“Dissident Writers” with Chinese Characteristics

In Censorship and Salesmanship at America’s Biggest Book Fair , Christopher beam argues that categorizing China’s community of writers into “dissidents and collaborators misses the nuances of Chinese publishing and politics”:

“People use the term ‘dissident writer’ in a very confused way,” said Eric Abrahamsen, an American translator and publishing consultant who lives in Beijing, and who drew up the initial list of Chinese authors to invite to B.E.A. Chinese writers don’t go to jail for writing novels, he said: “If that was happening in China, Sheng Keyi [盛可以] would be in jail. Yan Lianke [阎连科] would be in jail. And not only are they not in jail, they’re part of the system. They’re part of the Writers Association. They’re drawing a stipend from the government. They’re getting literary prizes. They have difficulties — sometimes they have trouble publishing, sometimes they don’t win prizes they would have otherwise — but their feet are on the streets.” Dissidents like Woeser [唯色], Tohti [伊力哈木·土赫提], and Liu Xiaobo [刘小波], he added, are jailed for their political activities, not their creative writing. “People talk about Liu Xiaobo as a poet,” he said. “But he’s not a very good poet, and he’s not in jail because of his poetry. He’s in jail because of his political commentary on Charter 08.”

Ethnic ChinaLit Jun 5 2015 Quote of the Week: Microwavable Fiction

The readability of many best sellers is much like the edibility of junk food. Agribusiness and the food packagers sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we come to think that’s what food is. Amazon uses the BS Machine to sell us sweetened fat to live on, so we begin to think that’s what literature is.

I believe that reading only packaged microwavable fiction ruins the taste, destabilizes the moral blood pressure, and makes the mind obese. Fortunately, I also know that many human beings have an innate resistance to baloney and a taste for quality rooted deeper than even marketing can reach.

(From Up the Amazon with the BS Machine by Ursula K. Le Guin)

One-Size-Fits-All Qualification Exam for China Publishing Professionals Militates Against Ethnic Minority Talent

In China, since 2002 all technical staff employed in a publishing enterprise engaged in “editing, publication,

Ughur dictionary: Does editing these tomes require certification in Chinese?

Uyghur dictionary: Does editing these tomes require certification in Chinese fluency?

proofreading and distribution . . . must obtain a National Publication Professional Qualification Certificate” (国家出版专业职业资格).

That sounds fairly reasonable in the China context where media is tightly managed for political correctness. But the reality is that in one sector in particular — enterprises that specialize in publishing in indigenous languages other than Mandarin, or books about the culture of ethnic minorities that require specialized knowledge of those cultures — the effect has been to severely limit the talent pool.

In a June 2 article at China Ethnic News (破除人才瓶颈), Qian Lihua (钱丽华) explains:

  • The standardized qualification test — entirely in Chinese — is aimed at publication professionals nationwide and assumes a very high standard of written Chinese.
  • In 2008, it was announced that exceptions could be made for those working in languages other than Chinese. However, specific regulations and tests or assessment standards have not been forthcoming.
  • Many staff working in publishing houses are members of ethnic minorities initially educated in a non-Chinese mother tongue, regularly work in indigenous languages, and have often not had an opportunity for systematic training in Chinese.

Predictably, members of ethnic minorities who are part of the estimated 4,100-strong workforce in this sector of publishing are flunking the test in droves. Qian Lihua cites one striking statistic: Among 138 ethnic Koreans employed by three main publishers in Jilin Province, since 2002 just 5 have passed the exam and been certified. [Read more…]

Amsterdam June 3rd Event: Speech on “Beginning of China’s Ethnicity Challenge”

Time/venue: 16:00-17:00 on June 3, University of Amsterdam Agnietenkapel Oudezijds Voorburgwal 229 – 231

Registration: Limited seating. Register in advance via aissr@uva.nl or +31 (0) 20 525 2262.

Speaker: Dr Xiang Biao, lecturer in anthropology and migration studies at Oxford. Author of The Intermediary TrapGlobal Bodyshopping, Transcending Boundaries, and Return: Nationalizing Transnational Mobility in Asia.

Topic: China is quietly changing its ethnicity policy. The current Regional Nationality Autonomy paradigm is criticized for risking consolidating ethnic groups into nations, and an assimilationist approach is increasingly evident in recent policies. Instead of providing solutions, this shift could be the beginning of China’s ethnicity challenge – the challenge of widespread identity-based entitlements.

“Pop Up” Book Markets Whet Appetite for Malaysian Pulp Fiction

I just moved to Malaysia, so it may be a while (!)

Azwar Kamaruzam's "Babi": Based on the title, which means "Pig" in Malay, some traditional booksellers have reportedly refused to stock.

Azwar Kamaruzaman’s “Babi”: Based on the title, which means “Pig” in Malay, some traditional booksellers have reportedly refused to stock.

before I can read the vernacular and report back on how naughty or Islamic correct 21st-century Malay fiction really is. But according to Malaysians Seek Escape, it looks like things are hotting up nicely:

More than 10 Malay-language publishers have burst onto the scene in the past four years. Most of them produce pulp fiction, but some specialize in social criticism and poetry. They have churned out hundreds of titles and estimate that they have sold more than a million books through pop-up stalls, online vendors and some traditional bookstores

The books can be riddled with typos, but they have slick covers, and some young Malaysians regard them as cool fashion accessories. Unlike traditional pulp fiction in Malaysia, mostly soppy romance novels, the new works are written in the street slang favored by the young and often feature story lines that flirt with taboo topics such as sexual promiscuity and communism.

