Last night while on an evening stroll around Zhongshan Park I was surprised to discover that the pirated book man (he pushes his goods around in a big cart) had a copy of the Chinese version of Freakonomics.
The book was good quality, except for the occasional misalligned printing which plagues pirated books. The cover certainly looks fine, although I was disappointed to see the trademark apple/orange image (see the book’s own website if you’re unfamiliar with the book) replaced by the lame wolf/sheep image. Why would they do that?
The other thing is the name. The translator chose to represent Freakonomics, a blend of the words “freak” and “economics” as 魔鬼经济学, which literally means “devil economics.” OK, so the name Freakonomics is hard to translate, but “devil economics?” Yet another translation challenge unmet. Maybe 惊济学?
Busy with work and classes, I don’t have a lot of time for pleasure reading, but I manage to read a bit here and there. Lately I’ve been on this extended classic sci-fi novel kick. I’m almost through the entire Foundation series by Isaac Asimov, and I’m currently reading Stranger in a Strange Land by Robert A. Heinlein (1961). Since these are classics, they have all been translated into Chinese already, as our friend Joel Martinsen reminds us on Danwei.
I’m not really very interested in reading these novels in Chinese, but I’d be interested in discussing them with Chinese people, so I thought it would be a good idea to learn these books’ titles in Chinese so that I at least would have a starting point for my nerdy wild goose chase of trying to find Chinese people who have read them. Some of the titles are interesting.
First is Stranger in a Strange Land. I think this is a cool title in English, and interesting that it comes from the Bible:
> And she bare him a son, and he called his name Gershom: for he said, I have been a stranger in a strange land. (Exodus 2:22)
The Chinese name of Stranger in a Strange Land is 《异乡异客》. When I first saw this name I parsed it as four parts, literally meaning “strange country, strange guest.” But it can be taken as two parts, meaning “alien land, stranger” (Wenlin’s translation). This strikes me as a very nice translation. But does it keep any of that Biblical reference? I was curious.
The original “stranger in a strange land” quote comes from the King James Version. In the New American Standard Bible, for example, the quote becomes:
> Then she gave birth to a son, and he named him Gershom, for he said, “I have been a sojourner in a foreign land.” (Exodus 2:22)
(Yeah, not quite as catchy.) So I didn’t think there was much hope of the Chinese book title matching the Chinese Bible verse, but I thought I’d check anyway. I checked two different online Bible versions. Results:
Not even close. That satisfied my curiosity. I still like the name 《异乡异客》 anyway.
The other translation I was interested in was the name of the Foundation series. I kind of suspected what it would be, but I hoped it would surprise me with something cleverer. Nope. The Chinese translation is 《基地》 (literally, “base”).
Maybe I’m wrong, but it seems to me that this translation falls a bit short. The whole premise of the “Foundation” is that it is an organization that will become the foundation of the new galactic empire. Yes, the Foundation starts out as a base on a planet, but by giving the Foundation the Chinese name 基地, you’re just calling it “base,” and without the abstract, far-reaching implications. (The abstract meaning of “base” is a separate word in Chinese–基础–which can also be translated as “foundation” but would never work as a book/series title… It would be like calling the series “Basis.”)
OK, so I can’t think of anything better, but “Base” is just lame. Boo, translators. Hiss.
Also, what’s up with translating Brave New World as 《美丽新世界》 (literally, “Beautiful New World”)?
At least no one tried any funny business with the translation of 1984 (《一九八四》).
So now that I’m working on the academic side of ChinesePod one of the first things I want to do is start expanding the Chinese pedagogy resource library. There are all kinds of great resources out there, but what I want to focus on first is the more complete sets intended for formal education. I want to collect the best Chinese textbooks.
