Essay

When Malaparte Met Mao

Anatomy of a fellow traveller – Frank Beyer

In 1956 the Italian novelist, Curzio Malaparte, received an invitation to travel to Beijing for a commemoration of the death of writer Lu Xun. Malaparte is most famous for his quasi-surrealist WWII novels, Kaputt and La Pelle (The Skin). In Kaputt, as a journalist and officer in the Italian army, he narrates what happened behind the Eastern Front. Episodes from Ukraine, Finland, Romania and Poland get us up close and personal with, amongst others, members of the Nazi elite. Malaparte seems to revel in the horrific subject matter, showing the abuses and hypocrisies of the Axis forces like no other. In The Skin he is a liaison officer attached to the American army, taking us on a Dantesque tour of the hell that is Naples after Allied liberation. He exposes the naivety of the Americans and the damage done to the already miserable local population.

Malaparte was a keen observer, who did not shy away from making criticisms. Why then, on his trip to China, was he so charmed by everything? Did he leave his critical faculties back in Europe?

Dispatch

A Mind Map of Beijing

A junkyard jaunt through an artist’s psychogeography – Robert Foyle Hunwick

UK artist Gareth Fuller calls his door-sized monochrome artwork, Beijing,  unveiled at the Art Beijing fair, earlier this month, a  “mind map.” Like his previous works, these psychic illustrations of physical spaces are drawn with whimsical detail, literary reference, and topographical disregard. Fuller’s version of the Forbidden City, for example, weaves in in a reference to China’s Belt and Road initiative and to its high-speed rail network.

Fuller’s reimagination of China’s capital speaks to its fraught history of hegemonic expansionism, cultural appropriation, ethnic strife and political correctness (at least no one calls it Peking any more), as well as good old-fashioned blood feuds, border tensions, and foreign and domestic plunder. A palimpsest of detail, Beijing reveals more with each viewing, from cultural allusions and jokes to an accident involving a seven-foot ditch, commemorated by an ankle with a question mark.

Chinese Literature Podcast

Heart on a Shelf

Rob Moore and Lee Moore discuss Dong Xi's Record of Regret with Dylan Levi King

Now available in English translation from Dylan Levi King, Dong Xi's Record of Regret (first published by People's Literature Press in 2005) exists at the intersection of sex and ideology. Telling the story of Ceng Guangxian, the grandchild of a landlord whose property was confiscated by the communists in 1949, the book memorably begins with deux chiens fourrent. Rob and Lee quiz Dylan on Dong Xi's literary inspirations ("a mix of socialist realism and Madame Bovary"), his darkly funny, Kafkaesque takes on social alienation, and reception of his writing in China:

Chinese Corner

If Elephants Could Fly

Illuminating Cantonese idioms – Rosalyn Shih

In February 2014, Hong Kong cartoonist Ah Toh (阿塗) published a Cantonese comic through the independent magazine Passion Times that became an instant viral hit. Based on the 16th-century Flemish painting Netherlandish Proverbs, Ah Toh’s version includes illustrations of 81 Cantonese idioms:

The cartoon shows just how colorful Hong Kong and southern Chinese idioms (jin6 jyu5 諺語) can get. These include four-character idioms (sing4 jyu5 成語) such as “the elephant flies across the river” (fei1 zoeng6 gwo3 ho4 飛象過河) – to do something unexpected or break the rules – and everyday slang such as “to stir-fry squid” (caau2 jau4 jyu2 炒魷魚) – to fire someone (or to be fired, if you add the passive participle bei before it).

Review

China Memoirs Get Personal

Susan Blumberg-Kason reviews The Road to Sleeping Dragon

A decade ago, China memoirs hit the publishing world in the US with a force that hasn’t let up. The storm is powered in part by Peace Corps alumni: Mike Levy (Kosher Chinese); four-time China memoirist and New Yorker writer Peter Hessler; and Michael Meyer, whose third China memoir, The Road to Sleeping Dragon: Learning China from the Ground Up, was released late last year. I enjoyed Meyer’s The Last Days of Old Beijing when it came out in 2010. And I poured through In Manchuria in a couple of sittings a few years ago. They all took a serious tone and seemed determined to inform a reader who hadn’t ventured to China.

Apart from John Pomfret in his memoir, Chinese Lessons, about a time just after the US and China normalized relations, most American men-in-China memoirists haven’t delved much into their personal lives. And most have been single when they arrived in China. Women memoirists have been more open with their personal stories, like Rachel DeWoskin in Foreign Babes in Beijing and Susan Conley in The Foremost Good Fortune. Fuchsia Dunlop’s Shark’s Fin and Sichuan Pepper is a food memoir, but she goes into detail about feeling lonely and isolated at her school.