Monday, December 13, 2004

Self-Evaluation Entry of My Weblog

By and large, I feel that this web log project throughout the course of this semester was a success. While at first I struggled with the idea of regular posts and keeping a constant eye out for material to publish on my web log, I soon adapted to the challenge and began to post with (at least some) regularity. I was actually surprised by how much I actively sought material to post and comment on. Of particular accomplishment is my postings about material related to the literature we have studied, but also posts that aren’t strictly academic. For instance, I posted various pictures of Cleopatra, Sappho, etc…, a listing of Shakespeare festivals all around the country and found links to magazines or news articles that was related in some way or another to the academic material at hand. I think that if I were to continue updating this web log in the future, I would definitely have more strict analysis of what we are studying, in addition to comments on what other students have posted in their own web logs. In addition, I would like to explore the possibilities that sound and movie clips and other media forms hold in relation to this project. These are all valuable tools that can enhance the learning experience and develop the academic writing frontier away from the traditional academic essay.
This type of project is a wonderful deviation from the traditional essay and furthermore offers a place for an individual to post questions, comments or just say how the feel about the literature that we are studying. Also, it offers a wonderful resource for staying in contact with other students outside of the classroom and obtaining further analysis of difficult information. I feel like this project is really a collaborative and cooperative effort. Each student contributes their blog, and from there the work of every student constructs a grand and (near) all-encompassing final project. I like the idea of literature having a communal aspect to it that bridges all students and readers, and not just a personal (or exclusive?) bond strictly between the author and the reader. I think that if web log users actively read each other’s entries and commented on the postings of others, a thriving and functional online literary community could enhance or possibly even replace the classroom setting with respect to discussions and examinations of literature.
I am not really certain about the direction that an analysis of literature will take in the future beyond the web log, since much of this direction is heavily dependent upon technology and the resources that are available. It would be impossible to have the web log without the advancement of the internet frontier and the development of adequate technology to sustain this sort of system. However, I am predicting that literature will take on a more personalized form. Maybe a new technology will be developed that is capable of enabling a sort of “thought sharing bank,” in which each person’s ideas and reactions to literature are thrown into a collective forum. From there, every person can look into how other people feel about the same piece of work. But perhaps an analysis of literature will wean itself off of technology and revert back beyond the traditional academic essay to a time when literature was oral and when stories were discussed in a group setting (much like a book club). Whatever this direction may take, I’m sure it will be a valuable supplement to traditional forms of writing about literature.

An Analysis of Poem #143

Poem #143 only contains one single line and arouses the question of what poetry truly is. Can you capture poetry with a single word? A single phrase? Sappho was not constrained by the traditional bounds of poetry as it was in the Ancient Greek World. To her, everything could be poetry if you called it that. All you needed to do was place a frame around it and call it your own work. With that in mind, poem #143 in its entirety reads: “and gold chickpeas were growing on the banks.” It is unclear whether this is just a fragment of a poem or the whole poem in its entirety. However, this simple, single line is just as poetic as any of her other work. But much like art, what matters is not so much what the final product looks like as how it was formulated and constructed. Sappho may have spent several days or even months reworking and rewriting this simple line to get it just perfect in her mind. Despite the simple and perhaps even frugal nature of this poem, it is perhaps one of the most difficult to analyze since the reader is left with so little to work with in analyzing her poetry. All that the literary community has, after 2600 years, is this single phrase. The significance of poem #143 is clearly not floating on the surface, just waiting for the reader to pluck it off from the page. Instead, its true significance is more difficult to tease out and perhaps the true intent of this poem will never be captured as Sappho had when she wrote it.
For me, it strikes an association with rolling coastal hills shimmering over dappling, azure blue waters at dusk, all while the sun sets over the Agean Sea and settles into night. I think that many people, when they think of Greece, envision a deep blue coastline and bleached white houses overlooking the ocean on a bluff on the sea. Poem #143 captures this imagery for me and even extrapolates my conventional image of Greece. The “gold chickpeas” brought to mind an image of the sun as a burning ball of light that shimmers like a fireball over the sea. This image is also evocative of the incredible power that the ancient Greek gods had, and the ball of fire over the ocean is like Zeus ruling over all of Ancient Greek divinity and the common people below the heavens. This is imagery that speaks to me as a reader and captures my attention even within the short span of eight simple words.

