Ethnic China Chic: “Minority” Theme Parks in the Middle Kingdom

The instant I saw the New York Times’ piece on China’s “minority theme parks”—Disneyland-like affairs highlighting the culture of China’s 55 “ethnic minorities”—I  knew it would soon appear in the Chinese press. But how would it be reshaped to render it politically correct for the masses, I wondered?

Quite differently than I expected, frankly. The report has been quickly translated and published by Cankao Xiaoxi (参 考消息). Cankao Xiaoxi is a respected and influential Chinese-language digest of the world press with a long history, and in many cities across China it sells out every day before noon. As noted in past pieces, virtually no English is used and little or no content is added. But references deemed unbecoming to China’s image are often “airbrushed.”

Predictably, text alluding to dissatisfaction among non-Han in the neighborhood has been deleted. So has a comment by a Dai bed-n-breakfast owner to the effect that some nearby Dai villages are “primitive.” But I’ve been reading Cankao Xiaoxi for over two decades, and I am surprised at how much of the original—some rather unflattering—has been left untouched this time around. For instance, the translated copy includes the fact that these parks are generally owned and run by Han Chinese, and sometimes Han even “dress up as natives.”

This bald statement from the original also appears faithfully translated in the Chinese:

The parks are money-making ventures. But scholars say they also serve a political purpose — to reinforce the idea that the Chinese nation encompasses 55 fixed ethnic minorities and their territories, all ruled by the Han.

To show you how censorship works in the People’s Republic,  the original article from the New York Times is fully reproduced below. Words that have been crossed out are those that were deleted from the Chinese version published in Cankao Xiaoxi.  Enjoy!

China’s Han Flock to Theme Parks Featuring Minorities

(New York Times, by Edward Wong, Feb 23, 2010)

MANZHA, China — Tucked away in China’s steamy tropical southwest are the villages of the Dai people, famous throughout the country for a raucous annual tradition: a water-splashing festival where the Dai douse one another for three days in the streets using any container they can get their hands on — buckets, wash basins, teacups, balloons, water guns.

But in Manzha and four surrounding villages, the springtime festival has taken on added significance — or insignificance, depending on how you look at it. Imagine a nonstop Mardi Gras with fire hoses: at a site called the Dai Minority Park, water-splashing extravaganzas take place every day. [Read more…]

Newsweek via Cankao Xiaoxi: The Tibetans Have Never Had it So Good

In the run-up to Obama’s White House meeting with the Dalai Lama, Isaac Stone Fish (Newsweek’s Beijing correspondent) penned an interesting piece that argues that China’s rule has indeed brought indisputable benefits to the Tibetans. It’s all part of a grand “bargain”:

It’s true that, so far, all the money has failed to buy Tibetan loyalty. Beijing won’t deal with the Dalai Lama, even though Tibetans revere him, nor will it let his monastic followers build any power or voice any nationalist sympathy. Instead, the government is offering Tibetans the same bargain it has offered the rest of the country: in exchange for an astronomical rise in living standards, the government requires citizens to relinquish the right to free worship and free speech. The Chinese government has kept its end of the deal. Even if Tibetan residents never signed the contract, they have benefited from its enforcement—a fact Obama might keep in mind when he meets the Dalai Lama.

Newsweek’s report has now—just one day after Obama met with the Dalai Lama—been translated by Cankao Xiaoxi (参 考消息). Cankao Xiaoxi is a respected and influential Chinese-language digest of the world press with a long history, and in many cities across China it sells out every day before noon. As noted in my past pieces, virtually no English is used and little or no content is added. But references deemed unbecoming to China’s image are often deleted or reshaped.

To show you how censorship works in the People’s Republic,  the original article from Newsweek is fully reproduced below. Words that have been crossed out are those that were deleted from the Chinese version published in Cankao Xiaoxi, while words that have been added are noted [in brackets]. Tellingly, the description of the tit-for-tat bargain—economic prosperity in lieu of free speech and worship—has been radically “repackaged” in Cankao Xiaoxi’s version for China’s masses. [Read more…]

Stephanie Meyer Red-hot in China: Could it be the Footnotes?

As of early 2010, Meyer’s entire Twilight series—all four translated volumes—now rank among the “Top Ten Fiction Best Sellers” in mainland China. In Taiwan, they took the top four slots on the island’s list of best-selling fiction.

