Archive for Language and art

Korean words for "bottle gourd"

I spent much of the summer in Vermont ensconced in a hermit's cottage reading, writing, and, of course, running through the Green Mountains and verdant woods.  When I left last week to come back for the fall semester at Penn, I brought with me about fifty bottle gourds (Lagenaria siceraria) that had been abandoned by the side of the road.

My purpose in bringing so many bottle gourds back to Philadelphia is that I wanted to give them to the new graduate students in my department.  It has been my habit for many years to present something exotic / esoteric and regionally meaningful to the students in Asian studies.  Usually it's edible, such as camel's milk cheese from Kazakhstan or Kyrgyzstan, but sometimes it's more on the edifying side.  Such is the case with this year's bottle gourds. 

How so?

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (11)

Core socialist values

"Chinese slogans on London wall hold mirror to society: artist"

Zhejiang-born Yique tries to find his place in UK after Brick Lane work

TAY HAN NEE, Nikkei Asia

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (8)

Calligraphic license

Shaing tai asked whether I recognized these characters:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

Central Asian Kharosthi script on an ancient knife hilt found in Austria

Astonishing demonstration of East-West interaction during Roman times (with an equally mind-boggling demonstration of the occasional, yet horrendous [defying common sense], ineptitude of AI translation):

"Geheimnis um Messergriff aus dem römerzeitlichen Wels gelüftet"

Ein vor über 100 Jahren entdeckter Elfenbeingriff mit rätselhafter Inschrift aus dem antiken Ovilava gehörte wohl einst einem Besucher aus dem fernen Asien

"The mystery of the Roman period Wels knife handle revealed"

An ivory handle with a mysterious inscription from ancient Ovilava discovered more than 100 years ago probably once belonged to a visitor from distant Asia

Thomas Bergmayr, Der Standard (7/28/23)

Before presenting the remarkable findings reported in this important article, just a short prefatory note about the AI translation of the title.  Three of the main online multilingual neural machine translation services (Google Translate, Baidu Fanyi, and DeepL) mistranslated "Wels" (the eighth largest city in Austria [ancient Ovilava]) as "catfish" (only Bing Translator got it right).  Given the object that we're dealing with, that is a genuinely bizarre rendering of the word, especially since the material of the handle is identified as ivory and the artifact as coming from Ovilaval in the subtitle.  (It is all the more perplexing that three of the four services are consistent in making the same strange mistake [well, not so strange after all, since "wels" really does mean catfish in German].)  Fortunately, the machine translators do a better job in the body of the article, where there is more context.

For the purposes of the rough translation of the German article, I have relied mainly on GT, with occasional assistance from the other translation services, and some good old human input from my own brain.  Please bear in mind that the translations proffered below do not pretend to be polished, flawless English renderings of parts of the German article, but only to give a functionally useful idea of its content.

N.B.:  Two photographs of the knife handle are provided near the bottom of this post.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (20)

A medieval Dunhuang man

Bilingual label for a wall painting at the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu, China:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

Cooperative creation with Generative AI

A couple of weeks ago, John Hansen tried "an experiment to see if I could successfully combine random and seemingly unconnected topics into one poem", and reported the results on Medium. This experiment was quickly reproduced by Adrian CDTPPW, Block Wife, and Robert G. Longpré.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (1)

Saturn < Cronus (Κρόνος) ≠ Chronos (Χρόνος)

[This is a guest post by Jichang Lulu, with some minor modifications and additions by VHM]

You might have seen this — the PRC embassy in Poland has given Badiucao's forthcoming exhibition in Warsaw (coorganised by Sinopsis) some very welcome, completely unexpected publicity by trying to have it shut down. Lots of international reporting:

The GuardianSydney Morning Herald&c.&c.

The ‘cannibalistic’ theme (picture below [with Badiucao standing next to the poster featuring his art] via the Sydney Morning Herald):

of course alludes to Cronus eating his sons, as in Hesiod:

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

The verbal and visual in traditional prosimetric literature

In my trilogy of books and dozens of articles about medieval picture storytelling in South, Central, East, and Southeast Asia, I stressed the alternation of sung and spoken passages as performed by the narrator:

Tun-huang Popular Narratives (Cambridge University Press, 1983)

Painting and Performance:  Chinese Picture Recitation and Its Indian Genesis (University of Hawai'i Press, 1989)

T'ang Transformation Texts: A Study of the Buddhist Contribution to the Rise of Vernacular Fiction and Drama in China (Harvard University Asia Center, 1989)

Because of the close association with illustrative pictures to complement the narrative (or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that the pictorial narratives were being explicated by the accompanying texts), I stressed the alternation between spoken and sung portions, where the former told the story and the latter highlighted certain aspects of the tale.  This type of narrative has been well studied in various literatures around the world.  See Joseph Harris and Karl Reichl, eds., Prosimetrum:  Crosscultural Perspectives on Narrative in Prose and Verse (Martlesham, Suffolk, England:  Boydell & Brewer, 1997).

