The Chinese Salt Trade. An Opening for British Enterprise
E. H. Parker
The Economic Journal Vol. 9, No. 33 (Mar., 1899), pp. 116-125

via JSTOR.

Sherlock Holmes and the adventure of the stolen annotations

The Complete Sherlock Holmes, Illustrated and Annotated (via Douban)

New Star Press has released a new edition of the complete Sherlock Holmes stories. Arthur Conan Doyle’s famous detective made his first appearance in Chinese in 1896 (the year after John Fryer’s fiction contest), and the first complete translation was published in 1916.

This new edition, published in nine hardcover volumes with a list price of 580 RMB, boasts more than 2,000 annotations and an array of essays introducing Holmes and his world. But according to a devastating review of the collection in the Shanghai Review of Books, the vast majority of those annotations were copied without attribution from other sources, largely from Leslie S. Klinger’s The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes, but also from The Annotated Sherlock HolmesEncyclopaedia Sherlockiana, and Canonical Compendium.

The author of the piece, Chen Yibai (陈一白)[1], accuses Liu Zhen (刘臻) of plagiarism and proceeds to mock him throughout the article, beginning with his identification in the publisher’s promotional copy as “the country’s foremost Holmes scholar.” Chen quotes this title several times in the piece, and notes dismissively that Holmes studies has never been a particularly hot field in China.

As for the text itself, Chen’s approach is simple: he pairs Liu’s annotations to “A Scandal in Bohemia” (which he says are representative of the quality of the work as a whole) with nearly identical notes from English-language editions. In a few especially damning examples, Liu has apparently reproduced mistakes made by the original annotators. Nor is Chen pleased with Liu’s original annotations; he calls him out for exaggerating the extent of his research. In one note, Liu asserts, “This sentence was not in the author’s earliest manuscript, but was added later to the proof copy.” Chen retorts,


Conan Doyle’s manuscript for “A Scandal in Bohemia” is held by the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas at Austin, but a facsimile edition has been published. Mr. Liu Zhen may have read the “earliest manuscript” in that facsimile edition, but how would he have read the “proof copy”? Does the reader believe that a proof copy of an English magazine from over a hundred years ago was read by a modern-day Chinese? Whether you believe it or not, at any rate I don’t believe it.[2]

Chen’s article rocked the mystery community, sparking a spirited debate on Douban that resulted in a rash of thread deletions by a New Star Press editor who moderated a mystery discussion group.

According to a follow-up report that ran in this week’s SRB, one Douban commenter asked whether New Star Press had obtained translation rights from Leslie S. Klinger, and Chu Meng (褚盟), deputy editor in charge of the Midnight Library series that includes the Holmes collection, replied, “Definitely not….I was never aware that this edition would have this kind of connection to something else!”

Then Chu struck out at the annotator:


An article in the contract…roughly states, “The annotator must possess all rights to the annotations; in any dispute, the annotator assumes responsibility.” –Just like millions of author contracts out there! I and the editor in charge have not seen the foreign edition, and have not attempted to establish any “relationship” with that edition.

Liu Zhen (known online as ellry or 老埃) shot back:


First, the manuscript contained a preface and a reference list. The preface clearly explained that the annotations were based upon four annotated editions: (1) Baring-Gould’s annotated edition; (2) The Oxford annotated edition; (3) Klinger’s annotated edition; (4) Klinger’s Sherlock Holmes Reference Library. The reference list contained many more reference works. However, neither piece was included at publication time. Second, in regards to “The annotator must possess all rights to the annotations; in any dispute, the annotator assumes responsibility,” the contract does not contain that article.

Chu Meng then deleted the discussion threads and eventually shut down his account.

From the limited information available, it is hard to say who is at fault. Surely the publisher should have been aware of the existing English-language annotated editions, particularly if the annotator provided a reference list, and ought to have checked for any infringement. Still, it strikes me as foolhardy for an annotator to rely so heavily upon translated material, trusting that the publisher will be able to work out the rights issues prior to publication.

  1. [1]This is apparently a pseudonym for translator Li Jihong (李继宏), of The Kite Runner fame. The Chen Yibai byline has appeared on other articles that pick at nits in translations, including a take-down of Yu Guangzhong’s revised translation of Old Man and the Sea and a critical review of Zhang Hua and Zou Ya’s translation of Stephen King’s Lisey’s Story (that article drew a strong response here).
  2. [2]This meme is quickly approaching geilivable levels of annoyance. In this same issue, Xiao Bao’s column runs under the title “At any rate, I believe it,” although the offense is mitigated somewhat by the fact that the column’s content actually involves belief, in the context of a discussion of Micheal Shermer and the Skeptics Society.

Chinese fiction contest ’95

Last week’s Shanghai Review of Books featured a fascinating essay by Qu Muyang on the beginnings of modern Chinese fiction sparked by the publication of A Collection of New Novels from the Late Qing (清末时新小说集), which reproduces manuscripts submitted to a 1895 fiction contest.

The contest was run by John Fryer, an Englishman who headed the translation department of the Jiangnan Arsenal and established the Chinese Scientific Book Depot in Shanghai. Patrick Hanan’s essay, “The New Novel Before the New Novel — John Fryer’s Fiction Contest,”[1] is an engaging account of Fryer’s activities in China, the contest itself, and the effect that it had on the development of fiction in China.

Social criticism was the explicit aim of the contest, as Hanan explains:

It was as owner of the bookstore that he briefly involved himself in the development of Chinese fiction. In May 1895, seven years before the publication of Liang Qichao’s Xin xiaoshuo, he announced a public contest for new fiction and advertised it in the press. The seven leading contestants were to receive prizes, and their work was to be considered for publication. Fryer also held out to prizewinners the possibility of long-term employment as writers. What he was seeking was fiction with a social purpose; it had to attack, as well as suggest remedies for, what he saw as the three great afflictions of Chinese society: opium, the examination essay, and foot-binding.[125]

Fryer ran advertisements in two languages, the Chinese versions emphasizing  patriotism, the English, Christian ethics. He received 162 entries, the vast majority of which he called “rubbish.” In the SRB, Qu Muyang concurs: “The vast majority of these ‘new novels’ exhibit little technique, flat characters, bland plots, and many of them are hardly even novels at all.”

In his essay, Hanan argues that Fryer’s contest pushes back the generally-accepted date for the beginnings of new fiction in China (Xin xiaoshuo in 1902), and speculates on how the stories may have influenced other late-Qing writers. Perhaps those influences can be tracked down, now that the stories themselves are available. Qu notes that vast majority of submissions were from writers with backgrounds in missionary schools, and thus whatever their literary merit, the stories may be a valuable source of information about institutional Christianity in China in the 1890s.

Hanan wrote his essay relying on news reports, Fryer’s advertisements, and two novels directly inspired by the contest, but the entries themselves were thought to be lost forever. However, in 2006, as UC-Berkeley’s East Asian Library was preparing to move to a new facility, they were rediscovered, more than a century after they were written. They have now been reprinted in a 14-volume collection which can be yours for just 1,680 RMB.

  1. [1]This essay is included in Chinese fiction of the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: essays (2004), which is available on Google books.

Foreignized hanzi

The “Year’s Best 21st Century Foreign Fiction,” 2010 edition, published by People’s Literature Publishing House, embeds several foreign scripts into the series logo:


Detail from the cover of Kaltenburg.

Scripts/languages represented: Latin (L), Japanese (), Korean (), Cyrillic (Π), and Spanish (ñ).

See also: Tibetan-style Chinese on Danwei.

Image from