A Rendition of Sappho's Poem #103

Oh please,] yes tell
My beloved,] the bride with beautiful feet
who bears my] child of Kronos with violets in her lap
Like Aphrodite] setting aside anger the one with violets in her lap
Sweet and flowing music] pure Graces and Pierian Muses
And when she sings] whenever songs, the mind
dutifully] listening to a clear song
And the goddess] bridegroom
with locks of gold] her hair placing the lyre
Then she rises, bringing] Dawn with gold sandals

Sappho-- An Ancient Greek "Material Girl"

One of the most profound elements to the ancient poems of Sappho is the powerful role that other women play in her work. While she had a male lover(s?), Sappho was also infatuated with various women of the ancient Greek world. What we know of Sappho is that she was a very wealthy woman of upper nobility, and that she possessed many slaves. It is uncertain whether or not these slaves were utilized for sexual purposes, or whether they served the mere purpose of conducting housekeeping tasks. Paleographers and the classical community as a whole also know that Sappho had female lovers, with whom she often had sexual encounters with. However, these lovers of hers were no ordinary women—they were of high status and wealth just like Sappho. The ancient Greek poet was apparently a very picky woman when it came to her female lovers, and she often pokes fun at and humiliates the poorer, “country”-type girls that live outside of the city. Sappho was clearly a sort of urban, contemporary, sleek and classy kind of woman who would not settle for an unrefined and boorish “country girl.” In poem #94, Sappho discusses one of her female lovers and all of the material things that surround her: “for many crowns of violets and roses ] at my side you put on / and many woven garlands made of flowers around your soft throat / and with sweet oil costly you anointed yourself / and on a soft bed delicate you would let loose your longing.” The flower garlands were probably very expensive and hard to come by, and Sappho even informs us that the “sweet oil” her lover anointed herself with was “costly.” Furthermore, a “soft bed” in the ancient Greek world probably meant some sort of feathers or fur, which was also very costly. Even still, Sappho mentions “crowns of violets and roses,” flowers of two colors that were very strong symbols of royalty and nobility. The violet color is of particular significance to wealth and power, for this shade of dye was created by crushing sea snails, a long and difficult process to obtain even a small amount of dye.

Sappho's Poem #16

Sappho is a very romantic poet, and Poem #16 from If Not, Winter is a powerful illustration of her amorous nature. To Sappho, there is nothing more beautiful than your loved one, which she makes clear in the first stanza of this poem: “Some men say an army of horse and some men say an army on foot and some men say an army of ships is the most beautiful thing on the black earth. But I say it is what you love.” In writing “what you love,” Sappho says in a subtle manner that this is the person for whom you have feelings. Sappho then describes Helen of Troy, and how she left everything to follow her heart: “For she who overcame everyone in beauty (Helen) left her fine husband behind and went sailing to Troy. Not for her children nor her dear parents had she a thought, no—.” The rest of the poem is fragmented, but while reading this I received the impression that the rest of this piece discusses the one she loves as her motive for leaving everything she had. The last two lines of the poem mention Anaktoria, a woman who was thought to be one of Sappho’s greatest lovers and quite possibly even the subject of this poem: “] reminded me now of Anaktoria who is gone.” Sappho is an incredible romantic, and many of her poems look like #16 of If Not, Winter—they discuss what it is like to be in love.

