Tag Archives: china

Devil math!

The Chinese edition of How Not To Be Wrongpublished by CITAC and translated by Xiaorui Hu, comes out in a couple of weeks.


The Chinese title is



“Mo gui shu xue”

which means “Devil mathematics”!  Are they saying I’m evil?  Apparently not.  My Chinese informants tell me that in this context “Mo gui” should be read as “magical/powerful and to some extent to be feared” but not necessarily evil.

One thing I learned from researching this is that the Mogwai from Gremlins are just transliterated “Mo gui”!  So don’t let my book get wet, and definitely don’t read it after midnight.

Tagged , , ,


Just finished and very much enjoyed Yu Hua’s Brothers, China’s all-time best-selling novel.  If you’re going to read one long translated work of fiction in the social-magical-realism mode this year, make Hua’s book the one.  Especially if you like lots of bathroom jokes swirled into your multigenerational sagas of love and capital.  The translation, by Eileen Chow and Carlos Rojas, feels very natural without reading like colloquial English; I can’t speak to its faithfulness, of course.

The book is in some ways a standard melodrama; people get rich, people get poor, people get politically oppressed and beaten, two people want to marry the same person, people disappear on long journeys only to reappear at just the right time, people get artificial breasts and hymens surgically attached (OK, that last part is somewhat less standard, but by the end of the 600+ pages of Brothers it’s started to seem standard.)  I think my social prejudices would work against my buying an American novel that functioned like Brothers. Or America’s all-time best-selling novel, whatever it is.   But when a book is in translation all snobbery falls away.  Maybe because it is “improving” to read foreign books.  (Those scare quotes are meant to distract you from the fact that I actually kind of believe this to be the case.)

One sentence from a direction I decided not to pursue in this post:  “The brothers in Brothers are the driven and insatiable Baldy Li and his meeker, gentler brother Song Gang; the inexorable rise to wealth, prominence, and sexual irresistibility of the former, and the corresponding decline into government dependence, ill-health, and gynecomastia of the latter, is the kind of story Ayn Rand would have told if a) she were funny, and b) she thought that the successful brother was horrible and doomed, but recognized that the alternative to this kind of success was even worse.”

Tagged , , , ,

In which I am ahead of the curve on Carsick Cars

In the summer of 2005 I was in Beijing for John Coates’s 60th birthday conference. Mrs. Tom Scocca, then and now a Beijing expat, wrote me one afternoon and asked me if I wanted to go to a punk rock show.

I always want to go to a punk rock show!

I met Mrs. TS in the neighborhood of Beijing University. There was a record store next door; I managed gesturally to convey to the salesman that I wanted to buy some CDs, but to express any more exactly what I wanted was impossible, especially since I had no idea exactly what I wanted. The salesman solved the problem by holding up CDs, one by one, and identifying their English-language counterparts: “Chinese U2.” “Chinese The Cure.” “Chinese R.E.M.” Chinese R.E.M. sounded great, so I bought the PK 14 album thus identified: not at all like R.E.M., it turns out, but dreamy, loud, and worthwhile.

The punk rock show: a small audience, about half Chinese and half Western, watched a sequence of noisy indie rock acts. The best single moment was provided by the Angry Jerks, from Nanjing, who covered “You Think You’re A Man” with the appropriate fervency. (That is to say, a lot of fervency.) But the standout band was Carsick Cars, who opened with a buzzed-out cover of “Sunday Morning” that only gradually became recognizable — and then became unrecognizable again. They closed with a great, pounding shouty track, “Zhong Nan Hai.”

And now I get this month’s Paste, and Carsick Cars are the lead story! Apparently they’re now the kings of Beijindie. And “Zhong Nan Hai” is their signature number. Here they are, playing it:

If you like that, there’s more Carsick Cars streaming here. These days they sound a little less noise, a little more like The Clean. Even better!

Tagged , , ,

Countless thousands of destroyed lives — it’s what’s for breakfast

Is it weird I was stopped in my tracks by the Cultural Revolution yogurt on display at Whole Foods? Yeah, I get it, yogurt, “culture,” but really — is that gag so funny that it’s worth hitching your brand to a decade-long frenzy of politically-inspired beatings, internal exiles, and killings, from which China is still recovering? It’s hard to imagine going to Whole Foods and finding Ethnic Cleansing shampoo. Or “Final Solution: the last contact lens cleaner you’ll ever need.”

Maybe I’m extra-sensitive because I just finished college roommate (and former WashPost Beijing bureau chief) Phil Pan’s Out of Mao’s Shadow. It’s the perfect book to read while you ingest facefuls of Olympic agitprop about new, free, sunny China. Among other things, Phil reports on the Party’s attempts to suppress the memory of the Cultural Revolution, razing the victims’ cemeteries and blanking the whole period out of newspapers and schoolbooks. If only they’d thought of selling yogurt with it instead!

Tagged , , , ,
%d bloggers like this: