Fiction, Translation

Sea Wind on a Bald Head

New fiction by Zhu Yiye – translated by Liuyu Ivy Chen

How does a Chinese millennial female writer respond to the moral dilemmas of contemporary China? Zhu Yiye’s dark stories offer a poignant satire, detailing ordinary citizens who sleepwalk through a society plagued by cruelty and apathy. A strong sense of dread and invisibility shroud the characters, revealing deep psychological scars. Yet Zhu rejects any simplistic statement. As she said in a 2018 interview, “I think writing is a very private thing … I don’t try to make any point in my stories because I’m very confused myself. Those who attempt to summarize a theme, learn a life lesson, or search for meaning or positive energy, will probably be very disappointed.” Despite this ambiguity, ‘Sea Wind on a Bald Head,’ the first of nine stories in her collection The Girl Who Eats Sparrow, is a lucid tale of marriage, midlife crisis, and queer identity. – Liuyu Ivy Chen

When the wind blows in the mourning hall windows, Teacher Liu loses his hearing for a second. He sees clearly his younger brother’s thin hair standing up from out of the photo, revealing a bald head, a little comical. Teacher Liu deftly raises four fingers like a rough comb, to push a few strands of hair back on his own head. In the photo, his younger brother has recovered his simple honest look, mixed with innocence and grievance––his lips parted slightly, carrying a sign of doubt. Teacher Liu sighs, unable to erase his younger brother’s doubt. He can’t even control his own ear valves as they reopen and his sister-in-law’s wailing floods his head. He feels his brain soaking in brine, sagging rapidly. 

“Why are you standing here like a fool? Go make yourself useful!” Teacher Yang shoves Teacher Liu, almost to the ground.  

Reviews

Politicians and Poets

John Gittings reviews two new books on the Chinese Revolution

In June 1959 Mao Zedong returned to Shaoshan, his home village in Hunan province, for the first time in over thirty years. He was there to find out what the local farmers really thought of the Great Leap Forward – his policy intended to leapfrog China’s countryside into the future, which backfired disastrously leading to a three-year famine from 1959-1962. After visiting his parents' grave, Mao threw a dinner for the village elders and local cadres, and could not help noticing how hungrily they fell upon the food. Then came the complaints – cautious at first but soon spilling out furiously. The wasteful public mess-halls, the orders to plant crops too close, the useless backyard furnaces, and above all the lack of food.

Audio

Bookworm Debates: Ming v Qing

A clash of two dynasties at the Beijing Bookworm

At the China Channel we were saddened to hear of the closure of the Beijing Bookworm, a bookshop and events space at the heart of Beijing’s literary scene since 2002, which is now the latest victim of a cultural clean-up campaign in the capital. To remember this purveyor of knoweldge – and wish it luck in its next incarnation – we’re running a few recordings of their events, beginning with the last debate they hosted, on Sunday 10th November. Organised by the Royal Asiatic Society of Beijing, this debate – also syndicated on Sinica – pits journalists Ian Johnson and Francesco Sisci, on the side of the Ming dynsasty, against historians Michael Aldrich and Jeremiah Jenne for the Qing. A dynastial bout for the ages! Enjoy:

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.

Essays

Henry Wallace’s Wartime Vision for US-China Relations

A dream of post-war international cooperation that fell by the wayside of history – Matthew Ehret

Some limited moves have been made in the direction of geopolitical cooperation in our troubled age. President Trump has had favorable meetings with the Presidents of Russia and China, followed by a historic visit to North Korea to meet “his friend Kim”. Yet in other respects tensions have never been higher between the US and Eastern powers, as the US-China trade war and Russian interference in American elections leads to further decoupling of West and East. In these times, it is worth revisiting a bygone time in which a leading American political figure embraced a US-Russia-China alliance: Henry A. Wallace, Agricultural Secretary from 1933-1941, and US Vice-President from 1941-1944.

After his government service, Wallace passionately upheld a new vision of the post-war world that included the East. As he wrote in his 1944 book Our Job in the Pacific:

“Today the peoples of the East are on the march. We can date the beginning of that march from 1911 when the revolutionary movement among the Chinese people, inspired by the teachings of Sun Yat-sen, overthrew the Manchu dynasty and established a republic. This was the first time in the vast and culturally rich history of Asia that an Asiatic people turned its back on the whole principle of monarchy and hereditary rule and, in spite of the difficulties and obstacles that still remained, set out courageously toward the attainment of democracy – government of the people, by the people and for the people.”