Dystopia with Chinese Characteristics: An Excerpt from Sheng Keyi’s “The Metaphor Detox Centre”

Journalist Yao Minzhu became acquainted with a few fellow patients at the centre. Like them, she’d heard of shelters, treatment centres for drug addiction, mental health clinics
and so on, but only once she was dispatched to the Metaphor Detox Centre did she learn of its existence. She read the following introduction on the wall of the centre’s reception
hall:

As a society’s level of civilization progresses, new illnesses will always emerge to threaten the physical and mental health of the people. The Metaphor Malady is one such disease. It is a form of mental illness, but one that does not entirely belong to the psychological domain. During its initial stage it is not easily detectable; in its middle stage it affects social stability; and in the latter stage involves descent into a manic state of which the patient is unaware. Its potential for contagion and harm is not inferior to a ton of dynamite placed within a crowd.

At present, newly diagnosed cases are growing at a rate of over fifty per cent, sufferers in the mid- or late-stage account for eight per cent of the total affected population, and the mortality rate is four per cent. The government has allocated specialists and funds to establish the Metaphor Detox Centre, which is devoted to servicing the afflicted. The great majority do recover, and relapses are rare. Since the Centre was established it has repeatedly won praise from the authorities.

(The Metaphor Detox Center, excerpted from Sheng Keyi’s new novel, 锦灰.  This passage translated from the Chinese by Bruce Humes. Foreign language rights agent: Andrew Nurnberg)

Quote of the Week (End July 2018): Arundhati Roy on Slow-cooking Language

For me, or for most contemporary writers working in these parts,                                   language can never be a given.                                                                                     It has to be made. It has to be cooked. Slow-cooked.

(Exerpted from Arundhati Roy’s 2018 W. G. Sebald Lecture on Literary Translation, What is the Morally Appropriate Language in Which to Think and Write?)

Extract: Alat Asem’s Novel “Confessions of a Jade Lord” (时间悄悄的嘴脸)

Available now in e-book form at Kobo.com

網上用台幣買:PubU

An excerpt from the newly published Xinjiang-based novel by Alat Asem,

Confessions of a Jade Lord

《时间悄悄的嘴脸》

Chapter 19

Rechristening a High-rise

In the midst of his hectic days as minor-character-cum-stagehand, Exet the Mouse’s magnificent new sobriquet — “Suet Exet” — fails to resonate. Those two sheep were indeed sacrificed in vain. Afterwards, he didn’t bother to keep his promise to invite the jade lords out to drink either; he embraced his bad luck. “There’s a history to your nickname,” says Eysa ASAP to console him, “and history cannot be rewritten.”

Eysa sets to work quickly seeking a middle-man to lobby for talks to buy all twelve stories of the high-rise that belongs to Big Stick Obul, who dug his first bucket of gold in a coal mine. In the end, it’s Silver-tongue Salam, endowed with the gift of gab that can entice buyer and seller to the negotiating table, who turns the trick.

Salam’s deal-closing skills were first practiced at the Saturday second-hand bike market. As dust danced in the square, he honed his persona and honeyed trap. With help from splendiferous Time, the money in his pocket prospered year after year, and nourished his heart.

After dining on handheld mutton at a scenic riverside venue, Eysa, Mouse, Obul and Salam address the thorny issue of price.

“Ahem,” coughs Salam before he begins.

Deal or no deal, mutual trust shall prevail.

Roasted, stewed or handheld, mutton remains meat all the same.

Heroes of the world, you have all come today!

The magnificent Monkey King is present,

And so is our Uyghur Wise Man, Ependim.

It is cool cash that drives human life.

Today’s chop suey is better than tomorrow’s fresh meat;

promises are no good until they are cooked in the pot.

Today’s victory is today’s Paradise!

The big item on today’s agenda is a high-rise built to last. The seller is a person, not a lord, and the buyer is no one’s servant. My mouth is neither friend nor enemy. It speaks for your mutual interests. Had I ever harbored selfish intentions or betrayed bias toward either party, my tongue could not have secured me this bowl of arbitrator’s rice over the last two decades. The truth behind this, I’m sure you all understand.

The building is new, constructed just five years ago. Buyer and seller both have things itching at their hearts. Each of you knows this. My mouth is a hand that can scratch that itch for you. I do not know the depth of the water, but my sincere hope is that both duck and goose may cross safely. I care not wherefrom my camel guests hail, but obtaining some of the peppercorns, black pepper and ginger root is my goal. ‘Feed your master’s donkeys well and receive a good tip’ is my motto.

