‘With the metaphor of the Chinese box Brian McHale in his book Postmodernist Fiction explains a frequent phenomenon in postmodernist literature. The phenomenon whereby a story-line is interrupted by another story, thus creating a discontinuity that may be subtle as in the case of Hamlet’s play-within-the-play, where each story represents a different ‘world’. The purpose of these novels-within-the-novel; still-photographs-within-the-novel; films-within-the novel in modernist literature “serves as a tool for exploring issues of narrative authority, reliability and unreliability, the circulation of knowledge, and so forth.” In postmodernist literature these different interrupting worlds/narratives are so frequent that the original narrative sometimes gets lost. Attention is drawn to the fact that we can never know the complete truth, we are only capable of knowing a truth, and different Chinese boxes will give us different (sometimes conflicting) information about different worlds.’
– McHale, B. 1987. Pöstmödernist Fiction London, United Kingdom: Methuen Inc. p. 113
In order for institutions based on Lyotardian grand narratives to flourish, such as totalitarian regimes and organised religions, a certain amount of unquestioned belief is needed. Consider the following excerpts out of the preface to Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, published in China as the Red Treasure Book in 1964:
‘Study the writings of chairman Mao, obey the words of chairman Mao and act according to the words of chairman Mao.’ – Lin Biao, Vice Chairman of the Communist Party of China 1958-1971 and Marshal of the People’s Republic of China (p. 5)
‘Over the past few years, the ‘Thinking of Mao Zedong’ has been dressed in the aura of the one and only universal truth. More so than the explicitly confessed Marxist-Leninism are the sayings and writings of Mao Zedong that are revered and studied, and are used by everyone from the professor to the melon salesman, and the marine engineer to the table tennis champion to achieve greater accomplishments.’ – Cornelis Schepel, Institute of Sinology, Leiden (p. 7)
 These citations were not featured in the original Chinese publication of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book, but have been translated to English from a Dutch translation of Zedong’s most famous work, first published as Het Rode Boekje in 1967 by A.W. Bruna & Zonen and reprinted in 2005 by Forum.
The Great Council of Venice declared prostitution to be “absolutely indispensable to the world” in 1358, and government-funded brothels were established in major Italian cities throughout the 14th and 15th centuries.
The British Crown Jewels are not insured.
A government laboratory in Beijing uses electric eels to predict the time and location of earthquakes. In 2005, its accuracy rate was 89 percent.
Argentina’s capital Buenos Aires means “Good air”.
The Han Chinese are an ethnic group native to East Asia. They constitute approximately 20% of the entire global human population, making it the largest ethnic group in the world.
If the empty space in atoms could be removed, the entire human race could fit into an average sugar cube.
The most common surname in China is Wang.
Originally, the traditional Argentine game of pato, which is a combination of rugby, polo and basketball, was played – as the Spanish name suggests – with a live duck in a basket. Nowadays, a leather ball is used.
There are 117 road accidents in Rome every day.
No country in history has imprisoned more citizens than the United States.
Exonyms are names used in a particular language to refer to a foreign nation or country; they can be completely different from the name that country uses (in its particular language) to qualify itself. Quite often, they can be of interest from a historical point of view because they can be surprisingly conservative. The exonym is sometimes preserved for hundreds of years after the political or ethnic entity it originally referred to ceased to be.
One of the best-known cases is Germany. Many nations share their linguistic origin with the German term Deutschland, even though they have sometimes assumed a quite different form i.e. Duitsland, Tedesco or Tyskland – from the Proto-Germanic Þeudiskaz. The Slavic peoples call the Germans Niemcy or similar which means ‘a mute’, someone who does not speak Slavic. The French and Spanish, among others, employ the name of the Alamanni tribe. The English, Italians and Russians, to name a few, use a derivative of the Latin Germania or Greek Γερμανία. And the Finns and Baltic states either refer to the name of the Saxon tribe or employ a word of unknown origin, like the Latvian Vacija or the Lithuanian Vokietija.
Consider these other cases:
The Latvians call Russia Krievija, referring to an ancient Slavic tribal union, the Krivichi;
The Turks call Greece Yunanistan and the Greeks Yunan, another very old exonym which probably has for origin the word ‘Ionia’, that is the Greek region on the coast of Asia Minor;
In a kind of an opposite logic, Russia was called Muscovy by the Poles, and then by other Europeans as a way to deny the claim of the Moscow-based government on the totality of Russian lands;
The Japanese used to call China Tang even hundreds of years after the end of that dynasty. In the late 19th- and early 20th century they resorted to an even older and more obscure word Shina, which had the advantage of being similar to the equivalent Western terms.
Also, there is something particularly curious about Roman exonyms; it seems the Romans gave completely random names to any people they encountered. A people that called itself Rasenna received the name Tuscans or Etruscans. The inhabitants of Carthage became Punics, and the Hellenes or Achaeans were Greeks. Celts became Galli or the Gauls.
“Patriotism is, fundamentally, a conviction that a particular country is the best in the world because you were born in it.”
– George Bernard Shaw
Under Chairman Mao, every Chinese family was obliged to kill a sparrow a week to stop them eating all the rice. The project was ineffective because sparrows don’t eat rice.
The word lethologica describes the state of not being able to remember the word you want.
When the novelist, poet, designer, translator, and social activist William Morris died in 1896, his doctor attributed his demise to ‘his simply being William Morris, and having done more work than most ten men’.
The striped mittenfish, a deep sea species recently discovered in the Java Sea, can change its sex at will by turning its entire body inside out.
There is evidence to suggest that the fable writer Aesop, who married and divorced at least fifty women, was fond of non-traditional unions. He wed his daughter, his sister and his own mother.