Archive for January, 2009

An unnecessary translation for a photobook

Saturday, January 31st, 2009

Ten Year Impression
(via Joyo)

At the bookstore the other day looking for the new Han Han novel, I came across this Li Bingbing photobook. Two things struck me about it when I opened up the package after I got home:

1. The printing. It’s actually two separate volumes. The small, squarish volume in the front is a mini-autobiography — snippets of life lessons, really — with a forward by Yu Dan and short comments from other people in the movie biz. Behind it in the image on the left is the photobook itself.

What’s interesting about the print job is that the covers of the two volumes were made from a single piece of card stock. You can’t really tell from the image here, but the cover of the smaller volume is mirrored, yet I had to fold it down slice it apart from the non-mirrored cover of the larger photobook. Impressive, except that somewhere in the process the printers got disoriented and put Li Bingbing on the back cover, and upside-down.

2. The translation.  It’s nothing unusual for a book like this to have titles translated into English. Carefully deployed, foreign words and phrases can serve as another useful tool available to the book’s designer. Sure, maybe there’s a better way to translate the 灿烂 section than “Effulgence,” but the double-f and those ascenders and descenders do look fine on the page.

No, it’s the translation of selected passages that’s bewildering. Most of the text isn’t translated, but particular paragraphs have been rendered into English (by Cheng Zhaojun, who previously translated Can You Teach a Goat to Dance? into Chinese for the same publisher) and used as another design element.  Are the publishers really expecting this book to sell many copies to non-Chinese-reading audiences, or even to audiences outside mainland China? And if they are, wouldn’t they have been better off finding someone to do a competent job?

A paper-cut fantasy comic

Sunday, January 25th, 2009
Tales of Tarsylia

Tales of Tarsylia

Tales of Tarsylia (塔希里亚故事集) by Wu Miao (吴淼) is a fantasy comic strip drawn in a stylish silhouette style.

Linked here is “The Search,” a nearly-wordless story about a wizard who is looking for lost love.

The comic is hosted on Zongheng, a publisher of comics and genre fiction.The company’s Novoland-related fantasy magazine 幻想纵横 (which it translates as “Zongheng Imaginations”) published an interview with Wu Miao in its December 2008 issue, which is where I first heard of him.

Realism and Chinese literature

Monday, January 19th, 2009

From The Spell of Realism in Chinese Literature by Chen Xiwo:

I am indeed fully aware that a completely objective recognition of the facts is difficult. Any description of facts cannot avoid being colored by subjectivity. But the so-called “typical” is determined according to a pre-determined object. A typical character, for example, is “a representative of a particular class and inclination” and “a representative of the particular thinking of his age.” Why does he represent this? Because the most important social relationships are gathered in his person. There is a basis for this belief: the world in which we live is an organic whole, and it has a center. There is reason to doubt this belief, for it inevitably puts constraints onto thinking. Besides, literature itself has the perogative to fictionalize. Whatever criticism was leveled at Yu Hua’s Brothers, practically all of it revolved around “reality.” But in fact, the problem with Brothers wasn’t that it wasn’t real, but that it tried too much to be real and in doing so became a model, an imitation of reality. Strive as he might, the writer simply couldn’t take flight. The author ought to have boldy cast off from reality and let literature drift upward.

Chen Xiwo is working with Engels’ definition of realism: “Realism, to my mind, implies, besides truth of detail, the truthful reproduction of typical characters under typical circumstances.”

A taxonomy of Chinese blog posts

Saturday, January 17th, 2009

From Yuyiwang’s blog:

Commonly-observed forms of online writing

  1. The Annie Baobei (安妮宝贝体). The characteristics of this form are: clusters of short sentences, three or four to a paragraph. Lots of adverbials and adjectives in a lucid context, it’s basically one person talking to herself. Frequently appearing props: flowers, grass, plants, and children, and they’re all pretty clean, aesthetically pleasing, and lushly detailed. On average, each paragraph contains what appears to be a sentence of incisive criticism. There may be an emotional object, such as a man named Lin or Shen, but this is nothing more than mirror to reflect light back on oneself. This type of writing is typically short, as the writer lacks a breadth of knowledge or substantive details and has no concern for the people around her. Information content is low and seldom generates conversation.
  2. The Shu Yi (亦舒体). A cold, detached perspective that feigns having seen it all. “She” is written “伊”, and 吧 is written “罢了.” Here too, short sentences predominate, and they’re decisive declarative sentences. Life experience, with a slightly pedagogical attitude, but in my own experience, this form is mostly written by the naive. The intelligence of the language is just a pauper’s wedding — borrowed pageantry. I’m generally fairly well-disposed toward girls who write in the Shu Yi form. It emphasizes reason, where the Annie stresses feelings. However, nothing should be taken too far. Too much argument is like a mouthful of wax; too much emotion is like choking on words.Also: These two forms, with their short sentences and frequent paragraph changes, belong to the sprinters. Clever sentences cluster so thickly it’s fatiguing, and these end up sounding long-winded if they get too long. They usually shouldn’t exceed 1,500 characters.
  3. The Eileen (爱玲体). Similar to the Shu Yi, but there’s a little more body to the writing. Arguments are layered, and articles are usually divided into parts. Qiqi’s early criticism was a little like a relaxed version of the Eileen: leisurely and lucid without giving offense. I quite liked it. This style of writing is trenchant, rich in information, and can be extended to more than 2,000 characters.
  4. The Cartoon (卡通体). Sarcasm delivered in a childish tone. Simple, short language with few adjectives and adverbs but lots of “Yee,” “Yow,” and “Oh.” Certain individuals have found great success with this form. The greatest difficulty with baby-faced writing is the same as when a child actor attempts an image change. It’s innocent and cute when you’re twenty, but if you’re still affecting the intonation of a child when you’re thirty, people begin to suspect that you’re simply childish. So when I saw Annie Inoh’s relationship problems I felt I could relax a bit, because it felt much more natural than seeing her in a tiered dress at thirty-six.
  5. (more…)

On the Island by Ren Xiaowen

Saturday, January 3rd, 2009


A mental patient who may or may not have killed her professor, with whom she may or may not have been having an affair, is shipped off to a strange island colony whose handful of inmates divide their time between long shifts of manual labor and sessions of vicious gossip about each other. Following instructions from the “ship’s captain,” the island’s shadowy master, a bored cadre conducts criticism sessions in which he encourages the inmates to confess to elaborate crimes.

There’s not much of a plot beyond a slow reveal of the island’s purpose, but the narrator’s desire to recover her lost memory and understand how she arrived on the island keep the book moving until the inmates’ fragile society collapses and the dead bodies start piling up.

This is the author’s first novel, written in 2002 but only published this year following a collection of short stories and a second novel, The Women (她们).