Cast the waves for the mountain foolishness
Nannan Tang has lived in Shapowei, which is surrounded by high mountains and ocean in the south of Amoy. When reading beside the window, Tang imagined Kinmen as his penholder and Penghu as his ink slab. As darkness fell, he chanted and sighed, staring at sea tides. Apprehending Prajna in the back streets, he was aware of the impurity of mother tongue. Reading the ways of the world on the shore, he realized heaven and earth are not benevolent. The roots of banyan, the boons of dogs and the foam of the waves nourish the abstraction style of Henry Moore. After weathered by winds and waves, the wrecked postwar forts become the fertile soil of moss and conches.
In his old photographs, people are absent-minded in the avenues and alleys; the noise of traffic floats away; the sadness is faint and long. I always think the red brick and the cement block will be smoothed into pebbles by ebbs and flows within days. What kind of deadwood is it, which cannot drift on the sea? How intense is the sorrow, crammed into the heart, which cannot be dissolved?
Nannan Tang is from Amoy abounded with oil pine trees. From the southeast blow the wind. The boats could sail into the sea for years without damage. The coast in our country stretches eighteen thousand miles. However Matsu, goddess of the sea, only lives in Amoy. With Matsu bless, fishery was flourishing there; ethnic groups sailed abroad and settled down. Amoy is the hometown of overseas Chinese from ancient times. Nannan Tang is also the descendant of the original Chinese and settlers in South Sea. Overseas Chinese were faced with the dilemma of whether to isolate themselves from alien culture, whether to maintain the belief and the memory of ethnic groups. They were missing their hometown profoundly on the drift and bore the conflicts between national and foreign cultures earliest. If you search key words about overseas Chinese online, you will get a lot about “discrimination”, “struggle” and “homesick”. Nannan was brought up in Overseas Chinese farm of a mountain. So whether do his ancestors regard South Sea as their home or other places? Whether does Tang regard the farm land as his hometown or just an alien land? Whether does Tang regard Hokkien as his mother tongue or a foreign language?
One juvenile with a strange and anile face always appears in Tang’s former paintings drawn in Amoy. The boy is womanish, weird and characterized with a horn on his head. The horn is actually the left top of a silk stocking over his head. The character that places a stocking over his head is a metaphor of escaping from the society. This boy always shows up rolling his body in a corner, deep in thought with a cigarette or peeping and smiling strangely, which is somewhat intangible and indescribable. Melancholy like pervasive smog lingers around him and no one can tell what the exact reason is.
So Tang came to the West Lake and learned from me. At the beginning, we discussed his subject informally. He said, what always haunted in his mind was the eighth vegetable market in Amoy, for there were fishy smells from butchering fish and muttony odour from eviscerating meat, as well as the mud left on the root and the bugs in the core of the fruit. I clapped: “This is the nostalgia.” The clean vegetables in the modern supermarkets are grown in greenhouses. The meat is fed in the intensive livestock farms. Almost all of them are processed in pipeline, divided by machine and vacuum packed. The smell, the mud and the bugs won’t bother us. Down-to-earth root is vanishing as well. So the missing of the eighth market is nostalgia rather than a quirk.
Hence, Tang studies nostalgia as his subject. Nostalgia has been an old topic: heartbroken when hearing the tinkle of bells; journeying alone at the edge of the world; overlooking a flock of wild geese flying away; or drinking a cup of turbid wine to swallow one’s sorrow. This kind of nostalgia has already hardened into fixed symbols long time ago. It’s a well, it’s a moon, it’s a tombstone, and it is the locust tree standing by the village gate. A group of German doctors in 19th century racked their brains to find a prescription to heal nostalgia, but failed. Today in the sight of agritainment and old-town tours, wells and trees descend to scenic spots; the Tomb-Sweeping Day and the Mid-Autumn Festival are nothing but business opportunities where the feeling of nostalgia can be bought. Since it seems that they can buy access to symbols that will make them feel nostalgic again. At this era, it’s easy to return home within one day and chat face to face online from afar by jet, high-speed rail and We-chat. So where is the nostalgia? My hometown has been a development zone; I become a stranger when back. So who could the nostalgia be sent to? Anything can be consumed when symbolized. Consumers replace the essence by minor matters; they care about the surface and ignore the spirit; they occupy the name and control the ideas. The eternal nostalgia has nowhere to go today. So it has to be shaped with no name or no face and enslaved to no place, no time, no person or no object.