Sappho's "Poetic Universe"

Sappho repeatedly mentions certain locations or names in her poetry. Some of these recurrent locations/names include Aphrodite, Krete, Kypris, Zeus, Hera, Abanthis, Lesbos, etc… The ancient Greek poet frequently alludes to the gods/goddesses/historical figures of Greek mythology—Zeus, Helen of Troy, and especially Aphrodite. Sappho was infatuated with the ancient Greek godess, who resided over fertility, wine, happiness and love. Sappho discusses themes of love in many of her ancient poems, and also discusses feminine/womanly qualities. Sometimes, she will discuss children or youthfulness. Sappho crafts her poetic universe out of several of these elements: a description of the gods, her home in ancient Greece, her feelings of affection for both men and women, the joys of being young, the difficulties of aging, etc… Her poems are simple, largely due to the fact that many of the manuscripts of her poems are illegible to paleographers, which thereby cuts out substantial portions of her work. Many of her poems are one single word: “honeyvoiced,” “holder,” “crossable,” etc... But even her complete poems are simple in nature. Much of this simplicity may come from the fact that her poetry is often fragmented and forms little pieces of poetry within the structure of one larger poem—each sentence/stanza is almost a miniature poem of its own. That is the beauty of Sappho—detail and incredible expression of what it is to be a human being in the Ancient Greek world; but this detail and incredible expression comes in subtle forms and in bite-size explanations.

Monday, December 06, 2004

Ancient painting of sappho and Alcaeus Posted by Hello

Sunday, December 05, 2004

Some Notes on Sappho's Poems

Poem 1- “Deathless Aphrodite of the spangled mind”—apparently Sappho was obsessed with Aphrodite, the goddess of love and wine, fertility, etc…
Poem 2- What is frankincence? Is it what smokes on an altar, like incense?
Poem 5- the poem begins and ends with a reference to Kyrpis, who was a Greek goddess and an epithet of the godess Aprohdite, who Sappho adored.
Poem 16- “she] remineded me now of Anaktoria who is gone”—Anaktoria was thought to be a woman that Sappho loves best.
Poem 22- mention of Gongyla and Abanthis- apparently they are two women, of whom nothing else is known but their mention in this poem. Gongyla is mentioned again in poem 95
Poem 94- “and neither any [sacred grove] nor any holy place nor was there from which we were absent no grove [no feeling] no dance ] no sound [no sight]
Poem 96- this is a very feminine poem, I believe it to be a detailed description of a goddess. It uses words like “flowerdeep fields,” “rosyfingered moon,” chervil and flowering sweetclover,” etc… which evokes the “girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice” type of classification of the female sex.
Poem 105a- “as the sweetapple reddens on a high branch high on the highest branch and the applepickers forgot—no, not forgot: were unable to reach” -- this seems like a biblical allusion to the fall of humankind from Eden, even though it was way before biblical times. Because the apple is unattainable—“were unable to reach” – it evokes an allusion to the forbidden fruit.

Background on Sappho-- An Ancient Greek Feminist

Sappho was an ancient Greek poet who infused her works with intense emotions - especially love, desire, longing, and their companion, suffering. She crafted her poems primarily as a tribute to the private world of women, something from which we are generally excluded in Greek literature. Therefore the poems provide us with a valuable and remarkable glimpse into the lives and aspirations of Greek girls. In some respects, they could be termed "romantic", but Sappho transcends her subject with such a moving, insightful, and poignant power that the poems are still highly relevant even today. Simply stated, she created some of the most vibrant love poetry ever composed.
Naturally, someone as intimately concerned with love as Sappho would be drawn to the irresistible realm of the goddess of love. And indeed, Aphrodite plays a significant role in many of Sappho's poems. It is to this goddess that Sappho addresses several of her works. In some cases, it seems as if the poet were a supplicant, begging Aphrodite for mercy from the ravages of unrequited love; in others, Sappho sings joyfully of the beautiful deity, and the poems are like graceful gifts to this golden goddess:
"Leave Krete and come to this holy temple where the graceful grove of apple trees circles an altar smoking with frankincense. Here roses leave shadows on the ground and cold springs bubble through apple branches where shuddering leaves pour down profound sleep. In our meadow where horses graze and wild flowers of spring blossom, anise shoots fill the air with aroma. And here, Queen Aphrodite, pour heavenly nectar into gold cups and fill them gracefully with sudden joy." It is intriguing to see how deftly Sappho has woven elements related to Aphrodite into the poem, and with such subtlety - she refers to the apple not once but twice (a symbol of the goddess - think for example of the golden apple awarded to her by Paris); and roses, a flower dear to the lovely deity, are mentioned as well. The poet conjures up an image of serene and most of all natural beauty, which alludes to Aphrodite and her realm.
In honor of her contributions to Greek poetry and music, Sappho is sometimes referred to as the "tenth Muse".

