Posts filed under 'china'

What’s New in Translation? June 2017

We review three new books available in English from China, Norway and Mexico, revealing stories of cities and bodies.

A tree grows in Daicheng

A Tree Grows in Daicheng by Lu Nei, translated by Poppy Toland, AmazonCrossing

Review by Christopher Chan, Chinese Social Media Intern

Whether a book can obtain certain currency among a wide range of readers depends upon its unique qualities. Take the genre of fantasy novels for example. Some books, like the Harry Potter series, do well because of the uniqueness of their ideas. Harry Potter was a fresh story about the wizarding world, told in an accessible language; others books, such as The Lord of the Rings, succeed with their sense of larger-than-life gravitas. A Tree Grows in Daicheng, however, is neither exclusively a book of fresh ideas nor of epic seriousness, but a careful mix of both.

The novel is a work of pastiche in many ways, especially through the narrative voices of different characters. The book’s uniqueness lies perhaps in its kaleidoscopic depiction of the great changes brought to a city called Daicheng and its people during China’s Cultural Revolution. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: An Excerpt from “Ruined City” by Jia Pingwa (tr. Howard Goldblatt)

The chair creaked and inched slowly toward the pear tree; squinting at the moon through the branches, she fantasized that it was Zhuang’s face.

When originally published in 1993, Ruined City (Fei Du) was promptly banned by China’s State Publishing Administration, ostensibly for its explicit sexual content. Since then, award-winning author Jia Pingwa’s vivid portrayal of contemporary China’s social and economic transformation has become a classic, viewed by critics and scholars of Chinese literature as one of the most important novels of the twentieth century. Howard Goldblatt’s deft translation now gives English-speaking readers their first chance to enjoy this masterpiece of social satire by one of China’s most provocative writers.

While eroticism, exoticism, and esoteric minutiae—the “pornography” that earned the opprobrium of Chinese officials—pervade Ruined City, this tale of a famous contemporary writer’s sexual and legal imbroglios is an incisive portrait of politics and culture in a rapidly changing China. In a narrative that ranges from political allegory to parody, Jia Pingwa tracks his antihero Zhuang Zhidie through progressively more involved and inevitably disappointing sexual liaisons. Set in a modern metropolis rife with power politics, corruption, and capitalist schemes, the novel evokes an unrequited romantic longing for China’s premodern, rural past, even as unfolding events caution against the trap of nostalgia. Amid comedy and chaos, the author subtly injects his concerns about the place of intellectual seriousness, censorship, and artistic integrity in the changing conditions of Chinese society.

Rich with detailed description and vivid imagery, Ruined City transports readers into a world abounding with the absurdities and harshness of modern life.

Here below is an excerpt used by permission of the University of Oklahoma Press. Click here for more information about Ruined City, released in bookstores this week.

