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Chinese physicist tilts at Einstein


Only 65 yuan for the secrets to the universe

The Changsha Evening Newspaper recently devoted a full-page article to one Tan Shusheng (谭暑生), a scientist at the National University of Defense Technology who is challenging special relativity with his own theory of space-time. Tan’s monograph, From Special Relativity to Standard Space-Time Theory (从狭义相对论到标准时空论), was supposed to have been published several years ago, lists its publication date as July 2008, but seems to have been delayed until just this January.

“Chief reporter” Chen Guozhong wrote up the article, which goes into detail about the acclaim Tan has been given by his colleagues in the field but which doesn’t really explain what all the fuss is about. However, it concludes by saying “the rationality, simplicity, and internal logical consistency of the fundamental propositions of standard spacetime are all superior to those of special relativity.”

In a more enlightening interview conducted in 2007 by the Science and Technology Daily, Tan explained that his theory is an improvement on the Lorentz aether theory, which postulates an absolute frame of reference and a non-constant speed of light. Tan says that his contributions were to work out the spacetime coordinate transformations and formulate the whole thing into a standard spacetime theory, which includes standard spacetime electrodynamics.

He’s quite confident in his accomplishment:

I can state with certainty that if the theory of standard spacetime had been published at the beginning of the Twentieth Century, humanity would have accepted it over special relativity. If you carefully read my book you will discover that this is not some wild claim but is in fact the truth.

The 570,000-character work starts off with a thorough account of historical approaches to spacetime and the natural world, from ancient China’s five elements, to various understandings of aether, and finally to special relativity, before explaining his superior theoretical framework.

CNBeta’s daily summary snidely remarked that Tan’s theories would be “proprietary intellectual property rights.” Chinese particle physics will at last be free of the tyranny of foreign licensing fees.

Dirty nursery rhymes

A Survey of Chinese Children’s Songs

童谣 is often translated as “nursery rhyme,” but the rhymes discussed in this KDNet article are really examples of folk doggerel in general. Some of them are pretty dirty:

Arising among the people, rhymes unavoidably had a good deal of sexual content. This was particularly the case in the countryside, where the wanton rutting of cattle, horses, pigs, and dogs greatly contributed to children’s awareness of sex. Children in modern cities do not have this sort of opportunity.

In those days lots of nursery rhymes contained sexual overtones. Children were not overly concerned with all the details; they merely thought them funny, and reciting them was something new and different.

On literacy and the dumbing down of culture

Xu Jinru (徐晋如), a self-described “poet, scholar, and conservative thinker,” writes a rant against simplified characters and pinyin that’s good for a laugh. Like a number of Xu’s other anti-simplification pieces, Character Simplification, Spread of Pinyin Leave an Awful, Lasting Legacy quotes part of the 1927 essay “A Literacy Problem?” by Pan Guangdan, a noted sociologist.

In places where society has reached a certain level, the average person’s reading material, even if it is worthless, is not absolutely harmful. In the US, for example, the topics of endless interest are instructions on how to succeed, how to improve your memory, how to be a clever speaker, and laments over public misfortunes: none of these accomplishing anything more than duping a few of the more eager believers. In places where society has not reached a certain level, you don’t even want to know about what’s being read. Wickedness, theft, evil, perversion, and everything else that stimulates people’s base impulses. Anything, regardless of whether it is true or false, can be used as material. This is the extreme end of a social phenomenon we can see wherever we look in China today. Conspiracy novels flourished a few years ago, and the “new knowledge and new culture” now constantly pouring forth demonstrates that under today’s policies that promote education, day by day more people will be able to read, yet day by day the standard of our reading material will drop.

Pan’s argument, or at least the parts of it that Xu most frequently quotes, boils down to: “The more literacy spreads, the further culture declines” (Xu’s formulation from an interview with BQ in 2007). It’s an argument against the use of simplified characters that I’d never read before: the increased literacy that results when characters are made easier to learn is ultimately responsible for destroying Chinese culture.

At the end of the essay, Xu writes in phrases that echo familiar ideological dogma that traditional — complicated — characters are a historical inevitability:

There’s a noted scholar of ancient Chinese at Zhongshan University who applauds simplification for the reason that Chinese characters in the age of oracle bones were very simple. But on the other hand, he also explains how from the Shang and Zhou dynasties through today, the development of Chinese characters has followed a law of increasing complexity. Using an administrative edict to simplify characters is precisely in opposition to this law.

An unnecessary translation for a photobook


Ten Year Impression
(via Joyo)

At the bookstore the other day looking for the new Han Han novel, I came across this Li Bingbing photobook. Two things struck me about it when I opened up the package after I got home:

1. The printing. It’s actually two separate volumes. The small, squarish volume in the front is a mini-autobiography — snippets of life lessons, really — with a forward by Yu Dan and short comments from other people in the movie biz. Behind it in the image on the left is the photobook itself.

What’s interesting about the print job is that the covers of the two volumes were made from a single piece of card stock. You can’t really tell from the image here, but the cover of the smaller volume is mirrored, yet I had to fold it down slice it apart from the non-mirrored cover of the larger photobook. Impressive, except that somewhere in the process the printers got disoriented and put Li Bingbing on the back cover, and upside-down.

2. The translation.  It’s nothing unusual for a book like this to have titles translated into English. Carefully deployed, foreign words and phrases can serve as another useful tool available to the book’s designer. Sure, maybe there’s a better way to translate the 灿烂 section than “Effulgence,” but the double-f and those ascenders and descenders do look fine on the page.

No, it’s the translation of selected passages that’s bewildering. Most of the text isn’t translated, but particular paragraphs have been rendered into English (by Cheng Zhaojun, who previously translated Can You Teach a Goat to Dance? into Chinese for the same publisher) and used as another design element.  Are the publishers really expecting this book to sell many copies to non-Chinese-reading audiences, or even to audiences outside mainland China? And if they are, wouldn’t they have been better off finding someone to do a competent job?

A paper-cut fantasy comic

Tales of Tarsylia

Tales of Tarsylia

Tales of Tarsylia (塔希里亚故事集) by Wu Miao (吴淼) is a fantasy comic strip drawn in a stylish silhouette style.

Linked here is “The Search,” a nearly-wordless story about a wizard who is looking for lost love.

The comic is hosted on Zongheng, a publisher of comics and genre fiction.The company’s Novoland-related fantasy magazine 幻想纵横 (which it translates as “Zongheng Imaginations”) published an interview with Wu Miao in its December 2008 issue, which is where I first heard of him.