New Year's Resolutions

1. See at least three new places in China. I'm thinking the Tibetan villages of Deqin, and the Hakka Tulou fortress outside ex-colonial Xiamen in Fujian Province.
2. Start learning Arabic (I've already found an Egyptian conversation partner and I'm learning it as an L3, from Chinese)
3. Score a Level Nine or higher on the HSK (the Chinese Proficiency Exam). That's the level that signifies that not only can you speak Chinese, but you can do complicated tasks in the language (ie. graduate school, law, foreign affairs).
4. Research and then write up my project... vague topic.... "Autobiography and Anonymity Online in China."
5. Type up my diary from this last summer into a travel book.
- - - - - - - - - - - Return to Canada! - - - - - - - - - - -
6. Decide on what my diploma should say in 2010. Chinese Maj/Hons and Anthropology Maj/Min and... I'm also thinking of throwing a minor in Public Administration on top of that.
7. Start applying for internships/grants/jobs(?)/scholarships for 2010. Prefereably something that will take me either back to China, or improve my French/Swahili/Arabic in a native speaking environment.
- - - - - - - - - - - Ongoing projects - - - - - - - - - - - -
8. Maintain this blog. http://cnstudent.blogspot.com
9. Read the Southern Weekly 南方周末... well, weekly.
10. Last but not least, nurture the relationships that I already have and form new relationships with the people around me.

Click Here to Read More..


Discussion: "Autobiography on the Chinese Online World."

In my last post I laid out the basic research plan that I'm developing for my project. I thought in this post I should present the ideas that I'm researching right now. The topic that I've defined for myself is "Autobiography and Anonymity on the Chinese Online World."

First then, what is "autobiography"? Well, we all know it's a biography told by oneself rather than others. Or to break two definitions down into one, which I'll be using for the sake of this project: autobiography is the act of giving an account or narrative of one's own life story or stories. Autobiography is expressed in many different forms of media, the first that typically comes to mind being the autobiographical novel. As a novel, we typically call this genre of literature the memoir."Gandhi" by Mahatma Gandhi or "Dreams of My Father" by Barack Obama are two examples that I will return to.

The most similar but different medium that we can contrast the memoir with is the diary. The difference is at the heart of this discussion, because a diary is private and a memoir is public. This project is looking not just into "autobiographies" as "complete, or extended life-story projects" (ie. memoirs), but more generally as "autobiographical accounts", in two mediums: blogs and forum postings. Blogs have been popularly mislabeled by the mainstream media with the term "online diaries", which conflates private and private text-based RSS feeds. An RSS feed is an web feed format which modifies HTML based websites in order to allow users to cycle "postings" that takes away much of the ordinary leg-work of maintaining a website. In the West, the primary hosting sites for these "blogs" are livejournal, WordPress and Blogger, which I am using myself. I think by now, nearly all internet users should have either used or at least viewed a blog. Forums are less frequently traveled in the Western internet and in fact could be considered to be in decline, with the rise of social networking websites such as Myspace and Facebook. However, the concept isn't too difficult to understand. Forums are organized on subjects, and users can post topics for discussion.

Both mediums are particular for the public nature of them. They can not only be viewed by the public, but the public can also comment on the postings in both the blog and forum mediums. Both of the mediums are distinct from a novel in more than just the material on which they are written, but also the way in which they are written. Novels/memoirs are presented as complete stories consisting of plot elements; on the other hand, blogs and forums only present anecdotes, short life stories. Blogs present a stream of anecdotes, updating regularly. In fact, viewing a well maintained blog in it's entirety from it's earliest post is not much different from reading a memoir, albeit a poorly organized and unconcluded memoir. Forums present isolated anecdotes, as the reader of a forum is "reading a community" rather than reading an individual's blog. The lens through which I'm viewing blogs and forums is that they can be understood as autobiographical, public-interactive. In either case, anecdotes tell funny stories, what you had for dinner, and of interest to my research, the personal problems and societal ills that Chinese net-users encounter in their day to day lives and choose to publish online.

How does autobiography compare to other mediums? Autobiography is self-reporting in nature; the alternative being reporting on events outside your own experience. So autobiography is personal and thus heavily biased to our own experiences and ideologies. The perspective of an autobiography is first-person, limited in scope to what the author can observe. That's two important concepts to remember. First-person perspective and heavily biased: that's the nature of autobiographical narratives. But the beautiful thing about autobiography that drew me to this subject and I think draws at nearly every reader is that autobiography allows one to "put yourself in someone else's shoes".

How does the reading public interact with autobiographical narratives? First, here's five major types of reactions that I typically experience when reading an autobiographical narrative.

