For Indie Authors: the State of Translations in China


Chinese translation: My watch’s run out of battery.



There is increasing awareness among indie authors that their sales hinges in part on how good a job their translator does. Overseas markets now beckon like so many Hesperides, their walls freshly fallen to the battering ram of the Internet. Babel, however, still reigns within. Authors, who are now happily in control of virtually all aspects of their work, find that they cannot vouch for the new face – some would argue, the reincarnation – their brainchild is to take on elsewhere.

Given the interest in the China book market and its relative opaqueness, I thought I’ll take a crack at summing up a few facts and themes about the state of translation of foreign books in China, as voiced in the Chinese press. This is meant as backup to a lot of the good resources out there, such as Christine Sun’s reporting. If you are an indie author who want to make inroads in China with a translation that does justice to your work, take a look.

(1) A lot of Chinese translations are bad

This is a long-running pet peeve among China’s arbiters of culture. One of China’s largest Internet portals, Tencent, carries a 2013 special feature story titled “Translations as Gibberish: Who’s at Fault for Screwing up Translations of Copyrighted Works.” The article begins with a memorable quote:


“I know every single word on the page, but when strung together they don’t make the least bit of sense,” such is the immediate impression of many readers toward contemporary translations of foreign books.

And this remains the verdict throughout. In late 2015, when controversy erupted over a new translation of Tagore, another prominent media outlet, Phoenix, ran a similar lament.

The common Chinese reader embraces these gripes as heartily as they poke fun at the censors they love to hate. There are pages of collections, hash tags and exclamation-riddled reviews devoted to rotten translations on Douban alone (China’s answer to Goodreads.) When such errors slash and burn their way through a book, the ravages sustained by characters, plot and style is as arbitrary as it is systematic. Some seasoned translators cover their tracks with aplomb and occasionally a wayward genius. Readers walk away only slightly discommoded, marveling at the author’s puny powers or ostentatiously foolish waste of their time.

Those who crave the gory details can look to my upcoming piece.

(2) Poor working conditions and race to the bottom

The underlying causes deserve several doctoral theses; a brief summary ought to suffice. According to Chinese reporters and commentators, an array of factors are to blame.

As market competition becomes more fierce, traditional publishers in bidding wars for well-regarded foreign titles cut cost by paying translators less. According to one 2015 research report released by quasi-governmental organizations on translation, translators are both better educated and worse paid than other workers; over half make less than the median income, even though 96% have at least a college degree. Translation cycles run between one and three months long, and the book is almost invariably split among several translators. It goes without saying that this hurts the brilliantly written, inventive, fact-packed, or otherwise noteworthy books the most. Likewise overworked editors are often not in a position to sew up, like Ali Baba’s hired tailor, the helter skelter body parts – editorial and stylistic consistency go by the wayside.

Turned off by a Darwinian market, the best translators exit the profession for greener pastures; those who remain farm out their assignments in order to make a living. A teeming army of college students can pay their phone bill, as well as prepare for their English certification exam, Band 4, by taking on slivers of foreign books. Things hit a new low in recent years, when high school students in foreign language programs signed on to the tail end of the food chain, often through recruitment ads on the web.

(As a contrast, consider that the best Chinese novelists, playwrights and poets had done the most enduring translations of Western classics until relatively recently. In one well-known instance, writers Xiao Qian and Wen Jieruo, a married couple, spent four years over “Ulyssses.”)

Finally, to make a quick buck, Chinese publishers continue to get creative in all the wrong places. Again, for brevity’s sake,  here is one deplored practice: Some publishers have been known to come up with phantom translators — award-winning fixtures in some illustrious grove of academe — under whose fictional names dozens of titles in an obscene number of languages are churned out within half a year. I have seen legit Chinese translators on Internet forums look to haphazardly edited machine translations as one of the few plausible explanations for this extraordinary fecundity.

(3) Hopeful trends for better Chinese translations

Not all is doom and gloom. The paying public in China is rapidly becoming more discerning. The stages of Chinese development are remarkably compressed; things that take decades to unfold elsewhere zip through in a few years here. There is increasing recognition that badly translated titles perpetuate a vicious cycle of oversupplied markets and disgruntled buyers that does not serve any part of the publishing industry well. Meanwhile, foreign titles top the critics’ lists of recommended reading, enjoying a popularity that is, rather ironically, fostered by censors. In keeping the creativity of Chinese writers in check, censorship makes foreign works more alluring.

