Saturday, April 29, 2006

Two brief comments on Silent Hill, which we just got back from seeing

  1. I pretty much agree with Roger Ebert's review of it. 'Specially the part where he says that "everybody wanders through the town for two hours while the art direction looks great." That's basically the whole story.

  2. There's a scene where the main character's husband (who's looking for her and their child) breaks into a small-town archives, finds the burnt boxes of the Silent Hill police records in plain sight, and discovers in seconds exactly the record that he seems to be looking for. (I say "seems" because I'm not even sure why he wanted to check out the police records in the first place.) As someone who has done research in several archives, I just have 5 words in response to the situation I've just described: Not. In. A. Million. Years.

A Pail of Oysters II

[Note: I took this down for a while, but have re-posted it. Some of what is below is developed in more detail in my 2007 article, "Empathy and its Others: The Voice of Asia, A Pail of Oysters, and the Empathetic Writing of Formosa" (Concentric: Literary and Cultural Studies, 33(2), 35 - 60).]

In my earlier post I mentioned what little criticism or analysis I could find about A Pail of Oysters. Here I'm not going to summarize the entire novel, but I want to point out a few things that were interesting to me about the book.

There are four main characters in A Pail of Oysters:
  • Li Liu, a part-Hakka, part-Pepohuan (Plains Aborigine--or literally, "plains savage") who has been sent by his ailing father to bring back their god (a framed picture, possibly like this, which was stolen by some KMT soldiers);
  • Precious Jade, a young prostitute who escapes the House of the Laughing Gods;
  • her younger brother, a middle school graduate who is about Li Liu's age; and
  • Ralph Barton, an American reporter who is being dragged around Taiwan by KMT people so that he can write glowing accounts of how the Nationalists are running Taiwan.
After escaping the House of the Laughing Gods, Precious Jade finds her brother in the house of their adoptive father (the same man who sold her to the house of prostitution) and they both escape. In the process, Precious Jade's brother puts the identity cards of some of the other prostitutes in a place where they can find them and then escape. This, of course, makes his rich adoptive father very angry at the both of them, since the prostitutes are one of his main sources of income. He's also upset that Precious Jade's brother has escaped, since he had invested a lot of money in the boy in hopes that in the future he would have a son to honor him after his death.

The two run into Li Liu, who has accidentally ended up in Taipei after he hitched a ride on the jeep carrying Ralph Barton. Precious Jade's brother buys some food for Li Liu and invites Li to live with Precious Jade and him, despite Precious Jade's objections.

I want to dwell, at this point, on an interesting part in the story where Precious Jade's brother and Li Liu are talking and Li Liu asks the brother what to call him:
"...I was thinking. You call me by my name. You call me Li Liu, and I do not know what to call you."

"I see."

"You said you thought your name was Yamamuro at one time, and more recently Wang, but that you did not want these names any more. Truly, though, you must have a first name by which I can address you."

"The one who was supposed to be my real father used to call me Modiharu," the youth said slowly. "And the one who bought me named me Ching-Meng." He considered. "But I don't want those names either."

"Then what am I to call you?"

"I do not know. Would you want to call me nameless one?"

Li Liu shook his head. "No."

"I see." (120-1)
Eventually, they agree that Li Liu should call him "Didi" (younger brother), just as Precious Jade does. Later on, Precious Jade's brother gets a job at the Friends of China Club and meets Barton. The two of them get to talk a lot (Precious Jade's brother is trying to improve his English), and Barton gives the boy the English name Billy.

I don't know if Sneider intended it, but Didi's (or "Billy's") issues with his name and parentage (distinguishing clearly between "the one who was supposed to be my real father" and "the one who bought me") sound like a metaphor for Taiwan's situation at the time. The boy's confusion about his name involves the same confusion over national identity that people in Taiwan might have been experiencing at the time. The use of Japanese and Chinese names mirrors the problems of identification for the Taiwanese. Each "father" gives a different name that requires the child to reject the previous identity.