“Customs of Zhuang People”

The book “Customs of Zhuang People” describes a remote village where people feel more comfortable singing to stranger than talking to them. So if you got lost in the mountains, you are better off singing your inquiries if you want to get directions from the locals.

『壯族風情錄』裡說,在壯山裡問路,要用唱的人家才回答你。 這不是為難人嗎? 我好不容易背了簡單的句子問路。這麼看來,練說的不夠,要練唱! 所以,我寫了首相見歌,等我壯文再多學點,可以用壯文來唱。

Visit Song of Reunion 相见歌 for full text by Chilin Shih.

Hawking Chinese Books, Protesting Chinese Censorship

In China’s Publishers Court America, we learn that the official China delegation — including two dozen or so popular writers from the PRC — at BookExpo America was not the only get-together about the business of publishing in China to take place in New York this week:

Free Expression protest during BookExpo America 2015Mr. Murong was [慕容 雪村] among a handful of writers who gathered on the steps of the New York Public Library on Wednesday night to protest the limits on free speech and expression in China. The gathering, organized by the PEN American Center, was prompted by the presence of a large delegation of Chinese publishers at BookExpo America, a major publishing trade event taking place in Manhattan this week.

A few years ago, the Chinese writer Murong Xuecun had the kind of career most novelists dream about. His eight books had sold two million copies in China, and he had amassed more than eight million social media followers.

But in 2011, he decided to stop publishing. He was afraid of running afoul of Chinese censors, and was even more concerned about the self-censorship that had crept into his work. Now he wishes he had never published some of his earlier books, which tiptoed around political issues.

“When I look back on them, I feel ashamed of myself,” said Mr. Murong, 41, who lives in Beijing and whose real name is Hao Qun.

For a newly released, detailed study of censorship of foreign books as they are published in China — and how international authors are dealing with it — see Censorship and Conscience.

China Refutes Designation as Sole Supplier of Vietnam’s “Obscene” Romantic Novels in Translation

Time Magazine online reported on May 22 (Vietnam) that:

“. . . Vietnam has temporarily banned romantic novels, particularly those originating from China, as the ‘clichéd, useless, obscene and offensive’ works are ‘poisoning’ the youth of the country,” reports local media.”

One of the major import categories from Vietnam’s cultural giant to the north: the dānměi (耽美, gay romance) genre.

Vietnamese edition of Tong Hua's time-travel novel set in Kang Xi's China, 步步惊心

Vietnamese editions of Tong Hua’s time-travel novel set in Kangxi’s court, 步步惊心

Naturally, the Chinese authorities could not let such a report by the influential American magazine go without rebuttal. After all, post-1949 China has a long history of rooting out “spiritual pollution” in the arts. Could it be guilty of recycling its toxic products south of the border?

A daily newspaper under the People’s Daily flag, Beijing Times (京华时报), has published an article (封杀外来言情耽美小说) attacking Time and BBC for misleading their readers, and implying that “. . . in the cultural domain, the Vietnamese authorities have begun to ‘Say No’ to Beijing.”

One argument put forth by Beijing Times is that China is not the sole supplier of this problematic reading matter. It indirectly quotes the head of Vietnam’s Printing and Distribution Bureau as saying “Novels in the romance genre do not come just from China. There are also works from Europe and the US that contain similar content.”

Another argument is advanced by Xinhua’s Hanoi chief correspondent, Zhang Jianhua. He points that while some of the offending novels were translated from the Chinese, they are “online content that had not been published and distributed.” He appears to be saying that although these novels were sourced from China-based web sites, they were not “published” in hard copy form in the PRC, and so are themselves illicit. Given China’s pervasive online censorship, however, this logic with Chinese characteristics is likely to fall on deaf ears.

According to March 2015 statistics cited in the article, 841 works were translated from Chinese into Vietnamese during 2011-14, and 73 percent were sourced from the Chinese web.

Interrupted Traditions of “Altishahr,” Oasis Towns Ringing the Taklimakan Desert in Xinjiang

In Wall Street Journal’s interview with Rian Thum, author of The Sacred Routes of Uyghur History, we learn that a century ago Uyghur in the Altishahr region (lit. “six cities”) traditionally visited shrines where the history of a local Islamic saint was read out loud to visitors.

Question posed by Wall Street Journal is bolded, while Thum’s answer is italicized:

How has this tradition changed?

A lot was lost primarily through Communist policies implemented after the advent of the People’s Republic of China in 1949. Prominent in that category are the closure of shrines and the stoppage of local pilgrimages, which is a process that seems to have been pretty complete during the Cultural Revolution from 1966 to 1976, opened back up in the 1980s, and is now returning to an almost complete closure of pilgrimage networks.

Another element that’s really gone is the manuscript tradition. The written version of all these stories took the form of handwritten books. Printing did not take off in Altishahr until the arrival of the People’s Republic of China. Those manuscripts that preserve these tales in physical form were largely collected, perhaps confiscated — we don’t really know what happened to them — by the Chinese government, probably in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. What used to be a form that was really widely available is now almost completely unavailable.

Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: Discussion of Tian’anmen Square Protest Harmonized

Chinese society has reached a consensus on not debating the 1989 incident.

(From an editorial published by Global Times, critiquing a May 24, 2015 open letter (公开信) by Chinese students studying overseas who are calling for frank discussion of the events (Transparency))