Q&A

Translating Tibetan Literature

Kevin McGeary talks to Tsering Döndrup’s translator, Christopher Peacock

Christopher Peacock is a PhD candidate at Columbia University, and translator from the Tibetan of The Handsome Monk and Other Stories, a collection of fiction by Tsering Döndrup. Born in 1961 in Qinghai, a Tibetan area of China, Döndrup began writing in the early 1980s and has published many collections of short fiction and four full-length novels. His work has been translated into several languages, and he is the recipient of a number of Tibetan, Mongolian and nationwide literary prizes in China. I talked to Christopher Peacock about Döndrup’s work and the state of Tibetan literature.

How did you become involved with Tsering Döndrup and The Handsome Monk?    

Initially, because I was researching his short story ‘Ralo.’ I was aware that several Tibetan critics had compared it to Lu Xun’s ‘The True Story of Ah Q,’ and this fit very closely with my interest in Tibetan adaptations of Chinese literary discourse. I interviewed the author about the story, and later I translated it for my own use. As I read more of his work, I became interested in putting together a whole collection.

Hidden History

How Japan Tried to Save Thousands of Jews from the Holocaust

The plan for a Jewish settlement in Japanese-occupied China – Kevin McGeary

A number of events have happened in the last few years to suggest that we might be returning to the 1930s, the last great period of darkness in Western political history. Yet a little-known tale from World War II involves a dispute between Japan and Germany, two of the 20th century’s biggest partners in war crime. Japan’s campaign to populate Manchuria with Jewish refugees, many of whom were fleeing the Nazis, was marketed as a humanitarian project, but many of the officials behind it would be executed as war criminals after Japan’s 1945 surrender. Its backstory is even more bizarre than the premise suggests.

Hidden History

Republican China’s Most Mysterious Man

An assassin who met a suspicious end – Kevin McGeary

The first half of the 20th century had many characters – T.E. Lawrence springs to mind – who excelled as both men of thought and men of action, living lives that dwarf any author’s imagination. As Orson Welles ad-libbed in The Third Man, there is something about living through the kind of times nobody wants to live through that brings out greatness.

Another such man was Dai Li 戴笠. A genius of military intelligence, Dai (also known as Dai Yunong 戴雨農) was China’s most accomplished assassin during the War of Resistance against Japan. As well as helping Chiang Kai-shek claim the scalps of high-profile enemies and defectors, he also bedded some of the most glamorous women of his day.

After Dai’s death in a plane crash on March 17, 1946, Chiang Kai-shek is known to have rallied his troops by insisting, “Dai Li never died.” His death was indeed mysterious and conveniently timed for those who might have wanted him dead. Several years ago, on the anniversary of his “disappearance,” Xinhua went over the whole story and the various conspiracy theories around the plane crash. However, none are as bizarre as the official history.

Hidden History

China’s Most Played Piece of Music

A funeral dirge with a red history – Kevin McGeary

Music that wears its politics on its sleeve is destined to swing violently in and out of fashion. The fado, Portugal’s most famous musical form, is now tainted by its association with fascism. Richard Wagner – who in his lifetime was given his own opera house – has long suffered the stigma of his association with the Nazi Party, which was founded 37 years after his death. China’s “red songs,” works that show support for the Chinese Communist Party and its causes, appeared to be making a comeback in 2011 due to a campaign by charismatic Chongqing official Bo Xilai. A few years earlier, an American going by the stage name of Hong Laowai became a much-loved online celebrity in the People’s Republic for his renditions of patriotic Mao-era songs. In neither case was a movement sparked.

Though writing music is often an attempt at achieving immortality, even the most popular music can die with the beliefs that inspired it. Songs that were staples in the 1960s, such as ‘The East is Red,’ are now seldom heard outside period dramas due to their toxic associations. But one such song that has endured in China is the funeral dirge (āiyuè 哀乐), composed in 1945 by then-25-year-old Luo Lang.

Q&A

Gods of China Past and Present

Kevin McGeary talks to Xueting Christine Ni about Chinese deities

What drew you to the topic of Chinese deities? How are they unique compared to other cultures?

There are very few books in English on the subject that are accessible and at the same time provide sufficient depth. It tends to be either academic research or glib guides that merely skim the surface. Chinese spirituality is one of the best facets through which Western readers can understand China’s society. Its observation and practice have completely integrated with China’s social customs and everyday life, and are also very much linked to broader economic and political developments in history.  Chinese gods have evolved through centuries, from multiple belief systems, some indigenous like Confucian philosophy and Daoism, others foreign, such as Buddhism and even Persian religions. Not to mention the 56 officially-recognized ethnic groups in this vast country, each with their own languages, cultures and beliefs. This process is only really possible in a climate unique to China, and is one of the reasons why Chinese spirituality is so diverse. Whilst there are many unique elements, it’s by no means alien to anyone on the outside, and I do think that letting people in on this subject is a key for better understanding.