Impressions of
The East

Treasures from the C. V. Starr
East Asian Library

Deborah Rudolph
(Heyday Books)
It is divided arbitrarily into two parts, Technical Impressions and Cultural Impressions. The first includes wooden and metal movable-type printing, colored woodblock illustrations, block printed leaves, and "printed charms." The second includes the three teachings, pleasure, foreign exchange, and "Mapping Land and Sea." There are over a hundred illustrations which consist, for the most part, of photographs of books. They are lovely --- some extending over two pages, but it is somewhat distancing if not disconcerting: "smelling a rose with a picture of a nose" is how one of our artist friends describe it. Our fingers itch to turn the pages, to feel the texture, to (even) smell the characteristic smell of old manuscript: the whiff of mold, beetle-dust, that strange arachnid flavor of things stored for hundreds of years, the implicit feel of naughtiness (Should I even be handling this? What would happen if I inadvertently tore a page? Would they send in the Library Storm Troopers complete with tear-gas and cuffs?)

The collection of books, rubbings, manuscripts, woodblocks, copper plate, maps, playbills, religious objects is vast. The collection at Berkeley has been building for over 140 years, "twenty thousand volumes are added to the Library's collection every year" --- so much so that you and I could never hope to see the whole, much less understand this mountain of stuff out of Japan, China, and Korea. This book celebrates the unification of the collection into one building, built with contributions of Cornelius Vander Starr.

You can forget the text. "There were four great centers of printing in China during the Northern Sung dynasty, Kaifeng to the north, Fuzhou to the south, Hangzhou to the east, and Chengdu to the west." It is enough to make us confess to know that we will never know everything, much less styles of printing during the Ming dynasty. And if you think the Cultural Revolution of the 60s was something out of the ordinary, read the chapter on "Banned Books."

    At the outset of the Qin dynasty, for example, the First Emperor ordered the burning of all books except those of the most practical value --- works on agriculture, medicine, and divination --- and during the Tang dynasty, the statesman and literatus Han Yu called for the burning of all Buddhist works. There are 170 pages of pictures of lovely books.

--- Menora Richards, PhD

Ten Books that
Screwed Up the World

And Five that Didn't Help
Benjamin Wiker
Wiker here waxes wroth over Niccolò Machiavelli (The Prince ... "a shocking book") and Marx's Manifesto ("Never have so few pages done so much damage.") He even gets Freud's tedious The Future of an Illusion in there between Mein Kampf and Coming of Age in Samoa.

The most vile of the five "that didn't help" is, apparently, Leviathan which tells us that we are "ruled solely by pleasure and pain, ravenous in our desires and ruthless in their pursuit." Books "can be, and are, as dangerous and harmful as deadly diseases," Wiker offers.

    If bad ideas are written down in books, they are far more durable, infecting generation after generation and increasing the world's wretchedness.

What are we to say in response to such distemper? One we could propose is that no one in their right mind could or would or should make it all the way through anything by Marx (or Lenin ... and most definitely Hobbes) without going into a stupor. For instance, this is the latter on men's rights:

    That a man be willing, when others are so too, as far forth as for peace and defense of himself he shall think it necessary, to lay down this right to all things; and be contented with so much liberty against other men, as he would allow other men against himself.

Typical Hobbes. As they used to say on radio, Get it? Got it! Good.

§     §     §

Wiker's list of books that are bad for all of us include some strange bedfellows. There is nutty Nietzsche's Beyond Good and Evil which compares favorably in readability with Darwin's inchoate Descent of Man and anything by Descartes. We find, too, Margaret Mead with her sexually playful Samoans, John Stuart Mill who, as we all know, but wanted "the greatest happiness for the greatest number" and the very understandably miffed Betty Friedan.

Wiker doesn't want us to burn books. "Indeed not! Such a course of action is indefensible, if only for environmental reasons." The only defense: read them. "Know them forward and backward. Seize each one by its malignant heart and expose it to the light of day."

