Dragon’s Pricks and Monks’ Uniforms: Chinese Subtitle Gaffes in “Game of Thrones”

I want to take up here some gaffes in the traditional Chinese subtitles for the U.S. drama “Game of Thrones,” to explore some of the challenges and joys of translation. A quick preface: Subtitles are darn hard to do. Reading them is a distraction from watching the show that is no less evil for being necessary. You got to keep them short and sweet (optimal subtitle length for Chinese is 13 characters; 20 would scream bloody murder), timed and framed nimbly, so you don’t block the image or trip up the pace. It’s like making Twitter mandatory for the TV screen, which the most die-hard fan of brevity would shudder at. Some slashing and gory cutting therefore comes with the territory. And these particular subtitles, accompanying the DVD version of the first three episodes of the show’s first season, are for the most part quite serviceable and occasionally very good.

However, plot, character and atmosphere buildup all suffer when translation goes awry. In the show’s opening episode, the banter between some of Winterfell’s highborn young men hints at the backstory of the queen. She is referred to as “a sleek bit of mink,” hinting at her beauty, hauteur, poise, talent for intrigue as well as the whiff of scandal that foreshadows her incest/infidelity. The subtitle tosses out baby and bathwater, informing us that “the queen is quite slim (皇后很苗條).” Where is the Urban Dictionary when you need it? The pity is that there is a full-bodied Chinese equivalent for this seductress image – mink/minx – namely, the fox fairy, 狐狸精. This umbrella term for “the other woman,” femme fatal, and feminine seduction has an entire classicStrange Tales from a Chinese Studio (聊齋誌異)devoted to it. I would say “那隻滑不留手的雪狐精,”to take care of the conniving part through the double entendre of sleek/slick 圓滑/狡猾.

The prince’s womanizing is also diminished from lost image and cadence. The lyrical ribaldry of “the right royal prick” could have been rendered 精神虎虎的龍屌操the lively Dragon’s Prick) with a nod to China’s long-running imperial harem and the attendant habit of couching the emperor’s sexual exploits in ceremonious terms. Instead, the Chinese dialogue speaks demurely of the Prince “screwing around/trifling with girls (玩過的女孩). “龍屌操”does alliterate some, too, like the original.

I can think of two possible objections to this point of view. One is that since this show needs to pass muster with restrictions on adult content in Taiwan, the sex has to be toned down. The second is that viewers do not want jarring references to native Chinese imagery when watching a Western production. The latter, a hotly debated question, is central to the unresolved ambiguity with which Chinese relate to their own heritage. I won’t be able to put it to bed. The former is more problematic, since the buying public would certainly balk at having the show censored wholesale due to broadcast concessions. They would want the original restored in the safety of their homes.

Small omissions cast large shadows that blur the viewer’s grasp of the thoughts and motivation of characters. Tyrion, the dwarf lord, debuts with a prostitute coiled around his nether parts. When she expresses amazement at his prowess, he smiles, sweetly relieved: “The Gods gave me one blessing” (神明給了我一樣祝福). The trouble here is twofold. First, the translation does not capture his implicit stress that he’s got nothing else to be thankful for and, with it, the pathos of his self-regard. Second, given the idiosyncrasies of Chinese grammar regarding tenses, the viewer may think Tyrion is talking about some one-shot deal between him and the gods that would only last till next Thursday. Far better to have captioned: “神明賜我的只有這一件恩典。”When Jon, Lord Stark’s illegitimate son, walks into the sick chamber to say goodbye to his comatose half-brother, his stepmother immediately cuts him off: “you’ve said it.” The subtitle 你已經道別過了,again neglects the fact that, without the aid of tenses, Chinese must account for things that in English come part and parcel. The viewer might think Lady Stark is referring to an earlier farewell that happened offstage, making her rejection a bit more justifiable and weakening the tension of the moment. It should have been “你這不正在道別了嗎,夠了。”

I’ll just make a listicle of some of the things I have quarrel with:

“Ale”– became 酒,a nondescript term for all alcohol. 麥酒, the correct full rendition, would restore the flavor of time and place.

“Good man” –  misunderstood and taken literally as 好人 (as in “a virtuous man.”) Should have been 好漢子, to highlight the bravery of the men going to the Wall. The term has an echo of the medieval valor of the English original, as it was found in “Heroes of the Water Margins 水滸傳,” late-medieval romance, and still very much in currency in martial arts novels.

