Art, says the people behind the Under the Bridge Art Project, should be a force in “connecting the community and comforting people”. In a worked entitled “Watching Waves”, landscape painter 黃進曦 Stephen Wong Jeun Hei sets out to do precisely this, encouraging Hongkongers to steer a course through the treacherous contemporary situation with the help of dexterity and faith.
Whoever worked as the sound technician for this video knew exactly what she was doing: Wong’s eloquent flow of speech comes through with great clarity, making it a delight to listen to. And the atmospheric piano soundtrack chosen to accompany his words complements it beautifully, without ever once drowning them out.
The grammar of the voice-over is straightforward, but there are a few points worth noting. Firstly, Wong uses the sentence-final double particle 嚟㗎 lèih4 gaa3 on several occasions to suggest emphasize something is, perhaps with a hint of “and this is what something is in essence”. He uses it first to define who he is for viewers — 我係一個風景畫家嚟㗎 = “I am a landscape painter” — and later to characterize his artwork “Watching Waves” — 係一個大浪嘅一個風景嚟㗎 = “is a vista with huge waves in it”.
Secondly, transformation in Cantonese is often handled by means of 做 jouh6 to form a link between the verb and the outcome of the transformation. For instance, “the spray magically transforming into birds” is expressed as 幻化咗做一啲雀仔, where 幻化 is the verb and 一啲雀仔 refers to the result of the change. I’ve noticed too that the idea of translation form one language into another is often rendered as 譯做.
In the vocabulary department, there are some wonderful things, especially an appearance by the verbs 冚埋 kám2 màaih4 = “to cover” and 搲 wé2 = “to seize” (although it has a number of other meanings as well). Other items for any Cantonese learner’s vocabulary list are: 情景 chìhng4 gíng2 = scene; 兇險 hūng1 hím2 = in a very dangerous state; critical; 仔細 jí2 sai3 = careful; 浪花 lohng6 fāa1 = spray (literally, “wave flowers”); 嚴峻 yìhm4 jeun3 = stern; severe; rigorous; grim; and the four-character phrase 屹立不倒 ngaht6 lahp6 bāt1 dóu2 = roughly, “to stand firm; to stand tall & unwavering”.
Please scroll down if you want the transcription, notes and English translation. Otherwise, you can view the video here(subtitles in Standard Written Chinese only). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.
● 橋墩 kìuh4 dán2 = bridge pier; an earthen or stone structure under a bridge | ● 情景 chìhng4 gíng2 = scene; sight; circumstances
My name is Stephen Wong Chun Hei. I am a landscape painter. On this occasion, for the “Under The Bridge Art Project: Once Upon A Dragon Interchange” project, I have designed scenes [depicting] huge waves on two pillars [representing] bridge pylons. Each pylon features [係] a vista with huge waves in it. However, when people look at [the work], they really ought to be able . . .
● 壓迫 [ng]aat3 bīk1 = to oppress; to repress | ● 兇險 hūng1 hím2 = in a very dangerous state; critical | ● 仔細 jí2 sai3 = careful; attentive | ● 吹歪 chēui1 mé2 = cf. 吹 = to blow + 歪 = askew; crooked | ● 頂 déng2 = the top (part); here, “the crest (of a wave)” | ● 浪花 lohng6 fāa1 = spray | ● 濺起 jin3 (chín2?) héi2 = to splash (up) Note: Someone has commented in a forum on the Sheik Cantonese website about the colloquial pronunciation of 濺: “On reflection, I suspect chín2 is a pronunciation specific to HK, created by analogy from 淺.” | ● 幻化 waahn6 faa3 = to change magically | ● 嚴峻 yìhm4 jeun3 = stern; severe; rigorous; grim | ● 游走 yàuh4 jáu2 = roughly, “to swim away from” | ● 靈巧 lìhng4 háau2 = dextrous; nimble; skilful; ingenious | ● 穿梭 chyūn1 sō1 = to shuttle back & forth
. . . to get a sense of the oppressiveness of that huge wave, or a feeling of being in a very dangerous state. In [these paintings], apart from the huge waves, if you look more carefully, you should be able to see some small boats [一啲船仔], some small islands with a tree on [each one], bent crooked by the wind, and you should even be able to see, on the crest of the wave, when they spray splashes up, the spray magically transforming into birds. Actually, in my conception [of these images], now Hong Kong is in a situation where there is an epidemic and in this rather severe atmosphere, I really wanted people to be able to [act] like the small roles [小嘅角色] I have arranged [in my work] — oppressed by that enormous wave, like a boat, [they] ought to be able to move out of the way of the wave, and with great ingenuity, shuttle in and out [穿梭] . . .
