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


Dates for Seminar: 10-11 December 2014

Venue: The Original Robert Burns Pub (“The Robbie”), 374 George Street, Dunedin, New Zealand

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.


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.

Henan University, Kaifeng, Henan, 16-19 April:

‘Western Marxist Approaches to the Bible’

Xiangtan University, Xiangtan, Hunan, (Mao’s birthplace), 22-24 April:

The Need for the ‘Warm Stream’ in Marxism

Nankai University, Tianjin, 25 April:

Reconsidering Marxism and Religion in a Chinese Context

Academy of Marxism, Beijing, 29 April:

‘The Need for the "Warm Stream" in Marxism’

Peking University, 14 May:

‘Antonio Negri, Giorgio Agamben and Theology’

Tsinghua University, Beijing, 15 May:

‘Reconsidering Marxism and Religion in a Chinese Context

Beijing Languages and Cultures University, 16 May:

‘The Need for the "Warm Stream" in Marxism’

Renmin University, Beijing, 17 May:

‘Is Australia a "Western" Country?’

Nishan Forum, Qufu, Shandong, 20-22 May:

‘Reconsidering Marxism and Religion in a Chinese Context’

Sichuan University, 27 May – 1 June:

‘Reconsidering Marxism and Religion in a Chinese Context’

‘Western Marxist Approaches to the Bible’

All of these topics have been chosen by the various people at the universities (and academy) in question, so what intrigues me is what they see as relevant for Chinese debates.

‘If we are unable to read the script, then we are unable to read’. So it is said concerning the ‘traditional’ Chinese script. The saying is really a lament concerning the most recent process of simplification of the script. Of course, it was Mao Zedong and others who instigated this change, which unfolded over half a century from the 1930s to the script used by the vast majority of Chinese, in the People’s Republic and around the globe.

But why lament the process of simplifying the script? For some, the very nature of the script has become a marker of an intellectual and scriptural tradition of more than three millennia. For others, a script that can be used by so many diverse languages and dialects acts as a potent sense of unity. So to simplify the script is seen by these people as an attack on the tradition and on the unity of China. However, the script has also been a symbol of class, or better, caste. The ability to read and write belonged to the select few in the imperial administration, especially those who had undergone the arduous examination system for entry and promotion into that service. The result was that no more than ten per cent of the population as a whole were able to use this formidable and complex script. The remaining ninety per cent – peasants – had no hope of learning it and were actively prevented from using it. Writing was not only a means of power, as Lévi-Strauss would have it, but also of caste.

The communist challenge to the traditional script was therefore a challenge to the power of that scribal ruling class. It was, of course, not simply a challenge to the script. The primary motivation was to empower the peasants, not merely through a new socio-economic system and army training, but also through the ability to read and write. The simplification of the script was therefore a means to this empowerment. The first steps were taken back in the 1930s, in the Yan’an Soviet (where the Red Army had ended the Long March). In the makeshift schools established in huts, cave-houses, and in the open, peasants were taught to read and write in large numbers. To ease the process, a simplified script along with the pinyin (Romanised) system was developed along the lines proposed by Qian Xuantong. The success of the project ensured that the new and easier script would eventually become national policy, a policy that continues today with the latest List of Commonly Used Standardized Characters published in June, 2013. Needless to say, the initial act of simplifying the script undermined the very claim to superiority by the intellectuals who had preserved the traditional script for themselves.

In this respect, some of these intellectuals have never forgiven Mao for what he did. Their response has been to establish a common assumption that the simplified script was a dumbing down – for peasants – of China’s literary and cultural heritage. They also managed to secure the astonishing assumption that Taiwan is more traditional than the mainland. Any visitor to Taiwan can see that it is deeply Americanised and more pervasively capitalised than the mainland. ‘Traditional’ is certainly not a word that comes to mind easily, if at all. Yet, many on the mainland insist it is more traditional. Why? It is simply because Taiwan has not broken with the traditional script. Forget the fact that the Guomintang kept that script as an explicitly elitist, anti-communist measure once it had escaped to Taiwan. Indeed, forget the fact that the process of simplification has itself gone through waves from the time of the Qin dynasty of the late third century BCE, with perhaps the most significant effort during the May Fourth Movement after 1919.

In light of all this, it becomes a little easier to understand the Cultural Revolution. ‘To the countryside’ was the slogan. The intellectuals accustomed to their caste superiority, to keeping the cogs of bureaucracy running, to keeping the peasants ignorant, were now told to learn from the peasants. The intellectuals were not, of course, to give up being intellectuals, but to learn a new way of being so. And a crucial part of that process was to use the simplified script. It is a useful reminder of the depth of Mao’s challenge to the vested interests of intellectuals that he also pondered whether to abolish the script entirely and simply use the Romanised pinyin system. Perhaps he took to heart Lu Xun’s statement, ‘If Chinese characters are not destroyed, then China will die’.

I, for one, am grateful for the simplification. Given that it is a little more difficult to learn a new language as one gets older, and given that Chinese is a challenge at the best of times, the process of learning is somewhat easier with the new script. That is not to say it easy in itself, but I am thankful indeed that I do not need to learn the traditional script.

Marx’s first carbuncle appeared in 1863, growing from a boil on his back to the size of a fist. Eventually the doctor was called. He cut widely and deeply into Karl’s back, letting loose an immense amount of blood and pus. For convalescence, the doctor prescribed the following:

- one and half quarts of stout (1.7 litres)
- three to four glasses of port
- half a bottle of claret daily

This was daily. One assumes he didn’t feel as much pain this way.