The Internet also offers new solutions to the problem of shoddy translations, by giving online translator communities more visibility and channels to evaluate the professional reputation of star translators (notwithstanding a quite severe problem with paid Internet marketing). Those who excel in the face of the long odds are fiercely passionate about their craft, toil tirelessly in its service, and defend their right to a decent living the best they can. In other words, they are the kind of people indie authors this side of the pond would find a lot to talk about with.

In Chinese, wage slaves complain of having to “dining on the wind and farting smoke (喝风屙烟).” Chinese translators enjoy little legal or de facto protection against contractual breaches and withheld wages. They cannot be expected to do right by the titles they are entrusted with, when they’re treated worse than a server farm. Under the changing dynamics of indie publishing, we may be able to find a way to change those realities. Better livelihoods make better books.

The Knowing Ducks of Spring: How to tell when China is Ready to Compete with Hollywood

琅琊榜 黄金分割

People associated with China’s film industry recently declaimed on the CBS program 60-Minutes that the Chinese are poised to give Hollywood a run for its money. Rob Cain of Bloomberg was quite emphatic as to why not. And I wholeheartedly agree with him.

In this I am taking my cue from China’s own tough-love critics, whose opinion I figure must be weighty on this subject. Ranging from Chen Danqing, an artist and arbiter of culture, to Ran Yunfei, a public intellectual harassed by authorities, they all agree that cultural China is but a shadow of its former self. They feel that the ravages of the country’s recent past, such as the Cultural Revolution, left China adrift, severed from much of its heritage and uncertain of its future. You can’t tell powerful stories when you don’t know who you are or where you might be.

China is, therefore, in a long cultural convalescence, and in such straits poses no threat to Hollywood’s global dominance. By the same token, however, healing may eventually usher in a renaissance.

The great Song-dynasty renaissance man, Su Dongpo (1037-1101), writes that “When warm once again the tides of spring grow/The ducks are always the first ones to know.” Here are two spheres of Chinese cultural life to watch, as Su’s proverbial ducks, for the arrival of that cultural renewal. Now, it is inevitable that observers will vehemently differ on whether backsliding or leapfrogging is gaining the upper hand. There will be inexhaustible opportunities to track eye-popping developments on the ground and to wrangle over what they mean. That will be part of the fun.

The Chinese Language. Chinese is slowly recovering from the Maoist style of writing and speaking. Li Tuo, a literary critic, pointed out in 1997 that the language of propaganda and revolution held back modern Chinese. The standardized Maospeak outlawed, and virtually wiped modern Chinese clean, of classical Chinese.

To understand what this means, imagine an English with the widest part of its Saxon and Latinate vocabulary surgically removed. Then ponder how you can grapple with that state of things, knowing only a few odds and ends from your entire literary past that political leaders, the government press and a couple of lionized writers happened to cite. That’s what the Chinese are up against.

Restoring and regrowing Chinese language and culture is an uphill climb. Still, Hollywood should not get too comfortable. For the last several years, a section of Chinese society has honored their past by waxing nostalgic for the culture of the Republican era that immediately preceded Communist rule. For example, Mu Xin, a recently discovered writer’s writer, is beloved of young hip readers as representative of “what Chinese literature would have looked like, had it not been devastated after 1949.” Readers and writers are slowly reforging the broken link to their rich birthright.

Chinese Dramas and Their Critics. While the majority of Chinese audience put up with what domestically produced movie and TV theatricals censors allow them to see, an irrepressible minority have made a wildly popular cottage industry out of ripping into government-approved content that offend them as insults to their IQ. Barrages of jokes and quips greet trite fare restricted to a few categories:

a. Imperial court intrigue emphasizing the sagacity of rulers and the grandeur of Chinese empires;

b. The 101th rehashing of myths on how underground tunnels and airplane-felling pistol shots from Communist guerrillas beat back the Japanese invasion in WWII;

c. Shoddy rom-coms slovenly modeled on Japanese and Korean originals, adapted to Chinese tastes with endless catfights between daughter- and mother-in-law.

Stuff that will not shake Hollywood to its foundations any time soon. Having said that, watch out for the gush of irreverent creativity from their critics: theirs is an outstanding testament to the Chinese imagination and its potential for storytelling. 

