Essays

Hong Kong’s Sickness

Hong Kong writer Hon Lai-chu on a city dividedtrans. Andrea Lingenfelter

Translator’s note: Hon Lai Chu, an award-winning writer from Hong Kong, wrote this essay at the end of August. At that time, her neighborhood of Tsuen Wan was the scene of violent clashes between police and demonstrators. In early September, Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced that the extradition bill that initially sparked the protests would be withdrawn, yet the gesture was seen as too little too late, and it was not until October 23 that the bill was formally withdrawn. Demonstrations continued, and the situation has become increasingly volatile, with Polytechnic University under siege in mid November, and a December 8 march drawing an estimated 800,000 participants.

In her essay, Hon Lai Chu writes of the loss of public trust, and references one of Hong Kong’s formerly most beloved and reliable institutions, the MTR metro system, which has periodically closed stations to make it more difficult for people to reach demonstrations. There have also been numerous documented instances of police brutality, as well as organized attacks on protesters by members of organized crime, while police have turned a blind eye. As Hon Lai Chu observes, like teargas residue (which left this writer with a headache and watery eyes after a brief visit to a shopping mall in Mongkok), the after-effects of this conflict will linger long after the crisis has been resolved. – Andrea Lingenfelter

Hong Kong these days is like a body afflicted with a malignant tumor: the mind is unwilling to acknowledge the tumor’s existence and only wants to clean up the annoying but superficial daily signs of disease; yet the heart is plagued by unease. Illness is an ongoing struggle in the body, and only a healthy person has the strength to withstand the battle between good cells and bad cells. Whether we’re talking about one person or an entire city, a bout of sickness represents an opportunity for deeply seated problems to be cured. Although a body that has never known illness may continue to function normally, when toxins accumulate and cannot be easily expelled, the condition can be fatal.

Oolong Podcast

Jiayang Fan on China Correspondence

AN EPISODE OF THE OOLONG PODCAST

Jiayang Fang, a staff writer at The New Yorker since 2016, discusses her career path that lead her to becoming one of the most prolific Chinese-American storytellers writing today. She talks to host Lev Nachman about the challenges of being a Chinese-American journalist, and offers advice for up-and-coming journalists interested in covering contemporary China, as well as to other Chinese-Americans who want to write in-depth stories about the nation:

Reviews

What Xi Thinks

Tanner Greer reviews Inside the Mind of Xi Jinping by François Bougon

General Secretary Xi Jinping is a Chinese renaissance man. Self-assured, self-possessed and utterly unflappable, Xi appears equally at home on the hearths of struggling farmers and in the greeting halls of foreign capitals. State media likes to juxtapose the years he spent in the caves of Shanxi with the months he spent governing Shanghai's glittering towers. Here is a man as men should be: a leader who can grasp both the plow and the bond market.

Though Xi majored in chemical engineering, he presents himself as a litterateur. When in Russia, he peppers his speeches with the words of Dostoevsky and Golgol; when in France, of Molière and Maupassant. To better understand the meaning of The Old Man and the Sea, Xi traveled to Hemingway's favorite bar in Havana. Xi has a hankering for historical sites like these, especially those associated with famous scenes from the stories of Chinese antiquity. He cultivates a reputation for taking history seriously; his speeches are filled with allusions to obscure sages and statesmen from China's past.

Translation

Arriving in London

An essay by Wu Qi, translated by Allen Young

Ed: Over the last years, partnered with Paper Republic, we have run two seasons of translations from One Way Street Magazine (单读) , a quarterly literary magazine that grew out of the iconic Beijing bookstore of the same name (read more of its history here). To put a cap on it, after various home takes on China, here is a short essay by One Way Street editor Wu Qi on his impressions of London, which first appeared at NeoCha.

The first thing I noticed about London were the chimneys. On the outskirts of town, each and every residential building, large and small, is crowned with a brick-red or pale-yellow stack, darkened to a coal black by years of smoke – a silent relic of the Industrial Revolution. As my train pulled into Liverpool Street Station, the tangle of tracks, taut wires and cellular equipment converged onto a single path, and my ignorance was lulled by a strange physical familiarity: if, on the outside, the station was an airy structure of brick and iron that set the tone for London’s past, on the inside it was just a dark tunnel lying at the end of some quiet country scenery.

Fiction, Translation

Sea Wind on a Bald Head

New fiction by Zhu Yiye – translated by Liuyu Ivy Chen

How does a Chinese millennial female writer respond to the moral dilemmas of contemporary China? Zhu Yiye’s dark stories offer a poignant satire, detailing ordinary citizens who sleepwalk through a society plagued by cruelty and apathy. A strong sense of dread and invisibility shroud the characters, revealing deep psychological scars. Yet Zhu rejects any simplistic statement. As she said in a 2018 interview, “I think writing is a very private thing … I don’t try to make any point in my stories because I’m very confused myself. Those who attempt to summarize a theme, learn a life lesson, or search for meaning or positive energy, will probably be very disappointed.” Despite this ambiguity, ‘Sea Wind on a Bald Head,’ the first of nine stories in her collection The Girl Who Eats Sparrow, is a lucid tale of marriage, midlife crisis, and queer identity. – Liuyu Ivy Chen

When the wind blows in the mourning hall windows, Teacher Liu loses his hearing for a second. He sees clearly his younger brother’s thin hair standing up from out of the photo, revealing a bald head, a little comical. Teacher Liu deftly raises four fingers like a rough comb, to push a few strands of hair back on his own head. In the photo, his younger brother has recovered his simple honest look, mixed with innocence and grievance––his lips parted slightly, carrying a sign of doubt. Teacher Liu sighs, unable to erase his younger brother’s doubt. He can’t even control his own ear valves as they reopen and his sister-in-law’s wailing floods his head. He feels his brain soaking in brine, sagging rapidly. 

“Why are you standing here like a fool? Go make yourself useful!” Teacher Yang shoves Teacher Liu, almost to the ground.