To Recover Cantonese Literature in Hong Kong

I’m not a fan of purportedly Cantonese poetry littered with the particles 了 and 的. That’s Mandarin, not Cantonese. Pronouncing Mandarin as Cantonese no more makes it Cantonese than pronouncing classical Chinese in the Sinoxenic pronunciation of Japan makes it the Japanese language. So something like Dorothy Tse’s 布鳥 (‘Cloth Birds’) doesn’t feel like Cantonese to me: even though every word is read the Cantonese way, it’s not grammatically Cantonese.

The problem is not unknown. As Jennifer Feeley wrote two years ago in her essay ‘Reimagined Cities: Fabulist Tales from Hong Kong’,

There are writers, especially graphic novelists, who have incorporated Cantonese into their work, and perhaps the future will see the rise of a Cantophone literature. At present, however, Chinese-language literature in the territory is primarily composed in standard written Chinese, including the three stories in this feature. Standard written Chinese has a different grammar, and often a different vocabulary, than Cantonese, creating a gap between the written and spoken word. As Andrea Lingenfelter observes, most outsiders, and many in the mainland, regard Cantonese ‘as a dialect, a language that sinks beneath the surface of the written word (standard written Chinese) and is thereby rendered inaudible, unless a Cantonese-speaking author is reading his or her work aloud.’

But the fact is, the problem Feeley describes is virtually artificial. There is actually a rich tradition of literary writing in Cantonese, from the Cantonese operas of Tong Dik-sang 唐滌生 and Nam Hoi 13 Long 南海十三郎 to the Cantopop lyrics of James Wong Jim 黃霑. To speak of Cantonese literature as underdeveloped, or low in status, is belied by the fame and quality of these literary luminaries in Hong Kong.

That these kinds of writing fell by the wayside, and the linguistically Cantonese voice was muted, is due to Hongkongers’ own abandonment of Cantonese literary writing. In the 1980s, Hong Kong had a vital voice in the Sinosphere. The theme song of the television series The Bund 上海灘 (1980), sung by the inimitable Frances Yip, is known all over the Sinosphere. The popularity of Mandarin-speaking singer Teresa Teng in the Sinosphere existed alongside a literary space that Hong Kong writers had carved out for Cantonese in a Mandarin-dominated world, to the extent that Teresa Teng herself recorded songs in Cantonese and spoke Cantonese. Those of us who care about the literary future of Cantonese cannot afford to blame a spectre of Communist erasure of Cantonese and expect such a petty accusation to be vindicated. The plain fact is that almost everyone in Hong Kong speaks Cantonese, but Hong Kong has silenced its own Cantonese literary voice.

What we need is to rebuild whatever was lost in the 1990s, 2000s, and 2010s, and to support the writing and singing of literature that can speak to people’s hearts as Cantonese literature from Hong Kong has done before. This is done neither by mere nostalgia nor by bitterness against Mandarin. A Cantonese muted by its own speakers must find its own voice again.

‘Thou Shalt Not Steal’ Not an Argument to Establish What Is Stealing

People grow up in a capitalist system, and its sometimes quite innovative notions of ownership shape people’s impressions of what theft is; so that merely saying ‘thou shalt not steal’ seems to them sufficient to prove a case, as if this præcept were not universally held to be true by all persons of all ages. Just as easily might the same men, in a different age, have said ‘thou shalt not steal’ to any who wanted to limit what a cruel master was allowed to extract from his slaves, under colour of protecting his property, thinking by so quoting Scripture that they had fully proven their case, and commending themselves for having done good to their neighbour. For even in our own day do many protect the weights and measures of the usurers, how unbalanced soever those be, for the predations of the rich and against the refuge of the poor. They seem to forget that Satan himself was able to quote Scripture in tempting the Lord, and is able today to deceive the saints by contriving fair-sounding sentences from the words of Scripture. Let us beware of such deceptions, by reading Scripture humbly, owning that our knowledge without the word of God is but a house built upon the sand.

Chinese Archery Good for a Chinese Classical Christian School

For a Chinese classical Christian school, Chinese archery would come to be de rigueur because of the native classical tradition: the Record of Rites 禮記, part of the Five Classics 五經, has a whole chapter on the meaning of the cæremony of archery (射義). Now that traditional bowmaking is coming back, and so perhaps is instruction in Chinese archery, I hope Christian schools can be at the fore in recovering the traditional rite of archery in Chinese society.

Traditional Chinese archery: bow makers on target to resurrect ...

