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I taught in Beijing (83-84) and in Hong Kong (84-87), at Chinese
University. I directed the Writing Program at the latter, with 4
assistants newly minted at Yale. For one assignment we asked the
first year students to read Kipling's "White Man's Burden" (1900),
Orwell's attack on Kipling, Eliot's defense of Kipling, and finally, a
speech an army sergeant gave to the Kipling Society telling how
Kipling got it right.
Then we asked them to write their own speech for the Kipling Society
using the title "White Man's Burden? Here I Am."
On the day the papers were due, the newest Yale associate came to the
window of my classroom during the break in the middle of the double
period. "I must see you," he said, with obvious consternation. "No
problem," I said with a smile. "But there is!" he spoke in a very loud
whisper. "Why?" I asked; "did some of them apologize to the Kipling
Society?" "How on earth did you know?" he exclaimed. "I've been here
four years; you just arrived," I explained.
For another assignment we divided up WHO'S WHO IN HONG KONG and had
each student analyze different sections noting how many Chinese
indicated English names for themselves and how many foreigners
indicated Chinese names for themselves. We also tabulated how many of
those foreigners who did, used a real Chinese name, or one that was a
phonetic convenience to help Chinese pronounce their English names.
A vast majority of the Chinese also provided English names; almost
not foreigners provided Chinese names, and those who did, took no name
with any personal investment in it, only names for phonetic
In 1986 or so, Elizabeth II and Prince Phillip visited China while we
were in Hong Kong. Since Britain had agreed to turn Hong Kong back to
China in 1997, the Chinese government spared no expense in wining and
dining the royal couple for days on end. At a private meeting in
Beijing with British students studying in China, a student asked
Prince Phillip what he thought of the Chinese, and then told a
reporter the Prince's reply: "I have never seen so many slitty eyed
people in my life." An English friend who worked for the government
in Hong Kong told me that a Chinese colleague explained the remark,
"O, up north in Beijing, there is lots of wind with much sand.
Chinese up there do squint a lot.
When I won an award for the Best Article of the Year for an item
published in the HONG KONG COMPUTER JOURNAL, I showed up early for
pictures. I was the only foreigner in the room. These were
professionals running the computers at the world's third largest
financial center, at the world's second most congested airport....
Not one of them was speaking Cantonese, their language of birth. I
asked a close Chinese friend later why: "Of course not: Cantonese is
the language of the waiters who were in the room!"
I complained to the American dean who was at the Anglican Cathedral
there at the time that there were no services in Cantonese at the
Cathedral, and only one in Chinese -- a Mandarin service at 8
o'clock. My friend replied, "I have tried but the main objections
have come from the Chinese members, all of whom are major leaders in
Hong Kong. They say that if they wanted a service in Chinese, they
would go to one of the Chinese services. The most visible Chinese
presence at St. John's Cathedral was the stained-glass window of a
fisherman and his sampan. Outside that transept was the corner stone
commemorating the British who brought Christianity to "the heathens."
You can understand why I did not want to take my Chinese friends
there, so easy is it to be suckered into the fierce demands of
Sorry to go on in such detail, all meant to say, yes, I understand.
I look forward to being with you in Minneapolis.