● 翻騰 fāan1 tàhng4 = to seethe; to rise; to churn | ● 形勢 yìhng4 sai3 = situation; circumstances | ● 冚埋 kám2 màaih4 = roughly, to cover completely; to engulf” | ● 跳躍 tiu3 yeuhk6 = to jump; to leap; to bound | ● 堅守 = gīn1 sáu2 = to stick to; to hold fast to; to stand fast | ● 信念 seun3 nihm6 = faith; belief; conviction | ● 搲 wé2 = to seize | ● 泥土 nàih4/làih4 tóu2 = earth; soil | ● 屹立不倒 ngaht6 lahp6 bāt1 dóu2 = roughly, “to stand firm; to stand tall & unwavering” | ● 安心 = ōn1 sām1 = feel at ease; be relieved; to set one’s mind at rest
. . . of the seething aspect [嗰種翻騰嘅形勢] of the waves, or like flying birds you should — as the wave comes crashing down — gain a greater strength to jump out [from underneath], or even like the trees [growing] on those small islands, you should hold fast to your own beliefs. You should be able to grab hold of some earth that will enable you to stand firm, to stand tall. All these things, I get the feeling, are present at a time where there is an epidemic and everyone possibly feels a sense of helplessness or feels that they have no way of calculating just what their fate might be like tomorrow, perhaps [I’m not sure if I have understood the previous sentence correctly]. If everyone has faith in the way I have arranged it in this work, as I said just now, then this ought to be able to help us all to feel a bit more at ease [安心一啲] in facing this epidemic together.
● 奮力 fáhn5 lihk6 = do all one can; spare no effort | ● 抵抗 dái2 kong3 = to resist; to stand up to | ● 社會民主連線 (or 社民連) Séh5 Wúi6*2 Màhn4 Jyú2 Lìhn4 Sin3 = The League of Social Democrats | ● 回應 wùih4 ying3 = to respond | ● 決議文 kyut3 yíh5 màhn4 = resolution | ● 提名權 tàih4 mìhng4 kyùhn4 = roughly, “the right to nominate (oneself as an election candidate)” | ● 剝奪 mōk1 dyuht6 = to deprive; to expropriate; to strip | ● 變相 bin3 seung3 = in a disguised form; covert | ● 廢除 fai3 chèuih4 = to abolish; to annul; to repeal | ● 公平公正 gūng1 pìhng4 gūng1 jing3 = roughly “fair & impartial” | ● 壓制 [ng]aat3 jai3 = to suppress; to stifle; to inhibit | ● 憑良心 pàhng4 lèuhng4 sām1 = roughly, “relying on the goodness of one’s heart” or perhaps “in good faith” | ● 彰顯 jēung1 hín2 = to bring out conspicuously; to manifest; to make evident
Do All You Can to Resist | Up Until [the Day of] Victory
— Resolution of the League of Social Democrats in Response to Changes in the Hong Kong Political Situation in 2021 —
Under the present circumstances, in which the right of citizens to nominate themselves as candidates in elections has been seriously stripped away and, to all extents and purposes, abolished, and in which Hong Kong has lost a fair and just electoral system, the League of Social Democrats will not take part in the 2021 elections either for the Election Committee or for the Legislative Council. Moreover, given that the right to vote has not been completely suppressed, the League of Social Democrats would like to call on members of the general public to actively express their views in good faith by means of these various elections and to do all they can to make the true will of the people clearly manifest.
The title of this video from Kongstories means something like “that little kid isn’t slow”, and refers to the treasures hidden inside every human being, even those dealing with some form of serious disability. As 馮惠芳 Nancy Fung puts it towards the end of the presentation: 總有一日可以追尋自己嘅夢想，踏上屬於自己嘅舞台, or “One day you will be able to go chasing after your own dreams, and step out onto a stage that belongs to you and you alone”.
You can take a lot of heart from this video, and the English subtitles make it very accessible, even if you’re not interested in the Cantonese. Michelle Li’s comment — 每日嘅生活就係强壯内心嘅過程 = every day is a process of strengthening one’s noi sam, one’s innermost being — is something than lingers in the mind for a long time . . .
For those of you who are language learners, however, there is nothing too challenging about the grammar in this video, but there are some very nice turns of phrase that are well worth trying to make your own, such as 過目不忘 to have a great memory (and its opposite, 過目即忘); 喐嚟喐去 = to move back and forward; to be unable to sit still (using the specifically Cantonese verb 喐 yūk1); 局限自己 = to limit oneself; 擴闊自己嘅世界 = to broaden one’s world; to expand one’s horizons; 接納 = to accept (a person as they are, without conditions); 渡過難關 = to go through a difficult period in one’s life; and 總有一日 = one day (in the future); the time will come that.
Please scroll down for my transcription and notes. You can view the video here(you are offered subtitles in both English and Standard Written Chinese). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.
You might also like to make use the Ekho Text to Speech Converter if you have trouble matching any part of the transcribed Chinese text to the spoken version. Just make sure you select “Cantonese” under the language menu before you paste cut and text into the relevant box.