子曰:「射有似乎君子,失諸正鵠,反求諸其身。」
The Master said, ‘In archery we have something like (the way of) the superior man. When the archer misses the centre of the target, he turns round and seeks for the cause of his failure in himself.’

Property Rights in the Law of Moses Oppose Capitalism

It is curious that property inheritance in the Law of Moses should be seized upon by capitalists as vindicating their view of the absolute rights of that historically very contingent thing which they now call ‘private property’.

Under the Mosaic Law, land (which we call real as opposed to moveable property), once alienated by sale or seizure for debt, was to be restored to its original owner in the year of jubilee, once in 50 years. In an agrarian society, land was the most important productive property. If we transfer the jubilee’s principle to modern times, capital and other productive property is to be redistributed from those who have acquired it by sale or seizure between jubilees, and debts are to be cancelled. Thus, between jubilees, all sale of land and other productive property is actually leasehold. The Mosaic Law’s property régime renders relative, rather than absolute, any attempt to claim ownership and dominium by virtue of acquisition by sale or seizure.

While the Mosaic Law is not obligatory upon us, nor should we try to replicate it, its moral principles are abiding, and no Christian is free to call its œconomic provisions for the disadvantaged unjust. This is a truth that ostensibly those who point to Mosaic Law to justify capitalism have recognized. Alas for them, if they with their moral and œconomic principles encountered a society following Mosaic Law, they would condemn its property régime as theft. This is because the Mosaic property régime is opposed to capitalist principles.

Jeremy Taylor: Anglicans’ Sorrows Relieved, Their Persecutions Turned into Joys

A bit of encouragement from Jeremy Taylor, in Holy Living, for those who are scorned for the disarray of Anglican churches in the West:

I know, my Lord, that there are some interested persons who add scorn to the afflictions of the Church of England; and because she is afflicted by men, call her ‘forsaken of the Lord’; and because her solemn assemblies are scattered, think that the religion is lost, and the church divorced from God, supposing Christ (who was a man of sorrows) to be angry with his spouse when she is like him, (for that is the true state of the error,) and that he who promised his Spirit to assist his servants in their troubles will, because they are in trouble, take away the Comforter from them; who cannot be a comforter, but while he cures our sadnesses, and relieves our sorrows, and turns our persecutions into joys, and crowns, and sceptres.

Classical Christian Education in Hong Kong, Decolonialized, as Part of the Great Commission

Εἷς οἰωνὸς ἄριστος ἀμύνεσθαι περὶ πάτρης.
Only one omen is best – to defend the fatherland.
– Hector, Iliad 12.243

In the face of the spiritual and academical decline of Christian education in Hong Kong, classical Christian education is very much needed. Local Christian schools that have declined to institute patriotic education according to the Party’s programme have often opted for the International Baccalaureate. They have, in effect, become international schools of the globalist type, serving the human-resource needs of neoliberalism rather than the discipleship needs of the kingdom of God. Regardless of when the rot set in, it is clear that something is rotten in the state of Hong Kong, and it is high time that the Church did something to disciple the nations as commanded by the Lord in Matthew 28.

Now, when the Lord rose from the dead, was announced by an angel, and appeared to the women who had gone to his tomb, there were two opposite responses to two opposite commands: the chief priests having taken counsel with the elders bade the guards spread the lie that Jesus’s disciples had come by night and stolen Jesus’s body (Matthew 28.11–15); Jesus himself, however, having appeared to the Eleven on a mountain in Galilee, bade them go and disciple all nations now that all authority in heaven and on earth had been given to him at his resurrection (Matthew 28.16–20). In contrast to those who had been instructed to lie to the Jews, the Eleven as they went were to disciple all nations. The command is to disciple someone; the object of discipleship is all nations. We are not speaking – Matthew is not speaking – merely of persons in those nations, but rather of those nations as nations. And this was to be done by baptism of individuals into the Name of the Holy Trinity, and then teaching to observe all things commanded by the Lord. The task of Christian schooling, then, cannot be rightly understood apart from this reality of the discipling of whole nations in response to the kingship of Christ.

