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:

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.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Fieldnotes From History (12)—Copying

[a] Children RF
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.
This is the first of a small cluster of fieldnotes that focus on "copying" in Chinese culture. This one is the most culturally sensitive. The two that follow deal with a kind of "copying" that led to problems with international property rights laws.

The University of British Columbia's anthropology museum is among the best in the world, and contains a wide array of materials from the North American northwest coast as well as Asia.

Related Fieldnotes: 1   2   3
18 May 1985
Taipei   (1 of 3)
A few years ago, during my second summer studying Chinese in Vancouver, the University of British Columbia’s Museum of Anthropology featured a display of children’s paintings from China. The ages of the children ranged from six to sixteen. If one theme stuck out, it was the lack of what Westerners would call originality; it appeared that they had copied down exactly what they were supposed to. The children obviously were asked to display proper socialist themes, so we saw a wide range of proletarian images: factories, tractors, construction sites, and toiling laborers working for the advancement of their motherland. 

The museum provided a little book for the comments of museum patrons. The comments in the book were almost uniformly negative. My comments were also critical, but I criticized the ignorance of the “art critics." I didn’t especially like the pictures either—I thought they, like most other socialist art, were corny. But I was angry with Westerners for forcing their ideas of art and creativity onto a culture they have not even tried to understand. The Chinese paintings went deeper than the surface socialism, which is all that most museum patrons bothered to "see." 

There is a long tradition in Chinese art and literature—and especially calligraphy—of copying past masters’ work as a way of learning. The tradition is as long as China is old, and transcends political systems or artistic styles. This is not limited to China, of course. As long as we insist on viewing such matters only through the lens of a particular and narrow kind of "creativity" (the kind that seemingly ignores matters such as technique in favor of "inspiration") we will never get it.
[c] Homeland RF

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