The chiding affection of “Little beast” became 小畜生,coming across much harsher in Chinese. This is where literal translations crash and burn. The Chinese expression means “low-life,” except when it’s very old-fashioned parents chatting with their friends about their son, providing a mock severity to mask their obvious affection with. (Don’t ask. It’s one of those cultural intergalactic gaps. The birthplace of tiger moms.) “小鬼” (literally “little imp”) would be the “dynamic equivalent” given the context.

Jaime trying to lighten his own guilt about throwing a ten-year-old child out of a tower: “grotesque cripple (醜惡的殘廢)” became “strange cripple (奇怪的殘廢)” As strange as the translator not bothering to look up the word online. How baffling is it to have this shrewd passionate heartless character make such a lame comment to his own dwarf brother, another “grotesque cripple” in everyone’s eyes. You usually get this problem with translators whose Chinese is not up-to-par. Another possible explanation is a rush job, so that the translator does not linger over word choice, but defaults to the broadest, fuzziest catch-call that say, in the end, less than nothing.

Jon, the forsaken bastard son, bidding farewell to his comatose baby brother: “I am taking the black.” The translator understands it as “I am going to wear the black uniform 我要穿黑制服.” Not only has the monastic farewell to earthly joys been taken out, but the jarring modern “black uniformshoots a hole in the stirring moment of what is known, hauntingly, as 生離死別 in Chinese. (For “saying goodbye while alive and parting in death” can allude to occasions when the two scenarios are one and the same. You know you are saying goodbye for the last time.) You can say: “我要受戒穿黑袍了,” I’ll be taking the vow in black habit,” to footnote the “black” and to lean on the Buddhist rite of initiation custom-made for its Catholic equivalent.

“Poachers I caught in my land” became “poachers caught in my kingdom (我的王國).” This mistake is particularly confusing happening so early on, since the speaker, a landowner, had just reaffirmed his fealty to his King in exile, and we are still getting to know the characters.

Quite a bit of the humor is lost. Humor admittedly is the last thing anyone gets when learning a new language. In my case it took, oh, fifteen years after I landed on these shores as a twelve-year-old. And because humor varies much from culture to culture, it is especially tricky to transfer. Still, one can but try.

Lord Tyrion on seeing the ganging up against Jon, the new arrival, remarks about the man in charge who ordered it “a charming man,” which the translator directly blurts out as “a man of much allure (很有魅力的人)All irony is drained out of it. 魅力is attraction, charisma, allure – but not the suave courteous quality that Tyrion is evoking here. Some Chinese viewers may even think Tyrion admires the man’s brutish management style. I would say “好溫雅的人,” which packs the punch of sarcasm called for.

Upon one of Jon’s adversaries accusing Jon of breaking his nose, Jon riffs: “It’s an improvement.” In Chinese, “有進步 –-(progress has been made).” Viewers may think Jon is commenting on the guy’s fighting getting kicked up a notch from their encounter. Should have been “比原來順眼多了。”

The books that the show is based on were translated into Chinese before the show was made. I will pick up a copy soon to see whether the DVD owes the print version any debts, good and bad. Will report back.

Criticism (in Chinese) for 2011 Korean Drama, “Secret Garden”: Free Women Cost the Most

This is the first part of my  magnum opus, ahem, drama criticism on Secret Garden, a 2010 Korean drama. Originally published in daily installments on Baidu group dedicated to the drama, my criticism attracted excellent comments from other posters. Before Baidu shut down its viewer meter in 2011, the conversation had earned 500,000 visitors. Five years later, posters and new fans still visit and write on the thread,with around 6,000 posts in all.

The whole thing comes out to 127 pages, 124,000 words, single-space, written from April to August 2011, coinciding with the worst human rights crackdown in China that I had witnessed, at my old job as a grant-maker to rights activists. I had to find an outlet, and this was absorbing enough for the job.

