To Frighten Heaven and Earth and Make the Spirits Cry
Xu Bing

In Classical Chinese, the character represents many things: books, the written word, and the act of writing itself. Much of my work relates to Shu (book) in its various permutations.

Those whose culture embraces Chinese characters (i.e. people in Greater China, Korea, and Japan) have such respect for shu and consider it so sacred, that they believe it capable of effecting change in the natural order of things. At the very beginning of a person's education, he or she must devote many years to memorizing several thousand characters. Each character must be written flawlessly, and must be both neat and pleasing to the eye. Almost every educated person has used a "red line copy book," a kind of exercise book in which the student traces, in black ink, characters printed in red outlines. Such books are particularly meaningful. Not only do they allow the neophyte to learn to writhe, but they also provide a form of cultural conditioning. Only those who have studied the Chinese language have such a relationship with the "written word ".

The movement to simplify characters in Mainland China promulgated new characters in Mainland China promulgated new characters and did away with many old characters. Later, some new characters were revised, only to be discarded, and some of the old characters were revived and brought back into use. This was terribly confusing. To change the written word is to strike at the very foundation of a culture: to reconstruct language is to reconstruction cuts to the heart of one's being, and should be called a "culture" revolution." The term is absolutely fitting. Only those in this generation of Mainland Chinese have such a relationship with the "written word ".

My father worked in the Beijing University History Department, My mother in the Department of Library Sciences. I am familiar with all types of books because I grew up surrounded by the books from my parents' work. Yet those books were strangers to me, because I was unable to read them. Once I had learned enough to be able read whatever to understand them, China had entered the period when people were not allowed to they wish to read. When the Cultural Revolution ended, I returned from the countryside to the city. I took advantage of my parent's work-related access to the library, and read all kinds of books from the stacks 'enormous holdings. The more I read, the more muddled my thinking became, until I felt as if something had become lost to me. I was like a starving person who all at once has too much to eat, and winds up so uncomfortable that he is filled with disgust. Only I have such an abnormal relationship with the "written word"

I have created many works having to do with "Shu", but I am particularly wary of having to explain them. This is because I believe that if a work can be explained with words, then there can be no reason for it to exist. Each time I encounter a situation where I can not avoid explaining one my works, I always recall the legend Cangjie in the Huai Nan Zi .The story goes that, in ancient times when there were no written characters and no drawing, Cang Jie created writing. The heavens were so frightened that they rained mullet, and the ghost were so terrified that they wailed throughout the night . Heaven feared that from that point onward people would attend to trifles and neglect essentials, that they would abandon agriculture for the petty personal profits to be gained from deploying ink and manipulating language. Needless to say, if the heart and mind become thus perverted the stomach will go hungry. The millet was sent from the heavens not only as a practical precaution, but also as a warning. The ghost were fearful that, if their powers. Thus comes the phrase" to frighten heaven and earth and make the spirits cry." I tell this story yet again: it seems to have become my shield to avoid answering questions. Truly, those who came before us were much wise. They pinpointed the key to this dilemma long ago. Still people are compelled to write so many words, only to elaborate upon that which has already been said.

"To frighten heaven and earth and make the spirits cry." "The Library of Babel": Characters/Books/Media. Ed. Takatoshi Shinoda. Tokyo: NTT Publishing Co., Ltd., 1998. 64-72..