The Hulk: Hulk Has Heft (綠巨人浩克: 重量級人物)

The Hulk: Hulk Has Heft (綠巨人浩克: 重量級人物)

Hulk Has Heft

Ang Lee’s “The Hulk” [is] a “superhero flick” …ready-made for the cineplex at your local mall. But it’s also a thoughtful, deeply introspective and rather talky film about bad fathers and damaged children. I’d venture to say that Lee’s take on the Marvel Comics creation is less action-packed than conversational. It has long stretches in which its characters simply share their thoughts and feelings, looking for someone with whom to connect. By all rights, “The Hulk” should be playing in tandem at art houses, where it would attract a different audience, and at multiplexes for its target audience.

The movie turns into a comic book only when the Hulk is on screen. Otherwise, it is played with all the seriousness of a straight, sobering drama. Except for the scenes in which Banner morphs into the Hulk — scenes that don’t arrive until about an hour into the plot — there is nothing pulpy about Lee’s (Ang, not Stan) take on this character. Unlike other adaptations of Marvel Comics, there is practically no humor here, no relief from the depressing image of a wounded child trying, however disastrously, to heal. Lee has called his version of the material “a psychodrama,” and that’s exactly how it plays, with a few horror-fantasy sequences tucked in.

This movie is every bit as spiritual and arty as Lee’s last film, “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” (2000), just as dark as that film but a good deal less buoyant. And, once again, Lee is in no rush to tell his story. He makes us wait for the Hulk’s grand entrance, giving us half a movie of exposition explaining how Banner became the person he is. Nolte has a curious scene toward the end of the film, in which he rages at his son, that’s been staged by Lee as if it were something from a two-character play. This film is like “A Beautiful Mind,” with a cartoon character occasionally superimposed over everything. Whether it works or not is up to you. It’s relative. It’s an experiment that can be considered either silly or daring.

Editor’s Comments:

Sometime between the 50s and Y2K, perhaps during the 70s, Hollywood movies underwent a radical transformation. The tempo of the average Hollywood movie accelerated dramatically. To understand what I’m referring to one need only visit your local video rental outfit and check out any action/adventure movie made prior to this watershed transition. Chances are it will feel as if it is moving slower than molasses in January, particularly to Gen-Y audiences accustomed to the breathless, non-stop, rollercoaster pace of Speed (1994, directed by Jan deBont, written by Graham Yost, starring Keanu Reeves, Dennis Hopper, Sandra Bullock) or Air Force One (1997, directed by Wolfgang Petersen, written by Andrew W. Marlowe, starring Harrison Ford, Gary Oldman, Glenn Close).

This explains the reaction of one IMDb user to The Guns of Navarone (1961, directed by J. Lee Thompson, book by Alistair MacLean, screenplay by Carl Foreman, starring Gregory Peck, David Niven, Anthony Quinn) In a review penned in 1999, he gripes “Why do people say that it’s “action-packed”? [The movie is an] unjustly famous WWII adventure. There are some interesting character conflicts and moral dilemmas, but most of the action sequences (especially the climbing one, near the beginning) are tedious. The film also runs way too long. After it’s over, you feel that you’ve been watching for at least five hours.”

This modern reaction, particularly to the climbing sequence, is perfectly understandable. The increasing technical virtuosity on the part of movie makers is matched by a corresponding technical sophistication on the part of movie goers. I am old enough to have seen The Guns of Navarone first run in 1961. Rest assured everyone in the theater back then experienced the movie as “action-packed.” Yet when I caught the movie recently on cable, I was shocked at how crude the once thrilling 1961 action sequences seemed in 2003.

Recent action/adventure films such as Vertical Limit (2000, directed by Martin Campbell, written by Robert King and Terry Hayes, starring Chris O’Donnell, Robin Tunney, Scott Glenn) have raised the technical bar on mountain climbing sequences to new heights. Modern audiences are thoroughly jaded. The naive action sequences of a more innocent era no longer pass muster. Not only that, modern audiences are increasingly literate in the language of film. They are familiar with all the plotlines and can tell you in advance how the story will end. Modern movie audiences have been there, done that.

That however, is only half the story. Much of this sophistication is superficial. Technical sophistication must not be naively equated with depth of understanding. Slickly produced films by modern movie makers are not necessarily going to leave modern movie goers one iota wiser about The Human Condition. That is why The Matrix was such a watershed achievement. The Matrix writing and directing team of Larry and Andy Wachowski displayed more than mere technical virtuosity. They demonstrated a surprising mastery of Daoist and Zen Buddhist metaphysics, sufficient to insinuate an esoteric, mind-bending, alternative worldview into “mere” popular entertainment.

