Fifth Generation retrospective at HKIFF

Source: SCMP (3/12/19)
How China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers defied censorship and criticism to break new ground
New ways of storytelling and rich political allegories were the innovations that this new breed of maverick directors introduced. Bold in abstraction and symbolism, their films relied on images rather than dialogue for expression
By Richard James Havis

A still from Zhang Yimou’s directorial debut Red Sorghum (1988).

A still from Zhang Yimou’s directorial debut Red Sorghum (1988).

It has been 41 years since China’s Fifth Generation filmmakers started classes at the Beijing Film Academy, and 35 years since The Yellow Earth, directed by Chen Kaige and photographed by Zhang Yimou, changed the face of filmmaking in the country.

The Chinese film industry has modernised so quickly that the innovations this disparate group brought to filmmaking in the country, and the courage they showed in the face of censorship by the state authorities, has been all but forgotten.

A retrospective at this year’s Hong Kong International Film Festival (HKIFF) aims to set the record straight. The five-film retrospective presents classic early works by the Fifth Generation, including The Yellow Earth, Tian Zhuangzhuang’s semi-abstract masterpiece The Horse Thief, and the cheeky satirical comedy The Black Cannon Incident. Continue reading

Love in the New Millennium nominated for Man Booker

Source: Radii (3/13/19)
Can Xue’s “Love in the New Millennium” Nominated for 2019 Man Booker International Prize
The 2019 Man Booker International Prize long list has been announced, with Chinese author Can Xue’s fantastical Love in the New Millennium among the nominees

Chinese avant-garde author Can Xue’s “darkly comic” novel Love in the New Millenium has made the Man Booker International Prize 2019 long list. The story follows “a group of women [that] inhabits a world of constant surveillance” and represents the “most ambitious work of fiction by a writer widely considered the most important novelist working in China today”, according to its English language publisher, Yale University Press.

Deng Xiaohua, the author behind the Can Xue pseudonym, was born in Changsha, in China’s southern province of Hunan. Her father, the one-time editor-in-chief of a prominent newspaper in the province, was labelled an “Ultra-Rightist” in the late 1950s along with other intellectuals of the period, and was sent to the countryside for two years for allegedly leading an anti-Communist group at the paper. Continue reading

The Forgotten 1910s

I would like to announce the existence of my new website: “The Forgotten 1910s – 尋找辛亥文風.”

This website is conceived as a translation platform for long ignored literary pieces of the early 1910s. Its main purpose is to provide China focused scholars and students with a representative selection of famous literary works of that time, which covers the end of the Qing empire and the first years of the Republican era. Most of the pieces translated here were written in Classical Chinese, usually in the elite form of pianwen 駢文 (paralleled prose), and serialized in political newspapers such as People’s Rights (Minquanbao 民權報, 1912-1914).

I choose to focus on what I suggest to label “early Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies” (1912-1918) writers. This group, contrary to others novelists and writers often conveniently gathered under the deceptive label “Mandarin Ducks and Butterflies,” manifested and claimed a sense of unity. Acting as leading figures of this group were Xu Zhenya 徐枕亞 (1889-1937), Wu Shuangre 吳雙熱 (1885-1934), Xu Tianxiao 徐天嘯 (1886-1941), Li Dingyi 李定夷 (1890-1963), and Liu Tieleng 劉鐵冷 (1881-1961).

Joachim Boittout <>

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (4)

I have been trying to think of how to respond to Magnus Fiskesjö’s remarks, which astonished me because they seemed so totally off the mark and indicated that he was not really acquainted with Li Xueqin’s publications. Thus, his response to Ian’s Johnson’s clarification is useful in at least giving me some idea of where he is coming from. I do not know the context of the statement Li made to this group of Western scholars about believing the ancient texts, but it does show that he was never a sycophant whatever his audience.

