Category Archives: Chinese Literature

China Literature warns of coronavirus effect on video and film business

Online publisher China Literature has cautioned the new coronavirus outbreak could hobble growth in its online video and film production business, a segment that spurred a more than 20% growth in its profit last year, reports the Nikkei Asian Review.

Executives at the company, which is majority owned by social media and gaming giant Tencent Holdings, said the pandemic has had a nuanced effect on revenue streams. While paid readership of its online content has grown as large sections of the population stayed indoors, the disruption brought by the virus has also affected the shooting schedule for its online dramas and kept cinemas closed.

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How a Man International Booker longlisted writer was found in translation

While people create trends in literature, like Harvey Thomlinson, the British author, publisher and translator, who favours Derrida and experiments with languages, translators often get to choose what they translate. He chose to bring Chinese writers to limelight — among them Man International Booker long-listed author Murong Xuecun. And it was his translation that was longlisted.

51Gr24HETuL._SX322_BO1,204,203,200_In Thomlinson’s own words: “ In those days, the web gave them space to widen the domain of the novel stylisti­cally and thematically by covering subjects such as drugs, sex and violence. There were so many of these rough diamonds in the online riverbed, I even started to translate a few chapters myself, beginning with Murong’s first novel, Leave Me Alone: A Novel of Chengdu (2006).

“It was dis­cover­­ed on the website by literary agent Benython Oldfield and sold to Allen & Unwin. I took time off from work and for two weeks locked myself in a hotel in Bangkok, where the atmospherics resonated with the grit of Murong’s Chengdu. There’s tremendous pressure to do justice to such a great book. By the end of that time I had a first draft, the publisher entered it for the Man International (literary prize) without a lick of editing and it was longlisted.” Read more

Why the Book on Festivals makes it to Beijing ?

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Wang Wei

獨在異鄉為異客,

dú zài yì xiāng wéi yì kè

每逢佳節倍思親。

měi féng jiā jié bèi sī qīn

遙知兄弟登高處,

yáo zhī xiōng dì dēng gāo chù

遍插茱萸少一人

biàn chā zhū yú shǎo yì rén

 

Translation

Being Alone alien in a foreign land,

Every holiday is accompanied by reminiscences of one’s kith and kin.

Knowing from afar, the heights one’s elder and younger brothers have scaled;

Side Wearing Cornus officinalis, there is one soul less, amiss.

 

This poem has been written by Tang dynasty poet Wang Wei (701-761CE), who was known both for his poetry and paintings, in celebration of the ninth month festival, Chong Yang, which coincides with the Indian Navratri  and Durga Puja, the Korean Jungyangjeol, the Japanese Chōyō or Chrysanthemum festival. Read more

More Online Avenues for Books in Asia with Tencent’s China Literature & Singtel Merger

Despite studies projecting that millennials may prefer reading paper books over e books, China Literature, a pioneer online literature company, is tying up with Singtel to bring literature to readers online.

China Literature, a unit of Tencent Holdings and China’s largest e-book and online publishing website, boasts 9.6 million e-books from 6.4 million authors and they plan to grow bigger with the merger.

“We are the biggest owner of intellectual property (IP) in China, but that’s not the end of the story,” said vice-president Luo Li of China Literature. China Literature earns its income by charging readers for their services. Last year it generated an annual profit of 30.36 million yuan. However, Mr Luo Li stated that online readers would be charged lesser once the income from the IP business rose. Read more

A dissident Chinese novelist finds echoes of Mao, and Orwell

(From the New York Times. Link to the complete article given below)

HONG KONG — Ma Jian, an exiled Chinese novelist who lives in London, took the stage at a packed Hong Kong theater last month and asked the audience a question: Who among them had read “1984”?

Mr. Ma, 65, was at the annual Hong Kong International Literary Festival to promote “China Dream,” his satirical novel about President Xi Jinping’s eponymous domestic propaganda campaign. He told the crowd that the book, published last month in English (Counterpoint will offer it in the United States in May 2019), showed how the dystopian future that George Orwell’s fiction once warned about had become a reality in the Chinese mainland under Mr. Xi’s leadership.

“I’m going to carve this book in stone and bring it to Orwell’s grave,” he said, before reading a passage from it that he had copied onto his iPhone.

“China Dream” is a sharper political allegory than Mr. Ma’s earlier novels. It crackles with bruising satire of Chinese officialdom, and an acerbic wit that vaguely recalls Gary Shteyngart’s sendup of Russian oligarchs in “Absurdistan,” or even Nikolai Gogol’s portraits of Russia’s provincial aristocrats in “Dead Souls.”

