Paris Dec 15-16 Event: “Popular Memory of the Mao Era and its Impact on History”

Organizers: Maison Suger (Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, FMSH), and Centre d’études et de recherches internationales (CERI, Sciences-Po)

Venue: Fondation Maison des Sciences de l’Homme, 16 – 18 rue Suger, 75006 Paris.


Day 1 – 15 December, Maison Suger (FMSH) 


Discussant: Patricia Thornton (Oxford University)

Kirk Denton (Ohio State University)

  • “Do Private Museums Offer Space for Alternative History in China? The Jianchuan Museum Cluster, Anren, Sichuan”

Daniel Leese (Universität Freiburg)

  • “Redressing Past Injustices in the People’s Republic of China: The Case of Beijing Fengtai District, 1978-79″

Wu Si 

  • “On the collective memory of the Mao era: the case of the journal Annals of the Yellow Emperor” 《关于毛泽东时代的集体记忆:以炎黄春秋为例》

12:30-14:30: LUNCH


Discussant: Luba Jurgenson (University of Paris-Sorbonne)

Judith Pernin (CEFC, IHTP)

  • “Recording and staging memory – Two independent films about the rightist Zhang Xianchi”

Sebastian Veg (CEFC, EHESS)

  • “Fictional and documentary writing about the Mao Years in the 21st century: Yang Xianhui, Yang Jisheng, Yan Lianke”

[Read more…]

Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: Elif Shafak on Resisting Linguistic Racism

I write my novels in English first. Then they are translated into Turkish by professional translators, whose works I admire and respect. Next I take the Turkish translations and rewrite them, giving them my rhythm, my energy, my vocabulary, which is full of old Ottoman words. Many of those words came from Arabic and Persian, and they have been plucked out of the Turkish language by modernist nationalists in the name of purity. Critical of this linguistic racism, I use both old and new words while writing in Turkish.

(Novelist Elif Shafak on how she writes her novels, at English Pen)

Cultural Infrastructure Construction in the Xi Jinping Era: Official Literary Criticism Body Launched

As some prescient writers have expressed (Art Workers React), Xi Jinping’s recent talk defining politically correct art suggests the start of a “rectification” campaign. The authorities are now busying themselves with creating the requisite infrastructure.

Nov 22 saw the initial meeting of the new “Chinese Literary Criticism Research Council” (中国文学批评研究会) in Beijing (成立). Heavyweights from various state-run bodies were there, representing the Propaganda Ministry, Party Secretariat, Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, China Writers Association, People’s Daily and others.

To give you a flavor of what awaits China’s literary establishment, here’s a brief summary of comments by speakers regarding the methods and goals of the council:

“No matter how complex the field of discourse or theoretical environment, Marxism must serve as the backbone” (Deputy Minister, Ministry of Propaganda)

“Advocate literary criticism that is critical” (Deputy Minister, Ministry of Propaganda)

“Promote the healthy development of literary creation and consumption” (Zhang Jiang, Council Head )

“To reshape the spirit of criticism, and construct a fair and upright atmosphere of literary criticism” (Zhang Jiang, Council Head)

Holding leading positions in the new council will be Zhang Jiang (张江), Zhu Liyuan (朱立元), Cheng Guangwei (程光炜), Nan Fan (南帆), Chen Xiaoming (陈晓明), Li Jingze (李敬泽), Gao Jianping (高建平) and Bai Ye (白烨). The council will comprise academics engaged in literary research and education, authors and literary critics.

Impac Dublin 2015 Literary Award: 149 Nominations, 49 Translations, 1 from the Chinese

The 2015 long list is out (here). Among 149 nominations, 49 are translations into the English. Here’s a breakdown of the translations by original language:

7   French

7   German

7   Italian

6   Portuguese

6   Spanish

3   Norwegian

2   Dutch

2   Finnish

2   Icelandic

2   Korean

1   Chinese

1   Czech

1   Malay

1    Russian

1    Slovenian

The sole nomination for a work originally in Chinese was for Ma Jian’s The Dark Road (阴之道), translated by Flora Drew. This honor is not likely to please the authorities in China, as he — similar to his compatriot, Nobel Prize laureate Gao Xingjian — lives abroad and writes fiction which is judged highly politically incorrect. Here’s a description of the book from the Impac web site: [Read more…]

Quote of the Week: Xi Jinping on how Literature and Art Transmogrify into Rootless Duckweeds

Xi Jinping stressed that the people are the sources of flowing water for literature and art creation, whenever they are removed from the people, literature and art will change into rootless duckweeds, baseless groaning, and soulless bodies.

(From Xinhua’s official summary of Xi Jinping’s speech at the Oct 15 Forum on Literature and Art Work held in Beijing)

Writers React to Comrade Xi Jinping’s Foray into Literary Criticism

It has taken a bit of time, but Chinese authors have begun to publicize their reaction to Xi Jinping’s speech at the Beijing Oct 15 Forum on Literature and Art Work. While slavish praise has been appropriately abundant, a handful of Art Workers do not appear to be singing in unison. We’ll skip the former and focus on the latter because they’re more fun.

Tellingly, some well known authors have chosen to express their views online in op-eds at the New York Times, first in English, then in Chinese. Both sites are blocked in the PRC, ever since the NYT ran its muckraking report on the massive wealth acquired by the family of then-premier Wen Jiabao.

Yan Lianke’s essay (bilingual version) opens with a reference to his childhood, when “China’s efforts to promote socialism in the late 1950s and early 1960s resulted in what is euphemistically known as the three years of natural disasters, during which more than 30 million people starved to death.” This experience, in particular his mother’s stark explanation of what kind of clay and tree bark one should or should not eat in order to survive, led him to recognize that “darkness is not the mere absence of light, but rather it is life itself. Darkness is the Chinese people’s fate.”