Given how formidable that creativity would be if harnessed the right way, just like the country did in the manufacture of more tangible things, China may yet catch up with light-year speed. Nirvana in Fire, a popular 55-episode drama that was seen a total of 3.5 billion times on Chinese streaming platforms as of October 2015, is one recent breakthrough that for once has the homegrown critics applauding. This historical fantasy differs in many regards from mainstream fare. A re-conceived Count of Monte Cristo, it sports a moral backbone, where other censor-sanctioned drama veer between saintly stereotypes (WWII) and nihilistic cynicism (court intrigue). It boasts strong female characters whose horizons extend beyond the love of men. Its treatment of historical details is precise and intimate, going beyond professional polish to that reforging of links to Chinese heritage so vital to China’s renaissance. All this result in a reticent aesthetics rooted in the high tradition of Chinese painting and poetry. The camerawork, costumes and set design are of an understated beauty in a quintessentially Chinese way that has won over viewers both old and young.

In a word, I think we would do well to look to Chinese civil society in order to figure out when their creative springtime is at hand. Until then, Hollywood can try to stay ahead of the game by learning from the worthiest Chinese endeavors. For Hollywood, like China, has to endlessly recreate itself to stay true to its dreams. In that there is no zero-sum game. 

Why the Funniest Movie Titles in Translation Are even Funnier than You Think



Google translation tattoo no translation 0416

One perennial listicle favorite on the Internet is the errors that foreigners make in English. The secret hope there is if foreigners are confused enough with our language, they won’t ever find out how hard we are laughing at how confused they are. English, our mother tongue, rolls in our mouth lapping a teat of safety. Our instinctive mastery is at light years’ remove from the blunders of struggling foreigners. They’ll never catch up. But we are kind, and wish to spare them that fact.

In my case things get a tad more complicated. English isn’t my first language. I’m passing as a native speaker. Discriminating pureborn Americans have sometimes picked up on a couple of twangs and endings and caught me out. Occasionally I suspected that if I were Albino, they would not have noticed these giveaways, but I knew this to be wishful thinking. I try to overcome what I prefer to consider a mild handicap by entertaining thoughts of copying out whole books by Western writers. Mind you, not Proust, even if Moncrieff channels him better than nearly anyone has the right to hope. Only the concise ones would do. Not Conrad, for obvious reasons. Once I did type out five pages of Orwell’s defense of Wodehouse, but there weren’t enough pretty words in it, so I quit.

Talking about funny errors that foreigners make in English, I came across some listicles on the “Funniest Movie Titles in Translation.” I would really like to unpack what is funny and what goes beyond that in these reported gaffes. It always helps to go over to the other side and look back. In this trifling exercise, I’ll stick with the Chinese ones, my French being a pure distillate of American schooling, and my German an accidental liability acquired through liaisons with a man from the Westphalian hinterland. Here is a selection:

Boogie Nights > 一舉成名 > His Powerful Device Makes Him Famous
Fargo >
雪花膏離奇命案 > Mysterious Murder in Snowy Cream
The English Patient >
別問我是誰 > Don’t Ask Me Who I Am
The Professional >
這個殺手不太冷 > This Hit Man is Not as Cold as He Thought
Good Will Hunting >
驕陽似我 > Bright Sun, Just Like Me
Dead Poets Society >
暴雨驕陽 > Bright Sun in Heavy Rain
As Good as It Gets >
貓屎先生 > Mr. Cat Poop

How much of this bunch of jokes do we owe to incompetence, cluelessness, and word-whoring? Which part is the honest mistake, the catch-22, the cost you eat for intercultural communication? Any of it?

All these translations came out of Hong Kong. Here’s what I think I know about the place. The viewers there like to have an inkling of what they are paying for. Fair enough, since they are less likely to have heard of the Canadian novelist Michael Ondaatje (“The English Patient.”) The city being a boom town, you should also expect a lot of hawking and a minimum of hand-wringing over artistic compromises. At the same time, the British colonial past and a workforce educated in the West that comes with the territory means that amateur mistakes are less likely.

Most Chinese novels and movies have titles that are as obvious as a boombox. Only the best and the bestselling writers can afford to be coy. The great comic writer Lao She went out on a limb with “A Collection in Clams and Seaweed” for one of his short-story volumes. The Queen of Romance Qiong Yao churned out over two decades titles that leaned on the Chinese poetic canon, replete with the haze of dreamed rain, the changeless change of red sunsets, and a thousand knots of the heart. Nary a plot line in their distant mauve mist.