If it is to be part of fulfilling the Great Commission, then, Christian education must be national. That is, wherever done, it must be as justly adapted to the national culture as possible, not only to make the gospel intelligible but also to transform the national culture – that is, national life concretely experiened – into something that actually reflects God’s image and likeness. And just as the transformation of one Christian does not make him like everyone else in personality, even ideally, so too the transformation of a heathen nation into a nation that honours Christ from the heart does not require that that nation ape the personalities of other nations: though it must learn from others, its individuality is from God. China, in other words, does not need to adopt American values to be Christian, not even the values that Americans (very parochially) believe to be universal Christian values. We are not called to be inoffensive in every way to the sensibilities of the ‘international community’ – that is to say, to Westerners. God did not make us to be Whites in yellowface. Instead, Christian education is an education into the nation’s own cultural tradition as Christ would have it become, connected to the roots of Israel’s history as completed by Christ, to the ancient fathers of the nation’s civilization as the Holy Ghost worked there before Christ, and to the bodily return of Christ and the end of the world as God has determined its days. It is thus, and not by conformity to the standards of the Anglo-liberal culture dominant in the West, that the nation is brought up from the rudiments or elements of the world to partake in the fulness of the stature of Christ.

In Anglican terms, ‘The Bishop of Rome hath no jurisdiction in this realm of England.’ In order to decolonialize Christian education in non-Western countries, Christians have to reach into the native cultural traditions, and to this need Hong Kong is no exception. There is an implicit Chinese patriotism in retrieving what God has provided for us from ancient times to the present, from the Book of Documents and the Spring and Autumn Annals even to the several times when God brought the good news of Christ to the Chinese. We can find useful not only Plato’s censure of what Confucius called the ‘sounds of Zheng’ 鄭聲, but also the ways in which Zhu Xi’s conception of li 理 and qi 氣 may enrich Maximus the Confessor’s theology of the Logos. Just as the wicked Balaam was a Gentile prophet of the LORD, and the Greek seer and philosopher-poet Epimenides is quoted by St Paul as a prophet (Acts 17.28; Titus 1.12), so too it seems reasonable to consider that the voice of God was not absent from the counsels of sage-kings Yao and Shun. Was the Holy Ghost silent, was he inactive, in all the centuries until the gospel was brought by Persian travellers and English missionaries? Was he not indeed, and Christ the Word through him, sustaining the whole world and speaking through prophets and the mouths of babes? Shall we, to uphold the supremacy of Christ now, deny that at sundry times and in divers manners he spake in times past unto our fathers through the prophets?

God forbid. But the Lord God omnipotent reigneth, and God has in his person crowned man with glory and honour, and made him to have dominion over the works of God’s hands, and put all things under his feet. Whatever it means that China is to become a kind of Fourth Rome under Christ, the classical Christian education needed in Hong Kong is to be oriented that way.

You must be the Yellow Peril you wish to see in the world.

Interview on Christian’s Colloquy, About Anglicanism, the Prayer Book, and Fasting

The Rev. Christian Clement-Schlimm, a Baptist priest, has put up an interview with a certain Chinglican – yours truly – on Anglicanism, the Book of Common Prayer, and fasting. I had a lot of fun being on his show, Christian’s Colloquy, and I hope you have as much fun watching. Here’s a bit about his show:

Christian’s Colloquy is a show committed to exploring the theology and history of the Church. Namely, learning from and engaging with the wisdom of the past to approach issues of the present. Special attention will be given to English & North American church history (from the Reformation through the Evangelical Revival), Caribbean spirituality, Baptist ecclesiology, and prayer.

Both for the Anglicans and for the non-Anglicans, I thought I would list below some classical Anglican resources that I might have mentioned in passing or that would be useful to those interested in learning more.

Anglican doctrine

The 39 Articles of Religion, which are included in most every printing of the Book of Common Prayer, are – together with the 1662 Prayer Book proper and the 1660 Ordinal – the subordinate doctrinal standards of the Anglican tradition under the Bible. The standard Protestant high-church commentary, though at times it gives short shrift to what the author calls ‘Calvinism’, is Edward Harold Browne’s Exposition of the Articles.

The Prayer Book

J. I. Packer’s pamphlet The Gospel in the Prayer Book gives an evangelical interpretation of how the gospel is shown in the construction of the services in England’s 1662 Book of Common Prayer. While Packer’s pamphlet will not describe these offices together as a system, he does offer a concise and highly illuminating view of how the offices individually bring the gospel to the worshipper.