Over the next few days, Zhou Min left early in the morning and returned home late at night, not straying from the magazine. At home he had little time for Tang Wan’er. Always itching to go somewhere, she complained that they hadn’t been to the Sheraton Dance Club for a long time, but he kept putting her off. She told him that Zhuang Laoshi had opened a bookstore to the left of the Forest of Steles Museum and said they should go check it out, see what sort of books they stocked, and show Zhuang Laoshi that they cared about what he was doing. Zhou replied impatiently, “I don’t have time for that. You can go if you want.” He did nothing but play the xun on the city wall and sleep. Upset, she ignored him. When he left for work in the morning, instead of going out on her own, she stayed home and tended to her appearance, putting on perfumed rouge and painting her brows thin and smooth. She kept her ears pricked, thinking it was Zhuang coming to see her every time the metal ring on the door made a noise. When they had made love that first time, she was elated that the barrier between them had been removed. As she thought about how she was now his, her face burned and she got hot all over from arousal; when she saw how the people passing by the door outside looked indifferently at the pear tree, she laughed coldly as her anger rose: Just you wait, one of these days you’ll know what I mean to Zhuang Zhidie. Then I’ll watch you come fawning over me and embarrass you until you look for a place to hide. But it had been so long, and Zhuang had not shown up again, so she vented her anger on herself by mussing her hair and by pressing her lips on the mirror and the door to leave red circles. That night, the moon was as bright as water. As usual, Zhou Min went to the city wall to play his xun. Wan’er shut the gate and went in to take a bath. Then, draping her nightgown over her naked body, she went out and sat on the lounge chair under the pear tree. Utterly lonely, she thought about Zhuang Zhidie: Why don’t you come? Were you, like all the other men, just satisfying a sudden urge that day and put me out of your mind once it was over? Did you simply want the memory of another woman added to your list of conquests? Or, as a writer, did you merely use me as material for something you were writing? She thought some more, and as she savored the memory of that day, she retracted her earlier thoughts. He would not be like that. The look in his eyes when he first saw her, his timid approach, and his madly urgent behavior when they were together gave her the confidence that he was truly fond of her. Her first sexual encounter had been with a manual laborer, who had forced her down on the bed, and that had led to their marriage. After the wedding, she was his land and he was her plow; she had to submit to him whenever he felt like cultivating his land. He would climb on with no preamble and finish before she felt a thing. With Zhou Min, she naturally enjoyed what she hadn’t had with her first man, but Zhou was, after all, a small-town character who could never compare with a Xijing celebrity. Zhuang had started out shyly, but once he entered port, he was immensely loving and tender; his many tricks and techniques had finally taught her the difference between the city and the countryside, and between one who was knowledgeable and one who was not. She came to know what makes a real man and a real woman. She touched herself as she followed this line of thought, until she began to moan and groan, calling out to Zhuang. She was writhing and squirming on the chair. The chair creaked and inched slowly toward the pear tree; squinting at the moon through the branches, she fantasized that it was Zhuang’s face. As she flicked her tongue, she wrapped her legs around Zhuang until she was up against the tree trunk, where she moved, rocking the tree and swaying the moon, until one final, forceful push of her body before she went limp. Three or four pear leaves circled above her and then settled onto her body. Exhausted, she remained in the chair, lost in thought, so weak it felt as if all her bones had been removed. READ MORE…

Translation Tuesday: “We Are Trouble’s Obedient Children” by Lut Ming

"The army is the dreams we share / Our tent is the sky (we have nothing to hide) / Take a deep breath."

There are no city gates here

No city walls, no army, no tanks

There are the people, there are things they care about, there are tents

There is the night sky with no wind, an empty, empty sky

You can watch the TV, the one and only CCTV,

To learn about the world and

Watch live-edits of people hurting people,

The Tape Recorder looks stuck up

In his suit and tie. He’s getting ready to lie

But his eyes are flickering (tape’s stuck, won’t play)

READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 12th June 2015: What’s Pure Prose & Poetry?

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy Friday, Asymptote friends!

Big congratulations to the new poet laureate of the United States, Juan Felipe Herrera! Herrera attended the University of Iowa and his current gig is a direct update from his last one (he spent the past two years as poet laureate of the state of California, where he’s from).

Meanwhile, recommended reading abounds. The Millions reviews French-Algerian writer Kamel Daoud’s The Meursault Investigation, big winner of the Prix Goncourt and only recently appearing in John Cullen’s English translation (would have been nice to know this from the review—but, alas). In the Paris Review Daily, former blog contributor and all-around translator/thinker/writer extraordinaire Damion Searls argues for a lesser-known (stateside, at least) Norwegian writer: Jon Fosse. According to Searls: in the Beatles band of Norwegian lit, Fosse is George, “the quiet one, mystical.” Hmm. If Fosse is a pure/prose/poet, it’s important to remember the dutiful audacity of prose-at-large: how should we remember what and how prose writing accomplishes what it does? (I’d like to wager that translation plays a vital role in revealing the mechanics of language. But that’s just me). READ MORE…

I Have Changed Nothing: Seven Paradoxes in Pursuit of Arthur Waley

Fourth in Josh Billings' "Lives of the Translators" Series

Skiing

Of all outdoor sports, skiing is the most dependent on “conditions”; so it is with some confusion that we come across this incredible sentence, from Arthur Waley’s short essay “Waiting for the New”:

But the truth is that for the skier time does not count.

As truths go, this one sounds strange—especially coming from the man who essentially introduced ancient Chinese and Japanese literature to 20th century-English readers. But Waley knew what he was talking about. Over four decades and over two dozen books (an output rivaled only by his fellow Fabian, Constance Garnett), he developed an exquisite ear for the way that time changed words. At the same time, as a poet, he understood that the gulfs separating two seemingly distant eras could be bridged, unexpectedly, by a single act. Later in the same article, he described the skier’s patience:

Waiting is waiting, whether it be for a night or for six months; and inversely the prospect of a ski-run is as exciting, day after day, to the rentier or pensioner who spends Michaelmas to May Day on the snow, as to the breadwinner who snatches a fortnight at Christmas. Each, on waking, thrills at the thought ‘today I am going to ski’; each has sat for hours in heavy and perhaps wet skiing boots, merely to put off the moment when he must confess to himself ‘today the skiing is over.’