Western films cannot, except for a Spielberg here and there, lay claim to such privilege. They need some sort of handle coming East. Something that can coax the viewer closer to the idea of watching a bunch of foreigners do their thing on the screen.

This brings me to the dirty secret behind some of these seemingly outlandish translations. In a word, the English translation of the Chinese translations did not return the favor the movie originals owe their Chinese handlers. In addition to pandering to cheap laughs and puerile associations, the Chinese translators also found a way to help their audience relate. When turning these titles back into English, the Western translators didn’t bother to undertake the latter. This may be understandable, to the extent that the joke would go out of some of what they are having us look at.

The backstory is that, the better job a translator does, the harder it gets to translate her rendition back to the original. It’s a bit like this: if the sugar has become one with your ice tea, you would be hard pressed to produce it intact from the sweetened liquid. “Boogie Nights” is an apt example. Some viewers in Hong Kong may have the foggiest idea of the tawdry, soul-wrenching nothing that underpins the excesses of the seventies’ porn industry in America, but you sure as hell can’t count on it to sell a whole movie. A straight translation won’t cut it. Gotta start closer to home. Good thing the Chinese have got a lot of cultural clutter to choose from. The translator hit on a juicy pun with this stock phrase, “With one blow he rises to fame.” Erections are universal, whatever claims the government in Beijing may make about Chinese exceptionalism. 

Ditto with the sun beating down on two films about young people, “Dead Poets Society” and “Good Will Hunting.” “The fierce sun” is a veteran formula that checks off several selling points in one go: A Chairman Mao quote comparing young people to the morning sun; pairing up to the classical metaphor of teachers as nourishing rain to grow their students; and a fawning pitch framing the young as beloved brilliant creatures of unchecked will. You got your bang for the buck there.

The snowy cream has an even simpler explanation. That’s just “Fargo” written out in Chinese by sound. The translator probably did it on purpose, since there are more proper-sounding, less culinary words he could have chosen. Or maybe he was just pressed for time, and grabbed the words out of a hat. The Cold Professional gag and the “Don’t Ask My Name” posturing both derived from songs popular in Hong Kong at the time, as hooks to hang the proverbial hat on.

Having come this far, I see now I was wrong to accuse the Western translators of deliberately withholding information. I can’t think of a way to translate some of these back into English either.

Take the youth film bits. The only person I know of who negotiated these hairbreadth curves with flair is David Hawkes, the Oxford don who translated the Dream of the Red Chamber, a book that is in the top-two running for China’s best novel. Youth is green, according to Chinese imagery. Hawkes turned much of it into gold, to make accessible to Western readers this tale of beautiful and prodigiously gifted young people whose sojourn in an improbable Sanssouci clashes with the sordid world of adults, the scions of aristocratic houses that are run like rotting corporations. And he caught some flak from quarrelsome Chinese critics, who reacted the way a Shakespearean actor collars a translator for editing down the Bard’s lines. And Hawkes was working from the original, not translating translations.

I haven’t said anything about Jack Nicholson as Mr. Cat Poop. You’ve got to draw the line somewhere. Next time, I’ll blog about why Chinese is a bigger and better language than English.

Why The Better Chinese Writer Is Often the Harder Sell in the West: Musings on Wang Zengqi 汪曾祺





Here are some personal reaction, cum brief background, about the writer of “The Connoisseur,” a short story I translated. Wang Zengqi (1920-1997) is, in my opinion, one of modern China’s best writers. He belongs to that last flowering generation of intellectuals who, steeped in an uninterrupted cultural tradition that assimilated every successful invader of China, took up the challenge and clarion call from the West. As a young writer, he counted Woolf and Faulkner among his influences. Li He, an 8th-century poet (imagine a Coleridge who fulfilled his promise with 220 poems), inspired Wang with his gorgeous desolation. Wang represented the best hope of a China that died young.


The post-1949 dystopia destroyed the promise of China’s writers. When the Party permitted them to write again, they no longer knew how. Having had it hammered into them that Western literature was a pernicious colonialism and Chinese culture a tool of class exploitation, they had nowhere to turn. Servile to political goals for decades, their stunted genius saw a second burial. Wang was one of a handful of exceptions. 


