An idea whose time has come

2012-07-10 13:14



An idea whose time has come

Reader question:

Please explain this sentence: He spoke as someone whose time has come.

My comments:

In other words, the speaker is full of confidence.

If he were playing a tennis match, he spoke as if he would win. If he were running for public office, he spoke as if he would win. Whatever he’s doing, when he feels his time has come, he feels he’s going to win.

He spoke as though it were just his turn to win. You sense a certain certainty or inevitability about it.

In short, he spoke as if he were an idea whose time has come.

Yes, that’s how it feels to speak as someone whose time has come. Victor Hugo, you see, once said that there’s nothing more powerful than an idea whose time has come.

Or something like that. He said that you can resist an invading army but you can’t resist an idea whose time has come.

Or something like that.

At any rate, you should have got the hang of it. If it’s something or someone whose time has come, they’re destined to win. Like an idea whose time has come, they’ll prevail – no obstacles are big enough to stop them.

The idea of democracy, for example, was a Western idea. Around the turn of the 20th century, however, that idea took firm roots in China and as a result, the Qing Dynasty was overthrown. Neither the Qing army nor China’s 2,000 years of feudal traditions could do anything about it.

Speaking of China’s feudal traditions, I often hear people, especially those who resist the democratization process, repeat this old theme that democracy is perhaps not for China because of our strong feudal culture and traditions.

Heck, our feudal culture and traditions were much stronger back in the Qing Dynasty and look what happened then!

You see, perhaps it is not matter of whether democracy is right for China, it is more the matter of old traditions dying hard.

In other words, the ideas of democracy may have come, the ideas of feudal traditions haven’t completely gone.

Yes, that’s right. Old traditions die hard. Got to have patience and give them time.

Alright, here are media examples of things and people whose time have come:

1. It is the nation that once ran the largest empire the world has ever known, a country so powerful that it claimed to “rule the waves” in a patriotic anthem.

But last month a “political tsunami” struck the United Kingdom and this once-mighty state faces being broken up.

An astonishing victory for nationalists in the Scottish parliamentary elections means it is almost certain that a referendum will be held within five years on whether Scotland should leave the U.K. and become an independent country.

The Scottish National Party (SNP) won 69 out of 129 seats in Edinburgh's Holyrood parliament, with about 45 percent of the vote, up by more than 12 percentage points. Their three main rival parties — Labour, the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats — all lost ground.

Polls currently suggest only a third of Scots back independence, but the unionist campaign is in disarray and the nationalists boast a leader who even his opponents admit is a highly skilled political operator.

Alex Salmond, Scotland's first minister and leader of the SNP, is the man plotting the demise of the 304-year-old union of the two countries. He hopes his fellow citizens will heed the message of another tune, “Flower of Scotland,” the unofficial national anthem which urges Scots to “rise now and be a nation again.”


Salmond told reporters that separation from the U.K. was an idea “whose time has come.”

- Scotland to split from UK and ‘be a nation again’?, June 7, 2011.

2. Bestselling authors including historian and Monty Python writer Terry Jones, Booker-shortlisted novelist Tibor Fischer and the cloud-spotting Gavin Pretor-Pinney have signed up to a new initiative that bypasses traditional publishers to put writers directly in touch with their readers.

The publishing platform, dreamed up by QI’s John Mitchinson and Justin Pollard, and Crap Towns author Dan Kieran, allows writers to pitch ideas online directly to readers who, if they are interested, pledge financial support. Once enough money has been raised, the author will write the book, with supporters receiving anything from an ebook to a limited first edition and lunch with the author, depending on their level of investment.

The founders, who launched the crowdfunding literary website at the Hay festival, say that it “democratises the book commissioning process by enabling authors and readers to make the decisions about what does or doesn’t get published”. Jones, who said the initiative was “brilliant ... just what publishing needs”, is contributing one of the first titles on the site, a Roald Dahl-esque story of vengeful phones and hoovers called Evil Machines. This Life writer and chick-lit novelist Amy Jenkins is pitching “a more reflective book about relationships”, The Art of Losing, and a collection of short stories from Fischer, entitled Crushed Mexican Spiders, is also among the site’s first titles.

Pretor-Pinney is pitching an iPad app that would take users inside clouds, while The Horse Boy author Rupert Isaacson and cultural historian and film-maker Jonathan Meades will also be proposing books to potential readers.

