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The 2012 Nobel Laureate in Literature Is Chinese Novelist Mo Yan

Mo Yan has been awarded the 2012 Nobel Prize in Literature. A Chinese novelist, born as Guan Moye, his pen name means "don't speak." His most famous novel, Red Sorghum: A Novel of China, was turned into an acclaimed film in 1987. Here are some interviews with Mo Yan: Granta, National Endowment for the Humanities and Paper Republic. Speculation was rife in China before the announcement whether Mo Yan would receive it, and the matter was controversial. For people who haven't read any books by Mo Yan, the Swedish Academy recommends Garlic Ballads [NYT]. For more news over the day, keep an eye on The Literary Saloon and The Guardian's liveblog.
posted by Kattullus on Oct 11, 2012 - 24 comments

A Compendium of Obscure Things

Res Obscura is a blog by Ben Breen, a graduate student of early modern history, which styles itself "a compendium of obscure things." Indeed, even the asides are full of wonder, such as the one about Boy, the famous Royalist war poodle of the English Civil War, which is but a short addendum to a post about witches' familiars. Here are some of my favorite posts, Pirate Surgeon in Panama (and a related post about 18th Century Jamaica), vanished civilizations, asemic pseudo-Arabic and -Hebrew writing in Renaissance art, and a series of posts about the way the Chinese and Japanese understood the world outside Asia in the early modern period (Europeans as 'Other', Europeans as 'Other,' Redux and Early Chinese World Maps).
posted by Kattullus on Sep 30, 2010 - 16 comments

Chairman Mao's Underground City

Chairman Mao's Underground City is a pictorial travelogue of a small part of the tunnels that Chairman Mao had built under Beijing to serve as a nuclear fallout shelter. The intrepid urban explorers come across some surprising things. The complex, which was built by hand, could house three hundred thousand people for up to four months and had amenities such as restaurants, cinemas and roller rinks. Here's a short Travel Channel feature on the Underground City.
posted by Kattullus on Nov 29, 2009 - 38 comments

6/4: We have not forgotten

On the square, it was a total carnival. It was around 11pm, a beautiful, warm Beijing evening. Student groups surged up and down in front of the Tiananmen Gate with banners and chants. Jim took copious notes as I translated for him. A squad of students passed us by with a banner that declared themselves to be the "Dare to Die Brigade". Everyone was animated and alive. In the midst of the madness, there was a sense of safety.
Memoirs of Tiananmen Square by former Reuters Asia editor Graham Earnshaw. Pictures from the 1989 protests. Charlie Rose 1996 interview with 1989 US Ambassador in China James Lilley and student protest leader Chai Ling about documentary Gate of Heavenly Peace (excerpts) which criticized student leaders. Virtual Museum of China '89 (graphic images within). Declassified US government documents dealing with the events of 20 years ago and the aftermath. Recently the memoirs of 1989 Chinese premier Zhao Ziyang were published and he blames Li Peng, Deng Xiaoping and hardliners for the massacre. Finally, here's Cui Jian's 一无所有 (Nothing to My Name), the rock song that became the anthem of Tiananmen Square protesters. 六四: 我们 沒 忘 了
posted by Kattullus on Jun 3, 2009 - 38 comments

"Chinese poetry, as we know it today, is something invented by Ezra Pound." - T. S. Eliot

[Ezra Pound] worked on and for poetry as others might work on a major scientific discovery or a drawn-out military mission. Thus, as Sieburth reminds us in his introduction to The Pisan Cantos, when, on May 3, 1945, Pound was arrested at his home in the hills above Rapallo, he immediately put a small Chinese dictionary and a copy of the Confucian classics in his pocket. Working as he then was on his Confucian translations, he knew that, wherever the military police were taking him, he would need these books.
From Pound Ascendant by Marjorie Perloff. Ezra Pound's ability as a translator of Chinese poetry has long been disparaged by sinologists, such as George A. Kennedy in Fenollosa, Pound and the Chinese Character. Other academics have sought to defend him. Two examples are Zhaoming Qian's Ezra Pound's encounter with Wang Wei: toward the "ideogrammic method" of the Cantos and Stephen Tapscott's In Praise of Bad Translations: Ezra Pound and the Cultural Work of Translation (pdf). Eric Hayot draws the contours of this long-running debate and explores its significance in Critical Dreams: Orientalism, Modernism, and the Meaning of Pound's China. Pound's Cathay in full and a public domain audiobook version (iTunes link).
posted by Kattullus on Apr 30, 2009 - 16 comments

Chinese Poems

Chinese Poems is a simple, no frills site with over 200 classical Chinese poems, mostly from the Tang period. The poems are presented in traditional and simplified chinese characters, pinyin and English translation, both literal and literary. Here's Du Mu's Drinking Alone:
Outside the window, wind and snow blow straight,
I clutch the stove and open a flask of wine.
Just like a fishing boat in the rain,
Sail down, asleep on the autumn river.

Among other poets featured are Li Bai (a.k.a. Li Po), Du Fu and Wang Wei. As a bonus, here's the entire text of Ezra Pound's Cathay, most of whom are from Li Bai originals.
posted by Kattullus on May 19, 2008 - 15 comments

The System loves you for your money, not your soul.

In this way, Lu Yang became one of the "RMB gamers" she disdains. More than 10,000 RMB was quickly and nearly imperceptibly spent. In the game, the "queen" possessed fearsome power. She carried out vengeance for herself and her friends, she accepted entreaties, and she protected the caravans of the kingdom. At the same time, she went out with the heroes to invade other kingdoms. Her reputation spread far and wide. [...] "Long live the Queen!" People bowed to her in submission. That was the high point for Lu Yang on ZT Online, and for that one fleeting moment, she felt that the time and money she had spent was worth it.
The System is a translated Chinese article examining ZT Online, an MMORPG that has taken fleecing gamers to a new level.
posted by Kattullus on May 6, 2008 - 34 comments

Guqin, Confucius' favorite musical instrument

One of the songs on the Golden Record included on the two Voyager spacecraft was Flowing Water performed by Guan Pinghu on the guqin. The guqin, Confucius' favorite instrument, has been played in China for at least 3000 years. There's a lot of guqin videos out there but the two players I listen to the most are jts1702a and Charlie Huang (who is the main contributer to Wikipedia's excellent guqin article).
posted by Kattullus on Feb 10, 2008 - 16 comments

Story of two CIA operatives captured in China in 1952 who were held for 20 years

There may be some among us who can imagine 20 days in captivity; perhaps a fraction of those can imagine a full year deprived of liberty and most human contact. But 20 years? Downey and Fecteau have consistently sought to downplay their period of imprisonment; and neither has done what arguably too many former CIA officers do these days with far less justification: write a book. Downey has said that such a book would contain "500 blank pages," and Fecteau says the whole experience could be summed up by the word "boring."
Extraordinary Fidelity: Two CIA Prisoners in China, 1952–73 [secure link] by Nicholas Dujmovic, a CIA historian and a veteran intelligence analyst. Time article about Downey and Fecteau from 1954.
posted by Kattullus on May 3, 2007 - 26 comments

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