The dance of sounds – solitude and aesthetic pleasure


This is the 1510 Digest, a weekly roundup of recent essays and articles published on the Chinese web, with links to translations on the Marco Polo Project.

China has experienced tremendous economic growth over the last thirty years, with massive impact on many people’s everyday life and environment. How does this change affect individuals’ perception of their surrounding, and their possibilities for intimate pleasure? This week’s selection will give us insight into the way various city dwellers relate to their environment, and their sources of sensual pleasure and intimate satisfaction. Liu Shisan’s ‘The dance of sound’ describes the aesthetic exhilaration she gets from her sense of hearing; Ran Lan’s ‘Aesthetics of slowness’ draws on the memories of years spent in Guilin to develop a broader reflection on ‘slow life’; Li Yinhe’s ‘Praise of solitude’ identifies the state of the solitary individual as one of potential happiness and freedom.

The dance of sounds
By Liu Shisan, 18 December 2012

In this essay, Liu Shisan describes how she temporarily lost hearing in her right ear, and the subsequent exhilaration she received at fully experiencing the sounds of city life. She constructs a modernist patchwork of urban scenes experienced as soundscapes: eating wonton in a road-side café, vibrations on a crowded bus, or the stories brought up by the passing of trucks at night outside her open window.
This reflection on sound leads Liu Shisan to more personal memories. After changing her mobile phone, she couldn’t recognised her father’s voice, and experienced a sudden sense of estrangement. And this experience of vocal alienation became a crucial moment in her relation to family. The piece finishes with a lyrical meditation on ‘the first sound’. Liu Shisan’s evokes her own sharp memory of eating an apple for the first time, and compares that first sound of biting into the fruit with a Godly act of naming the world, a primeval encounter with the thing itself.

Marco Polo translation:声音的舞蹈-the-dance-of-sound-english/
Original link: 声音的舞蹈

The Aesthetics of slowness
By Lan Ran, 12 December 2012

The first part of this piece evokes the pleasures experienced by Lan Ran in scenic Guilin, where he could enjoy a peaceful, rhythmic existence after years in the fast-pace of a coastal city of Guangdong. The second part offers a broader reflection on the pace of life and the joy of living slowly. A poem by Tang dynasty poet Li Shanyin on a man listening to the rainfall at night, and thinking of his absent wife, inspires a reflection on the massive changes brought about by technology. In this age of mobile phones and high-speed train, can we still miss an absent beloved? But this speed and efficiency, argues Lan Ran, has also weakened our own sense of memory – more fleeting impressions pass over us, but nothing stays. He mentions movements around the world – mostly Europe – promoting slowness as a value: the slow food and slow pace movements, and the slow city of Orvieto in Italy. Slowness, he concludes, may be the wealth of Gods – and the magic mountain where ten thousand years are but an hour may be within our reach: by slowing down enough, we can regain a sense of plenitude, and the rich depth of memory that slowness brings with it.

Marco Polo translation: The aesthetics of slowness
Original link: 慢的美学 Part 1 and 慢的美学(2)

In praise of solitude
By Li Yinhe, 08 December 2012

Solitude is our most natural state, say Li Yinhe, but we flee from it in the crowd. The crowd is like a skin around us, reducing our sensitivity to the world. But that sharp perception of the world brought by solitude can be beautiful and happy, for one with a strong enough heart; ‘eating and sleeping alone can be happy’. More than that, says Li Yinhe, solitude is the only truly free state, where one does not have to sacrifice or lie for family, friendship or love. Li Yinhe defines individual freedom as the possibility to follow one’s heart truly, and so she concludes: ‘in the name of freedom, I praise solitude’.

Li Yinhe pursues a similar line of thought in ‘Friends and love’ and ‘philosophy and family life’, also published on the Marco Polo Project.

Marco Polo translation: In praise of solitude
Original link: 赞美孤独

All articles in this digest and a large range of other Chinese readings are accessible at Some are available in English, French and Spanish translation. (You can join the project if you’d like to help with translations.)

Danwei is an affiliate of the Australian Centre on China in the World at The Australian National University. This posting is a result of one project that is part of that on-going collaboration.

The China StoryChina Heritage Quarterly and East Asian History are publications of the Australian Centre on China in the World.

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