Blog Archive

This Week’s Blog will be another series of short ones.

This Week’s Blog will be another series of short ones.

First, Halloween. It’s coming soon; how can I respond? By referring readers who haven’t read last year’s Halloween blog, or want to read it again or look at the picture, to my blog for 10/30/2011: use the newly-installed old-blog-finder just to the left of this, go to that date, admire the photo: a newspaper photo of my daughter Sarah at the age of four standing beside a Jack Pumpkinhead figure--this appeared on the front page of the Washington Post way back, and she saved it. The brief text with it introduces her as the daughter of one James Cahill who made for his two children--the older one is Nicholas--a full-size Jack Pumpkinhead figure (those of you who don’t know who that was, go back and read The Land of Oz by L. Frank Baum) that sat outside their house on Newark Street, beside the front steps, and could wave its hand at passers-by and also talk to them. And the accompanying story in my blog tells how at last I brought it to life. You can’t believe that? Go back and read the story, it’s true; Nick and Sarah can testify to that.

My publications in Chinese. I don’t publish much of anything in English any more--too much fuss about getting publication permissions for illustrations, dealing with editors (other than Naomi Richard, who was my ideal editor but who has retired) and other annoyances that I can’t tolerate in my old age,. But my books continue to appear in Chinese translation, mostly published by Sanlian Press in Beijing, and continue to be best-sellers--Gao Juhan (myself) is much more famous there than James Cahill (whose books are mostly out of print) is here. Most recently, a book about Chinese paintings of gardens that I co-authored with two young Chinese collaborators--I told the story of this before--has been raising a stir, mostly positive; and another of my older books, the Reischauer Lectures delivered at Harvard and published as The Lyric Journey: Poetic Painting in China and Japan, is about to appear in Chinese. My contact at Sanlian has sent me a picture of the book, quite handsome. And these books are produced at surprisingly low costs. Tell your Chinese friends, or read them yourself if that’s one of your languages. I have recommended strongly to Sanlian that they publish an English-language version of the garden paintings book, and they hope to do that, so I may still see one more book by me (and two others) appear in English.

Another important exhibition at the Shanghai Museum is about to open, this time made up of early Chinese paintings from U.S. museums: the Boston M.F.A., the Met in New York, the Nelson-Atkins in Kansas City, and the Cleveland Museum of Art. (The other great early collection in the U.S., the Freer in D.C., is prohibited from lending by the provisions of Freer’s will.)  For last year’s show I wrote a longish essay for the catalog about Japanese collecting of early Chinese paintings--readable here in English as CLP  197--relating how Chinese paintings came to Japan in three “waves”: early, middle (Edo period), and late (early 20th century.) (A certain person has written that he plans to organize an exhibition featuring these “three waves,” and when I asked whether my writing would be cited, he said he didn’t need to, since this was “common knowledge.” News to me, because when I wrote about the middle period in my 1985 article “Phases and Modes in the Transmission of Ming-Ch’ing Painting Styles to Edo Period Japan,” I found no previous useful published research on this matter and had to do it myself--besides relying on Japanese informants credited in my article. We will see how he handles this matter in his exhibition catalog.) Anyway: for this year’s big Shanghai  Museum show, which opens soon, I’ve written another, even longer article titled “Early Chinese Paintings in U.S. Museums: An Insider’s View”; this will again be published in the catalog, I assume in both English and Chinese, and will also appear here as another CLP--watch for it. The Chinese text will be published first, I learn, in the Book Review section of a big Shanghai newspaper called the Daofang Zaobao on October 28th. I’m sorry that I’m no longer able to travel, and so won’t see the exhibition--although of course I’ve seen all the paintings (I believe) long ago, it would be a pleasure to view them again in this new setting, with some added, I assume, from Chinese collections--that, at least, was what happened last year. I’ve written my editor-translator contact at the Shanghai Museum asking that she try to persuade the compilers of the catalog not to follow the common present-day Chinese practice of reproducing old paintings on silk in what they believe to be an “honest” way, showing them as really look now--a process that too often produces rectangles of dark brown in which no image can be seen. (I recently ordered two new books on Chinese paintings in P.R.C. collections, and found them filled with “reproductions” of that kind. Down with honesty!)

Responses to my dismissals of conceptual artists as clever-idea people: they have predictably been met with wonderment: can anyone really be so backward in his ideas about art? So I am a hold-over, joining such notables as the late Sir Ernst Gombrich but totally out of touch with younger art-lovers. Just to be clear; am I advocating that they be banned? Of course not--I’m not for banning much of anything that doesn’t really harm people, as these mostly don’t. They are just a bore, and huge consumers of money and gallery space that could be better used. If I advocate anything at all, it would be that we collectively adopt the recommendation (previously cited on this website and elsewhere) of the late Princeton musicologist Edward Cone, whom I got to know when he spent a semester on our Berkeley campus as Ernest Bloch Lecturer, delivering the lectures published as The Composer's Voice. He later wrote an article--which I think was published in The American Scholar for Autumn 1977, Vol. 46 No. 4--in which he proposed that the art world could be greatly bettered and relieved of much nonsense if artists and composers were forced to present their works without having them designated as art, or as serious music—so that they would have to make it on their own, to be received, experienced, and judged as other events and objects might be. John Cage's famous However-long-it-is composition, in which the audience gazes at the pianist doing nothing for a long stretch of near-silence (only ambient noise), would be recognized as a total bore, as would many performance pieces and uninteresting objects or installations.

