Monday, April 16, 2007

Not again...

I remember checking CNN's website 8 years ago (almost to the day) and feeling sick when I read about the shootings at Columbine. Now this happens at Virginia Tech...

What sixth graders were reading about fifty years ago

I'm almost finished a revision of what has felt like an interminable chapter--and for part of that translated the following lesson from the sixth grade, second semester Guoyu textbook published in late 1956. Thought I'd post it to give a sense of what sixth-graders in Taiwan were reading in their Chinese classes about 50 years ago.
Air Force Martyr Yan Haiwen

On the morning of August 17, 1937, in the blue and cloudless skies above the Jiangsu-Shanghai area, a Chinese bomber was surrounded by the enemy's antiaircraft shells and was clearly in great danger. Because of the concentration of the enemy’s antiaircraft guns, countless shells burst around this plane, bringing heavy smoke and blocking its movement. Suddenly, black smoke burst from the plane's tail; then a tiny dot jumped from the plane's cockpit, becoming a beautiful parachute, perfectly round and white, which floated down.

There was immediate commotion among the enemy, and the enemy soldiers climbed from their trenches; a clamor coming from their mouths, they headed over to where the parachute landed.

A Chinese pilot appeared in front of them.

Young--not much more than twenty--he stood on a piece of high ground.

Dozens of enemy soldiers began to surround him. Although he was only one man, he showed not a trace of fear, and in his hand he held a handgun, raising it imposingly.

An enemy officer ran over to him, trying to persuade him to surrender. He used his gun to reply to this great insult: bang, bang, bang--the gun sounded three times, and that officer and two enemy soldiers fell. There was a clamor among the rest of the enemy soldiers, and they dropped back. From behind, a Type 38 rifle sounded, and hundreds of enemy soldiers holding weapons once again surrounded him.

At this point, he only had one bullet left. He looked around him--the enemy was everywhere, a turbulent yellow wave. Above was the fatherland's beautiful blue sky; underneath, the fragrant grass of the fatherland. This young soldier's heart felt great pain; his hot blood rushed upwards, and when the enemy was no more than fifty meters away, standing on the field of the fatherland he raised his gun to his temple and fired, a young warrior who finally died for the fatherland.

The enemy, honoring his bravery, buried him and set up a memorial for him that said: "The Grave of Yan Haiwen, a Brave Soldier for China."


Speaking: How did China's Air Force defeat the enemy? Why did the martyr Yan Haiwen have to jump out in a parachute? How did he appear to the enemy? How did he treat the enemy? Why did the enemy bury him and set up a memorial for him? Who was China's enemy at that time? Now what enemies do we have?

Writing Characters: Listen and write the following words and phrases:
轟炸機 (bomber), 高射礮 (antiaircraft gun), 渾圓 (perfectly round), 騷動 (commotion), 亂嚷 (clamor), 威風凜凜 (imposing, or awe-inspiring), 洶湧 (turbulent), 殉職 (die at one’s post)

Composition: Write a narrative about bombing the enemy country.
The story of Yan Haiwen has shown up in at least one movie (1977's 筧橋英烈傳 "Heroes of the Eastern Skies"), which I haven't yet seen.

This textbook includes another martyr tale--a two-part story about Wu Feng, who was said to have sacrificed himself in order to persuade Aborigines to stop headhunting. That the Guoyu textbook of that time contains violent tales of martyrs isn't particularly surprising, considering the government's project of trying to condition young people to be willing to sacrifice themselves for the cause of retaking the mainland. I was surprised, however, by the composition exercise that asks students to write about bombing an enemy country. I'd really be interested in seeing what sixth-graders came up with in response to that kind of prompt. (Doubt I'll ever run across anything like that, though.)

I'm also curious about how long this story of Yan Haiwen was used in elementary school language textbooks. I haven't seen any earlier Guoyu textbooks from Republican China, so I'm not sure if this story was retained from that time. And it would be interesting to see when it went "out of fashion", too.

(Source: Guomin xuexiao Guoyu keben gaoji disi ce 國民學校國語課本高級第四冊--this was the textbook for second-semester sixth-graders, published in December 1956)

Monday, April 09, 2007

Another reason I gotta get this diss. done

I woke up early this morning, then fell asleep again and dreamed that I was at a used book sale at a university in the States. I got the idea to look through some old hymnals from the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries to see if I could find the tune to the Shansi Hymn that used to be sung on Shansi Day at Oberlin College. (That was the day they would announce which Oberlin graduates would be representatives to China.) The hymn, written by Herbert A. Youtz, was sung to the tune of "No. 541" in some mysterious hymnal which I haven't yet found. So I was looking through old hymnals for "No. 541" to see if the tune would fit the lyrics.

Meanwhile, Nicolas Cage was standing a few yards away looking at an old art book and talking to the seller about an oddity in something that the book said about an artist's life. I was going through hymnals, some of which didn't go up to 541, some of which skipped 541 (went from 540 to 542), then I came to one that had 541. I was having trouble singing the Shansi Hymn to the tune of 541 because I'm not very good at sight-reading, and Nicolas Cage said to me, "I didn't know you were interested in old hymnals, Jon."

"Oh, I'm trying to find the tune that fits a hymn that they used to sing on Shansi Day in the early 1900s, Nic."

"Oh," he said.

"But I'm not very good at sight reading, so I can't tell if this hymn fits the words."

"Oh, well give me a few lines and I'll try," he said. (He's quite the Renaissance man, you know.)

So I reeled off a few lines to the hymn:
Founded on the blood of martyrs,
See the walls of Shansi stand
Witness to a great devotion,
Tomb of an heroic band.

From the death of her slain Master,
Grows the Living Church today;
Through self-sacrifice of heroes
Comes the power of God alway.
So there Nicolas Cage and I were, digging through old hymnals, trying to find a hymn that would fit the lyrics to the Shansi Hymn. Then I suddenly felt I should wake up.

"But I want to stay asleep and see if Nicolas Cage and I find the right hymn," I said.

"Give it up, Jon," I said. "It's just a dream. Even if you find the hymnal, it might not be real."

"Oh--yeah. I guess so." So I woke up.

[Update, 6/26/07: Nic Cage never got back to me on this, but the amazing team of Ken Grossi (of the Oberlin Archives) and Mary Louise Van Dyke (Oberlin Library's resident hymnologist) solved the mystery of Tune No. 541 for me. From Ken's e-mail to me:
The title of the hymnal is "Church Hymns and Tunes," edited by Rev. Herbert B. Turner, D.D. and William F. Biddle (New York: A.S. Barnes and Company, 1909). The book contains an Austrian Hymn with the Tune No. 541 at the top of the page. Mary Louise concluded that the tune for this song was also used for the words of the song on the Shansi Day Program (by Herbert Alden Youtz).
There you have it. I should be getting a copy of the tune in a few days, after which I'll let all you who are waiting with bated breath know what exactly "Austrian Hymn is. Oh! the supsense!]

[Update 2, same date:
That was quick! The tune turns out to be by Haydn; Hymn 541, "Glorious Things of Thee are Spoken". Here's the tune (sorry, it's not a link to my singing...)]