Goodman on Wang’s New Literary History of Modern China

The new “China Channel” of the LA Review of Books has published Eleanor Goodman’s review of A New Literary History of Modern China, edited by David Der-Wei Wang 王德威. An enthusiastic review, Goodman writes:

one theme of the book is the importance of inclusivity, exchange, and communication to understanding trends not just in literature, but in global affairs. Many of the writers under discussion here spent time outside of China, particularly in Japan, Europe, and the United States, or are impressively well read in foreign literatures. These essays address works that have been translated from Chinese into other languages, or works in other languages that have been translated into Chinese. Implicit in their juxtaposition, then, is also a picture of geopolitics and global history. These lines of communication were largely severed during the years of the Cultural Revolution; the essays from this period turn inward and are necessarily more political. In contrast, the essays engaging with the outward-looking years around the turns of the twentieth and twenty-first centuries demonstrate just how fundamental literature and art are to a mutually intelligible and diverse world culture. It becomes clear reading this book that one can trace the larger history of China itself across the twentieth century by looking at its literature and its writers.

And for mentions of specific entries:

Carlos Rojas writes engagingly of the “issues of gender and gender inversion” at stake in the power dynamics displayed in a novel of the early 1800s. Amy Dooling describes the “publishing sensation that unequivocally established the commercial potential of ‘the woman writer’,” a phenomenon that is a close cousin to – if not a progenitor of – the contemporary “beautiful woman writers” who today proliferate on the shelves of Chinese bookstores with their airbrushed large-eyed portraits. Maghiel van Crevel presents a powerful examination of a “‘cult’ of poetry” that romanticizes suicide among its members, the effects of which can still be seen in more recent examples like the tragic suicide of the Foxconn factory worker and poet Xu Lizhi.


Enjoy science fiction? Mingwei Song’s terrific piece on a “posthuman future” and contemporary Chinese sci-fi will fascinate. You want rock and roll? Read Ao Wang’s rollicking insider’s take on the “Godfather of Chinese rock ‘n roll,” the irreverent and fascinating Cui Jian. In this meticulously edited and selected anthology, there really is something for everyone. All you have to do is look.

Click on the image above for the full review.

Lingnan Symposium on Translation & Modern Chinese Poetry

Moving the Goalposts:
Symposium on Translation and Modern Chinese Poetry


16 June 2017
LBYG06, Lingnan University

van Crevel on Chinese Migrant Worker Poetry

At Modern Chinese Literature & Culture Maghiel van Crevel reviews Iron Moon the film (directed by Qin Xiaoyu 秦晓宇 and Wu Feiyue 吴飞跃) and the anthology (edited by Qin Xiaoyu, translated by Eleanor Goodman).

The review begins:

Poetry is the most ubiquitous of literary genres. It is written and recited and read and heard for families and festivals, in love and on stage, in prayers and protests, at imperial courts and in factories. In China, associations of poetry and factories, and of poetry and manual labor at large, are anything but far-fetched. One recalls the story of poetry production, which is really the only right word here, being whipped up to keep up with steel production during the Great Leap Forward (quite aside from the results in terms of quality, for poetry or for steel). And less frenetic, more sustainable instances of the linkage of poetry and labor throughout the Mao era, with factories – and drilling rigs, construction sites, and so on – generally depicted as good places. But today, poetry + factories + China conjure up a different picture. One thinks not of the proletariat but of the precariat, and not of glory but of misery.

And on the translation and the poetry, he writes:

Goodman is to be commended for the many places in which she handles the particulars of migrant worker poetry astutely in terms of style. If we allow for some generalization, this poetry tends to be less polished – to cite a cliché that may fit the present context better than most – than professional writing. It is, for instance, often unsteady or unbalanced in terms of register and tone, line length, rhythm, and so on. This raises the old question of whether the translator is at liberty to “improve the original,” and of what determines whether the changes they make are improvements. Beyond textual and linguistic issues, this question often involves reflection on cultural difference and, sometimes, more directly political considerations of what one wants the translation to be and do – with migrant worker poetry, prison writing, and so on as cases in point. On the whole, in this respect, Goodman’s engagement with the texts is highly effective, especially because she knows when to honor the literal, and when to shun it. For the great majority of the poems, she treads a fine line between respecting the original and ensuring that the translations read well, maximizing the chance that the reader will stay tuned and get the message. In all, the poetry in Iron Moon remains true to life in translation, so to speak.

For the full write-up, click the image.

Eberlein on Han Dong in English

Xujun Eberlein in LARB looks at Han Dong 韩东 in English and asks, “Is There a Good Way to Translate Chinese Poetry?
Her answer is clearly yes. She asks, “why would I want to read a translation that has departed from the original? Wouldn’t I be better off reading original poetry in the target language, instead of a half-baked translation?”