As of this writing, I have yet to see Hulk. The film will not open in Taipei until June 27. Everything I have written about Hulk so far is based on second hand accounts by other reviewers — hearsay evidence, as a trial judge would say. But if Hulk lives up to its reviews, including a glowing review by the Dean of Movie Critics Roger Ebert, then it will join the ranks of such SF landmarks as Gattacca, Dark City, and The Matrix.

On a more mercenary, less spiritually elevated note, during its first week of release Hulk grabbed the number one spot and raked in a box office total of US$62,128,420.

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Hulk Has Heft
Illustration(s): Hulk expresses dissatisfaction with his accomodations, Hulk takes in the sights of San Francisco, Hulk contemplates the majesty of the Grand Canyon, Speed (1994), Air Force One (1997), Guns of Navarone (1961), Vertical Limit (2000)
Author(s): Joe Baltake
Affiliation: The Sacramento Bee
Publication Date: June 20, 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect


The Hulk: Critics are Talking (綠巨人浩克: 影評在說話)

The Hulk: Critics are Talking (綠巨人浩克: 影評在說話)

Critics are Talking about the Hulk

Critics are talking about The Hulk the way intelligent people talked about Marvel Comics characters when they first began attracting sophisticated adult readers in the mid-1960s. “The movie brings up issues about genetic experimentation, the misuse of scientific research and our instinctive dislike of misfits, and actually talks about them,” writes Roger Ebert in the Chicago Sun-Times. He adds that director Ang Lee “is trying here to actually deal with the issues in the story of the Hulk, instead of simply cutting to brainless special effects.” Lou Lumenick in the New York Post writes: “It’s not easy being green — and it’s even tougher to make a summer event movie with a brain in its head. The hugely talented Ang Lee … deserves credit for trying with The Hulk.”

But Ebert and Lumenick, like most other critics, find the film itself riddled with issues that have little to do with humanity as a whole. As Ty Burr remarks in the Boston Globe: “Watching The Hulk, one gets an overwhelming sense of well-meaning hypocrisy: of high-minded middlebrow artists simultaneously exploiting and condescending to their trash-culture source.” Some critics fault the computer animation. Phillip Wuntch writes in the Dallas Morning News: “The ungainly fellow at times looks like an enlarged, ferocious variation of the Pillsbury Doughboy.”

But Bob Strauss concludes his review in the Los Angeles Daily News by remarking: “Any summer blockbuster entertainment this weird gets points just for being the extreme, unwieldy creature that it is.” And, similarly, Joel Siegel remarked on ABC’s Good Morning America: “It’s a shame it falls apart at the ending but the worst thing I can say about this movie is that it’s so smart, so deep, so well done it might be too good for the teenage boy audience these films are usually aimed at.”

Editor’s Comments:

Despite certain misgivings, critics in the US are giving The Hulk director Ang Lee two thumbs up for an honest attempt to fully develop the plot/theme of the movie, instead of attempting to snow the audience with “brainless special effects.” Let’s hope this trend, which manifested itself in such daringly different films as Dark City, The Thirteenth Floor, The Matrix, and The Hulk, continues.

Somewhere along the way, some studio hack got it into his head that the average IQ of movie audiences dropped 15 points during summer. This unproven assumption, predicated on elementary, junior high, and high school students flooding the multiplexes while on summer vacation, has become Hollywood orthodoxy, and summer releases are “dumbed down” accordingly. The bar was set at a new low this season with “Dumb and Dumberer,” [sic] which is not only a movie depicting a moron (“Dumb”) and an imbecile (“Dumberer”), but is apparently a movie written by a moron and directed by an imbecile.

As Ang Lee told an Los Angeles Times interviewer, “I cannot speak for how everybody feels about summer movies, but I think I can speak for a lot of people globally. We’re bored by the summer movie. I can’t take it anymore. It’s time for a change. I hope we can make that change. I don’t feel we have a different mood from summer to winter, but somehow that is how they market it. And summer is a very long and boring two months. Just because it’s summer, we don’t have to be meatheads, do we?”

For the record I see no evidence that the intensely earnest Ang Lee, in contrast with Tim Burton, director of the annoyingly campy Batman Returns, has ever been the least bit condescending towards “low culture” source material. Lee’s supremely arty Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, after all, was based on a popular “wu xia” novel, the Chinese equivalent of a Zane Grey or Louis L’Amour western novel. Yet consider the exhausting care Lee lavished on that project. According to his own account, Lee had to work harder on Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon than he did on Sense and Sensibility.

