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Saturday, 27 August 2011

Freedom and Smiles: image study of Hu Shih (I)

Hyperlink to source text in Chinese: 自由与微笑:胡适图像研究    
An abbreviated translation by @krizcpec (Part 1 of 3)

Ran note: This is a reading report that I wrote recently for [newsletter] issue twenty-sixth of Hu Shih reading club. Now I published it in my blog, please feel free to comment. Been quite occupied these days: lots of socializing around Lunar new year, and a lot to write about. In less than two months, I got a flu again.
February 24, 2010 at 8:15 in Chengdu

Publications of studies on Hu Shih are in great quantity indeed. Yet it seems almost no one has done any proper research into the huge amount of photos Mr. Hu Shih left behind, his calligraphy, and visual productions about him (including recordings of his speech). The book Smile of Heresy: the image of Hu (《微笑的异端:影像中的胡适》) by Sun Yu reads more like image description, or erratic elaboration utterly irrelevant to the subject. He did not focus on explaining why Hu often smiled in his photos. 
To do proper research into this topic, to formulate meaningful insight into it, one should of course visit places like Hu Shih Memorial Hall in Taipei, CASS Institute of Modern History, and go through lots of pictures and information. I myself have only limited amount of photos of and calligraphy by Hu Shih, yet in view of the special significance of this topic, I would like to share my view, which falls far short of a unique, meaningful insight I have to say, and hope to attract valuable ideas in return.

European art historian Erwin Panofsky broke iconology down to three levels: description, analysis, and explanation. Simply put, it means look at the picture and speak about it. In fact, iconology has long become part of people's daily lives: commercials, road signs, the exteriors of buildings, TV and film images, and photographs can all be used as subjects for iconology studies. Just like W J T Mitchell, renowned American specialist in comparative literature and art history, author of authoritative books like Picture theory : essays on verbal and visual representation, has in his book Cloning terror : the war of images, 9/11 to the present explained the spread of images in wars and their amplification effect, thereby changing iconology from mere description and interpretation of images to a component in sociology and communication studies; bringing our attention to implications of images that we previously failed to notice. This has provided me with unexpected guidance in my analysis of the spread of Hu Shih's images and their effect on the public.

One: How people appear is determined by their hearts and minds

As is widely known, how people appear is determined by their hearts and minds. You are how you think and feel. Those people of the lie may be hard to see through in the first place, but given time and with wisdom you would be able to see what they really are. 

Artist Chen Danqing said, when he first arrived in New York, he saw everyone on the street had a face that showed no sign of being bullied. That was how the artist perceived the faces he saw in New York, a perception that shocked the artist who was particularly sensitive to images and left a long lasting impression on him. Why was that so? Because New Yorkers enjoyed good protection of their rights, felt content with their life, and had positive, rational expectation of their future. The people there were full of confidence and even pride, so that they had a face that showed no sign of being bullied or indication that they would bully others.

In his earlier photos, Hu Shih seldom smiled. In a picture taken in 1909 when he was eighteen, dressed in a traditional Chinese outfit and had his queue cut off not long before that, Hu showed a stern look and tightened lips. The stiffness resulted from the death of his father early in his life was shown all over his face.

Five years later, in a photo he gave his girlfriend in 1914, he had become an amiable person with a subtle smile, which indicated he became less tense and defensive toward the world than he once was. Almost from the same period was another shot, in which he dressed in a traditional outfit, wore glasses, in the crew cut, leaned his cheek upon his hand as if he was thinking. The smile on his face was obvious, confident and not presumptuous. 
There were times when Hu Shih was with a worried frown, but these were few and far between. As for photos of him in extreme anger, I have never seen one. Does that mean he never lost his temper all his life? I doubt it. He did have a fair share of moments when he felt satisfied with his life, and that had to do with how his mother educated him and his personal expectation. Many human behaviors and the way they appear to others are the externalization of their thoughts and values, a concept not dissimilar to the mirror effect in psychology. The world you see, you joy, anger, and sorrow are of course a result from external stimuli, but they can also be seen as the externalization of your inner world.

(End of Part One)

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