● 過目不忘 gwo3 muhk6 bāt1 mòhng4 = to have a great memory; to not forget stuff that has passed by one’s eyes | ● 喐 yūk1 = to move | ● 拍子 paak3 jí2 = (musical) beat; time | ● 順理成章 seuhn6 léih5 sìhng4 jēung1 = ① follow as a logical course ② follow as a matter of course | ● 嘥 sāai = ① waste; squander; ruin ② wasteful; extravagant ③ miss; let go; lose (a chance) | ● 心機 sām1 gēi1 = ① mood; frame of mind; feeling ② energy; effort; patience | ● 難倒 nàahn4 dóu2 = to daunt; perhaps also “to be put off doing (sth. difficult)
● 震驚 jan3 gīng1 = to shock; to amaze; to astonish | ● 唐氏綜合症 Tòhng4 sih6 jūng1 hahp6 jing3 = Downs syndrome | ● 恩典 yān1 dín2 = favour; grace | ● 失敗 sāt1 baih6 = ① to be defeated ② to fail | ● 企唔返身 kéih5 mh5 fāan1 sān1 = (?) to get back on one’s feet | ● 抹煞 mut3 saat3 = to remove from evidence; to expunge; to suppress; to wipe out, to obliterate (also written 抹殺)
● 阻礙 jó2 ngoih6 = to hinder; to block; to impede | ● 放風箏 fong3 fūng1 jāng1 = to fly a kite | ● 放手 fong3 sáu2 = to let go; to let go one’s hold | ● 接納 jip3 naahp6/laahp6 = 1. to admit (into an organization) 2. to accept | ● 轉變 jyún2 bin3 = to change; to transform | ● 渡過難關 douh6 gwo3 nàahn4 gwāan1 = tide over a difficulty; pull through | ● 回頭一看 wùih4 tàuh4 yāt1 hon3 = turn around and look | ● 精彩 jīng1 chói2 = brilliant; splendid; wonderful
This episode of 港故仔 Kongstories was made to commemorate the remarkable effort of making 100 consecutive videos in as many weeks. It brims with fantastic Kong-optimism and is full of words such as 恩典 yān1 dín2 = grace, 傳奇 chyùhn4 kèih4 = legendary, and 祝福 jūk1 fūk1 = a blessing, words now that possibly only the bravest, most visionary of Hongkongers would dare voice. The inspirational message is summed up in the phrases: 我哋香港人係有能力嘅 | 只要你願意，我哋每個人都可以成就傳奇 . . .
If you are not interested in the Cantonese aspects of the video, please click here to view it — the English subtitles are generally very good.
But if Cantonese is what you’re after, highlights in the language department include the structure 一 … 半 … used with measure words, which seems to convey a sense of “merely” or something like “measly” in English: 拍一條半條 = “to make a measly single video”. Also, there’s the adverb 不間斷 bāt1 gāan1 dyuhn6 = (?) “uninterrupted; without interruption” as well as a number of four-character phrases: 木口木面 muhk6 háu2 muhk6 mihn6 = pudding faced; 一事無成 yāt1 sih6 mòuh4 sìhng4 = accomplish nothing; get nowhere; and 成就傳奇 sìhng4 jauh6 chyùhn4 kèih4 = (?) to accomplish something that becomes a legend.
The episode finishes with a long list of personal names. Apart from being good practice (the list includes some less commonly seen surnames, including 霍 Fok3 and 詹 Jīm1) and you can also use these names to search for further videos in the 港故仔 Kongstories series.
Remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary. You might also like to make use the Ekho Text to Speech Converter if you have trouble matching any part of the transcribed Chinese text to the spoken version. Just make sure you select “Cantonese” under the language menu before you paste cut and text into the relevant box.
