Disappeared Chinese Tweeter Reappears in His Literary Way

In March I blogged about the Twitter disappearance of Air-Moving Device recounted in my earlier blog posting that began: A Most Chinese Public Disappearance on Twitter: @airmovingdevice — his engrossing Big Data-style analysis of Chinese media treatment of high officials, references to 1989 political massacres and other sensitive matters apparently got the anonymous person with the Twitter name @airmovingdevice silenced.

On April 26, 2019, Air-Moving Device reappeared on Twitter with all his previous tweets, even the post-first-deletion ones, deleted. Air-Moving Device may be in China, or could be abroad, even in the USA. People with relatives and friends in China or hope to return there, can have things to worry about if they speak out of turn. I knew many people in China how if they were brave enough to speak out in a way that displeased the Party, would find their family, friends, and co-workers threatened if the gradual escalation from a talk over tea with the local public security to direct threats had failed.

An array of intimidation tactics fortunately not personally familiar to many people living outside of China. Familiar perhaps to Chinese living abroad as the ever-more-famed (at least recently in western media) United Front Work Department work (a part of the work of all party organizations and right-thinking 政治合格 party members) strives to continue to expand its influence on the Chinese diaspora and to maintain the right-thinkingness of Chinese resident abroad lest ideological germs be brought back home.

Chinese writers have often used literary allusions to get across their protest to their readers, always trying to stay within the bounds of what-will-not-get-them-into-too-much-trouble.

Unpacking the reference of @chenchenzh‘s tweets, her pinned tweet shows an attitude that Air-Moving Device could identify since he wrote “it was as if we had dropped down together from the heavens, when we meet we share so much that there is no need of having had a prior acquaintance.” 
同是天涯沦落人,相逢何必曾相识。 Yup, Chinese does tend to be concise!

Chenchen ZH’s comment “I understand that people are afraid. I’m afraid too. I don’t think non-PRC nationals can understand that fear. And I don’t like it when Westerners judge us on that” reminds me of what I learned from Ran Yunfei’s essay on the fear people feel under a totalitarian regime — 2008: Ran Yunfei: “Where Will the Fear End? A Talk that Could Not Be Delivered”.

Chenchen ZH’s phrase in characters above is “we are all witnesses to our era”. 我们都是时代的见证人。

Despite all the pressure points applied, some writers choose to make points in the way other writers, likewise under pressure in dynasties past did, with, literary allusions to other dynasties and other millenia can help make a point. Reminds me a bit of the SF series Battlestar Galactica intro line “All this has happened before, and all this will happen again” . Vast repeating cycles stretching over many millennia, or more accurately in the Battlestar Galactica universe, many kalpa.

Air-Moving Device is apparently an SF fan himself, in the third tweet he mentions a scene from the Hugo Award winning Chinese SF novel The Three-Body Problem(三体). Apparently the Party ideological control-evading writers of today and the alien-evading Chinese defenders of our Earth in the near-future (or now?) use these same tools of literary allusion to break through ideological firewalls.

Translation Attempt: Air-Moving Device’s Quote of Su Shi’s Quote of Qu Yuan

Here, Air-Moving Device quotes Northern Song Dynasty poet Su Shi (aka Su Dongpo) in his 《赤壁赋》 Former Ode on the Red Cliffs quoting Warring States era poet Qu Yuan.

Qu Yuan models for Chinese a higher patriotism, that places ideals, humaneness and concern for human welfare above the narrow interests of the sovereign or state vs. state aggrandizement. The patriotism that say that we have some responsibility for what does on in our era and should strive to bend events towards a better direction. Something like the phrase that Chenchen ZH quotes in above is “we are all witnesses to our era”. 我们都是时代的见证人。

This verse, a passage in which Su Shi in his Former Ode on the Red Cliffs quotes a line from the classic “Songs of Chu”, a poem by the popular Warring States Era, today widely renowned as a model Chinese patriot, poet Qu Yuan’s poem 
離騷 Li Sao “Leaving My Worries Behind” — the title usually translated as “Encountering Sorrow“.

According to some helpful poetry discussions on Chinese websites, sketches a scene of a boat made from cinnamon tree wood and orchid tree oars, rowing on the bright, reflecting broad river waters. Another layer of meaning: I felt then forlorn and worried, thinking of the king (King Huai of the state of Chu), thinking how I can no longer serve him and carry out his impositions on the people. What a sad state of affairs.