Yet even for Mr. Ma, whose work is banned in mainland China, the novel is especially provocative because it makes a critique that is rarely uttered aloud these days by ordinary Chinese: that censorship and repression under a Xi-controlled Communist Party bears an eerie resemblance to that of the Cultural Revolution.

Read more at the New York Times link here

Guy Davenport’s translation of Mao

(From The Paris Review. Link to the complete article given below)

In 1979, Guy Davenport’s second book of “stories” appeared: Da Vinci’s Bicycle. He was fifty-one. I put quotation marks around the word stories because almost nothing happens in any of them. When they’re good, they’re good for other reasons. 

Davenport was a disciple of Ezra Pound and James Joyce, and like everyone answering that description, he was a supreme crank. The main problem with all of these guys is that they vastly overestimate the value of literary allusion. And I know all about it, ’cuz I was ruined in my youth by these lizard-eating weirdos. Davenport certainly did his part.

They were all brilliant. They could write sentences that stick with you forever. Most people never write even one; these guys could practically cut them off by the yard. Yet, none of ’em knew when to stop. They always, always got carried away. My hypothesis is that too much of their motivation for writing was to enshrine their crankitudes. They were always trying to get away with something.

Zoom in on Davenport. Let me ask you: How much Chinese do you suppose he knew? I think the smart money is on “very little.” He probably knew about as much as I do—which is to say, as much as can be learned from one semester of study, augmented by the eager observation of one or two native speakers reciting a handful of classic poems. 

But a supreme crank knows how to exploit every little drop of whatever he or she knows. Davenport, who really did know all about poetic meter in English, must have listened very actively when he got somebody to recite Li Bai (or whomever) to him. Davenport knew what he was not hearing. Chinese meter was not about vowel quantity, nor stressed and unstressed syllables. What Chinese poetry almost certainly sounded like to him was clusters of five syllables, all of them stressed. That’s what mile after mile of Tang- and Song-Dynasty poetry sounds like to an English speaker.

Armed with this thought, he did a translation of a famous poem by Mao Zedong. The form of his translation is unique in American letters: The text is set up as quatrains (that’s normal enough), but the individual lines have only three syllables each. Davenport knew that this did not accurately reflect the original Chinese, but—and this is where the brilliance comes in—it does get across (like nothing else available in English) the collapsed syntax and staccato pacing of classical shi poetry.

Read more at the Paris Review link here

On falling in love with the language I’ve spoken my entire life

(From Lithub. Link to the complete article given below)

The first fiction I ever read in Chinese was a short story by Eileen Chang, titled simply, “Love.” I was in college at the time, and my Chinese language teacher had handed it to out to the class. After I finished reading it, I quietly began to cry.

I can’t tell this story without telling you what the language meant to me then. My parents are Chinese-American immigrants, and the first language I learned was Chinese. I spoke it almost exclusively until the very first day of pre-school, when I learned the sentence, “Can I have some juice?” From then on, I spoke in full English sentences. Chinese became the language I only spoke when compelled—with my family, who always spoke Chinese in the house, or when I was forced to practice it at Chinese school on the weekends. I struggled against it, partly because I didn’t possess the full range of vocabulary through which to express myself, and partly because it was a language in which I couldn’t address my emotions.

My parents did not like emotional conversations. They did not say I love you. On parents’ visiting day at school, other kids’ parents left them notes that said “We’re proud of you!” My note said, “We hope you will continue to improve this year. Please read books other than the series, The Baby-Sitters Club.” The closest they had come to addressing the issue of emotion were the times they asked me, “Why are you crying?” By which they meant, Stop crying. And so I tried never to cry in front of them. I held my tears through dinner. I cried only alone, in my room, or on the phone with friends. It seemed to me that the heart was a dangerous territory for Chinese and so I kept the two apart. It was in English that said I love you to a boy for the first time, English in which I cursed aloud. In books written in English, the intricacies of feeling and mysteries of human existence were explored. It was in the love of this language that, early on, I found the determination to become a writer.

Read more at this Lithub link

A rare conversation with the cult Chinese writer Xi Xi

I first became entranced with Xi Xi through one of her most famous short stories, “A Girl Like Me,” about a young woman working as a make-up artist for the dead. The girl sits in a café, struggling with the uneasy love of a man who doesn’t really know her and his anticipated reaction to her secret life in the morgue. Xi Xi’s gentle subversion of what is normal and monstrous had all the mastery of an Angela Carter story.