What’s driving the sales: A newly acquired national passion for vampire romance? The image of the photogenic female author from the US?  Integrated marketing of the films + novels that push the right buttons?

I picked up a Chinese copy of Eclipse (月食) here in Shenzhen lately, and I can tell you one thing: the reading “experience” of the Chinese reader is likely to be a bit different than among Twilight’s fervent fěnsī (fans) in the West.

Meyer’s prose seems to average 3.5 lines to a paragraph in the original. Hardly tough going. But many of the footnotes that dot her yuèshí (eclipse) take up a third of a page, and a handful occupy more than half a page. Right there in the text, not at the end of the chapter. In mice type, China style.

And get this—there are a total of 49 footnotes in the entire novel. The lion’s share fall into one of three categories: geography, Greek mythology and what one might call Americana. [Read more…]

“King Gesar” Book Review: Epic Ballad Turned Novel Lacks Poetry

Writes David Yao (姚达兑) in a review of the new best-seller, King Gesar (格萨尔王), by Alai (阿来):

. . . the tale of King Gesar is recited by [the roaming bard] Jin Mei, while the entire novel is recited by Alai; King Gesar recounts his world-weariness and confusion to Jin Mei, while the novelist makes use of Jin Mei to convey to the reader the dilemma of the epic in the modern world. With the advent of modernity, even remote Tibet, this last pure land, cannot escape encroachment by the evils of the modern world. Sgrung no longer roam the four directions singing their ballads, for they have been corralled where they sing instead to microphones and tape recorders . . .

[Read more…]

Hotter than Kimchee: The Korean Wave as Chinese Management Literature

Esoteric Asian herbal recipes. Petty infighting in an ancient court. The travails of a frustrated-imperial-chef-turned-physician serving a Korean empress. This hardly sounds like a prescription for a gripping TV series, let alone for a hard-copy guide to career management success in the 21st century.

Yet Jewel in the Palace (Dae Jang Geum in romanized Korean) has become just that. Named after the intrepid Korean female doctor Da Chang Jin (大长今) who possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of even the most obscure herbal-based cuisine, it’s one of the most fantastically popular Korean-made TV series ever aired in China—and has spawned dozens of books in Chinese. Trivia galore it may seem, but devoted fans do get their money’s worth. Everything you wanted to know about the dear doctor is revealed in the untranslated All about Da Chang Jin (细说大长今), a 222-page work that takes itself almost as seriously as a Seoul salaryman. [Read more…]

China Censorship Primer: Just Say “No” to Female Orgasms

Don’t let media in the West fool you—talking about sex in China is not taboo. But apparently references to female genitalia and orgasms are still big no-nos.

To see how such touchy subjects are handled in Chinese media, let’s take a look at what happened to the Guardian’s China to Open First Sex Theme Park (May 15, 2009) when it was translated and published in Cankao Xiaoxi.

As noted in my earlier updates on Cankao Xiaoxi, this daily newspaper is a respected Chinese-language digest of the world press with a long history, and in many cities across China it sells out every day before noon. Virtually no English is used and no content is added. But references deemed unbecoming to China’s image are often deleted. [Read more…]

Book Review: A New Turkish-Chinese Dictionary

Three things strike you as you hold this weighty tome in your hands: It’s 2,075 pages, there are no Turkic-sounding names listed among the compilers, and it’s new.

I recall my 2001 bus trip across Turkey from Istanbul at the doorstep of Europe to Diyarbakir in the southeast in search of Kurdistan, a place that my Turkish friends heatedly assured me “doesn’t exist.” Well, partly on such a quest. The other reason was my ardent desire to practice my (pidgin) Turkish with any native speaker outside Istanbul who didn’t know English or German.

Along the way I passed through Cappadocia, Kayseri and Urfa, and in each city I went to the main bookstore to see if I could buy a Turkish-Chinese dictionary. No luck. [Read more…]

Kim Jong Il, a Chinese Orphan and North Korea’s Nuke Test

What’s the link between Kim Jong Il, a Nanjing orphan, and Korea’s recent nuclear test?

The answer to that conundrum lies buried deep within Kim Jong Il’s Godson Yang Bin: From Orphan to Sinuiju SAR Chief, a Chinese book just published in English by Fortune Gate (HK) Ltd.

