Wolfgang Kubin interviewed at CLT

In the new Chinese Literature Today, editor Jonathan Stalling interviews Wolfgang Kubin about his life and the poets and poetry he’s known.

Zhang Zao and Ouyang Jianghe wanted pure poetry and new vocabulary, whereas the vocabulary of Bei Dao before ’89 is quite conventional and comes close to what the Spanish poets of the ’30s and ’40s made use of. Bei Dao writes short poetry, but the so-called post hermetic poets prefer the longer form and their outlook is quite different. They are not politically naïve anymore; they do know how complicated a society can be. The poetry of Bei Dao or the poetry of the ’80s, however, always believes in a future that will be good and that will be coming tomorrow. You won’t find this kind of naiveté in Ouyang Jianghe … Zhai Yongming’s starting point is so-called hermetic poetry, and her first cycle about women is so complicated that it drives you crazy as a translator. I translated her work into German and published a book of it very early. I translated much more of her poetry, and actually I should have produced another book, but she’s very modest and always asks me to translate others before editing a new volume of her poetry. But before long she left this kind of hermetic poetry. During her second phase, she dealt with a history of women in her mother’s generation in China before and after ’49. She chose a very plain language and she preferred the long poem. The poetry of her second phase is very easy to translate into a foreign language; it’s not complicated at all. During her third phase, when she started criticizing men, when she started making fun of male protagonists, then her language changed again—it was not hermetic, it was not plain, it was something in-between. Nowadays she prefers a very plain language for social critique. This is her fourth phase, so she’s the only Chinese poet about whom we can say that she went through three, no, four phases of different kinds of poetry. Bei Dao has only two phases; Yang Lian, I think you would say he has one phase and has never changed. P. K. Leung the Hong Kong poet—in some respects he’s always good, always the same. Zhang Zao, the same. Ouyang Jianghe has made changes, perhaps with his last long poem. Xi Chuan, he’s riper now, so he’s different, but concerning his form, I do not see much difference. He’s now more philosophical and he’s more sophisticated, he has humor, he makes fun.

Click on the image for the full piece.

Poems of Everyday Life: A Tribute to Yasi at HKU

Poems of Everyday Life: A Tribute to Yasi
Picnic, Music, Poems.

Yasi is one of Hong Kong’s most important literary figures. His prolific output ranges from poetry, essays, novels, plays, literature reviews and cultural studies to photography and video.

Yasi was a member of the University of Hong Kong where he taught in the Departments of English Studies and Comparative Literature. His work is very much connected to his hometown of Hong Kong, through his keen observation of people, objects and everyday life.

According to his friends, Yasi was a great lover of food and good company. Join us to pay tribute to Yasi’s life and work with a feast of food, music, poetry, dance and other activities inspired by his writings.

Date: 30 January 2015 (Friday)
Time: 12-5pm
Venue: Sun Yat Sen Place, The University of Hong Kong

12:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Yasi letterpress printing workshop
Make your own chop with lines from Yasi’s poems
Snacks inspired by Yasi’s food poems
By Zi Wut, KongYeah, HKU staff and students

12:45 – 2:00 p.m.
Poetry Readings, Music and Dance Performances
By Kung Chi Sing, Jing Wong, Choi Sai Ho, Mui Cheuk Yin and Comparative Literature students

2:00 – 5:00 p.m.
Poetry Workshop by KongYeah
Yasi guided tour by students from the Department of Comparative Literature

For enquiries, please contact Mr Cyrus Chan (Tel: 3917 4984; Email: cyrusc@hku.hk).

Co-organized by: Read-Cycling, Centre of Development and Resources for Students, General Education Unit, Department of Comparative Literature, Faculty of Arts, HKU

Supported by:  Zi Wut, KongYeah

Sebastian Veg: Putting Hong Kong’s New Cultural Activism on the Literary Map

200Sebastian Veg’s review essay of City at the End of Time: Poems by Leung Ping-Kwan 梁秉鈞 (edited by Esther Cheung) and Dung Kai-cheung’s 董啟章 Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City (translated by the author with Bonnie McDougall and Anders Hansson), titled “Putting Hong Kong’s New Cultural Activism on the Literary Map,” has been published by the MCLC. Here’s how it ends:200

the images of Hong Kong that emerge from these two collections are similar: far from the Cantonese patriotism of kung-fu films or the proudly apolitical but hugely successful taipans and tycoons of the business world, here the everyday experience and the successive reinventions of a many-layered postcolonial history are what define a new sense of belonging to Hong Kong. Both writers engage in soul-searching about the marginal position of the city, about investing with meaning a place that is not and does not aspire to become a nation-state, a place that identifies with aspects of Chinese culture but that has always cultivated its distinct “southern” difference. In these and other ways, these two writers are harbingers, not only of the emerging local sensibility that is beginning to find its translation into social movements and debates, but also of a new way of thinking about the relation between national and cultural identity, about colonial memories and postcolonial nostalgia that questions many of our assumptions about the position of the contemporary writer.