In a nod to Xi Jinping’s call for China’s artists to “use light to disperse darkness,” Yan Lianke (阎连科) asserts that it is indeed “a writer’s job to find life within this darkness.” But in his closing sentence, he clearly opposes Xi Jinping’s insistence — consistent with Mao’s — that literature and art “must persist in the fundamental orientation of serving the people and serving Socialism,” and implies that the writer does not need The Party’s guidance to perform his mission:

. . . only the pursuit of true art, unencumbered by anyone, can help us find the delicate light, beauty, warmth and love that are hidden in the darkness.

[Read more…]

Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: China’s Cyberspace Czar on Hospitality and the Great Firewall

China has always been hospitable to the outside world, but I can choose who will be a guest in my home.

(Lu Wei, minister of the State Council’s Cyberspace Administration of China, speaking to Xinhua in the run-up to the November 2014 World Internet Conference)

Not My Cup of Java: Why I “Just Say No” to Chinese-English Interpreting

I recently found myself sitting on a couch opposite UK multimedia artist Shezad Dawood, posing as a VIP of some sort before an audience of eager art/design students at a private university in Xi’an, China. As the event progressed, it seemed to me that much of what Dawood said in the Queen’s English had gone AWOL in the Chinese rendition.

I’ve been speaking Chinese for three decades now, but have formally undertaken the role of “interpreter” just once in the 80s. It was a ghastly experience. Towards the end of one week in Beijing interpreting for my monolingual American boss, I was dead tired and basically “lost it” for a moment or two — just when he was addressing two tables of very senior officials in China’s Electronics Ministry. Instead of translating the very beginning of his banquet address, I simply made up my own. I will never forget the look of horror on the face of the Hong Kong sales manager across from me, (thankfully) the only other bilingual person in the room!

Back to Xi’an. In the end, I stepped in and interpreted for the artist for several minutes. I forewarned him to keep his utterances to just 1-2 sentences at a time; once translated, he could continue. He politely obliged, and I gave what can only be described as some rather “free” translations of his statements touching on his art, and how pre-20th-century Pakistan fabric designs impacted the industry in the UK in a round-about way. Oh yes, UFOs and extra-terrestrial aliens also popped up in the conversation, and that didn’t make things any easier.

After those longish 10 minutes, other interpreters stepped in again and, perhaps inspired by my amateurism, handled the rest of the session markedly better than they had initially.

Over the years, I have been asked again and again to take on the interpreter’s role. Whenever possible, I decline. Briefly, here’s why:

I am a fluent and experienced public speaker of Chinese, which is admittedly rare among people who learned Pǔtōnghuà as a foreign language in adulthood. I am accustomed to thinking and expressing myself in Chinese, which suggests that I should be an ideal interpreter between Chinese and my mother tongue, English. However, live oral interpretation, as opposed to written translation, is about commuting between two languages at high speed. The necessary rapidity and very nature of this commute — focusing on what others are saying rather than what I would like to say, and ‘converting’ their wordage for those unfortunate listeners who don’t understand the ‘original’ — leaves me both frustrated and frazzled.     

Beijing Nov 12-13 Event: IEL Seminar on Epic Studies and Oral Tradition Research

Contact: 玉兰  010-85195635 / 85195626 / 13720059409  Application form

Date: 2014 年 11 月 12-13 日

Venue: 北京东城区王府井大街 27 号 北京社科博源宾馆主楼 8 层


  • 帕卡·哈卡米斯(芬兰土尔库大学历史文艺学院 教授)
    Innovations in the study of epic by Lauri Honko
  • 马克·本德尔(美国俄亥俄州立大学东亚语言文学系 教授 系主任)
    Strategies for Supporting References to Folk Material Culture and Imagery of the Environment in Yi and Miao Epics
  • 奥奈·恩格兰郝文(荷兰莱顿大学亚洲研究学院 讲师)
    Interpreting the spoor of the Sailfish: narrative topology and narrative artifacts
  • 朝戈金(中国社会科学院民族文学所 研究员 所长)
  • 陈岗龙(北京大学外国语学院 教授)
  • 阿地里·居玛吐尔地(中国社科院民族文学研究所 研究员)
  • 黄群(中国社科院民族文学研究所 副研究员)
  • 姚慧(中国社会科学院民族文学所 助理研究员)

Footnote Factoids: How Many Needed to Russify Mo Yan?

In 译莫言作品看中国文学, Mo Yan’s principal Russian translator, Igor Aleksandrovich Egorov (Игорь Aлександрович Егоров), reports that his translation of 丰乳肥臀 (Большая грудь, широкий зад, Big Breasts and Wide Hips) has been a best-seller since 2013.

Egorov advocates amply footnoting Mo Yan’s text, because the overwhelming majority of Russian readers are almost totally unfamiliar with either ancient or post-1949 Chinese culture. His count for three novels he has translated:

  • 300+: Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (生死疲劳, soon to be published)
  • 260:   Большая грудь, широкий зад (丰乳肥臀, Big Breasts and Wide Hips)
  • 200+: Страна вина (酒国, The Republic of Wine)

To learn about Chinese translations of Americana and footnotes, see Stephanie Meyer Red Hot in China: Could it Be the Footnotes? Or take a look here at Footnotes, where Chinese-to-English poetry translator Lucas Klein delves into the subject in greater detail, with 16 meaty comments altogether in the thread.