April 29, 2006

Giant Moth Pictures

I saw this giant moth on the concrete outside my apartment. My landlord's wife said it had been there since morning. It was not dead, but its wings were damaged and it only moved when she poked at it. I had an interesting conversation with her about the moth. I said, "Those four white spots--they're transparent."
"No, they're gray," she said.
"No, look," I said. "They're transparent."
"I can see it clearly," she said. "They're gray."
"You can see the gound underneath them. They're transparent."
"No, they're gray."

April 13, 2006

Image Museum in Hsinchu

Last weekend I finally checked out the Image Museum in Hsinchu. It is a very small film and photo museum, with a theater that has daily showings. The museum had a very small photo exhibit, some old photo and film equipment, an antique theater air-conditioning system, and some film memorabilia. Not much to get excited about, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the theater has daily showings of a variety of international films. Because the theater was in connection with the museum, I had always imagined that the theater would show only classic Chinese or Taiwanese films, inevitably without English subtitles. However, the theater has a variety of themed film festivals in progress, with contemporary movies from around the world. Judging by the theater's brochure, most or all of the movies are not actually projected from film, but are shown from DVDs, but with an admission price of NT$20, you can't complain. For registered Hsinchu residents, admission to regular film festivals is free.

Currently, the website for the museum is not being updated, but information on the upcoming showings is available at the Bureau of Cultural Affairs website. When I access the website of Taiwanese organizations, I usually try the English pages first, but like a choose-your-own adventure story, I often run into a dead end and have to start over, this time from the Chinese version, where the useful information is kept. If you download the Word file showing the detailed information on each themed film exhibition, you can see the English names of most of the movies. Or you can just pick up brochures at the museum.

April 11, 2006

De-honorific Chinese character for Devil?

I knew that there is a unique character (祂) in Chinese for the third-person pronoun of God, but I only recently came across something distinctive for referring to Satan. (For an interesting discussion about the use of the characters 祂 and 祢 as respectful or honorific ways of referring to God, see the comments section here.) In the work I was reading, the third-person pronoun 牠, which is normally used to refer to animals, was used throughout the text when referring to Satan. I wondered, is this a unique example of a de-honorific? Not to play the devil's advocate, but was the devil being demoted to a beast? Does this have anything to do with the traditional image of a hoofed Devil with tail and pitchfork?

I checked the most common edition of the Chinese Bible, the Union (和合) version. The Bible is not particularly fond of using third-person pronouns, and Chinese uses them even less than English, so it took a bit of looking to find some examples. The results were not conclusive in showing the beginnings of this usage. This translation does not even use the 祂 character for God, so, as expected, its treatment of Satan is very even-handed. In the temptation of Jesus in the desert, for example, the normal third-person pronoun 他 is used for the Devil. When Satan is characterized as a dragon, the pronoun for animals, 牠 is used.

In a commercial I saw for The Lord of the Rings recently, the Orcs were referred to using the pronoun for animals, 牠. Orc is translated as half-beast person/entity (半獸人), so to translate this as 牠 indicates that there is some room for a value judgment in using the characters 牠 and 他.

How is Satan/the Devil portrayed physically in the Bible? The first instance is the serpent's temptation of Eve. It is later stated that the serpent is Satan/the Devil. Thus, although the humanoid 他 seems like the most logical choice for a third-person pronoun, using the animal form 牠 is a defensible position, even without trying to determine what is the essential form of the Devil.