“四不像”归来 / The Return of Sibuxiang
The Return of Sibuxiang
Please accept my best wishes for a Happy, Healthy, and Prosperous New Year of the Snake, as well as my gratitude and appreciation for your time, attention, and feedback in reading this blog.
Not quite 4 years ago, I began writing my first blog, called Sibuxiang. It launched in June, 2009. (The archives are still here on www.FortuneChina.com) To be honest, up until that time I had not been a frequent reader of blogs. So, in hindsight, my readers were very generous with their time, and also kind enough to overlook my clumsy, long-winded and unfashionable style of blog-writing.
In November, 2011, I decided it was time for re-invention. That month I launched Sibuxiang's successor blog, called "GMT +8". This is the name of the time zone in which Greater China is located.
At the time I thought this was a clever name, but in hindsight I think it is a bit too clever. Frequent international travelers know global time zones well enough to recognize the meaning of "GMT + 8", but to many others it's obscure at best, or mumbo jumbo at worst.
By contrast, most Chinese people know what the word Sibuxiang means ("four unlikes"). For those who are unfamiliar, Sibuxiang is an actual animal: the Pere David deer, named in English for the French Catholic priest who discovered it. It became extinct in the wild in China around 1900, but small numbers had been taken abroad, mainly to England, and raised as an exotic protected species. In the early 1980s, small herds were reintroduced to China. Today, more than 1,200 Pere David deer are living in two main nature reserves, the larger (Nanhaizi Milu Park) being in Daxing County outside of Beijing. Another reserve is located in Jiangsu Province.
There are various explanations for what the"four unlikes" refer to, but the most commonly accepted set is an animal with: "the hoofs of a cow, which is not a cow; the head of a horse, which is not a horse; the antlers of a deer, which is not a deer; and the body of a donkey, which is not a donkey."
In common parlance in Chinese, "sibuxiang" also means "neither fish nor fowl" -- something or someone which does not fit stereotypes. That's another reason I can relate to the name. Fortunately for me, the standard explanation of the four unlikes does not include items like: "the brain of a donkey, the ass of an elephant, the belly of a hippo, the voice of a hyena" etc.
So, in the spirit of trial and error, following about 15 months of publication, I am retiring the blog name "GMT + 8" after the Spring Festival. In considering the timing of this change, it also occurred to me that this current GMT + 8 blog post is the 60th in the series, which seemed an appropriate close in traditional Chinese culture, 60 representing an important milestone in its completion of 5 cycles of 12. What better time to conclude the old and start something new?
It has been an interesting learning experience for me to see the peaks and valleys of reader interest, traffic, and feedback, which I pay close attention to. In that sense blogging is similar to teaching, in that the most obvious flow of information is from teacher to student, but often the most valuable flow is in the other direction, from students to teacher.
So, my friends, Sibuxiang will be back in the Year of the Snake, with some new ideas and perspectives.
There is merit in consistency, as well as experimentation.
Another peripheral consideration for the timing of the name change is that I was born in the Year of the Rabbit (precisely which rabbit year remains a highly confidential matter), and in real life, rabbits have much to fear from many species of snakes. On the other hand, there are arguably no snakes big enough to swallow a full-grown Sibuxiang.
Moral: in times of uncertainty and change, pursue change and embrace risk, but with some degree of caution and common sense.
Please bear with me for a few weeks absence following the Lunar New Year holidays, while I prepare the new series.
Enjoy the holidays!