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Turtles and swine

To reach a conclusion in criticizing a man and to sum it up in a brief phrase, calls for keen judgement and the gift of expression, though a few words only are used. Only when an epithet is apt will it stick to the man criticized and follow him even to the ends of the earth. The general practice nowadays, however, is to seize at random on any opprobrious epithet which happens to be fashionable and hurl it at your opponent: “spawn of feudalism,” “bourgeois,” “proletarian,” “anarchist,” “egoist,” and so on. And fearing that one will not be deadly enough, they string several together, like “anarchist spawn of feudalism” or “bourgeois-proletarian egoist.” Again, fearing one voice will not be loud enough, they invite friends to invent different names. Fearing one attack will be too little, they launch several, one after another during a single year, so that the epithets keep changing all the time. This constant shifting is due to imperfect observation which leads to inaccurate judgements. So though they nearly kill themselves in the attempt and cover themselves with sweat, all they write has no effect on their opponents, for even if stuck on with glue these epithets would soon peel off. A chauffeur in a temper may call a rickshaw boy “Swine!” or a mischievous child for fun may draw a turtle on the back of a pedlar of fried gingko nuts. But though such things may amuse simple minds, the rickshaw boy and pedlar will not go through life known as “swine” or “turtle.” This is obviously because the cap doesn’t fit.

From the essay “Scholars scorn each other” by Lu Hsun, 1935, translated by Yang Hsien-yi and Gladys Yang.