Monday, June 18, 2007

Evolution of the Structure of the Bible: Part I

About 1700 years ago, the Roman emperor Constantine the Great made two decisions that would forever changed the course of human history.

The first decision was made in 313 when he signed the Edict of Milan, which granted civil rights and freedom to adopt any religions including Christianity. With this, hundreds of years of oppression of Christianity in the Roman Empire was effectively brought to an end.

The second decision was that, shortly before his death in 337, Constantine was baptized and thus, formally adopted Christianity.

In some ways, these decisions have profound effects in accelerating the growth of Christianity, and therefore making the Bible the most important literature ever produced.

However, pious Christians often see the Bible as a source of spiritual inspiration and lack the knowledge of the evolution of its content. To understand the present structure of the Bible, it is necessary to go back to the Jews living in ancient Judea.

The ancient Jews, like many other early civilizations, had invented a set of symbols to preserve stories which they thought were important. And again, like their comtemporaries, one of their theme was the stories about their prophets and the God they worshiped. This type of materials were important to the ancient Jews because their contents were thought to have divine origin.

In 90 A.D., a Jew named Akiba ben Joseph decided that maybe that the earlier collection of stories should be edited and cleaned up so that the texts with no divine origin can be deleted. He called a meeting in a town named Jamnia. Together with other Jewish scholars, Akiba updated the sacred texts and declared that this version would be the definitive edition and that no extra stories would be allowed to be added.

However, some of the Jews would like to have to stories of Jesus Christ added because they considered Jesus to be the Son of God and ought to be revered like the earlier prophets.

Unfortunately, majority of the Jews rejected this notion. Therefore, the ancient Jews were divided into two religious groups. The new group called themselves Christians, and their collection of story now consists of both Akiba’s Old Testaments and the newly added materials about Jesus Christ, known as the New Testaments. This is the beginning of the Bible.

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On the Kingdom of Malacca: Part I

We learned quite a great deal about Malacca in secondary school. We were taught, for examples, that Malacca was a great seaport during the 15th century which has attracted a lot of people to do business there, that the founder of this kingdom is an Indonesian prince called Parameswara, that Tun Perak is a wise prime minister, and so on. However, the standard history textbook pays extremely little attention on the connection between Malacca and China, despite the fact that Malacca is intricately related to Ming China.

In 1403, Zhu Di (朱棣) became the third emperor of Ming Dynasty. One of the important decisions he made almost immediately after he ascended to the throne was to order a series of marine expeditions to the Indian Ocean. This famous series of expedition is, as you might already know, led by a muslim eunuch named Zheng He (郑和).

In October 1403, Zhu Di sent friendship emissaries to a lot of foreign countries. A eunuch named Yin Qing (尹庆) was sent to Malacca (满剌加), bringing with him silk embroided with golden threads as gift. This is clearly recorded in Chapter 325 of the History of Ming (明史:卷三百二十五):

During that time, Parameswara did not formally proclaim himself as king as Malacca was still a protectorate of Siam. Each year, he need to pay tribute (1.5 kg of gold) to Siam. With the arrival of Yin Qing, Parameswara quickly saw this as an opportunity to initiate good relationship with Ming China. And Parameswara's envoys were carried by Yin Qing's fleets and they reached Nanjing in 1405. With the royal seals, colorful coins, royal garments, and yellow umbrellas confered to Parameswara, he was formally elevated to the King of Malacca in 1405 by Zhu Di.

Between 1409-1411, Zheng He embarked on his third expedition to the Indian Ocean. This time, the important guests he fetched to Nanjing were Parameswara, his wives, and his ministers, totaling to about 540 peoples. When they reached the ourskirt of Nanjing, Parameswara was welcomed by the eunuch Hai Shou (海寿), a Rites Ministry officer named Huang Shang (黄裳), and others.

Later in August 14, 1411, Parameswara met Zhu Di in the capital city, where he received many precious gifts from the Ming Emperor.

入朝奉天殿,帝亲宴之,妃以下宴他所。光禄日致牲牢上尊,赐王金绣龙衣二袭、麒麟衣一袭,金银器、帷幔衾衤周悉具,妃以下皆有赐。将归,赐王玉带、仪仗、鞍马,赐妃冠服。濒行,赐宴奉天门,再赐玉带、仪仗、鞍马、黄金百、白金五百、. . .
In October 5, 1414, Zhu Di met Megat Iskandar Shah, the son of Parameswara, in Beijing, where he was informed of the death of Parameswara. And Megat was made the new king of Malacca.

It is highly probable that old Parameswara was ill after his trip from China and passed away sometime between 1413 and 1414. (the sea journey was at least 10 days between Nanjing and Malacca: 满剌加,在占城南。顺风八日至龙牙门,又西行二日即至。)

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Friday, June 08, 2007







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Friday, June 01, 2007

On Sex-related Taboo-words such as "Fuck": Part II

The attitude of Chinese towards sex or sex-related issues is, most of the time, aversive. As a result, not many people know how to write the proper Chinese characters for external genitalia, even though we may sometimes use them as profanities.

Usually, external genitalia are directly associated with the word 阴 (pronounced yin, literally, dark or invisible). We can form words to describe parts of the reproductive organs by adding the prefix 阴 to a more descriptive noun.

For instance, when we add 阴 to 道 (tract or conduit), we form the term 阴道, which is the vaginal tract. Other examples include 阴茎 (yin + stick = penis), 阴囊 (yin + bag = scrotum), 阴毛 (yin + hair = pubic hair), 阴唇 (yin + lips = labium), 阴蒂 (yin + stalk = clitoris), and so on. And collectively, the male and female external genitalia are called 男阴 and 女阴, respectively.

There is also another set of Chinese characters which can be used to denote the external genitalia. However, these characters are less well known in their written form. For examples, we have 膣 (vagina), 屄 (vulva), 卵屌 (penis), 卵脬 (scrotum), and so on.

If you pronounce these words in Mandarin, they sound absolutely unsuspicious. For instance, 膣屄 is pronounced zhibi, 卵屌 is pronounced luandiao, and 卵脬 is pronounced luanpao. However, for some unknown reasons, if you try to pronounce them in certain topolects, they may sound offensive. In Hokkien, these three words are pronounced jibai, lanjiao, and lanpa, respectively.

I was told not long ago by one of my female colleagues that she had her son reprimanded because he used the word jibai. Obviously in this case, she considered this word as a taboo-word which should be avoided because it is expletive.

Personally, I think we should not refrain ourselves from using and speaking these words as long as we are using them to refer to external genitalia. Nevertheless, we should not use them as adjective to modify a noun or to use them as exclamatory expressions to emphasize emotion, because doing so is grammatically not correct.

Furthermore, if you do not consider the Mandarin sound zhibi offensive, then by the same logic, you must not consider the Hokkien sound jibai disgusting. Because we should not consider Hokkien as a language of lower class. There is no such thing that Chinese topolects like Hokkien is inferior than the Mandarin language, and we should try to take away this memetic interlock.

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