Is there really still another way I can bring Zhang Daqian into my  blogs? You might think that I’ve exhausted every possible way; but no, there is still another. One of my Facebook friends found an old picture, looking mysteriously real but too like a Chinese painting to be quite believable, of a Chinese noble-scholar figure holding a staff and seated under a pine tree, gazing upward, and backed by a landscape equally beyond belief. She and others were (quite properly) marveling at it, wondering how it could possibly have been produced, what wonderland it depicted, how they could find it and go there; I served as the beastly balloon-puncturer, informing them that it was a composite photograph made by a certain Long Chin-San who had a photographic studio in Taipei and specialized in making mysteriously real-looking composite photographs like this one, often featuring Zhang Daqian as the lofty-minded scholar (how old Zhang must have enjoyed the irony of that!) Zhang sometimes adopted the same traditional persona in real photographs, for instance positioning himself against the old Monterey cypress trees at Point Lobos while he lived nearby. (These are the trees that I took my seminar on the Ming master Wen Zhengming down to see, since Wen often painted similar trees--and we stayed overnight in Zhang Daqian’s house, courtesy of his daughter Sing who was in my seminar.) I will reproduce two pictures: the composite work by Long Chin-San and a real photo of Zhang that I recently found somewhere.


And that concludes today’s blog, except that I will append to it a song I have written for the 80th birthday celebration for my old friend David Keightley, which will take place this coming Friday, October 26th. David and I used to make up a pair, performing at Center for Chinese Studies New Year’s parties, retirement parties for colleagues, etc., singing funny songs we composed--new words, that is, to familiar tunes. For my own retirement celebration in May 1994, David composed and sang a new text for the Major General’s Song from Gilbert and Sullivan’s Pirates of Penzance, beginning: “He is the very model of a Chinese painting specialist.” Now I have, in retaliation so to speak, composed one that Cyril Birch and I will sing at David’s retirement dinner. I worked long and hard on it, coming up with tricky three-syllable rhymes like those Gilbert used. So that song, which by the time this is printed will have been performed at the dinner, can be read below. So, Happy Eightieth David, Happy Halloween everybody else, from James Cahill!

He is the very model of the Chinese antiquarian,

He knows where folks of ancient Shang and Zhou did all their buryin’

He reads archaic script as it’s inscribed on bones and tortoise shells,

Writes articles that carry the explosive power of mortar shells--

Deciphering inscriptions that are written out on scapulae,

He tells his adversaries “You should cancel all that crap you lie,”

He knows what made north China’s slopes so loessian and terracy

(Thinks: terracy, terracy--then looks up:)

And countered K. C. Chang with all his shamanistic heresy!

(Chorus:: And countered K.C. Chang with all his shamanistic… etc.)

His book about Shang China and its Time, Space, and Community

Is not a work that anyone can challenge with impunity

For ancient China’s worshippin’, its writin’ and its buryin’

He is the very model of a Chinese antiquarian!

(Chorus repeat: For ancient China’s … )

He wrote a learned paper on why all the swords have disappeared

There were no explanations of this matter until his appeared

He wrote a weighty book about the sources of Shang history

And Neolithic women who for others were a mystery--

And every New Year’s day he led a group of us on bicycles

Traversing Tilden Park like highly animated icycles,

He’s been official welcomer for visiting celebrities

(pause to think: celebrities, celebrities… Then looks up:)

From places far away as Karakorum  and the Hebrides!

(Repeat: From places far away as …)

He worked to get a seminar for Cahill’s art historians

A building we had longed for since the time of the Victorians

A new East Asian Library to study in and tarry in,

The funds for which were gathered by our Chinese antiquarian

(Repeat: A new East Asian Library to study in .. .etc.)

Final Quatrain:

We’ll sing another song, old friend, though it may be more cursory

When once again we gather for your hundredth anniversary

For all your learned writings, both profound and adversarian,

You are the very model of a Chinese antiquarian!  (repeat)

Latest Work

  • Conclusion Conclusion
    VI Conclusion It is time to draw back and look, if not at the whole Hyakusen, at as much of him as we have managed to illuminate in this study. Dark areas remain, and doubtless many distortions, but...

Latest Blog Posts

  • Bedridden Blog
    Bedridden Blog   I am now pretty much confined to bed, and have to recognize this as my future.  It is difficult even to get me out of bed, as happened this morning when they needed to...