In the end, Precious Jade's brother rejects both his Japanese names and his Chinese names, settling first for the label "Didi", then also for an English name that is given to him by an American. Did Sneider mean this to be symbolic of the ideal American relationship with Taiwan--one in which the Americans would help the Taiwanese people establish an identity for themselves that would not only reject the oppressive identities forced upon them by the Chinese but also be friendly to the American people?

Another narrative thread in the book suggests that this conclusion might not be too far off. Barton also becomes involved with a Mr. Chou, the head of an architectural firm who arranges secret meetings with the American to tell him about the plans some Formosans have to try to reform the Nationalist government by getting rid of the "Communistic-technique" faction of the KMT. (Here Sneider alludes to Chiang Ching-kuo, not by name, but as a member of the "Communistic-technique" faction who "has lived almost half his life" in Russia [177]). Chou wants Barton to write articles about Formosa in order to let Americans know about the problems there so that the "Democratic-technique" faction can overcome the Communistic-technique faction. He also describes the Formosans' plans to build Formosa's democracy through economic development, specifically via "free enterprise," and their hopes that the Americans will help with this. Chou assures Barton that their plan to "build Formosa" will also "be helping to build all of Asia" (180). He argues that building a strong capitalist economy on Taiwan that breaks up government monopolies and allows for the participation of Formosans will help build a better society and more appealing alternative than that of Red China. Chou implies, then, that a democratic and capitalistic Taiwan would help further the U.S.'s fight against Communism in Asia.

Chou (or Sneider?) is at pains to emphasize that the opponents of the government are not Communists, even labelling CCK's faction of the KMT as the "Communistic-technique" faction. (I'm not going to argue with that characterization, though.) The future of Asia, it is implied, lies in developing a strong free-market economy in Taiwan, which will lead to a more democratic Taiwan that would be more friendly to U.S. interests.

This is, by the way, in sharp contrast to the impressions James Michener gives of the situation in The Voice of Asia, which was published only 2 years prior to Sneider's book. After interviewing a few Mainlanders on Taiwan (see my list of his interviewees here), Michener gives the following answer to the question, "Is the present Formosa Government responsible?"
It is probably the most efficient government in Asia today, not even excepting Japan's. It has solved the food problem. It has rationed goods so that everyone gets a fair break. It polices the island so that even white men can move about at night without risk of murder. It has launched an education program, prints liberal newspapers and insures just trials. Furthermore, in order to erase evil memories of initial Chinese occupation, the Government has specifically worked to protect the indigenous Taiwanese population. (106)
Michener's "Observations" section consists almost entirely of issues related to how and when the Mainland should be retaken militarily. He doesn't suggest any changes are needed on Formosa, and in the above paragraph gives unstinting praise to the KMT regime for reforms that the characters in Sneider's novel would say hadn't even happened. To Michener, the KMT government is taking care of the Taiwanese people and Americans don't need to worry about it. Sneider's book argues that American ignorance of the real conditions on Taiwan--ignorance exacerbated by reportage like Michener's--would be disasterous for Asia.

Toward the end of the novel, Barton finds out that Billy and Precious Jade have been caught by the "Peace Preservation Corps" and taken to a racetrack in Tamshui and shot. (Their adoptive "father" found out where they were and turned them in, accusing them of being Communists.) At first Barton is sick of Taiwan and wants to leave. Then, after he runs into Li Liu, he "borrows" a jeep and helps him escape back to the South before Li Liu can be arrested. As Barton drives, the car, he changes his mind about staying in Taiwan:
No, he told himself, he wasn't finished with this part of the world. His glance slid to the boy who held his god. He would stay here. He would learn all that he could. And then he would reveal--in articles and fiction--in any way he could, the utter stupidity, the ignorance of a small group who not only enslaved eight million people, but who endangered all of Asia. (304)
This is the last we see of him. And perhaps the alleged fate of A Pail of Oysters--pulled out of libraries then and virtually ignored now--might tell us what the fate of Barton's words would have been.

