Jump to content
Chinese-forums.com
Learn Chinese in China

One Million Characters

  • entries
    15
  • comments
    66
  • views
    1,212

About this blog

A blog chronicling my attempt to read 1,000,000 Chinese characters in articles and books in 2019.

Entries in this blog

murrayjames

482,709 Characters to Go

Today I finished reading the novella 《偶然事件》 by 余华.

 

The story is about a mysterious murder. In what appears to be a crime of passion, a man suddenly stabs another man to death in a coffeeshop, then hands himself over to the police. Much of the story consists of letters written between two witnesses to the murder. Following the coffeeshop murder, the witnesses become inadvertent pen pals, writing letters back-and-forth in which they opine and argue over the murderer’s motives, revealing much about themselves in the process. There are also narrative sections that provide a backstory for the characters involved in the murder.

 

《偶然事件》 is an easy read, easier than 《活着》. There is plenty of dialogue, and even the letter-writing sections have a breezy, conversational style to them. The story is OK.

 

Link to 《偶然事件》:

https://www.kanunu8.com/book3/7199/159328.html

 

Some statistics:

Characters read this year: 517,291

Characters left to read this year: 482,709

Percent of goal completed: 51.7%

 

List of things read:

《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)

《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)

《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东   (18,276 characters)

《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters)

《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters)

《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters)

《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters)

《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)

《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)

《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》 by IBM   (25,098 characters)

《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)

《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters)

《在巴黎大戏院》 by 施蛰存   (6,181 characters)

《分析Sonny Stitt即兴与演奏特点——以专辑《Only the Blues》中曲目 《Blues for Bags》为例》   (5,483 characters)

《一个女剧院的生活》 by 沈从文   (61,154 characters)

《致银河》 by 王小波   (17,715 characters)

《在细雨中呼喊》 by 余华   (132,769 characters)

《熊猫》 by 棉棉   (53,129 characters)

《1988:我想和这个世界谈谈》 by 韩寒   (81,547 characters)

《偶然事件》 by 余华   (20,226 characters)

murrayjames

502,935 Characters to Go

Today I finished reading the novel 《1988:我想和这个世界谈谈》 by 韩寒.

 

The novel is about the lives of two people: the unnamed male narrator, a john and former journalist driving across China’s National Highway 318; and his passenger 娜娜, a pregnant prostitute looking for someone from her past. The narrative alternates between road chapters and flashback chapters. The road chapters are set in the present. These chapters contain conversations between the two protagonists and focus on 娜娜’s backstory. The flashback chapters are set in the past. They move chronologically through the narrator’s life, beginning with his childhood and jumping forward until they converge with the road chapters at the end of the book.

 

《1988》 is a funny novel. This is mainly because of the witty dialogue. While reading 《1988》, I frequently smiled and occasionally laughed out loud. Unfortunately, much of the humor comes at the expense of 娜娜, the down-on-her-luck sex worker. At its best, the humor arises through character-driven storytelling. 娜娜 is a quixotic figure, a woman whose life is full of misfortune but who clings to unrealistic and grandiose hopes for her and her unborn child. At its worst, the humor is meanspirited and cheap, consisting of sarcastic quips from the narrator insulting 娜娜’s intelligence.

 

The plot of 《1988》 is above average; the execution of the plot is unexceptional. While the protagonists’ stories intersect in interesting ways, these intersections would have a greater effect if the storytelling were more patient. The emotional power of the most moving events in the story is undercut by 韩寒’s light, breezy narration and the meanspiritedness noted above. Near the end of the novel, a multi-chapter narrative thread involving a childhood sweetheart is wrapped up in a single paragraph. No doubt this was intentional. But the resolution lacks pathos, as though 韩寒 was not willing to give a personal and moral tragedy the emotional weight it deserved.

 

《1988:我想和这个世界谈谈》 is not a difficult book to read, vocabulary-wise. I found the language about as easy as 棉棉’s 《熊猫》, perhaps a bit easier. As with 《熊猫》, most of the main text is dialogue. This means fewer low-frequency words, which makes for an easier read.