When I first began studying Chinese at University of Florida in 1998, we used a series by Yale the first year (I’m not sure which textbook it was, exactly). I don’t remember being overly impressed with it. The second year the Chinese program switched over to Integrated Chinese, which I liked a lot better. Unfortunately, I only had room in my schedule for one semester of second year Chinese. After arriving in China, I was even more impressed with Integrated Chinese because I discovered that everything in the textbook was immediately useful. That is really saying a lot. [See also my full review of Integrated Chinese (Level 2).]
My only other formal Chinese instruction happened in 2003, when I attended “advanced” (upper intermediate, really) classes at Zhejiang University of Technology for one semester in preparation for the HSK. The textbooks I used for that were pretty forgettable.
Bottom line: I haven’t had very much experience with Chinese textbooks, but now I need to know which ones are good. I mean the ones that start from the beginning and go all the way through to intermediate or advanced level.
Recently Andrea invited me to Douban. I had never heard of it, but I checked it out. My first impression was negative. Although it’s not a photo sharing service, the site’s design and “Web2.0” social networking structure was completely ripped off of Flickr. But I explored a little.
I found that I really liked Douban! The site allows you to share what books you are currently reading, what books you have read, and what books you’d like to read. Obviously, the real value is in the “sharing” aspect of it. It’s great to see what books your friends are reading. It’s also great to see that one of the books you want to read is currently being read by one of your friends also in Shanghai (that’s you, Phil!). It does all this with attractive book cover images and the same navigation that Flickr has made comfortable.
Douban also does the same thing for music albums. This is cool too, although I’m way more impressed by Last.fm for my music Web2.0 social networking needs.
Douban was originally launched in Chinese (called 豆瓣), and has been so successful that it just launched this Beta English version. The Chinese version allows users to share movies in addition to books and music.
I think one of the things that impresses me most about Douban is that it started out as a Chinese service, and then it branched out to embrace an English-speaking audience. I’m not totally up on all the new Chinese websites (I would have known about Douban long ago if I were), but I’m of the opinion that this is rather rare. What you see much more often is something akin to what happened with Flickr. Flickr came up with a great new service. Some Chinese users embraced it, but before it could really catch on in China, a handful of Chinese companies copied and translated Flickr as best they could and released it to China. Most Chinese surfers would then go with the Chinese copy. Either they don’t know about the original, don’t care, or don’t want to bother with English. All understandable.
I think that the resulting division of the community is a real shame. If all the social digital photographers in China were using Flickr instead of whatever second rate Flickr clone they’re using, it could be a huge boon to the community. Furthermore, I think the Chinese users would really feel a difference, using the service of the original innovator instead of a poor imitation.
Even though Douban is not especially innovative (none of the ingredients of the site are new), the execution is good, and I like the effort of bridging to English. There’s even talk of merging the two systems, I hear. Not sure how that would work.
It makes me wonder, though… what can an innovative new service like Flickr do to avoid losing their potential Chinese audience to second rate imitators? The only solution I can think of is to release a Chinese language version of the site as early as possible (and make sure that the servers are fast in China too).
Read more about Douban on the great new blog China Web2.0 Review. (If you hadn’t heard about it elsewhere, you would have known about this blog a few days ago if you follow the new CBL additions.) China Web2.0 Review is part of the same network that does blog中文翻译.
The first one was a success, so here we go again. The second Shanghai Book Swap happens this Saturday. Be there!
I have to admit, I haven’t had time to read the handful of books I got at the first book swap. I’ve got my hands full with work and school, so occasionally taking in pieces of Asimov’s Foundation series is about all the non-school-related reading I’ve been doing lately, aside from browsing God’s Debris. But it is the will of the People that the next swap be this month. So be it. I’ll be there, feverishly swapping books I haven’t even read yet…
I’m announcing this late because I don’t want the story to be picked up by any major Shanghai websites. It’s an experiment, and we want to keep the numbers reasonable. If you’re a Sinosplice reader that lives in Shanghai, feel free to show up, though.
