Paradise Lost (and Found)

Somehow Time Asia is the last place where I’d have expected to find anything sublime, but they proved me wrong. The July 26-Aug 2 Issue of Time Asia is an eminently readable one, for it captures diverse images of Asia. In one of the articles,All Is Not Lost, Jonathan Spence tells the story of Zhang Dai, a Seventeenth century Chinese historian/scholar, who lost almost everything in the Manchu invasion of 1644, and tried to reconstruct his lost paradise:

The initial impulse to recapture the past, Zhang Dai tells us, sprang from a trip he made to the celebrated West Lake in Hangzhou in the early 1650s, when the fighting had ended in Manchu victory and he traveled back to the city to see what had survived. He found the villas laid waste, the people scattered, the charm vanished. His first reaction was simple despair, followed by a grinding sense of loss. But those emotions were superseded by the realization that he had known in detail what had now vanished, and thus the images he could conjure up might serve to replace the loss and the waste. The reality that he retained was the reality that would survive, and thus the loss was lessened.

Howard Roark, the superhuman (or unreal, as most critics would say) hero in Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead says: We live in our minds, and existence is the attempt to bring that life into physical reality, to state it in gesture and form. Zhang Dai’s story is an illustration of that precept. Incidentally, the theme of the Time Asia’s said issue is search for paradise, and the inherent subjectivity of the very idea. So for a women in Laos (belonging to the Hmong tribe) the image of the Australian author’s wife, relaxing on a rock alongside a beach is the mortal image of a paradise. For every paradise lost then, there is an opportunity for finding one, or even recreating one.


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