If anything, Lee might be faulted for showing his source material too much deference, not too little. As one critic noted, the first hour of The Hulk more closely resembles Long Day’s Journey Into Night than a comic book! That is not necessarily a bad thing. The Great Silent Majority in even the most “advanced” nations are shockingly indifferent to abstract thought. More than half will never read another book once they graduate from high school. If valuable insights about human nature can occasionally be communicated via popular film adaptations of pulp fiction and comic books, surely that is preferable to having them remain completely in the dark.

A final note. Like many movie reviewers, I have referred to Ang Lee’s latest film as “The Hulk.” In fact as director Ang Lee explains, the title of his film is not “The Hulk,” but simply “Hulk.” Why did Lee drop “The” from the title? Because the Chinese language contains no equivalent for the English pronoun “The.” Therefore Lee insisted on naming his movie “Hulk,” instead of “The Hulk.”

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Critics are Talking about the Hulk
Illustration(s): Pillsbury Doughboy, Little Green Sprout
Author(s): Lew Irwin
Affiliation: Studio Briefing
Publication Date: 20th June 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

The Hulk: Ang Lee’s Transformation (綠巨人浩克: 李安的變革)

The Hulk: Ang Lee’s Transformation (綠巨人浩克: 李安的變革)

Ang Lee’s Transformation

Whether Ang Lee was directing adulterous suburbanites, Southern racists, crouching tigers or hidden dragons, his diverse characters all had something in common: They were living, breathing, multimillion-dollar-check- cashing actors.

But “The Hulk,” opening June 20, is a different beast. The veteran filmmaker is making the leap from flesh-and-blood dramas to special-effects blockbuster — without so much as a fake explosion for a transition.

Lee admits that, when it came to special effects, he had “no idea what I was talking about” as early as last year, when he started filming in the Bay Area.

“In some ways my innocence helped bring freshness (to the movie),” Lee said during an an interview earlier this month.﹛”I think it’s good I wasn’t scared that the movie relied on (computer-generated) characters. I didn’t know enough to be scared.”

Lee’s decision to direct “The Hulk” surprised fans of comic books — along with fans of his movies.

His previous films include “Sense and Sensibility,” “The Ice Storm” and “Eat Drink Man Woman,” which were as far away from gamma rays and rampaging green behemoths as cinematically possible. “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” in 2000 proved that Lee could film action, but the movie’s wire stunts and blue- screen backgrounds involved few modern special effects.

But Lee says his latest job made sense to him, with “Crouching Tiger” serving as a transition to “The Hulk.” The filmmaker was drawn to the project at first by his comic-reading school-age sons, later realizing that there was a surprisingly complex character in the middle of the pulp action.

“That grabbed me right away,” Lee said. “I was on the way to doing something like that in ‘Crouching Tiger,’ to mix serious drama with pop art. I got a taste of that and thought I could do that bigger.”

Once the director was onboard, “The Hulk” needed a location. In the comics and TV show, the monster is born on a desert base in the Southwest, where Bruce Banner (Eric Bana in the movie) is exposed to gamma radiation.

New Mexico was changed to UC Berkeley to get Hulk near a big city, a move that Lee was happy about.

San Francisco “is one of my favorite cities in the world,” Lee said. “I would probably rank it at the top or near the top. It’s small but very photogenic and has layers. It’s like New York. You never have problems finding great angles that people have never done.”

Locations for “The Hulk” include Berkeley, Treasure Island and Telegraph Hill in San Francisco. Filming for the most part was kept secret, but an extended trailer displayed for some journalists and exhibitors shows that the Bay Area is used to the fullest.

Lee seems particularly fond of helicopter shots looking down on the city streets, where the Hulk wrecks at least one cable car.

Although Lee put his own mark on the film, most of the main plot points in “The Hulk” mirror the comic. Bana plays Banner, a student who gets a dose of gamma radiation while working on a secret military project. As a result, whenever he gets mad, he mutates into a huge green creature. (“You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry.”)

Jennifer Connelly, Sam Elliott and Nick Nolte round out the cast, while television Hulk actor Lou Ferrigno has a cameo.

Unlike the comic and the TV show, the lead character in “The Hulk” is more than twice the height of a normal human. The computer-generated Hulk wasn’t created until the filming sequences were over — when Lee settled into an office across the street from Industrial Light & Magic in San Rafael.