The skier in Waley’s description no more ignores the weather than the translator would ignore the echoes of an archaic verb tense; on the contrary, he steeps himself in the conditions of his art, sure that if he waits long enough, his moment will come. The clouds will part and time collapse like a Mad Fold-In, creating a moment that is simultaneously a repetition of previous moments and unique. The name that Waley’s article gives to this miracle will be familiar to readers of either ancient Chinese literature or 20th century poetry. It is “The New.”

Biography

In a note to his 1934 translation and study of the Tao Te Ching, Waley explains the concept of fan-yen:

The ‘which of you can assume murkiness…to be clear’ is a fan-yen, a paradox, reversal of common speech. Thus ‘the more you clean it, the dirtier it becomes’ is a common saying, applied to the way in which slander ‘sticks’. But the Taoist must apply the paradoxical rule: ‘The more you dirty it, the cleaner it becomes.’

As a tool for thought, paradox has a long history in Western and Eastern literatures, but its use in biography has been limited. The mythmaking urge is too great, which means that most of the time biographers from Samuel Johnson to David Remnick have found themselves “cleaning” their subjects’ lives in a way that may sound and even be true, but which hides a certain messiness. The life in question becomes a story with a plot and theme—which is all well and good until you think about your own life, and the thousand things that any story about it would have to leave out in order to make any sense.

The life of Arthur Waley breaks the biographer’s storytelling urge in a number of ways, not the least of which is the fact that Waley didn’t write much about himself. He kept no diary and destroyed his letters, leaving a space, or network of spaces, where most of his contemporaries left maps. Perhaps most importantly, his insane productivity occurred almost exclusively in translation—a discipline that traditionally prides itself on self-erasure. Because of this, any attempt to make a story out of him has to confront the fact that there is, ostensibly at least, not much “him” to make a story out of. READ MORE…

Is Complex Literature More Rewarding? A Dispatch

A dispatch from the Beijing Bookworm

Fish, fungi, kittens, and cockroaches mirror the protagonists in Mexican author Guadalupe Nettel’s psychologically incisive tales. In the fictional world of Hong Kong’s Dorothy Tse, brutal violence unfolds according to the incomprehensible but irrefutable logic of nightmares. Xi Ni Er preserves slices of a changing Singapore in his condensed, dialogue-driven micro-narratives.

“Complex literature” is not an unreasonable description for the work of any of these writers, but it is an awkwardly nebulous pretext for putting them on a stage together. At the beginning of the event, they sometimes seemed burdened by the duty to engage with the topic and valiantly attempt to define what complex literature might or might not be. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 20th March 2015: London Nominees, PEN Nominees!

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Yay, it’s Friday! Here at Asymptote we are especially giddy this weekend because of a gosh-wow shortlist nomination from the London Book Fair—alongside two other notable organizations, Asymptote journal is nominated for an International Excellence Award, for Initiative in International Translation. Keep your fingers crossed for us!—but really, it is such an honor to be recognized for the hard literary work we do. And the PEN Awards longlists have been announced—of special interest to us, of course, are the poetry in translation and fiction in translation categories (we’re happy to note that Danish writer Naja Marie Aidt, blog interviewee, has been nominated—read a selection of Baboon, featured on Translation Tuesday, here)!

READ MORE…

Hong Kong, My Home

“The moment I felt most at home in Hong Kong, my entire body was covered in tear gas residue and I sat exhausted on a sidewalk corner. ”

The smell was an acrid burning, very unlike the cool sea breeze that usually wafts off the harbor and drifts down Connaught Road in Central, Hong Kong. In Admiralty, I knew, there were students lined around the Tamar government buildings. Earlier I had seen the protestors shouting and shoving past barricades before the pepper spray began. It was hard to believe the same students who had written me polite emails explaining their reasons for protesting and thus being absent from class would one minute make promises to complete all their assignments, and the next minute be the source of this burning and smoke. As I walked across the abandoned street, stepping over empty water bottles and cardboard boxes, I remained skeptical that these same students would cause any violence. And as I came closer to the ramble of dark figures perched on median strips in the road and scattered in the streets, I wanted to see what could possibly be destroying my city.