More here... [Not yet...]

A Pail of Oysters I

I finished reading A Pail of Oysters the day after the book arrived. I should mention that the copy I finally bought is a little water-stained and lacks a jacket, but it didn't cost me nearly as much as a lot of the copies that I've seen for sale (a quick check of one on-line book dealer shows copies selling from US$45 to US$290). One of the reasons for this is probably the relative scarcity of the book. As I mentioned previously, the story is that the KMT had some student spies steal copies of the book from libraries in the U.S. (I'm curious if anyone has any hard evidence for this story, though. I'm not doubting that this kind of thing happened; I'm just wondering if anyone has heard of any evidence that people from the KMT identified this particular book as one to systematically steal from U.S. libraries.)

Before I make my own comments about A Pail of Oysters in another post, I'll quote a few sources that summarize it or comment on it. I checked around the web and in some academic databases and didn't find much about this book. It doesn't get mentioned in any Asian Studies journals or Asia-related magazines that I have access to, and the only comments I could find in English-studies journals were two brief mentions in 1950s issues of the English Journal (one was an article about using literature to teach American schoolchildren about other cultures, and the other was a one-paragraph review of the book).

Gale's Contemporary Authors Online has some contemporary reviews of the book that praised it:
In A Pail of Oysters Sneider again drew upon his first-hand experience in the Far East to write a novel about the political problems of that area. A more serious book than Teahouse, A Pail of Oysters was described by Margaret Parton in the New York Herald Tribune Book Review as "a serious and sometimes tragic story of a sad and troubled country." Set on the island of Formosa, where the defeated Nationalist Chinese government fled after the takeover of mainland China by the communists, the novel examines the corruption and injustices of the Nationalist government. "For anyone who has served as a correspondent with the Nationalists," wrote Gordon Walker in the Christian Science Monitor, "it sounds realistic and generally accurate." Pat Frank in Saturday Review thought the novel "combines beauty of expression, originality of thought, and contemporary historical importance; it is a bright light thrust into the infected peritonium of Formosa, into a region murky with propaganda."
I should note that Christina Klein described Saturday Review as a more left-leaning publication for middlebrow Americans, as compared with a magazine like Reader's Digest. My guess is that if Reader's Digest had a review of the book (did they do book reviews?), it wouldn't have been as complimentary.

On the web, the speech by Keelung Hong that I mentioned in a previous post has this short summary of the book, including some background on its writing:
It describes not just the foibles of confused Americans out of their depths across the Pacific, but accounts of KMT terror, including the shooting of the character based on the interpreter Ed Paine recommended to Vern Sneider. The book opens with a KMT patrol seizing oysters gathered by Taiwanese coast dwellers. Sneider makes very vivid the terror in which Taiwanese lived in the late 1940s, the oppression of KMT bandit-troops, the massacre of 2-28, and also makes clear the common Taiwanese views that what land reform was really about was breaking up any Taiwanese power bases.
And a summary of the book that I found on a booklist at Forumosa has this to say:
This is a fictional story, but the tale might as well be real to a Taiwanese. The story starts in near Lukang when KMT soldiers steal the god from a family and he is sent to bring it back. Much of the story focuses around an American newsman stationed in Taipei and how he learns Nationalist Taiwan is not what it seems. The true story behind the fiction is that Sneider met Ed Paine, an eye witness to the 228 massacre and Paine hooked Sneider up with his interpreter. The history is fuzzy, the places are not where they should be, but the story is more an allegory of 50's Taipei with the dreaded race track and deaths. This book is now considered rare following years of KMT student spies stealing it from libraries.
I don't know enough about 1950s Taipei to judge the accuracy of book's descriptions, but it does give a good feeling of what the city might have been like back then, with its descriptions of both main roads like South Chungking Road, where you would find places like "Cave's Book Store and the Bank of Formosa", and some of the small alleyways and fetid apartments where many poorer people lived. It's possible, though, that Sneider spent more time in Taipei and thus his descriptions of the countryside are a bit more sketchy and superficial.