Blessed is Eysa Xojayin, and so is our Big Stick Obul, a hero who wrestled his way out of a dark coal pit. Coal Mine Mogul, please quote a price.

The mine owner states his asking price, and the figure is fairly close to the one that Eysa has guessed beforehand. This gives him confidence in the eventual outcome.

Obul is keen to offload his high-rise. It’s a matter of money-laundering, actually. The proceeds from the mines don’t have eyes but they have lips, and he worries that sooner or later that lucre will land him in hot water. Once the building is sold, his mind would be at peace, his tongue confident, and henceforth he could hang out at his leisure.

In the six hours that ensue, Salam’s silver tongue binds the two wicked hearts ever tighter. Eventually the high-rise’s surname changes, and a sizable lot of moolah finds its way into Big Stick Obul’s bank account — an eight-digit sum, in fact. On the ATM card, the dancing digits sigh long and hard; in the freezing underground vault, the bills reminisce over their tainted but exhilarating past. [终]

[Translated by Bruce Humes and Jun Liu. For more information about Alat Asem, click here.]

Obama’s Favorite African Novels Underwhelm

As President Obama left for visits to Kenya and South Africa, he featured a list of his favorite African novels on Facebook. They include safe picks — i.e., recognized classics — such as Chinua Achebe’s Things Fall Apart and A Grain of Wheat by Ngugi wa Thiong’o.

Like several commentators, Quartz Africa appeared less than awed by his rather traditional choices. See here for an expanded list that includes several other contemporary titles neglected by the former president.

Want to learn what sort of African fiction is available to Chinese readers nowadays? Visit the bilingual 非洲文学:121 中文译本/African Writing in Chinese Translation.

新近非洲小说中文版:《母狮的忏悔》(米亚·科托 著)

A novel by Mozambique’s Lusophone author Mia Couto, confissão da leoa, has just been  translated into Chinese as《母狮的忏悔》and published by Citic Publishing (June 2018). For up-to-date list of 121 contemporary African literary works in Chinese translation, see 非洲文学: 中文译本 :

 

 

 

China as Self-designated “Curator” of Tibetan Culture: Q & A with Tibetan Historian Tsering Shakya

HIMĀL Southasian, the region’s news and analysis magazine, engages with leading Tibetan historian Tsering Shakya in Beyond Development and Diversity:

Himal Southasian: How do we then look at the impact of the Chinese state’s appropriating, almost curating the scope of, religion and culture in Tibet, with places like Jokhang Temple having been reduced from living cultural spaces to opaque, ornamental museums?

Tsering Shakya: Curating is a good way of putting it. It changes the way in which people think about themselves, the way they think about custom and religion. It’s a way in which you become increasingly estranged from yourself and your culture. Imagine an African American person looking at a museum of African art.

Reeducation Returns to China: Applying Xinjiang Experimental Techniques to Mainstream Chinese

In Will the Repression in Xinjiang Influence Beijing’s Social Credit System?, Adrian Zenz explains (bolding is mine):

Historically, authoritarian regimes have tended to fear their own populations. In China, state trust and distrust of individuals and populations is apparently measured along two axes. Firstly, in ethnocultural terms, it is measured by distance from the core of Han culture, language, and ethnicity. This means that minorities with strongly distinct linguistic and other traits are inherently suspect, explaining for example the obsession of Xinjiang’s reeducation camps with forcing even elderly Uighurs to memorize Chinese characters. In network studies it has been shown that homophily, the love of sameness, is an important predictor of trust.

Secondly, the state measures the trustworthiness of its citizens by their alignment with “core socialist values.” This set of 12 values, first presented at the 18th Party Congress in 2012, has become the new standard for measuring positive behavior and moral character, a standard in direct competition with religion. Notably, the first individual value of this set is patriotism. These values, some of which are similar to Confucian visions  of social harmony under autocratic yet benevolent leadership, are now taught to children starting from kindergarten.

