I must admit I am still a bit pumped from my visit to Mao’s birthplace in Shaoshan, Hunan province. The food here is simply great, with heaps of spice that makes you cough and your nose run, yet sits easily on the stomach. Maybe that’s because it burns out the whole system.

So, it began with a lecture this morning:

And then I had lunch with the fantastic hosts here, including the local party branch secretary and the deputy party-branch secretary. After lunch we headed off ​in search of Mao. Actually, he was not that hard to find …

I even managed to meet him in a petrol station, where we chatted about old times:

We found out where his neighbour lived:

And that the Mao family was shortish, or at least shorter than me, since I had to duck at every doorway:

More importantly, we found the urinal he used when he returned home in later years:

And even his toilet and bath:

However, the most important find for me was his bicycle. Yes, the very bicycle the chairman rode:

​But it would all not have been possible without the great people here in Xiangtan.

Over the next few days I will be holding forth in Xiangtan University (in Mao’s birthplace) and then Nankai University (Tianjin). For those who may be attending, the abstracts:

Xiangtan University
‘The Need for a "Warm Stream" in Marxism’

Marxism is well known for its two components: a ‘cold stream’ which concerns objective scientific analysis; and a ‘warm stream’ that concerns enthusiasm and hope and leads to commitment to Marxism as a cause. One appeals to the mind, the other appeals to the heart. We may understand these two components as being in a dialectical relationship with one another. They are distinct, yet they necessarily interact to produce the richness of Marxism. This lecture argues that at times the ‘cold stream’ prevails, with objective scientific analysis becoming dominant. This may lead to stagnation in Marxism and fail to inspire those who wish to identify with Marxism. Yet, at those times we find that the renewal of Marxism comes from the ‘warm stream’, with efforts to bring enthusiasm and hope back into Marxism. In order to illustrate this argument, I examine some historical moments in the history of Marxism when such renewal has taken place: the work of Anatoly Lunacharsky before the Russian Revolution; Ernst Bloch in Western Marxism; and the development of eco-socialism in our own day. I close by considering President Xi Jiping’s recent calls in China for a recovery of ‘faith’ in socialism.

Nankai University
‘Marxism and Religion Reconsidered in a Chinese Context’

This lecture argues that Marxism brings about both the end and transformation of religion. The word that captures both senses – end and transformation – is the almost untranslatable German term Aufhebung. How does this transformation work? I focus on three key moments: Marx, Engels, and Mao. First, Marx takes the idea of the fetish and turns it into the central idea for his analysis of capitalism. The fetish is originally a religious idea that indicates the transfer of human properties to objects. Marx transforms this idea to understand the core of capitalism. Second, Engels develops his own transformation of religion. This was his life-long project of finding the revolutionary dimensions of religion. Above all, he came to argue that Christianity was originally a revolutionary movement. Third, I consider a very different transformation – that of Mao Zedong. In this case, the transformation takes place initially with two ideas: datong and taiping (the Great Harmony and the Great Peace), both originally from the Confucian tradition but radically recast in the Taiping Revolution of the 19th century. That is, the evolutionary idea of the Great Harmony – the final stage of three in world development – comes into contact with revolutionary Christianity in the Taiping Revolution. It was precisely this revolution that provided significant inspiration for Mao’s own sinification of Marxism.

‘Nakedness,’ ‘feet,’ ‘secret parts’ – these and other terms are usually understood as euphemisms for genitals in the Bible. But in my research for ‘The Matriarch’s Muff’ I have found that the Bible is as rich in its earthy terminology for female genitals as it is for male ones (see ‘The Patriarch’s Nuts‘). Let me give one example. In Isaiah 3:17, the NRSV reads:

the Lord will afflict with scabs
the heads of the daughters of Zion,
and the Lord will lay bare their secret parts.

The key phrase is ‘lay bare their secret parts’ (pathen yĕʿāreh). The text actually reads that Yahweh will lay bare their ‘cunts’. Why? Pat is the term for socket, gulley or hollow. As fortune would have it, the Old English origins of ‘cunt’ – from Old Norse or Icelandic or perhaps Latin – also designate a gulley or cleft. That is, cunt was quite a common, ordinary word, which first appeared in 1230 CE, only to be rendered indecent in the nineteenth century. Indeed, as Emma Rees points out in The Vagina: A Literary and Cultural History, it was common to find medieval street names in England such as Gropecuntelane in London, Oxford and Bristol, or Clawecunt, Clevecunt, Cruskunt and Blunthercuntesaker. So I suggest we recover this ordinary sense of cunt, which we also find with pat. Isaiah 3:17 therefore reads, ‘and Yahweh lays bare their cunts’.