“Oh everyone loves her,” my Chinese professor told me, adding that Xi Xi has had an almost cult-like following in the Chinese speaking world since publishing her first story in 1965.

What little of her work that is available in English (two short story collections, two novels and a recently published book of poetry Not Written Words) provides a tantalizing teaser for what lies out of reach: seven novels, 21 short story and essay collections, several screenplays (including a re-telling of West Side Story), her therapeutic memoir Elegy for a Breast. The titles for her newspaper columns alone give a sense of her enchanting range: “Movies and Me,” “My Scrawling Room,” “The Flower Column,” “Ear man,” and “How Xi Xi views soccer.” Most recently she published The Teddy Bear Chronicles, a hybrid text in which her own handcrafted bears complement myths from our real and imagined past.

It’s a dexterity of form reflected in her pen name (her real name is Zhang Yan). In Chinese xi (西) means west. Doubled up, the characters 西西, resemble the legs of a girl playing hopscotch, she says. And this reflects one of Xi Xi’s most distinctive tools; her use of “childlike perception” to zoom in on liminal, overlooked characters and to glimpse grand historical narratives afresh: she has often reinterpreted fairytales to challenge social mores, most notably Hong Kong’s disputed status and the traditional happily-ever-after narratives imposed upon young women.

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The four classic novels of Chinese literature

Water Margin, Journey to the West, Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Dream of the Red Chamber; these four novels form the core of Chinese classical literature and still inform modern culture. As with Dante or Shakespeare in Europe, they are touchstones to which Chinese literary culture persistently returns to discover new relevance and fresh insight.

Dating from the Ming and Qing dynasties, these four novels are the bedrock of Chinese literary culture. Their influence has spread across Asia to inform elements of Japanese, Korean and South East Asian mythology. The writing and dissemination of these four works marked the emergence of the novel form in China as a counterpart to more refined philosophical and poetic works. The more expansive form of the novel allowed for a synthesis of the historical and the mythological, whilst also developing along more accessible narrative lines. These works thus marked a limited but notable democratization of literature which is perhaps most evident in their use of vernacular Chinese, rather than the Classical Chinese which had previously dominated. These four works also revealed the novel’s potential to embrace a multitude of perspectives, and to allow for irony; this permitted writers to voice previously suppressed critiques about the ruling order, whilst also expressing the vast multitude of voices which made up the Chinese populace.

Water Margin

Published in the 14th century, Water Margin was the first of the four classical novels to be released, and introduced the vernacular form and style which the others would adhere to. The title has been translated in a number of ways, including as Outlaws of the Marsh, Tale of the Marshes, All Men Are Brothers, Men of the Marshes, or The Marshes of Mount Liang, and whilst doubts persist over the identity of the author, most attribute it to Shi Nai’an, a writer from Suzhou. The novel is set in the Song dynasty and depicts a group of outlaws who eventually go on to serve the Emperor in battling foreign invaders. It was based on the real life story of the outlaw Song Jiang, who was defeated by the Emperor in the 12th century, and whose gang of 36 outlaws came to populate folk tales throughout China…

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Chinese Rhymes

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the Chinese language—with all its dialects, creoles, sister languages, and God knows what all—has changed a great deal in the last, oh, three thousand years. We have quite a bit of Chinese poetry from way back in there, and if I understand things correctly, the Chinese still like it. A generalization, but I’ll venture it. And indeed, there were centuries wherein one could not even pretend to be educated unless one could recognize at a glance any reference to any of the 305 poems in the oldest Chinese poetry anthology, the Shijing. This, despite the fact that what came out of your mouth when you recited the poems was quite drastically different from what the stuff sounded like when it was composed, a thousand, two thousand years before you got a hold of it. And here we come to the heart of the matter.

You would think that what I’m going to call “rhyme spoilage” would be a constant threat to classical Chinese poetry—and you’d be right. Those examples I gave of rhyme spoilage in English? The oldest specimen up there is about four hundred years old. What would happen if we looked at samples of English rhyming that were five times as old as that? (Which, of course, is impossible, since both the English language and rhyming poetry did not exist in Europe two thousand years ago.) You might think all Zhou dynasty rhymes would have been obliterated by now. But you’re in for a surprise. We’ll just look at one example.

Here is an English translation (by Burton Watson) of one of the most famous poems from the Shijing:

Peach tree young and fresh,
bright bright its blossoms:
this girl’s getting married,
she’ll do well in her home.

Peach tree young and fresh,
plump are its fruits:
this girl’s getting married,
she’ll do well in her rooms.

Peach tree young and fresh,
its leaves lush and full:
this girl’s getting married,
she’ll do right by her people

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