If you’ve never heard of the “Yang Bin Affair” (杨斌事件) or the Sinuiju SAR (新义州特区), that’s not surprising.  The Chinese government might even to be pleased to learn that, since it would confirm that its arrest and imprisonment of Yang Bin—Number 2 on Forbes 2001 list of the richest Chinese—has been quite effective in keeping the Sinuiju SAR off the world map.

To set the scene, let’s quote from the book’s back cover:Yang Bin

This is. . .the biography of Yang Bin, who rose from humble beginnings to become Kim Jong Il’s Godson, and the top official of North Korea’s ill-fated “Sinuiju Special Administrative Region” (SAR).

A naturalized Dutch citizen born and raised in the PRC, Yang Bin made his fortune in Europe and China. Invited to visit the impoverished “Hermit Kingdom” of North Korea, he accepts. He is full of affection and compassion for the North Koreans, and invests his heart and his capital—donating millions of dollars —to bring Dutch-style modern agricultural know-how to this isolated country.  

His selfless conduct earns the respect of the people and their Supreme Leader, Marshal Kim Jong Il. At that unique historical moment when North Korea, inspired by the success of China’s Special Economic Zones, wished to establish its own, Yang Bin won the honor of serving as the Chief Executive of the brand new Sinuiju SAR.   

Yang Bin is a living legend: From orphan to billionaire, from poor overseas student to Chief Executive of the Sinuiju SAR, North Korea’s daring experiment with international capitalism. [Read more…]

Interview with China Novelist Fan Wen: A Century of Cultural Collisions in Shangri-la

Shuiru Dadi tells the tale of a multi-ethnic settlement in Lancangjiang Canyon—Gateway to Tibet—beset by battles between arrogant French Catholic missionaries, incompetent Han officials and their marauding troops, Naxi Dongba Shamanists, and the dominant Tibetans, not all of whom lead pacific, vegetarian lives in the local lamasery.

The saga spans most of the 20th century, hopping back and forth between the decades and capturing the non-linear Tibetan sense of time. Fan Wen’s imagination almost seems to get the better of him as Living Buddhas levitate, Shamans summon spirits for battle, and Communist Party officials rue their Red Guard days, but his tale is firmly rooted in the locale’s colorful history. Historical fiction with dabs of highly entertaining “supernatural realism” thrown in, if you like. 

Below, Ethnic ChinaLit’s Bruce Humes interviews Fan Wen (范稳), author of Shuiru Dadi (水乳大地). Nominated for the 2008 Maodun Literature Prize, the novel has sold nearly 50,000 copies in China, and Stéphane Lévêque, who rendered Wang Anyi’s Song of Everlasting Sorrow (恨歌) into French, has been chosen to translate Shuiru Dadi. [May 2014 update: the French version has been published as Une terre de lait et de miel by Philippe Picquier. See book cover below.] The rights to the English version are still open. [Read more…]

Book Review: “English” by Wang Gang, or Growing up Han in Fictional Xinjiang

Book review + interview with the translators of “English” (《英格力士》 ) by Wang Gang (王刚)

By Bruce Humes (徐穆实)

 

Among the Emperor Qianlong’s trophies from his conquest of Xinjiang was a girl called Iparhan. She was a beautiful Kashgari whose body was said to give off an intoxicating scent without any help from ointments…the abduction of Iparhan became for the Chinese a symbol of the annexation of the western lands which they had twice before conquered—under the Han and Tang dynasties—but never really controlled.” (“Wild West China”) (1)

Much has ensued since the 18th century Qing emperor snatched this enchantress from Kashgar, located near today’s Kyrgyzstan, and transplanted her to his far-flung harem in Beijing.

The ethnic make-up of Xinjiang, for instance. Once home to an overwhelmingly Muslim, Turkic-speaking population—94 percent of the residents when the PRC was founded in 1949—the “Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region” has been mightily diluted by Han Chinese who, by 2007, reportedly accounted for four of ten inhabitants. (2)

But the legendary fascination of Chinese for Things Xinjiang—the music and dancing of the Uyghurs, the cuisine and particularly the women—endures. In its own unique way, the upcoming publication of “English,” a novel by Wang Gang, a Han who grew up in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution, brings those fantasies firmly into our era, and embellishes them a bit.

Translated by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan, the novel from Viking Penguin will launch in April 2009 [update: published as English]. My interview with the duo follows this introduction. [Read more…]