Chinese Students' Monthly, 11.8 (June, 1916), 567-572.  The journal was published by The Chinese Students' Alliance in the United States of America and was distributed from Ithaca, New York.

In 1910, at the age of 19, Hu Shih had been selected as a "national scholar" and sent to Cornell University to study agriculture with funds from the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program.  In 1912 he switched majors to philosophy and literature.  After graduating from Cornell, he went to Columbia to study philosophy under John Dewey, which accounts for his lifelong attachment to the concept of pragmatic evolutionary change.

Here are the opening three paragraphs of his 1916 article:

I am of the opinion that most of the faults which have been attributed to our language are due to the fact that it has never been properly and scientifically taught. Its critics have been too hasty in their condemnations, and have failed to realize that languages are more conservative than religions and cannot be made and remade by sensational agitations and destructive criticisms. I readily admit that an alphabetical language may have greater advantages than our own language and that the alphabetization of Chinese is a problem worthy of scientific study. But it is highly improbable that we and even our second and third generations will live to see the adoption of an alphabetized Chinese, although we may work for it. In the meanwhile, the teaching of Chinese as it is constitutes a far more urgent problem, because it is the language which records our past and present civilization, which is the only means of inter-provincial communication, and which is the only available instrument of national education.

There are a few generalizations which I consider to be of great importance in discussing the problem of teaching Chinese as it is. The first of these is that what we call our literary language is an almost entirely dead language. Dead it is, because it is no longer spoken by the people. It is like Latin in Mediaeval Europe; in fact, it is more dead (if mortality admits of a comparative degree), than Latin, because Latin is still capable of being spoken and understood, while literary Chinese is no longer auditorily intelligible even among the scholarly class except when the phrases are familiar, or when the listener has already some idea as to what the speaker is going to say.

The second generalization is that we must free ourselves from the traditional view that the spoken words and the spoken syntax are “vulgar.” The Chinese word vulgar (see chart 2 (44) [VHM:  there he prints sú 俗]) means simply “customary” and implies no intrinsic vulgarity. As a matter of fact, many of the words and phrases of our daily use are extremely expressive and therefore beautiful. The criterion for judging words and expressions should be their vitality and adequacy of expression, not their conformity to orthodox standards. The spoken language of our people is a living language: it represents the daily needs of the people, is intrinsically beautiful, and possesses every possibility of producing a great and living literature as is shown in our great novels written in the vulgate.

[VHM:  emphasis added]

Hu Shih not only composed these succinct platforms for revitalizing written Chinese, he wrote a pathbreaking history of vernacular literature which demonstrated that China all along had the potential makings for written vernacular, but that it was continuously repressed by the towering prestige of the literary language.

Hu Shih also exemplified the principles he laid out for readily comprehensible writing in Chinese by penning his own pellucid prose.  I still remember vividly how it was always a breath of fresh air to read something by Hu Shih that was written in pure báihuà 白话 (lit., "plain speech") after slogging through the tortured, turgid bànwénbànbái 半文半白 ("semiliterary-semivernacular") of typical pedants.

Above all, I had the greatest admiration for Hu Shih for having written poetry in báihuà, and I memorized one of them that was titled "Lóng niǎo 籠鳥" ("Caged bird") that had this line, "Wǒ yào chūlái 我要出來" ("I want to get out!"), and I always felt that this was a metaphor for the constrainment of the Chinese people for the past two millennia and more.  (Unfortunately, I can't find this poem online now, but I did memorize it and I always thought it was by Hu Shih.)

I also recall a passage from one of Hu Shih's essays on how to live a meaningful "new life" in which he described a white bear (báixióng 白熊) in a zoo pacing back and forth (bǎiláibǎiqù 摆来摆去) all day long.  It was so easy to understand essays and poems written in báihuà (the vernacular) because they sounded like what one heard around one all the time.  That is why literacy is so much more readily achieved in báihuà than in Literary Sinitic / Classical Chinese, because everything you hear about you reinforces what you read, unlike LS / CC where you have to learn a separate, dead language that you never hear in daily speech.

Thus we see that, from the very beginning of his efforts to infuse new life into Chinese civilization, Hu Shih astutely recognized the centrality of living vernacular language.  An apt summation of how he viewed the key role of language in the rebirth of Chinese civilization may be found in his The Chinese Renaissance: The Haskell Lectures, 1933, published by The University of Chicago Press and Cambridge University Press in 1934.

Many of the most celebrated Chinese scholars of the 20th century expressed thoughtful and informed opposition to the written language they had inherited.  In its place, they advocated alphabetization and the vernacular.  Hu Shih and his colleagues were doing this long before any Chinese government had adopted an official romanization and even before the adoption of vernacular as the official written medium.  This advocacy transcended political inclinations, with distinguished scholars like Hu Shih in the Republic of China and outstanding authors such as Lu Xun in the People's Republic of China all pushing for fundamental language reform, and doing so on the basis of profound knowledge of history, literature, and linguistics, such as Hu Shih's Báihuà wénxué shǐ 白話文學史 (A History of Vernacular Literature) and Lu Xun's (1881-1936) Ménwài wén tán 門外文談 (An Outsider's Chats about Written Language).

It has been a full century since Hu Shih uttered these words:

I readily admit that an alphabetical language may have greater advantages than our own language and that the alphabetization of Chinese is a problem worthy of scientific study. But it is highly improbable that we and even our second and third generations will live to see the adoption of an alphabetized Chinese, although we may work for it.

We are now into the third generation since Hu Shih penned those remarks, but it has only been half a century since the PRC promulgated Hanyu Pinyin, devised by Zhou Youguang (1906-2017) and his colleagues, as the official romanization of China.  Where do we stand now with regard to Hu Shih's prediction concerning alphabetization?  Does emerging digraphia count as partial alphabetization?

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281 days ago
Good rules, even for English writing. I find people casual written Chinese follows these rules; the more literary, the more callback to the classics. What is that but culture?
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