Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Yan Liang’s review of Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories: A Parallel Text (Columbia UP, 2017), translated and edited by Aili Mu, with Mike Smith. The review appears below, but is best viewed online at: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/yanliang/. My thanks to Michael Berry, MCLC book review editor for translations, for ushering the review to publication.

Enjoy, Kirk Denton, editor

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories:
A Parallel Text

Translated and edited by Aili Mu with Mike Smith


Reviewed by Yan Liang
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright June, 2018)


Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories: A Parallel Text. Translated and edited by Aili Mu with Mike Smith. New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. pp. 528. ISBN: 9780231181532 (paper); ISBN: 9780231181525 (hard cover); ISBN: 9780231543637 (e-book).

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories (2018) is a parallel-text (Chinese-English) collection of Chinese short-short stories translated and edited by Aili Mu in collaboration with poet and essayist Mike Smith. It is a delightful read for anyone curious about contemporary Chinese society. The English translations of the stories are smooth and graceful, despite Mu’s conscious choice—for the pedagogical sake of Chinese language learners—of translating the text more literally than literarily. With the addition of the parallel Chinese text and the thoughtfully designed teaching materials, including introductory essays, glossaries, reading questions, and author biographies, the book makes an easy-to-use and much-needed textbook for teachers and advanced students of Chinese language and culture. Continue reading

Simon Leys: Navigator between Worlds review

Source: NY Review of Books (June 28, 2018)
One Decent Man
Reviewed by Geremie R. Barmé

[Simon Leys: Navigator Between Worlds
by Philippe Paquet, translated from the French by Julie Rose
Carlton: La Trobe University Press/Black Inc., 664 pp., $35.00]

Pierre Ryckmans, who wrote under the name Simon Leys, on the Great Wall of China, 1955. Ryckmans Family Archives

1.

The thought of hearing back from Simon Leys filled me with dread. It was late 1976 and I was an exchange student at a university in Shenyang, in northeast China. I’d only recently learned that Pierre Ryckmans, the man who had taught me Chinese, was none other than Simon Leys, a writer both celebrated and reviled in the French-speaking world.

Mao Zedong had died in September. Not long after, Leys published an obituary in the Australian press. Mao, he said, had

outlived himself by some twenty years. If he had died a few years after the Liberation, he would have gone down in history as one of China’s most momentous leaders. Unfortunately, during the last part of his life, by stubbornly clinging to an outdated utopia, by becoming frozen in his own idiosyncrasies and private visions…he became in fact a major obstacle to the development of the Chinese revolution.

For nearly thirty years Mao had been the only fixed point in the tumultuous life of China. In the mid-1960s the uprising of the Red Guards, zealous high school students who attacked Mao’s enemies, had made the People’s Republic an epicenter of youthful rebellion, and although my original interest in China was inspired by Taoism and classical literature, I was also enamored of contemporary politics. Continue reading

Socialist Cosmopolitanism review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of  Tie Xiao’s review of Socialist Cosmopolitanism: The Chinese Literary Universe, 1945-1965 (Columbia UP, 2017), by Nicolai Volland. The review appears below, but is best read online at: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/tie-xiao/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Enjoy, Kirk Denton, editor

Socialist Cosmopolitanism: The Chinese Literary Universe, 1945-1965

By Nicolai Volland


Reviewed by Tie Xiao
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2018)


Nicolai Volland. Socialist Cosmopolitanism: The Chinese Literary Universe, 1945–1965 New York: Columbia University Press, 2017. x-xii + 281 pp. ISBN: 9780231183109. (Hardcover: $60.00 / £47.00).

This learned study examines the “world-orientedness” of Chinese literature of the 1950s. Socialist literature of the young PRC, as Nicolai Volland has convincingly demonstrated, was “a literature in the world, a literature of the world, a literature for the world” (3). It was shaped by and shaped the multiple and multidirectional flows of texts across national and linguistic borders, which constituted and characterized the emerging socialist literary universe. Reading the transnational and transcultural literary imaginaries as “configurations of world-ing” (4), Volland examines the roles that the literary world played in the making of the socialist world in the mid-twentieth century, tracing the transnational traffic in literary imagination. ​More important, reading world literature as a world-making activity reaffirms the importance of understanding, to borrow Pheng Cheah’s apt words, “the world as an ongoing, dynamic process of becoming, something continually made and remade . . . a dynamic process with a practical-actional dimension instead of a spatio-geographical category.”[1] Socialist Cosmopolitanism invites the reader to rethink the relationship between the force of literature and the openness of the world. Continue reading

Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Alvin K. Wong’s review of Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond (Cambria 2016), by Chia-rong Wu. The review appears below, but is best read online at: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/alvin-wong/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Enjoy, Kirk Denton, editor

Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond
By Chia-rong Wu


Reviewed by Alvin K. Wong
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2018)


Chia-rong Wu. Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond Amherst, NY: Cambria, 2016. vii-viii + 230 pp. ISBN: 9781604979213. (Hardcover: $ 109.99).