What makes Wang stand out among those chosen few is his purity and freedom. He writes as if the Communist devastation has never been. There is no more remarkable act of writerly rebellion. His language, now nourished by a brawny vigor from years of folk theater work, is of a lovely simplicity. A Chekhov who has finally reached peace with himself, he reimagines a China at once panoramic and exact, its struggles, injustices and beautiful things ordered by an ineluctable humanity. That goes against the grain of everything the Party upholds. His classical learning, effortlessly wielded without ostentation, defies and undoes the harm of Newspeak. To this day the Chinese remains largely robbed of their capacity to envision a world and future other than what the Party wills, because their language itself has become so corrupted. In writing like Wang’s, where what is human and universal from China’s enduring past is distilled and fit into the present, the hope for another renaissance beckons. 


Wang has not been translated much, perhaps in part because of what makes up his genius. I hope to change that in what small way I can. The Western reader has very little knowledge of the cultural backdrop which informs Wang’s writing. What makes him so valuable to the Chinese makes him a harder sell here. It struck me that the Internet is our best friend when it comes to bridging those gaps. I try to illuminate the lost world of his writing through web links to Chinese architecture, paintings, calligraphy and cartoons of the inside of a 1920’s Beijing clothier. They are easier to get to and less disruptive to the flow of reading than footnotes. I’m hoping to get reader thoughts from my DC Literature meetup, if I can lobby the folks there to hold a discussion session on the story. My goal is to turn reader feedback into revisions to this translation. Whether a story from a foreign land leaves readers baffled, irritated, bemused or hungry for more, their response shines a bright light on where the two cultures collide and coincide, in ways slowly revealing to us. 

Modern Chinese Masters Series: The Connoisseur 鑑賞家

by Wang Zengqi  汪曾祺

李復堂 荷花 0316

Li Shan (aka Li Futang, 1686-ca 1762,) Lotus in the Style of Lu Zhi, Freer Gallery, Smithsonian Museum.

The leading painter in this county was Ji Taomin. The leading connoisseur was Ye San.

Ye San sold fruit. He was not like the other fruit sellers. He did not own a shop, or run a stall. You won’t see him making his way through main streets and back alleys heaving his load on a pole. He only delivered fruit to the gentry families – all in all around twenty houses, where he was a familiar sight. The doorkeepers and the dogs knew him. When the time came, he would be there. The people inside, hearing the knock, knew that Ye San had come.

Carrying a “Gold Filigree” bamboo basket, a small weighing scale anchored in it, he would go into the inner hall and raise his voice to greet the host of the house. Sometimes the host would come out to meet him. Some spoke to him through the door.  “How much would you like to take…?” “Five catties.” There was no need to look over the fruit. Their selection depended upon, and never varied from, the time of season. Ye San did not haggle, and the families did right by him. A few paid on the spot. Almost everyone else settled their account when the holidays rolled around (Dragon Boat Festival, Mid-Autumn, and the Lunar New Year.) The fruit weighed and laid out on the Eight Immortals console in the center of the hall, Ye would say “Kindly excuse me,” and go on his way.

You didn’t have to cherry-pick his fruit. They were all good. The first good thing about them was the timing: “ahead of and brimming with the season.” You got them in his basket before they were seen in the marketplace. Second, each and every one was large, shapely, sweet to smell and to taste, and lovely to see. All his fruit had passed through his own hands. Anything sampled by insects, blemished, crate-cracked, skinned, blotchy or undersized did not make the cut, and was offloaded dirt-cheap to other sellers. All his fruit came straight to him. Some he picked up by going to the source himself. Everything was “tree-ripe,” not smothered in rice hulls to put off ripening. He took a lot of trips, spending much more time on buying than on selling. He enjoyed making the rounds. He knew the exact orchard, home garden, village or town where you could find a famed fruit tree of a particular variety. Nothing escaped him. Having worked hand-in-glove with the owners for years, he was now like family. This much effort was beyond the other sellers, who did not know all those ways and means. Traveling so much, you saw many fine vistas and found out about the differing customs in each place, which always made for good conversation. And it was good for you. Ye San rarely got sick, because of how much he got around.