Q & A with Bruce Humes: From “Shanghai Baby” to Xinjiang-based “Confessions of a Jade Lord”

South China Morning Post has featured an interview with me by Thomas Bird in this weekend’s Post Magazine (Gives Voice to China’s Ethnic Minorities): 

China calling: In the late 70s, I had an intense desire to think, live and dream in Chinese, and to experience Mao Zedong’s revolution in person. But as the United States still hadn’t recognised communist China, in 1978, I packed my bags and headed instead for Taipei, to further my Mandarin studies. Eventually, I wound up in opportunity-rich Hong Kong, where I learned Cantonese, married locally and raised our daughter.

My first job was working in a UN-hosted camp for Vietnamese refugees, preparing them for culture shock when they would be resettled in a big-hearted country called America, whose GIs had decimated theirs. I moved on to work for a trade magazine publisher, where I got lucky when my boss chose me to research and launch half-a-dozen Chinese-language B2B magazines for the mainland.

The “People’s War on Terror” in Xinjiang: SOAS Round-table (July 2, 2018)

The “People’s War on Terror” in Xinjiang

Adrian Zenz in conversation with Rachel Harris

Date: 2 July 2018   Time: 5:00 PM

Sponsor: SOAS China Institute

Venue: Russell Square: College Buildings Room: G3

Admission: Free, no registration, first-come, first-served basis.

New Evidence on the Re-education Camps in Xinjiang

Around a year ago, troubling accounts began to emerge from China’s north-western Muslim frontier region of Xinjiang about large swathes of the Uyghur and Kazakh minority populations disappearing into clandestine political re-education camps. The Chinese government denies that these camps exist, but new research shows substantial official evidence for the existence of a vast re-education network in the region, consisting of heavily secured facilities, some of them large enough to host thousands of detainees.

Round-table Participants

Adrian Zenz is lecturer at the European School of Culture and Theology, Korntal, Germany. His research focus is on China’s ethnic policy and public recruitment in Tibetan regions and Xinjiang. He is author of “Tibetanness under Threat” and co-edited “Mapping Amdo: Dynamics of Change”.

Rachel Harris is Reader in the School of Arts at SOAS, University of London. She has published extensively on religious and expressive culture among the Uyghurs and cultural policy in Xinjiang. She is preparing an edited volume “Ethnographies of Islam in China”, and her monograph “Soundscapes of Uyghur Islam” is forthcoming with Indiana University Press.

“The Embassy’s China Bride”: A Tale of Trysts and Catkins in the Heart of Beijing

Synopsis:

The Embassy’s China Bride

A novel by Jiu Dan

《大使先生》 九丹 著

She’s an aging Chinese female novelist of cult fame banned for her intimate portrayal of women and their men. Her lover De Niro is a wild Italian hell-bent on motorcycles. Her other

“It never occurred to me that I was just one among many,” she confides. “Each night he played the groom anew.”

lover is the ambassador of a certain Spanish-speaking country to China. This is the tale of their trysts and catkins in the heart of Beijing.

“I’m a writer, a novelist. I specialize in the study of pain,” she says.

“Enchanté, novelist,” he replies. “I’m a painter.”

Welcome to a true life inspired account of passions set largely in the luxurious and exclusive confines behind the embassy’s steel gate in Beijing’s Sanlitun district. This is not merely the stark diary of the carnality and spirit of a blacklisted female writer in China. It also delves into the minds of the over-sexed, conflicted European men who populate the booming 21st-century capital, and the dark side of their relations with Chinese women who flock to them like moths to a white-hot light bulb.

Narrated by the love-struck protagonist writer, she confides to her departed Italian beau De Niro while re-living her relationship with the ambassador.

The embassy, diplomat-artiste and novelist-narrator all feature their own “contradictions.”

Exclusive venue for the duo’s frequent trysts, the Embassy arguably acquires a dual personality of its own as we become intimately acquainted with its faceless sentry, grand ceilings and “solemn” conference hall, which contrast with the scandalous pleasures enjoyed in the Ambassador’s painting studio and his nearby love nest.

The diplomat’s principle contradiction lies in his keen desire to lead two lives simultaneously — that of the scrupulously proper public official, and one deep below the surface of an amorous artist who follows his heart. This duality, plus his marriage and philandering, ultimately unspools the novelist-narrator as she floats aimlessly like a catkin willow, hoping that the ambassador will leave his wife and be hers forever. But in her heart she believes that true romance inevitably contains the seeds of pain and mutual hurt.

Fittingly, the no-longer-young female narrator and older ambassador first encounter one another at a painting exhibition, for in the ensuing liaison, the arts are never totally absent. [Read more…]