One of the features I have begun to notice about Chinese intellectual life is that it is inherently engaged with social and political problems. Often, a scholar will identify what is regarded as the core problem of China as a whole and then seek a solution (of all 1.3 billion people). The identification of the problem and indeed the solution may change, but the form of scholarship remains. I am told this is deeply Confucian. Mao is no exception, as in this lyrical piece from 1920 when he was engaged in the project to reconstruct his home province of Hunan as a separate state.

Buildings constructed on islets of sand will collapse even before they are completed. The twenty-four dynasties of China may be regarded as twenty-four buildings built on islets of sand, every one of which collapsed precisely because not one of them had a foundation. The four-thousand-year-old China is merely an empty frame. All the activities of its many politicians and all the scholarship of its many scholars have been just sketches painted on this empty frame … Thus, our ancient and civilized country with its four thousand years of history has never really been a country at all. The country is merely an empty frame with absolutely nothing inside. It might be said that there were people, but the people were scattered. It is a pity that ‘a sheet of loose sand’ does indeed describe them!

Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, p. 579.

Early in 1851, Marx wrote to Engels one of his many letters, this one concerning ground rent. Early in the letter, he informs Engels:

An inverse relationship of the fertility of the soil to human fertility must needs deeply affect a strong-loined paterfamilias like myself, the more so since mon mariage est plus productif que mon industries (MECW 38: 274).

Jenny was pregnant with their fifth child. To add a slight complication, Lenchen (Helene Demuth), the real head of the household, was also pregnant by the same paterfamilias.

One of the collaborative research projects we are developing with Fudan University concerns the alienations and structural limitations of the public sphere. That sphere is supposed to be where ‘freedom’ and ‘democracy’ are found, where people can express their opinions without hindrance, where new possibilities emerge, and so on. The problem is that the public sphere is anything but that, for here the alienations and exclusions of bourgeois democracy are found (Hegel, Marx, et al).

A telling example is the role of the ‘free press’, which is touted as one of the crucial elements of the public sphere. You know the story: the press should be ‘free’ from government interference so that it can criticise governments, uncover corruption, keep the bastards honest …. A good example of how the ‘free press’ really works is the recent reporting on the Ukraine. Instead of seeking careful analysis and assessment of the situation, as well as criticising the various government stances on Ukraine, the ‘free press’ with one voice took a particular line. That is, peaceful protestors sought to oust a dictator imposed by Putin, all in the name of freedom and democracy. Afterwards, Putin took another step in seeking to expand the old ‘Soviet empire’ by ‘invading’ Crimea and then ‘annexing’ it to Russia.

I am not so interested here on whether this content is true or false (mostly the latter), but rather by the way it illustrates the limitations of the ‘free press’ and thereby of the public sphere. That is, one may be part of the club only by accepting a certain language, by agreeing to particular presuppositions. Anyone who does not do so is excluded. And that exclusion may take the form of language (although it also takes other forms). Other presses are thereby ‘state-run media’, which are really just propaganda organs for some ‘regime’ or other. So also with the public sphere: it is always a limited zone with ever-shifting boundaries. This means that all the talk about expanding the public sphere to include new (and often religious) voices is simply hot air. Sure, some of them can be included, but only if they agree to the rules of engagement. Obviously, most are simply excluded. This pattern of exclusion is not some dreadful plot by the gate-keepers of the public sphere, but part of the very structure of the public sphere itself.

The last text before Mao begins turning to communism is a fascinating series of comments on Friedrich Paulsen’s A System of Ethics. On the question of evil. Mao disagrees with Paulsen and writes:

We should emphasise only whether or not the reality at the time was good or evil. If the actual activity is good then it is good, if evil then it is evil. We should not think about being good in order to leave behind a good historical reputation or about evil leaving behind a bad reputation historically. When we judge history and say that someone was good or that someone was bad, we are referring to the good and bad actions of that person. There is no goodness or evil apart from real actions. Thus it is stupid to think of leaving behind a reputation for all time, and it is also stupid to envy the reputation that others may leave behind them.
If disease inspires the medical arts and teaches a sense of patience and benevolence, if suffering is able to move the heart and instil patience, if falsehood is conquered by truth, if evil thoughts submit to one’s conscience, is this not precisely because they are evil? … The reason we cannot do without evil is that it is capable of assisting our resistance and struggle, and thus every kind of evil is always under attack and being suppressed; it is not just that it is inevitable.
We want to do away with evil because it is enemy to the fulfilment of life. Thus we eliminate evil in the process of fulfilling life, not just to eliminate evil. In wishing to live a full life, how am I to know whether the evils are many or few or whether I shall eliminate them or not.
Revolutionary Writings 1912-1949, vol. 1, pp. 241-43.

Last night I took the old slow train from Shanghai to Beijing. Now that the 1300 km run is covered by the sleek G-trains, which manage the distance in less than five hours, older trains are few and far between. The overnight sleeper is almost all that is left, taking a leisurely fifteen hours.

I boarded the train and looked longingly at the sleeping bunks:

However, I was soon informed that they are for people of no more than 1.2 metres in height:

So I was left with two options. Either the smoking comp artment (with the gap):

Or this lovely compartment:

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