Chia-rong Wu’s Supernatural Sinophone Taiwan and Beyond is a most welcome addition to the burgeoning field of Sinophone studies. Sinophone, in its inaugural definition by Shu-mei Shih, refers to “a network of places of cultural production outside China and on the margins of China and Chineseness, where a historical process of heterogenizing and localizing of continental Chinese culture has been taking place for several centuries.”[1] Wu’s book makes three important contributions to the field of Sinophone studies. First, in connecting the zhiguai (志怪) tradition from the large canvas of premodern Chinese literature to contemporary Sinophone literature in Taiwan, Wu argues that “the ancient Chinese tradition of strange writing is still undead and further transforms in the literary production of Sinophone Taiwan” (8). Second, while it highlights manifestations of traditional strange writing in terms of issues of ethnicity, race, gender, and localism in the context of modern Taiwan history, the book also contributes to trans-spatial and trans-historical studies of both Chinese and Sinophone literature. This becomes apparent when Wu traces how figurations of the strange, the supernatural, and the spectral are linked to often traumatic narratives of border-crossing from the rich and painful history of Taiwan’s colonial past and postcolonial present. Finally, the “Introduction” demonstrates how strange narratives exemplify “an act of writing back” to dominant discourses of Chineseness, patriarchy, utilitarianism, and various forms of Sinocentrism (15). Continue reading

The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics” review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Yizhong Gu’s review of The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics”: Politics, Aesthetics and Mass Culture (Hong Kong University Press, 2018), edited by Rosemary Roberts and Li Li. The review appears below, but is best read online at: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/yizhonggu/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC  book review editor for literary studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Enjoy, Kirk Denton, editor

The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics”: 
Politics, Aesthetics and Mass Culture

Edited by Rosemary Roberts and Li Li


Reviewed by Yizhong Gu
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright May, 2018)


Rosemary Roberts and Li Li, eds. The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics”: Politics, Aesthetics and Mass Culture. Hong Kong: Hong Kong University Press, 2018. v-xix + 199 pp. ISBN: 9789888390892. (Hardcover: $60.00 / £47.00).

The Making and Remaking of China’s “Red Classics” not only reveals the mechanisms and operations of Maoist ideology within a variety of cultural products, it also teases out how aspects of the Maoist legacy have been inherited, twisted, and channeled to serve sociopolitical purposes in the reform era (chapters are broadly divided into those addressing issues from the “Maoist Era” and those from the “Reform Era”). In the process, this volume both instantiates a rigorous methodology for the scholarly analysis of “Red Classics” and demonstrates how socialist works of art and aesthetics continue to inform PRC cultural production in the present.

Since the origin of the term “red classics” is unclear, the volume wisely circumvents the question that could lead to a deadlock: which literary and art works can be counted as “red classics”?[1] Instead, it adopts “the broadest understanding of the scope of the ‘red classics’” (ix), investigating not just literature but “films, TV series, picture books, cartoons, and traditional-style paintings” (xi). The editors address this array of media according to three key characteristics: “their sociopolitical and ideological import, their aesthetic significance, and their function as a mass cultural phenomenon” (xi). The volume engages in dialogue between English- and Chinese-language scholarship (two essays are translated from Chinese), a quite welcomed effort since Chinese scholarship on socialist literature is relatively limited for English readers. Although essays vary greatly in subject matter and discipline, the volume still reads like an organic whole (the volume emerged from a 2015 University of Queensland symposium). The authors cross-reference one another’s essays and trace some key theoretical features shared among “red classics” that will be of interest and inspiration both to China studies scholars and general readers who are interested in modern Chinese literature, politics, and culture. Continue reading

Bury What we Cannot Take

Source: San Francisco Chronicle (3/21/18)
‘Bury What We Cannot Take,’ by Kirstin Chen
By Fan Wu

Kirstin Chen Photo: Sarah Deragon

China in the late 1950s was replete with political and social tumult. Following the Hundred Flowers Campaign, the Anti-Rightist Campaign started; by the end of 1959, more than half a million “rightists,” mostly intellectuals, were purged. Then a widespread famine, euphemistically called the “Three Years of Natural Disasters” by the government, killed tens of millions.

