Month: November 2015

GRRM Interview

I quite enjoyed this recent interview with everyone’s favorite fantasy author George R. R. Martin. His ability to weave disparate historical elements into an overall cohesive narrative has always been my favorite part of A Song of Ice and Fire, though I would respectfully disagree with his assertion that “history is all about war.” It just happens to be the part that most people remember. The meetings and words at diplomatic meetings are much more boring than the clash of steel upon steel.

In the meantime, we all keep waiting for The Winds of Winter to be released.

Night gathers, and now our watch begins…

Thwarted Plans, An American Formosa

I recently learned that Taiwan’s entanglement with the United States dates to well before President Truman ordered the USS Valley Forge to patrol the Taiwan Strait on June 26, 1950  – in fact, there was a scheme in 1857 to annex Formosa to the U.S. That year saw an effort led by the missionary and doctor Peter Parker (not Spiderman, unfortunately) and merchants Gideon Nye and William Robinet to annex the island, though their ambitions were obviously frustrated in the end. (University of Arkansas Professor Emeritus) Shih-Shan Henry Tsai’s Maritime Taiwan: Historical Encounters with the East and the West chronicles the intrigue very well. There’s also Harold D. Langley’s Gideon Nye and the Formosa Annexation Scheme.

The Hunanese Anti-Christian Tract


Professor Zheng showed this picture as an example of the anti-Christian (especially anti-missionary) sentiment sweeping through China in the last decade of the 19th century. I was intrigued – why had the artist chosen a pig to represent Jesus? I began searching, and found that this was part of a longer tract missionaries had translated into English as Heresy Exposed in Respectful Obedience to the Sacred Edict: A Complete Picture Gallery 謹遵聖喻皮屑全圖. (PDF here)

Though vulgar and cruel, it’s a fascinating read. As it turns out, the artist had chosen the pig as 豬 zhu was a near homophone to the 主 in 天主 Tianzhu (the Catholic word for God). Elsewhere in the tract, the painter depicted foreigners as goats, playing off of the term 洋人 yangren. It paints a picture of foreigners as organ-harvesters (a Sinitic form of blood libel, perhaps?), fornicators, and Chinese who followed their teachings as traitors and cuckolds.

Malaysian Turtle Eggs

A few years ago, I went with my family to Pulau Tioman, a resort island off the coast of West Malaysia. It was an idyllic trip with lots of fish, coral, and pearly beaches, but there was this one incident that I still remember clearly to this day.

There was a small island where turtles frequently came to lay their eggs, and while we were exploring its beaches, we noticed our guide digging through the sand. He had found some turtle eggs, and proceeded to put them into a plastic bucket. On the boat, my sister and I confronted him and asked him what he was going to do with the eggs. “Oh, I’m just going to bring them to the hatchery,” he replied, and we having no evidence to the contrary, dropped the issue. But I always had my doubts and wondered if he had taken them for sale or his own consumption.

So when Sabahan Rural and Regional Development Minister **Ismail Sabri Yaakob** was photographed eating turtle eggs at a banquet, I was not surprised. Rather, my thoughts drifted back to that beach, and I pray that those eggs weren’t taken for someone’s dinner table.

Bourdieu is Unreadable

I’m in a culture contact anthropology seminar this quarter, and we’ve been reading a lot of Bourdieu. A lot. Thankfully, we’ve mostly been reading him through the lenses and papers of other eminent scholars in the field rather than reading his work directly. His work, in the words of our professor, “are almost unreadable.” I thought he was exaggerating until I came upon his “sentence” explaining habitus:

The structures constitutive of a particular type of environment (e.g., the material conditions of existence characteristic of a class condition) produce habitus, systems of durable, transposable dispositions, structured structures predisposed to serve as structuring structures, that is, as principles of the generation and structuring of practices and representations which can be objectively “regulated” and “regular” without in any way being the product of obedience to rules, objectively adapted to their goals without presupposing a conscious aiming at ends or an express mastery of the operations necessary to attain them and, being all this, collectively orchestrated without being the product of the orchestrating action of a conductor.

Seriously, this is all one sentence. Professor Steve Vaisey has come up with a good alternate translation that’s a lot more readable and isn’t a complete word salad.