In the quintessential Chinese genre of this type of picture storytelling, biànwén 變文 ("transformation texts"), there is a distinctive pre-verse formula which marks the transition from prose to verse.  The typical form of this formula is "qiě kàn XX chù ruòwèi chénshuō 且看XX處若為陳說" ("just look at the place [where XX occurs], how shall I present it?").

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (2)

Data, information, knowledge, insight, wisdom, and Conspiracy Theory, part 2

From Phillip Remaker:

The one that claimed authorship clipped the edge of the unicorn tail.

The only version I have found that doesn't clip the edge of the unicorn tail is this one from farhan
I don't know if that means I found the original or if the author touched it up. The page is not archived on the Internet Archive.
It seems consistent with his other art.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments off

The Twittering Machine

Illustrating Ben Tarnoff's 11/11/2022  NY Review of Books article "In the Hothouse", Paul Klee's 1922 painting Die Zwitscher-Maschine ("The Twittering Machine"):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (16)

Shimao, graphic arts, and long distance connections

Introduction to the site:

"The importance of archeology for historical linguistics, part 2" (5/11/20)

I have written about Shimao informally before, but the more we keep finding out about it, the more I come to believe that it is the most important archeological site in China from before the beginning of our era.

Li Jaang, Zhouyong Sun, Jing Shao, and Min Li, "When peripheries were centres: a preliminary study of the Shimao-centred polity in the loess highland, China", Antiquity, 92.364 (August 22, 2018), 1008-1022.

Chinese archeologists continue to do work at Shimao, although with restrictions because of the sensitive nature of the site.  We can expect additional publications about the site and its artifacts, including, for example, 20,000 bone needles (reported by Min Li who is writing a paper on the textile industry found at Shimao).

New article:

"King Carved In Stone Found at 4,200-Year-Old Chinese Pyramid Palace", by Sahir Pandey, Ancient Origins (8/11/22)

With copious illustrations from the site, including clear photographs of relief carvings and inscriptions.  Astonishingly, in some respects they resemble figures from the mysterious Bronze Age site of Sanxingdui in Sichuan (southwestern China)

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (5)

Archaic Greek in a modern world, part 3

As the art historians Richard Barnhart (Yale) and Lukas Nickel (Vienna) have shown, Greek elements, images, and techniques reached into the mausoleum of the First Emperor of the Qin (259-210 BC) and the massive terracotta army entombed there.  See "Of jackal and hide and Old Sinitic reconstructions" (12/16/18) and the many references thereto.  The continuing research of Lucas Christopolous has cemented the presence of things Greek in East Asia even more securely.  Here we present just one significant finding documented by Lucas' investigations, namely, the crouching position of warriors in the First Emperor's army and in my favorite artifact from Eastern Central Asia, a kneeling bronze statue from the south bank of the Künäs River, Xinyuan (Künäs) County, Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region Museum Collection, exhibited in the University of Pennsylvania Museum in 2011.  See object 44 on p. 155 of Victor H. Mair, ed., Secrets of the Silk Road (Santa Ana, CA:  Bowers Museum, 2010).  See also p. 47 here and p. 163 of Mallory and Mair, The Tarim Mummies (London:  Thames and Hudson, 2000).

Notice that the bronze warrior is bare-chested, has a long nose and round eyes, is wearing a pleated kilt and helmet in a Trojan or other Greek style, and has additional Greek attributes.  Since another similar figure was found nearby, this is not a one-off fluke.  He is often said to be from the 5th c. BC, but see below for Lucas' slightly later dating.

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (14)

Calligraphic tie: "Letter on the Controversy over Seating Protocol"

On April 29, 2022, Bryan Van Norden (Vassar) gave students from the Penn Chinese Language Program a talk on the subject “What is happiness? Chinese and Western Conceptions,” in which he discussed several leading Chinese and Western views of what sort of life we should aim at.  During the talk, Bryan was sporting a striking red tie (the slide on the screen shows Socrates taking the cup of hemlock, with which the lecture began):

Read the rest of this entry »

Comments (19)