So Tang sprinkles the ink into ocean, casts the waves into mountains. So he flicks the sand and picks the gold. He elaborates the stories of drifters along the tidal flats. Separate individual like a falling leaf returns to the tangled roots of the history. He breaks out of the name and the face of the wandering melancholy, and then stands to sense and reason. When suddenly seeing the law of the universe, he no longer feels sorrow for himself. As a result, he abandons the oppression and solitude of the imp in the corner and creates vast and boundless visions, mournful but not distressing.
Some people say that archaic creatures have evolved from sea to land. Hence sea is the hometown of all the sentient beings. It may be said that Tang’s melancholy is the nostalgia of ocean deep in the unconscious gene. Hokkiens writing waves beside the sea is just like Mongolians are good at drawing horses naturally. But I don’t believe so. The obsession of the cape is nothing more than literary youth's romance. Has Odyssey’s soul ever rested after he was buried into the sea? Can’t Jingwei, a bird who tried to fill the sea, have any regrets? Ocean is just a word. Only the person who can let go of appearances and words can sublimate depression into vitality and get out of melancholy into great heaviness. Interestingly, Matsu's original name is Mo (Mo means quietness and silence). My nostalgia is supposed to be rooted in the whole world.
Nevertheless, he casts the waves into mountains. It is also ridiculous, isn’t? Zhisoa (literally” the old sage”) deems it foolish to move away the mountain. Since it is possible to move away the mountain with persistence, the man who wants to cast the waves into mountains is even more foolish than Yu Gong (the foolish old man). However, building a mountain means gathering ocean currents and floating reflections into an immortal hill. It desires to stop the time and freeze the waterfall into strings. But it’s to no avail. It's a trick of high-speed photography. Wouldn’t it be hopelessly foolish?
I don’t think so. The wisdom of Yu Gong would free himself from his ego and convert the fertility of carrying on his family into the willpower of moving mountains. Heaven was greatly moved by Yu Gong’s sincerity. If one can be selfless, he will get rid of his lowliness and God will help him. The eternal Taihang Mountain makes way for Yu Gong’s family due to their perseverance. Those who strive ceaselessly won’t ascertain success or failure by one man; instead they look out for all the scenery and measure everything. Do what they can and get eternal relief. So we can’t say the wit of casting waves into mountains is different from the wisdom of Yu Gong.
So is there any other way to cast waves into mountains apart from mindfulness? We should reinvent our naked eyes. If we regard one instant as a thousand years, is the bump of a wave really different from the rise of the Himalayan? If we regard a thousand years as one instant, not only can we see tens of thousands of tempestuous waves falling and rising in the boundless sea, but also ephemeral life, born to die and born after death. Both replay over and over again in the same form and same state. Therefore the alternation of human affairs is just like waves in a coming tide. Though the body dies, the spirit will be revitalized. Though life is transient, the law will be immortal. One’s aspiration will never calm down like the rising tide, when he thinks of worlds of the trichiliocosm. Even the toughest stone can be ground into powder. In the eternal return, successors will come in time. Why must it be brought to fruition by me? Hence, casting waves into mountains can’t be unconstrained by fleeting time. It is to explore the phenomena and acquire the nature of things, to be absorbed in the oblivious-of-me moment and to enter into the carefree realm. So broad-minded he is, he may be said to see the law.
Virtually, Tang is my junior fellow apprentice instead of my apprentice. I once said:”There is no teacher or student, but fellow students that learn the truth later or earlier. ” All the apprentices learn from the nature, the tradition or the possibility. However, I’m not inclined to choose “possibility”, one borrowed word. I’d rather call my teacher as the unification of principle and expedient in Confucianism, as Yi-principle and as inherent laws of things. When able to learn beyond the platitudes and act up to the laws, he can see the true appearance of my teacher. It is Tang that makes it and turns out to be my junior fellow apprentice. Tang is devoted to practice for the past decade, plain and silent, and eventually makes a great achievement. It is enough to show that I am not cheated by the tradition and not isolated on the way. Besides, refined men are still alive, and then our hometown is not far any more.
Drafted in the car from Rotterdam to Paris, completed at Dubai Airport
March 5th, 2016
The secret of the beach
A middle-aged man laden with anxiety came to the beach. The noise of the seaside was covered by the water sound. He buried his toes into the soft sand, and the cool feeling smoothed his folded brows. Stretching his numb neck, he caught sight of those men and women, old and young enjoying the picturesque seascape fully, as if they had born there beside the seashore. Hearing the scream of some teenage girls, a cloud of spray suddenly drowned his ankles. He leapt at once and smiled much at ease. Then he expected for another… I was that man in his middle age, who had an unbreakable bond with the sea.
