Bob Dylan’s body doubles come to China

March 30th, 2011 by jdmartinsen

“Bob Dylan’s coming,” announced the March 4 edition of the Xinmin Evening News. He’ll perform in Beijing on April 6 and in Shanghai on April 8.

Xinmin Evening News, March 4 2011, A17

The page layout proved irresistible to meme-hungry netizens, who replaced Willie Nelson with an array of other people who were not Bob Dylan:

Click for many, many more.

via @ELLE网站Taxloss6.

Overlooked in 2010

January 11th, 2011 by jdmartinsen

As part of Sina Books’ year in review feature, critic Xie Xizhang (解玺璋) introduces some worthy books that did not receive the attention they deserved last year. The article’s title, “Overlooked and overexposed literature of 2010,” extends the promise of some deserving take-downs, but the only overexposed title Xie mentions is Han Han’s ill-fated literary journal Party (独唱团). Here are his underexposed titles:

Heaven/Tibet (天·藏) by Ning Ken (宁肯). A philosophical novel by the author of the well-received City of Masks (蒙面之城, 2001), which was nominated for the 2009 Newman Prize. Xie writes,

Seriously overlooked, it came to the attention of just a small minority despite being an extraordinarily good work. Apart from showing the history and culture of Tibet, the author how Wang Mojie internalized Tibet; one could say that this is Ning Ken’s own process of internalization. In this novel he writes of a thinker, and he inspires the reader to think as well. Some writers today call themselves word-slingers, and their novels are formed by piling words together. Not so with Ning Ken. His fiction is formed from thought. He is an author who is  willing to think, and his works are heavily imbued with logical thinking. In this novel his “thoughts” are numerous and profound, and even contains an essential reflection and suspicion toward thought itself.

The author discussed his writing in an interview with the Beijing Evening News in October, and Paper Republic has more English-language information about the novel.

Flowers of Purgatory (炼狱之花) by Xu Xiaobin (徐小斌). A fairy tale about a princess from an undersea kingdom who tries to navigate the unwritten rules of the modern entertainment industry. I picked this up mid-year but Xu’s narrative rhythm wasn’t what I was looking for at the time and I put it down two chapters in. I’ll have to take a second look. Xu’s family epic Feathered Serpent (羽蛇, 1998) has been translated into English, and Dunhuang Dream (敦煌遗梦, 1996) is forthcoming this year from Atria.

Judas in Bloom (犹大开花) by Du Chan (杜禅), a writer from Henan, is a satire about the intellectual establishment. Critics quoted on the cover call it a modern version of The Scholars (儒林外史, 1750) and a prose version of the ground-breaking TV series “Stories of an Editorial Board” (编辑部的故事, 1991). Before reading Xie’s article, which praises the novel’s memorable characters, I’d never even heard of Judas in Bloom.

Canticle to the Land (大地雅歌) by Fan Wen (范稳). Fan began his “Tibetan Land” trilogy before the Tibet craze of the past few years. This, the third volume, tells an engaging love story involving a Tibetan storyteller, French missionaries, domestic turmoil in China, a living Buddha, and the engagement between different cultures and religions.

Lu Xun’s Mustache (鲁迅的胡子) by Jiang Yitan (蒋一谈) is a collection of short stories told in simple, direct language that stands in conscious opposition to the massive, overstuffed novels that excite newspaper book reviewers.

The Legendary Huang Yongyu (传奇黄永玉) by Li Hui (李辉) is a critical biography of the early 20th-Century artist.

Wang Meng’s Dream of the Red Chamber (王蒙的红楼梦) by Wang Meng (王蒙), who distilled a lifetime of reading the classic novel into twenty-seven lectures.

Xie also picks one translated book: The Red Wheel (红轮) by Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn.

Ming submarines blockade Japan

November 27th, 2010 by jdmartinsen

Reading through my Douban groups this morning, I came across a twist on the typical online time-travel romance serial:

大明五日游。现在一日,明朝一年。主角到了明朝后,才发现:时间不对——1935?!而且,北方还是清朝的天下……
北清是君主集权,南明是君主立宪。北清首都离边界有1000公里,南明首都离边界只有1000米。但是,南明有主角。
20世纪明朝人穿什么?挣多少钱?20世纪的东厂和锦衣卫是什么样子的?20世纪的大明皇室和内阁,谁听谁的?明、清之间的坦克战怎么打?大明潜艇如何封锁日本列岛?

Ming Empire 1937

A five-day tour of the Great Ming Empire. One day in the present, one year in the Ming. But when our hero reaches the Ming, he discovers that the time is all wrong: 1935?! And to the North is the domain of the Qing….

The Northern Qing, a centralized monarchy, set its capital a thousand miles from the border. The capital of the Southern Ming, a constitutional monarchy, lies just one thousand meters from the frontier. But the Ming possesses our hero.

What did the people of the 20th Century Ming Dynasty wear? How much money did they make? What were the 20th Century Eastern Depot and Silk Brocade Guard like? Who was in charge, the imperial family or the cabinet? How were tank battles fought between the Ming and Qing? How did Ming submarines seal off the islands of Japan?

This synopsis suggests something similar to the early 20th Century futurist political fantasies of Liang Qichao and others: imaginative and even visionary at times, yet static and not all that fun to read.

Translating outside the box

October 14th, 2010 by jdmartinsen

This and other photos at the Get it Louder website (also in English)

Last Friday afternoon I took part in a “Black Box: Literature on Spot” event at the Get it Louder festival, which wrapped up its Beijing leg over the weekend. You can click through for a detailed description of the program and its participants, but in brief, “Black Box” was literary creation as performance art. A writer, sequestered in a curtained cubicle, composed in isolation. Beyond the wall, a translator attempted to keep pace as the text scrolled up the monitor. Spectators viewed the entire process on screens outside.