Khlebnikov's "Asia"

I think that the girl discussed in the first line of the poem by Khlebnikov is a sex slave, perhaps even an official government sex slave, for "her ear gleams with a government seal"-- a gesture alluding to the fact that she is government-owned property, like a street or a courthouse. Also, the first line also mentions her "breast bronze"-- this signifies that she is successful at what she does (a winner), but she is not the best (the color bronze symbolizes the fact that she comes into a ranking lower than first place).

There also appears to be a motif involving shimmering and shining: "your ear gleams," "human beings glitter," and so forth. However, these shining images, which should be representative of positive representation, are juxtaposed against contradictory images: "the ear gleams with A GOVERNMENT SEAL," "the "human beings glitter IN ITS DARK INK!" the uppercase portions express the contrast between the first part of each sentence. There is also another jutxaposition in Khlebnikov's "Asia," this one involving the female sex: "a girl with a sword" and "or an old woman." The "girl with a sword" connects female youth with power via a masculine property-- the sword, traditionally identified as a male object that is perhaps even suggestive of a phallus. Meanwhile, the young girl affiliated with male power is contrasted with "an old woman" who is connected to a very feminine and traditional role for women-- "MIDWIFE of insurgency." The old woman's affiliation with midwifery surfaces the point that she is visibly weaker than the young girl (and not just in physical condition, but clearly also in profession/affiliation).

Sunday, November 28, 2004

Why are all of the Russian poems about Persia? Many of the titles and much of these poems discuss Persian ideas, e.g. a description of the (Euphrates?) River in "Iranian Song"? Just curious why Russian poetry would so obsessively mention such a foreign land.

Sunday, November 21, 2004

Khlebnikov's "Asia"

I think that the first line of the poem, which recites "Always a slave girl" refers to the girl's status as a sex slave, perhaps even a government slave, for "her ear gleams with a government seal." Then Khlebnikov discusses her "breast bronze"-- perhaps alluding to the fact that she is a popular sex slave-- a winner-- but she isn't the best of the best, for her breast is only bronze (emblematic of 3rd place) and not gold (for 1st).

There is a definite motif of shining in this peom: "your ear gleams," "human beings glitter," and so forth. However, these shining images are juxtaposed against contradictory images-- the ear gleams with a government seal (which perhaps taints its gleaming and decreases the shine of the ear), and the "human beings glitter in its dark ink." This poem also contains another glaring juxtaposition, this time pertaining to the female sex: "a girl with a sword" and "or an old woman"-- a young woman is armed with a symbol of manhood (possibly even a phallus) while an old woman is identified by a very feminine task-- the "midwife of insurgency."


Background on Velimir Khlebnikov

  • Khlebnikov lived from 1885- 1922
  • 1912 was the year of the futurists, who focused on remnant poetic language
  • Zaum- in Russian means beyond sense/rationality
  • Shklousky, another Russian poet, was a formalist
  • Khlebnikov died before he was 40, didnt care for himself b/c all he did was write-- he died of syphillis and bad nutrition because he practically starved himself.
  • There is a theory that many great artists and writers had syphillis, which causes dementia-- including Oscar Wilde and Nietsche

Background on Velimir Khlebnikov

  • Khlebnikov lived from 1885- 1922
  • 1912 was the year of the futurists, who focused on remnant poetic language
  • Zaum- in Russian means beyond sense/rationality
  • Shklousky, another Russian poet, was a formalist
  • Khlebnikov died before he was 40, didnt care for himself b/c all he did was write-- he died of syphillis and bad nutrition because he practically starved himself.
  • There is a theory that many great artists and writers had syphillis, which causes dementia-- including Oscar Wilde and Nietsche

Background on Velimir Khlebnikov

  • Khlebnikov lived from 1885- 1922
  • 1912 was the year of the futurists, who focused on remnant poetic language
  • Zaum- in Russian means beyond sense/rationality
  • Shklousky, another Russian poet, was a formalist
  • Khlebnikov died before he was 40, didnt care for himself b/c all he did was write-- he died of syphillis and bad nutrition because he practically starved himself.
  • There is a theory that many great artists and writers had syphillis, which causes dementia-- including Oscar Wilde and Nietsche

Background on Velimir Khlebnikov

  • Khlebnikov lived from 1885- 1922
  • 1912 was the year of the futurists, who focused on remnant poetic language
  • Zaum- in Russian means beyond sense/rationality
  • Shklousky, another Russian poet, was a formalist
  • Khlebnikov died before he was 40, didnt care for himself b/c all he did was write-- he died of syphillis and bad nutrition because he practically starved himself.
  • There is a theory that many great artists and writers had syphillis, which causes dementia-- including Oscar Wilde and Nietsche

A Close Reading of "Zoo" by Velimir Khlebnikov as Done by Students of Comp Lit R1A 006

  • "O Garden of Animals!" -- nice place to be, positive happy place
  • "Where steel bars seem like a father who stops a bloody fight to remind his sons they are brothers" -- engages different species together in an environment free of clashing, serves as an element of control
  • "Where Germans come to drink beer" -- suggestive of manliness, brotherhood
  • "And easy women sell their bodies" -- prostitutes, perhaps the animals of the zoo are being prostituted or serve as a metaphor for humans
  • "Where eagles perch like an eternity figured by the present day, as yet unfinished by evening" -- perhaps a gargoyle, symbol of unchanging
  • "Where the camel, its great hump riderless, knows the secret of Buddhism and supppresses a smile of China" -- the riderless hump is a symbol of the untameable, freedom, yet there are steel bars present. The camel is possibly representative of a Monk meditating in solitude. Much like the eagle, the riderless camel is alone.
  • "Where a deer is fear itself beneath its branching stone" -- uncertain
  • "Where people's outfits astonish" -- people dress up to go to the zoo to show off for the animals, but then the question of who is on exhibit is raised. Shouldnt the animals be showing off?
  • "Where people stroll with mindless frowns, while the Germans glow with health"-- everything is so bad that they must frown about everything
  • "Where the dark glance of a swan-- wintery all over, its beak orange-black as a thicket in autumn-- is somewhat too hesitant, even for him" -- the swan is a symbol of purity, but the pure symbol gives an evil look, signifying that something is wrong. This serves as a foreshadow.
  • "Where a blue gorgeousness fans out its tail, and a blue net of clouds is cast across the golden fire of leaf-fall and the forest green, and it is all shadowed differently by the roughness of the ground" -- a metonymy for a peacock (e.g. four-eyes for someone with glasses). The animals on exhibit in the zoo are personified and behave like humans, while the people act like animals
  • "Where we want to seize the lyre bird's tail, strike its strings, and sing of Russian heroism" -- the bird serves as an instrument by the humans, how humans are on display by playing the zoo specimens
  • "Where we clench our fist as if it held a sword, and whisper an oath: to defend the race of Russians at the cost of life, of death, of everything" -- the fact that they have to "whisper an oath" suggests that the Germans are oppressed.
  • "Where the monkeys are variously angry and display their variegated bottoms and seem, except for the sad ones and shy ones, eternally irritated by the presence of man" -- the monkeys are perhaps emblematic of people, and the bold enough monkeys are showing their "variegated bottoms" in an attempt to try and show off to their human spectators, who are "dressed to astonish."
  • "Where elephants shivering like mountains during an earthquake ask a child for something to eat, making old meanings ring true: 'Im hungree! Gimme something to eat!' and who kneel as if asking for charity"-- the shivering elephants are large in size, much like the nation of Russia. Clearly the elephants are not being cared for.
  • "Where the agile bears scramble up and look down, waiting for their keepers' orders" -- the bears are almost like soldiers with their keepers serving as generals/sargeants
  • Where bats hang upside down, like the heart of a present-day Russian" -- the Russians are having a hard time, they are upside down and so they must "pump" their hearts even harder just to get blood circulating properly- a metaphor for their difficult times.
  • "Where the falcon's breast recalls ragged clouds before a storm" -- both passages refer to the chest area where the heart/breast are located. While the bat is weak while upside down, the falcon commands power-- a contrast. Also, both are winged animals whose hearts are not free.
  • "Where a little ground bird drags behind it a golden sunset full of embers on fire" -- uncertain
  • "Where we see in the tiger's face the white beard and the eyes of an elderly Muslim, and we honor the first follower of the prophet and read the essence of Islam" -- the tiger with the white beard and "eyes of an elderly Muslim" seems like a fierce image commanding respect
  • "Where we begin to think that religions are the subsiding surge of waves whose dispersion formed the species" -- religion created humanity, presents a positive view of religion
  • "And that therefore the earth contains as many animals as they find different ways of witnessing God" -- discusses evolution as offensive, presents the conflict of evolution versus religion. All of the animals are a different method of witnessing g-d
  • "Where the animals, tired of roaring, stand and look up at the sky" -- they are done roaring- a symbol of anger- and are now trying find another outlet for their feelings that is not anger. Perhaps their upward glances are emblematic of the search for g-d?
  • "Where a caged seal is a vivid reminder of the sufferings of sinners, hurtling back and forth and wailing" -- humans caged the seal and are thus the cause of its suffering, however it is unclear whether humans or animals are sinners.
  • "Where funny fishwingers groom one another with the touching care of Gogol's Old-World Landowners" -- uncertain
  • "O Garden of animals, where the stare of a beast has more meaning than stacks of reread books" -- "o Garden" takes us back to the first line, but now the garden serves as a symbol of difference. This stanza also suggests that natural things have more meaning than manmade constructs.
  • "O Gaden" -- uncertain
  • "Where an eagle broods over something, like a child grown tired of complaining" -- uncertain
  • "Where an Eskimo husky vents its Siberian aggression in a hostile ritual born in the blood, at the sight of a kitten washing its face" -- this is an animalistic portrayal of an animal, the animals are finally depersonified and acting like the animals that they should be.