Lee describes his education at ILM with wonder, like a parent who goes to a rock concert and discovers that his kid’s favorite band actually has good musicians.

“This is the best part of making the movie, I think — making the movie at ILM. It was pretty much a contrast to what I expected it to be,” Lee said. “They call it Industrial Light & Magic, but there’s no feeling of industry. It feels totally handcraft. Every individual artist who works on the shots — it’s very hands on.”

Colin Brady, an animation director at ILM, said the animators who worked on “The Hulk” were thrilled with Lee’s constant presence for the effects work.

“It’s pretty much unheard of,” Brady said. “(But) the Hulk has such a strong acting role in the movie that I think it did require that Ang was here.”

Brady said much of the finished product for the character came from Lee’s own movements.

“There’s a lot of Ang in the Hulk,” Brady said. “Ang would have no problem getting up and acting out exactly what he was looking for. It’s a wonderful contrast to see this very soft-spoken guy launch into this very broad action. Next thing you know, he’s biting my arm or getting me in a headlock or something.”

[Editor’s Note: No kidding. And not just psychological either. Look at Ang Lee’s face. Now look at the Hulk’s face. I’m referring to the CG face, not the real life face of Hulk star Eric Bana. Notice the resemblance? It would seem the ILM animators have a wry sense of humor. I am assuming of course the subtle incorporation of Lee’s facial features into the final CGI version of the Hulk happened unconconsciously, which is entirely possible.]

Holing up with ILM made it easier for Lee to ignore outspoken fans of the comic book, who have criticized everything from the creature’s look (they say he appears too much like the lead character in “Shrek”) to the inclusion of mutated “Hulk dogs” in the movie.

Lee said he was influenced by the first “Frankenstein” movie more than any comic films such as “X-Men” or “Spider-Man.”

[Editor’s Note: This should come as no surprise to the director’s fans. Lest we forget, the book on which the popular film Lee is referring to was penned by famed English novelist Mary Wollstonecraft Shelley, wife of famed English poet Percy Bysshe Shelley. Lee may have “gone Hollywood,” but he has obviously lost neither his sense nor sensibility. ]

“I would like to think that the fans, as loud and earnest as they can be, I hope they make up, like, 0.1 percent of the audience,” Lee said. “I wanted to embrace (the comic), but I also wanted to feel free to create my episode of the Hulk. If I got opinions from other places, I would be very distracted.”

Lee said Marvel gave him only two mandates — telling him that the Hulk couldn’t be too intelligent and that he had to save a child at the beginning of the movie.

Avi Arad, the Marvel Comics executive in charge of the films, said fans will appreciate Lee’s work after they see the film.

“He understood the psychodrama and the deep study it takes to get the Hulk, ” Arad said. “The thing he loves the most is the study of the soul. And he delivered that.”

Lee joins Brian Singer and Sam Raimi as Oscar-nominated filmmakers who took on blockbuster comic-book films. Arad said the material needed a director who could concentrate on the performances, and Universal Pictures and Marvel were fortunate to get Lee.

“He could have done anything he wanted,” Arad said. “And lucky us, he picked The Hulk.”

Lee, who was finishing up special-effects shots and adding the music in early May, said he hasn’t thought about his next move.

“Honestly, I really don’t know what I’ll do next,” he said. “I’m having a blast here at ILM.”

Lee said he may do a destruction-free drama first, but he hasn’t ruled out another special-effects movie.

“The experience is definitely much better than I expected. It’s artwork, not what I thought special effects are,” Lee said. “I came from a dramatic background, and this is very good training for me. It really broadened my tools for making movies. I think it was a great experience for me as a filmmaker.”

Editor’s Comments:

When it was first announced that Ang Lee would direct “Sense and Sensibility,” and again when he would direct “The Ice Storm,” many shook their heads in disbelief. How on earth could a Chinese director from Taiwan, whose first language was not even English, and who did not grow up in either England or the United States, do justice to sexually repressed English society in the 1790s or sexually liberated American society in the 1970s?

Lee answered this question in an interview with Salon magazine, entitled “Stranger in a Strange Land.”

“Gradually I got tuned into the world — that happens on every movie. I did a women’s movie, and I’m not a woman. I did a gay movie, and I’m not gay. I learned as I went along.”

As Marvel executive Avi Arad put it, “[Everything Lee] does is thought-provoking, no matter what language it’s in… He shows it in the characters’ emotions and gestures. Don’t forget: The Hulk can’t speak, it’s all about emotions and gestures.”

