THE BIANWEN BOOK I A GENEALOGY OF MY CULTURAL REFERENCES Bianwen and Sujiang Monks
Interpreting Sutras, Translation, Rewriting, and the Evolution of an Art Form
Historical Background Bianwen is a Tang Dynasty (618-907) literary form that evolved along with the spread of Buddhism into China from India. To facilitate understanding among the common people, esoteric scripture was translated into the vernacular and then performed by Sujiang Monks. In their written form, these vernacular Sutras are called bianwen. Their popularity has resulted in their assimilation, transformation and development by folk artists since the Tang period, and therefore bianwen has inspired many operas, stories and novellas.
Contemporary Interpretation T h e s e m o n k s w h o i n te r p r e te d , t r a n s l a te d and rewrote Sutras were performance artists constructing a discursive field. But placing them in contemporary society would be to re-imagine or redefine their significance. They would no longer be interpreters, translators and re-writers, but crusaders for canonical theory, transformers of today's complex political forms via demystification, or promoters of open ended stories and indefinite narrative forms.
A Smiling Anonymous Victim of Lingchi Creating Confusion under Impossible Conditions
Historical Background The origins and meaning of the Chinese term lingchi ( 凌遲 ) , which also refers to execution by slow dismemberment, has yet to be thoroughly studied. Textual research can verify, however, that the term has been used for both the demolition of tombs and erosion of hills.1 On April 24, 1905, China officially abolished the use of lingchi torture. In his 1962 book Les Larmes d'Eros, French theorist George Bataille applied a philosophical treatment
By Chen Chieh-Jen
to a photograph of lingchi. Showing the victim looking skyward with a faint smile, the photograph is widely known among western intellectuals due to Bataille's attribution of limit experience and erotic ecstasy to its subject. Furthermore, these concepts are most often cited by westerners when discussing lingchi. More recently, French sinologist Jérôme Bourgon, after careful study of historical photographs and other related materials, has cast serious doubt on Bataille's claims.
Contemporary Interpretation I believe this nameless victim's smile signifies much more. He is bound and has no way to escape, then force fed opium until semiconscious, and photographed while his limbs are severed from his body. In this immobilized state, he uses just a smile and a camera held by a colonial soldier to create enormous confusion. The confusion then sets off discourse that continues to circulate around the image for years after he was executed. In this impossible situation, he managed to act, and his small gesture of a smile would never be erased by his death or by passing time.  Brook, Timothy and Bourgon, Jérôme; Blue, Gregory. Death by a Thousand Cuts, Beijing: Commercial Press, pp.223-243
Lo-deh Sao Multiple Identities and
Historical Background In pre-industrial times, Min-nan farmers living in the Taiwan – Fujian region would sweep clean a spot in the village, perhaps under a tree, and perform simple operas during the non-growing season. This form of cultural production organized for villagers' amusement was called lo-deh sao, meaning “to sweep the ground.” Along with the development of temple festivals, where statues and life-sized puppets of deities were paraded through villages, lo-de h sao became traveling per formances featuring walking, performing and singing. Villagers often joined these traveling performances.