  1. Apathy. If so, then I usually just move on.
  2. Skepticism. Is it true? I read for facts and knowledge that will verify what the author is saying. Like many savvy net-users I typically spend a lot of time using Wikipedia and Google while reading news, blogs and other media, to cross-check and verify claims. I'll discuss bias below.
  3. Empathy. Pity. Anger. Enjoyment. Amusement.
  4. Sympathy. Common life experience?
  5. Call to action. People typically have a purpose when telling a story. Self-therapy, the amusement of others, the social mores of gossiping and... putting an idea in other peoples heads. Gandhi and Barack Obama's memoirs are excellent examples. Autobiography is a potent form of rhetoric. This is one issue I hope to develop further, on the topic of the blogs of Chinese activists.
These reactions that we have are silent if we are reading a book (unless we go through the considerable and almost always wasted trouble of writing a letter to the author), but on blogs and forums, the online medium is designed for a public conversation to be capable of emerging from everything that is written (unless authors choose to disable commenting on their posts, a practice, that actually draws considerable ire from net-users, who are used to being able to respond to posts). Net-users express their feelings about what they see online. They share common experiences and the online autobiography becomes a conversation. This is the heart of what I'm researching.

There is also a dark side to the Chinese internet. The "human flesh search" or "人肉搜索" pronounced "renrou sousuo" has taken the conversation back into the real world, sometimes for good, sometimes for bad and sometimes for less then noble aims. I'll discuss that tomorrow when I talk about anonymity online in China.

Click Here to Read More..


Research Plan

So, I talked for a long time about creating a research project to top off my Chinese Language and Literature degree, something that emphasizes my anthropology background. First I was thinking of something more related to medical anthropology, emergent sexualities in China, but living in Shanghai, I feel pretty disinterested with the venues and activities related to that topic, so that kind of research will have to be saved for another time and another place. Instead, I decided to wait until an idea came to me. And about a month ago, that idea did, and I've been developing it since then.

The research plan is the first stage of research process that I envisage in this manner. Stages One through Four will take place here in China. Stages Five through seven, back home in Canada.

Stage One: Formulate the research question and research plan
Stage Two: Begin initial research, data gathering, participant observation
Stage Three: Clarify the research question
Stage Four: Narrow research, begin to organize data, cultivate informants
Stage Five: Organize data
Stage Six: Formulate the thesis
Stage Seven: Write like there's no tomorrow.
My initial research topic I've latched on to comes out of how I've been practicing my Chinese reading ability and exploring Chinese culture.

For a long time, I've been keeping up with EastSouthWestNorth, a website run by Roland Soong, where he translates posts from across the Chinese internet. Finally feeling confidant enough about my Chinese ability, I decided to stop relying on translation from ESWN and the new translation website on the net, ChinaSMACK. I started reading the forums at Tianya and Mop, the two major Chinese news forums. Before my impression of the Chinese internet was very based on the news events of political interest that came to the attention of ESWN, but I found that I was fascinated by how people were using the internet to talk about the small conflicts in their life, their feelings about their friends, family and work. I'm still interested in the political importance of the internet in China, but I'm more fascinated with how people use the internet to report on their own lives.

The initial topic that I'm using to frame my research question is "Autobiography and Anonymity in the Chinese Online World." I'll follow up tomorrow with a discussion of my research question and the theoretical and social issues that I'm researching.

Click Here to Read More..


Chandni Chowk To China

It was destined to happen eventually. Well here it is. The first major studio collaboration between Hong Kong and Bollywood filmmakers. Are you as excited as I am? Check out the trailer. But sit down first.

Click Here to Read More..


Translation: Yu Hua's "A History of Two People"

Here is the translation I've written for my final Contemporary Chinese Paper, a previously untranslated short story by the author, Yu Hua, reprinted here for your reading pleasure. The original Chinese text follows.

A History of Two People by Yu Hua

In August of 1930, the boy named Tan Bo and the girl named Lanhua together sat on the steps where the bright sun was unable to reach. Behind their figures loomed a vermilion red doorway, upon whose copper knobs was inscribed the shape of a lion. Tan Bo was the young master of the house and Lanhua was the daughter of the maidservant, but they would often sit together in this manner. The tiresome, honking noises of Mrs. Tan would always rise up behind them. All the while, her maidservant would repeat the same noises as she busied herself around the house. There they were, two children sitting together as they whispered to each other about their dreams.