As I understand it, the universtity, in conjunction with the Party, assigns approved textbooks to all courses. Students must buy these books. Then, when it comes to actually teaching the course, the professors choose how much those official textbook choices are used and how much other materials the professors personally select are used. The book I was so busy studying for a while, Modern Chinese (现代汉语, 上海教育出版社), is one of the ones chosen by the Party. That can make for interesting reading sometimes.
Here’s my slapdash translation of a paragraph on dialects in China (pp. 8-9):
> In order to adapt to the needs of socialist construction and promote the function of language in society, we must actively support the common language of China’s ethnic groups — we must rapidly popularize Mandarin Chinese. “Mandarin serves the people as a whole, whereas dialects serve only the people of a particular region. The spread of Mandarin does not mean the deliberate extinction of [other] dialects. Rather, it entails a gradual reduction in scope of the [other] dialects’ usage, in keeping with the objective requirements for the advancement of society. [Other] dialects can — and inevitably will — coexist with Mandarin in the long run. However, Mandarin’s scope of usage must be continually expanded, and Mandarin must be used as much as possible for public occasions and written materials. We must correct the narrow-minded views of those who do not accept Mandarin, are not willing to listen to Mandarin, or do not even allow their children to speak Mandarin. We must correct published materials — literature in particular — in which the misuse of [other] dialects appears.” We should correctly recognize the relevance of dialects as a form of communication within an ethnic minority while consciously promoting the development of the common language, reducing the influence of [other] dialects, and not only actively using Mandarin oneself, but also doing one’s best to spread the use of Mandarin.
The quote within the passage comes from a 1955 article in the People’s Daily entitled “For the Advancement of Language Reform, Promote Mandarin and Strive for the Standardization of the Chinese Language.”
So basically, the government doesn’t want to squash the other dialects, it just wants to reduce their role to insignificance while Mandarin dominates all. Apparently that doesn’t count as squashing them.
I have the feeling that the typical Shanghainese person would just laugh at a passage like this. Every now and then I hear that Shanghainese is in danger, but it seems pretty healthy to me.
One interesting issue raised by translating this passage had to do with the Chinese words 普通话 (Mandarin) and 方言 (dialect). In normal Chinese usage, Mandarin is pretty much never referred to as a dialect, even though by linguistic definition it could fairly be called a “standard dialect.” Yes, dialects can be standard or nonstandard, but they’re still dialects — variations of a larger linguistic group (of course, whether or not the different dialects/topolects of Chinese are actually separate languages altogether is a whole different can of worms). Yet in this passage, “dialects” were continually referred to, and the implication was “not Mandarin” and “inferior.” This linguistic bullying may not seem very strange, but keep in mind that the above passage came from a university’s core linguistics text! Ah, but it’s a Party-approved book… not so surprising after all.
I bought this book a while back solely because of its title: 老外也会喜欢你 (“Foreigners Will Like You Too”). The author was a twenty-something Chinese woman and, judging from the book’s cover (oops), the intended audience was Chinese women. It seemed likely that the laowai referred to in the title were male ones. Like me. This was going to be entertaining, I thought.
I was very wrong. Every time I tried to read the book, it failed completely to hold my interest. I demoted it to “bathroom book” status, figuring I’ll read anything on an extended visit to the commode. But even as a bathroom book, and even read in the “open to a random page” fashion, the book was utterly uninteresting. I was intensely disappointed. Of the few sections I did read, I remember virtually nothing. I vaguely recall a few ridiculous generalizations.
Please keep in mind that this is not a book review, because I didn’t read the book. I did, however, look at the pictures. Thoroughly. They were pretty.
