Sherlock Holmes and the adventure of the stolen annotations

August 29th, 2011 by jdmartinsen

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Illustrated and Annotated (via Douban)

New Star Press has released a new edition of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories. Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective made his first appearance in Chinese in 1896 (the year after John Fryer’s fiction contest), and the first complete translation was published in 1916.

This new edition, published in nine hardcover volumes with a list price of 580 RMB, boasts more than 2,000 annotations and an array of essays introducing Holmes and his world. But according to a devastating review of the collection in the Shanghai Review of Books, the vast majority of those annotations were copied without attribution from other sources, largely from Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, but also from The Annotated Sherlock HolmesEncyclopaedia Sherlockiana, and Canonical Compendium.

The author of the piece, Chen Yibai (陈一白)[1], accuses Liu Zhen (刘臻) of plagiarism and proceeds to mock him throughout the article, beginning with his identification in the publisher’s promotional copy as “the country’s foremost Holmes scholar.” Chen quotes this title several times in the piece, and notes dismissively that Holmes studies has never been a particularly hot field in China.

As for the text itself, Chen’s approach is simple: he pairs Liu’s annotations to “A Scandal in Bohemia” (which he says are representative of the quality of the work as a whole) with nearly identical notes from English-language editions. In a few especially damning examples, Liu has apparently reproduced mistakes made by the original annotators. Nor is Chen pleased with Liu’s original annotations; he calls him out for exaggerating the extent of his research. In one note, Liu asserts, “This sentence was not in the author’s earliest manuscript, but was added later to the proof copy.” Chen retorts,

柯南·道尔的《波西米亚丑闻》手稿原件现藏于美国奥斯汀得克萨斯大学的哈里·兰森中心,但有影印本出版。刘臻先生也许曾通过影印本看到“最初的手稿”。但他如何能看到“清样”呢?但他如何能看到“清样”呢?某份英国杂志在一百多年前的清样被一个现在的中国人看到,读者你信吗?信不信由你,反正我是不信的。

Conan Doyle’s manuscript for “A Scandal in Bohemia” is held by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, but a facsimile edition has been published. Mr. Liu Zhen may have read the “earliest manuscript” in that facsimile edition, but how would he have read the “proof copy”? Does the reader believe that a proof copy of an English magazine from over a hundred years ago was read by a modern-day Chinese? Whether you believe it or not, at any rate I don’t believe it.[2]

Chen’s article rocked the mystery community, sparking a spirited debate on Douban that resulted in a rash of thread deletions by a New Star Press editor who moderated a mystery discussion group.

According to a follow-up report that ran in this week’s SRB, one Douban commenter asked whether New Star Press had obtained translation rights from Leslie S. Klinger, and Chu Meng (褚盟), deputy editor in charge of the Midnight Library series that includes the Holmes collection, replied, “Definitely not….I was never aware that this edition would have this kind of connection to something else!”

Then Chu struck out at the annotator:

合同……里面条款很明确,大意为:“注释者必须拥有对注释内容完全著作权,发生此类纠纷由内容提供者负责。”——就跟千万个类似的著作合同一样呀!我和责编从来没有看过国外这个版本,也没有试图和这个版本产生任何“关系”

An article in the contract…roughly states, “The annotator must possess all rights to the annotations; in any dispute, the annotator assumes responsibility.” –Just like millions of author contracts out there! I and the editor in charge have not seen the foreign edition, and have not attempted to establish any “relationship” with that edition.

Liu Zhen (known online as ellry or 老埃) shot back:

第一,书稿有一篇总序,一篇参考书目,总序中很清楚地写明,这套注释本是以四大注释本为底本,第一,巴林-古尔德注释本;第二,牛津版注释本;第三,克林格新注释本;第四,克林格福尔摩斯参考文库。参考书目中列出了更多参考书。但是,这两篇文章正式出版的时候均没有收录。第二,至于“注释者必须拥有对注释内容完全著作权,发生此类纠纷由内容提供者负责”,合同没有规定这条。

First, the manuscript contained a preface and a reference list. The preface clearly explained that the annotations were based upon four annotated editions: (1) Baring-Gould’s annotated edition; (2) The Oxford annotated edition; (3) Klinger’s annotated edition; (4) Klinger’s Sherlock Holmes Reference Library. The reference list contained many more reference works. However, neither piece was included at publication time. Second, in regards to “The annotator must possess all rights to the annotations; in any dispute, the annotator assumes responsibility,” the contract does not contain that article.