秘密花園劇評: 不要錢的女人最貴 從社長談起

蔣行之 2011, 百度貼吧










第二集在百货公司门口,罗琳幻影第一回出现。穿着他那个阶级的盔甲,三件头意大利西装的社长,和她并肩站着,表情还事不关己,大概以为只是路过的孤魂野鬼。那种浑然不知自己正和自己的命运两两相对的漠然,像Lady of Shallott,活在魔咒里的谢萝特的贵主,在遗世独立的庄院里看着魔镜纺织,恬然眺望着亚瑟王的坎密罗城大放光明,从来不知道自己是一个人。直到有一天,骑士兰斯洛特路过,黑发在镶宝石的头盔下光辉灿烂。社长重新低下头去,抿出颊上的笑涡而并不笑,把经济学人杂志抖了抖继续往下看,任由罗琳化灰为风吹去。那一刻,他相信他是自由的。




社长第一次为罗琳脱出常态,是在饭店。别看社长发现罗琳不是朴蔡琳,叫嚣着要她负责,问她“跟来干嘛,这笔交易值多少钱你知道吗”,凶狠计较得像钱庄伙计,难怪她会随意猜测他的职业人生。可是,才过了两分钟,罗琳接完导演电话要离开的时候,他马上阻挡,问她要去哪里?把和奥斯卡的续约交易忘得一干二净。还要等她提醒他:想见朴蔡琳吗?他才恍然的噢了一声。这和社长前面作为Alpha-male 经济动物所向无敌的精明刻薄,差别太大。这么早他已经开始离魂了,一旦知道她不是哥哥的情人,不需有所挂虑之后。

说到这里,先往前跳跃一下。那个孩子气的“噢” 再出场,是12集开头罗琳问他,就那么喜欢我吗?社长脸上一点表情也没有,就像答只有一个选择的选择题那样,乖巧又明快的说出了正确答案。这两个”噢“像诗句韵脚的前后呼应。前一次,是一个强大无比的人突然糊涂了,心防被攻破而并不自知。后一次,则是这个人从容低到尘埃里,不挣扎了,把自己交出来,有种前所未有的纯净。


从沙发上那段经典对话开始,罗琳就占了上风。虽然受伤,虽然担心导演生气,工作无法继续,她还是眼珠子一转就先猜出了社长的错误,伶俐无比。素来宽厚待人的她,飞车抵达片场,忍不住要开那个五脏六腑都在翻腾的小混混一个玩笑:“怎么,不是说男人最喜欢刺激有侵略性的车戏吗?”连打趣带挖苦,那一刻的罗琳英气夺人,急智戳得社长一句话答不上来 (当然也因为他正在干呕,)可他什么时候嘴上输过人了?这样的女人难道和社长那件不朽的运动服似的,满大街都是?我不信。

他的没教养从一开头就惹上了她。家境清贫的救火员的女儿,比金家的男女老幼都更像个世家闺秀,自尊自重。哪怕误会解开,社长仍旧连一句像人的话都不会说。从“脑子不好才干这活”直到“为什么踢我,”受伤又流年不利的罗琳都是三娘教子的作风,言教不如身教 – “是啊,到底为什么踢你呢?”先做了再说,让他自己去琢磨。他再俊美,她也看不上,因为此时的他,的确是扭曲的。无论怎么看,此时的社长,都配不上罗琳。

配不上罗琳,是因为他是还没摔到墙上的青蛙王子。(金编不知道是不是故意记错,公主没吻青蛙,而是掼了出去,就像第二集的过肩摔。)要说社长是无忧无虑一生的男人,造化小儿,他其实又过得有苦说不出,正是中了魔咒的青蛙。奥斯卡给他打电话要求摆平朴蔡琳的时候,他明明正在和医生商量别减药量,怕这样下去,连班都上不了。一接电话,说的是:“我在玩啊,我什么时候不玩了。”对最亲的兄弟尚且要这样隐瞒,连亲生母亲也不会谅解他的病,这个谨慎的男人谁都不能相信,被他的财宝牢牢囚禁着 ,不能示弱,不能叫苦,逞强得令人心酸,比孤儿还孤独。




第三集听奥斯卡问他是不是被拍照了,这样战战兢兢, 社长立即翻脸。有苦说不出啊。连奥斯卡那么冰雪剔透的明白人自己人都认为,那么个穷替身,周元肯定上手了,玩玩而已,一定是罗琳风急火燎的要把这事长久下去,立此存照。只有周元自己知道,事实和别人理所当然的想像,差的有多远。比之于朴蔡琳的摄影威胁,他也是偷拍,但是两者之间天差地别。他甚至没敢偷拍真人,只能翻拍储物橱里的照片,真的像乞丐一样。

