Forgive Me For Rambling

Neil Thomas reviews John Minford’s recorded seminars on Chinese literature

The translator John Minford personifies the quality by which he judges prose – its “generous spirit.” For two marvelous hours on Thursday mornings in late 2015, Professor Minford taught a class on Chinese literature at The Australian National University in Canberra, where he introduced his students (myself among them) to the characters and the worlds of China’s cultural tradition.

Hidden on an obscure university website, three of Minford’s six seminars survive. (A lecture series on similar themes that Minford gave at the Hang Seng Management College in Hong Kong is also available on YouTube.) Recorded at the Australian Center on China in the World, these sessions transport listeners from the present into a past that brims with vaster life, illuminating the tribulations and the revelations of ancient writers and their modern translators.


Talking Trung

Keeping a minority language alive – Eveline Chao

In 2015, linguist Ross Perlin helped bring something utterly novel into the world: the very first book (as far as he knows) that had ever been written or published in a certain language. The language was Trung, spoken by fewer than 7,000 people in a river valley of Yunnan Province, close to the border with Burma and Tibet. The book was a Trung-Chinese-English dictionary, of which a modest number were printed and distributed locally within the 60-mile-wide area of China where Trung speakers live. The dictionary is also available online.

Together with three Trung collaborators, Perlin began compiling the dictionary in 2009. “Working first in Chinese and then haltingly in Trung, I recorded ghost stories and folksongs, studied rituals and conversations, and teased apart fine points of grammar,” Perlin wrote of the experience in Harper’s. His work with Trung stems from a broad interest in endangered languages that began in 2003, after Perlin heard Sun Hongkai, China’s most distinguished linguist, speak at the Central University for Nationalities in Beijing about China’s great diversity of languages – and the fact that many are disappearing. Perlin is now the co-director of the Endangered Language Alliance, an advocacy organization that helps New York’s immigrant and refugee communities keep their languages alive.


Pioneering Women

Susan Blumberg-Kason reviews Creating Across Cultures

Sometime during my early years of learning Mandarin, I heard the name Michelle Vosper. If memory serves me right, my Mandarin tutor back in 1990 mentioned a friend or acquaintance in Hong Kong, where I was headed at the end of that summer for a study abroad year. I never met Ms. Vosper that year or the other four I lived in Hong Kong, but it seemed serendipitous when I was introduced to her book late last year in Chicago by the English translators of Hong Kong playwright Candace Chong’s Wild Boar.

Vosper’s edited volume, Creating Across Cultures: Women in the Arts from China, Hong Kong, Macau and Taiwan, features 16 women artists from Greater China, including Chong, one of Hong Kong’s most sought-after playwrights.


Three Sketches of Peter Hessler

An American writer in China, by Wu Qi – translated by Luisetta Mudie

This piece, exploring the Chinese public’s many visions of Peter Hessler and the China he sees, is the first in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in Dandu (单读) Magazine and are translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. Subsequent essays from Dandu will run on Fridays over the following weeks. To support further translation such as this after the series ends, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page.
  1. The Big Meet-and-Greet

Hessler’s here. He has had three books published in China since 2011, and this is his first major meet-and-greet session with his readers here. Some say he’s the voice of the proletariat; the author of a Little Red Book for a new era. Put bluntly, more than just admiring the American author, Chinese people worship Hessler. Carrying English-language editions, traditional- and simplified-character editions – as if bringing different versions of holy scripture – they form a long line, waiting for Hessler to sign them.