Green radishes came in around the Vernal Equinox. The best ones, called “Begging for a Beating,” cracked open with a thud when thrown at the floor. When apricots and peaches were “coming down,” egg-sized White Incense apricots showed up along with the honey peach, white as a handful of snow, pierced by a single red thread beneath the pout of its tip. Then you had cherries, as red as coral and as white as agate. Loquats for the season of dragon boats. Melons for summer. July and August saw produce fresh from the rivers: water caltrops, gorgon fruit, lotus seedpods and the crisp tender lotus root, picked when the lotus flowers were in first bloom. Horse’s Teeth dates, plus grapes. Close to High Autumn, the pears arrived from the Riverside region near Peking and the sunward slopes of Shantung’s Lai Mountains. On top of the Half-catty Crunch, you also got a variety of sweet pear, on the small side. These Gold Dangle Earrings soaked your face with puffs of scent. After the chrysanthemums bowed out, there would be kumquats, and honey tangerines from Fuchou in the South, their stalk swelling into a navel. Once winter set in, chestnuts were brought, along with yuca root (thick as a toddler’s arm), lily bulbs (fist-sized), and dew-green fresh Sandalwood olives that could be eaten straight without curing.

Ye San also sold finger-citron. His customers put them out in carefully chosen plates on matching stands in their studies, to admire and to inhale the perfume of the inedible fruit that, according to legend, was modeled on Buddha’s hand.

A lot of people, who rarely stirred from their homes, only recalled what time in what season it was, when they saw the fruit Ye San brought in.

Ye San had sold fruit for more than thirty years, and both of his sons were now grown. Both had been apprentices with clothiers. The second son now ranked third among all the clerks, while the eldest had been promoted to Second Clerk. It was widely believed that the eldest would one day rise to Head Clerk and eventually be made manager of the establishment. He was cut out for the job. When it came to bookkeeping he was second to none. The one who sat in the cashier’s back room, clicking the abacus, days on end, for the year-end closing. They could not do without him, whether it was hosting the factory reps, or figuring out purchasing. Purchasing made up its own field of study. The year’s game plan hung in the balance; it must be decided which lines to add or drop, what items were essential, and which to try on. The second son was also very good at what he did. When measuring and tearing off the fabric – you clamp it between two fingers of both hands, and go “tssst” with a tiny deft twist through the entire length, without notching with shears first – he was nimble and neat. How a clerk went about his business reflected on the clothier. Customers are always going to prefer buying fabric from clerks who are quick on their feet, with the right light touch. It is part talent and part practice. Some people, plodding and clumsy their entire lives, simply never learn despite their best efforts. Whatever the profession, you are always going to be held up against others. It cannot be helped.

The two young men were prepossessing: fine clear-cut features, middling good height. Clothier clerks dressed quite well, wearing whatever was the last and latest word in their line of business. It went without saying that they bought at an excellent price goods that were worthwhile. They bought at wholesale prices, no margin added; for leftover cuttings, they even got a discount. That was how things were done at clothiers, and owners were happy to go along. A smartly dressed clerk made the shop look good. Often, the customer would point to a clerk’s outer gown, or the contrast sleeves of his tunic: “I’ll have one just like yours.”

Both brothers were already married. The eldest had a son. Ye San was now a proud grandfather.

This year, Ye San turned fifty – a milestone birthday. As the whole family went over the celebration plans, both sons wondered whether their father should still be making fruit deliveries to the gentry families, since they could now afford to keep him at home.

Ye got a bit annoyed. “Am I embarrassing you now? You two ‘gentlemen’ in big garment shops – you think you don’t look good with your old man peddling fruit?”

The young men hurried to make themselves clear: “It’s not that. Papa, you’re older now. It doesn’t feel right for us to just sit there and watch you always going on the road, in all kinds of weather, trudging through mud and going by water.”

I’m used to the road. I’m used to taking fruit to these families. Just for Fourth Master Ji alone, I need to go on selling.”

Fourth Master” referred to Ji Taomin. The fourth male child of his generation born into the extended Ji family, he was known to everyone in town by this title of honor.

“You don’t have to bother with birthday ceremonies and whatnot. If you want to do your filial duty by me, get those paintings that Fourth Master gave me mounted, and order me a Longevity casket.” The local custom was to get the coffin ready way ahead of time, as a token for good fortune and long life.

And so everything went, according to Ye’s wishes.

Ye San kept on selling fruit.

It really was true that he sold fruit for Ji Taomin alone. He made deliveries to all the other houses for the sake of his wages; he sold to Ji for the love of what Ji painted.