Kirstin Chen’s second novel, “Bury What We Cannot Take,” is set in early Maoist China, in 1957. But it tells a different story, a lesser-known but engrossing account of people escaping to Hong Kong from mainland China. Continue reading

The sincere indignation of Simon Leys

Source: LA Review of Books, China Channel (3/19/18)
The Sincere Indignation of Simon Leys
By Josh Freedman
Josh Freedman reviews Philippe Paquet’s biography of the iconoclastic sinologist

Simon Leys

If there is a single climactic moment in Philippe Paquet’s exhaustive, colorful account of the life of the writer Simon Leys, it occurs on a staid French television show about books. It was 1983, and Leys had recently published his fourth collection of acerbic essays on China’s ruling party; yet the host of the popular show Apostrophes had to work hard to cajole Leys into coming to Paris to talk about his book on the air. Leys had no interest in doing publicity for his books, and rarely granted interviews to the media; plus, in this instance, he knew that any discussion on the show would inevitably stir up controversy. Paris had been the epicenter of pro-Maoist sentiment in the 1960s and 1970s, and Leys had spent more than a decade as one of the few critics unswervingly standing up to the tide of revolutionary fervor in the Francophone world. He was, for many Parisian China-watchers, public enemy number one. Continue reading

Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of Chris Berry’s review of Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture (Cambria 2017), by Wendy Larson. The review appears below, but is best read at its online home here: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/chris-berry/. My thanks to MCLC media studies book review editor, Jason McGrath, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

Zhang Yimou: 
Globalization and the Subject of Culture

By Wendy Larson


Reviewed by Chris Berry
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March, 2018)


Wendy Larson. Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture Amherst, NY: Cambria Press, 2017. xv, 420pp. ISBN: 9781604979756 (Hardback).

In Zhang Yimou: Globalization and the Subject of Culture, Wendy Larson asks us to take Zhang Yimou 张艺谋 seriously again. This is a very welcome intervention. Few Chinese film directors seem to have been more widely—and diversely—reviled than Zhang. As Larson nimbly lays out in her introductory chapter, he was first attacked for alleged self-orientalism in pursuit of foreign film festival awards in the early 1990s. Then, his martial arts megahit Hero (英雄, 2002) was condemned for promoting “fascist” submission to authoritarianism. Worst of all, his more recent films, such as the Matt Damon vehicle The Great Wall (长城, 2016), have been ridiculed and dismissed. Nevertheless, Zhang remains China’s only director with a global reputation beyond the festival scene, and the only one with enough clout to put together a project like The Great Wall. Even though many of us might be more comfortable with festival favorites like Jia Zhangke 贾樟柯, we should not ignore directors with wider impact like Zhang Yimou, Feng Xiaogang 冯小刚, and the host of younger genre filmmakers that have emerged as the industry has boomed in the People’s Republic. Continue reading

The Age of Irreverence review

MCLC and MCLC Resource Center are pleased to announce publication of David Moser’s review of The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (University of California Press, 2015), by Christopher Rea. The review appears below, but is best read online at: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/moser/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC book review editor for literary studies, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk A. Denton, editor

The Age of Irreverence:
A New History of Laughter in China

By Christopher Rea


Reviewed by David Moser
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright March, 2018)


Christopher Rea, The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015. ix-xvi + 335 pp. ISBN: 9780520283848 (Hardcover: $70.00)

Chinese Humor and its Discontents

A generation ago, China scholars were to be forgiven for having the impression that Chinese culture suffered from a puzzling humor deficit. Much was made of the fact that the Chinese word for “humor” youmo 幽默 is borrowed from English (in the same way the loan word luoji 逻辑 “logic” was used as evidence that Chinese philosophy lacked this feature as well). Anthologies of Chinese folk humor were usually just joke collections framed as anthropological data (usually badly translated) rather than case studies of laughter. Early popularizing books on Chinese humor tended to merely highlight nuggets of subtle irony mined from Zhuangzi or Dream of the Red Chamber, or to cherry pick passages from the works of a Lao She or Lu Xun. This paucity of examples left the impression that Chinese culture may have produced a few gems of gentle mockery, but the full, variegated range of what we call “humor”—particularly humor that is irreverent, challenging, and even cathartic—was simply not in the Chinese cultural DNA. Continue reading