Thomas Comber’s multivolume devotional commentary on the Book of Common Prayer, written from the perspective of a high churchman teaching Dissenters to appreciate the Prayer Book devotionally, is probably the most extensive and detailed look at each of the parts of the Prayer Book offices, including even the exhortations in the Holy Communion service. This work, A Companion to the Temple, appears the following volumes: vol. 1, Morning and Evening Prayer; vol. 2, Of the Litany, with the Occasional Prayers and Thanksgivings; vol. 3, Of the Communion office, with the offices of Baptism, Catechism, and Confirmation; vol. 4, Of the occasional offices. Almost no one will want to read these straight through, but these are places to dip in wherever you want to enhance your appreciation and devotional use of the stuff in the Prayer Book, even one sentence or phrase. (Extras: vol. 5, History of liturgies, Discourse on the offices for Nov. 5, Jan. 30, and May 29; vol. 6, Of the ordination and consecration services; vol. 7, Exposition of the Lord’s Prayer, Discourse of excommunication, Dialogue about tithes.)

Charles Wheatley’s A Rational Illustration of the Book of Common Prayer, considerably shorter, tells us more about the historical development and use of the Prayer Book offices as a whole system.

Fasting

George Herbert’s pastoral manual The Country Parson is about as well known and loved as Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. You can check out the whole thing, but I’ve linked to the practical part about fasting.

Lancelot Andrewes, in A Pattern of Catechistical Doctrine, breaks it down for you, into public and private fasting, and the reasons for each of those he breaks down further; he also explains the inward and outward parts of fasting.

Likewise Jeremy Taylor, in Holy Living, has a whole section of chapter 4 devoted to fasting.

On the history of Englishmen’s customs, John Wickham Legg’s English Church Life from the Restoration to the Tractarian Movement is a work I have found especially useful for observing what English Protestants did (and felt) for their fasting before the Romanizing trends that became popular in some quarters in the 19th and 20th centuries. The part on Lent especially has a good bit of information. Readers might also want to take a glance at John Wesley’s ascetic practice as described in Geordan Hammond’s John Wesley in America: Restoring Primitive Christianity (2014), 131–36.

Origen Is Worth the Time of the Modern Reader

Origen Of Alexandria Christian Writer Drawing by Mary Evans ...

Origen of Alexandria is an early Church father and teacher of the faith known – and sometimes held in contempt – for his allegorical readings of Scripture. Even though his figural rhetoric does not flatter the tastes of Westerners today, however, and even if his interpretations flout the standards of textual-grammatical reading held by scholars today, he is still worth our time.

In his Homilies on Luke 31.2, Origen may seem to disparage literal exegesis, but I am unconvinced that he does so in fact. He says apostrophically to the devil, as if he is there to hear him,

You read, not to become better through reading the holy books, but to use the simple, literal sense for killing those who are the friends of the letter. You know that, if you wish to speak to him from other books you will not deceive him, nor will your assertions have any authority.

Origen is not here criticizing literal exegesis itself. It is because good Christians are ‘friends of the letter’ that Satan, in order to kill them spiritually, has no other recourse but to draw parasitically on the authority of the letter. Unless deceived by the use of this letter, these Christians will not be deceived, because they will accept nothing else by which Satan would mislead them. What Origen sees is that even the literal sense can be used to deceive those who could not be otherwise deceived. Therefore he warns his audience that even those who take Scripture for their standard can in fact be deceived even through the very word of God, though such deception is in fact due not to the word of God but to the devil’s twisting of it. In no wise does Origen frame this warning about the devil’s schemes as opposition to literal exegesis.

Nevertheless, in Homilies on Luke 37 (on Luke 19.29–40), considering the colt Jesus rode on, Origen interprets the colt allegorically as his audience. His is a kind of interpretation to which modern Western audiences, trained to read for reconstruction of the facts behind the text, are unused. Western readers are not inclined to be persuaded by such readings, in part because they are inclined by their educations to treat the literary text as less real than the events they relate; Origen, however, seems to read and speak out of a conviction that the text of Scripture itself is as real as, if not realer than, the things that can be described directly in terms of the five senses. For this reason, he looks in the text for the conveyance of something realer than what the senses can know.

For turning to an allegorical reading, Origen actually states his reasons at the outset. Reading that the Saviour had come ‘to Bethphage and Bethany near Mount Olivet’, and that he then sent two of his disciples to untie ‘the foal of an ass’ that had been tied, ‘on which no man had ever sat’, Origen thus judges of the details mentioned: ‘This seems to me to pertain more to the deeper sense than to the simple narrative’ (37.1). Reading Luke as a theological document, written not for the literary pleasure of a vivid narrative but for the spiritual formation of disciples in the life of Christ, Origen deems that the details mentioned are unnecessary to a ‘simple narrative’ and therefore belong rhetorically to a different purpose, pointing to a ‘deeper sense’. After all, such details as the names of Bethphage and Bethany and Mount Olivet contribute nothing to the reader’s knowledge of the narrative’s bare facts; neither is it necessary to know, from a narrative standpoint, that the beast chosen for Jesus to ride was specifically the foal of an ass, and one on which no man had ever sat. It is clear to even some casual readers, not to speak of careful readers, that these details mentioned in the narrative are not of immediate narrative significance, but signify something worth saying nonetheless.