● 失意 sāt1 yi3 = to have one’s aspirations, plans, etc. thwarted | ● 盼望 paan3 mohng6 = to hope for; to long for; to look forward to | ● 勉勵 míhn5 laih6 = to encourage; to urge | ● 唔正 mh4 jeng3 = not very good | ● 木口木面 muhk6 háu2 muhk6 mihn6 = pudding faced | ● 一事無成 yāt1 sih6 mòuh4 sìhng4 = accomplish nothing; get nowhere | ● 捆擾kwan3 yíu2 = to perplex; to puzzle (subtitles have 捆綁 = usu. to bind; to tie up) | ● 成就傳奇 sìhng4 jauh6 chyùhn4 kèih4 = (?) to accomplish something that becomes a legend | ● 為別人貢獻自己 wàih4 bīt1 yàhn4 gung3 hin3 jih6 géi2 = to devote/dedicate oneself for others | ● 東方之珠 Dūng1 Fōng1 jī1 jyū1 = the Pearl of the Orient | ● 基石 = gēi1 sehk6 = foundation stone; cornerstone
我係梁淑儀 Lèuhng4 Suhk6 Yìh4 / Zoe Leung 我係文曉光 Màhn4 Híu2 Gwōng1 / Henry Man 我叫黎演樂 Làih4 Yín2 Lohk6 / Lock Lai 我係鄭淦元 Jehng6 Gam3 Yùhn4 / Ken Cheng 我叫藍全傑 Làahm4 Chyùhn4 Giht6 / Manson Lam 我就江富德 Gōng1 Fu3 Dāk1 / Kong Fu Tat 我叫陳浩源 Chàhn4 Houh6 Yùhn4 / Denial Chan 我叫做謝寳達 Jeh6 Bóu2 Daaht6 / Donald Tse 我叫黃明慧 Wòhng4 Mìhng4 Wai3 / Jennifer Wong 我叫霍志鵬 Fok3 Ji3 Pàahng4 / Thomas Fok 我叫黃岳永 Wòhng4 Ngohk6 Wíhng5 / Erwin Huang 我係羅孟慶 Lòh4 Máahng5 Hing3 / Jeff Law 我係張柏淳 Jēung1 Paak3 Sèuhn4 / Dennis Shun 我係阿露。何嘉露 Hòh4 Gāa1 Louh6 / I am Lu 我叫糖兄峰 （潘雲峰） Pūn1 Wàhn4 Fūng1 / I am Poon Wan Fung 我叫麥心睿 Mahk6 Sām1 Yeuih6 / I am Lesley Mak 我哋叫 The Wave 我叫詹家俊 Jīm1 Gāa1 Jeun3 / I am Wallnex Jim 我叫黃子財 Wòhng4 Jí2 Chòih4 / I am Colon Wong
陳健民 Chan Kin-man is a very thoughtful fellow and he uses the videos collected in his 健民書房 series to illuminate Hong Kong’s current predicament by offering ideas and insights from the books he has grappled with. In this episode, he tackles the question “Why do good people suffer?” via the prison letters of Korean democracy activist 金大中 Kim Dae Jung. Along the way, he also brings in a visit to Jimmy Lai, still in detention until his forthcoming trial in April or May, Dostoyevsky’s novel The Brothers Karamazov, and some of the ideas of the French philosopher, priest and palaeontologist, Pierre Teilhard de Chardin.
Chan uses plenty of sophisticated vocabulary, much of which is worth making your own. You’ll notice too that he tends to pronounce the third-person pronoun 佢 as héuih5 and is a heavy user of that common filler 即係 *je!
Please scroll down for my transcription and notes (the transcription is a bit rough in places, but the translation is pretty accurate, because I’ve been able to use the subtitles to fill in the parts I can’t hear clearly). You can view the video here(you are offered subtitles in both English and Standard Written Chinese). Since it is a YouTube video, you can slow down the playback speed if you wish: at 0.75 and 0.5, the sound quality is still good. And remember, if you want the standard jyutping romanization or to check any of the Chinese in the text, please consult the Sheik Cantonese on-line dictionary.
You might also like to make use the Ekho Text to Speech Converter if you have trouble matching any part of the transcribed Chinese text to the spoken version. Just make sure you select “Cantonese” under the language menu before you paste cut and text into the relevant box.
I will add the second part of this episode in the coming weeks . . .
● 黎智英 Làih4 Ji3 Yīng1 = Jimmy Lai Chee-ying | ● 感觸 gám2 jūk1 = thoughts & feelings; feeling (感觸 is regularly used with 深 sām1 = deep)| ● 殘舊 chàahn4 gauh6 = tattered; ragged; worn out | ● 囚衣 chàuh4 yī1 = prison clothes | ● 探訪室 taam3 fóng2 sāt = (?) visitors room | ● 恩典 yān1 dín2 = grace | ● 自有安排 jih6 yáuh5 [ng]ōn1 pàaih4 = (?) has His own arrangements | ● 無怨無悔 mòuh4 yun3 mòuh4 fui3 = have neither complaints nor regrets | ● 堅强 gīn1 kèuhng4 = strong; firm; staunch | ● 支撐 jī1 chāang1 = to prop up; to sustain; to support
Note: The grammar of the sentence 噉做爲一個天主教徒我好相信呢，佢嘅信仰係支撐住佢嘅 actually suggests that Chan Kin-man is himself a Catholic, but in actual fact the phrase 我好相信呢 is an insertion, and possibly even a form of displacement, coming between 做爲一個天主教徒 and the preposition it modifies, 佢.
Welcome all of you to my “Kin-man’s Bookroom”. A few days ago, I paid a visit to Mr Jimmy Lai, an extremely moving, a deeply moving, visit. I also wrote a post about it on Facebook. Of course, I was deeply moved, seeing this media boss dressed in ragged prison clothes sitting on the other side of a glass window in the visitors room. He, however, felt that he lived his life in the grace of God [係活喺上帝嘅恩典裏邊]. He was also of the belief that God had made arrangements of His own [自有安排] for Lai’s existence. Many people have said that he should have left [Hong Kong] long ago, [but] to this he replied that the reason why he has been able to do so much for Hong Kong is because he stayed. He felt that he had nothing to complain of and has no regrets. My sense is that he is exceptionally strong. Since he is a Catholic, I firmly believe that his faith sustains him. However, once he began to talk about his family, and feeling in particular that his family was very worried about him, it was hard for him to go on talking [講唔到説活].