Saying the phrase “my city” in reference to Hong Kong and not Long Branch, New Jersey, where I was born still strikes me as partially profound and partially profane. When I told people back in New Jersey about being tear-gassed during the protest, they replied, “Why would you put your life at risk? You’re not Chinese.” I am not Chinese. I am African-American; in Hong Kong, children will point at me, old men will stare rudely at me, and the customs officials will always pull me out of line at the airport to be searched. Yet the lush hillside backdrop of this city is as familiar to me as the crisply cut suburban lawns of my American childhood. In the years I have lived in Hong Kong, I have realized myself, grown creatively, and matured personally in the city’s closet-sized apartments and stifling humidity, while I have listened to the clink of Mahjong tiles and the phlegmatic cough of its old men, smelled the scents of ripped open slabs of cows in the markets and the fragrance of sun-drying abalone. I could live the rest of my life somewhere else but suddenly always have a yearning to taste the syrup of iced lemon tea. It would be the nostalgia of home.

READ MORE…

In Review: “A Tabby-cat’s Tale” by Han Dong

“To return to ‘small talk’ from the social and political imperatives of Mao-era and post-Mao-era fiction is in itself a political act.”

In 1931, Ba Jin, anarchist and pioneer of modern Chinese fiction, wrote “Dog,” a short story in which a desperate street urchin—envious of the more comfortable lives of foreign-owned lapdogs—deludes himself into believing that he himself is a dog. Though artfully written and moving, Ba Jin’s “Dog” is unmistakably agitprop: the “dog” is really a man, and the man is really a symbol of a China cowed by imperial powers and rapacious warlords.

About seventy years later, Han Dong, a Chinese writer best known for his nonconformist poetry in the eighties, writes a novella entitled “花花传奇” (Hua Hua Chuanqi), translated by Nicky Harman in a recent Frisch and Co. web release as A Tabby-cat’s Tale. By way of contrast with Ba Jin’s “Dog,” Han Dong’s title tabby, Hua Hua, is simply a cat, albeit a very odd one. And if the reader comes to this novella seeking insight into the grand moral dramas of dissenters and dictatorships, she will be gravely disappointed. Instead, with the great care of someone who truly loves animals, Han Dong relates the daily drudgery of preparing catfish guts for Hua Hua’s nightly meal; the irritation of picking up after an animal who refuses to confine his excrement to a box; and the nightly chore of manually picking through the minion of fleas that infest the tabby and drowning them in a bowl of water until “the surface of the water is black with Tabby’s fleas.” And yet, this shaggy cat story is told satirically in a grand register that would more befit the historical dramas of Ba Jin’s “Dog.”

READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 4th April 2014: Wiki-Dictionaries, Muhammed: the Opera, Translating Kafka and Joyce

This week's literary highlights from across the world

Happy April! It’s too late for April Fool’s trickery at the roundup, but the announcement of German publisher PediaPress’ proposal to print out all of Wikipedia—yes, all four million articles, amounting to one thousand volumes and a bookcase eight feet long and 32 feet high—certainly seems like a prank of Rushdie-selfie proportions. READ MORE…

Weekly News Roundup, 7th February 2014: Sochi scandals, Library changes, Humans and their hometowns

A look at some of the most important literary news this past week

The 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi blast off in just a few short hours—but despite transcontinental fanfare, Russia’s severe censorship and anti-homosexuality laws have already (rather predictably) overshadowed this year’s Games. Over 200 authors have signed a petition with the international PEN Center, including the likes of Margaret Atwood, Salman Rushdie, and Günter Grass, in an open letter condemning Putin’s recently passed gay propaganda and blasphemy laws. In Guernica, an interview with investigative journalist Masha Gessen on Russia’s shrinking public space and the “personal catastrophe” of self-imposed exile. Masha Gessen edited OR Books’ recently published Gay Propaganda: Russian love Stories, putting faces to those affected by the oppression (read excerpts here). Amid political controversy, the PEN Center brings light to an often-overlooked element of contemporary Russia: what’s the literary scene like today? We’ll give you a primer: check out three contemporary Russian women poets or ten wonderful Russian novels you probably haven’t read yet.

READ MORE…