In early Chinese thought, heaven was considered "round" and earth "square." Westerners from St. Anselm to Kant taught that round and square are opposites. I will explore the connections between east and west (round and square) in a blog that takes seriously the little details of our lives. Round and square; east and west—never the twain shall meet (it has been said). Except when they do, and that is the whole point of this blog.
From Round to Square (and back)
For The Emperor's Teacher, scroll down (↓) to "Topics." It's the management book that will rock the world (and break the vase, as you will see). Click or paste the following link for a recent profile of the project: http://magazine.beloit.edu/?story_id=240813&issue_id=240610
A new post appears every day at 12:05* (CDT). There's more, though. Take a look at the right-hand side of the page for over four years of material (2,000 posts and growing) from Seinfeld and country music to every single day of the Chinese lunar calendar...translated. Look here ↓ and explore a little. It will take you all the way down the page...from round to square (and back again). *Occasionally I will leave a long post up for thirty-six hours, and post a shorter entry at noon the next day.
Part of an occasional Round and Square
series that follows the blog’s main theme (east meets
west, round meets square, and past meets present), these
snippets from my early fieldnotes are reproduced as they
were written by hand—and then revised on an ancient
desktop computer—during my first fieldwork stay in Taiwan
(1985-1987). All entries are the way that I left them
when I returned to the United States in 1987—some
nicely-stated and some embarrassing. Although the series began with
my assumption that the entries can stand alone, I have found that
separate comments and notes might help readers understand a world that
is now, well, history. These are always separate from the original fieldnote.
early 1986, I had come to terms with some of my frustrations and had
begun refining my goals. I also found myself in an exhilarating state. I
had learned a great deal. My Mandarin was clicking along, and I was
reading with increasing fluency—the result of a combined program of
studying classical Chinese and K-12 textbooks. I will have more
to say about that method in another set of posts, but the next few notes
show a combination of growing knowledge and maybe a little bit of
I will not go into a long linguistic explanation here, suffice it to
say for the reader who does not study Chinese that the spoken and
written languages are much further apart than people in Western
countries tend to realize. Reading is a specialized skill; there is very
little potential for "sounding out" Chinese characters. While that
doesn't mean that the two are unrelated, whole generations of Western
specialists on China prided themselves on their reading abilities while
disdaining speaking (some—a few—even regarded inability to speak well as
a point of pride). This situation is almost wholly gone today, but a
little of that old "sinology" has crept into this fieldnote, I think.
I am currently attending the Taipei Language Institute
ten hours a week. It may not sound like much, but it is concentrated:
just one student and one teacher for two hours. You can’t hide, like I
used to in high
school French. The combination of spoken Mandarin and my reading program
Four Books and primary education readers is paying dividends already. I
beginning to “get” relationships between everyday experience and the
past in ways that made little sense to me in college.
My job—which gives me a chance to speak Chinese four
hours a day—combined with my Chinese class, was the boost my spoken Chinese
needed. During May and June I was in a holding pattern, not regressing, of
course, but not really improving very quickly either. Now, however, I can
almost feel myself becoming more confident, and speaking better everyday.
I came here I thought that speaking didn’t matter, that only improving my
reading was important. I still have (compared to the majority of Americans
here, most of whom are illiterate) an inordinately strong interest in the
written language. But the pleasure I get out of speaking well is hard for
anyone to understand unless he is a foreigner, or has lockjaw.