According to my mother’s memory, she was so scared by my extremely dark skin that she didn’t touch me for 4 days after giving birth to me. Such kind of dark skin was so rare in my hometown MinNan that I had had no idea about which color of the clothes was suited to me until Xiamen University recruited African students. Obviously, I was the offspring of fishermen, who sank into the water and were exposed to the scorching sun year in, year out. My father came from a remote fishing village of Donghai, where people made their living as a fisherman from generation to generation. Sometimes they became pirates, and the village was once the den of the pirates and even the National Revolutionary Army’s soldiers, for its well-concealed position.
It was a raining night, my father stole out to the beach with another 6 brave youngsters where the National Revolutionary Army assembled, leaving to Taiwan. Hardly had he left off the shore when he heard the crying of his mother. My father had no choice but to get off, watching the boat sailing into the distance.
As a kid, I just learnt to eat the clams with a bamboo basket in my arm. My grandma told me now and then if she hadn’t recalled my father back, I would not exist now. Her words was engraved on my mind so deeply that once I smelt the scent of the sea breeze, a primal and vast sea would emerge in my mind──like the boundless North Sea described in the Wandering in Absolute Freedom by Zhuangzi──Distantly on the foggy surface of the ocean, a little pair of black wings was vaguely lightened by lightning. Clouds were swept to a far distance, as the horizon was in the sky. The far-flung offing was serene in the darkness of night, while depressed thunder sound could be heard at the near place. The earth was shaking when the energy of ocean was about to burst out. Huge waves rushed to the shore, roaring alone. After the first huge wave smashed a reef into pieces, the second wave came over to a petite woman in black——for many times I could even heard them shouting. It became clearer when it’s approaching me, thus I had reason to believe there was a tacit understanding between me and the ocean by nature.
As the demand of my grandma, my father allowed me to go back to hometown for summer and winter vacations when I was in primary school. Therefore I got chances of fooling around for at least two months every year. So far I had owed all my badly behaved personality to the wonderful time that I spent on the mountain and sea. There grew the free thoughts of mine. At that time I was a child who talked to himself, deluding himself with crazy stories of those fragmented things floating on the water. I even drew at random on the beach to illustrate the stories I made up, in order to prove my intelligence.
At the time it taught me how to make up a world of illusion, the beach also led me to the mystery of the night and the secret of adults. Except for catching crabs, roasting peanuts and pulling out the asparagus, they also took me to “watch the moon girl”every time when the moon was full. According to my grandma’s words, “the moon girl”was the moon, but my cousins only stared into the distant Baiyu Pool, hiding in the shelter belt quietly, instead of enjoying the moon. Young as I was, I could recall the voice of girls and water. Covered with moonlight, their bodies were shining, just like naughty white fish. At that time the moon was so bright that its light was flowing from the sky and slashing the sea into two parts——which reminded me of Moses parting the Red Sea──with weird hush surrounding. That was the most brilliant scene I’d never seen, even in the books. From then on I started to keep watch to surrounding area, for I could learn things that books didn’t teach me.
After the senior middle school entrance exam, I came back to my hometown, with my cousin Zuochi, who majored in art. Being curious about his drawing, I went to the Aojiao Fishery, in Dongshan Island, “collecting folk things”with him. Sitting on the beach that hustle and bustle, I randomly draw on the paper as the way my cousin did, with a whiff of smelly jellyfishes that were exposed to the heavy sunshine. For so many years he insisted that it was the stink and the scorching sun that triggered my color blindness——the beach was pure yellow of straw, the sea was black with purple, some vermilion ships and white waves on it, thickets of olives wound the erotic floating clouds, towering into the dark green sky——a prime example of biasing against people who had a sequelae of retinal puncture——I remembered the stink indeed, for I had one of the grandest and most delicious banquet in my lifetime with it——six bowls of rice, three basins of squid, cabbage, and half Jin of sorghum, but all of them was just half of an appetite of a seaman!