Chu Meng then deleted the discussion threads and eventually shut down his account.

From the limited information available, it is hard to say who is at fault. Surely the publisher should have been aware of the existing English-language annotated editions, particularly if the annotator provided a reference list, and ought to have checked for any infringement. Still, it strikes me as foolhardy for an annotator to rely so heavily upon translated material, trusting that the publisher will be able to work out the rights issues prior to publication.

  1. [1]This is apparently a pseudonym for translator Li Jihong (李继宏), of The Kite Runner fame. The Chen Yibai byline has appeared on other articles that pick at nits in translations, including a take-down of Yu Guangzhong’s revised translation of Old Man and the Sea and a critical review of Zhang Hua and Zou Ya’s translation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story (that article drew a strong response here).
  2. [2]This meme is quickly approaching geilivable levels of annoyance. In this same issue, Xiao Bao’s column runs under the title “At any rate, I believe it,” although the offense is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the column’s content actually involves belief, in the context of a discussion of Micheal Shermer and the Skeptics Society.

Chinese fiction contest ’95

August 29th, 2011 by jdmartinsen

Last week’s Shanghai Review of Books featured a fascinating essay by Qu Muyang on the beginnings of modern Chinese fiction sparked by the publication of A Collection of New Novels from the Late Qing (清末时新小说集), which reproduces manuscripts submitted to a 1895 fiction contest.

The contest was run by John Fryer, an Englishman who headed the translation department of the Jiangnan Arsenal and established the Chinese Scientific Book Depot in Shanghai. Patrick Hanan’s essay, “The New Novel Before the New Novel — John Fryer’s Fiction Contest,”[1] is an engaging account of Fryer’s activities in China, the contest itself, and the effect that it had on the development of fiction in China.

Social criticism was the explicit aim of the contest, as Hanan explains:

It was as owner of the bookstore that he briefly involved himself in the development of Chinese fiction. In May 1895, seven years before the publication of Liang Qichao’s Xin xiaoshuo, he announced a public contest for new fiction and advertised it in the press. The seven leading contestants were to receive prizes, and their work was to be considered for publication. Fryer also held out to prizewinners the possibility of long-term employment as writers. What he was seeking was fiction with a social purpose; it had to attack, as well as suggest remedies for, what he saw as the three great afflictions of Chinese society: opium, the examination essay, and foot-binding.[125]

Fryer ran advertisements in two languages, the Chinese versions emphasizing  patriotism, the English, Christian ethics. He received 162 entries, the vast majority of which he called “rubbish.” In the SRB, Qu Muyang concurs: “The vast majority of these ‘new novels’ exhibit little technique, flat characters, bland plots, and many of them are hardly even novels at all.”

In his essay, Hanan argues that Fryer’s contest pushes back the generally-accepted date for the beginnings of new fiction in China (Xin xiaoshuo in 1902), and speculates on how the stories may have influenced other late-Qing writers. Perhaps those influences can be tracked down, now that the stories themselves are available. Qu notes that vast majority of submissions were from writers with backgrounds in missionary schools, and thus whatever their literary merit, the stories may be a valuable source of information about institutional Christianity in China in the 1890s.

Hanan wrote his essay relying on news reports, Fryer’s advertisements, and two novels directly inspired by the contest, but the entries themselves were thought to be lost forever. However, in 2006, as UC-Berkeley’s East Asian Library was preparing to move to a new facility, they were rediscovered, more than a century after they were written. They have now been reprinted in a 14-volume collection which can be yours for just 1,680 RMB.

  1. [1]This essay is included in Chinese fiction of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: essays (2004), which is available on Google books.

Foreignized hanzi

July 14th, 2011 by jdmartinsen

The “Year’s Best 21st Century Foreign Fiction,” 2010 edition, published by People’s Literature Publishing House, embeds several foreign scripts into the series logo:

XK110406ks.png

Detail from the cover of Kaltenburg.

Scripts/languages represented: Latin (L), Japanese (), Korean (), Cyrillic (Π), and Spanish (ñ).

See also: Tibetan-style Chinese on Danwei.