‘May I have a photo with you?’

Again and again I encounter this request in China. It matters little where I am – walking the street in a town, visiting a Buddhist temple, climbing a mountain, or simply minding my own business in a quiet space. And I have come to know the look that precedes the question. An inquisitive and studied look that is almost a stare – no, more than that, a look with the hint of dreaming, if not the stirring of a strange desire. When I return the gaze, eyes are averted, but only for a moment. Sometimes I utter a ‘nihau’, if not a few further sentences in Chinese, sometimes not.

But the question nearly always follows and then the sidling up for a photo. An older woman with curled hair, much laughter and a willing friend to take the shot; a young woman with a mobile phone and a selfie; a group of two or three or more, each of whom poses in a cute way; an effeminate man who sidles up intimately and utters an affectionate word or two. If I am quick enough, my own camera comes out as well and I ask someone to take a shot. If the person is too short for a good shot, I simply pick her up so that our faces are at the same height. At times it becomes a sequence of photos, with yet another person stepping forward to make the same request.

Obviously, this experience can go to your head, making you believe you are some kind of movie star. Best to avoid that self-impression at all costs. So in order to keep my feet on the ground, I have been trying to figure out the reason. Is it because people still wonder at foreigners (luowai), those strange figures from afar? Is it due to a curious exoticism in a country where everyone has dark eyes and straight, black hair? Is it because of some ‘Asian’ propensity to take photos of oneself before a significant site in a slightly different way? In the end, I simply asked a few people I know.

After much discussion, they agreed that it is mainly due to the fantasy of the foreign man. That fantasy is – as most are – a distinct mixture of contradictory elements. On the one hand, the foreign man can be seen as a rampant beast. With an over-hanging belly, red face, and drooling lips, he is out to get what he can in China (mostly with women). Yet, the foreign man may also embody the dream of an ideal relationship: devotion and sufficient resources for security, along with a window into a very different life from another culture. Even more, the foreigner may provide an alternative and desirable aesthetic.Yet, while many may entertain such a fantasy, few are willing to act on it. Indeed, a fantasy functions as something upon which one does not act. It remains a projection, a desire that cannot be realised, is even destroyed if acted upon. And so a photo can try to capture that fantasy.

​​

I have just returned from a great time in Kaifeng, the ancient imperial capital from a millennium ago. In Henan University, Kaifeng, I met Liang Gong, who is fostering a program of biblical criticism with a particular focus on Marxist biblical criticism. Needless to say, I was thrilled to meet him and some of his students and colleagues. To gain a sense of what they are up to, he edits a journal called ‘Biblical Literature Studies‘. It is the first academic journal in this area in China, registered with the Chinese Academy of the Social Sciences. To top it off, the team has recently received a national grant on Marxist Interpretations of the Bible – so it looks like I might be involved more closely with them at Henan University.

CALL FOR PAPERS
BIBLE AND CRITICAL THEORY SEMINAR 2014
Deadline for proposals: 31 August 2014
The Seminar calls for papers at the intersection of critical theory and the Bible. We interpret “critical theory” broadly to include not only the seminal work of the Frankfurt School, but also approaches such as Marxism, post-Marxism, post-structuralism, feminism, queer studies, critical race theory, post-colonialism, human-animal studies, ideological criticism, Continental philosophy, psychoanalysis, ecocriticism, cultural materialism, new historicism, alternative economics, etc. Likewise, we interpret “the Bible” broadly, to include the various Jewish, Christian and Muslim scriptures and related ancient literature, including their history of reception, use, and effect.
Please send paper proposals of 150-200 words to:
Roland Boer: Roland.Boer(at)newcastle.edu.au and
Deane Galbraith: relegere.reviews(at)otago.ac.nz

Details:

Dates for Seminar: 10-11 December 2014

Venue: The Original Robert Burns Pub (“The Robbie”), 374 George Street, Dunedin, New Zealand
https://www.facebook.com/RobbieBurnsPub/photos

The Bible and Critical Theory Seminar returns to Dunedin in what is the tenth year of publication of the Bible and Critical Theory Journal and the seventeenth year in which the Seminar has been held. We will meet in the Poetry Corner at the Robbie Burns Pub, which we will have to ourselves until joined by regular patrons in the late afternoon. We will also make our way to Eric Repphun’s new venture, the Governor’s Cafe, for a delicious lunch.
Please also note that the BCT Seminar will follow the annual meeting of the Aotearoa-New Zealand Association of Biblical Studies (ANZABS), also to be held in Dunedin, at the University of Otago, on 8-9 December 2014.