I have more to say about the book in another post.

[Update, 3/2/2007: According to the March 11, 1954 issue (pdf) of The Grosse Pointe News of Grosse Pointe, Michigan, A Pail of Oysters was selected by the Notable Books Committee of the American Library Association as one of the 50 books "of the previous year which it considers meritorious in terms of literary excellence, factual correctness and sincerity and honesty of presentation" (10). Interesting...]

Monday, April 24, 2006

More new books in the former native speaker's library increasing order of how excited I am to have gotten them:
  • Communication and Global Society, ed. Guo-Ming Chen and William J. Starosta (NY: Peter Lang, 2000)
    Several chapters in this collection look interesting, including Hui-Ching Chang's "Reconfiguring the Global Society: 'Greater China' as Emerging Community" and Starosta and Chen's "Listening Across Diversity in Global Society".

  • The Voice of Asia, by James A. Michener (NY: Random House, 1951)
    As I mentioned earlier, this book was discussed in Christina Klein's Cold War Orientalism. I don't think she mentioned, though, that Michener has a section on Formosa that includes five short chapters: "Indian Summer in Formosa" (a chat with Y.P. Tom, a Chinese C-47 pilot), "The Governor's Mansion" (a chat with Edith Wu, the wife of K. C. Wu, Governor of Formosa), "The Hard Way" (a chat with Liu Ping, a political science student at Taiwan University), "The Tank Commanders" (a chat with "four young fellows, tough, straight and aching for a fight"), and a chapter called "Observations". I'll talk more about this later, but right now I'll just make the observation that Michener's interviewees were all Mainlanders with a burning desire to reconquer the mainland. He evidently didn't talk with any Taiwanese or anyone who had a doubt that the KMT could reconquer the mainland (with the help of the U.S., that is). (A note of thanks, by the way, to my brother and sister-in-law, who sent the book to me, and to Ainsworth Books, who did a great job of packing the book when they sent it to my brother and s-i-l!)

    [Update: The K. C. Wu mentioned above also figured in Fires of the Dragon. Henry Liu interviewed Wu as part of his biography of Chiang Ching-kuo (CCK). Kaplan describes him as someone who "attempted to nurture a genuine democracy on the island" and notes that, "after watching CCK's agents spread a reign of terror across the island, [Wu] finally broke with the Chiang regime and fled to America" in 1954 (192). Ironically, Michener's chapter about Edith Wu ends with her apologizing for some unfinished work on the governor's house. She says, "'We've omitted some of the little finishings. After all, we do not think of this as our permanent home'" (97). But if she expected they would be moving to Savannah, Georgia Evanston, Illinois within four years, she didn't let Michener know.]

  • A Pail of Oysters, by Vern Sneider (NY: G. P. Putnam's Sons, 1953)
    Sneider is more well-known for his book Teahouse of the August Moon, which was made into a movie starring Marlon Brando (as an Okinawan!). As Keelung Hong commented at a talk at Berkeley in 2003,
    Hollywood did not evidence the same interest in A Pail of Oysters as in his other books. Although well-reviewed, it was not a popular success. Even more than Formosa Betrayed, copies of A Pail of Oysters have disappeared from most libraries, probably on instructions issued to the student spies paid by the KMT to monitor Taiwanese on US college campuses.
    (Note: Hong's speech is worth reading in its entirety.) I noticed (without surprise) that the libraries in Taiwan don't have any copies of the English original, only of the Chinese translation that was published in 2003. This book was mentioned by a couple of people I interviewed; they said they had read it before they came to Taiwan. (A website related to Taipei American School's 50th anniversary recalls the book being "passed around the foreign community in a Catcher in the Rye book jacket".) I'm really eager to start reading this one.

Looking for a book...