Tan Bo often found himself needing to go pee in the midst of his dreams. He would look all throughout the setting of the dream for a chamber pot. As he would start towards the south-facing side room, he would feel a wave of trepidation pass over him. In reality, there was always a chamber pot in front of his bed, but in his dream the chamber pot had vanished. The endless search made Tan Bo’s dreams painful to endure. Afterwards, he would come out onto a street with beggars passing by all around him, having arrived there by rickshaw. At last, it was so intolerable for Tan Bo that he finally peed all over the street. From hereafter, the dream faded away. As the sky began to glow with the light of daybreak, a gray and gloomy secret rested on his window. The street in the middle of his dreams played the part of his wooden bed. Tan Bo would wake to feel his soft mattress radiating moist warmth. After all this had taken place, the setting was quickly completely transformed. When the boy opened both eyes with bewilderment, he reflected painfully on what happened in his dream, finally allowing his consciousness to enter into a state of perfect clarity. At that moment, he was full of shame for having really peed his bed. As the window paper turned bright white with the dawn’s early light, there began a time where he closed both his eyes again and immediately fell into a deep, deep sleep.

“And what about you?” inquired the boy, brimming with nervous energy. Obviously, he hoped for the girl to share some common experience with his dream. However, the girl declined to face his inquiry, instead expressing her embarrassment by covering her eyes with both hands as was normally her way.

“Haven’t you experienced anything of the same sort?” the boy continued to insist on an answer. In front of their sitting place was a secluded alleyway in which blackened brick walls had been laid on either side. In the future days of their lives, the bricks would become overgrown with shy, echoing grasses, quietly swaying in the wind. “Speak.” The boy began to grow overbearing. The girl’s face blushed red with shame. Her head hung down as she related the circumstances of her own dream. In her own dreams, she was also tormented by needing to pee and searching everywhere for a chamber pot.

“Do you also end up peeing in the street?”

The boy was full of excitement. However, the girl shook her head, telling him that she would always finally find a chamber pot.

This discrepancy made the boy feel a wave of shame pass over him. He hopefully lifted up his head to gaze above the high walls and to the sky beyond. There he could see the clouds floating by and he perceived that as the sunshine fell upon the height of the wall it caused a glittering of light. He thought: why would she find the chamber pot while he was eternally damned to be unable to do so.

This single thought made his heart burn with envy.

Afterwards he asked: “when you woke up did you find your mattress wet?”

The girl nodded her head. The conclusion was still the same.

* * * * * *

In November of 1939, the Tan Bo of seventeen years old no longer sat on the old stone steps with the Lanhua of sixteen years. Tan Bo now wore a student’s black suit. In his hand he held a Lu Xun novel and a collection of Hu Shi’s poetry. As he busied himself going to and from school and he was always trembling with excitement and anticipation. Lanhua had followed in her mother’s occupation. Wearing a tattered flower patterned coat, she busied herself around the chatter made by Mrs. Tan. Every so often, the Lanhua and Tan Bo would make small talk with each other.

Tan Bo of seventeen years old was full of pubescent passion and sometimes he would suddenly bar Lanhua’s way and with his eyebrows dancing in his forehead, begin talking about social progress. Lanhua would just bow her head without speaking. After all, their relationship couldn’t be as simple as when they were two innocent children. Or perhaps, Lanhua had begun to think of Tan Bo as the young master. However deeply rooted Tan Bo’s feelings of love and equality, it was difficult to see the distance that had gradually driven them apart.

On that last day of November, as she would often do, Lanhua took a cleaning rag and scrubbed the vermilion red furniture. Tan Bo sat in front of the window, reading a line of poetry about flying birds by Tagore . As Lanhua scrubbed the furniture she tried her best not to make any noise. Every so often, she glanced towards Tan Bo with eyes trembling. In her heart, she wished that this tranquillity would never be disturbed. However, reading poetry eventually became tiresome and when Tan Bo closed the book he was reading, he inevitably wanted to talk.

As a seventeen year old, he would quite often dream of sitting aboard a ship rocked by stormy waves. There was a kind of lusty desire to leave home that even during his clear headed times would still be intensely strong. He began to relate to her the dreams that had made him so anxious of late. “I am thinking of going to Yan’an,” he told her.

She was confused by him. It was clear to see that Yan’an’s two characters left a blank in her mind. He had not really wanted to make her understand his plans, only to know what the circumstances of her dreams were of late. This was the habit they had developed since that August of 1930. She recalled the embarrassment of 1930. Afterwards, she told him of any of her recent dreams analogous to his own. But unlike him, she did not dream of herself in a boat. Instead, she dreamed of being held up by four people in a sedan chair. In her role, she wore beautiful cloth shoes. The sedan chair was carried through every street inside the city. As he finished listening, he chuckled a little, saying:

“Your dreams and mine are not the same.”

At that time, the Japanese had already occupied the city in which they resided. He continued to speak, “you are only thinking of getting married.”

* * * * * *

In April of 1950, Tan Bo returned to the home he had left ten years before. Now he was a regimental commander of a cultural work regiment of the triumphant People’s Liberation Army, waist adorned with a leather belt and his legs wrapped in the cloth wrappings of a soldier. At this moment, the whole country was liberated and Tan Bo asked to be transferred so that he could return home to pay a visit.

Lanhua was still as before he left home, only she was no longer his mother’s servant and now she was beginning to enjoy living her own life. Tan Bo’s house had been divided up so that now part of the home belonged to Lanhua. Tan Bo walked into the setting of the house looking handsome, brave and prosperous and it left Lanhua with a profound impression. However, by that time, Lanhua already had amassed sons and daughters and lost her slender figure of before. Her now thick waist decried her previous beauty.

Beforehand, Lanhua had dreamed of this scene of Tan Bo’s return. To her surprise, reality and her dream were one and the same. That is why that noon, while Lanhua’s husband was away, she told Tan Bo of her dream.

“It was just this way that you returned,” Lanhua said.

Lanhua was no longer bashful when she answered questions. After all, she was the mother of her children. As she narrated the story of her dream, she spoke with neither the slightest bit of feeling or emotion. As she spoke, it was as casually as the simple act of describing a bowl on the kitchen floor. Her tone of voice was completely ordinary.

As he listened, Tan Bo remembered that he had a dream on the road home. In his dream, Lanhua appeared before him, except she was still in the image of the time when she was still a maiden.

“I also dreamed of you,” Tan Bo said. But he had just seen how Lanhua had become so much thicker and he didn’t want to waste his words describing her past beauty. As far as his dream was concerned with her, he would forever conceal the memory.

* * * * * *

December 1972. Tan Bo’s dishearteningly bowed head made his “counter-revolutionary” status known. His mother had just died, he had come to settle her affairs.

At this point, Lanhua’s children, for all intents and purposes, had become adults. Lanhua as before, remained without any particular kind of occupation. As Tan Bo walked into the house, Lanhua was washing plastics sheets to make some extra money to support the family. Tan Bo wore a tattered black cotton padded jacket. As he walked by Lanhua, pausing for a time, his heart was quivering as he nervously smiled at her.

Lanhua watched him make softly make an “oh” sound.

Thereupon he carefully oriented himself towards the inside of his mother’s room, walking inside. After a little while, Lanhua knocked on the room of the door, and asked him:

“What do you need me for?” Tan Bo looked around the room and saw that it was kept quite neat and tidy. He didn’t know what he should say.

It had been Lanhua who tried to inform him of the news of his mother’s death.

At that time, the two people lacked dreams to chat about.

* * * * * *

October 1985. The long since retired Tan Bo would sit all day in the courtyard basking in the light of the sun. As autumn set it, all he feared was the cold.

Lanhua has already become a white haired old woman, but she was still as healthy as ever. Now she was surrounded with grandchildren. Surrounded by them, she found that as the years went by she didn’t feel the least bit tired. At the same time, she continued to go to and from the room busying herself with household chores.

Later on, she took a basket of clothing over to a cement slab and began to scrub at the clothes.

Tan Bo squinted at her, his eyes almost sewn shut. He watched how her arms, still full of strength, swayed as she worked. While he listened to the sound of the “swish-swish” of her scrubbing, his worried heart sadly asked Lanhua.

He had recently dreamed of himself walking across a bridge, when the bridge suddenly collapsed. As he was walking past the house, a tile fell, flying down towards his head.

Translators Post-Script

This previously not yet translated short story by Yu Hua presented insights and challenges to his body of work. Written after his major short story collections and before his major novels, “The History of Two People” charts a similar course to his best selling novel “To Live”. Tan Bo, the protagonist of the story, is not dissimilar to “To Live”’s Fugui.. I might even go far as to suggest that “A History of Two People” might be considered Yu Hua’s outline for “To Live” from which he greatly strayed, in the course of writing the novel. The story contains the most basic elements on which Yu Hua wrote “To Live”: the passage through modern Chinese history, the protagonist’s high-class upbringing, the role in the revolution (Fugui was conscripted by accident, contrasted to Tan Bo declaring his desire to go to Yan’an), the hardship endured (the Cultural Revolution).It is important to also appreciate also the references to Lu Xun, Hu Shi and Rabindranath Tagore. This story is an experiment of sorts, dipping between bouts of the poetic, the historical and Yu Hua’s simple prose.



Click Here to Read More..
China Student Blog is the intellectual property of Dylan Sherlock. Please feel free share anything you find here,
provided you give proper attribution and a hyperlink back to the original article.