In keeping with an incomplete treatment of the book, I will loosely translate the table of contents:
1. Where there’s a will, there’s a way
2. Where are the laowai?
3. No barriers to communication
4. Using charm in communication
5. Etiquette when getting to know each other
6. Communication’s visual etiquette
7. Dealing with a foreign boss
8. Foreigners’ taboos and customs
9. A beautiful mood
10. Foreigners have something to say
11. My view of foreigners
OK, now for the pictures. As I said, I found them the most interesting part of the book. I like the style. The question, however, is: what do these illustrations communicate to the reader? (more…)
In my junior year of college I decided that I wanted to go live in China after graduation. Around that time I picked up a well-known book called Iron & Silk by Mark Salzman (1987). It was the story of an innocent young American with a love for kung fu who went to teach English in China in the early 80s. It was a simple story.
[Sidenote: While I found the story to be a reasonably entertaining introduction at a time in my life when I knew very little about China, the one thing that put me off was the author’s claim to be fluent in Mandarin and Cantonese simply through four years of study at Yale. I didn’t buy it. But then, “fluent” is a very subjective word, and it’s frequently used casually in this kind of story.]
A few weeks ago I found the movie Iron & Silk (1990) here on DVD in Shanghai, so I just had to pick it up. This movie holds the distinction of being one of the few movies where the author actually plays himself in his own autobiographical story. What makes this especially interesting is that we get to see Mark Salzman demonstrate on camera his alleged mastery of both Mandarin and kung fu.
The movie was OK. I’m no expert in kung fu, but I studied it for a few months once, and I’ve seen professional demonstrations, and Mark’s 武术 looked pretty good to me. His Chinese was also not bad (although it doesn’t measure up to the other Mark‘s).
After living in China so long, though, I couldn’t help but find the story Disney-esque. The interactions, the cultural lessons learned, the forbidden love (which was never allowed even a kiss)… it all just seemed so cute. Even the “dark side of China,” like when Mark was forbidden entrance to the compound where his teacher was because of a crackdown on “spiritual pollution,” seemed parallel to the level of horror you experience when Bambi’s mom is shot.
Now don’t get me wrong… I’m not saying the only cinemagraphic window into China should be movies like To Live or Blind Shaft or something…. It’s just that I don’t think this movie has much to offer those already acquainted with China besides a few smiles.
One thing that made the movie interesting for me was that although the original story took place in Changsha, the movie was filmed in Hangzhou. So I got to see imagery of Hangzhou c. 1990. Much of it looked familiar, but some of it reminded me of ugly streets in Beijing. It was fun seeing the protagonist put his moves on the girl at West Lake — a place where I’ve been on quite a few dates myself, back in the day. The movie even found the extras that played Mark’s English students at the Sunday morning English corner at 六公园 beside West Lake. I made the mistake of blundering onto that group only once, long ago….
Lastly, I’m a little disappointed that the title of the movie was never explained as it was in the book. The explanation that Mark’s kung fu teacher gave him, as I recall it, was that he needed to punch an iron plate many times a day to make the bones in the hand thick and strong. He needed to punch raw, rough silk in order to make the flesh of the hands tough.
I’d recommend this movie only to people who have read the book and are curious, or to people without much knowledge of China who are thinking of coming and teaching here, or are just plain curious. One should keep in mind, though, that China changes fast, so this movie is dated. Also, the English levels of Mark’s students are artificially high, and Mark is forced to conduct most communication in English (even with his Chinese teacher, for example) for the benefit of the English-speaking audience.
Micah is also a big fan of Murakami. He recently brought to my attention that the new novel Kafka on the Shore has been translated into Chinese and been for sale already for some time. Hardcore fan that he is, Micah read it in Chinese. The English translation is now out.
The difference in publication dates made me wonder why. Was it a quality issue? Does Murakami value his English-reading audience more than his Chinese-reading audience? Or maybe it’s because Murakami can actually read the English version? I’m not sure if authors approve translations in cases like that. I’m a little curious about all this.
This rash of Murakami links came about when I checked out what Murakami-tagged bookmarks people have in del.icio.us. In a weird coincidence, I also found a short story by Murakami called Tony Takitani involving Shanghai (briefly).
