Saturday, March 18, 2006


Interesting piece about Chinese names in the Times:
A JOKE in China goes that if you call out the name Wang Wei in the street at least one person is bound to respond.
The name Wei, or “Mighty”, is so popular that parents have been turning to ancient and esoteric dictionaries to find more unusual monikers for their children.
Not anymore. The Ministry of Public Security has drawn up new rules and babies’ names must in future be drawn from a database that excludes thousands of rare Chinese characters. Out go indecipherable names. With the introduction of electronic identity cards, the authorities will register only names that they decide to include on their database.
Bao Suixian, a deputy director at the ministry, said: “We cannot handwrite rare characters on the cards like we did before.” About 60 million of China’s 1.3 billion people have at least one rare character in their name, making it difficult for them to open a bank account or to buy an aircraft ticket.
The fashion for unusual names is understandable in a society emerging from decades of revolutionary fervour when many children were called “Leap Forward”, “Cultural Revolution”, “Safeguard the Red” or — possibly the most popular — “Found the Nation”.

There's also an interesting critique of modern museums - well worth a read and characteristic of a modern manner of thought which has infected the Church too.
WHY IS IT THAT so often when I visit a museum these days, I leave feeling ever so slightly cross? I’m thinking, say, of those wretched animatronic dinosaurs that we parents have to queue for at the Natural History Museum, completely ignoring the genuine prehistoric skeletons either side. And of that display cabinet at the National Maritime Museum, where nautical objects have been plonked at random in the same glass case to illustrate a curator ’s trendy post-modern point about the hopelessness of trying to extract meaning from artefacts so far removed from our own time and place.
But, hey, why pick on those two? Pretty much everyone is at it: the exhibition at the Horniman, which proudly claimed, though with no supporting evidence, that voodoo was one of Africa’s “great contributions to world culture”; the Gainsborough exhibition, whose curator presumed to judge the mores of 18th-century society by the PC standards of today; almost anything containing the words “access”, “relevance” or “inclusivity”.
What all these diverse irritants have in common is that they are part of the same worrying, hidden debate. “Hidden” because its arguments, though familiar to the point of cliché to anyone who works in the museum industry, are pretty much unknown to the people outside it. “Worrying” because the conclusions reached by these self-serving guardians of our heritage are so often at odds with the needs of the public they claim to serve.
Our museums, it would seem, have fallen victim to the cant of the age: on the one hand the market-driven utilitarianism of the Right, which has forced them to justify their existence in crude economic terms; on the other, the guilt-ridden orthodoxies of the cultural Left. Not even our foremost directors have remained quite immune to this new strain of muddled thinking. Sprightly, charming and impossibly erudite the British Museum’s director, Neil MacGregor , may be, but when I asked what he thought museums were for, I could almost have been listening to the trendy PC orthodoxies of his counterpart at Liverpool Museums.
Yes, he said, a museum has to act as a form of library and to be “about serious engagement with objects and the ideas that they embody”. But at heart, he argued, a museum’s job is to serve a far more radical function: to create the “right level of doubt” in its audience, to cause them to question the very nature of their society and ultimately to “change the citizen”.
MacGregor describes himself as a “relativist — and proud of it”. When he displays an object, his worry is which of the “many truths” about that object he should “privilege”. Should he favour the poetic truth over the historical one? Just how reliable is that historical one anyway? And should it be addressed towards the university-educated audience or should it be expressed in simpler language.
“No solution is right,” declares MacGregor, sagely.
Really? While I wouldn’t question the sincerity and essential decency of MacGregor’s Weltanschauung it nevertheless seems symptomatic of the intellectual decadence that has afflicted our culture. It reminds me of the dispiriting way history is taught in school, where instead of the teacher giving you an idea of what actually happened you’re handed a variety of texts and accounts of the same event and invited to make your own mind up. A nice idea: creating a nation of free-thinking intellectuals. The problem is, it’s predicated on the lamentably optimistic notion that our ailing education system has given the nation sufficient intellectual grounding on which to form such subtle judgments. It hasn’t.

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