 

I chose to read this book after seeing @ouyangjun and @Lu mention it in the evergreen and ever-useful “What are you reading?” thread.


Link to 《1988:我想和这个世界谈谈》:

https://www.aixdzs.com/d/116/116559/

 

Some statistics:

Characters read this year: 497,065

Characters left to read this year: 502,935

Percent of goal completed: 49.7%

 

List of things read:

《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)

《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)

《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东   (18,276 characters)

《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters)

《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters)

《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters)

《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters)

《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)

《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)

《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》 by IBM   (25,098 characters)

《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)

《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters)

《在巴黎大戏院》 by 施蛰存   (6,181 characters)

《分析Sonny Stitt即兴与演奏特点——以专辑《Only the Blues》中曲目 《Blues for Bags》为例》   (5,483 characters)

《一个女剧院的生活》 by 沈从文   (61,154 characters)

《致银河》 by 王小波   (17,715 characters)

《在细雨中呼喊》 by 余华   (132,769 characters)

《熊猫》 by 棉棉   (53,129 characters)

《1988:我想和这个世界谈谈》 by 韩寒   (81,547 characters)

murrayjames

584,482 Characters to Go

Today I finished reading the novel 《熊猫》 by 棉棉.

 

The novel consists mostly of casual nighttime conversations between attractive young people in Shanghai. Sex, love, and infidelity are frequent conversation topics, popping up every few pages. There are occasional monologues on random subjects, like eating pigs and the social harms of television.

 

The plot and structure of 《熊猫》 are unconventional. There are the trappings of a plot: main characters, recurring settings, interpersonal relationships and conflicts. But not much happens. Characters talk repeatedly about sex—how often they have it, what kind of people they have it with, etc. While some arguments arise from this, the characters themselves do not change. The death of a main character is mentioned several times, but the circumstances surrounding the death go unexplained. Most of the main characters in the novel are shallow, and it is difficult to see what motivates them. The novel is divided sequentially into chapters, but these chapter divisions seem arbitrary, and the story does not progress.

 

《熊猫》 reminds me of the writing of Bret Easton Ellis. It is a book full of beautiful, rich, young characters having superficial conversations in a consequence-free world. Unfortunately, 《熊猫》 is less stylized, less seductive, and more banal than Ellis’s novels are.

 

A number of the characters in 《熊猫》 are named after actual people. The Shanghai jazz musicians mentioned in the novel are people I know in real life! 棉棉 also references herself at numerous points in the story.

 

I decided to read 《熊猫》 after @Lu listed it in the “What are the first 10 books you read” thread. I found the language of the novel easy to understand, especially compared with the last novel I read, 余华’s 《在细雨中呼喊》. Most of 《熊猫》 is dialogue, which keeps the difficulty low.

 

Link to 《熊猫》:
https://www.kanunu8.com/book3/7951/
 
Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 415,518
Characters left to read this year: 584,482
Percent of goal completed: 41.6% 
  
List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东   (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters)
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters)
《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters)
《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters) 
《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)
《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)
《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》 by IBM   (25,098 characters)
《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)
《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters)
《在巴黎大戏院》 by 施蛰存   (6,181 characters)
《分析Sonny Stitt即兴与演奏特点——以专辑《Only the Blues》中曲目 《Blues for Bags》为例》   (5,483 characters)
《一个女剧院的生活》 by 沈从文   (61,154 characters) 
《致银河》 by 王小波   (17,715 characters) 
《在细雨中呼喊》 by 余华   (132,769 characters)
《熊猫》 by 棉棉   (53,129 characters)

murrayjames

637,611 Characters to Go

I recently finished reading 《在细雨中呼喊》 by 余华. It is the third novel by 余华 I have read, following the perennial Chinese Forums favorites 《活着》 and 《许三观卖血记》.