My Strange Story- Not Supernatural, but Definitely Strange

My good friend Patrick ran into a little trouble with the law last year when he got caught drinking by the Lake Oswego Police Department. Unfortunately for him it was his second MIP (Minor in Possession), and thus he was directed to the Clackamas County probation office and given six month’s probation under the county MIP officer, Michael Luna. Every minor that has been busted twice for drinking (and received an MIP each time) has to see Mr. Luna.
I had met Mr. Luna once before—I was taking a driver’s education class this summer in order to get my license (I’m lazy, I know) and he was a guest speaker at one of my classes to report the consequences of drinking and driving. Mr. Luna seemed like a respectable man—he holds a steady job that he loves and frequently mentioned his adored wife and children. I really enjoyed Mr. Luna’s presentation and thought well of him in his attempts at keeping the youth of Clackamas County safe from binge drinking. That was, however, until Patrick Norris came through Mr. Luna’s office.
My friend Patrick is an alright guy—he’s about six feet two inches with a heavy build and shaggy platinum blonde Kurt-Cobainesque hair—not ridiculously attractive by conventional standards, but by no means bad-looking. Anyway, while serving his six months’ probation in attending classes, performing community service and waiting until the day he got his license back, Patrick was under the watchful eye of Mr. Michael Luna. Unfortunately for Patrick, Mr. Luna began to “take a liking” to my blonde friend. His affection for Pat wasn’t fully confirmed until the day Patrick was released from his six months’ probation service, when Michael gave him a $25 gift card to starbucks. On the backside of this gift card was a note that read: “Call me cutie, or I’ll be forced to open your case.” Patrick and I both agreed that the whole situation was mighty sketchy. Patrick never called him back, and fortunately Mr. Luna never reopened his case, for to this day it remains closed.


I found the website of this magazine that investigates strange occurrences like ghosts, UFOs and the like... Perhaps some Comp Lit students should look into it to solve the strange incidents that were the subjects of their stories (which are now on blackboard).

Monday, November 15, 2004

Chinese Recipes for Cruelty

Recipes for cruelty
Shanghai Star. 2004-02-19

The Chinese are renowned around the world for their love of food, sometimes strange food. The SARS outbreak last year led to great criticism of Chinese, especially Cantonese, over some of their unique dining "customs". The condemnation centred on the eating of various animals, especially wild ones, that other peoples could never imagine themselves eating - for example, mice and cats.
"However, that doesn't mean that all Chinese do things the same way," said Jiang Liyang, a gastronome in Shanghai who has been studying Chinese history and dining. "But Chinese people really do lack an awareness when it comes to protecting animals," he said.
People in most regions in China today are eating "normal" food but in ancient times a series of "cruel" dishes were created which did involve the torture of animals. Some of them would astonish modern Chinese.
According to the level of cruelty, nine dishes were on this menu. The cruelest one was when a group of diners sat down to consume the brain of a live monkey.
A small table was prepared for the diners with a hole in the centre, the same size as a monkey's head. The live monkey was fastened under the table with part of its head showing through the hole. The hair on its head was shaved and the skull was cut open. The monkey would begin to squeal with pain as seasonings and oil were sprinkled onto the brain and diners around the table ladled sections of the brain onto their plates. It was considered a delicious dish.
"Chinese people trust in the idiom that 'A thing is valued if it is rare,' so that some thought eating strange and precious things showed their wealth and social status," Jiang said.
People today don't have easy access to this dish any more but a very few still try to eat it in secret, Jiang said.
Another "cruel dish" was eating new-born mice, called "san zhi er" (three screams).
The diners would order mice that had just been born and a plate of sauce. The baby mouse would scream first when a diner seized it with a pair of chopsticks. It would scream a second time when it was dipped into the seasonings and its last scream was emitted as it entered the diner's mouth.
Some Cantonese still eat mice because they believe mouse meat is rich in protein. This was confirmed by Jiang, but he said mouse meat was also dangerous because it contained a lot of bacteria.
"SARS was actually not caused by civet cats but by mice," he asserted. "People in what is now East China's Anhui Province in the Song Dynasty (960-1279) were the first to eat civets."
He recalled that in his childhood around 1949, a Cantonese vendor came to Shanghai, swapping Cantonese dim sum for mice caught by locals.
Painful but tasty
Another "cruel dish" concerned the carving up of a live donkey, a practice, Jiang said, that still persists among farmers in some villages in Henan and Hebei provinces.
The legs and head of a donkey were held by cords fixed to five poles. The diners could choose meat from whichever part of the donkey they wanted.
A butcher would pour boiling water onto the part selected, remove the hair and cut the meat off while the donkey was still alive. The process was similar to an ancient torture called "ling chi", to put a person to death by slow dismemberment.
It's said that Cixi, the notorious Dowager Empress at the end of the Qing Dynasty (1644-1912), was fond of eating roasted duck's claws.
The duck would be placed on an iron plate over a fire lit below and the duck would begin jumping as the heat became unbearable. It would also become thirsty and diners would give it soy bean oil to drink so that the claws would be flavoured when cut off for eating.
Cixi's favourite part of the dish was the thin layer of skin on the bottom of the duck's feet. She usually had this dish when eating a hot pot dinner.
Other dishes on the "cruel list" included "zui xia" (shrimps in alcohol) where the "drunken" shrimps were eaten alive and "feng gan ji" (wind-dried chicken) where the belly of a chicken was opened while it was alive and its insides removed and seasonings inserted.
Chinese seemed to be willing to go to any lengths to obtain a delicacy. Jiang said that one ancient dynasty was even overthrown by soldiers lured by a list of delicious food that the rebels would serve them after victory.
"People in Yunnan, Guizhou, Guangdong and Guangxi in the south are used to eating strange things," Jiang said.
One of the most famous was the Cantonese soup, "long hu dou" (tiger fighting with dragon), made from cat and snake meat which were nicknamed "little tiger and little dragon".
The Yunnan people used to eat a sort of paste made from the eggs of ants. It has been proved that eating ants can be good for the health but the dish looks disgusting.
"We used to believe that wild animals were more tasty than domesticated poultry or pigs. It's not true. There was a greater possible of spreading viruses among people," Jiang said.
However, he believes that the torture of animals was never part of mainstream Chinese cuisine as sometimes alleged by Westerners.
And the West is not entirely innocent either. "Western people who like goose liver are also guilty of badly treating geese, force-feeding them continuously to fatten only the liver," he said.

