Friday, 9 November 2018

One divides into two

Me and my teacher, Gao Laoshi, Guilin 2 March 1977.
On our way to Mao's birthplace, Shaoshan, Hunan

When I arrived in China in September 1976, it was to attend what was then known as the Peking Languages Institute, the PLI (北京语言学院) [I don't know what it is now; I can't find it on Google Maps.. yikes!].  
I was being shown around the campus by a young lady, Miss Li, all pigtails and mao suit.  She spoke good English, necessary, as at that stage I had just arrived in China to study Chinese, but knew not a word on that first day.
So, there's Miss Li and me, wandering around the grounds as my introduction to the PLI, in north west Beijing. It was -- then -- quite far out of the centre of Beijing and I asked her why it was so far out. She said, and I quote this pretty accurately from memory because it was so unusual and arresting: "Chairman Mao said 'One divides into two'".  Huh? 
Later I learn it in Chinese:  一分为二  (you can see the "one" at the beginning and the "two" at the end).  And I learned that it was Mao's take on Hegelian dialectics, Mao being, if only in his own estimation, something of a peasant philosopher, though maybe not so "peasanty" (his parents were landlords in his home village of Shaoshan).  
In any case, I didn't quite get Miss Li's point, let alone Mao's and asked her what that meant.  She said that the PLI used to be an institute for the study of the petroleum industry and Mao had decreed -- apparently according to the "one divides into two" philosophy -- that the petroleum institute ought to be as close to the petroleum industry as possible.  Hence on the outskirts of the city. Only later that institute was moved somewhere else and this one was given over to Languages.  One divides into two.
I still wasn't sure that I got it, but I accepted it and we moved on.  But since that time, I've thought how true it is that "one divides into two".  No matter what: man and woman, light and dark, liberal and labor, democrat and republican, dog and cat, sunni and shia.  Take that last one.  An aim of Islam is to make the whole world accept god's last word, that of Muhammad the prophet of Islam.  Even if that were to happen the Sunni Shia split would carry on.  Even if the Sunni killed off all the Shia, there would then be a split withing Sunni to Salafi and Wahhabi.  And if Salafis killed all the Wahhabis the Salafis would split into "early" and "late" Salafi.  And so it goes.
Which is why I'd now add something to the wonderful Ann Althouse's "civility bullshit".  I'd add: "unity bullshit".  There's no such thing. And the only places that try to impose "unity" are totalitarian: fascist or communist.  I'm pleased to say, the late, the great Christopher Hitchens thinks the same (@ 1'20").  
In any case, I tried to find out a picture on Google of young Miss Li, as in a young Ms Li stand-in.  Someone who could stand in for my memory of that Ms Li.  I googled "1970s chinese girls" which comes up with some fun stuff, including Green Girl, which I had not known of before, apparently used to be a must-have bit of kitsch, like flying ducks or garden gnomes.  But really, isn't she lovely??  I love her, anyway. 

The Green Lady
Then I googled "girls in pigtails", because that was the original Ms Li, and one of the images was this one, which could indeed have been Ms Li.  I just wish I'd kept some of the revolutionary posters, so many like this, and now collectors's items:
Miss Li looked kinda like this
And then "China in the seventies" came up with this image, inter alia, and I'd say these are pretty damn typical of all the Chinese I met back then...  And like me, if you see the photo above.
And this is a typical look for the 1970s
And so, finally onto this one below, in which the young lady in the middle is pretty much Ms Li.  She'll do as my Ms Li stand-in.  I'll leave it at that.
Ms Li was a bit older than me in 1976, so she must be in her early seventies now. I wonder where she is.  And if she ever remembers that she tought a young Aussie student his first words of Chinese, which happened to be a Mao take on Hegelian dialectics: yi fen wei er:  一分为二 


Typical 70s.  The lady in the middle is close to "my" Ms Li