Monday, October 24, 2011

# 3 Favorite Prose Essay - 1874


I like to meditate, sometimes got so into it that I became quite peculiar. I often suspect that I do not belong to this era. Close friends know that I am very fond of singer Eason Chan’s 1874. I like it not because of the movie, but because of the lyrics.

“Why couldn’t I make it in time to be born in 1874? Be earlier by exactly 100 years, an era……though unacquainted & unrelated as contemporaries, but at least, could live and die in the same era.” 

If I were born in 1874, then what I experienced would relate to one of China’s most turbulent eras. The weakness of late Qing; the invasion of the Great Powers; the signing of the Treaty of 1901; country invaded, internal strifes; Japanese occupation; the 9.18 Mukden Incident; 7.7 Marco Polo Bridge Incident; The Nanking Massacre; the post 1949 reconstruction Chinese Cultural Revolution, so on and so forth. All these and more during China’s most turbulent era in the past century had inflicted her people with ineffaceable pain and hatred, too.

The elders told me it is a blessing indeed not to be born into that era!

True, what I know about that era is either from books or documentary films. I did not experience its turbulence nor endure it. But perhaps of my wont to transport myself through contemplation: the despair, the pain, that moment of hopelessness, that indelible hatred; I felt as if I had been through them!

If I were living in that era, I would step out; step out alongside the national army to protect homes and country, and to defend our motherland and her honor, her citizens’ properties and wealth, her citizens’ lives, and most of all, her citizens’ dignity. Even though during that era staying alive was no easy task, but to lose my country - I would rather risk my life and shed blood, at least, it was done in the name of nationalism!

Truly, living in this present society, I sometimes feel distress. Distress? Really it should be bliss! I live in Hong Kong, a prosperous and vigorous city with hardly any natural calamities, and well-protected by motherland to boot; in my opinion, it is a patch of Heaven’s playground. To be able to live here is indeed a blessing!

But, oftentimes when immersed in happiness, one tends to become overly pampered, therefore, one tends to become more demanding of this and that from life; one tends to be more demanding of this and that from Hong Kong; one tends to become more demanding of this and that from the country. So, what of one’s own demands of oneself?

Mankind’s greatest shortcoming has to be if they make no demands of themselves. People who have no demands of themselves tend to become irresponsible, habitually shifting responsibilities onto others, while conversely becoming overly demanding of others.

If I were like that, I would soon become a zombie, a person of no tomorrows!

Although this may not be the only approach, it is one of them, which is, to bow one’s head in introspection. Introspection is the best approach because the answers are usually found during the self-reflecting process. Whatever I could do today, I’d first ask myself before I ask others; before I take, I’d ask my contribution first; before I ask tomorrow, I’d ask yesterday first!

Maybe my love for 1874 is because I want to ask 1874!

source:圖文並謬 pp16-17

related images fanmade banner of Steven as Emperor Kuang Hsu
fans' review on 1874 in Chinese

 Link to Eason's 1874 youtube

Tamaya: I picked this essay not only because Steven had it as the opening essay in his book thus showing his favoring of it, but that it also gives an inkling into Steven's character -- old school, idealistic, scholarly, sentimental, not to mention possessing a fertile imagination to boot. It seems so improbable that a man of Steven's ideals and sentiments would choose to step into the superficial world of entertainment but then where and how else could he indulge his affinity with the past or vicariously experience that era's history?

Actually, truth be told, I could do without Steven's preachy latter half of the essay whereby the earlier wistful sentimental tone of his hitherto nostalgic essay was abruptly switched to a moralizing prosaic lecture; as a reader still engrossed in his 1800s nostalgia, I felt disoriented and cheated by this sudden change in tone.


Below excerpt is from an old Steven's interview 忽然一周-Huran-2006-03-31
H: Do you feel that you don’t belong to this time period?

S: Yes, showbiz really doesn’t suit me. The competition is too fierce. But I’ve never participated in it. My personality is similar to Cao Zhi; won’t compete or exploit, always being bullied. I think if I were born in late Qing dynasty, I would be most happy. I love to read history books. The ending periods of the Qing dynasty were very turbulent. The citizens could put themselves out for their country, spilling red-hot blood. If I were in that generation, I’m certain I would be part of the revolution. But I don’t think I would be as radical as the 6 martyrs, or as self-sacrificial as Qiu Jin. I think I would be more like Luxun kind; I would use words and films/stage shows to resist the Japanese.

A Qing Model
Today, seems like I’ve just taken a class on China’s recent history and on Chinese thoughts. Steven loves to read Late Qing dynasty history , and also books by philosopher Tang Jun Yi, especially his 人 生 之 体 验.If not for the fact that I was solidly stuck in Lan Gui Fan Bar, I would have been deluded by Steven’s Qing appearance, thinking myself transported back to the early 20th century. Teacher Tang (Jun Yi) once said: "The world mystifyingly doles out random praises and also mystifyingly metes out random hurt. "I can relate to that; the entertainment circle is where most of this randomness is fabricated.

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