Fiction, Translation

Headscarf Girl

New fiction by Cao Kou – translated by Josh Stenberg

Cao Kou’s short fiction often masquerades as the casual recollection or chatty anecdote of a youngish male first-person narrator. People who have lived in Chinese cities will recognize this streetscape, with its gritty locales and paucity of private space. Non-Han Muslims are a visible part of that landscape, especially in eateries like the one where this Han narrator has started taking meals. The protagonist is attracted to the “headscarf girl,” but he combines this with an incuriosity so fundamental that he likely doesn’t know her name; her vanishing at the end earns only a shrug. This brief anti-romantic tale speaks volumes about the realities and anxiety of the intersections of gender, ethnicity and religion in the contemporary Chinese metropolis, and it is likely this unease which had led to it being published here for the first time, rather than in China. – Josh Stenberg


I’m not even exaggerating when I say that I’ve eaten at all the places to eat near where I live. And there’s one or two where I’ve eaten lots of times, so there’s an owner and a waitress, both women, that I’ve gotten to know.

Translation

Hooking Up Under Lockdown

A personal essay by Fan Popo, translated by Allen Young

Not long ago, a heartwarming story appeared on the blog Humans of New York: anxiously awaiting his Covid-19 test results, a young man opened Grindr and shared his fears with a retired doctor he’d met. The two had no intimate contact, yet the older gentleman offered more than a shoulder to cry on: he brought over quarantine supplies and left them at the young man’s door.

The post got hundreds of thousands of likes on Facebook, maybe because people are especially in need of this kind of positive energy right now. Turns out that Grindr – a hookup app – can be used in diverse and innocent ways. You have to wonder, though: did those two really open the app just out of a desire to chat? Life under lockdown has heightened our sexual anxieties. In a world of social distancing, has the carefree hookup become just another fantasy?

The mood of panic inevitably calls to mind the AIDS fears of the 1980s, when gay men in the US and Europe began to regard each other with suspicion. The crisis left such a deep stigma that virtually the entire community has some connection to it, from the daddies who lived through it to the twinks and cubs who are just coming onto the scene.

Translation

Qinghe Prison

A short story by Bei Ling, translated by Scott Savitt

It’s afternoon. I’m being transported in a military jeep. On the road I ask the undercover officer: “Where am I being taken?”

“To a hotel,” the plainclothes officer scoffs.

The jeep is speeding down a newly paved freeway in Beijing’s faceless western outskirts.

The jeep slows down and enters a compound surrounded by a towering wall. An electric fence lines the top of the wall, and armed soldiers man the guard towers.

Next to the iron gate is a sign that says: Qinghe Prison.

I feel like an explosion has gone off in my head.

I am escorted into the detention center’s office. As soon as I get inside, a prison guard snatches my glasses.

Without my glasses I am half-blind. I start to protest, but the guard kicks me and shouts: “Squat down and get your hands behind your head!”

I dodge the brunt of his blow, and start to say: “Please don’t hit me….” when he kicks me again, this time much harder, sending me staggering into the corner of the room.

The plainclothesman that escorted me here says with a laugh: “Did you really think you were going to a hotel? You might be alive when you arrive here, but there is no guarantee that you won’t leave a corpse!”

Translation

Love Tips from a Himalayan Forest

Excerpts from a forgotten Chinese love tract, translated by Jonathan Keir

In his 1940 novella Aiqing zhi Fuyin, Tang Junyi’s lapsed Zoroastrian protagonist, the deracinated “world philosopher” Delas, embodies the author’s disgust for both communism and capitalism, and his search instead for wartime refuge in a “spiritual philosophy.” Instead of explaining love away in Freudian, Darwinian or other ideological terms, Tang sought to persuade readers that “what we need to do is the opposite, namely to explain the lower spheres of human movement in terms of the higher ones.” Love, for Delas, is best understood as a transcendental source of mystery and wonder – not a predictable, Tinderesque outcome, but a triumph of human free will over such bleak determinism. – Jonathan Keir

 

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.