这种苦痛,和他的失忆导致的心病,是完全不一样的。社长从来没有遇见过到不了手的东西,不听使唤的女人,没有价钱的感情。“为什么我想做,你却不让呢?” 社长困惑罗琳不让他送她回家时这么问。任意行使他的意志,原本是他所有的幸福,是他自在翱翔的蓝天。让人把画廊搬到他那博物馆一般的家,是他理解中唯一的快乐。花钱是他的爱好。他偶尔也玩女人,虽然兴致还不如对那琳琅满橱柜的名表浓厚,因为没听他说女人是男士必备的配件。









说:留疤了,恐怕不能竞选韩国小姐了 閒散的,很亲的口气,一下子她就是自己人了。那居然不是恭维的话,也不是开玩笑。他前面话说得有多难听,这时候就有多甜蜜宜人。

据说真正的英国贵族,当众说脏话,顺手把贵妇绣珠绕翠的荷包拿来小解,往壁炉灰里一扔。不是刻意无礼,就因为他那样的身份,想做什么都可以。他就是原则。这种不自觉的狂傲,前面说的意志的恣肆行使,平常是没教养,在这种关头翻了个面朝外,成为只倾注于一人的华美的殷勤,软缎铺天盖地的掩上来,庶民恐怕很难招架得住。直到第九集,罗琳翻案人鱼公主论,把青蛙摔出去之前一刻,社长还维持着这种狂傲: 我们还会再继续,就因为我刚刚这么说了。

透过狂傲,体现的却是他的纯真,他的本心。在他心底埋藏的,那个看爱丽丝梦游奇境的孩子,他自己都不相信的他。 没有这个,罗琳说什么也不会感动。






虽然书作为镇静剂止痛剂不再管用,但毕竟是习惯了的支撑,知道罗琳父亲营救殉职的真相之后,他站在窗口沉思,一册书还是捏在手里 – 直到金秘书奔进来报告噩耗 (大哭)



片头那对闪灼的鳳蝶,对影翩跹。希腊神话里的赛姬,是爱神失手自伤后爱上的凡人,经过爱神母亲阿佛黛蒂的诸般考验,终于升上奥林匹斯山,成为人类不朽灵魂的代表。蝴蝶是她的象征。他们是soulmates, 灵魂的伴侣。

那天晚上,在会所门口,周元看到了罗琳的自卑与受伤,看似扬长决绝的走掉,因为知道他们不可能,也歉疚伤害了她, 還吃奧斯卡的醋,照例是千手千眼的忙。但他根本管不住自己,走不掉,水准堪比密谍的跟了他们一路,最后又跑到她家,看她坐在小公园里,把围上没受伤的脖子的围巾拿来包上受伤的破包,两处相思,一种凝愁。















.婚恋观/财阀门第的束缚与责任/客观鸿沟 浮现,与上面的反扑相辅相成。(这部分是理智的,客观的,不是意气用事, 包括维护自己在员工心目中的形象的合理忧虑。如果罗琳真是他想像的轻骨头,他的确会颜面扫地。)

丙。你根本心里没有我,也不懂我。 (完全矛盾,迷恋继续中,气她没替他着想。)

丁。纯粹反射的嫌恶贫穷 。






本来以为生气的时候漂亮,没想到我笑起来更漂亮吧 (罗妹妹这里很狠,比周元请吃饭时做得更绝。那时候她说怕你更喜欢我,所以故意不生气,因为你说生气的时候更美。现在是回马一枪,正面承认并随手使用他的迷恋:让你鬼迷心窍的美,比你想像的更丰艳,可惜,没你的分。上次是否决,这次是肯定他的喜欢,紧接着全部扬弃。果然示威成功,周元眼里立即出现恍惚眩迷的神色。他最欣赏的本来正是她的勇气,她的自尊自爱。)

不管为了什么理由,我不该来的。你说的都对。(奇哉怪也,明明说他对,社长的表情,比说他错要郁怒得太多。罗琳这句话以后说出数次,每次都是他们之间的里程碑,都以社长推翻他的对来终结。)没替你着想,向你道歉 (这里是以礼貌反击无礼的他,也让他突然猜想她是不是心里的确有他。一方面,他又最恨她放低姿态,现在竟然是他在逼她道歉,他心里怎能不百味杂陈。)


