Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 15. 1972
Reflection from Under the Red Cliff
Reflection from Under the Red Cliff
The First New Zealand International Conference on Chinese Studies17-20 May, 1972.
The Waikato centre of rural conservatism, proud and on occasion, radical. Of farmers who feel our future lies with the remnants of a once great Empire rather than fly-by-night revolutionary Republics. How will this well ordered English landscape peopled with warm generous, hard working landowners react to the winds of change audible already among the wintery branches of imported exotics.
Running in well disciplined parallels to the horizon are the low profile streets of Hamilton, where an air of consumer wealth permeates every business transaction. Hastily erected buildings - piles of wood chips and builders lumber jostle occupied offices packed with brand new clients sitting on brand new office furniture - The waiting lists are formidable.
The sun is shining across the frost-tipped grass of the university campus, glinting through the windows of the "Oranga", the round glass-enclosed building that serves as a restaurant for the delegates. Artificial lakes, recently created are a haven for ducks beleaguered by the open season on anything with feathers. This mallard of the northern swamps and ponds appears to have a roll-call at breakfast time and midnight- a sound not unlike the Kookaburra which chortles and laughs with the approaching storm. The only thunder will be applauding delegates unanimous affirmation of success.
Professor D. Lancashire, savant of Asian languages and literatures, in his opening address to the Plenary session is giving a polished rendition of several lines from the famous eleventh century prose poem. The Red Cliff by Fu Shih.
In the autumn of the year Jen-Hsu, on the sixteenth day of the seventh month, I took some guests on an excursion by boat under the Red Cliff.
The poem's acceptance gives us a yardstick for the days to follow, as it sets the cultural tone for the conference.
To learn or not to learn an Asian language. For Professor Lancashire, this is not an idle question. To communicate with the largest single nation on earth he calls for increased interest in Asian languages and cultures at tertiary level with greater employment prospects for graduates. A student was mildly surprised when I suggested that a language teacher should have as much, if not more formal training than a scientist. The first Jesuits, arriving in china in the 16th century were obliged to teach the Chinese algebra of which all knowledge had been lost for centuries.
Today in China the sessions of "self-criticism" often reflect on a communards failure to communicate essential knowledge to fellow workers. A wit in the audience suggests that this could be applied to a few local pronouncements. The rumblings of question time go on. The Cultural Revolution? All upheaval and no benefit. One of the positive gains, one quarter of the Chinese school educational and administrative committees are students. The aim- to develop creativity in students and less emphasis on the authoritarian teaching of the Classics of Literature.
Lunched and rested, the hush in the auditorium is interrupted by the click-swishing of the automatic slide projected. Dr Wei Ping Liu, fresh from teaching foreign devils at Sydney University, is a master in his own right of the elusive but perceptive art- The Chinese Landscape. There are mountains, "because most mountains are inhabited by Budhist Monks." The slides change. "Boat returning in Storm", with the ubiquitous seal. Usually of approval but not always so. Stamped by the Artist, the owner, a friend of the admirer. Even a poet can brush a delicate poem, then affix his seal. Emperors have very large seals red in colour. They denote ownership. The mystery and infinity of the open spaces of the landscape with its elegant confucianism- "not to paint, not to leave unpainted." The lights snap back on, we have just seen Cicada on a leaf and Poet riding a donkey, even in China poets are frugal and rough it.
The audience streams out to the auditorium, to be met by low clouds and stinging rain. The rich pastures of the Waikato needing their daily ration, will greedily gulp down the liquid of the heavens. We go our separate ways, seminar groups and workshops abound- the problem of multiple choice. Caught between trade and education a compromise is struck. We will start on trade and end with education. Balance of trade and experiences exchanged between businessmen with flight schedules and export documentation. Chinese complications, "don't judge the people by the way they dress", and "follow to the letter the way they tell you to go about things".
Of Dr Rewi Alley- "loved and respected by more people in the world than any other New Zealander." When the Civil War was at its height, the Kuomintang and the Red Army rampage across the country-side. Dr Alley recruited and organised the first industrial co-operatives of China. The Chinese will be eternally grateful. He is the author of more than twenty-five titles of fiction, history, short stories and poetry. At last-belated recognition with the Rewi Alley Foundation at Waikato University. As a hero is often unsung in the land of his birth, he may yet in the light of contemporary events have something to offer us.
Question time revealing the strong points and the weaker aspects of the participants. And never more so, than between those who have recently visited China and those who have not- and probably never will. The theme never varies - the myth of Western individuality versus the myth of Eastern conformity. The Afro-styled student constantly reminded of his vulnerability by a narrow-faced conference-goer of a certain age and uncertain political convictions. Once again, the cult of the individual versus individuality.
Cinema at night with Felix Greene's China rolling across the screen. He shot most of it on a Polex borrowed in haste from a New Zealander, a businessman. The Chinese authorities were most piqued that he arrived - at Peking airport with only one camera for specially mounted scenes requiring at least two. Example- one million people in Red square, Peking. A mis-en-scene that one could not hold up indefinitely. Leaping balletically to war against a red and blue silk sky, the magnificent spectacle of The Red Detachment of Women. For some reason in Chinese Films the hero always enters from the right and the villains from the left- a carping criticism for such a film. The East is Red, a modern Chinese Opera with gymnastics and song telling the story of the Chinese Communist Party, with the equivalent of the Judas tree suffusing a red glow from whence Mao, no doubt, takes inspiration, and a place of honor for the ambushed Chinese patriot.
The rain beats against the windows of Oranga - the ducks are nowhere to be seen. We have come to recognise one another and small groups discuss the events for the day A battle for diplomatic recognition is anticipated and in the event, Mr W.A.C. Adie, senior research fellow, ANU, and Professor Roy, subject of politics, Waikato, will agree on a form of Trade-Recognition and Professor D.H. Mendel, Political Science, University of Wisconsin, as an ad hoc apologist for the Nixon administration, will loose us in the bizantine semantics of Japanese public opinion polls. One problem- the Japanese, for the purposes of poll taking, only say what they think other people expect them to say.
Gawking on the side-lines as America does a double shuffle in Policy, we are at an impasse — following Britain for reasons of emotion and the Common Market; and America for reasons of Asian containment. We can see America bouncing over to Peking on what could become an annual sporting fixture. Plaintive platitudes about "most fruitful" discussions weeks after the event have hardly boosted morale. By lack of recognition Australia has not only forfeited on short term wheat sales but also a long term embarrassment as China buys wheat from a Canada that accepted the Chinese ambassador's credentials from October 21st, 1970, and his residence from April 13, 1971. Wool is now exported from Allendes Chile to China, while we mutter imprecations and wait for the imminent economic disaster that is supposed to overtake a left-wing government.
A reception is held in the evening. New Zealand wine and cheese. We mingle and mellowing with the grape drop ideological barriers. One attempts to keep both ears open to the conversations on either side and lip read the interlocutor opposite. I learnt that China does not owe a cent to anybody and would like to keep it that way. One businessman, "For the last fifteen years I have not opened my mouth (about China) for fear of mis-representation. Now I havn't stopped talking for four days. I'm exhausted..." An earnest traveller to China, "What course is open to peoples who are downtrodden and oppressed, other than revolution?" China is a country that has been torn apart by a hundred years of exploitation and war. Why should it conform to anybody's projected idea of Utopia.
We have glanced into the Jade Mirror of Chinese antiquity, with its four sides of which only two can be observed Have we really understood the thought of China. Known the sensations of China. Explored the feelings of China. Appreciated the perceptions of China?
Compress all this into four days. Add scholars research fellows, students, writers, interested bystanders. Mix thoroughly, bring to the boil, simmer and allow to cool. Mr Dov Bing, whose "enthusiasm contributed greatly to the success of the conference" showed those of us who have been through the mill in other parts of the world, what could be done. No doubt there were snoopers of every political hue lurking and waiting to call "heretic" at the first departure from party line thinking, both East and West. But this is a problem at any colloque of this nature. I was asked by an ex-British Foreign Office employee what I thought. I said, "evens" and she added, "Yes I agree, a draw. But then perhaps for us (the British) it should be like that."
With one quarter of the world's population, can we still afford the luxury of a history of dialogue of misunderstanding and fear? If we do, it will be at our own peril. For those addicted to political "impartiality" and "balance" who might like to ponder a statement made by the late King George 6th.
If your world is to survive in any sense that makes survival worthwhile, it must learn to love, not to hate; to create, not to destroy.