She looks at Han as presented in two translations, one the recent Phone Call from Dalian with translations by Nicky Harman and Maghiel van Crevel, and the other the anthology Another Kind of Nation. Eberlein writes:

Why do we read translated poetry after all? If specific manners of expression and thinking, different uses of words and images, serve as the carrier of a different culture and reality, the stuff that draws in the translator and reader alike, what can translation accomplish? For poetry, language—the nuance of language—is paramount. We care not only about a poem’s meaning; we care equally, if not more, about how thoughts and observations are expressed in unfamiliar, refreshing ways. Form is part of content in poetry translation.

Click the image above for the full article, and for my own takes, see my reviews of A Phone Call from Dalian and Another Kind of Nation.

Critic Chen Chao, 1958-2014

3294438317Poetry critic Chen Chao 陈超 took his own life on October 31. Maghiel van Crevel writes:

Chen Chao made important contributions to scholarship and criticism. Starting from the early 1980s, he wrote numerous essays on individual oeuvres, themes, and texts, and on overarching trends in poetry and criticism.

Among many other publications, Chen served as editor of the 1993 anthology 《以梦为马:新生代卷》 [With a Dream for a Horse: Newborn Generation Volume], part of the six-volume 《当代诗歌潮流回顾》 [A Look Back at Trends in Contemporary Poetry] edited by Xie Mian 谢冕 and Tang Xiaodu 唐晓渡; and as editor-cum-author of 《20世纪中国探索诗鉴赏辞典》 [A Critical Anthology of 20t-Century Chinese Explorative Poetry], an ambitious book in the genre in which each poem is accompanied by an individual commentary, first published in 1989 and substantially revised and expanded in 1999.

Click on the image for the full post, with links to more information in Chinese.

van Crevel Reviews Manfredi’s Modern Poetry in China

200Modern Chinese Literature & Culture has published Maghiel van Crevel’s review of Modern Poetry in China: A Visual-Verbal Dynamic, by Paul Manfredi. Here’s how it begins:

How does one “see” a poem? Is seeing a poem like reading a painting, a friendly metaphor that brings together various perspectives on literature and art? As such, are there any poems that can not be seen, apart from those that commit the unforgivable sin of speaking in abstractions? If not, can the metaphor succeed in capturing a particular set of texts, rather than the genre in its entirety?

Click on the image above for the full review.


Heather Inwood on Yi Sha

Yi ShaHeather Inwood of Ohio State University has written an introduction to the work of Yi Sha 伊沙, “lower-body” 下半身 and “post-colloquial writing” 后口语写作 poet. Here’s a sample of what she says:

Although his profession as a writer and a college professor makes Yi Sha an intellectual in his own right, his sympathies lie firmly with the less advantaged people of China, as can be seen from the poems included in this section (indeed, the dichotomy that has developed in contemporary poetry discourse between intellectuals and the “popular” or folk is a false one, given China’s long intellectual tradition of showing concern for the common people in literature). His poetry is predominantly narrative in style, relating with brevity and wit the kinds of everyday stories and detailed observations that are left out of most public records of contemporary life. As Tang Xin reports, the characters in his poems include criminals, prostitutes, traitors, punks, and drunks; no person or topic is omitted for being too lowly or crass. Maghiel van Crevel suggests that a quality of rejectiveness can be detected in Yi Sha’s poetic attitude of “cynicism, disbelief, negation, demystification, desecration, deconstruction, aggression, and destruction,” but readers could equally see the stories he tells as evidence of a more receptive or broadminded approach to poetry and its capacity to accommodate humanity in all shapes and sizes.

The feature also includes Inwood’s translation of six poems by Yi Sha.

Bonus point: last time I saw Heather, she had the same haircut as Yi Sha does in the picture above.

More China Daily on Xi Chuan [a/k/a “Xichuan”]

None the verseUnder the title “None the verse” (a headline I first found lame, but after a bit more reflection find reveals something interesting about Xi Chuan’s writing) is another China Daily article on Xi Chuan and his career in poetry. It took me so long to find it because it refers to Xi Chuan, inexplicably, as “Xichuan,” but it offers a decent overview of the changes of his work and quotes translations by Maghiel van Crevel (unattributed; go figure), and ends with a decent discussion about the Xi Chuan’s understanding of the place of poetry in China and the world today:

Although Xichuan admits that the Chinese have almost forgotten poetry in their pursuit of material success, he is continuing his explorations as a serious intellectual trying “to influence the quality of life in China in an indirect way”.

One of these experiments is a drama adapted from his long poem Flowers in the Mirror and the Moon on the Water in collaboration with Chinese avant-garde director Meng Jinghui. Xichuan was pleased to see that its non-traditional structure made people think from a post-modernism perspective, an approach they were unfamiliar with in the past. “Even if they felt uncomfortable, it was an important social effect,” he says.

“I have to acknowledge that the past decade has been unfavorable for Chinese poets, but they have far transcended themselves, in terms of new expression, sophisticated rhetoric, and greater growth and solidity.”