要不要受伤的走开,长远留在你心底 (再度挑衅他他的迷恋/到不了手,一方面还是间接承认了自己已经受到伤害。周元的眼睛更亮,彻底被她碰触到了。他害怕。面对着她指点出的,没有她的未来,周围金沙砾砾。他是碰什么什么就变成黄金的密达斯王,富甲人寰,无所得食。)



周元: 不要再说了。


罗琳:不会拿坏机器给这么学历差的穷女人吧(嘲讽他对穷人的歧视心态,把自己踩到泥里。社长真的动摇到罗琳了,这是她第一次放弃自尊,就为了要伤害他。爱情真是九死一生的勾当。)面子上实在下不来,就说是玩了几次就甩掉的女人。 (故意自轻自贱,但也未尝不是下意识提醒他,人他还是没到手,她还是会走。)


周元心理:愤怒,得不到理解的委屈,恶人先告状 ,以及恐惧。看她这样强硬决裂,居然还坚持要吸尘器,一篇话有理有据有节,自己一定错怪她了。他完全无能面对,当下也绝对不可能道歉。所以他只好大发雷霆了,示范他如何对待只是玩玩的女人。





然后他就暗渡陈仓了。“你去哪里? 不是要玩儿吗?”就算用这种愤怒,这种不堪的理由,他也想看她穿那件桃色缀亮片的潋滟晚装。忘了他刚才标举的万众瞩目的社长身份与体面,也忘了他的病,他最深的秘密。就算没忘,至少,是顾不得了。(请看妙笔生花呆的论文详解。http://kjmund.pixnet.net/blog/post/33767329 )所以,说他只想玩,终究还是委屈了他。如果这算玩,社长您玩不起。在别的花花公子,密室里耳鬓厮磨挺刺激。在你,就是攸关性命。


















谷歌上粗略一翻,汪在英語網上似乎甚是冷落。Paper Republic英譯中文當代文學的群英會上,汪老只掛了個名。《陳小手》有英文版流傳。《受戒》也有洋人在自己博客上稍提了提,說是“抒情風景還蠻美的,也介紹了好些角色和當地民俗,然而不是把這些加起來就算故事了。”您哪位?沒聽過契科夫麼?想必這個洋讀者嫌棄的是“受戒”看似情節推進寥寥。我猜他以為末了少男少女划進蘆葦裡是拍MV

美國就是這樣。前一陣子去圖書館借契科夫,一看導讀叫理查福特,李小明張大軍之流的洋名,我照例瞠目結舌:您哪位?然而看書的封套推介,正是福特先生大樹下好乘涼,要推他多賣幾本書短篇小說終結者契科夫的書!這什麼世道?終於我這現世廢人也不得不上網翻了翻,原來福君寫過遭好萊塢電影改編過的小說。想到有人說笑兼說情:“Don’t judge a book by its movie,”“不以電影論原著好壞,”套的自然是“毋以貌取人,不以封面論書”的老話,用在福特先生身上,不知合適與否,讀過的朋友請賜教一二。(後記:蒙傅月庵指點,福先生才氣頗有餘,是我書看得太少,自慚淺陋。)


挑起來煞是費事。《黃油烙餅》? 集體公社引來大饑荒,祖母寧肯餓死,將松花般鵝黃的兩瓶奶油留貽子孫,催淚是催淚,怕太長。數歲孩童敘事的文字霎看稚拙,也最難。這一口氣要提著不鬆,我沒把握裝假裝那麼久,也怕洋人耐性燒光。招偶像作者附上我的身,跳神說英文,整件事先就荒謬到不行。

要雨果和契科夫並肩加持,方能傳出汪那淵博雅潔背後勃勃之氣的本色。莎翁說得好,“此念不息,萬劫不復,” 無濟於事。




看過美國譯會有人孤憤不合時宜道:“譯者總有點鬼祟沒品,seedy,” 其實還不止,應該是“羶腥,”差“下作”也就拐個街角而已。看我這迎合的心理。可不這樣又能如何?樓上我吐槽嫌棄汪的那位西洋讀者,至少肯看,已經是萬裡挑一了——得扳著他的臉,激光筆打進他瞳孔裡,才好叫他讀懂東方的夾縫文章。說什麼嚼飯哺人,翻譯是心肺復甦。


Is China’s Xi Jinping for Real? – Or, A Romance of Platters and Paddles


A lot of Western pundits used to hold out that Xi Jinping, China’s reigning President, was gathering power to himself and jostling Party elders backstage, for greater and better things. Pick anything you like, say, a free press. Hope is free, anyhow. 