I was translating for Pan Haitian (潘海天), a writer of science fiction and fantasy and the editor of Odyssey of China Fantasy magazine (九州幻想). (You can find a brief introduction to some of Pan’s work in this post.) I’ve translated a bit of Pan’s work in the past, including a version of “The Eternal City” (永恒之城) in English for submission to ALIA6, an Italian-language anthology of SF in translation.

Pan warned me beforehand that his typical approach to composition involved leaving lots of sentence fragments and place-holders, which he’d expand once he had a rough framework of the story sketched out. Thankfully, this did not become apparent until about half an hour into the event, at which point my nerves had settled.

Ordinarily, I’d probably have gotten sidetracked early on by the quotation from Diary of a Madman and would have spent the full two hours reading up on the historical figures mentioned in the text. Or, if I were particularly disciplined that day, I’d have substituted dummy text for the quotation and moved on to the next paragraph, leaving the decision of how to translate Lu Xun for a later revision. Neither option was available to me, the first because I brought no reference materials and could not access the Internet, and the second because I needed to put up some sort of translation, however imprecise, for the audience. I had to make decisions, even if they weren’t ideal. Don’t recognize a locust tree? Then “tree” it is. Forget the alternate term for tuberculosis? Let’s call it a “fatal illness.” Although I often take this approach in a first draft when I want to capture an uninterrupted voice, I usually tag provisional translations so I can refine them later. Leaving them unmarked disguises my translation as a finished product instead of a work in progress, or more accurately, a partial transcript of a one-time performance.

It’s not a complete transcript because it doesn’t show where edits were made during composition and translation, and it retains just a few traces of Pan’s fragments and place-holders. His writing process seemed to mirror the pace of the story. The opening, which sets the scene and gives a bit of back-story, appears in the final product pretty much identical to how it was initially typed in. The sole edit I can remember was a change from “the man in the gown” to “the mustached man” (which I unfortunately rendered as “the bearded man.”) During the action scenes, things got more hurried and fragmented. For example, at a point in the story when Lu Xun has plummeted from a rooftop to grapple with an intruder (later revealed to be Liang Shiqiu), Pan inserted a bracketed note that I translated as “[insert blow-by-blow].” And the title only became Lu Xun: Demon Hunter after Lu Xun was mentioned by name in the text (to gasps and laughter from audience members who hadn’t caught on yet).

Pan’s original (恶魔猎手鲁迅), an application of wuxia tropes to Lu Xun’s account of why he chose to apply himself to writing, is entertaining, although it terminates abruptly — Pan said afterward that he needed additional resources before he could move forward. As a translator, I enjoyed the game of keeping up with the small changes and additions that the author was continually making to the text; as a reader, my mind had already filled in the details, and I just wanted him to continue with the story.

An intimate apocalypse

October 7th, 2010 by THL

Xiuzai’s Summer
《秀哉的夏天》
Ge Shuyi (哥舒意)
223 pages
2010.2

As the title suggests, Xiuzai’s Summer draws inspiration from the Takeshi Kitano film Kikujiro (菊次郎の夏), in that it features a man who takes a young boy under his wing when the boy’s mother is missing. The man is Xiuzai, an IT programmer and gamer who is content with his solitary routine. The young boy is Xiao Shu, who crashes into his life when his mom (Xiuzai’s former lover) leaves him on the doorstep and jets off to Japan for a week. The event that keeps them together for the summer is a catastrophe of global proportions: on June 17, 2018, massive earthquakes rock Shanghai and much of the rest of the world and leave Xiuzai and Xiao Shu among the handful of people left alive in the city.

Over the course of the next few days, as frequent aftershocks slowly bring down everything that’s still upright, Xiuzai and Xiao Shu join the survivors in a makeshift encampment at People’s Square, from which they make risky forays into the surrounding area in search of food and supplies. The destruction has been total. Across the river, Pudong District has vanished into the sea, and on their side, they find few people left alive in the rubble that once belonged to densely-packed high-rises.

In a bloody attempt to save a woman trapped beneath a beam, Xiuzai injures himself and ends up in a feverish delirium. The small group of survivors is ill-equipped to handle the trauma of such an enormous disaster, and its numbers dwindle daily. By the time Xiuzai comes to his senses, he and Xiao Shu are all alone.

The aftershocks have subsided, and the supplies their former companions managed to accumulate relieve them of the chore of foraging among the ruins, so all Xiuzai has to do is amuse the boy and keep his mind off his mother — which he eventually does, once he overcomes the urge to drink himself into oblivion with looted high-end liquor while watching porn on a scavenged laptop. They bond, slowly and haltingly, over the middle section of the book, which is set on a beach where the Bund used to be and feels like a tale of castaways on a desert island.

For much of the time, Xiuzai’s Summer is an idyllic apocalypse, punctuated with scenes of horrific brutality — the aforementioned botched rescue attempt, a subterranean crawl, and an ending that’s crushing in more ways than one. The boy’s a little too precocious for his age, and the city far too clean for all of the destruction that’s occurred, but both of these elements work well within the fairy-tale-like atmosphere that makes up most of the novel.

Ge Shuyi has said that he conceived of the novel after the Wenchuan earthquake in 2008, and it shows: some of the more surrealistic descriptions reminded me of first-hand reports from that disaster, such as Li Ximin’s hour-by-hour account of the three days and nights he spent buried in the rubble of the Wenchuan earthquake.

Prior to Xiuzai’s Summer, Ge wrote Devil Sonata (恶魔奏鸣曲, 2006) and The Nocturnal Violinist and La flûte de Jésus (夜之琴女与耶稣之笛 , 2008), the first two installments in a “music trilogy” of modern fantasy.