Though often portrayed in Western media as a monolithic, atheistic monoculture, China has one of the most complex histories of religion and spirituality among the world’s civilizations. Understanding the histories, myths, and enduring spiritual and pop-cultural appeal of China’s long list of deities is essential to understanding the country as it exists today, says Xueting Christine Ni, who has a book on the subject out on Friday (June 1).
Ni, also somewhat of an authority on Chinese pop culture (she wrote about ghosts and ghouls for us around Halloween), has put together a “shortlist” of 60 beings — gods and goddesses, along with “spirits, immortals, heroes, elementals, sages, guardians and so forth” — showing the connective tissue of deep-seated spirituality connecting figures From Kuan Yin to Chairman Mao as the book’s title has it, to Chinese society and culture.
Ahead of the book’s release, RADII caught up with Ni for a dive into China’s complex canon of mytho-historical legends, and to hear why she thinks getting a handle on them can help anyone hoping to understand the country’s role in the world today.
Posted in Blog and tagged belief, books, Buddhism, china, Chinese culture, Confucianism, culture, Daoism, deities, gods, immortals, interview, literature, mythology, pantheon, RADII, religion, sinology, spirits, tradition by Xueting Ni
Recently numerous friends on social media have pointed out to me the shockingly underinformed or dubious ways in which the Chinese arts have been represented in the Western media. I have been impressed by your astuteness and I thank you for your kindness.
Posted in Blog and tagged animation, arts, china, Chinese culture, comics, commentary, film, literature, novel, representation, science fiction by Xueting Ni
In the 7th century, the monk Xuanzang traveled from the capital of China to the middle of India. He journeyed through hundreds of states and countries, over 17 years and brought back 657 sutras. He recounted his experiences to the imperial court, and these were transcribed as Records of Western Regions Visited During the Great Tang. Xuanzang’s disciples / then wrote his biography, embellishing it with encounters and examples of Buddhist teaching. In the same way that any story told often enough begins to grow, the story of Xuanzang’s journey to the west would become the stuff of legends.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, Journey to the West, literature, Monkey King, talk by Xueting Ni
When I heard that Jin Yong’s Wuxia classic “The Condor Heroes” was being published in English, (translated by Anna Holmwood, and first volume released earlier this year), I was delighted. As a Chinese cultural commentator, I was happy to read the articles that this publication had generated, even by the old white academics who seem to have recently discovered the existence of Wuxia. One article however, did leave me mulling the content. In its use of journalistic shorthand, Vanessa Thorpe’s article in The Guardian a few weeks ago, described Jin Yong as being “China’s Tolkien”. Whilst I understand the reasoning for this, I feel that she’s missed the mark. In terms of story, character, genre, not to mention cultural significance, the world of “Condor Heroes” can be more appropriately described as China’s Star Wars.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, literature, novel, wuxi by Xueting Ni
It’s not hard to tell from the cover that this book is going to be an unpalatable sort of satire. Whilst I find Wang Shuo very interesting as a writer, I found myself waiting for the suitable moment to start this book. When I finally did, the stark committee meeting scene it opens with put me off a couple of times. Having been exposed to the Chinese media in my childhood, there is something in the tone of official committee meetings that is inevitably soporific and dulling to one’s senses. It was not until the plot device of the Big Dream Boxer is revealed at the end of the first chapter, that I really started to engage with the story.
Posted in Blog and tagged books, china, Chinese, culture, dystopia, literature, novel, review, satire, Wang Shut by Xueting Ni
Chinese science fiction is still a relatively new concept for Western readers. It is not so in China. An encounter during my trip to China earlier this year vividly illustrates domestic attitudes to science fiction. While browsing at a major national book shop, I asked the assistant where I could find the science fiction. She directed me to one end of the shop, where I found children’s literature and educational books. Baffled, I returned to the assistant and inquired again, providing an example of the sort of books I was looking for. “Liu Cixin’s Three Body? Oh, why didn’t you say so before?!” I was re-directed to a section at the end of a row of shelves, where, albeit small, I found the selection an elegant sufficiency to keenly pique my interest.
Posted in Blog and tagged children's books, china, Chinese, culture, history, International Children's Day, literature, Sci-Fi, Ye Yonglie by Xueting Ni
Our penultimate post is about popular Chinese fiction of the ghostly, grave-robbing kind. We are thrilled to post this piece by writer and translator Xueting Christine Ni, who is currently working with the fantasy and science fiction author Tang Fei, and writing a book on Chinese deities. Having studied English literature in London, and Chinese literature in Beijing, she is now based mainly in the UK.
As a writer on Chinese culture, specialising in pop culture, I’m often asked about genre fiction. “Do the Chinese do science fiction?” or “Does China have Horror?” Over the last two decades or so, Chinese pop culture has grown exponentially. Economic growth and relative political stability have allowed writers and artists the space to let their imagination run free and to create in readers a taste for such entertainment and variety.
Posted in Blog and tagged books, china, Chinese, comic, culture, film, ghost story, horror, literature, novel, tomb raiding, translation by Xueting Ni
written by Tang Fei, translated by Xueting Christine Ni
“Imagining the worst tomorrow makes me happy.
The gloom of the future lights my path.”
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, horror, literature, science fiction, translation by Xueting Ni
The Ming writer Tang Xianzu (1550-1616) is regarded as one of China’s greatest playwrights. Born in Jiangxi into a scholar’s family, Tang exhibited literary talent from the very tender age of five. He lived in a time of government corruption, instability at the Court, when borders north and south crumbled under threat of attack from neighbouring tribes. Despite his prodigious learning, Tang encountered multiple setbacks in the Jinshi exams, and declined requests by numerous official that amounted to aiding in cheating. In 1591, he presented a memorandum to the emperor criticizing the idol conduct of servants of the Court, thus offending its key members. Banished to minor posts in poor, remote southernmost regions, he nevertheless worked with dedication and compassion, allowing prison inmates to visit their families during Spring Festival, and attend Lantern Festival celebrations.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, drama, Kunqu, literature, music, opera, play, review, Tang Xianzu, theatre by Xueting Ni
As so many of you have asked for reading lists or further reading after my “The Chinese Don’t Do Sci-Fi?!” talk and again at the subsequent discussion panel, I’m publishing the list here, to share with you all.
Posted in Blog and tagged china, Chinese, culture, literature, science fiction by Xueting Ni