What a punishment, eh? Curled up before the fire, feet tucked demurely underneath me, slogging through The Discourse on Method. Or Leviathan. The State and Revolution. The Manifesto of the Communist Party.

A fate worse than any death.

--- Patricia H. Welles

It Was Never about
A Hot Dog and
A Coke!

A Personal Account of the 1960 Sit-in
Demonstrations in Jacksonville, Florida
And Ax Handle Saturday

Rodney L. Hurst, Sr.
(WingSpan Press)
When I grew up in Jacksonville, Florida, all blacks had to sit at the back of the bus, use segregated bathrooms (if bathrooms were provided) and eat in segregated restaurants or at segregated lunch-counters. As the writer Harry Golden noted at the time, since elevators were the only places in the south that were not segregated, perhaps we could save our way of life by getting rid of all seats in busses, theatres, parks, restaurants and train-stations.

The author of this book was President of the Jacksonville Youth Council National Association of Colored People back in those dark days of the late 50s and early 60s. Under the guidance of Rutledge Henry Pearson, president of the local chapter of the NAACP, a sit-in was planned for 13 August 1960 at several local department stores: Woolworth, Grant, Kress, McCroy. Why there? Because it was expensive.

If the cafeterias had to be closed down, they "could not store the food overnight and serve it the next day. You had to throw the food out."

    We wanted store owners and their managers to know that maintaining their segregated and discriminatory policies would be expensive.

Hurst's and Pearson's hope was that their sit-in would be peaceful, but within two weeks, crowds had gathered, the police had disappeared, and blacks on the streets of Jacksonville were assaulted with ax handles, the weapon of choice. Many were badly beaten and bloodied.

The local newspaper, the Florida Times-Union ignored the sit-ins and the disorder that followed, but the Times-Union was already famous for ignoring things it did not like. It was owned by the Atlantic Coast-Line Railroad, and everytime there was a train wreck, the news was hidden somewhere back there on page 51 with the classified ads. Photographs strictly forbidden.

What the rioters, the editors of the paper, and the white citizens of Jacksonville did not know at the time --- what no-one knew at the time, --- was that the world had changed. The newspapers were no longer the center of the known world, the soul source of daily news. There was a new kid on the block. It was called national television.

TV Reporters were there during the violence, with cameras, on the streets. Pictures of people battered, blood and gore, were flashed around the world. Jacksonville was suddenly not the leisurely city by the peaceful St. Johns River from before. It was now infamous as a place of unregulated racial violence, dominated by what were then kn own as "crackers." The Chamber of Commerce was appalled. The city's image had been damaged. Business was at a standstill, and the blacks --- half of the city's population --- were boycotting the big stores.

Within a year, "all stores were desegregated." By whom? By fiat of the most powerful lobby of them all ... the city's business community.

§     §     §

I grew up white in Jacksonville. Of the 450,000 population, half of the city was unknown to me. I never went to "that part of town." And the only times that blacks came to our part of town were as servants, gardeners, delivery-boys, and postal workers. There was a fence, but it was invisible ... and very potent. One dared not to cross it. And no one talked about it. My mother, my father, my sisters and brothers, my normally very astute friends, never brought up the matter of race, except in a disparaging way. And the people who worked in the kitchen or in the garden weren't talking, couldn't talk.

Three years after "Ax Handle Saturday," when I was on a Christmas visit with my family, I went to interview Rutledge Pearson for an out-of-town radio network. I well remember him to this day. He was dignified, serious, but had wonderfully protruding jug-ears. He was also unfailingly polite ... but distant.

Both of us knew, by that time, that segregation was a dead letter. There was a carefulness in our interview ... a distance born of three hundred years of sour American history. We knew that the past was past; both of us had grown up in a part of the United States that had practiced total apartheid; but the past had yet to disappear. There was no Truth Commission that would allow us to evade the pall that had been cast over both our lives.

Hurst's book is confused here and there, sometimes jumbled, could have used a strong editor's hand. But the drama of those days from fifty years ago pushes the narrative and makes it pertinent and alive.

--- L. W. Milam
Send us e-mail


Go Home

Go to the most recent RALPH