Li was not a deeply conservative scholar. He was, in fact, steeped in the Gushibian. He once told me that he had read every word of it as a teenager and it was surely one of his inspirations for entering the field. He was also acquainted with Western scholarship and made a point of introducing it to his students and encouraging them to read broadly. However, he did not see Doubt Antiquity as standing for healthy skepticism, as Western scholars tend to, but as a specific set of arguments about the ancient texts. With the discovery of excavated texts, beginning with Mawangdui, he increasingly began to doubt the validity of those arguments. Nevertheless, Li did not, simply revert to accepting the tradition uncritically. Leaving Behind the Era of Doubting the Ancients (Zouchu yigu shidai 走出疑古时代) is not, as Fiskesjö stated, a book that Li wrote, but a collection of his essays on various topics. In the eponymous article (originally a talk), Li did not call for giving up skepticism and believing the ancient texts (xin gu 信古). He advocated using two-pronged evidence of archaeology and transmitted texts, which he called, shi gu 释古, “explaining the ancients,” after Wang Guowei. He did think that the Xia Dynasty was historical. I am well-known for having written about the Xia as a myth, but there are legitimate scholarly reasons for identifying Erlitou culture with a Xia Dynasty, even if I don’t think they are correct. Continue reading

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (3)

I want to thank Ian Johnson for the clarification. Glad to be corrected on that score (#1). I should not have lumped both obituaries together like I did there. I guess I got hung up on the end where he comes across as a critically thinking scholar, “But now we can see that the past is always changing.” It might be that those things could go together, and perhaps could go together in him.

I feel a bit awkward to bring up criticism so soon after his passing, and so I tried to acknowledge he was indeed a great scholar — but also, deeply conservative, in a truly harmful way. — I’m grateful for the impetus from your obituary — in contrast to the other one, which is also valuable, but does not mention these issues — to look again at the whole idea of “Believing the Ancients,” that Li pushed: One worthwhile piece is Lin Yun’s article 真该走出疑古时代吗?——对当前中国古典学取向的看法 [Should the Era of Historical Skepticism be Transcended?] in Shixue jikan No. 3, 2007, in which Lin argues forcefully and explicitly against Li Xueqin, that no good reason has emerged in the various new discoveries of recent decades (bamboo strip versions of books, etc.) for scholars to abandon their skepticism of the ‘old books’, and the general critical spirit inherited from Gu Jiegang and others. On the contrary, such a stance should to be a permanent stance going into the future.

Yet at the conference on ancient China where I once met and heard Li Xueqin, outside Chicago in about 1992, Li’s chief mantra was ‘wo xiangxin gushu,’ “I believe the old books,” spoken to a roomful of Western scholars as if to correct us foreigners in what he suspected was our wrongheaded stance of looking critically at everything, no matter how revered.

–Magnus Fiskesjö <>

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (2)

Two small clarifications about Magnus Fiskesjö’s post (“Li Xueqin dies at 85 [1]”):

  1. My piece in the New York Times did not fail to mention how Li “actively helped build up and promote the currently dominant reactionary view of culture and heritage.” In fact, I wrote in the 1st paragraph of my New York Times obituary that  Li helped change the focus of Chinese historiography “toward emphasizing the wonders of the country’s past, a traditionalist approach in line with the Communist government’s efforts to identify itself with ancient China.” 

I also devoted a large chunk of the obituary to his work in pushing 信古, including his work on the Xia-Shang-Zhou project and how it was criticized by many scholars.

  1. Professor Fiskesjö’ perceptively asked about the Guardian’s statement that Mr. Li was 86 years old. I wondered about this myself. This was the age given by the official obituary in China, which adopts a way of dating people that I’ve found common in China. It isn’t quite the traditional way, as the person doesn’t gain a year right after 過年, but instead the age is simply calculated based on the birth and death years (in this case, 1933 and 2019). And so the obituary might have simply adopted that. However, Mr. Li was born on 28 March 1933, and as a western publication the Times used the western way of only adding a year to someone’s age after they’ve passed their birthday. Hence, to us, he was 85 years old when he died. 

best regards,

Ian Johnson <>

Li Xueqin dies at 85 (1)

Both the NYT and the Guardian obituary, below, give credit to Li Xueqin for his wide-ranging scholarship, but they fail to mention how Li also actively helped build up and promote the currently dominant reactionary view of culture and heritage. Li helped theorize this view, which holds sway in the wake of how the Chinese Communist party abandoned “class struggle” as its theoretical framework. It’s strange not to go into these aspects when remembering a grand scholar.

Arguing that we should ‘leave behind’ the healthy skepticism of the ‘Doubt the Ancients’ movement (against other outstanding scholars of ancient China, such as Lin Yun, who’s argued we have no reason to give up that skepticism), Li even wrote a book under the title Leaving Behind the Era of Doubting the Ancients (走出疑古时代).

It must have been this refusal to think critically about culture and history (which I once witnessed, live at a conference near Chicago), and instead embrace the classical heritage uncritically, that paved the way for his theorizing of the harmful current biologistic-nationalistic view of cultural relics as the blood vessels of the nation, somehow itself a living organism. Continue reading

Roderick MacFarquhar: a remembrance

Source: China File (2/16, 19)
Roderick MacFarquhar: A Remembrance
February 16, 2019
By Bao Pu

Ellen Wallop for Asia Society. Roderick MacFarquhar with his former student, political scientist Minxin Pei, at Asia Society in New York, February 28, 2017.

Bao Pu is the Publisher and Founder of New Century Press in Hong Kong, best known for its Chinese-language memoirs and historical and political titles including Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang, The Origins of the Cultural Revolution, and Mao’s Great Famine. Bao is originally from Beijing, but has lived in the United States and Hong Kong since 1989. He studied economics and public administration at Princeton’s Woodrow Wilson School, is a veteran of human rights advocacy, and previously worked in various consulting and managerial positions before becoming a publisher. Bao was awarded the Jeri Laber International Freedom to Publish Award in 2010.

When Roderick MacFarquhar passed away on February 10, 2019, I was left with a deep regret: that our friendship had been too short.

“He can be very intimidating. Don’t be put off by it; it’s just a mannerism,” Nancy Hearst, the librarian at Harvard’s Fairbank Center, warned me before taking me to meet him for the first time.

I had under my arm the manuscript of the memoir of Zhao Ziyang, the deceased former General Secretary of the Chinese Communist Party, ousted in 1989 for refusing to carry out the military crackdown of the protesters in Tiananmen Square. I had planned to publish it to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the Tiananmen protests, and I wanted MacFarquhar to write an introduction for the English version, which would be published as Prisoner of the State: The Secret Journal of Premier Zhao Ziyang. Continue reading

Li Xueqin dies at 85

Source: NYT (3/1/19)
Li Xueqin, Key Historian in China’s Embrace of Antiquity, Dies at 85
阅读简体中文版 | 閱讀繁體中文版
By Ian Johnson

Li Xueqin, one of China’s leading historians, in an undated photo. Credit: Tsinghua University

BEIJING — Li Xueqin, whose political savvy and intellectual brilliance helped shift the field of Chinese history toward emphasizing the wonders of the country’s past, a traditionalist approach in line with the Communist government’s efforts to identify itself with ancient China, died on Feb. 24 in Beijing. He was 85.

His death was confirmed by a government obituary. The official newspaper Guangming Daily paid tribute to him in an article headlined, “A Lifelong Pursuit of History; He Also Wrote Himself Into the History Books.”

That was hardly an exaggeration. For more than 20 years Mr. Li was deputy director and then director of the Institute of History, part of the Chinese Academy of Social Science — positions of unusual influence in a country that has alternately gloried in its history and rejected it as a burden. Continue reading

Chinese-English literary translation competition

Dear all,

Just a quick reminder the 5th Bai Meigui translation competition is live and the closing date is 12 midnight (GMT) 25th February. This year’s piece is a (very) short story by Hong Kong crime writer Chan Ho-kei. As ever, the competition is open to anyone, whether an established translator or a first-timer. See our website for further details.

As a footnote to this, can I also promote the publication of the winning entry of last year’s competition, which was exclusively open to high school students of Chinese. Jasmine Alexander’s translation of the Meng Yanan picture book, Happy Mid-Autumn Festival is now available to purchase, as a bilingual edition, from Balestier Press. Jasmine has been learning Chinese for 5 years and, as part of her prize, was mentored by the translator, and Marsh Award holder, Helen Wang, who helped her bring her version to print. It’s a lovely book both as a story for preschoolers and as an inspiration for older Chinese learners (and Jasmine in fact is coming to Leeds tomorrow to talk about her experience to 140 Year 7 pupils who have just started learning Chinese!).

With best wishes from Leeds!