Though the details of Origen’s exegesis as exegesis are unconvincing to us, appertaining more to application than to historical interpretation proper, we can learn from his attention to details that are properly unnecessary to a bare recital of the narrative, details he is willing to apply directly to the lives of his hearers. Our rhetorical figures may differ from his, but we ought to find readings as attentive and deep as his. Otherwise, we are left not with the Christ of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, but rather with the Jesus of the historical scholars; not with the Saviour who brings and embodies and is the gospel, but with a historical object to be constructed and reconstructed under our own judgement. To find not the devices and desires of our own hearts but God himself, then, we are called to read with the spiritual eyes that Origen had.

Being Accused of Syncretism for Being Nonwestern

Don’t worry, Chinese Christians, our White brethren sometimes accuse us of syncretism not because they hate us but because they don’t understand and aren’t aware of all the stuff their own Christian cultures have rightly plundered from the Ægyptians. It still is the case, alas, that Westerners retain a suspicion against anything that fundamentally is not culturally Western. What matters, however, is the word of God. Upon that word we shall be established.

The West has amnesia about what it took from the ancients who did not know Christ, while putting away idolatry; the Sinosphere, for its part, has the whole Chinese cultural tradition to reckon with in the centuries to come. Christ is making all things new, and the gates of Hell shall not prevail against us.

Aside

Me at 4: I want to be a dinosaur.
Me now: I want to be a dinosaur.

‘Virtual Communion’ an Invention in Place of the Lord’s Institution

‘Virtual communion’ is not the sacrament of the Lord’s Supper, not even by Zwingli’s theology. But modern memorialist churches go beyond Zwingli, and they don’t see Holy Communion as the sacrament. That’s why they invent things in place of what Christ has instituted. It’s almost as bad as this:

‘Blessing of the Wheat Fields’, Jules Breton

Neither adoration of a wafer held in a monstrance and carried in procession under a canopy, nor attempts to have virtual communion with bread and wine not originating from the Lord’s Table after the prayer of consecration, are acceptable worship. We in the Church must insist on using the Lord’s own institution, that those things which we do may be pleasing to him by his own word of promise.

If we are to have the sacrament – and we may not be able to do so, but let us then ask the Lord for deliverance from this want – then it is to have both bread and wine consecrated, it is to be both seen and heard by those who are to take it, and the bread and wine are to be brought straightaway after the service to the homes of those who have attended the service virtually. Let us not in any way mutilate the Lord’s word, but keep it.

Easter Music, Contemporary v. Traditional: A Test

Christ is risen, alleluia.

In response to songs I have heard for Easter, I want to propose a test for a hymn’s musical quality, a test with a theological basis. The theological basis is this: just as the offering of incense and the sacrifice of animals belong to the Old Testament – even though today we may still sweeten a church with incense and eat lamb with thanksgiving this Easter – so too only the singing, and not the playing of instruments, is properly the New Testament worship of the Lord. The test, then, is to strip away the pyrotechnics and try singing the hymn on the quality of the melody alone. Let’s use two songs I heard today: one of them a ‘contemporary worship song’, the other a classic hymn for Easter Day.

This Easter song may sound catchy, but try singing it a cappella and see how it is with the instruments stripped away:

I think you’ll find that it falls flat, and you won’t want to be heard singing it without the instruments whose proper place in worship is to accompany the singing.

In contrast, the classic Easter hymn ‘Jesus Christ Is Risen Today’, though certainly grand with the right instrumentation, works well even if you sing it alone in a country field, and it’s the kind of earworm you might find yourself whistling on the way home from church.

Christ is risen, alleluia.

Aside

No one:
Me: NIV is the anointed translation of international capitalism.

Register for the West Coast Chinese Christian Conference by 1 November for Early Prices

Just two days left to catch the early prices for this year’s West Coast Chinese Christian Conference (WCCCC), 28–31 December 2019. A student could effectively pay just $25 for a 4-day conference including food and lodging. Don’t miss these great prices!

So go sign up by tomorrow, 1 November!

Aside

Joke: only canonized saints go to heaven right after death.
Broke: every Christian goes to heaven right after death.
Woke: no one goes to heaven right after death.