● 内疚 noih6 gau3 = compunction; guilty conscience | ● 還押 wàahn4 [ng]aat3 = (?) to be remanded in custody | ● 受審 sauh6 sám2 = to stand trial; to be tried | ● 宗教性 jūng1 gaau3 sing3 = of a religious nature | ● 金大中 Gām1 Daaih6 Jūng1 = Kim Dae Jung
He even shed tears. As someone who has spent time in prison, I perfectly comprehend this feeling of guilt with regard to one’s family. Less than half an hour after leaving the prison, the government announced that they would continue to add charges against Jimmy Lai by using the National Security Law. He will remain in custody [awaiting trial] until April or May next year. Which means that, even though he has not yet been found guilty, he still has to spend four or five months in prison. This is what the situation is like in Hong Kong. After my visit to him, I thought of a book, one that I am also sharing with you all today in “Kin-man’s Bookroom”. Because my interchange with Lai was of quite a religious nature, it made me think of Kim Dae Jung, [a figure in] Korea’s democracy movement. While he was in jail, he wrote a great many letters. These were put together in a book called Prison Writings. Not a great read I thought when I first read it because it was too religious. Now Kim Dae Jung . . .
● 領袖 líhng5 jauh6 = leader | ● 傳奇 chyùhn4 kèih4 = as an adjective, this means “legendary”, referring to someone “unusual” [奇] whose exploits are “passed on down” [傳] through the ages | ● 中央情報局 Jūng1 Yēung1 Chìhng4 Bou3 Guhk6 = the Central Intelligence Agency | ● 擄劫 lóuh5 gip3 = (?) to abduct | ● 公海 gūng1 hói2 = the high seas | ● 丟抌 dīu1 dám2 = (?) to throw away; to discard | ● 整死 jíng2 séi2 = (?) to kill; to do away with | ● 軍方 gwān1 fōng1 = the military | ● 徘徊 pùih4 wùih4 = usu. “to pace up & down” or “to wander”, but here the context suggests “to hang around” or “to fly back and forth (overhead)” | ● 軍政府 gwān1 jing3 fú2 = a military government | ● 落手 lohk6 sáu2 = usu. “to set about”; perhaps “to lay a hand on” or “to do the deed” here | ● 本土 bún2 tóu2 = one’s native country | ● 光州嘅事件 Gwōng1 Jāu1 ge3 Sih6 Gín6*2 = the Gwangju massacre in the aftermath of the coup d’état of December Twelfth | ● 控告 hung3 gou3 = to charge; to accuse | ● 叛亂罪 buhn6 lyuhn6 jeuih6 = ? cf. 叛亂 = “armed rebellion”
Note: I cannot find a dictionary definition for the compound 擄劫. Also, remember that as a verb 整 jíng2 in Cantonese can take on a whole range of meanings, just like “to make” or “to do” in English. Only the resultative 死 (“dead”) gives the specific meaning of “to kill”.
. . . was a leader in Korea of the democracy movement. Something once happened to him which is the stuff of legends. In 1973, while he was in exile in Japan, the Korean government actually went so far as [竟然] to dispatch members of their own secret service to abduct him and take him back to Korea. [Sailing back] on the high seas, they even went so far as to tie him to a rock [將佢綁咗喺石頭度] with the intention of throwing him down [into the water] in order to kill him. But who would have guessed that the American army had all along known about this matter and so sent an aeroplane to fly back and forth above the ship to keep an eye on it and only because of this, the Korean military government did not go through with the killing. As a result, he was sent back to his own country, Korea. However, in 1980, owing to the Gwangju Massacre, he was charged by the government and sent to [appear before] a military court, where he was accused of the crime of (?) armed rebellion [叛亂罪].
● 死刑 séi2 yìhng4 = the death penalty | ● 入獄 yahp6 yuhk6 = to be put in prison; to be sent to jail | ● 懲罰 chìhng4 faht6 = to punish; to penalize | ● 度 dóu2 = roughly; approximately; almost | ● 單獨監禁 dāan1 duhk6 gāam1 gam3 = (?) solitary confinement | ● 有啲似 yáuh5 dī1 chíh5 = there is something of a resemblance to | ● 軟禁 yúhn5 gam3 = to put sb. under house arrest | ● 陸陸續續 luhk6 luhk6 juhk6 juhk6 = one after another; in succession| ● 容許 yùhng4 héui1 = to tolerate; to permit; to allow | ● 信簡 seun3 gáan2 = ? cf. 簡 gáan2 = letter; note; bamboo slip (for writing on) (In Cantonese 信箋 seun3 jin3 = “letter paper” is not (generally) used, it would seem.)