On a boat made from cinnamon wood, grasping the orchid oars of fragrant integrity, striking the vast brightly reflecting waters, I row upstream

The poem “Leaving My Worries Behind” (usually translated as “Encountering Sorrow”) contrasts ideals and disillusionment with the cruelties of the present. The web writer characterizes the poem as reflecting concern for the fate of the State of Chu and its people.

The next part of the line, not quoted here by Air Moving Device but in Su Shi’s quotation of Qu Yuan goes something like


“…deep in my mind, I cherish my ideals, thinking to the starry skies above

Some Writers Keep Lower Profile, Others Leave for Exile Abroad

Some writers I knew during my decade in Mainland China naturally became more circumspect in their writing after the authorities intimidated them or their families. Over the past decade, apparently because the Party is even more frightened than before of people who think differently.

Calligraphy Presented to Yin Shuping by Liu Shahe, courtesy Yin Shuping.

The Chengdu essayist on education and society Ran Yunfei, although he always steered clear of commenting on the Communist Party and regime, but instead on social ills and how education could be improved, became much more quiet and cautious. This saddened many fans of Ran Yunfei’s enlightened by blogging, tweeting and weiboing, but we can all understand why.

On this blog I translated a few odd piece of Ran’s work that made more real to me with its vivid description of the oppression many Chinese feel. You can find Learning How to Argue: An Interview with Ran Yunfei, Ian Johnson’s 2012 interview with Ran, on the New York Review of Books website.

Ran Yunfei is part of a group of Chengdu writers who have suffered repression over the years. Yu Jie lives now in Virginia, Liao Yiwu is in Berlin, Chengdu Early Rain pastor/poet/writer Wang Yi is jailed in Sichuan somewhere. Their mentor, the old poet Liu Shahe 流沙河 suffered twenty years imprisonment after being accused of being a rightist following the Hundred Flowers during the late 1950s, just as his defender in those days, Chengdu writer Yin Shuping who was like him, a well-known poet of the New China of the early 1950s.

Some writers stop writing or don’t show their work to anyone or just a few.  A professor at Henan University told me in 1998 that he wrote for his desk drawer.  If we are lucky, some of that desk-drawer literature  抽屉文学   will emerge some day.  Ran Yunfei told me once that he had seen a dozen or more excellent memoirs by retired officials that deserved publication but their sensitive contents made them unpublishable in China. 

All this Makes me Think of that Gordon Bok Song….

Makes me think of the song I heard on a Gordon Bok album, sung by Ed Trickett, Gordon Bok and Ann Mayo Muir, back when I was a student at Bowdoin College. “How Can I Keep From Singing” a Christian hymn composed by the American Baptist minister Robert Wadsworth Lowry.


Grace Notes sing How Can I Keep from Singing?

My life flows on in endless song;
Above earth’s lamentations,
I hear the real, tho’ far-off hymn
That hails a new creation;
Through all the tumult and the strife
I hear its music ringing;
It sounds an echo in my soul—
How can I keep from singing?

Although the tempest loudly roars,
I hear the truth, it liveth.
But though the darkness ’round me close,
Songs in the night it giveth.
No storm can shake my inmost calm
While to that rock I’m clinging;
Since love is lord of heaven and earth,
How can I keep from singing?

When tyrants tremble, sick with fear,
And hear their death-knell ringing,
When friends rejoice both far and near,
How can I keep from singing?
In prison cell and dungeon vile,
Our thoughts to them are winging;
When friends by shame are undefiled,
How can I keep from singing?

About 高大伟 David Cowhig

After retirement translated, with wife Jessie, Liao Yiwu's 2019 "Bullets and Opium", and have been studying things 格物致知. Worked 25 years as a US State Department Foreign Service Officer including ten years at US Embassy Beijing and US Consulate General Chengdu and four years as a China Analyst in the Bureau of Intelligence and Research. Before State I translated Japanese and Chinese scientific and technical books and articles into English freelance for six years. Before that I taught English at Tunghai University in Taiwan for three years. And before that I worked two summers on Norwegian farms, milking cows and feeding chickens.
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