 

《在细雨中呼喊》 is about a young boy and the events that happen to the people around him in two villages over a seven-year period. The novel has a fascinating structure and contains some great storytelling. It is also an uneven book. Its opening and closing sections are fantastic. The middle chapters are overlong and not well executed. I lost interest in the novel halfway. I continued reading to the end, though, and am glad I did.

 

The narrative core of story is this: a six-year-old boy, the middle of three brothers, is growing up with his biological family in the village 南门. Unwanted by his father, he is sold to a couple from another village, 孙荡. The boy goes to 孙荡 and lives there for six years. Following a series of colorful and improbable events, the boy returns to 南门.

 

In some ways, 《在细雨中呼喊》 is less of a novel and more of a novel skeleton. It is not a single overarching story. It is a collection of anecdotes. The novel lacks a clearly defined protagonist. Except for the surreal beginning and ending of the book and a few other sections, the boy-narrator is not a central character. His name, 孙光林, appears only three times in the entire novel. Many of the anecdotes do not involve him. The anecdotes are about other people: his family members, classmates, friends, teachers.

 

The story is told out of chronological order. The beginning of the book describes the narrator’s return to 南门 after six years in 孙荡; the ending does, too. A long middle section describes events that occur before the narrator is born. The narrative is told from a first-person perspective throughout, which is confusing in places. Certain anecdotes contain details the narrator would not have had access to, e.g., the precise movements of his adopted father during a violent post-coital hand grenade rampage.

 

The most powerful aspect of 《在细雨中呼喊》 is its death stories. These are stories that culminate in the mortal or narrative end of established characters. 余华 has this uncommon ability to bring about and describe the deaths of characters the reader is invested in in plain terms, without pathos, to great emotional or comic effect. (The deaths of 福贵’s daughter 凤霞 in 《活着》 and 许三观’s cuckolding nemesis 何小勇 in 《许三观卖血记》are two other examples of this.)

 

At times, 余华 chains multiple deaths together, revealing them with a preternatural timing that shocks the reader. In a ten-page section called 《婚礼》, a woman who was humiliated by her cowardly ex-lover commits suicide at the man’s wedding reception. Two pages later: the bride, humiliated by the same coward, commits suicide too. 《婚礼》 is a modest masterpiece. I was haunted by it when I first read it and have thought about it several times since.

 

 (The absurd deaths of 二喜 and 苦根 in 《活着》 are two other examples of 余华’s death chaining. Near the end of the book, 福贵’s sole remaining family members are killed off in ridiculous ways: crushed to a non-identifiable pulp in a construction accident; and choked to death on string beans. Unlike the sad slow rhythm of the rest of the novel, 二喜 and 苦根 are offed quickly, as though their deaths were required by some cruel inexorable narrative logic. After their deaths, 福贵 is old and alone except for an old ox that represents the memories of his deceased family. In the space of a few pages, the novel transforms from historical tragedy to existential meta-story.)

 

According to @imron’s Chinese Text Analyser, 《在细雨中呼喊》 contains about 600 more unique characters and about 3000 more unique words than both 《活着》 and 《许三观卖血记》. For me, this difference made for a noticeable increase in difficulty, particularly in the middle part of the novel.

 

《活着》                    1910 unique characters        4426 unique words

《许三观卖血记》    2035 unique characters        4640 unique words

《在细雨中呼喊》    2602 unique characters        7521 unique words


《在细雨中呼喊》 has a bad reputation on Chinese Forums. @Geiko wrote that the “book was very disappointing”; @wushijiao “got bored with it midway”; @zander1 found it “totally impenetrable”; and @imron added it to a list of books to “avoid entirely.” I don’t think the book is as bad as they say, and recommend it despite its problems. In some parts the storytelling is excellent.

 

Link to 《在细雨中呼喊》:
http://yuedu.163.com/source/0b6b9c159cd0455ea90729a756a1ca0c_4

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 362,389

Characters left to read this year: 637,611

Percent of goal completed: 36.2% 
  
List of things read:

《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)

《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)

《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)

《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters)

《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters)

《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters)

《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters) 

《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)

《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)
《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》 by IBM   (25,098 characters)

《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)

《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters)

《在巴黎大戏院》 by 施蛰存 (6,181 characters)

《分析Sonny Stitt即兴与演奏特点——以专辑《Only the Blues》中曲目 《Blues for Bags》为例》  (5,483 characters)

《一个女剧院的生活》 by 沈从文   (61,154 characters) 

《致银河》 by 王小波   (17,715 characters) 

《在细雨中呼喊》 by 余华  (132,769 characters)

murrayjames

770,380 Characters to Go

Today I finished reading 《致银河》. It is a collection of love letters written by 王小波 and 李银河 in the 1970s.

 

The text is maudlin and schmaltzy. 王小波 misses 李银河. He pines for her and professes his love for her over and over. 李银河 doubts that their love dream can continue indefinitely. Sooner or later they will wake up from this dream, no?

 

Quote

王小波:也许梦是做不了一辈子,那就让它成为真的好了!我和你就要努力进取,永不休止。对事业是这样,对美也是这样。有限的一切都不能让人满足,向无限进军中才能让人满足。无限不可能枯燥啊,好银河。永远会有新东西在我们面前出现的。哥伦布发现了新大陆,哥白尼发现了新宇宙,这是一条光荣的荆棘路……

 

李银河:我非常非常地想你,特别是在紧张工作的间歇。我觉得这世界上好像除了你和工作,什么都不存在了。你也这样想我吗?

 

《致银河》 was an okay read. The letters are romantic, sweet, and unobjectionable. Fans of reading private correspondence and intermittent references to poets like Dante will enjoy this work.

 

Link to 王小波’s 《致银河》(pp. 1692–1718):
https://storage.googleapis.com/google-code-archive-downloads/v2/code.google.com/wangxiaobo/wangxb_xeCJK_20120501.pdf

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 229,620
Characters left to read this year: 770,380
Percent of goal completed: 23.0%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters)
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters)
《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters)
《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters) 
《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)
《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)
《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》 by IBM   (25,098 characters)
《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)
《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters)
《在巴黎大戏院》 by 施蛰存 (6,181 characters)
《分析Sonny Stitt即兴与演奏特点——以专辑《Only the Blues》中曲目 《Blues for Bags》为例》  (5,483 characters)
《一个女剧院的生活》 by 沈从文   (61,154 characters)

《致银河》 by 王小波   (17,715 characters)

murrayjames

788,095 Characters to Go

Earlier this week I finished reading the novella 《一个女剧院的生活》 by 沈从文. 《一个女剧院的生活》 is a story about several men of different ages and stations in life all vying for the love of a beautiful and talented young actress. While the men contend for her love, the actress, 萝, rejects their advances. The opening chapters of the novella establish a love triangle, which later turns into a love quadrilateral, which later turns into a love pentagon. Much of the novella consists of drawn out conversations about love in the abstract; of men having trying to convince 萝 to be with them; and of 萝 criticizing the men’s behavior and mannerisms and words. Here is an example of one such conversation. The conversation is between 萝 and her uncle(舅父), who criticizes 萝 for her capricious treatment toward one her suitors.

 

Quote

萝:我羡慕的就是孤立无援。我希望的就是独行其是。
舅父:你是一个英雄,可是将来一定跌在平凡的阱里。一个同习惯作战的人,到后来总是免不了粉身碎骨。
萝:我不为这个所威胁。我明知用舅父生活作证,是保守得到了胜利。可是我现在应当选择那使我粉骨碎身的事,机会一来,我就非常勇敢跳下阱里去!
舅父:到那时你想爬起可迟了。
萝:我决不这样懦怯!若是说追悔原是人类所有的一种本能,这一定是那些欢喜悲呀愁呀男女所有的本能。
舅父:你永不追悔吗?
萝:因为我认定那是愚蠢事情。

 

While 沈从文 is a talented storyteller, I didn’t much like this novella. I found the story boring and didn’t care about its characters. I also found the dialogue tiresome. In over half the conversations in this story, characters lecture each other, chastise each other, and engage in overlong detached disputations on love and freedom. That is not what people in love do. 沈从文 made his female lead character unlikeable. 萝 has this tremendous power to make any man around her want to marry her. But rather than be gracious, wise, or even shrewd, 萝 is haughty, hectoring any man who would presume to compete for her affections. In the real world, this kind of behavior would lead to gossip, resentment, and reputational damage. In 《一个女剧院的生活》, no one seems bothered by her badgering. The men in this novella don’t come off much better than 萝. They are desperate, neurotic, feckless, vain. This story would be more believable if it had contained a strong supporting female character. There are a female student actress and an 阿姨 (who works for 舅父), but these characters don’t have much to say.

 

Also, the dialogue is sometimes cheesy. An example:

 

Quote

士平先生:你不能今天这样明天又那样。
萝:谁能加上这个限制?秦始皇统一了天下,也不能统一我的感情!

 

Yech.

 

At 61,154 characters, this novella is the longest work I have completed so far this year. The language wasn’t too hard and should be accessible to any advanced Chinese-language learner. (The quotes above are fairly representative, difficulty-wise.) 《一个女剧院的生活》 is the third work of 沈从文’s I have read. The first was his short story 《牛》, which I loved.  The second was the short story collection 《虎雏》, which was pretty good. My reading list contains many other works by 沈从文, including his classic novels. I plan to read some other authors, then come back to him.

 

Link to 沈从文’s 《一个女剧院的生活》:
https://m.ixdzs.com/d/116894

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 211,905
Characters left to read this year: 788,095
Percent of goal completed: 21.2%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters)
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters)
《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters)
《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters) 
《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)
《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)
《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》 by IBM   (25,098 characters)
《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)
《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters)
《在巴黎大戏院》 by 施蛰存 (6,181 characters)
《分析Sonny Stitt即兴与演奏特点——以专辑《Only the Blues》中曲目 《Blues for Bags》为例》  (5,483 characters)
《一个女剧院的生活》 by 沈从文   (61,154 characters)

murrayjames

849,249 Characters to Go

The past few weeks I have not read much in Chinese. This is because I recently received some excellent news, news about something that will keep me very busy in 2019, far busier than I expected. Going forward, I will need to set aside time specifically for reading Chinese, or it will be difficult to meet my million-character goal.

 

A few weeks ago I finished a short story by 20th-century Shanghai author 施蛰存. The story is 《在巴黎大戏院》. It is part of a collection of short stories available online. The story is about a man on a movie date with a girl. The man is a neurotic mess, overthinking every word his date says and every movement she makes. The man is also probably an adulterer—he’s married—and a weirdo/pervert. At one point, the man, nervous and sweating profusely, is handed a handcloth by his date. He wipes his sweaty face, then discreetly tastes (and even sucks on) his date’s handcloth. Eww. The narrative is told entirely from a first-person, in-his-brain running-commentary perspective. The language is simple, but I found the story difficult—even unpleasant—to read. The man is weird and obsessive and I did not enjoy being inside his head. That being said, I will read more short stories from 施蛰存. He is a famous author and surely not all of his stories are like this.

 

Today I finished reading 《分析Sonny Stitt即兴与演奏特点——以专辑《Only the Blues》中曲目 《Blues for Bags》为例》. It is the thesis of an undergraduate music student at 中国音乐学院 in Beijing. The topic of the thesis was jazz saxophonist Sonny Stitt. I am something of a Stitt expert, having studied Stitt and his music for years, and having written a 552-page doctoral dissertation about him. (Link for the curious.) The student reached out to me to ask some questions about Stitt and jazz music analysis. I don’t want to name the student since he is not a public figure. But his thesis was pretty good, especially compared with other work in jazz studies in China I have read.

