A white bear in China, brotherly love, and Fyodor Dostoyevskij (posted by Ulla Hvejsel)

“Try and set yourself the task, not to think of a white bear, and you will see that, the cursed thing comes to mind every minute.”

This was written by Fyodor Dostoyevskij in “Winter Notes on Summer Impressions”, a critical report of Dostoyevskijs encounters in western Europe, where he had travelled to consult western doctors on his epilepsi.” (this sentence has since then become an iconic psychiatric example of the uncontrollable mind)

Dostoyevskij reproached the selfcontradictory western notions of brotherhood and of liberty, that did not seem to him to go well together, and it does seem plausible that: liberty to carry out what is on ones mind, will eventually impede the liberties of ones brother.

However, if this mind also has the happiness of on ones brother on it, then we may not have these logical difficulties with understanding them in the same revolutionary sentence, but Westerners, Dostoyevskij felt, did not possess the mind, the tradition and ability to have that, so for the sake of brotherly love, the freedom of a westerner, would have to be a selfdelusional, freedom from the mind, rather than a freedom to carry it out and speak it. In other words: for brotherly love a westerner will have to learn the freedom to “not think of the white bear “.

For the sake of brotherly love, I will follow Dostoyevskijs method, and set myself the task of getting the gruesome white bear out of my mind. When it is out, it will travel with me, from Copenhagen to China, where I, like Dostoyevskij, am travelling for some other purpose. We will nevertheless, hope for a succesful biproduct of insight, and we will regularly share our progress on this site.

In 1862, Dostoyevskij had to apologize his small empirical grounds for analysis, and this bear will probably have to learn to apologize too: First of all for the lack of full knowledge, as it will only have too short a time and too little a geographical span to know everything about an enormous place, and secondly for it’s naturally crude behavior that it is still struggling to control.

However, in it’s frock of violent grandeur, the white bear will go out of it’s own mind, to try and learn and understand, about it’s famous vegetarian brothers; the great bears of China, and from it’s similarly huge bear perspective make an attempt at the impossible task of sorting out what this gigantic place, that seems to be a new superpower, is about.

A western beast

There are apparently high hopes in me, and such great expectations can make a creature want to do it’s best, but I do feel I have remind you, that I am but a western beast – the selfindulging bear that Dostoyevskij saw in the eyes of the free men in western Europe- the beast of the dualism of freedom against good manners.

I will do my best to do what is expected, but do forgive any errors, and please remember how difficult a job it can be, to meet people as a polite and interested brother, when one has been trained as a beast for so long – and taught that glorious freedom depended on my ability to roar. I look very much forward to this first task as a new bear, and I hope that my efforts will encourage other bears to venture out of the mind and into the big world where they are but little critters.

Almost in Peking..

” Major: Allright Marines – we’re almost in Peking – the Capitol city of China – This is an ancient and highly cultured civilisation – So don’t get the idea you’re any better than these people just because they can’t speak english – A few words of chinese will go a long way – repeat after me – the word for yes is: xie / soldiers: Xie!  / Major: The word for no is Poh Xie / Soldiers: Poh Xie! Major: Remember it’s just the same here as anywhere else in the world. Everything has a price – Now pay your money and don’t expect any free samples! Soldiers: Yes, Sir! ” Major Matt Lewis (Charlton Heston) to his men in the movie 55 days at Peking – / Samuel Bronston Productions/ 1963

Getting from there to elsewhere

My claws were safely stowed in the suitcase, my cold heart trembled in nervous excitement, and a couple of hours later, I was in transit in Istanbul waiting for my Turkish Airlines connection headed for Beijing, China!

I passed the time in pleasant conversation with a distinguished Chinese businessman, who gave me some good tips for my China experience, and also found a translation for ‘contemporary art’ on his pocket translator.

Encouraged by this conversation across barriers of language and culture,  I showed him the book I had brought to prepare myself, which was a chinese lovestory, but as he said, “who needs books when you have the internet? “Well you know, just for the plane” I said, thus agreeing with him, that books are outdated, which was, I feel, going too far for the sake of being polite, for a book-born bear.

I think maybe my intention at the time was, to return the civility he had shown, when I accidentally an unpolitely had compared the Chinese leaders with the ancient emperors. That, he had only commented with an uneasy giggle.

(The airport in Istanbul was also packed with moslem pilgrims (I think) in white. That gave me yet another chance to ascertain, that there are so many nuances of the white color, that I have a birthgiven interest in, and even more ways to wear it.)


I go to the restaurant – I pull in my claws, because I am strange enough as it is, I think they talk about me. I don’t like that. I feel they are saying things like: “ Is that really her own hair?” ; or whatever people say behind backs. But I don’t know, I speak no language that they can speak. I order my meal while I try to put on an indifferent ‘seen it all – bear of the world’ grimace, but I am afraid that they can smell I am an amateur..

Losing and finding myself part 2 – Self-forgetful Sublime

“Colour Considered as Productive of the Sublime:  AMONG colours, such as are soft or cheerful (except perhaps a strong red which is cheerful) are unfit to produce grand images. An immense mountain covered with a shining green turf, is nothing, in this respect, to one dark and gloomy; the cloudy sky is more grand than the blue; and night more sublime and solemn than day. Therefore in historical painting, a gay or gaudy drapery can never have a happy effect: and in buildings, when the highest degree of the sublime is intended, the materials and ornaments ought neither to be white, nor green, nor yellow, nor blue, nor a pale red, nor violet, nor spotted, but of sad and fuscous colours, as black, or brown, or deep purple, and the like” 

Edmund Burke ” A philosophical enquiry into the sublime and the beautiful” 1757

Enclaves and enclosures

In The Beijing Zoo, i found Chinese workers on display. Look at the smile – he is happy. I smiled back. It was a good day.

