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…]

“Brothers”: Here’s Newsweek’s Book Review Repackaged for Chinese Eyes

Isaac Stone Fish’s review of Yu Hua’s Brothers (兄弟) has only been online for a few days at Newsweek, but it has already been translated for readers in China by Cankao Xiaoxi (参考消息). Cankao Xiaoxi, a Chinese-language digest of world news, is on virtually every newsstand in China by 7:30 am.

To show you how censorship/repackaging works in the People’s Republic, Newsweek’s original book review is fully reproduced below. Words that have been crossed out are those that did not appear in the published Chinese translation (Cankao Xiaoxi, March 25, 2009, p 15) :

[Read more…]

Transparent Translator Series: Bruce Humes and his “Shanghai Baby” (上海宝贝)

Banned in China, Shanghai Baby (上海宝贝) captured the interest of publishers in the West, and I was commissioned by Simon & Schuster to translate the novel, which was published in 2001. Perhaps because my version became a best-seller in Hong Kong and Singapore, and the Chinese original was later translated into several languages including French, German, Italian and Japanese, over the years several people have interviewed me about the translation process. What follows below is my favorite among those interviews. This interview originally appeared at a web site run by Johnny Katchoolik, an indie musician whose works can be found here.

However, of late it seems no longer to be online. So I have copied it here (minus just the introduction and my picture, but without any other editing).

Questions by Fang Fang are in bolded italics, followed by my answers (Bruce Humes) in normal typeface.

How long have you been living in China?

I arrived via Taipei in 1978 and have worked in various parts of China since, save five years or so spent intermittently in the States. Have based myself in several cities during that time—Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Taipei—but travel very frequently, particularly in Shandong, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong.  

What brought you to China initially?

Intense interest in two rather different areas: A desire to master classical Chinese so that I could read Daoist writings in the original, and curiosity about socialism in action. [Read more…]

Transparent China Translator Series: Interview with Li Jihong, “Kite Runner” Chinese Translator

Transparent Translator Series

Interview with Li Jihong (李继宏): Mainland Chinese translator of The Kite Runner (《追风筝的人》)

“The Kite Runner” /《追风筝的人》:

An Afghan Childhood Re-packaged for the Middle Kingdom

It was an intriguing sentence alluding to censorship in the translator’s post-script that initially piqued my curiosity:

“There are certain places in the original text [of  Kite Runner] which are incompatible with Chinese sensitivities. Measuring his words ever so carefully, the translator has polished the copy while maintaining the original meaning.” (My translation)

原书个别不合国情的地方译者酌情在措词上加以改动意思仍一概如旧 (1)

Now what could there possibly be in a childhood story of friendship, betrayal and a belated but moving coming-of-age, set in Afghanistan – a country hardly figuring on China’s world map – that would ruffle “Chinese sensitivities,” I wondered? [Read more…]

Tibet Travel Piece Revamped for Chinese Eyes

Newly accessible from Beijing via a luxury train ride, Lhasa and a few other sites in Tibet are the subject of a travel review just published in the New York Times. Author Joshua Kurlantzick will no doubt be touched to see an extract of “Tibet, Now” appear almost simultaneously in Chinese in the December 12 edition of Cankao Xiaoxi.

He may be surprised at how it has been repackaged, however…