 

Link to 施蛰存’s《在巴黎大戏院》:
http://telestarbookshelf.blogspot.com/2005/03/blog-post_13.html

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 150,751
Characters left to read this year: 849,249
Percent of goal completed: 15.1%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters)
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters)
《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters)
《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters) 
《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)
《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)
《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》 by IBM   (25,098 characters)
《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)
《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters)
《在巴黎大戏院》 by 施蛰存 (6,181 characters)
《分析Sonny Stitt即兴与演奏特点——以专辑《Only the Blues》中曲目 《Blues for Bags》为例》 (5,483 characters)

murrayjames

860,913 Characters to Go

Since my last post, I read a collection of four short stories by 沈从文. The short stories are titled 《虎雏》, 《黔小景》, 《三三》, and 《医生》. The stories were written in 1931. They are easy to read and understand.

 

The stories contain a diverse cast of characters from different parts of China: The Shanghai-based author and his military brother stationed in Hunan. Merchants traveling a public road in Guizhou. The mother and daughter with a grain mill and their visitors from a nearby city. The itinerant doctor and the crazy man in the mountains of Sichuan. Each of the four stories has a different setting and tone. The plots are quite different, though there is a thematic connection between them: in each of the four stories, a person dies in a peculiar way.

 

The stories range from pretty good to very good. One story is engaging but anticlimactic. Another story is boring. Yet another story has touching characters but no plot. 沈从文 is a gifted storyteller. Certain parts of 《虎雏》 and 《医生》are exciting and hard to put down. 《医生》is also funny. A doctor goes missing for several weeks. He returns to find his co-workers waiting for him inside his home. The doctor thinks they have gathered to welcome him, but actually they gathered to divide up his possessions. The titular young woman 三三 is strong-willed and sweet and is probably my favorite character from these stories. The stories are an enjoyable read, but none of them are as good or as powerful as the author’s《牛》.

 

This is the longest text I have read in 2019 so far (about 47,000 Chinese characters total).

 

Link to the short story collection:
https://www.ixdzs.com/d/117/117016/

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 139,087
Characters left to read this year: 860,913
Percent of goal completed: 13.9%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters)
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters)
《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters)
《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters) 
《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)
《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)
《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》by IBM   (25,098 characters)
《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)
《虎雏》by 沈从文   (46,945 characters)

murrayjames

907,858 Characters to Go

Yesterday I finished reading a series of articles by IBM, in Chinese translation. The articles pertain to a commercial service called Personality Insights. The service helps companies find the right customers by analyzing text posted on Twitter and other social media platforms.
    
IBM claims it can predict human behavior by looking at Tweets. The Personality Insights service creates psychological profiles of Twitter users based on the words they use on the platform. According to the research that underlies Personality Insights, the words that people choose reveal aspects of their personality. By studying a person’s words, IBM can predict if that person is altruistic, trusting, orderly, self-disciplined, assertive, excitement-seeking, prone to worry or anger, artistic, intellectual, and more. The words people choose also reveal their needs and values. IBM claims it can predict if a person is likely to use credit cards when making a purchase, is susceptible to impulse buying, is likely to buy environmentally-friendly products or eat organic foods, is likely to start their own business, is likely to invest in a start-up, what kind of books and movies the person likes, etc.

 

Here is the sales pitch, in IBM’s own words:

 

Quote

通过Personality Insights 服务,企业可以将这一构想变成现实。通过利用企业和社交媒体数据的组合,企业可以应用分析来更深入地研究个人客户的特质。企业可以将这些结果用于更高质量的潜在客户开发、更精细的客户细分以及相关性和个性化都更高的专注市场营销。

 

The IBM Cloud website contains a demo of the Personality Insights service. I tried out the demo using some Tweets and other texts I wrote. I was unnerved but not surprised at how accurately the service predicted my personality. Maybe IBM predicted that, too.