I'm looking for a copy of Robert B. Kaplan's The Anatomy of Rhetoric: Prolegomena to a Functional Theory of Rhetoric. Language and the Teacher: A Series in Applied Linguistics 8. (Philadelphia: Center for Curriculum Development, 1972).

According to NBI (Taiwan's National Bibliographic Information database), there are no copies of this book in any library on the island. I've also checked several online bookstores and have come up with nothing. Anyone have a spare copy lying around?

Tuesday, April 18, 2006

Scott will probably enjoy this one...

/*If you qualify, no required tests, classes, books or examinations.*/ *
*Confidentiality Assured
24 hours a day, 7 days a week including Sundays and Holidays
Not just prestigious, these universities are also non-accredited! What more could you ask for?

(via a colleague)

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Bold Plum: with the Guerillas in China's War against Japan

I was looking up the name of Michael Lindsay after finishing Philip West's Yenching University and Sino-Western Relations, 1916-1952 this morning. West mentions Lindsay, who taught at Yenching, and Lindsay's sympathy for the Communists. The reason I was interested in Linsday was that he was mentioned by name when R.O.C. (Taiwan) Minister of Education Cheng Tianfang (程天放) expressed to the founders of Tunghai his concern that they make sure they didn't hire any Communists or "fellow travelers" as faculty.

Anyway, I came across this website advertising a new book by Hsiao Li Lindsay, Michael Linsday's widow. The website has a 2006 copyright and says the book is coming soon. I checked Amazon, but the book isn't listed yet. Looks interesting, though!

Violation from other parties, official notification from -----!

Dear ----- Member,

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Our terms and conditions you agreed to state that your account must always be under your control or those you designate at all times. We have noticed some
unusual activity in our research due upgrading related that your account indicates that other parties may have access and or control of your details in your account.

These parties have been involved with money laundering, illegal drugs, terrorism and various Federal Title 18 violations.

Your will need to re-enter some imformations about your account for advanced verification and to let us know that your are aware of this violation and due this way we can stop the outside parties.

We won't require your ATM PIN number for this operation!

Please follow this link to complete your security verification and protect your account :

Update your account now.

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Bank name deleted. The original link (which I've also deleted) leads, of course, up a phishing line. I don't usually post the spam I get, but this time I couldn't resist...

Wednesday, April 12, 2006

CFP: Rhetorics of Social Formation

Received this through the CFP mailing list.

Rhetorics of Social Formation

University of Redlands, Redlands, CA
19 - 20 January 2007

The Centre for Rhetorics & Hermeneutics and the New Testament Rhetoric Project of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity is pleased to announce Rhetorics of Social Formation, the sixth in a series of highly successful international conferences exploring rhetorical theory in the context of pressing public issues.

This conference will examine the role of rhetoric in creating, elaborating, and sustaining social formation and small group communication - how is group identity formed? How must it change in order to meet new and unforeseen contexts? How does it social formation break down? How are new group identities formed from out of old? How are conflicting identities of members of multiple, if casual, group identities negotiated? What can we learn from groups whose success is seen by their growth and longetivity?

The organizers start with the premise that much of group identity and the devices that support that identity, including belief systems and ideologies, are derived from rhetorical constructs and represent the convergence of arguments meant to describe and explain realities as experienced by the group.

We invite papers that either illustrate or challenge that premise, using theoretical models and/or analytical methods, etc., from the disciplinary perspective of the presenter. All disciplines are welcome, including biblical studies, anthropology, ethnology, rhetoric, culture criticism, public sphere, and other social sciences and the humanities. We have traditionally provided a unique space for dialogue and cross-, inter- and transdisciplinary exchange.

We welcome papers examining the phenomenon of group and social formation from any area and any part of the world. Additionally, we welcome papers that deal with the formation of the gospel tradition and the emergence of diverse early Jesus and Christian communities. Proposals should be no more than 500 words long, and must include identification of institutional affiliation of the applicant, or, in the case of independent scholars, a brief resume.

In the past we have had presenters from Australia, Botswana, Canada, Columbia, France, Japan, the Netherlands, South Africa, and the USA. As in the past, we strongly encourage foreign scholars to continue to submit proposals.