Pitching a project on Unbound is free for authors, with the founders planning to make money through a 50/50 profit share on successful titles. If a book fails to raise enough money to be published, then supporters will either be able to use their investment for another title, or have the cash returned to them.

“We can make a book viable by selling 2,500 to 3,000 copies. Books like that are not hugely appealing to big publishing houses, but there are targeted audiences who could be very well served by them. There could be 10,000 people who like Norwegian steam-train systems from the 1930s – if we can put them together with an author, then it’s worth everybody’s while to do it,” said Pollard.

Authors will have a private area or “shed” on the site, where they will be able to blog, post interviews, and meet their supporters. Readers can choose the amount of money they wish to pledge, from £10, which buys an ebook edition, access to the author’s “shed” and the supporter’s name in the back of the book, to £250, which brings lunch with the author, signed and personally dedicated first editions, goodie bags and ebooks, to funding the whole book.

“It’s a way of stirring things up in publishing – removing the gatekeepers in the middle and saying ‘you’re the readers, you’re the authors – come up with what you want them to do’” said Pollard. “In many ways it’s a very old idea – there are a lot of 19th century cases where books were published by subscription. Because of the internet we have crowdfunding, so we can combine the old idea of subscription with finding your audience on the internet, and get the best of both worlds.”

Other authors supporting the project – but yet to sign up with books - include Bernard Cornwell, who called it “a bloody brilliant idea”, Philip Pullman, who said it was “an idea whose time has come”, and Noam Chomsky, who said its “significance could be quite substantial”.

- New crowdfunded publishing project signs up major names,, May 29, 2011.

3. In the comic strip Dustin, a couple driving a car passes a sign on the highway that reads, “Time to downtown: 26 minutes.” The woman, who’s in the passenger seat, says to the man, “So you’re saying a woman looks at that sign and thinks, ‘It’s nice to know I’ll be downtown in 26 minutes.’...But a man looks at it and thinks, ‘I can do it in 22.’”

This cartoon is apropos in light of a new study of sex differences, published last week on the Public Library of Science website, which found that a mere 18 percent of men and women match in terms of personality profiles. The research, conducted by Marco Del Giudice of Italy and Tom Booth and Paul Irwing, both of Manchester, England, involved interviewing 10,000 Americans. The researchers concluded that men and women are vastly different creatures, feeling and behaving in markedly different ways.

Such information is not the least bit shocking to those of us with common sense, or those of us who have both sons and daughters; but it’s “staggeringly different from the consensus view,” says Irwing. Indeed it is. That’s because it undermines the message feminists have been propagating for decades.

The popular view is that men and women are so similar they’re practically interchangeable. It’s just that society socializes them to think and behave differently, say feminists. Mothers don’t really offer anything unique to babies or want to stay home with them more than fathers do, and men aren’t really more inclined to study math and science more than women. Little boys don’t really want to play with guns more than girls do, and girls don’t really want to play dress up more than boys do. It’s all a giant con game — and one we can undo with a little bit of effort.

Think I’m exaggerating? When Gloria Steinem was asked in an interview last year about her thoughts on the latest research on male and female brains, which shows an undeniable distinction between the sexes, Steinem’s response was, “Well, you know, every time there is a step forward, there’s a backlash. So now we’re seeing another backlash about brains, brain differences, gender differences centered in the brain. Even if they’re right, it doesn’t have to continue to be so. What makes human beings the species that has survived all this time is our adaptability.” When the interviewer pressed further and asked, “But aren’t there inherent differences we can’t ignore?” Steinem replied, “Society can certainly intervene at a cultural level to change that behavior.”

If you think Steinem is an anomaly, or someone whose time has come and gone, think again. There are plenty of young Steinems roaming around — in the media, in Hollywood, and on college campuses. And when they get wind of studies like these, watch out. Women’s studies professor Janet Shibley Hyde had this to say about this latest study: “[The global sex difference] is really uninterpretable. It doesn’t mean anything.”

- Alert the Presses: Men and Women Are Different!, January 11, 2012.



About the author:

Zhang Xin is Trainer at He has been with China Daily since 1988, when he graduated from Beijing Foreign Studies University. Write him at:, or raise a question for potential use in a future column.


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(作者张欣 中国日报网英语点津 编辑:陈丹妮)



















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