A lot more people inside China shared the Western experts’ optimism. Optimism is a professional skill for Westerners when it comes to China. You have to handle your optimism with tender care, like a hothouse orchid. If Xi is, on the other hand, your Party boss, it is more like Ambien; you need it just to sleep.

The time for that optimism is now past for many of the Party’s own big shots and workhorses. A lot of the Communist officials under investigation for corruption never seem to want to work things out. The Party-owned press reports that they are doing away with themselves without waiting to hear what the Party Disciplinary Committee has to say. To a man, they receive a posthumous diagnosis of untreated depression. Must have stocked up on their Ambien, even though that doesn’t explain the wrists slashed after the guy had hung himself.

Is Xi for real? Is he paving the way to democracy with his great anti-graft drive? And how can we tell? Bloomberg tries to sidestep the question by sticking to the facts. I think Bloomberg can do better. When in doubt, turn to the grab-bag of Chinese history or pay someone like me to do it. Even if you can’t find the answers there, at least you won’t pull out a $1.79 plastic shrimp deveiner.

Maybe you’re an otaku (you’re not if you don’t know what that means) and have come across Romance of the Three Kingdoms online game. It’s based on a 15th-century international bestseller. Koreans and Japanese fell in love with the book too. Three Kingdoms is set in the period when China was partitioned three-way, in 200 A.D. One of the three proud new owners of the crash-and-burn empire was Cao Cao. (Think twice before saying his name to your Chinese friends; both words rhyme with a certain universal physical act if you get the tones wrong.)

Cao seemed a good and sound Young Turk when he started out (that’s what a lot of people liked to think about Xi Jinping too). As a petty magistrate in the capital, Cao had paddles hung on the front door of his office, in five colors, to let the corrupt and powerful know he meant business. And the paddles got used. I’ve always liked the contrast between the dainty visual of those beach-bright paddles and his swift and stern justice. By the way, kindly put away those Fifty-Shades-of-Grey associations.

Eventually, Cao decided he wanted to rule over the powerful; to what end, we are not sure. He found himself with an angry army on his hands. They hadn’t been paid, and what’s more hadn’t eaten. Not a good combination. He had his Chief Distribution Officer Wang brought to him, and said: “I need to borrow something from you.” And Wang, like the use-and-toss extra five minutes into any horror movie, had to ask him what that was. “Your head. I know it’s not your fault that we’re short on food, but if I don’t kill you, the soldiers will turn against me. Go in peace; consider your wife and kids taken care of.” The soldiers cheered when they saw Wang’s head stuck to the bulletin board with a brass tack, convicted of stealing army provisions.

Modern Chinese self-help books for white-collar professionals like to point to Wang as the quintessential Dilbert character who got tossed under his boss’s bus because, they reckon, he didn’t make himself valuable enough to Cao. That’s the great thing about being Chinese. You always feel so much better about your life when you think over how much worse it could be. These days you get to keep your head, literally.

So what have we figured out, except that China too has its own head-on-a-platter story? (Granted, Salome’s love-hate dance around the handsome St. John is much more exciting.) I think we can say Xi, in going after corrupt officials, has been borrowing heads at a furious pace. He needs the average Chinese to keep thinking he is on their side, grilling the bad guys who have been pocketing their healthcare, pension, their kids’ tuition, crazy-high road tolls, whatnot.

I have absolutely no data to back me up as to what drives Xi. This is pure, distilled conjecture. The thing is, though, that both Western and Chinese experts cannot agree on what lies behind it all, either. Could be because the black box that is the Chinese government won’t give up its secrets until the whole thing crashes mid-flight. Just saying.

In Xi’s visits to the West over the last two yearsas part of a charm offensive, he dropped a whole lot of names of Western books he claimed to love: Voltaire, Mark Twain, Pushkin. He could not have intended an insult, delicately hinted at, to his hosts, by mentioning these vessels of the humanist values his government banned in Chinese universities. And the only people rude enough to chortle that the books are more likely a compendium of what Xi hasn’t read are Chinese Internet users living under the censor’s thumb. My only question is: What sort of lessons is Xi drawing, as the ruler of a rising world power, from his diverse reading, judging from what he has been doing? Optimism will be our guide.