Each presenter must submit their paper several weeks in advance. The programmatic assumption of our dialogues is that every participant has read the submitted works prior to arriving on site. Each presenter is given 10 minutes to offer a summary of your paper, and we then dedicate 45-50 minutes of unmoderated, roundtable discussion regarding the implications and contributions of your work. In this way, we are unique in both the care with which we approach your work and the ways in which your work is brought into conversation with others.

Proposals are due to the organizers by 1 May 2006 (though the date is not firm). For more information, please go to

Sounds interesting--and they're looking for scholars from outside the U.S....

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Nice site on semiotics

Just came across a great website called "Semiotics for Beginners" by Daniel Chandler. It's been up for over 10 years, but I only came across it today. The web is a big place!

Monday, April 10, 2006

Just to let you know I don't just buy books...

I finished reading Cold War Orientalism this morning. I found the book to be both interesting on its own terms and helpful to my thinking about my dissertation project. It introduced me to what Klein argues were some of the dominant Cold War era discourses in the U.S. regarding U.S.-Asian relations, both in terms of external relations and in terms of the assimilation of Asians within the U.S. The latter Klein sees as a way for the U.S. to demonstrate to Asia its good intentions during the Cold War era competition for the 'heart' of Asia. (I'm not sure how much Klein sees this as a primary motive for the middlebrow intellectuals' treatment of Asian Americans in their work.)

As I mentioned elsewhere, the idea that middlebrow intellectuals--and the government--in the U.S. encouraged Americans to develop a sense of empathy for the people of Asia provides a useful connection (or counterpoint) to the kind of empathy that development scholars like Daniel Lerner argued was necessary for people in Third World countries. Lerner argued that empathy was necessary for people in undeveloped countries so that they could learn to imagine ways of living that were different from their own. This would provide motivation for the integration of the various groups (tribes, clans) into the "imagined community" (not Lerner's term, of course!) of the nation and for the integration of the new nations into the global community (a community that excluded Communist countries, of course). The kind of empathy that Americans needed to develop, according to Klein, was something that would enable Americans to avoid the accusations of imperialism that were made against other Western powers.

Klein's chapter "How to Be an American Abroad: James Michener's The Voice of Asia and Postwar Mass Tourism" gives a good example of the discourse of empathy that she describes. She argues that Michener positions himself as "a 'listening man'" who does not privilege his own voice in the book but rather privileges the voices of the people he interviews. "Michener presents himself and his interviewees as leaping governments and engaging in direct communication with each other," she writes (132). Michener's portrayal of himself as a listener is an embodiment of the "curious and open-minded American presence in Asia" (133) that was part of the ideal of an empathetic America.

I also like the fact that although Klein does critique what she analyzes (pointing out, for instance, how Michener's work feeds into "the liberal critique of racism as individual prejudice [that] proliferated in the late 1940s and 1950s" [134]), she also tries to read these texts sympathetically, as well. She argues, for instance, that "it would be a mistake to dismiss Michener's liberalism as only a mystification of neocolonial expansion" (135). She prefers to see the texts and the discourses in which they participated as more complicated than that--as having more than one kind of effect on or relationship to the U.S.'s role in Asia.

[Update: I should also mention that I finished Fires of the Dragon early last week. It was quite an enlightening read. It was a fast read, too--I guess because of its narrative style.]

Sunday, April 02, 2006

Adventures in Mandarin pronunciation

The former native Chinese speaker has complained recently that my mispronunciation of several tones in Mandarin is beginning to affect her pronunciation. Most egregious of my mistakes is my frequent reference to the "kitchen waste container" (廚餘桶 chu2 yu2 tong3) as the chu3 yu2 tong3 (楚瑜桶, perhaps named in honor of James Soong?).

Two recent opinion pieces on culture and democracy

Two interesting articles with somewhat different perspectives on the relationship of culture to democracy: