Q&A

How Will Chinese Americans Vote In 2020?

Mengyu Dong talks to Yi Chen about her documentary film First Vote

Yi Chen is an independent filmmaker who tells stories about Chinese American communities. In her most recent documentary, First Vote, she follows the journey of four Chinese Americans from the 2016 presidential election to the 2018 midterms. I spoke with Chen about the film’s behind-the-scenes stories as well as her own experience being a Chinese American filmmaker. She hopes her film can showcase political engagement in the Chinese American community and inspire people to vote in the upcoming presidential election. The film will be broadcast on PBS America ReFramed on October 20, 2020. – Mengyu Dong

Mengyu Dong: Let's start with the name of the film, First Vote. How did you come up with the title? What do you think it represents?

Yi Chen: It actually took me a while to come up with the title. There are several layers of meanings. I was interested in first-time voters. In 2016, it was the first time to vote for Sue Googe (former Republican candidate for the US Congress in North Carolina) and Lance (Lijian) Chen’s (Assistant Professor in the School of Business Administration at the University of Dayton). That was partly where the title came from. And, as I was becoming an American citizen, this is also my journey before I cast my first vote.

 

Q&A

Xue Yiwei: In Search of Universal Values

A Chinese novelist talks to Jeffrey Wasserstrom, introduced by Amy Hawkins

My uncle, Xue Yiwei, is a Chinese novelist. Having moved to Canada in 2002, his translated works include Dr. Bethune’s Children, an epistolary novel addressed to Norman Bethune, a Canadian doctor in wartime China, and Shenzheners, a collection of short stories inspired by James Joyce’s Dubliners but set in Xue’s hometown of Shenzhen. Xue thinks that his latest novel, King Lear and Nineteen Seventy-Nine, is the one that he was born to write. It tells the story of “the most extraordinary peasant” in rural China during the Cultural Revolution, whose love of King Lear leads him to a participate in a production directed by a visiting British poet-scholar (apparently William Empson was a prototype). The novel takes in all of Xue’s interests: Chinese culture, the interchange between “high” and “low” culture, and the role of the individual in the capricious tides of history. As relations between China and the West grow ever more tense, Xue imagines a world in which the flow of knowledge across borders is harmonious.

He started thinking about the book (which is currently being translated into English) when he was just eight years old and found a copy of Shakespeare’s tragedy in his grandfather’s desk. His grandfather lived a life of almost Shakespearean drama himself, from working with the Nationalists under Chiang Kai-shek, being branded as a landlord by Mao Zedong to being finally rehabilitated by Deng Xiaoping. Such a trajectory is common in recent Chinese history. In this interview with historian Jeffrey Wasserstrom – who in turn introduced an interview I did with mu uncle that appeared in the LARB China Blog, a precursor to the China Channel, several years ago – Xue talks about the varied people and works that have inspired him, from Lao She to James Joyce. – Amy Hawkins

Q&A

Translating Reform Era Fiction

Kevin McGeary talks to the translator of Empires of Dust by Jiang Zilong

Set in the fictional village of Guojiadian, Jiang Zilong’s Empires of Dust is a seven-hundred page tome that chronicles the rise and fall of Guo Cunxian, who transforms from impoverished peasant to formidable businessman. Described by the South China Morning Post as being “as epic, grandiose, ambitious, complex and turbulent as China itself,” this is the tenth novel by Jiang, who is often described as the father of China’s ‘reform literature,’ literature dealing with the reform and opening period after 1978. I caught up with co-translator Christopher Payne to discuss the novel, and the work involved in rendering it into English.

Of all the characters, Guo Cunxian goes through the biggest trajectory, from rejecting the sexual advances of Sister Liu to habitually committing infidelity, from eking out a living making coffins to becoming powerful and corrupt. Does he represent both the heroic and reprehensible qualities that made China’s economic boom possible?

Guo has very humble roots. His family did not participate in the Communist revolution – so no Red history to claim as their own – nor did they join up with the Party to become cadres or other revolutionary workers after 1949. They were the quintessential poor peasant family.

Q&A

Writing Between Two Languages

An interview with Chinese novelist Xie Hong – Sun Jicheng

Ed: Xie Hong is an award-winning Chinese author and poet, currently living in Shenzhen. Originally from Guangzhou, he graduated from East China Normal University with an economics degree, then studied English at the Waikato Institute of Technology in New Zealand. He began writing poetry in 1985, but turned his attention to prose fiction in 1993. His first English novel, Mao’s Town, was published in 2018, recounting the effects of the Mao era on a small Chinese town as seen through the eyes of a small boy. His translator, Sun Jicheng, talked to Xie Hong (in Chinese) for us about his life and work.

Sun Jicheng: You are one of the few Chinese novelists who write in English. Why did you decide to write in English?

Xie Hong: It was mainly due to my English-speaking environment. After moving to New Zealand, I decided to study English again, which I had not used for many years. In addition, in 2014, translators such as [yourself] began to translate my short stories to English. Dr. Kong Ruicai, the critic, encouraged me to write in English. He said that there were examples of successful Chinese writers, such as Ha Jin, who did this. At first I thought it was a joke, but then I really tried it.

Q&A

The Ghosts Inside

Matilda Colarossi talks to Lindsay Wong, author of The Woo-Woo

Lindsey Wong’s memoir The Woo-Woo relates the journey from childhood to young adulthood of a first generation Chinese-Canadian and her “crazy” family. Crazy is a word that appears often in the text, but not in the sense we might use it, of mental health. For the Wong family, crazy means possession by the Woo-Woo ghosts: ancestors who can occupy any individual at any time, at the least sign of weakness.

So the Wongs must be strong, for the Woo-Woo – the source of evil, hallucinations, blemishes, outbursts, bad marks and suicide attempts – are always lying in wait. Everything that goes wrong in life is the fault of the Woo-Woo, and every member of the Wong family tries to run from the ghosts as best they can. They do so by camping out for days in a food court in the mall, or by going to the bathroom (were one is vulnerable) in groups. Or, like Lindsay, by going away to university.

The memoir begins with Lindsay suffering from an extreme case of vertigo while she is in college, far from home (and, she had hoped, the Woo-Woo). Her greatest fears seem to become reality, but she gets a surprise, and we start on a joy-ride that we wish would never stop. We laugh, cry and worry about Lindsay as she tries to integrate into a new world, but does not know how to leave the weight of old ghosts behind.