taken from

Now I Know Where the Term "Chinese Torture" Comes From

The results of an extensive undercover investigation into China’s cruel bear bile farms by the World Society for the Protection of Animals (WSPA) were revealed in a new report discussed at the recent meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Nairobi, Kenya.WSPA’s report, Inside China’s Torture Chambers, documents how thousands of bears are kept in horrific conditions in hundreds of farms across China, producing approximately 7000 kg of bear bile every year for the traditional Chinese medicine market.WSPA fears that China will apply to register some of its bear farms with CITES (none currently registered), thereby circumventing the existing international ban on trade in endangered bear parts. Bears from facilities approved by the CITES Secretariat can have their parts sold in global commercial trade while wild bears of the same species ostensibly are protected from such profitable exploitation. Such a move would hasten the demise of bears in the wild, with many taken from the wild each year to restock the farms, and encourage the continued development of this barbaric form of “farming.”The bears kept on these farms endure the most appalling levels of cruelty and neglect, with many wounded and scarred due to the friction caused by being kept in tiny metal cages suspended above the ground. They have no choice but to lie squashed in their cages on a bed of bars, some with a constant stream of bile seeping from their stomachs, where an open wound allows workers to insert a tube or piece of metal to “tap” the bile twice a day. Bears may stop producing bile after just a few years, after which they outlive their usefulness and are left to die or killed for their paws and gall bladders. A single bear paw may sell for several hundred dollars - almost a year’s salary for the average worker in China.

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Not to endlessly attack Chinese culture or anything, but Chinese culture is notoriously cruel to the animal kingdom. Many Chinese herbal remedies incorporate ingredients like Rhinoceros horn (which is ground into a powder and is taken to invigorate flacid erections). The entire animal is then killed just for its horn and the rest is discarded. Bear bile/gall bladders are also considered to possess medicinal use. Shark-Fin Soup, Turtle Soup, wild and Birds-Nest Soup are all considered delicacies-- no doubt cruel acquired tastes. Even during the SARS outbreak of 2003-2004, the Chinese government rounded up thousands of civets (a species similar to the cat) and electrocuted, gassed and beat them to death for potentially carrying the virus.

a link discussing current Chinese (human) torture practices by the government:

The Cruelty of Empress Lu

Why are the Ancient Chinese so barbaric and cruel? They torture their own people!!! I loathe empress Lu, undeniably the most monstrous of them all. Reading about the torture that Empress Chi endures simply makes me absolutely sick:

"Empress Lu later cut off Lady Ch'i's hands and feet, plucked out her eyes, burned her ears, gave her a potion to drink which made her dumb, and had her thrown into the privy, calling her the 'human pig. After a few days, she sent for Emperor Hui and showed him the 'human pig.' Staring at her, he asked who the person was, and only then did he realize that it was Lady Ch'i. Thereupon he wept so bitterly that he grew ill and for over a year could not leave his bed."

Even Emperor Hui recognizes the sickening cruelty of this act: "He [Emperor Hui] sent a messenger to report to his mother, 'No human being could have done such a deed as this!'"

In all actuality, I have never read anything in my life that has made me feel so sick and so distrusting in the notion that humankind is inherently good-natured and kind. I keep running this passage over and over in my mind and envisoning how I would feel if this happened to my own mother, and what I would do to the crazy, twisted bitch (pardon my language) who just turned my beloved mother into a "human pig"! She is absolutely barbaric and horrible. I can't express in words how sick, enraged, violated, etc... I would feel. Although I am not one to seek revenge, in this instance my purpose in life would change-- I would make it my life's mission to inflict incredible misery upon Empress Lu. Merely killing her would not do justice to the punishment that Empress Lu deserves. I would think of a punishment that is even more cruel than the one given to my own mother, and then I would cause Lu to suffer for the rest of her pathetic existence. Let's just say I really love my mother, and would never let anything so horrible happen to her without making her tormentor pay exponentially for the pain inflicted upon her.

Sunday, November 07, 2004

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