When Wired magazine asked Ang Lee “Why is the face of the Hulk so human-looking?” Lee replied “The Hulk may be a monster but he is a very human monster. He is the embodiment of something deep within Bruce Banner, in fact something deep within all of us.”

In other words, what empowers an artist engaged in the cultural creative industries, what allows him to appeal to the widest possible audience, is not some narrow-minded, exclusionary preoccupation with “identity,” but the exact opposite. What empowers an artist is a heightened awareness of his underlying humanity, of what he shares with every other human being on the planet, regardless of gender, sexual orientation, ethnic origin, political allegiance. This broad-minded, inclusive humanism is what enables the artist to touch the hearts of audiences everywhere.

Finally, on a lighter note, let’s answer a question you may have been afraid to ask. The Incredible Hulk is not the Jolly Green Giant! The Hulk is the Hulk. The Green Giant is the Green Giant. Both the Hulk and the Green Giant are superhuman giants, meaning they are “larger than life.” Both the Hulk and the Green Giant have green skin, signifying that they represent the green life force of Nature. But there the similarities end. The Hulk is the personification of the dark, pent-up, primordial rage that cannot be contained beneath modern man’s veneer of civilization, and literally bursts out when least expected. The Hulk may be green, and he may be a giant, but he’s anything but jolly.

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Director happily jumped into the foreign world of special effects for ‘The Hulk’
Illustration(s): The Hulk, The Hulk, The Hulk, The Green Giant, The Green Giant, Ang Lee, The Hulk, The Hulk.
Author(s): Peter Hartlaub
Affiliation: San Francisco Chronicle Staff Writer
Publication Date: Sunday, May 18, 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

A DIY Cruise Missile for under $5,000 (巡弋飛彈 DIY 只花五千美元)

A DIY Cruise Missile for under $5,000 (巡弋飛彈 DIY 只花五千美元)

A DIY Cruise Missile
Watch me build one for under $5,000

Some time ago I wrote an article in which I suggested that it would not be difficult for terrorists to build their own relatively sophisticated cruise missiles using off-the-shelf components and materials.

Included in this feedback, I’ve received quite a number of emails from former and currently serving US military personnel who acknowledge that the threat is one they are very much aware of and for which there is little in the way of an effective defense available.

However, there have also been a number of people who claim I’m overstating the case and that it’s not possible to build a real cruise missile without access to sophisticated gear, specialist tools and information not readily available outside the military.

So, in order to prove my case, I decided to put my money where my mouth is and build a cruise missile in my own garage, on a budget of just US$5,000.

I like to think of this project as the military version of “Junkyard Wars”.

Editor’s Comments:

Personally, I suspect it’s entirely possible for any reasonably well-educated civilian to build a cruise missile in one’s garage workshop at astonishingly low cost. Whether it would actually be below the $5,000 figure the author cites is not important. A fully functional, massively lethal cruise missile could probably be built for less than the sticker price of an economy car.

This development has important implications for ordinary consumers in the modern world. It means that prohibitively expensive advanced technology could actually be made surprisingly affordable. The boundless creativity of individuals in the private sector could just as easily be applied to medical technology that would benefit mankind, not just to the proliferation of destructive weaponry. In a roundabout way, this is very good news indeed.

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: A DIY Cruise Missile
Illustration(s): Bruce Simpson
Author(s): Bruce Simpson
Affiliation: Aardvark Daily
Publication Date: June 14, 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

The Book & The Computer (書本與電腦)

The Book & The Computer (書本與電腦)

Medieval China’s Rich Print Culture: Harbinger of Gutenberg

In 1996, I began teaching two undergraduate courses in Japan on the history and culture of book publishing. In planning the courses, I decided that I would depart from the most frequently used approach to the subject, which gives particular emphasis to the effects of advances in technology. I was, of course, well aware that the discovery of new technologies was a key factor in the history and culture of the book. But I also wanted to explore with my students what the scholar Minowa Shigeo calls “book publishing in a societal context.” In other words, I wanted us to look at the social mechanisms, activities and conditions that gave rise to the distinct publishing traditions of a variety of societies and, further, to see how these traditions have contributed to today’s international book culture.

Since most of my students were Asian, I was particularly concerned that we approach the subject from a perspective that would give proper attention to the book cultures of that region. This was, I found, easier said than done.

