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This article is taken from PN Review 116, Volume 23 Number 6, July - August 1997.

Theory: Back to Nature John Needham

The little Cantonese girl sitting cross-legged in front of the TV is fascinated by an urgent discussion between a sheep dog and a piglet. The animals are 'real', not 'toons', and they're speaking the girl's own language, but since she's less than two years old, she probably understands it little more than I do myself. The pig is in fact Australian - or at least it's the star of an Australian film called Babe - but the videotape we're watching is from Hong Kong, and we're sitting in the girl's house in Vancouver. The rest of her family - mother, father, grandmother, great-grandmother and various aunts and uncles - are upstairs, playing mahjong. I don't play well enough for any serious encounter, and in any case I'm quite happy to mind the baby. I'm her great-uncle (a disconcerting title - it makes me feel older and of more extended family than I'm accustomed to seeing myself) and I'm also her only non-Chinese relative; when we met for the first time, a few days ago, there was some doubt as to how she would take to me; but we got on very well, and now, as we watch the film, she turns round from time to time and points imperiously (her default gesture) at the screen. I'm charmed, naturally, by her insistence that I share her involvement, and charmed also by her deep identification with the piglet; she even shares the name, as it happens, being Nathalie aka Bébé.

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