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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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A Beijing bookstore where George Washington is on the shelves

After the brutal suppression of China’s 1989 democracy movement, Liu Suli, a student leader who had narrowly escaped being gunned down near Tiananmen Square, recalled a boyhood dream as he brooded in his prison cell.

If he owned a bookstore, he had mused at the age of 7, he wouldn’t have to spend money on books. From behind bars, and with his entrepreneurial drive still intact, he saw his dream in a different light. A bookstore might be a more plausible way to pursue the freedom of ideas that he and hundreds of thousands of others had failed to win with public protest.

He got out of jail fairly quickly. The authorities lightened up a bit. He opened a bookstore and ordered an eclectic range of volumes that leaned toward philosophy, history, political science and an ample dose of Western thought.

And now the All Sages Bookstore, a haven of precisely arranged shelves and display tables, thrives on the low-rent second floor of a nondescript building near Peking University.

A survivor of Beijing’s ferocious property market — it has moved three times since 1993 — and the government’s extremely tight censorship in the era of President Xi Jinping’s rule, the store represents an independent political spirit in an authoritarian one-party state.

A large image of Bertrand Russell, the British philosopher and freethinker, stands out among a galaxy of literary posters lining the wall of the entry staircase, a taste of what’s to come.

“China is not a liberal society, it’s not a free country,” Mr. Liu said, sitting in a quiet corner of the Thinkers Cafe, a mellow hangout within the store that meanders along a side corridor to a small back room furnished with antique Chinese furniture.

“But the bookstore is a way to express our longing for freedom and our hope for the establishment of a free society,” he said.

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Louis Cha’s acclaimed trilogy to be translated into English

Despite their popularity, only three of Jin Yong’s martial arts novels have been translated into English. But fans will soon get more from the writer as his most popular trilogy, named after the first of the three books, Legends of the Condor Heroes, is scheduled to hit bookstores in February.

Jin Yong is the pen name of Louis Cha. And the author, who lives in Hong Kong, is one of the best-selling Chinese authors alive with over 300 million copies of his works sold in the Chinese-speaking world.

This latest translation project is the most ambitious with regard to Jin Yong’s works.

The trilogy, written by Jin Yong in the 1950s and ’60s, covers the Song Dynasty (960-1279) and the early Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), and features hundreds of characters.

The plot includes betrayal and allegiance among different martial arts schools, and the rise and fall of dynasties.

According to the publishing house, Maclehose Press, the translated work will come in 12 volumes, including Legends of the Condor Heroes; Divine Condor, Errant Knight; and Heaven Sword and Dragon Sabre.

Anna Holmwood is the translator of volume one, A Hero Born.

Speaking of the project which she took up in 2012, Holmwood, a self-employed translator focusing on Chinese-English literary translations, says in an email interview: “It had to be Jin Yong then. It was the obvious place to start, not only because of the quality of his writing, but also because of his standing and reputation in Asia.”

Holmwood, who was born to a British father and a Swedish mother, grew up in the United Kingdom and studied history at the University of Oxford.

Her love affair with China began in 2005, when she spent two months traveling around the country on a scholarship.

The trip aroused her curiosity about China, and she was determined to learn Chinese. “That was the only way to satisfy my curiosity about the country,” she says.

Holmwood then chose modern Chinese studies as her MPhil major at Oxford, and went to Taiwan Normal University for a year of language training in 2009.

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Chinese bookstores abroad show pow

By Yang Yang

A TV documentary sheds light on how far Chinese bookstores abroad have come, Yang Yang reports.

Running a bookstore abroad isn’t only about making profit, especially when the books you sell appear foreign to local readers.

In the past few decades, many Chinese bookstores have faced such a situation in the United States, Britain, France, Australia and Japan.

Besides ringing up sales, the outlets have tried to bridge cultural gaps and cross political barriers so readers in different countries can enjoy Chinese books.

Recently, Tianjin TV started to air a 12-episode documentary series titled Overseas Bookstores.

It tells the stories of seven Chinese bookstores in six countries on five continents. It shows how the stores survived difficult times and have contributed to cultural communication between China and the related countries. Read more

Source: China Daily


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The most beautiful book revealed in China

Twenty-five kinds of books, including Shuimo Xiju (Opera in Ink and Wash) and The Empire of the Written Symbol for Children, from 18 publishers nationwide have been called “the most beautiful book in China” on Monday, and will compete for “the most beautiful book in the world” in 2017.

The event “the most beautiful book in China” was established in 2003 and hosted by the Shanghai Municipal Press and Publication Bureau. The event invites top book designers worldwide as judges to select the most beautifully designed books which reflects the spirit and essence of Chinese culture.

The “the most beautiful book in China” selection has become a major platform leading fine Chinese book designs and designers to the world. So far, 15 kinds of Chinese books have been honored the laurel of “the most beautiful book in the world”.

Opera in Ink and Wash is a book which introduces Chinese opera art through ink and wash paintings. The four parts of the book are wrapped up with different colored papers, resembling curtains on the opera stage. The illustrations in the book reveal the traditional Chinese esthetics and pay respect to the Chinese opera art. The Book of Bugs, designed by Zhu Yingchun, which wins multiple awards including this time, has no characters at all in the whole book, and only has the trail of bugs crawling by with ink on their feet. The book is like a calligraphic album of the nature, which is quite interesting. Read more


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Chinese literature thrives in Vietnam

Visiting Dinh Le street in Vietnam’ s capital Hanoi, it is not so difficult to find publications of Chinese literature here. Numerous bookshops stand close together along the 200-meter long street, making Dinh Le a “book street” in Hanoi.

At a bookshop named “Hoang” on Dinh Le street, Chinese books are seen displayed along a two-meter by three-storey bookshelf near the entrance with mainly classical literature and romantic novels being the prevalent themes. At other stores, Chinese books are also displayed at eye-catching areas.

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China Book International reaches new heights

Over the course of a decade, China Book International (CBI), a project seeking ways to help promote Chinese books abroad, has boosted the international appeal of Chinese books and has made it possible for foreign audiences to read more about the transforming country.

In 2013 alone, CBI supported the copyright trade of 3,754 Chinese titles to the foreign market, according to Cui Yuying, vice director of State Council Information Office at the 10th annual meeting of CBI members in Shenyang, Liaoning province, on Thursday.

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