In preparation for the courses, I set about finding suitable teaching materials. I began with an exhaustive search of books, journals, archives and Websites in English, Japanese, French and German. I was looking for scholarship reflective of a comparative international perspective, but I found little that even pointed in that direction. Japanese sources came the closest to providing the sort of thing I wanted, but even these were inadequate. The view they presented was a compartmentalized one, in which Western developments, because of their more direct connection with modern book publishing, were seen as primary. Asian developments were regarded as either artifactual and unrelated to modern publishing or, as in the case of those occurring after the time of Gutenberg in the 15th century, as dependent on Western developments.

Still, despite their serious shortcomings, the Japanese sources did provide extensive and comprehensive information on Asia’s publishing history, particularly in Japan, China and Korea. Western sources, however, were a very different story.

Certainly, there was an abundance of good material by Western researchers on publishing’s history. The problem was that almost none of it was international in scope or comparative in nature. The long and rich history of Asian book culture was treated, if it was treated at all, as a peripheral matter, a kind of footnote to the main story. This main story was, of course, the history of the book in the West, the key development in which was the Gutenberg printing press.

Eventually, relying mainly on Japanese sources, I was able to gather enough material to compile a course reader. But the experience raised a number of questions for me. Why, I wondered, did Western scholars pay so little attention to Asia? Was it ignorance, or arrogance? Or was it, more innocently, that there was a paucity of primary research from which to work? Why did Asian scholars seem to view the history of publishing as a global phenomenon while the Western scholars, by and large, did not?

Whatever the reasons may have been for the Western scholars’ neglect of Asia, lack of information could not have been among them. In fact, for anyone with even a cursory interest in the subject, the long history of Asia’s flourishing book culture is hard to ignore. While Western histories conventionally emphasize the role of the “Gutenberg effect” in the rapid rise of literate societies in Europe and, later, North America, Asian histories focus initially on the development of woodblock printing, nearly 800 years before Gutenberg’s invention. Woodblock printing led to the rise of a highly literate society in China, a cultural influence that was in time exported to Korea, Japan, Vietnam, Tibet and other nearby societies.

Publishing culture is a complex affair. For publishing to flourish, the specific activities that it comprises — printing, yes, but also the generation and development of manuscripts; the production and availability of paper, ink and other materials; the various sorts of commercial exchanges, including the distribution and sale of the finished product — require the support of a broad framework of cultural, social, economic, political and technological conditions. The vibrant publishing culture that developed in China beginning in the 7th century — that is, after woodblock printing on paper came into widespread use — demonstrates clearly that China possessed these conditions in strength.

Western scholars have long overlooked or understated the achievements of non-Western societies. This is abundantly true in the case of China. Many of these scholars are aware of the Chinese origins of such things as gunpowder, the stirrup, the iron plow (and row cultivation), the stern rudder, the compass, cast iron, matches, paper, paper money, rockets, guns, the crossbow and the decimal system. They also know that modern Western civilization might not have advanced as far and as fast as it did without knowledge of these and other such innovations. Yet few of these scholars give more than passing references to China’s accomplishments and their influence on the West. Much worse, they give little recognition to the superb intellectual and scientific environment that fostered such achievements. One of the unfortunate effects of this kind of narrow-minded scholarship is that it fosters a sense of inferiority, real or imagined, among cultures that, supposedly, have been surpassed by Western advances.

Publishing is a case in point. In his book The Invention of Printing in China and Its Spread Westward, T. F. Carter argues that the ingenious idea of printing spread westward from China in the wake of the Mongol invasions, first of Turkistan and Persia, and then of Russia, Poland and Hungary. Carter provides strong circumstantial evidence to prove his point, a point that has come to be shared by many scholars.

In April 1999, the New York Times Magazine put out a special issue on humankind’s best achievements during the passing millennium. Their selection for best invention was the Gutenberg press. But the author, the historian Jared Diamond, points out that the popular idea that printing itself began with Gutenberg is simply a falsehood. He notes that, by Gutenberg’s time, printing had been around in China for centuries. What is more, even the idea that movable type originated with Gutenberg is mistaken. Sometime between the years 1041 and 1048 of the Common Era, the Chinese alchemist Pi Sheng, using baked clay and glue, had devised an effective form of movable type. During the following century, a metal form of movable type, an improvement on Pi Sheng’s invention, was developed in Korea. The key to the success of the Gutenberg press, and to the astonishing impact it had, was the surrounding society’s capacity to put the invention to use. In other words, the flowering of literacy and creativity in Europe after the 15th century happened not as a simple result of a technological advance but because that advance took place in an environment that facilitated its success.

