Ah Q and persimmons

In my previous post, I argued that persimmons are a lousy way to decide who to vote for.  From the depths of my memory, another reference to persimmons bubbled up.  This is from Lu Hsun’s classic work, “The True Story of Ah Q.”  I found the Chinese text on the internet; the English version is from the translation by Yang and Yang.



These last few days the only one to go to town was the Imitation Foreign Devil.  The successful county candidate in the Chao family had thought of using the deposited cases as a pretext to call on the successful provincial candidate, but the danger that he might have his pigtail cut off had made him defer his visit.  He had written an extremely formal letter, and asked the Imitation Foreign Devil to take it to town; he had also asked the latter to introduce him to the Liberty Party.  When the Imitation Foreign Devil came back, he asked the successful county candidate for four dollars, after which the successful county candidate wore a silver peach on his chest.  All the Weichuang villagers were overawed, and said that this was the badge of the Persimmon Oil Party equivalent to the rank of Han-Lin.  As a result, Mr. Chao’s prestige suddenly increased, far more so than when his son first passed the official examination; consequently he started looking down on everyone else, and, when he saw Ah Q, tended to ignore him.

The translator explains in a footnote: The Liberty Party was called the Tzu Yu Tang.  The villagers, not understanding the word Liberty, turned Tzu Yu into Shih Yu, which means persimmon oil.


The simple villagers in Weichuang could not understand an important idea and trivialized it as persimmons.  The voters of Taiwan seem to think that something as trivial as the price of persimmons is extremely important.

2 Responses to “Ah Q and persimmons”

  1. J B Says:

    Do you suppose people really care about this, or did the DPP make themselves look guilty by not responding quickly and effectively? I find it very hard to believe that this is as important to people as, say, Ma negotiating a peace treaty, and the argument that it dragged down persimmon prices seems forced. Or does this reflect worries people have about Tsai- during the last election some coworkers from Xinbei told me Tsai “lies too much”; perhaps people feel this is solid proof of a feeling they already have.

  2. frozengarlic Says:

    I’m still surprised by how much influence this controversy has seemed to have. I agree that the argument that some obscure piece of DPP campaign literature dragged down farm prices. To me, that makes about as much sense as the idea that the ubiquitous real estate ads claiming that new houses sell for 1 million per ping here in Nangang but only one fifth that much in Jilong drive up prices here and drive them down there. If this argument has any merit at all, then the KMT has to take some responsibility, because they’re the ones who turned a the obscure pricing error into national common knowledge and ensured that we all know about the low prices being quoted.

    On the other hand, an acquaintance of mine who used to work as a local reporter in the south keeps reminding me that farmers are extremely sensitive about talking about prices in public. They would never discuss prices with her. So maybe there is something to it.

    I don’t think there is any widespread impression that Tsai “lies too much.”

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