Part Two: The East Asian Library
It had been decades since Paul Wallach passed through the lattice-metal gates of Columbia University’s Department of East Asian Languages and Cultures and its C.V. Starr Library. It had always struck him as a marvelous blend of West and East: Romanesque arched ceilings and stained glass windows contrasted with a Shinto Shrine, East Asian relics and rice-paper manuscripts; those writings bore the ancient Chinese pictographs that fathered modern Chinese, as well as the Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese languages. The enclosed space seemed monastic, yet inviting, as much a sanctuary as a place of study.
Charles Wu was Trustee of the library and Curator of the Rare Books Reading Room. Wallach had first met him when they were students in the early 1960’s. Wu was Chinese-born but American-educated, having arrived as the young son of an émigré former diplomat from Nationalist China.
Charles was given advanced standing at the then East Asian Institute and received his well-deserved doctorate in one year. Charles Wu had also been memorable for his three-piece suits from Dunhill and expensive Italian shoes.
Wallach had not been the star pupil in Wang Shen Shang’s (Mr. Wang’s) Mandarin Chinese class nor in Classical Chinese that Wang taught—unlike classmate Vandersloot Lear who was a superb student, took advanced courses at the Institute and could order with aplomb at Chinese restaurants.
Wallach still regarded Wu with the same veneration as he did all of Chinese civilization. Flustered as they shook hands, Wallach saw in Wu’s dark eyes both affection and a timeless serenity that belied his razor-sharp intellect.
“Paul, so good to see you. But you seem troubled.” Wu’s plumpish face and impeccable attire were just as Wallach remembered them from student days.
“Charles, the last time I set foot in this library, I was sweating the upcoming final in Classical Chinese. No final this time, but I’m still sweating Classical Chinese.”
Wu’s empathetic smile relieved Wallach’s anxiety only slightly. “You’re here as a visitor, but more important, as a friend. How can I help?”
“Charles, we say a little bit of knowledge is dangerous. I might know just enough Taoist philosophy to get into trouble.”
Wu arched a curious eyebrow. “What kind of trouble would that be?”
“Well, what would you get if you put Mian Xiang Face Reading and I Ching Book of Changes into a blender?”
“What kind of dish are we cooking?”
“Could be a mix of high-stakes espionage and boy meets girl at a match-maker’s party. Chinese divination seems to be the common ingredient in the two books. But does it really make sense to combine the two?”
“Here’s a Chinese riddle for you. The answer is yes and no and both easy and complex.”
“I knew you were going to say that.”
Their shared laughter made Paul feel more like a colleague and less like a pupil.
“This may be a generalization, Paul, but as you know, there’s a tendency in the West to see things yes or no, black or white, polar opposites and so forth. The Chinese, on the other hand, believe that everything fits together, if you understand the context. Follow?”
“Yes and no.”
“Mian Xiang and I Ching both divine the future, in the larger context of Taoism.
As you know, Tao means ‘the Way.’
So if Tao is a way of cooking, think of it as an Haute Cuisine cookbook, and Mian Xiang and I Ching are recipes with common ingredients. On the phone, you mentioned these Tao classics and face reading. I’ve prepared a little visual aid presentation. Let’s step into the Rare Books Reading Room.”
“Do you mind if I video record this session for my nephew and his business partners?”
“Feel free.” Charles Wu led Wallach into a smaller inner office containing two chairs, a small desk and a multi-media projector.
The room was semi-dark. As they sat, Wallach pressed the record button on his Sony Camcorder.
Wu flipped a switch, flashing the image of an enormous face on the wall.
Wallach was visibly stunned. Glaring at him with fiery red eyes was an ancient Chinese warrior—thick, black eyebrows slanted upward in anger, huge mouth curved downward in contempt.
Charles Wu smiled broadly. “Sorry to startle you, Paul, but, it illustrates how even a picture of the face can rouse our emotions.”
“Certainly makes the point. Do you think the ancients deliberately used facial imagery as a tool of power?”
“Let me answer with these power portraits from China, 221 B.C.” Wu clicked the remote. “This first one is the official portrait of Emperor Qin Shi Huang, first ruler of Unified China.”
“Whew! Wins no beauty contest either.”
“Exactly. This emperor so believed in the power of Mian Xiang face reading that, when his portrait showed unfavorable features, he ordered it destroyed, along with the secrets of Mian Xiang. And to improve his public image, he commissioned a fabricated portrait of himself using ideal features from Mian Xiang.”
Wu clicked the next image. “And here it is. Emperor Qin then presented himself as this benevolent-looking ruler—not the despot that he really was.”
“Portrait of Dorian Grey, in reverse,” said Wallach, laughing.
“Yes, a fraudulent but effective public relations campaign. Practically nobody in the kingdom knew what he really looked like. No photos, no TV. Now let me show you some other ingredients in this Chinese dish you’re cooking.”