Finally, if all this has interested you in the least, you may be interested in my own contribution to the Murakami links: a Chinese wiki of Murakami’s works. Titles are given as published in mainland China, Hong Kong, and Japan, which yields some interesting differences if you dig that sort of thing.
What have I been doing for the past 2 weeks (besides trying to get my site back online)? It seems like a lot of nothing, but the list goes something like this:
Plowing through my Chinese intro to linguistics text. (Surprisingly, I’m learning a lot of really useful non-linguistics-specific vocabulary.)
Reading short stories by H. P. Lovecraft. (And, frequently being disappointed by the endings.)
Killing time going through the archives of Nuklear Power. (OK, I know it’s lame; I can’t explain it! But FF1 was my favorite game of all time, so that must be part of it.)
Expanding my music collection. (Huddle Formation by The Go! Team is awesome happy music.)
Visiting the hospital again. (More on that adventure later.)
Deciding not to go to India for my October vacation because the plane tickets are just not cheap. (Still not sure what I’ll do.)
Yes, I’ve dicovered that when my internet usage goes down I end up reading more and getting more sleep. Good thing I solved my hosting problem. No telling what I might be capable of if I were well-rested, well-read, and well-thought out all the time!
It’s often said nowadays that where creativity is concerned, China is a huge gaping void. What has China invented lately? Even books like Richard Bach’s seem to echo the philosophies of a China of lore — so distant, but certain as last night’s forgotten dream. Sure, joining the WTO is good times and fun for all, but in modern China, how can even the will of 1.3 billion parched minds revive creativity’s corpse?
Ah, love of linguistics… both a blessing and a curse. It’s a blessing in that it’s just fascinating, and I’ve somehow been let in on that little secret. It’s a curse because the fact that it’s interesting is either withheld from or is being actively denied by the rest of the world. It’s really shocking to me how linguistics bores most people to tears.
So I picked up a few books on linguistics at the friendly neighborhood foreign bookstore. Evidently Oxford University Press and the Cambridge Books for Language Teachers series have deals with Chinese publishers. The result is that quality educational material cames to China unaltered (?) except that a Chinese title is slapped onto the cover and a Chinese introduction is inserted. The best part, of course, is that the prices are also Chinese, and they are very good. Check these out: Pragmatics by George Yule (8.80rmb; roughly US$1), Psycholinguistics by Thomas Scovel (8.80rmb), Second Language Acquisition by Rod Ellis (9.20rmb), Psychology for Language Teachers by Marion Williams and Robert L. Burden (23.90rmb, roughly US$3), and — the best buy in terms of immediate application — Lessons from Nothing by Bruce Marsland (8.90rmb). That last one is a great buy for any TEFL teacher.
I also picked up Hong Lou Meng (“Dream of Red Chambers”), Chinese edition. Anyone familiar with this Chinese classic should be thinking I’m crazy right about now, as it’s volumes and volumes long. However, I cleverly side-stepped the length issue by picking up the children’s verison. It’s a good level; it’s almost 300 pages long and it doesn’t have the pinyin for all the characters like really low-level children’s books, but it has parenthetical pinyin for the really tough characters. (That will save me a lot of time looking up characters by radical!) The rest of the characters are not too hard. I can read this thing!
Finally, I got a book called “100 Chinese Two-Part Allegorical Sayings.” I suppose there’s no really good translation for “xiehouyu,” but nevertheless, I hope the guy that came up with “Two-Part Allegorical Sayings” is not too proud of himself. The idea is that you deliver the first line, which seems kind of strange, but then you deliver the second line, and the meaning of the first line becomes clear. They’re usually pretty clever or funny, and sometimes involve puns. I first heard about these a while ago from my friend Andrew, but this is my first time actually studying them. Here are a few of the interesting ones:
> Putting make-up on before entering the coffin — saving face even when dying.
> Boiling dumplings in a teapot — no way to get them out.
> Killing a mosquito with a cannon — making a mountain out of a molehill.