JR’s Weekender: Odd Ducks and Strange Kings

其人其事 (qí rén qí shì) is no unusual way to introduce people into the biography of famous personalities. Richard Wagner, for example. The composer’s heros resemble the composer himself: unconscionable rebels (恣意妄为的叛逆者, zìyì wàngwéi de pànnì zhě), mad illusionists (幻想狂), slowly emerging “gods of freedom” (若隐若现的“自由之神”, ruòyǐnruòxiàn de zìyóu zhī shén), etc, according to a Chinese article, apparently of some years ago. That’s not too bad a report card to Wagner, a self-taught man of music (无师自通, wú shī zì tōng), and it isn’t meant in an unfriendly way by the unknown author, whose article was originally published on classical.net.cn, and later republished on zhidao.baidu.com, as an answer to the question, “why is Wagner said to be great” (瓦格纳为什么说他伟大?). But that was during the 19th century, somewhere in Europe.

This is 2010, and the man in question now is Liu Xiaobo (刘晓波). Unlike Richard Wagner, he isn’t paid by a somewhat strange Bavarian king, but by foreigners. Those who are familiar with Liu know he is extreme and arrogant, suggests an article published by China Daily (in English on October 28, in Chinese two days earlier). The article is basically a piece of exorcism, from a CCP-operated mudslinging machine that gets fired up whenever China’s mother of the masses faces a more or less fundamental challenger. Joel Martinsen, in a post on Danwei, lists some more devils of Liu’s kind, also described as “men and their deeds” by Chinese books, translations, or articles in the past – Bernie Madoff, the Dalai Lama, or Li Hongzhi (the founder of Falun Gong), for example. In all these cases, the authors probably didn’t think of the persons in question as heros – even if some of the characteristics attributed to Wagner and his heros may apply in their cases, too.

Judging from a roundup of other biographies that employ “the man and his deeds” (其人其事) in the title, the formula appears to be intended to pull back the curtain on the wickedness of the man and the awful deeds he has done,

muses Martinsen.

That’s probably an accurate assessment. But qí rén qí shì comes into play whenever a person whose talents, courage, wickedness, or whatever kinds of an individual’s attributes “beyond comprehension” have to be described. So maybe there is a stylistic device within “Liu Xiaobo and his Deeds” which one wouldn’t usually expect from a CCP mouthpiece: irony.

That the Latin letters of qí rén qí shìcan be put into the Chinese characters 其人其事, but also into those of 奇人奇事 (meaning something like odd ducks and strange things) may or may not be coincidental.


Is the Internet the Enemy of the Intellectual, May 23, 2009

Nobel Peace Prize Ceremony: please don’t go (there), Taipei Times, Nov. 5, 2010

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