Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters


By Eric Abrahamsen, published

  • Paste Magazine carries a review of Ha Jin’s newest novel, A Free Life. It seems he’s turned from writing about China from an expat’s vantage point, to writing about America as an immigrant. But 672 pages…?
  • Here’s an interesting twist on the journalist’s obligatory China Book: Beijing Confidential is an account written by the Globe and Mail’s former China correspondent, Jan Wong. Wong is Chinese, an alumnus of Peking University, and during the worst of the Cultural Revolution denounced a fellow student, thereby more or less ruining her life. The book is the account of her visit to China in 2003 to find that student, and make some sort of amends.
  • Recently I discovered that Chinese ATMs’ habit of asking you, after you’ve finished your business, if you’d like to ‘Print Advice?’ is not the humorous solecism of someone’s electronic dictionary, but rather something we can blame on the British. It seems that there really are ATMs somewhere in England which presume to pronounce upon your personal life, when all you wanted was a record of your transaction. It doesn’t make any sense to them, either.
  • A series of recent articles have gotten me all excited about the future of Chinese literature in Western markets. First was this IHT piece, which begins with Xu Xi and goes on to mention a few of the signposts of growing interest in Chinese writing: HarperCollins’ presence here, Penguin’s acquisition of Wolf Totem, and some quotes from Marysia Juszczakiewicz of Creative Work. Then there was this in the Guardian, berating the British for not reading enough translated fiction. Good! Lastly was Nury Vittachi cheerleading for the Man Asian Literary Prize, though since he’s partially responsible for the establishment of the prize, maybe that’s less a sign of the times.
    So everything indicates a literary scene that’s trying hard to go global. The publishers are here, and while they’re mostly still huffing and puffing at the water’s edge, they’ll all eventually work up the courage to jump in. But what about readers? The Guardian article is not, when it comes down to it, terribly optimistic about the odds of foreign literature in the UK, and the US is no better. Publishers getting up the gumption to drop cash on a book doesn’t guarantee a readership, especially when no equivalent sum is spent on marketing. Most tellingly, I saw very little discussion of the Man Asian Literary Prize in mainstream western media, or in the literary websites that link together readers, publishers and the media. Sure, it’s a chicken and the egg problem; sure, it’s an evolutionary process, but I’m wondering if that process won’t be a little slower than I’ve been blithely assuming.
  • Can someone confirm that, when typing Mongolian or Tibetan into a computer, you first type in Chinese-looking text like so, and then run it through some processor so that it actually comes out in a Mongolian or Tibetan font? This is most curious.


# 1.   

Good question about Tibetan. I'm not sure, but from what I've seen on different Tibetan input methods, those Chinese characters have nothing to do with what you input, it's just what you end up seeing if you have unicode encoding set on your browser and don't have a Tibetan font package installed. Tibetan input seems to involve either a) the Wylie transliteration system, or b) 藏文输入法. That's just a guess though, I haven't installed one myself.

davesgonechina, November 20, 2007, 8:59a.m.

# 2.   

Confirming what davesgonechina says, what we see on the page you linked is analogous to the 乱码 we used to see when trying to view Chinese websites on other peoples' computers back before Chinese/Unicode fonts became ubiquitous. When Tibetan hits the big time and gets added into common Unicode fonts, the above page will be perfectly legible having to install the right fonts.

Micah Sittig, November 20, 2007, 4:17p.m.

# 3.   

Aha, so that's what's going on. I suppose it makes sense, but I'm surprised that the Unicode elves haven't made space for Tibetan yet. Thanks for the info!

 Eric Abrahamsen, November 21, 2007, 1:52a.m.

# 4.   

All your Tibetan input and fontifying needs met and more: I used to use a stand-alone entry method called Sambhota (iirc) for Windows that involved entering as per the Wylie romanisation; it waited until you'd piled up a fun-packed morpheme then it would pop up for viewing. I also find your baseless slur on the elegant offering of advice on your financial affairs by the considerate cash machine yet further evidence that you may bequeath a younger nation a language but sadly are unable to prevent it squandering the finer jewels thereof. Silliness aside, it's a survival of the older meaning of advice as a formal notice of a transaction, but I'm sure you knew that.

Jim, November 22, 2007, 5:32p.m.

# 5.   

But of course I have the greatest respect for the Old Mother Tongue, it just seems unfortunate that we should continue to bequeath its archaisms to an even younger nation. The rash of the WC is only just receding; would we have them referring to lawyers as 'barristers' or to a person as a 'wight'? When the Beijing Planning Exhibition Hall requests that we leave our 'gripsacks' at the front desk, should we not protest?

Stop by more often! We need more trans-Atlantic balance.

 Eric Abrahamsen, December 3, 2007, 11:26p.m.


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