Wu projected images of charts titled Harmony, Entirety, Ying Yang, Qi (Spirit) and Wu Xing (Five Elements). “The Five Elements are found in both Mian Xiang and I Ching. They represent Wood, Water, Fire, Earth, and Metal. Since we’re talking about face reading, each Element corresponds to a facial shape, like round, square, rectangular, oval and so forth—and to a type of personality.”
“So, I was right. A lucky guess about the linkage between these two Chinese Classics.”
“Yes, you’re a better Chinese scholar than you thought. But there’s more. Another key ingredient they share is Yin Yang. Yin generally refers to softer, rounder feminine features and Yang, sharper, angular masculine features. Yin and Yang have their soft and hard personality types too.”
“This is unbelievable!”
“It gets better. The Jungian archetypes known in the West correspond quite well with five Chinese archetypes: the King and the Queen who are Leader-types, the Magician-Joker, the Sage, the Warrior, and the Lover. These are five classic, universal roles in all human societies, usually represented by dramatic facial images. Notice also that the number five in numerology is still working for us.”
“Yes, numbers seem to have symbolic values revealed when a code is broken, like in the DaVinci Code.”
“Indeed. In the Dan Brown novel, there are anagrams and number puzzles to be solved, a work of fiction and very controversial. But can you guess where Da Vinci Code was outright banned—in addition to the Vatican, of course?”
“People’s Republic of China. I doubt that it was in deference to the Pope, with all due respect. Remember that in the story, Mona Lisa, Da Vinci’s masterpiece, is supposed to represent, with her male-female features, a mystical union of the two. In other words…”
Wu chuckled. “Be careful. The Opus Dei Police may be listening.”
“…in other words, Yin Yang! The mystical union of male and female.”
“Yes, Mona Lisa is an iconic portrait, demonstrating the power of the face to beguile, and a perfect balance of Yin and Yang. Perhaps the Chinese considered it a subliminal threat, if only a cultural one. Now, this next part really fits in also.”
Wu projected photographs of Chinese masks. “These are masks from the Chinese Opera. They have exaggerated or caricatured faces like on Tarot fortune telling cards because they are true archetypes of behavior.” Wu flashed a red laser pointer at the screen.
“First there’s the benevolent, happy mask. Next is a fearsome warrior mask. Below are the ruler types, then, the wise man or sage. Finally, we have the child or woman masks, representing innocence or the lover. So you see, East and West agree on categories of human nature, and matching faces. Personalities and faces often match. I think we’re really onto something.”
“It’s wonderful, beyond what I suspected. But Charles, two questions. Could the Chinese intelligence services use this kind of information? And two, can it be translated into a software program?”
“I would imagine any intelligence service might want to survey pictures of the enemy to see if there’s a quota of healthy, strong-looking faces, and a proper blend of various archetypes—thinking it takes all kinds to make up a fully-functioning society.
Also faces can be used as propaganda, for effect and to influence people like we’ve demonstrated here. My software knowledge is limited, but for expert advice on the People’s Republic of China, I suggest someone we both know – Vandersloot Lear.”
Wallach laughed softly. “Charles, I was hoping you’d say that.”
“It so happens I’ve been looking for Van. I’m on a team working on a camera program for the dating public that evaluates people based on Chinese Face Reading. The Chinese government might be planning to survey the faces of the enemy using these principles. Perhaps even influence people through mind control—you know, Manchurian Candidate kind of thing. Maybe Van would say if we’ve got a potentially hot property.”
“Why not contact him directly?”
“Easier said than done. If Van went into the CIA and isn’t listed anywhere, how would I reach him? We haven’t spoken in many years.”
Wu replied, “I might be able to contact him through school connections you probably don’t have. Meanwhile, you’ll have to find software help on your own. I’ll write notes of our discussions and an outline to help your software person. For now, let’s exchange cell phone numbers and I’ll set up a secure e-mail using security walls and passwords.”
Ten minutes later, Paul Wallach was saying thank you and good-bye. “Syeh-Syeh, Charles. Tzai-Jian.”
Charles Wu grasped Wallach’s hand. “Well pronounced, Paul. Tzai Jian!”
Wu walked his visitor to the door, returned to his desk and jotted a few words in his diary, thinking, face reading could be important in Intelligence. I remember Van scoffing at I Ching as a party game and he considered Paul Wallach a bit of a kook. He’d probably dismiss the idea of face imagery as a propaganda weapon and face reading as an espionage tool. But Van’s my main contact to CIA and my only one to FBI, so I prefer to persuade rather than go around him if we need to alert higher-ups somewhere along the line.
A couple of dozen paces into the large open space between Columbia’s quadrangle of buildings, Paul Wallach halted, remembering another question about the Chinese Intelligence Services; Charles Wu may not know, but it might be answered in a brief stop at the cross-campus Lowe Library.