It was Ji Taomin’s particular quirk to paint and drink at the same time. He cushioned his drink, not with the customary platters of food, but fruit. After a few brush-strokes, his lips locked to the spout of the wine-warmer, he would take a swig and, a slice of fruit in his left hand, the paint brush in his right, turn back to his painting. For one painting, he would down two catties of Shaoxing rice liquor and a little less in fruit.

Whenever Ye San got his hands on the best trove of fruit, he took it to Ji Taomin first.

As soon as Ji Taomin got up each morning, he went into his small study that doubled as his studio. Ye San did not need to be announced. Entering through a smallish hexagonal gate giving onto the garden, down a winding path paved with gravel in the “ice petal crunch” style, he would see Ji through the studio window, and walk in carrying or cradling his fruit. 

Sir, loquats, White Crisp!”

Sir, watermelon from the East Mound, white skin, rind, and seed! These Three Whites have a touch of pear-blossom about them – you don’t find that anywhere else!”

He spent half a day on his deliveries to Ji Taomin. He helped Ji with grinding the ink stick, skimming the choice vermilion “fat” of the cinnabar, pestling the azurite and malachite, and smoothing out the paper. While Ji painted, he stood to one side and watched with rapt attention. His whole mind would be so taken up, he barely exhaled. Sometimes, in the middle of a showstopper, he would draw a deep breath without meaning to, and may even break into a low cry that barely rose above a whisper. Those were the moments Ji considered his best. Ji never painted in the presence of others, and would sometimes lock his study door while painting. Ye San was the lone exception. Ji was quite willing to have someone like Ye watch him. He thought Ye really got it. Ye San’s admiration neither masqueraded as expertise, nor flattered to curry favor. It was heartfelt.

Ji Taomin hated listening to other people talk about painting. He rarely went to the gatherings at his relatives’ houses. On the occasions he was obliged to go, he showed his face long enough to drink half a cup of tea before taking his leave. Some poseurs, who imagined themselves arbiters of culture, were certain to be holding forth. Since Ji was a celebrated painter, they were given to lengthy expositions on learning and art when he was around, to parade their refinement and erudition. Picked up from hearsay, their ideas were never more than half-baked. It was a great nuisance for Ji to have to submit to them. He knew well that, should he murmur one or two noncommittal replies called for by courtesy, one of these men would regurgitate his spiel elsewhere, adding: “Ji Taomin himself approves of my opinion without reserve.”

But Ye was, for him, in another category altogether.

Ji had the utmost admiration for Li Futang. Of the Eight Eccentrics of Yangzhou, Ji found Li to possess the most depth and mastery, excelling equally in hall paintings and miniatures. You are in good hands with both Li’s calligraphy and painting. These pieces are untrammeled, save by a vigorous direction. Their majestic reserve never overwhelms a melodious delicacy. Li is not mannered. He does not take the easy way out, like his contemporary cynics who can sometimes smack of dilettantism. One day, Ye San brought Ji four album paintings by Li Futang. Ji was stunned: the four paintings were real! Ji asked Ye how much he paid for them. Nothing, Ye said.

Ye was getting a shipment of fruit in the town of Sanduo, and noticed the four paintings, set in a vitrine cabinet, at someone’s house. He had seen a lot of Li’s paintings at Ji’s place, he told Ji, and recognized the find. He traded four “Suzhou posters” for them. The owners were pleased as anything over the tasteful antique-imitation posters of flowers and birds, bright and brand-new with lots going on.

Ye San enjoyed paintings wholeheartedly, that was all. He never commented without knowing what he was saying. After Ji was done with a painting, nailed it to the wall, and looked at it from a distance, his hands clasped behind his back, he would sometimes ask Ye: “Is it any good?”



Ye could usually, with one phrase, pinpoint what was good about it.

Ji once drew some wisteria, and asked Ye his opinion.

Ye said, “There is wind in the wisteria.”

Hmm! How do you know that?”

The flowers are rumpled.”


Ji picked up an ink-brush and wrote on the painting a couplet in the Song dynasty sonnet style:


The silence in that deep courtyard–

No one could be seen.

The wind in wisteria vines rumpled their flowers.


Ji drew a miniature of a mouse climbing a lamp stand. Ye San said, “This is a young mouse.”

How do you know that?”

The mouse wraps its tail around the pole of the lamp stand. It’s being playful.”


