Reckonomics

If I had a penny for everything I didn’t know, I’d have lost a fortune last year. I’d still be doing pretty well for myself, though, as demonstrated by the stack of Chinese books I haven’t read, the bookmark folder full of bass tabs I haven’t learned, and the rest of the universe, to name a few.

In fact, to emphasize the amazing distance I still have to go before I can rightly call myself the Ubermensch, I’ll give a brief list of things that were outside my awareness until recently:

http://300shots.wordpress.com/2011/12/19/baijiu-basics-how-big-is-your-qu/
And here I’d been calling it rice wine all this time. From now on, no more translation – the English name is just baijiu.

http://www.sinosplice.com/life/archives/2013/08/13/china-the-country-of-the-blind
What I learned from this is that even the most venerated of China observes sometimes make weird claims. Yes, the story is an interesting attack on what it’s like to be a complete outsider, but really? He doesn’t see any of the problems in these metaphors? And doesn’t the idiotness (or, more charitably, lack of self-awareness) of the protagonist kind of undermine any extrapolations? Except, of course, if you’re extrapolating about idiots, which is what seems to be done pretty well here:

http://www.lostlaowai.com/blog/ae/movies/this-is-sanlitun-needs-your-help-sorta/
I didn’t read the header and then got through the first few lines of the trailer without catching on that it was satire. If you lived here, you might have as well.  Or maybe I’m one of those idiots I like talking about.

Aaaaaand now it’s time for work. Babysteps, blog. Babysteps.

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4 Responses to Reckonomics

  1. No metaphor is perfect, but there are layers to the metaphor. It’s written by a self-aware westerner at a time when the great British Empire is losing its grip.

    So yes, really. And the idiocy of the narrator is a big part of what makes it work. The part that doesn’t work as well, in my opinion, is the ending.

    • Hollacopter says:

      Hm! Never expected to receive a reply from you. The internet is a surprising thing.

      The root of my negative reaction to it is, predictably, the sightless aspect. The protagonist’s arc seems to be a cautionary tale for outsiders, but it’s fatally undermined by the marking of the valley-dwellers by their lack of something “normal” people have. It comes off to me as stereotypical British imperialism taking an arrogant stab at humility: “Yes, they have their own developed culture, their valid way of life, their great minds, and if you’re gonna be stuck in their valley you need to respect that… but come on, in the end the’re still blind and misinformed.” So while the author’s point is that the mindset of the protagonist will get you nowhere, it seems that the author himself is still working under the protagonist’s meta.

      Not that it wasn’t a great story to read (agreed on the ending). It’s just that if I recommended it to any of my Chinese friends, I’d have to spend the next few weeks apologizing, and rightfully so.

      Come to think of it, the story is as relevant as you say, but as a critical exercise rather than as as a story in itself. Either way, thanks again for bringing it to Our Collective Attention!

      • I hear what you’re saying, and I agree that it could be a little awkward to try to share this idea with Chinese friends.

        But the “blindness” of the people of the Country of the Blind doesn’t bother or hinder them at all. And the obviousness of their condition (to an outsider) is a great analogy for the clear sense of superiority that many foreigners feel (or have felt in the past) in China. (Well OF COURSE we’re more civilized than they are…) There’s more than a little irony in the whole “blind” thing.

        Agreed, the way the citizens of the Country of the Blind have come up with theories to explain away what they can’t understand does seem to mark them as unequivocally ignorant, so that doesn’t quite work either, but I still think there’s enough there to work with to at least have an interesting discussion. 🙂

      • Hollacopter says:

        Agreed (though for all the intended irony, explaining colonial subjects as people marked by a lack and isolated from civilization is still cringeworthy). The ensuing interesting discussion should include the author as much as the subject, both seem to be trying to come to terms with outsideriness in different ways, with different results.

        What I would really like to see, though this is going a bit afield, is this premise taken up a level. The blind people of the valley constructed a flawed worldview out of conclusions based on limited senses, but even five perfect senses don’t sense everything. If there happens to be any literary geniuses reading this comment thread, your mission (if you choose to accept it) is to rewrite Valley of the Blind from the perspective of a five-sensed human encountering a stranded, six-sensed alien who fails to adapt. One, two, three, go.

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