City at the End of Time Book Talk & Poetry Reading

You are cordially invited to the book launch of City at the End of Time: Poems of Leung Ping-kwan (2012) to witness how poetry is in the making at the beginning of time. In this event, Prof. Leo Lee 李歐梵 and Dr. Sebastian Veg will join Prof. P. K. Leung 梁秉鈞 / 也斯 (author) and Dr. Esther Cheung 張美君 (editor) to discuss their book. Following the book talk, there will be a session of poetry reading and performances jointly presented by Prof. Leung and HKU students. They will recite Prof. Leung’s poems multi-lingually, present the poems visually through images, as well as render his poems through music or other artistic forms. Students will also bring their own poems to dialogue with Prof. Leung. Date: Nov 7, 2012 (Wed) Time: 4:30 to 7:00 p.m.

Venue: LE9 (Library Extension in the Main Campus)
Speakers: Prof. Leo Ou-fan Lee, Chinese University of Hong Kong
Dr. Sebastian Veg, The French Centre for Research on Contemporary China (CEFC)
Prof. P. K. Leung (author), Lingnan University
Dr. Esther Cheung (editor), University of Hong Kong
Moderator: Dr. Winnie Yee, University of Hong Kong

* The event will be conducted in English.

About the Book City at the End of Time: Poems by Leung Ping-kwan (Hong Kong University Press 2012), Edited and introduced by Esther M.K. Cheung:
This book brings back into print 40 bilingual poems from one of Hong Kong’s most beloved literary figures, together with critical introductions by Esther M.K. Cheung and Ackbar Abbas. Through poetry, Leung Ping-kwan, more often known as Ye Si, looks at the complex everyday life in the city, contemplates and reflects upon history, culture, identity, and the passing of time. The poet also goes beyond Hong Kong and explores the relationship between poetry and other media in a cross-border and cross-cultural context. Originally published in 1992, this expanded work includes a 2011 conversation with the poet and several local literary figures. Click here for details.

All are welcome!

Jonathan Stalling on Didi Kirsten Tatlow’s Coverage of Chinese Literature Prize-Winners

Jonathan Stalling, editor of Chinese Literature Today, responds to Didi Kirsten Tatlow’s “In 3 Awards, 3 Ways of Seeing China,” linked from this blog two days ago.

“Can great lasting literature find a reader in America?” I think so, do you?

“Literature is not a boxing match, though sometimes it can appear that way given the polarizing passions it can generate.” So begins yesterday morning’s Times “View from Asia,” a piece by the reporter Didi Kristen Tatlow entitled “In 3 Awards, 3 Ways of Seeing China.” This is the second and more balanced piece she has published in the Times in a week. Indeed, over the last two months, three Chinese writers have won prestigious international awards, including the novelist Mo Yan (Nobel Prize for Literature), the writer/journalist Liao Yiwu (Peace Prize for the German Book Trade), and the Taiwanese poet Yang Mu (Newman Prize for Chinese Literature), but Tatlow’s piece misses some important opportunities that need to be addressed in one of the few forums where readers have access to such discussions. Tatlow’s piece includes fantastic comments from Hong Kong poet Leung Ping-kwan (a/k/a PK) and scholar Michelle Yeh that go a long way toward complicating the “either/or” nature of her first piece which now rather famously ends with the hyperbolic question, “Can great, lasting literature come from there [China]? The Nobel committee thinks so. Do you?”  Tatlow’s more recent piece still gives the impression that Mo Yan’s award was given to the PRC ruling party rather than an author. Tatlow simplifies her discussion of Mo Yan with a single quotation from a government official, and she implies that the other two awards were somehow less ideologically implicated—i.e., awarded fairly. I cannot speak to the selection process of the Peace Prize for the German Book Trade, but as the Juror Coordinator for this year’s Newman Prize, I would agree that the Newman Prize represents an important, transparent international award for Chinese Literature. This award is conferred by the University of Oklahoma (named for Ruth and Harold Newman and established by Pete Gries), where a jury of leading international literary scholars weighs literary merit to find the writer who best represents the human condition in written Chinese (from anywhere in the world). Yang Mu won the award because the jury saw his work as a reflection of these high ideals. What Tatlow did not mention is that the Newman Prize honored Mo Yan in 2008, the year a Newman jury selected him for representing the pinnacle of these humanist ideals.

Now, one week later, it seems as though it has been decided that this year’s Nobel committee has forgone the category of literature and simply awarded two peace prizes. Peace prize winners are heroes (to many though perhaps not all) as their lives reveal brave choices under unimaginable conditions. These choices and their ramifications become public record, and that record is the primary text of their cultural production (their writings, then often become paratexts that derive their import from the centrifuge of their lived experiences).