Subsequently, he was given the death penalty but, under pressure from the United States and Japan, this was reduced [轉咗] to punishment by imprisonment [instead]. As a result, he was put in prison for approximately 6 months, he was in solitary confinement for 5 or 6 months, then after that, he officially went to prison for roughly two years. He spent 5 or 6 months in prison, a bit like what has happened to Jimmy Lai, who is now in solitary confinement. Apart from this spell in prison, between 1985 and 1986 [Kim Dae Jung] was put under house arrest, not officially in prison but under house arrest. So, he spent his time in one form of prison or another [不斷咁樣係坐監] and he lived in danger of his life [受到生命嘅威脅嘅]. While he was in prison and under house arrest, he was permitted to write letters to his family, but only one piece of paper, a sheet of letter paper, on a sheet of very thin paper . . .
● 審查 sám2 chàah4 = to examine; to investigate | ● 叮囑 dīng1 jūk1 = to urge again & again; to warn; to exhort | ● 主旨 jyú2 jí2 = purport; substance; gist | ● 緣起 yùhn4 héi2 = genesis; origin | ● 出邊 chēut1 bīn1 = outside
. . . the whole of [these letters] were written down and were inspected for political content [經過政治審查]. For this reason, there is actually little discussion of political matters [in them]. Basically, the letters talk about things such as religious faith, advising his family how to go about living a good life, and instructing his children about what subjects they should take at university. Now on this occasion I have chosen one letter that was written on 2 November 1985 while he was under house arrest. This letter is one I feel to be a very special letter. It bears the title of [個題目係] “What is This Called My Life?” (sic) [Kin-man then provides a translation in Cantonese]. And “What is This Called My Life?” is the main substance [主旨] of this letter. In this letter, he writes that it all started [佢緣起] when he got up one morning and looked out at the garden outside, and discovered that . . .
● 凋謝 dīu1 jeh6 = to wither & fall | ● 哀愁 ōi1 sàuh4 = sad; sorrowful | ● 依戀 yī1 lyún2 = be reluctant to leave; to feel regret at parting from | ● 承受 sìhng4 sauh6 = to bear; to support; to endure | ● 分離之苦 fān1 lèih4 jī1 fú2 = (?) the pain of separation | ● 憂愁 yāu1 sàuh4 = sad; worried; depressed | ● 想家 séung2 gāa1 = to be homesick | ● 懷念wàaih4 nihm6 = to cherish the memory of; to think of | ● 觸動 jūk1 duhng6 = to move sb.; to stir up sb.’s feelings | ● 厄運 āk1 wahn6 = adversity; misfortune
. . . all the flowers he had planted had all died, apart from the chrysanthemums. It was like the sudden cold snap we’ve had here [in Hong Kong] in these past few days. [In response to] the sudden withering of these flowers, he had very strong feelings of sadness and regret [at the loss]. He says that actually when you feel an attraction for something then you will begin to feel a reluctance to be separated from [it]. And so, you must endure the pain of separation. You may feel reluctant to be separated from some flowers, and when they die, you then have feelings of sadness. If you feel a reluctance to be separated from your family, when you come to be separated from them, for example when you are put in prison, you will also endure a form of pain. When he wrote this letter, he said he was experiencing strong feelings of homesickness and was missing [懷念] his family. For this reason, this letter moved me very much and I can well believe that [what the letter describes] is very much like Jimmy Lai’s situation at present. [So Kim Dae Jung] asks: What actually is this human life of ours? He says that he felt that his own life was filled with a series of misfortunes.
● 無憂無慮 mòuh4 yāu1 mòuh4 leuih6 = not have a care in the world | ● 舒適 syū1 sīk1 = comfortable; cosy; snug | ● 發覺 faat3 gok3 = to find; to detect; to discover | ● 虛度 hēui1 douh6 = to spend time in vain; to waste | ● 後悔 hauh6 fui3 = to regret; to repent
Note: Someone was kind enough to provide the following explanation of the use of 噃 bō1 in this segment: “I think 噃 bō1 is similar, if not identical to 喎 wō1, which is used like a filler word in English, or to express a slight level of surprise. […] And in 佢覺得佢冇後悔嘅噃, it is even more pronounced since he should, in normal sense, feel that life is meaningless and would feel regret upon reflecting on his experience, yet he feels the opposite: he thinks that he had no regrets. In this case, the 噃 is quite useful to express the contrast in a subtle manner . . .”
Just, just as I mentioned just now, didn’t I, he had been through a lot [走過生死], spending time in prison as well as being put under house arrest. He said that he had never been happy in his life. Now what is needed [咩先至] before we can call something a “happy life”? Being free from all worry, and being able to spend time with one’s family. Such a life he had never enjoyed himself, but then he goes on to ask: There are many people whose lives are very comfortable, who are able to spend time together with their families, but do those people feel that their lives have any meaning? He found that this was not the case. Much of the time, such people felt that they had lived their lives in vain. For this reason, then, what was this thing called his life, when all was said and done [究竟]? He had not had those kinds of happiness that ordinary people have, but did he feel that his own life was meaningless? No, he thought, it was not. He felt that he had no regrets. He said if there was anything that he felt to be truly [真真正正] very hard to bear, he thought firstly of his own . . .