Review of Chinese sci-fi

Posted by: Chaohua Wang <sm.ca.wangchaohua@gmail.com>
Source: London Review of Books 40 No. 3 (2/8/18)
Even what doesn’t happen is epic
By Nick Richardson

  • The Three-Body Problem by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
    Head of Zeus, 416 pp, £8.99, January 2016, ISBN 978 1 78497 157 1
  • The Dark Forest by Cixin Liu, translated by Joel Martinsen
    Head of Zeus, 512 pp, £8.99, July 2016, ISBN 978 1 78497 161 8
  • Death’s End by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
    Head of Zeus, 724 pp, £8.99, May 2017, ISBN 978 1 78497 165 6
  • The Wandering Earth by Cixin Liu, translated by Ken Liu
    Head of Zeus, 447 pp, £8.99, October 2017, ISBN 978 1 78497 851 8
  • Invisible Planets edited and translated by Ken Liu
    Head of Zeus, 383 pp, £8.99, September 2017, ISBN 978 1 78669 278 8

Science fiction isn’t new to China, as Cixin Liu explains in Invisible Planets, an introduction to Chinese sci-fi by some of its most prominent authors, but good science fiction is. The first Chinese sci-fi tales appeared at the turn of the 20th century, written by intellectuals fascinated by Western technology. ‘At its birth,’ Cixin writes, science fiction ‘became a tool of propaganda for the Chinese who dreamed of a strong China free of colonial depredations’. One of the earliest stories was written by the scholar Liang Qichao, a leader of the failed Hundred Days’ Reform of 1898, and imagined a Shanghai World’s Fair, a dream that didn’t become a reality until 2010. Perhaps surprisingly, given the degree of idealistic fervour that followed Mao’s accession, very little utopian science fiction was produced under communism (in the Soviet Union there was plenty, at least initially). What little there was in China was written largely for children and intended to educate; it stuck to the near future and didn’t venture beyond Mars. By the 1980s Chinese authors had begun to write under the influence of Western science fiction, but their works were suppressed because they drew attention to the disparity in technological development between China and the West. It wasn’t until the mid-1990s, when Deng’s reforms began to bite, that Chinese science fiction experienced what Cixin calls a ‘renaissance’. Continue reading

China’s Leftover Women review (2)

I first became interested in the topic of Chinese leftover women in 2010, when the term was already common in China and had been reported on in English-language media. I am grateful for Leta Hong Fincher’s work on the subject and have cited it in articles that I wrote for Salon and Foreign Policy in 2012, after she and I had corresponded over the phone and email.

Since 2010, I have researched and written on the topic and have also raised awareness of it through creative means, including the Chaoji Shengnu cartoon series that was published starting in 2013, and a stage play called “The Leftover Monologues” that debuted in Beijing in 2014. When Leta’s book was released, I decided not to read it because I was working on the manuscript for my own book, and I chose to stay focused on the stories of the women whose lives I feature in it.

The topic of gender and dating dynamics is such a fascinating lens through which to understand modern China, and as is true of so many China stories, it is complex, nuanced, and benefits from multiple perspectives. I recognize Leta’s important contributions to the topic and the awareness she has raised for it. The women I interviewed led me to see things from a different perspective and I have relied on the work of other scholars, as referenced in my book, to relay their stories.My publisher stands with me as I say that ultimately, we are all rooting for the same women.

Roseann Lake <roseannlake@economist.com>

China’s Leftover Women review (1)

Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake

With regard to the above-referenced book — a review of which was posted yesterday on MCLC — I would like to draw attention to the fact that the author, Roseann Lake, appears to nowhere acknowledge in print how much her work and her text are indebted to Leta Hong-Fincher, whose 2014 book, Leftover Women: The Resurgence of Gender Inequality in China, Lake’s work closely parallels. Lake seems to poach upon the latter’s research, thematics, and acumen, while never citing Hong-Fincher as either source or inspiration. Since Hong-Fincher’s 2011 Ms. magazine article on “leftover women,” through to the publication of her book in 2014, Lake has been in contact with Hong-Fincher a number of times; Hong-Fincher even sent Lake an early summary of the book’s argument and research in the form of a paper written in 2012 for a Sociology conference. In addition, Lake has been at numerous of Hong-Fincher’s presentations in Beijing. In short, Lake was well aware of Hong-Fincher’s work and the thematics of Lake’s book are very similar to Hong-Fincher’s. And yet Lake has deliberately presented her work as unique and as uniquely her own.