Frances Weightman <>
The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing

Writer Yang Hengjun disappears in China

Source: NYT (1/23/19)
Chinese-Australian Writer Yang Hengjun Disappears in China
By Damien Cave and Chris Buckley

Yang Hengjun in San Diego in 2012. Credit: Weican Meng

SYDNEY, Australia — A well-known writer and former Chinese official with Australian citizenship flew from New York to China on Friday despite warnings from friends who told him it was too dangerous.

Now, he is missing and appears to have been detained by the Chinese authorities.

The writer, Yang Hengjun, did not answer his Chinese cellphone despite repeated attempts to reach him on Tuesday and Wednesday. Nor did he answer messages on WeChat, the popular Chinese social media service. Continue reading

Contemporary Chinese theatre essay competition

ESSAY COMPETITION: Contemporary Chinese Theatre

A Competition

The Chinese section of the International Association of Theatre Critics (IATC-China) announces an international contest for a text related to contemporary Chinese theatre – a theatre or performance review, a feature article on a theatre phenomenon, or an academic essay exploring an aspect of the subject matter. To be eligible, the piece must have been published in the English language during the last three years—that is, between January 1, 2016 and December 31, 2018.

Reviews should be between 1500 and 2500 words, and features and academic essays between 3500 and 6500 words.

Along with the articles, the authors are expected to provide a PDF or a photo copy of the publication where the articles were published. Continue reading

Newman Award for English Jueju

Newman Award for English Jueju/Writing Chinese Regulated Verse in English

Dear MCLC Literati,

Greetings from the University of Oklahoma! Now in its 8th year, the Newman Prize for English Jueju is again open for submissions. The window will remain open until March 1, 2019. The $500 prize is awarded in four categories: Three within the state of Oklahoma (elementary, middle, and high school) and one category for adult poets (college and adult) submitting poems from any location. For over 22 years, I have taught this form of poetry both within creative writing classes as well as in courses on Chinese literature and poetics in the belief that the best way (if not the only way) to learn about regulated verse is to learn to write it. Please keep in mind that the teaching video and game materials are a part of an evolving project, and one that has been created primarily for the purpose of general public education (elementary-high school teachers) and not for Classical Chinese poetics or phonology scholars. Still I have found this approach to teaching Chinese poetics exceptionally useful on a number of levels and hope that you and your students will find this project equally engaging and potentially enriching. The competition aspect of the project is meant to connect regulated verse culture, the rime table tradition, and the examination system so that poetics can be explored within the nexus of aesthetics, phonology/linguistics, cosmology/poetics and social/ideological forces. Therefore, I would encourage you and/or your students to participate in the competition for its full pedagogical potential, but the materials will remain in place as a teaching resource.  College-age and adult poets must submit their poems to by the deadline (March 1) along with the following information:  Name, School, and Contact information. All entries are judged blindly and winners are contacted by March 3, 2019.

For winners not in the state, you will receive your prize money and certificate by mail. Your winning poem will be read at the Newman Prize Ceremony from 6-9pm on March 8, 2019 alongside the celebration of this year’s Newman Prize for Chinese Literature winner, Xi Xi!  To learn how to write the English Jueju, please visit the website below:

Here is the link:

(Full-length) Teaching Video:

Again, I hope that you can take a moment to watch the video and try your hand and regulated English verse!

Sincerely Yours,

Jonathan Stalling <>

Eryue He dies at 73

Source: China Daily (12/17/18)
Literati mourn author of ‘Emperor’ series
By Yang Yang | China Daily

Ling Jiefang. [Photo provided to China Daily]

Elites from the world of literature and fans nationwide have been paying tribute to novelist Ling Jiefang, better known by his pen name Eryue He, who died on Saturday morning at age 73.

Ling, who was dean of the College of Liberal Arts at Zhengzhou University in Henan province, was best known for his Emperor series, which was released between 1989 and 1996, and consists of 5 million characters.

After his death, fans shared a couplet-a traditional form of two-line poetry-that includes the line, “Er yue he kai ling jie fang”, which translates as “The Yellow River’s frozen surface breaks in February, the ice is liberated.”

The poem, which quickly went viral, cleverly combines the author’s birth name and pen name. Continue reading