However, the most unforgettable thing was the piercing shouting by many people which make me stand up, cup my belly and see, though I hadn’t finished my last mouthful of wine. Under the last rays of the setting sun, waves became golden clouds in the evening breeze. In the middle of beach and clouds, a lady of slight build, coated with sunlight was walking naked along the coastline leisurely, with several sea bird flying around, and her long hair torn by sea breeze… At that time I was a pure and simple teenager, and the harmonious integral scene of human and nature shocked me like lightning…Seamen shouted to her with laughter——her name was Wu Yuejiao, a mad woman from the adjacent village, who bared all, walking on the coastline when her family failed to take care of her——“This is nothing to me. I’ve seen a lot naked women. We have to draw them everyday in class.”Zuochi said, which made all those present green with envy.“It’s such a lucky job to draw. I want to major in it too.”I thought to myself.
My campus was right besides the beach. The vigor and liveliness of youth could never be diminished even on tender and warm beach. We could swim at any time, but we waited until the night, as we wanted to spend our endless youth on night. Sometimes we showed up near a reef naked, covering our private parts with cabbage leaves, smiled and asked glued couples to throw our pants to us. We buried bottles of leftover beer in the sand, and then dug them out, drink them up when girls were sitting on the area and surprised by us. Sometimes we dug a hole that was knee-deep, gave a grave expression when someone fell into it. If we fell in love with girls, we would take them to where only known by ourselves and“Facing the sea with flowers blossom”with them till curfew.
The beach near Xiamen University was not only the hotbed of lovers, but also the coastal defence line, where pillboxes and anti-aircraft gun hided in the shelter belt, therefore many lovers quarreled even fought with the guard on duty. There was a big conflict when I was a junior, which the whole class fought with the soldiers till the midnight. The reason of the soldiers was: you are so lucky as a college student at the same age of us, however you don’t work hard, foul around with girls, and even laugh at us. We soldiers have no gift of the gab. The only thing we know is to fight!
At the alumni party this year, the buddies who risked their lives for one another met again. It was a big wave that sent twenty three youngsters to the beach, and it was another that sent us to all over the world after four years… No wonder that we all felt astounded at the reunion, for the skinny young men had become potbellied middle-ages. Some of them were even old and feeble. The old dream and ambition’s were like leftovers, nothing but a dish to go with beer while reminiscing about the past. No one was willing to talk about their lives and experiences. They only thing they did was to show the best themselves to others. “Forget the boring things. I only feel good when drinking with my classmates of former times.”
So I had to speak to myself on the beach, just like what I did when being a child. I imagined their story with my ignorance——while the banquet was going on, and before our true color of life revealed by the next coming waves. As you know, we are all drifting on the water, and going with the tide really made us numb and dog-tired. It was not before long that we were the stars on the beach, while being content we hadn’t noticed that the ebb would rise soon, and maybe the circulating tide and the silent sea was the master of the beach.
I love the story of “QuShuiLiuShang”(Drink water from a winding canal with one wine cup floating on it so as to wash away ominousness), so I’ve dreamed about sitting on the bank, absorbing the essence of nature and human being, creating some amazing poems when the wine cup floats in front of me, and then drinking them up… Now recollecting all this, I realize that life is a river flowing ceaselessly, and you’re going to have your own chances no matter how much you’ve prepared. The floating wine cup is our good karma, which needs you to wait for it, for it is always late; it fades away swiftly when you’re puffed up with pride, only lives in your prime memory, and lets you expect for it in vain. The upside is, most of the people don’t know the existence of it. They live quietly, letting things come and go and rot away, just like the drifting bodies and things on the beach. Let them die in the silence. Let them give their bodies back to the nature, going far away with the tide and being buried into the sand… This simple truth has been conveyed by my late friend, who wrote a brief poem in his 32, which was about the mess of time.
Li Zhenhua \ Tan Nannan Talk: Monthly Globalization (excerpt)
December 21, 2015
Li Zhenhua hereinafter referred to as Li, Tang Nannan hereinafter referred to as soup.
Lee: I have a big question about your work, about the conversion between traditional media and new media.
Soup: may be due to the previous attempt more, graduate students are basically in the painting before. Reading stage I learned the new media, took a lot of video. After graduation, with the increasing demands of the video works, found that they can not complete the video works independently. After 2005 to give up the video began to do photography. The middle also continue to write some textual things.
In 2009, I was admitted to Dr. Qiu Qiu (Qiu Zhijie), Dr. Qiu asked to stop the previous work, began to do cultural studies. 3 years after I basically do research side to do some programs. These programs only consider the visual experience and psychological needs, and no media restrictions, and now think of it a bit unrestrained feeling.
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