This is very troubling. At the very least, Lake should acknowledge publicly the prior work upon which her narrative and analysis stand, and Norton, her publisher, should compel her to do so. As of 2/16, Norton has written to Hong-Fincher to acknowledge the problem and apologize. It is unclear what remedy will be pursued.

Rebecca Karl <karl.rebecca22@gmail.com>
New York University

Chinese Visions of World Order review

MCLC Resource Center is pleased to announce publication of Salvatore Babones’s review of Chinese Visions of World Order: Tianxia, Culture, and World Politics (Duke, 2017), edited by Ban Wang. The review appears below, but is best online at: http://u.osu.edu/mclc/book-reviews/babones/. My thanks to Nicholas Kaldis, MCLC literary studies book review editor, for ushering the review to publication.

Kirk Denton, editor

Chinese Visions of World Order: 
Tianxia, Culture, and World Politics

Edited by Ban Wang


Reviewed by Salvatore Babones
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright February, 2018)


Ban Wang, ed. Chinese Visions of World Order: Tianxia, Culture, and World Politics. Durham: Duke University Press, 2017. 336 pp. ISBN: 978-0-8223-6946-2 (Paperback: $27.95)

Tianxia 天下! The word itself sounds more like the title of a movie or video game than of a political program. In fact it is a video game (now in its third edition), and the word played a key role in the 2002 film Hero, in which the hero (played by Jet Li) spares the life of the ruthless Emperor Qin for the sake of “tianxia,” controversially subtitled in the original American release as “our land.” The translation was controversial because it gave tianxia, usually rendered as “all under Heaven,” a poetically patriotic connotation. Perhaps critics should not be so critical. The title of the film is, after all, Hero.

Asked about the tianxia translation, the film’s director Zhang Yimou was quite frank. “We struggled for a long time with the translation because it’s difficult. There’s a Chinese proverb that goes, ‘to suffer yourself when all under Heaven suffer, to enjoy only when all under Heaven enjoy.’ In the Chinese tradition, the idea of ‘tianxia’ has a very profound significance, and a true hero can hold ‘all under Heaven’ in his heart. If you ask me if ‘our land’ is a good translation, I can’t tell you. All translations are handicapped. Every word has different meanings in different cultures.” Continue reading

China’s Leftover Women review

Source: What’s on Weibo (2/9/18)
Leftover in China: The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower by Roseann Lake
In a new book on China’s Leftover Women, author Roseann Lakes highlights the strength and merit of China’s unmarried women.
By Manya Koetse

With Leftover in China – The Women Shaping the World’s Next Superpower, author Roseann Lake brings a deeply insightful and captivating account of China’s so-called ‘leftover women’ – the unmarried females who are shaping the future of the PRC. A must-read book for this Spring Festival holiday.

As the count-down for China’s most important event of the year, the Spring Festival, has started, countless unmarried daughters and sons anticipate the reunion with their parents and relatives with some horror. “Why are you still single?” is amongst the top-dreaded questions they are facing during the New Year’s dinners at the family dining table. Continue reading

Elegy of a River Shaman review

Source: Writing China (1/26/18)
The Last Human Tiger: Review of Fang Qi’s Elegy of a River Shaman
By Astrid Møller-Olsen

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In a fantastic blend of folk song, ecocriticism and historical fiction, the novel Elegy of a River Shaman chronicles four generations of the Tribe of the Tiger and their Tima (shaman) in the Three Gorges (san xia 三峡) region along the Yangzi River. It opens with the clan patriarch Li Diezhu’s decision to build a pioneer settlement in the fertile Lihaku ridge and moves on to relate how macro-historical events, such as the Japanese invasion of 1937 and the civil war between communists and nationalists, affected the lives and traditions of this local community.

After trailing the fates and misfortunes of the dwindling tribe, the novel ends on a hopeful note, with Diezhu’s ageing widow assuring their great-grandson of the continued survival of his people and their totem animal: “when a tiger turns five hundred years old, its fur turn white. They can live a thousand years” (467). Continue reading