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Notes about China
The flaming sinologism syndrome
In 1988-89 I studied at Shandong University in Jinan, China. Then I first clashed with unknown phenomenon which was later called the flaming sinologism syndrome.
To call myself the discoverer of this disease would be unfair. That is backed to the times when foreigners first appeared in China. The returned from China divided into two groups: the first criticized everything Chinese, denied the presence of civilization, culture, intellect and many other things among Chinese (must say that similar extremal opinions are present nowadays as well); the second, in opposite, took home Chinese books, praised everything Chinese, put in homes some pretty knick-knacks like calligraphy sets, scrolls, lacquer ware etc.
In short, they were caught by the syndrome of flaming sinologism. It is naive to consider that this disease is defeated in present days. Its symptoms were appearing in 60s of the past century, when some American diplomats after living in China in the period of Cultural Revolution told about China, Chairman Mao and the Communist Party extremely positive. Then the authorities took an investigation. It appeared that the persons infected with flaming sinologism in majority were trained in Chinese language and culture. After this the Americans began appointing the diplomats without sinological education. The efficiency of diplomatic representations somewhat dropped, but the syndrome almost disappeared.
My co-ed Dmitry Alemasov, who runs www.daochinasite.com, told me that one of victims of the syndrome was Misha, also from Chita, then the cadet of the Military Institute of the Ministry of Defence. The symptoms were as follows: he began to learn calligraphy, to conversate with old men in the streets (perhaps, hoping to borrow a grain of ancient Chinese wisdom from them), to copy off the Chinese-Russian Dictionary by Shanghai University from the beginning and then from the end. He did not stop there. Misha took a pack of paper sheets, wrote single hieroglyphs on them and hung them around the room in the dormitory. He assured everyone that this was for training of visual memory and for extending the personal vocabulary. His roommate was scared seeing how hanging hieroglyphs were changed for simpler day by day. Alexey (Misha's roommate) pessimistically foretold that it would not be astonishing finally to see the hieroglyphs "yi", "er", "san" (one, two, three). The matter of the situation is that these signs consist of one, two and three horizontal strokes respectively. I don't know what this ended up with, but I can say that the syndrome is cureable.
At Shandong University I was one of three students from the Teachers' Training Institute of Chita. Among others were not quite ordinary guys from Moscow (the cadets of the Military Institute of the Ministry of Defence). One of them named Sasha fell ill with this disease in a month.
In early October of 1988 Sasha came into my room (our doors were almost opposite) and claimed that A Dream of Red Mansions was translated incorrectly. Last night he was dawned upon with a feeling that before the end of academic year he must translate this book in right way.
To understand how hard was the commitment undertaken by Sasha one must know that this novel consists of many volumes and is written in wenyan - the ancient classical language. The word count in this novel is measured by hundreds of thousands of characters. They even have a complete research institute for this book in China. But our Sasha alone dared to take care of this.
He locked himself up and sat in the room for days. He ate only a small bowl of rice a day, drank only boiled water. He stopped shaving, grew a broad beard like Father Fyodor from The Twelve Chairs, became scaringly thin.
If you think that he had gone completely mad, you are wrong. Sasha was saving money for ordering duty-free electronics from Hong Kong.
He didn't attend students' parties and other activities, so many students from other countries considered that Sasha went back to the USSR. Missy, the American girl who visited my friend Vadik on nights (foreign students lived one person in a room) was very scared to see hairy and dirty Sasha at 3 A. M. She thought that it was the ghost of Sasha wandering around the mens' lavatory.
When winter vacations came, Sasha, despite of others' expectations, went to Hanzhou with friends, planning going to Guangzhow and further, to Hainan Island. But in Hanzhow, at the Friendship store (Friendship is the chain of stores specialized in serving to foreign guests) a thief stole all his savings from the rear pocket. Sasha too wisely didn't leave the saved cash in the dormitory and took it along, came to Hanzhou and lost it in the same day. His friends gave him some money to return to Jinan.
Then the guy began to change.
In the second term he shaved off the beard, started joining our parties and talking to foreign students. But they by virtue of habit still avoided him for three more months. Moreover, he stopped translating the novel and said me that A Dream of Red Mansions could wait while there was a plenty of interesting things in the world. Women, for example. Having heard this, I got stunned for ten minutes. I realised that the guy was about to recover. Then there was Sasha's next action of valour. He took away the 45 year old Japanese female teacher from the head of our group, the lecturer from the Far-Eastern State University nicknamed Beard. The Japanese teacher's name was Keiko Okuyama. She was very colourful. She drank everything including vodka like a horse, her voice was harshly masculine, she laughed like the ogre from the old Soviet animation of Puss in Boots. Her face was too far from Marilyn Monroe's.
To help you realise the heroism of Sasha's action, this is necessary to say a few words about Beard. Beard in Moscow was instructed to watch over us and at any incident inform the Embassy. Do not know was he really informing them or not, but after Beard's leaving for home, a counsellor from the Embassy came to Jinan and asked foreigners about us, whether we were drinking, criticizing the Soviet regime and the Communist Party of the Soviet Union, having sex with foreigners, breaking the Moral code of builder of Communism etc. Sasha explaind his action as a revenge to Beard on behalf of all of us. We begged him not to sacrifice himself, but Sasha went ahead with his revenge and was dating her. In some months he practically didn't lived in his room and spent the nights at the Japanese sweetheart's.
That was "fighting fire with fire" or treating madness by madness. Of course, China is a great country, her history is unique, her people are talented. But I advise you while enjoying sinology not to fall into the flaming sinologism. Otherwise you can lose a lot of time and feel very pity about it later.
Translated by Dmitry Alemasov
© Dmitry Alemasov
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