Ji Taomin loved to paint lotus flowers. All his lotuses were in dark calligraphy ink. While he admired Li Futang, he did not paint like Li at all. Where Li tend toward the ponderous, Ji is ethereal. Li’s brushwork favors the classical full-bodied “front-center” stroke; Ji’s leans in slightly – this has to do with his calligraphy style, the “ancient cursive.” Sometimes Li lets his ink and water flow free – “a sweet disorder in the dress” – where his thought runs ahead of his brush. Ji has none of this tempestuous abandon. Even though he paints oversize freestyles, the brush and the thought never lose sight of one another, and each touch is cleaned up and put away. His scheme is spare and airy, and he knows what to do with the empty spaces. His ink lotuses owe something to Zhang Daqian, but are more at ease. He does not line his lotus leaves with veins or sprinkle the lotus stem with spikes. He prefers long scrolls for the sake of the long lotus stems. With a single brush-stroke, he brings out the stem from beginning to end.

One day, Ye San brought him a big bunch of lotus seedpods. Inspired, Ji painted some ink lotuses with a number of seedpods. He asked Ye: “What do you think?”

Ye San said, “Sir, there’s something wrong with your painting.”


‘Eat seeds from the red flower, eat root from the white.’ You painted white lotus flowers, but look at how big these seedpods are, bursting with seeds. The ink shade is dark too. These seeds belong with red lotus flowers.”

Is that so? I never knew that before!”

Ji Taomin rolled out an eight-feet sheet of unvarnished rice paper, painted red lotuses, and signed off with a poem:


Eat seeds from the red flower, eat root from the white,”

Ye San the fruit-vendor said;

This ignorant painter stands corrected.  

For you my own rule I will breach,

To paint just this once with rouge.


Ji Taomin made a gift of a lot of his paintings to Ye San. Sometimes Ji crumpled up and tossed something he was not happy with. Ye would pick it up, and eventually bring it back to Ji. Ji would then think that it did pass muster, dab at it a little, add a dedication, and give it to Ye San again. All the paintings that Ji Taomin gave to Ye San mentioned Ye by name. Ye San, known to everyone by his birth order (san means “third,”)did officially have a name. At his birth, the fortune-teller pronounced Ye’s astrological lineup to be unsatisfactory, there not being enough of the water element. To make up for it, his family named the newborn Runsheng (“enlivened by water. ”)  Accordingly, Ji conferred the name Zezhi (renewed in rain”)  on Ye. Ji often signed off the paintings he gave to Ye San with: “To Zezhi, my Third Older Brother,” complete with the form of address painters use toward those whose good opinion they seek. Or Ji may simply undersign, “For Ye San,” explaining to the latter that addressing others using their birth order was a norm among the ancients, so no discourtesy was implied.

Sometimes, after finishing a painting for Ye San, Ji Taomin would say, “I won’t put a dedication on this one. That way you can get some money for it. Paintings with someone’s name on them are harder to sell.”

Ye San said, “It doesn’t matter to me. But I won’t sell your paintings.”

You won’t?”

Not a single one!”

He put all the paintings Ji Taomin gave him in his coffin.

More than a dozen years passed.

Ji Taomin died. Ye San no longer sold fruit. Throughout the seasons and for the holidays, Ye still scoured the countryside for fresh fruit, to make offerings at Ji’s graveside.

After Ji Taomin died, his paintings soared in price. Some Japanese collectors would take nothing else. It was widely known that Ye San was the holder of a considerable and choice hoard of Ji’s paintings. A lot of buyers made offers. Ye San said, “No.”

One day, a stranger came to pay his respects to Ye. Ye San peered at his calling card. The man had a very strange surname, Shi, that could not be found in most dictionaries, and his first name meant “Listening to Waves.” Some questioning revealed that he was Japanese. Shi said he made the trip expressly to see the paintings by Ji Taomin that were in Ye’s collection.

Because the traveler had come such a long way, Ye San felt compelled to bring out the paintings. Shi showed great piety. He asked for some clean water to wash his hands, lit some incense, and even bowed down three times to each scroll before unrolling it. As he looked at them, he never stopped marveling:

Oh! Oh! How great they are! Divinely inspired!”

Shi wanted to buy these paintings. Ye San could name any price.

Ye San said, “No.”

And there remained nothing for Shi to do but leave, forlorn.

Ye San died. His sons did as he instructed. They put Ji Taomin’s paintings, along with their father, into the coffin, and buried them.


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。 )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.