Image from Bookuu.com.

Who makes money off digital publishing?

May 24th, 2011 by jdmartinsen

As recounted in this week’s edition of the Southern Metropolis Daily book review, Murong Xuecun posted an “Open Letter to Shanda Literature” on his blog complaining that he had received no royalties whatsoever during the three years he granted the netlit giant exclusive digital rights to his book Dancing Through Red Dust (原谅我红尘颠倒 , 2008).

Shanda was supposed to share revenue with the author at a 7:3 split (in the author’s favor), to paid out quarterly. In his open letter, Murong declared his intention to terminate the agreement if his revenue was truly zero. He retracted the open letter when Shanda representatives called him and gave him a full royalty statement, which if anything was more of an insult: the company explained that it only issued royalty statements in amounts greater than 500 RMB, and Murong’s novel had only accumulated 300 RMB in royalties over three years.

That sum represents his share of income from 5.5 million clicks, serializations rights in Singapore, and an e-book.

Murong Xuecun shot to fame with Leave Me Alone, Chengdu (成都,今夜请将我遗忘, 2002), which was posted to the Tianya BBS before making the jump to print. His recent novels have appeared in print first, which may account for their poor performance in the online marketplace.

However, the Shanghai Morning Post adds a wrinkle that suggests there’s more to this than simple reading habits:

慕容雪村说:“2009年我问过一次,当时说该分给我1400多元,过了一年多,变成300多元。我不知道这账是怎么算的。”

Murong Xuecun said, “I asked once in 2009 and they said then that my share was more than 1,400 RMB. More than a year later, that’s become a bit more than 300 RMB. I don’t know how the books are being kept.”

Regardless of how the royalties ended up so low, Murong’s experience will likely lead other print-based authors to think twice about signing e-publishing contracts. Shanghai-based author Chen Cun concludes:

慕容雪村的《红尘颠倒》是经过市场考验的,是热销书,到盛大文学成了一年100大洋的商业,谁会跟年均100块的公司合作?

Murong Xuecun’s Red Dust is market-tested and sold quite well. On Shanda Literature it made 100 smackers a year. Who wants partner up with a 100-a-year company?

Ever vigilant against historical revisionism

April 5th, 2011 by jdmartinsen

An anonymous letter that appeared in this week’s Shanghai Review of Books (a supplement to the Sunday Oriental Morning Post) starts off with a standard “long-time reader” intro before accusing the publication of treason:

“进入”还是“侵略”

《上海书评》创办两年半来一直很有特色,我每期必读,几乎保留了全部。然而,3月20日第131期一篇访谈的用词却让我非常惊愕。在这一期《小白谈租界那些事儿》一文的第一节中有这样一句话:“离日本人全面进入华北还有六年时间。”在这里,作者犯了一个严重的历史常识错误:作者不说“侵略”却轻描淡写地说成“进入”,而且作者不说“全面进入”华北的是“日本军队”,却说是“日本人”,作者是不是想说当时是日本平民到中国华北来全面经商或旅游来了呢?这可不是简单的常识性错误。众所周知,日本右翼政客修改教科书,就是把“侵略”二字修改成“进入”。

普通老百姓

“Enter” or “Invade”?

For the two-and-a-half years since its launch, the Shanghai Review of Books has been consistently remarkable. Each issue is a must-read for me, and I’ve kept practically every one. However, the language in an interview that appeared in issue #131 on March 20 left me flabbergasted. The first section of the article “Xiao Bai Talks About Concessions” contains the following line: “Still six months away from the total entry of the Japanese into Northern China.” Here, the author commits a grave error of basic history: the author does not write “invasion” but uses “entry” to gloss over it. And instead of writing about the “total entry” of the “Japanese army” into Northern China,  the author writes of “the Japanese.” Does the author mean to imply that ordinary Japanese at that time were coming to Northern China to engage in full-scale trade or tourism? This is no simple factual mistake. Everyone knows that right-wing politicians in Japan revised textbooks for the express purpose of turning the word “invade” into “enter.”

— An ordinary person

Concession 《租界》 by Xiao Bai (小白) is set in Shanghai in 1931 and  first appeared in the Autumn/Winter 2010 novel supplement to Harvest magazine and has just been published in standalone form by People’s Literature Publishing House.