Novelists and poets, on the other hand, simply are not heroes in this sense, and they receive awards according to the cultural prestige they accrue based on their creative contributions to literature and culture. The Nobel Prize for Literature like the Book Prize, Pulitzer Prize as well as the Newman Prize and the Neustadt Prize (for which Mo Yan was a nominee in 1998), are conferred upon literary merit, an artistic basis that does not diminish Peace Prizes but complements them by way of further clarifying the work (and sacrifices) of political figures (who often are writers and/or orators). Such a distinction is essential and should be vigorously protected at such times as these. The value of literature lies in its innovative, creative labors, and running sensationalist pieces that reduce authors to simplistic pawns in geopolitical chess matches discourage people from engaging this labor (especially when it comes in the form of literature in translation) and this is simply not good stewardship of our common culture. This does not mean that geopolitical conversations should not take place, but that literaturists need to be bolder and assert the importance of the work writers do and why it is deserving of (critical) attention, for authors are linguistic technicians building the languages we need to describe the shifting, multiple worlds around us. I think that moments like these should entice literary critics to engage the public culture more directly and defend not Mo Yan alone, but literature more generally from the grip of language unable or simply uninterested in digging into the work literature is/does.

Jonathan Stalling
Chinese Literature Today
University of Oklahoma

Mo Yan and the World: Another Roundup

Mo YanMo Yan 莫言, winner of the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature, continues to be a topic of conversation. Following yesterday’s posting of “A Westerner’s Reflection on Mo Yan,” here are three other links to the relationship between Mo Yan–and by extension, Chinese literature, if not China–and the world.

First, Mo’s longtime translator into English Howard Goldblatt gives a brief take on the relationship between translator and writer, in “My Hero: Mo Yan.”

Then Julia Lovell, translator and author of The Politics of Cultural Capital: China’s Quest for a Nobel Prize in Literature, weighs in on the political responses in China and the “intellectually lazy … Western observers” in “Mo Yan’s Creative Space.”

Then, looking at Yang Mu 楊牧 winning the Newman Prize, Liao Yiwu 廖亦武 winning the Peace Prize of the German Book Trade, and Mo Yan winning the Nobel–all in the space of a few days–Didi Kirsten Tatlow looks at “In 3 Awards, 3 Ways of Seeing China,” quoting observations from P K Leung and Michelle Yeh.

Hong Kong Book Fair Events

The Hong Kong Book Fair begins tomorrow. You can find the complete list of events here in English and Chinese, but Bruce Humes has narrowed down the topics of interest, which I re-post here:

July 18


Speaker: 紀蔚然 (Taiwanese writer on suspense novels)


Speaker: 資中筠  (Zi Zhongyun, Chinese scholar and translator)


Speaker: 温瑞安 (Malaysian-born wuxia author Wen Jui on martial arts novels and cinema)


July 19


Speaker: 格非 (Novelist Ge Fei: What is literary experience? )


Speaker: 白先勇 (Pai Hsien-yung: My Father and the Republic of China)


July 20


Speaker: 張翠容 (Cheung Chui-yung, HK travel writer)


Speaker: 馬立誠 (Ma Licheng: HK and the MainlandCultural Conflict and Synthesis)


July 21  

Talks on and Multilingual Reading of Leung Ping-kwan’s Poetry

Recitations by西野由希子, Sonia Au(待定), and 也斯, and talk by the always-controversial Professor Wolfgang Kubin


Speaker: 黎紫書  (Lin Baolin, female writer born in Malaysia, on the distance between authors and their homelands)


Speaker: 張曼娟 (Taiwanese novelist Chang Man Chuan)


Speaker: 彭浩翔  (HK author and director: Why question the source of an artist’s inspiration?)


July 22


Speaker: 馮唐 (Feng Tang, Beijing novelist published in French and in Hong Kong (不二), on contemporary literature and writing)


Speaker: 黃春明 (Huang Chunming, Taiwanese short story writer, and author of The Taste of Apples that lampooned the fascination of the island’s modern youth with their former occupiers, the Japanese)


Speaker: 素黑 (Hong Kong female author and columnist)


July 23


Speaker: 馬家輝 (Hong Kong journalist Ma Ka-fai on scum, rubbish and urban writing)


Speaker: 慕容雪村  (Murong Xuecun, controversial Chinese novelist, and author of Absurdities of China’s Censorship System


Speaker: 陳曉蕾 (Chen Xiaolei on “green” reportage)


Speaker: 毛尖 (Mao Jian: Chinese TV Dramas—Fear and Love in our Era)

Fourth Anniversary Issue of Cha

The fourth anniversary issue of Cha: An Asian Literary Journal is now live. In addition to the quality poetry, fiction, & non-fiction, this issue also features new sections such as a Supplement on publishing in Hongkong, Singapore, Malaysia, and Macau. The book review section is also worth noting, especially for its take on Amblings, the new selected poems of Leung Ping-Kwan 梁秉鈞.

I’ll be guest-editing Cha‘s “Ancient Asia Issue,” scheduled to launch August 2013. See also their earlier publication of my translation of five sections from Xi Chuan’s “Thirty Historical Reflections” 鉴史三十章 from their China Issue.