Essays

Qian Zhongshu Should Win the Nobel

Why the postwar novel Fortress Beseiged deserves a re-read – Brendan O’Kane

Qian Zhongshu is a tough pitch to win the Nobel prize in literature this year. He’s dead, for starters – traditionally an obstacle to many things, including winning Nobel prizes – and his total creative output consists solely of a few essays, several short stories, and a single novel. On the other hand, that novel, Fortress Besieged, seems to me to be the high-water mark of something significant, if hard to explain, so I’m going to make my best case for it being enough to secure Qian’s place in history. The book takes its title from a French proverb, sets its action in the China of the 1930s, and tracks the misfortunes of Fang Hongjian, a feckless, cowardly student returning from Europe with a mail-order doctorate in Chinese from an American university that exists only in the imagination of a crooked Irishman. It may be one of the most cosmopolitan books ever written; certainly it is, as literary critic C. T. Hsia said, one of the greatest Chinese novels of the 20th century.


We meet the protagonist, Fang Hongjian, in the summer of 1937 as he and his fellow Chinese students return to China aboard a French steamer. He livens up the journey by flirting unsuccessfully with two of the female passengers. In Shanghai, which has just fallen under Japanese occupation, Fang renews his acquaintance with one of the young women, a PhD named Miss Su – and promptly falls for her cousin. He clammily courts both women for a time before working up the nerve to break things off with Miss Su, who has been expecting Fang to propose to her. In retaliation, she destroys any chance he might have with her cousin.

 

Translated Chinese Fiction

Jin Yong’s translator on martial arts novels

An episode of the Translated Chinese Fiction Podcast

“We Han Chinese outnumber the Jurchen by more than a hundred to one. If the Imperial Court decided to employ honest and loyal men, our great Empire would prevail. With one hundred of our men against one of their worthless soldiers, how could the Jin army win?”

In this syndicated episode of the Translated Chinese Fiction Podcast, host Angus Stewart and translator Gigi Chang discuss the literary merit and cultural impact of Legend of the Condor Heroes, the series of wuxia (martial arts) novels by grandmaster Jin Yong, or Louis China, who died in 2018. The Condor Heroes series is a magnum opus in Chinese literature – both highbrow and lowbrow – and pop culture in general. In this, the first episode of the podcast's wuxia season, Angus and Gigi get to grips with this behemoth of genre fiction. The first of the novels, Legend of the Condor Heroes: A Hero Born is already out in English (translated by Anna Holmwood), and at the China Channel we both reviewed and excerpted it. The second novel published in English, A Bond Undone, was translated by Gigi Chang:

 

Dispatches

Taiwanese Theatre During Coronavirus

A theatre troupe rebuilds after a fire and the pandemic – James Chater

In August last year, when Liu Ruo-yu, the artistic director of U-Theatre (優人神鼓), saw the charred remains of the group’s rehearsal space and spiritual home on Taipei’s Laoquanshan, her first thought was not to what might have been incinerated, but a question: “Heaven, what is it you want to tell me?”


The devastating fire destroyed much of the group’s compound, and with it numerous drums, props and other musical instruments essential to their performances. It was the beginning of what, on the surface, should have been the most challenging year in the group’s history; just six months after the blaze, the worsening pandemic forced Liu into canceling all of their upcoming shows.

However, even as Liu posed the question to the heavens on the day of the fire, indistinctly, she already knew the answer: “We had to stop…we had to come home.”

Barbarians at the Gate

China’s Education Ambitions (Part II)

An episode of Barbarians at the Gate

Following on the previous episode about the Chinese education system, Jeremiah and David continue the discussion with award-winning journalist and author Lenora Chu. Lenora is the author of Little Soldiers, a melding of memoir and journalism that brings to light the enormous cultural differences between the Chinese and American education systems. In recounting the adjustments of her young son to the academic environment of an elite Shanghai elementary school, Chu explores the complex web of social conditioning and parental cooperation that results in the high-achieving “little soldiers” in the Chinese system, and weighs the advantages and disadvantages of the East and West educational models. The conversation also touches on the gaokao, the controversial college entrance exam, the supposed “creativity gap” in the Chinese model, and the similarities in the phenomenon of “helicopter parents” in the two cultures:

General

Support Chinese translation

A call for Patreon donations to fund original translations from Chinese


Last week, we featured a long translation (by our own translations editor Anne Henochowicz) of scholar Tang Danhong's search for an interred Uyghur intellectual and former colleague who had since been locked up in a Xinjiang re-education camp. We believe that funding and publishing such translations is an invaluable addition to the China conversation. Hearing Chinese voices adds much-needed perspective to the issues of the day, such as Tang's outrage at what her own nation is perpetrating in its far West.

Since our launch in fall 2017, we have published scores of original translations of the best contemporary non-fiction, fiction and poetry. We have done so in partnership with Read Paper Republic, One-Way Street Magazine, and The Initium, and have also commissioned many original translations from Chinese into English. This is made possible through your support. Please consider adding your name to the list and donating on Patreon to our translations drive, from as little as $1 or $5 a month, to help us publish more content such as Tang's essay in the future.