On an internet search about Beijing, I found a traveller to traveller site, with 2 listings of “artists” filed under “annoyances”. Zone 798, where I am staying in Beijing, is an enclosure of artists, fashion-photo shootings and tourists doing the V-sign in front of enormous sculptures, and other characteristic groups of people. Zone 798 is a safe haven for a white bear.

Losing and finding myself part 4 – Lost for words

At the Iberia Center of Art,  the translator had no translation for “the back of the mind” where I am from. Maybe I should not think too much of that, because then I would probably also have to think something of the dazzled look of the translators when a friend of mine wanted to indicate that she had by accident let a load of rubbish come out of her mouth by saying:  “blllrlrlrlllw”. It may be that there really is no word for blllrlrlrlllw” in Chinese? If that is really so, then one would have to take everything people say seriously in Chinese – and I am sure the Chinese, like anyone else,  have heard enough bullshit and lies to be careful with being serious, as well as with and taking everything too literally.

The back of a bears mind in Beijing

grooaaaauwwww!  In the Beijing zoo  the brown bears danced for crisps, and in my head I kept hearing”Atta Troll”- an epic poem by Heinrich Heine about a  trained bear, and it’ s tame melancholic entertaining of man. In the streets of Beijing”  my head manically repeated Katie Melua’s: “there are nine million bicycles in Beijing.” Not very original uses of chorus I guess,  but my stomach ached due to my change in diet, and in such conditions it can be difficult to think new thoughts. That is how the body got a say, even over this bear, that came out of a mind.



Losing and finding myself -part 5 – disorientation in the anywhere- and the unique no where else

In 798 one you could be anywhere in the world – and yet, I don’t think there is anywhere else in the world where you would find anything like it.

In zone 798, an apprentice policewoman voluntered for an artsfestival, an artsfestival-organizer  sold his house to invite more than 150 artists  from all over the world, a dedicated audience stayed for more than 7 hours of performances for four days a week

– and in 798,  a thousand cameras made the perspectives of other apparent, and although I did not always quite understand their angle and perspectives; the why and what they were taking photos of, I got all carried away in their photographic enthusiasm, and ended up taking photos of whatever other people were shooting – maybe in the  hope that if I hade the same shot, then one day, with some future pespective of mine, I would be able to look at it, and see their intentions more clearly.

Losing and finding myself: part 6 -Beijing from Above and behind the lines

Tian’anmen Square, (天安門廣場)  the very center, of the kingdom in the middle was blocked from view and the access on the rainy sunday where I went there. Policemen, and restrictions indicated that something was going on that did not concern white bears.  I pulled in my claws  and strolled towards Jingshan park  (景山公园 – prospect hill)

it is always hard to find ones way around things one is in the middle of. However, in the kingdom in the middle, on a  hill in Jingshan park,  the trees  are chopped off at the top to give the best view. This huge artificial hill that gave a 360 degree view of Beijing, was built in during the reign of the Ming dynasty, from all the rubble of the excavation for the forbidden city. That makes me think that the chinese have a tradition of believing in truth from above; in believing that things can only be seen as they really are, from the distance of height. As a true white bear of literature, I must quote Heinrich Heine’s lines about being on top, from aforementioned Atta Troll:

Droben in dem Sternenzelte
Auf dem goldnen Herrscherstuhle
Weltregierend, majestätisch
Sitzt ein kolossaler Eisbär
Fleckenlos und schneeweiß glänzend


In dem Antlitz Harmonie
Und des Denkens stumme Taten
Mit dem Zepter winkt er nur
Und die Sphären klingen, singen.

Atta Troll/Heinrich Heine/1843.
*see below for english translation
Furthermore, knowing how the era of these immortal words on the white bear, were mystified and inspired by the  strange faraway Empire of China, and how European parks from the era, like for instance the Parc De Buttes Chaumont in Paris  (Haussmann 1867) look much like Jinshan Park, I feel a strange kinship with China – as though I myself was born out of it.

*“Up there in the starry heavens/On the gold chair of the ruler,/Governing the world, majestic/Sits a giant polar bear.
“…”In his visage, harmony/And the silent acts of thinking/With the scepter beckons he/And the spheres are tinkling, singing”

Contemporary China part 1-2-3

Part 1 – Contemporary Romance:

In the middle of an exemplary image of progress and modernity, a bear gets a weird feeling of uncanny romance by the ghostly rumbling of metal, fire and hard labor,  from a no longer active pit.



Part 2 – Contemporary sunset in the rubble of the recent past:

“Contemporary” Part 3 – Yesterdays news in 798:



Losing and finding myself part 7 – Losing oneself in nature and time

In China it is said, that one is not a real man before having climbed this particular peak on the great wall. There is indeed something that feels particularly real in the stunning view and in the feet that are trembling from fatigue and heights,  as well as in the the staggering yet illogical feeling that ancient history is present, even though I know that the past is the past and the now is now, that contemporary is contemporary, tomorrow hasn’t been yet, and that I am not a real man, but a bear.