Ti-chiang

I decide to be present, to try to empathize, to offer help. For example, if I knock it off, it will be relieved from its burden, those wrinkly ankles and swollen knees will no longer bear the weight. Normally I don’t play with Ti-chiang, but today I feel my act of killing is an expression of pure courtesy. I patrol around to get an idea about what it looks like. I hover over it, glide in the air, until I dread it: it is in perfect balance and symmetry. Impossible to tell if it’s dead, alive, or asleep. Immediately I feel futile. Ti-chiang’s feet are planted into the ground, the rhythm of its breath reverberates in the air, sending deep vibrations that can’t be heard, but viscerally felt.

The moment I stab myself into its body, I come to the realization that I was never interested in preying on Ti-chiang. In the best-case scenario, if I successfully kill it, it will take years to show signs of decay. I park on its back, tuck my beak under my wing and close my eyes. I can’t help but wonder: Does it feel the pain? Does it panic? Does it know that death has occurred?  

It is the most substantial thing I’ve ever killed. I scratch my beak across its skin; it’s thick as a wall. Disturbing. Ti-chiang doesn’t die. It enters into a prolonged, imperceptible process of transformation, set forth by yours truly.  

In a bygone time, the the-arch of the southern sea and the-arch of the northern sea visited the middle kingdom. The hospitable the-arch of the middle kingdom, Ti-chiang, entertained them with the finest tea, silk, and china. To reciprocate the courtesy, the southern sea the-arch and northern sea the-arch conversed: Such a magnanimous king of such bountiful lands! How odd that his majesty should be born with such a distinguished appearance! Everyone in the world has seven orifices, but our host has none of those essential features. How he must’ve suffered from such an onerous inconvenience. Let us be his humble servants and procure for him the seven orifices.

On the first and second days, they ripped open two nostrils. So heavy duty, they were panting like old dogs. 

On the third day, they drilled an oral opening. Sweat dripped down their backs. 

Day four, they dug an anal passage. Their legs shivered from fatigue.

Day five, they made a vaginal passage. Their hands trembled.  

Day six, they carved two eyes. They cursed the depth of mother earth. 

On the seventh day, the southern sea the-arch and northern sea the-arch gave a congratulatory applause for the completion of Ti-chiang’s orifices. At the reveal ceremony, Ti-jiang was greeted on a pedestal. He had no tissues left connected, no skin untorn; robust streams of blood shot out from different parts of the body. Showered, Ti-chiang remained static, resembling a blood fountain.

Hence the end of the life of his majesty Ti-chiang.

All this digging and drilling weren’t meant to be simply invasive. They were constitutive rather than destructive acts, the markings of exteriority and interiority on the body in the process of making space. The the-archs’ goal was not to eliminate the inside, but to somehow incorporate the inside and outside into a smoother, uninterrupted whole. Even though the interior was often subjected to scrutiny, pathologized and criminalized, it had to be incorporated into a newly established hegemony. 

To put it in differently, Western anatomy’s collision with traditional Chinese understanding of bodies denies the possible fusion of dissection and preservation, precision and approximation, part and whole, knowing and obscurity. The body is a constitutive logic of the Chinese cosmos, hence an expression of its order. Nature is modeled after the structure of the body, so is the cosmos conceived in correspondence with the scale of human biology. From the body to the cosmos, there is no interior or exterior, but an all-encompassing unitary system. Thus the partition between body and mind introduced by Western medicine is a fundamental negation and rejection of integrity. Ari Larissa Heinrich writes: “This anatomical aesthetic was deeply pathological, deeply visual, and also deeply modern; it was self-reflexive yet broadly allusive, polysemic yet profoundly local.” The body is forced open to provide a “providential exit gate” (Bruno Latour), that of scientific knowledge.

According to Yantie Lun (Discourses on Salt and Iron, 81 B.C.E.), a classic debate on governance: “The middle kingdom (zhongguo/China) is in the middle (zhong) of heaven and earth and is at the border of Yin and Yang.” The middle kingdom’s maintenance of neutrality betrays a tendency to comfortably situate itself in a coherent and self-explanatory system demarcated only at the peripheries. A non-reflective camera obscura. In the 19th century the complacent “center” became its ultimate other: faceless, brainless, incredibly enduring against penetration. The war treaties forced open a long string of coastal ports and inland cities: Canton, Amoy, Foochowfoo, Ningpo and Shanghai, then Tainan, Haikou, Shantou, Haicheng, Penglai, Tamsui and Nanjing, Jiujiang, Yichang, Wenzhou, Beihai, Yantai, Shenyang… These names previously unknown to colonial imagination were discovered, photographed, reported to satiate the voyeurism of the world. 

The process of internalizing modernization is so pervasive and infiltrative, that the imperial powers didn’t just force open the city gates, handicapped the domestic economy, sucked up the gold, but went all the way home to awake the dead for relocation. In Shanghai’s French Concession, the consul general and the municipal committee relocated all the tombs and graveyards over twenty years, until death was no longer conspicuous. The thinner the space of death, the thicker the incommensurability of cohabitation. 

The middle kingdom was shrouded in silence. To explain the contention of the dead, one needs to consider the body (shen身) in relation to the two intertwined forces of the soul, hun魂 and po魄. At the moment of death, hun魂 and po魄 depart and leave the deceased’s shen身. The hun魂-soul as moves quickly up to heaven in the form of qi气, and the po魄-soul, as a heavier physical form, moves downward to the earth. If the body becomes dislocated, the hun-po魂魄 will be homeless, forced to wander around in a trapped temporality. The relocation and removal of the dead from the smooth interior of modernity was an endeavor in vain. The deathscape was only disturbed. 

In my bird-bee’s eye’s view of today’s urban landscape, modern cities like Canton, Amoy, Foochowfoo, Ningpo, Shanghai, Tainan, Haikou, Shantou, Haicheng, Penglai, Tamsui, Nanjing, Jiujiang, Yichang, Wenzhou, Beihai, Yantai, and Shenyang are open orifices, and theirs hollows are permeated with dislocated death.  

So to speak, Ti-chiang, like a ginormous decapitated elephant, is a monument of the undead, of this incommensurable cohabitation. It takes me a minute to realize that Ti-chiang can only be tackled cognitively. The superfluous limbs—six feet and four wings—are not made for escape. They embody the irony of escape: when the deathscape is disturbed, time will be defunct. There is no exit, all temporalities are populated in an unconditional, incommensurable cohabitation. 

This time again murder excludes me from the realm of death. I let out a rueful smile. I refuse to know more. I’m the prisoner of the broad, palliative daylight, nauseously I wonder. 

 

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