● 連累 lìhn4 leuih6 = to implicate; to involve; to get sb. into trouble | ● 報恩 bou3 yān1 = to pay a debt of gratitude | ● 疑惑 yìh4 waahk6 = feel uncertain; not be convinced | ● 殺人放火金腰帶 saat3 yàhn4 fong3 fó2 gām1 yīu1 daai3 = “murderers & arsonists have their purses full of gold” cf. This is part of a longer phrase used to suggest that only the wicker prosper. The second part reads: 修橋補路冇屍骸 and seems to mean something like “those who build bridges & make roads end up as penniless skeletons (?) | ● 義人 yih6 yàhn4 = ? cf. 義士 yih6 sih6 = a person who upholds justice | ● 蒙難 mùhng4 naahn6= (of a revolutionary) be confronted by danger; fall into the clutches of the enemy | ● 謎團 màih4 tyùhn4 = doubts & suspicions
. . . participation in the democracy movement [and how it] had implicated members of his family. This was a very deep guilt. The second thing was that he felt that many people in his life had actually been very good to him and had helped him enormously, but he had never had the chance to repay his debts of gratitude. Now these feelings [connected with] the implication of family members and the failure to repay his debts of gratitude were his . . . If you asked him whether he had any regrets, what he felt quite distressed about were these [two] parts [of his experience]. He said that in fact his greatest doubts about human life had to do with seeing how “murderers and arsonists have their purses full of gold”, while those who tried to uphold justice, good people, fell into the clutches of the enemy [蒙難]. Now this is not the “good people get good things, while bad people get bad things” we often talk about, it’s not like that. He saw that life in the real world was not like that. Now this was a great doubt he had in his life, a tangled mess of doubts and misgivings [謎團]. In this letter, he goes on to talk about something in Chinese history . . .
● 司馬遷 Sī1 Máah5 Chīn1 = Sima Qian | ● 辯護 bihn6 wuh6 = to speak in defence of; to defend | ● 打敗仗 dáa2 baih6 jeung3 = to suffer a defeat; to be defeated in battle | ● 救兵 gau3 bīng1 = reinforcements | ● 嚟唔切 lèih4 mh4 chit3 = not arrive in time | ● 用得不當 yuhng6 dāk1 bāt1 dōng1 = used inappropriately | ● 調配 diuh6 pui3 = to allocate; to deploy | ● 援助 wùhn4 joh6 = to help; to support; to aid| ● 調兵遣將 diuh6 bīng1 hín2 jeung3 = to move troops; to deploy forces | ● 諷刺 fung3 chi3 = to satirize; to mock | ● 伏筆 fuhk6 bāt1 = usu. a hint foreshadowing later developments in a story, essay, etc.; foreshadowing
. . . the story of Sima Qian. Now as everyone knows, Sima Qian was such an important Chinese historian. However, back in those times, in the days when Han Wu Di was emperor, because he [i.e. Sima Qian] came to the defence of a certain general. Because this general had, at the that time, been defeated in battle, so, Han Wu Di wanted to have him [i.e. the general] put to death. [Sima Qian] said that the crime was not his [i.e. the general’s]. It was merely because reinforcements did not arrive on time. He also implied that this emperor made inappropriate use of army personnel [用人嗰陣時]. And so, he [i.e. the general] did not have a sufficient deployment [調配] or support. And as a result, he was defeated. As a matter of fact, he [i.e. the general] showed great courage. Now [Sima Qian’s] comments enraged Han Wu Di, who asked: Are you saying (?) that I don’t know how to deploy my forces? That I made the wrong use of personnel? You are making fun of me! In fact, before that, [Han Wu Di] had not been too pleased with Sima Qian and, when he wrote about his [i.e. Han Wu Di’s] time [as emperor], there were a few hints of things to come [in his History] in which in fact he was talking about . . .
● 不是 bāt1 sih6 = (noun) fault; blame | ● 死刑 séi2 yìhng4 = the death penalty | ● 贖身 suhk6 sān1 = (of slaves, prostitutes) to redeem oneself; to buy back one’s freedom | ● 腐刑 fuh6 yìhng4 = (?) cf. 宮刑 | ● 腐爛 fuh6 laahn6 = 1. decomposed; putrid 2. corrupt; rotten | ● 宮刑 gūng1 yìhng4 = castration (a punishment in ancient China) | ● 閹割 yīm1 got3 = to castrate or spay; to emasculate | ● 羞辱 sāu1 yuhk6 = 1. shame; dishonour; humiliation 2. humiliation; to put sb. to shame | ● 正直 jing3 jihk6 = honest; upright; fair-minded | ● 報復 bou3 fuhk6 = to make reprisals; to retaliate | ● 解開 gáai2 hōi1 = to untie; to undo; to get rid of
. . . Han Wu Di’s faults. The upshot was, Han Wu Di condemned him [i.e. Sima Qian] to death. Now there were two options available for avoiding the death penalty. The first way was to [offer a replacement] by giving a lot of money to buy back your life [贖身]. Sima Qian, however, did not [have lots of money]. The second option was to accept a form of punishment known as fu ying. The fu here is that fu that is used in the compound fu laan, meaning “putrid” or “rotten”. This kind of castration, the carrying out of yim got, castration. Kim Dae Jung made use of this story to say that for a man to accept such a punishment by castration was an enormous humiliation. He was no more and no less than a fair-minded man telling the truth, saying what was true. As a result, [he] was on the receiving end [受到] such a form of retaliation. And so he said good people do not necessarily get good things. And so [the question is]: how do we free ourselves from such a thing? How do we rid ourselves of such uncertainties? In this letter, he states that the writings of two people . . .
