Reviews

Do No Harm

Christopher Magoon reviews Classical Chinese Medicine by Liu Lihong 

As anyone who has lived there can attest, Traditional Chinese Medicine (TCM) remains a force in modern China. Call in sick and hear blame from your colleagues for drinking cold water. Find yourself with a stomach ache and prepare for wrinkly herbs from eager good Samaritans. The Chinese government is also bolstering TCM: pouring money into Chinese medicine centers, censoring critical articles, even jailing skeptics.

In China, modern medicine and TCM coexist mostly peacefully. Nearly every public hospital I’ve visited in China – big and small, urban and rural – has a TCM ward, nestled between the floors of modern services such as neurology, surgery and pediatrics. Most patients in China shift back and forth between traditional and modern medicine, with a seemingly intuitive understanding of the strengths and limitations of each. For chronic pain or fatigue, they lean on TCM; when they need an appendix out, they see a modern surgeon.

As an American physician who has spent significant time in China, I have been curious about the workings of TCM.  So I was glad to see that Liu Lihong’s best selling work Classical Chinese Medicine (思考中医) had been translated into English, published last summer. I was excited to dive into a TCM’s philosophy, evidence and theory, designed for the modern reader. Or as the book jacket sells it, “concrete and inspiring guidance on how to effectively engage with ancient texts and designs in the postmodern age.” What I found, unfortunately, was a slipshod polemic woven through a tedious overview of a two thousand year old textbook.

Poetry

Spring’s White Blossom

A new poem by Huang Fan, translated by Josh Stenberg


It’s like a white hand, suddenly over my face
Two months already, I’m still not used to it
Warm over my sighing embrace
So even my mother tongue gets carefully filtered?

It’s the jail gate of the tongue, imprisoning how much hot air
It keeps even love at a distance
It says our mouths are like wounds it needs to tightly bandage
It’s like a white moon, makes me bury my desires in a dream.

It’s this spring’s most abundant white blossom
Trying to match tragedy’s hue
It’s also winter in a patient’s lungs
Freezing to permafrost on everyone’s faces
And when I complain while wearing you, my mouth fills with shame.

Essays

Memory in the Year of Covid

Artist Zhang Xiaogang’s new painting in response to the pandemic – Jonathan Fineberg

Zhang Xiaogang, born in China in 1958, grew up during the Cultural Revolution and was among the first generation of artists to emerge from the newly reopened art schools after the death of Mao. He is today revered in China, and recognized internationally as one of China’s leading artists. He shows with Pace Gallery worldwide, but he lives and works in Beijing.

In late February, Zhang emailed me to say that he and his wife Jiajia “have been self-isolated at home for a month … during this special period. China is experiencing a double disaster – the challenge of disease and humanity.” Six weeks later (in April), he sent me a photo of a new self-portrait. In it, he sits on a brown sofa, eyes closed in contemplation, with a bell jar over his head. It is a poetic and poignant image that goes straight to my own sense of living in this moment of global infection. I don’t speak Chinese and Zhang doesn’t speak English. But this painting articulates a complicated set of feelings which we all understand.

Essays

Mr. Lovecraft Goes to China

Nick Stember delves into H.P. Lovecraft’s legacy, and a new Chinese collection inspired by it

Long a loomingly tenebrous presence in American pop culture, it was perhaps only a matter of time before the disturbing specter of H.P. Lovecraft slithered into Chinese. While the definitive history of Lovecraftian sino-fic remains to be written, Camphor Press’ new collection of Chinese short stories inspired by Lovecraft, The Flock of Ba-Hui and Other Stories, may well be the first to survived the journey into English, thanks to translators Arthur Meursault and Akira.

Although Lovecraft’s work had found its way into Chinese as early as 2005 with a translation of August Derleth’s classic 1969 collection Tales of the Cthulhu Mythos (credited to Hu Jianhong and Yu Yunling, published by Harbin Press under the title Myths of Lovecraft: Return of the Evil Gods), this particular iteration would seem to trace it’s eldritch origins back to late 2007, in the heady days before the bacchanal of the Beijing Olympics. On (one would imagine) a dark and stormy night of December 5, 2007, a subforum dedicated to the bestselling tabletop roleplaying game Call of Cthulhu (CoC) was launched on The Ring of Wonder (TROW), an online community for Chinese (and Chinese-speaking) fans of fantasy gaming, roleplaying and fiction.

Reviews

A Map of Shanghai’s Neglected Crannies

Kevin McGeary reviews a new story collection, The Book of Shanghai

In 2019, the Globe and Mail published an op-ed titled ‘Welcome to Shanghai: Capital of the Future.’ In it, the author describes his experience of visiting the city as like “walking through the looking glass into the future.” Citing the city’s “muscular” building strategy, colossal scale, citizens’ entrepreneurial energy, and (of course) China’s ancient history, much of the article would not have been out of place in The Global Times. While he says London and New York are “the world’s current leading cities,” some of his arguments as to why Shanghai is primed to overtake them are strong.

Yet fiction leaves more room for exploring the conflict between how a city sees itself and how the world sees it. At its best, literature can capture both the appealing and the abhorrent aspects of a particular time and place. As editor Jin Li mentions in his introduction to a new collection of fiction based in the city, The Book of Shanghai, unlike Beijing, Xi’an or nearby Hangzhou, Shanghai did not become a major city until after the first Opium War when the colonial powers used it as a port. From its hey-day in the 1920s, Shanghai was an important hub through which an ancient culture entered the modern world.