There is nothing unique about this. The automobile may have made its first appearance in Germany, but it was in America that it was turned into the practical means of conveyance now used by millions around the world. Americans may have discovered the transistor, but it was the Japanese who developed the mechanisms to use it practically in small-sized, low-cost devices. To say that printing or movable type did not originate with Gutenberg takes nothing away from their importance to the spectacular expansion of print culture in Europe after 1458. It does, however, suggest that we give due attention, and credit, to the print culture that had already been flourishing in China for centuries.

Although definitions of what is meant by the word “book” may vary, one would be justified in claiming that the first complete printed book was produced in China, in the year 868 C.E. The text in question was a Chinese translation from the Sanskrit of the Buddhist scripture called the Diamond Sutra. In all likelihood, the translators had worked from a version of the text written on palm leaf or wood strips, which were then tied together. This was a common technique used in India and elsewhere as far back as the 5th century. The Chinese text was printed on a paper scroll 533.4 cm long and 26.67 cm wide.

By the 8th century, well before the appearance of the printed version of the Diamond Sutra, woodblock printing had taken a firm foothold in China. The demand for Chinese versions of Buddhist texts was one key factor. And it was through the spread of Buddhism that China’s print technology spread rapidly to nearby Korea and Japan. In fact, the oldest extant artifact of printed matter is the Japanese version of the Buddhist incantation, the Hyakumanto Dharani,which dates from the 8th century. It is estimated that one million copies of the text were printed, a testament to the capacity of cast block print technology.

Such large print runs for Buddhist texts were not uncommon. Even today, some 400,000 copies of one centuries-old Buddhist collection still survive intact. We are left to contemplate the figures for the original print runs of this and other surviving texts, but we can safely guess that some printings numbered in the millions.

But China’s print technology did not respond solely to the demand for Buddhist texts. Poetry, science and philosophy, along with other types of literature, were available in China’s thriving book culture. One of the largest undertakings was the printing of the 11 classics of Confucianism and two supplemental books commissioned by Prime Minister Feng Tao in the 10th century. It took 22 years to complete 130 volumes, which were sold to the public under the auspices of the Chinese National Academy. By this time, belles-lettres and philosophy were being widely printed in a format that resembled that of a modern Chinese book. (We know precious little about the rise of other, less prestigious types of literature. We do know, however, that by the 14th century sales of certain works of fiction, which was considered a lowbrow form of entertainment, were booming, and that bookseller districts and book markets were springing up in many major cities.)

By the time Pi Sheng’s movable type was introduced, woodblock printing had existed, and been successful, for hundreds of years. Indeed, not only had movable type appeared in China well before Europe, but by the time of Gutenberg, the Chinese had already abandoned it. For the Chinese, woodblock was simply the superior technology. The nuances of the brush strokes used in Chinese writing and the subtleties of ink-brush illustrations were better replicated by woodblock. And, because of the number of characters needed for an average book, movable type was too cumbersome, time-consuming and expensive. It was not until the 19th century that the technologies descended from Gutenberg became practical for meeting the print needs of East Asia.

Today, digital technology has made possible print-on-demand publishing (a subject written about frequently in this very publication). But for East Asians, the use of woodblocks has long allowed for the feasibility of on-demand printing. Because they are durable and easily stored, a text on woodblock could be printed in runs just large enough to satisfy a customer’s request — perhaps, say, a dozen — and then be stored away to await future orders. Because of woodblock printing, the Chinese were also the first to employ techniques for multicolored printing. They originally developed a two-color process, but by the 12th century four-color printing was being used widely.

Having taken a quick tour through the rich history of China’s early print culture, we might return to the questions, mentioned earlier, about why Western scholars have ignored or minimized its importance. One answer might simply be that they are puzzled by it. Prior to Gutenberg, Europeans produced books by the hand-copying of a text. Gutenberg’s invention was pivotal because it provided Europe, for the first time, with a means to produce, efficiently, copies of a book in great numbers. To the Westerner, the failure of movable type to catch on in China looks, perhaps, like a failure of China’s literary culture. As we have seen, nothing could be further from the truth. Rather then being a regression, China’s rejection of movable type, centuries before it emerged in Europe, attests to the extraordinary success of woodblock printing in meeting the particular needs of Chinese society.