● 啓示 kái2 sih6 = enlightenment; inspiration; revelation | ● 《卡拉馬佐夫的弟兄們》Kāa1 Lāai1 Máah5 Jo3 Fū1 Dīk1 Daih6 Hīng1 Mùhn4 = The Brothers Karamazov | ● 杜斯妥也夫斯基 Douh6 Sī1 Tóh5 Yáah5 Fū1 Sī1 Gēi1 = Fyodor Dostoyevsky | ● 俄國 Ngòh4 Gwok3 = Russia | ● 章節 jēung1 jit3 = chapters (this may be one of those words that seems to have a built-in plural sense cf. 船隻 = ships) | ● 跪低 gwaih6 dāi1 = to kneel down | ● 虔誠 kìhn4 sìhng4 = pious; devout | ● 帶動 daai3 duhng6 = to drive; to spur; to bring along | ● 最臨尾 jeui3 làhm4 méih5 = ? in the end cf. 臨尾 = final (Sheik)
Influenced him and made him able to start to see more clearly about things, and to get some illumination. The first was [a book] that I myself liked very much when I was at university, The Brothers Karamazov. This book is a novel written by Fyodor Dostoyevsky. This Russian novel was very popular back in those days when I was studying at university, and it was a very important one. Let me tell you what my feelings were like when I read it. Some of the chapters in it made me want to get down on my knees and pray when I read them, and I felt very pious. But other chapters in the book made me feel that God was already dead, that there was no God in this world. His narrative [佢可以講?] could drive you to [different] extremes. I like this book very much and so does [Kim Dae Jung], who refers to its influence on him. In his opinion, of the three brothers [UNCLEAR] The elder brother argues with his father in the end over a woman and, as a result, the father dies in [rather] particular circumstances. This results in the elder brother being charged with the murder of his father.
This beautiful photograph taken by Joan Law is included in the book she did with the English scholar Barbara Ward called Chinese Festivals. Since the book dates from 1982, I imagine that the children shown in this image are probably in their late 40s or early 50s by now, and I can’t help wondering how they are celebrating the current Chinese New Year in the year 2021 . . .
They play in their own innocent way with powerful forces, with rhythms and symbols the significance of which they instinctively guess at but cannot fully grasp. And yet their game is nothing less than the regeneration of the cosmos. As Barbara Ward writes:
Morally the keynote is renewal. The old year goes, and with it go old misfortunes and old wrongs; the new year comes and brings the chance for starting afresh.
The chance of a fresh start is an invaluable thing. And yet there is a danger inherent in the idea of renewal, especially to the Chinese mind, which tends to associate it with such things as harmony, stability, unity, discipline and peaceful conformity. But do such qualities truly make for a vital world? Thomas Berry provides an answer for us in the following comment in The Great Work:
We might consider, then, that the wild and the disciplined are the two constituent forces of the universe. the expansive force and the containing force bound into a single universe and expressed in every being . . .
Only Earth became a living planet filled with those innumerable forms of geological structure and biological expression that we observe throughout the natural world. Only Earth held a creative balance between the turbulence and the discipline that are necessary for creativity. The excess of discipline suppressed the wildness of Mars. The excess of wildness overcame the discipline of Jupiter. Their creativity was lost by an excess of one over the other.
To me, the main reason why Hong Kong is a world issue and not merely an internal matter for the People’s Republic of China is because, uniquely, Hong Kong is one place ⸺ perhaps the only place ⸺ where the possibility of such an unlikely creative balance was gradually being realized. True, it has entailed great suffering over a long period of time, and countless instances of unjust and inhumane behaviour. And yet this protracted, haphazard social experiment has resulted in a priceless hybrid, in which the Chinese genius for discipline has, to some degree, fused with the Western gift for individual wildness in a way that has not happened anywhere else in the history of humankind, and is not likely to happen again in the foreseeable future.
This hybrid, in which a “creative disequilibrium” exists between wildness and discipline, represents to my way of thinking the only real option for a human renewal in the genuine meaning of the words. Discipline or wildness alone can only bring sterile repetition, disguised beneath constant consumer novelty and sensational technological innovation, in the course of which our planet is increasingly degraded to the point of absolute no return.
So next time you wish someone 出入平安 during this Chinese New Year, think to yourself the following addition: And a Joyous Creative Disequilibrium to you, too!