Accommodation:

While there is no official accommodation and a range of options around the city, for those comrades who appreciate the conviviality of low-cost communal living, I (Deane) recommend Hogwartz Backpackers, a short ten-minute walk to the Seminar venue and, from 1872 until 1999, residence of the Roman Catholic bishop. Prices start from NZ$29 for a shared room with 4 to 6 beds, and it is approximately NZ$63 for a single room.

The third of a series on sex and love in the works of a youngish Mao. I am drawing from a string of pieces from 1919, which were inspired by the suicide of a Miss Zhao, who killed herself in the marriage sedan that was taking her to a wedding she did not want. In ‘Smash the Matchmaker System’ (1919), Mao writes:

Speaking of this thing called a matchmaker, this is another cheap trick of Chinese society. Chinese society contains a great many cheap tricks. Things like those literary essays, imperial examinations, local bandits, and bureaucrats are all nothing but a bunch of cheap tricks. The same is true of things like exorcizing devils, sacrifices to appease the gods, dragon lanterns, lion dances, and even doctors treating patients, teachers teaching classes, and men and women getting married. A society like that of China should really be called a society of cheap tricks. The trick called marriage is connected with the problem of men and women, and also gives birth to a bunch of smaller games, such as “crawling in the dust,” “robbing the sister-in-law,” “raising the hero,” “fighting the wind,” “wearing a green bandana,” “making the genie jump,” and so on. But as regards marriage, standing above all these little tricks, so that it may in all conscience be called the “ultimate cheap trick,” is that three-headed six-armed ubiquitous demon, the “matchmaker.”

The Chinese matchmaker has the following strange features:
the basic philosophy is “successfully dragging them together”:
each marriage is at least 80 per cent lies;

the “gods” and the “eight talismans” are their protecting characters.

In China it is said that the major power over marriage is in the hands of the parents. In actuality, although the parents are nominally the ones in control, they do not really make the decision. It is in fact the matchmaker who has decision-making power … For this kind of matchmaker the first thing is to have the basic philosophy of “successfully dragging them together.” Going around selling both parties on the idea that she genuinely wants the marriage to be a success, the matchmaker always says forcefully, you two families must make up your own minds. In fact, however, after all her badgering, even parents with iron ears have long since become limp rags … That matchmaker thinks that if she can’t get the couples together it is her own fault. In the event that they do come together, and the two parties go from “unmarried” to “married,” she will have a meritorious deed to her credit. At the bottom of such a philosophy of dragging people together, one thing is indispensable: “telling lies.” Since the two families of the man and woman are not close to one another, there are many things that they do not know about each other, and the girl is locked away in the inner chambers, making it even more difficult to find out about her. So the matchmaker rambles on, making up all kinds of stories, so that on hearing them, both sets of parents will be happy. A marriage contract is written up on a sheet of paper, and thus the affair is concluded. As a result, it is frequently the case that after the marriage, the two turn out to be completely incompatible … Some even go so far as the substitute another bridegroom, or switch the bride. This constitutes a “match between unmatchables,” and not just “a few little lies.” Totally incompatible marriages in which the matchmaker has simply dragged the couple together and then lets out a futile fart to the heavens (country people call a lie a “futile fart”) practically fill Chinese society.

And why is it that one never hears of the man or the woman picking a quarrel with the matchmaker, or that of all the lawsuits in the courts, one rarely hears one against “the old man of the moon”? On the contrary, such people get off scot-free, with money in their pockets from the fee for their services. Why is this? Thanks to the blessings of the “gods” and the “eight characters,” the responsibility is placed on the supernatural.

Since matchmakers are as bad as all this, when in the future we think about marriage reform, it is imperative that we immediately do away with the matchmaker system. Vocabulary such as “matchmaker” and “the old man of the moon” must be expunged from dictionaries of the Chinese language. With the establishment of a new marriage system, provided only that the man and woman both know in their hearts that they have a deep and mutual affection for each other they should be fully able to mate freely … The thing called the matchmaker should be hurled beyond the highest heavens and forever forgotten.

Revolutionary Writings, 1912-1949, pp. 442-44.