Another explanation — one that does not negate the first — was provided by the renowned scholar Joseph Needham. In 1946, in a lecture delivered to the China Society in London, Needham said:

“I personally believe that all Westerners, all people belonging to the Euro-American civilization, are subconsciously inclined to congratulate themselves, feeling with some self-satisfaction that, after all, it was Europe and its extension into the Americas which developed modern science and technology. In the same way I think that …[Asians]…are subconsciously inclined to a certain anxiety about this matter, because their civilizations did not, in fact, develop modern science and technology.”

It seems to me that such attitudes — Western self-satisfaction and Asian anxiety — serve no useful purpose. And it might well be that the recognition, long overdue, of the accomplishments and contributions of Asian book culture would help us all put such feelings behind us.

Editor’s Comments:

What more is there to say, except “Amen!”

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Medieval China’s Rich Print Culture: Harbinger of Gutenberg
Illustration(s): Medieval European Print Shop, Chinese Print House Typesetting, Replica of Pi Sheng’s Movable Type, The Diamond Sutra, Oldest Surviving Paper Book
Author(s): Amadio Arboleda
Affiliation: Professor of Publishing Culture, Josai International University
Publication Date: February 4, 2003
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

The I Ching and Leibniz (易經與萊布尼茲)

The I Ching and Leibniz (易經與萊布尼茲)
[通訊技術 ]

Enlightened Scientists

Books that relate the history of computers generally credit the digital theory that is the foundation of computer systems to Gottfried Leibniz, who is many times referred to as “the father of the digital revolution”. The picture on the left is an illustration of the binary system that Leibniz created, and the picture below is an illustration of the 64 hexagrams of the I Ching. There is not much difference between the two illustrations as the picture on the left merely uses the numbers 0 and 1 rather than the symbols of Yin and Yang.

Editor’s Comments:

If computer historians are going to persist in referring to Leibniz as the “Father of the Digital Revolution,” then at the very least they should refer to Fu Xi as the “Grandfather of the Digital Revolution.” When even Leibniz himself freely acknowledged Fu Xi’s prior invention of the binary system, thousands of years ago, does it not seem slightly disingenuous for us moderns to pretend otherwise?

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Enlightened Scientists
Illustration(s): Leibniz’s Binary System Diagram, I Ching Binary System Diagram
Author(s): David Lee, Joseph Kim
Affiliation: I Ching
Publication Date: 1992
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect

The I Ching and Einstein (易經與愛因斯坦)

The I Ching and Einstein (易經與愛因斯坦)
[通訊技術 ]

Enlightened Scientists

Ever since Leibniz discovered the I Ching and wondered at its profoundness, many western scientists have been covertly studying the principles of the I Ching. Einstein was no exception. Prior to the announcement of the Theory of Relativity, scientists were not able to divide nature into matter and energy and recognize their mutual relationship. It is possible that Einstein may have first recognized the fundamental principles of the I Ching, which states that Yin is constantly changing into Yang and Yang to Yin, prior to his creation of E=mc2. This famous formula describes a situation in which energy constantly changes into matter and matter into energy. In western science there exists innumerable principles in physics, chemistry, biology, etc., that cannot be related to one another. In the I Ching, however, there is a single unified theory that applies to all things in the universe. Einstein attempted to create a unified field theory that ties together the four forces (gravity, electromagnetic force, strong and weak nuclear forces) in his latter years. The unified field theory is identical to the unified theory of the Tai Chi in the I Ching, which Einstein attempted to handle in a more profound manner. Nevertheless, Einstein was not able to achieve his objective.

Editor’s Comments:

Two paradigm shifts in scientific thought took place during the 20th century. The first paradigm shift was Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity. The second paradigm shift was Quantum Theory, the collective achievement of such giants as Max Planck, Niels Bohr, Erwin Schrodinger, Louis de Broglie, Werner Heisenberg, and Paul Dirac.

It would be easy to understate the far-reaching impact of these two scientific revolutions. Together they completely undermined the Aristotelian/Galilean/Newtonian world view, invalidating two and a half millennia of assumptions about the fundamental nature of reality and how the universe is constituted. In what has to be the ultimate paradox, these cutting edge theories by the finest minds of western science reaffirmed the uncannily accurate mystic intuition of ancient Chinese and Indian sages such as Fu Xi, Lao Zi, Zhuang Zi, and Buddha.

— Bevin Chu

Explanation: Enlightened Scientists
Illustration(s): Einstein’s Unified Field Theory
Author(s): David Lee, Joseph Kim
Affiliation: I Ching
Publication Date: 1992
Original Language: English
Editor: Bevin Chu, Registered Architect