Manuscript of a Century: an Extract

From the father of Pinyin, Zhou Youguang. Because I liked his introduction.


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12 Christmas Gift Ideas for the Sinophile

My English partner once told me, that China should re-Christen themselves the East Pole, claim Father Christmas as one of their own, and tell the children of the world, that he’s just moved closer to where the toys are made.

As we hear sleigh bells on the horizon, I know a lot of you will be facing Christmas with a mixture of excitement and dread, with many of you still hunting for exactly the right gift to spoil your loved ones and friends. Interest in Chinese culture have grown in recent years, and I hope this gift guide may help inspire anyone shopping for a sinophile!


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The Man in the High Castle (and competition time!)

When I heard that Philip K. Dick ‘s “The Man in the High Castle” was coming to TV, I was trepidatious. Film versions of PKD’s work have been hit and miss, from the rather hammy “Total Recall” with Arnie, to the seminal scifi-noir “Bladerunner”. When I heard that Ridley Scott, Bladerunner’s helmsman would be in the director’s seat, I was very pleased. “Bladerunner” had a profound influence on my sense my sci-fi aesthetics, and no doubt on the works of many subsequent sci-fi directors and artists. As a writer on Chinese culture, I can’t help but also highlight the technical expertise and style that Chinese Cinema’s Godfather, Run Run Shaw, brought to the project.


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We, Who Don’t Belong – A Translated Sample

Homeless Love is the English title given to this novel by Li Qian, published in 2013, by Zui Books, Shanghai. I would have preferred “We, Who Don’t Belong” as it reflects the Chinese title more closely. At a glance it seems to be purely a romance. The heroine, Ruan Cong, who grew up in the town of Nancheng in the south-western province of Yunnan, arrives in Shanghai, the city of dreams, to begin her university education. With a large permanent scar on her hand, Ruan Cong thinks little of her own appearance. She runs into the boy she secretly loves, Yao Lin Kai, only to find him courting the belle of the university, Chen Min Wen. Meanwhile she rejects the advances of Shi Sheng, who falls deeply for her.
There is of course, much more to the story, and ideas of home and belonging, or lack of, feature strongly. I don’t believe I am the only Chinese who has had to think long and hard about where I belong. Even before I came to Britain, the idea of inherited identity, and personal sense of belonging are a tricky one, especially as China struggles with its evaporating patriachy.

The historical upheaval in the past two hundred years has not only resulted in a Chinese diaspora that is still growing, but also frequent movement of most of the domestic population. It is not unusual for a Chinese person to be born somewhere, to grow up somewhere else, and to live thence in yet another place.


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The Fat Years: China’s Sinister Near Future

Up til very recently, China is not known for its science fiction, its authors preferring the safety of traditional settings, despite their neophillia in almost every other area. There are a few examples though, including Chan Koonchung’s The Fat Years.


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The Corpse Flower – A GBTL Sample

Chunk and Hu, ex-military and diehard, are accompanying an archaeological expedition near the Kunlun Mountains to discover the lost ancient city of Jingjue. With their aid, Professor Chen, his students, and their overseas sponsor, Shirley Yang, have managed to make her way into the secret city of the Taklamakan. In the final resting chamber of the Queen, they have found her coffin. A magnificently carved Kunlun Wood casket, but growing from the lid, is a large, scarlet, sickly smelling blossom.


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Endless: the Sherman Lin Collection – an Extract

Today is International Translation Day. Translation is about more than just knowing two languages. It’s about knowing two cultures. Translators allow treasures hidden within one culture to be experienced by another. However, with that ability, also comes a lot of responsibility, not just to represent the meaning, nuance and voice of the original text, but also to express things in terms that the target culture’s readers will understand. Some of my readers who have found this website through my translation work, may be interested to see an original text side by side with my translation. Both the English and Chinese text were edited before publication. This is one of the more challenging pieces I have worked on.


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Shanghai Girls, or Shanghaied Girls?

People say, never judge a book by its cover. I have always judged contemporary novels by their covers. I trust that the penetrating market research and sensitive designs of today would somehow bring out the essence of the book on its dust jacket. This philosophy has mostly stood me in good stead (I’m talking about the hardback cover, there’s of course the paperback edition, mass market paperback edition etc… but I digress). This time, however, I feel I’ve been deceived.


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Survivor’s Guide to Water Margin

Back in 2008, I was living in Beijing. As you may expect, my Chinese literature course at the CUN involved reading the four cornerstones of Chinese literature (their resemblance to actual stones is remarkable). Having grown up in the UK I was glad to have the opportunity finally to read these works of the 14th and 15th centuries that have had such wide-ranging influence over Chinese culture ever since. So I was tricked by the professor into finishing two of these chunky works in six weeks. I thoroughly enjoyed Romance of Three Kingdoms, but little did I know what I was getting myself into with Outlaws of the Marsh, or Water Margin.


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Gold Boy, Emerald Girl: A Cross Section of 21st Century China

Golden Boy, Emerald Girl is the second collection of stories from acclaimed author Yiyun Li. Each separate story has previously been printed in different American and British newspapers. It makes perfect sense for the nine stories, all slices to urban oddities in modern China, to be collected in a single volume. With subject matters such as internet, social media, divorce, child adoption, child abduction and homosexuality, there is no mistaking their 21st century backdrop.


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