 

Here’s a link to the demo:

https://personality-insights-demo.ng.bluemix.net

 

Since my last blog post I have also read three short works by 丁玲. The first work is《彭德怀速写》. It is a brief 1936 paean to celebrated CCP general Peng Dehuai. The second work is 《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》. It is a 1946 autobiographical essay. In the essay, 丁玲 writes on a number of topics: the May Fourth Movement, two feminist comrades that inspired her, her relationship with her mother, and her literary beginnings. The third work I read is 《夜》. It is a 1941 short story about a husband and a wife and their relationship in trying times.

 

The Personality Insights articles can be found on the IBM Cloud website. The website contains numerous articles; I read those describing and marketing the service, and explaining the personality research that undergirds it. Those articles are titled《关于》,《个性模型》,《大五类人格 - 随和性》,《大五类人格 - 尽责性》,《大五类人格 - 外倾性》,《大五类人格 - 情绪程度》,《大五类人格 - 开放性》,《需求》,《价值观》,《消费偏好》,《用例》,《使用指南》,《服务实战》,《服务背后的科学》, and《研究参考资料》. Here is a link:

https://cloud.ibm.com/docs/services/personality-insights/index.html?locale=zh-cn#about

 

Text of 《彭德怀速写》:
http://www.millionbook.com/mj/d/dingling/000/002.htm

 

Text of 《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》:
http://www.millionbook.com/mj/d/dingling/000/004.htm

 

Text of 《夜》:
http://www.millionbook.com/mj/d/dingling/dlzp/004.htm

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 92,142
Characters left to read this year: 907,858
Percent of goal completed: 9.2%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲   (4,567 characters)
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华   (8,416 characters)
《手》by 萧红   (7,477 characters)
《牛》by 沈从文   (8,097 characters) 
《彭德怀速写》by 丁玲   (693 characters)
《我怎样飞向了自由的天地》by 丁玲   (2,176 characters)
《IBM Cloud文档:Personality Insights》by IBM   (25,098 characters)
《夜》by 丁玲   (4,218 characters)

murrayjames

940,043 Characters to Go

Today I finished reading the short story《牛》by 沈从文. It is one of my favorite things I have read in Chinese.

 

The story is about a farmer nicknamed 大牛伯 and his ox 小牛. One day, while plowing the field, 大牛伯 gets angry and strikes the ox in the leg with a wooden mallet. The rest of the story is devoted to the aftermath of this event. When he realizes his ox is seriously injured, 大牛伯 starts to worry about his future. How will he plow the field without his ox? Can the ox’s leg be healed? Should the ox be sent to the butcher? 

 

The story is a fable of surprising moral and psychological depth. I was hooked from the first paragraph. Here it is:

 

Quote

有这样事情发生,就是桑溪荡里住,绰号大牛伯的那个人,前一天居然在荞麦田里,同他的耕牛为一点小事生气,用木榔槌打了那耕牛后脚一下。这耕牛在平时是彷佛他那儿子一样,纵是骂,也如骂亲生儿女,在骂中还不少爱抚的。但是脾气一来不能节制自己,随意敲了一下,不平常的事此因就发生了。当时这主人还不觉得,第二天,再想放牛去耕那块工作未完事的荞麦田,牛不能像平时很大方的那么走出栏外了。牛后脚有了毛病,就因为昨天大牛伯主人那么不知轻重在气头下一榔槌的结果。

 

For most of the rest of the story 沈从文 explores, in plain language, the thoughts and emotions of 大牛伯 and his stricken ox. 大牛伯 feels guilty for hurting his ox. He is also angry with the ox for being hurt and suspects it of exaggerating the seriousness of its injury. The ox enjoys finally having an opportunity to relax in the hot sun. But it also feels guilty it cannot plow the field for its master, because it wants to make him happy. 

 

If you like the paragraph quoted above you will like《牛》.The tone and style of that paragraph are representative of what follows. I loved this story, and look forward to reading more works by 沈从文.

 

Text of《牛》:
http://blog.sina.com.cn/s/blog_53fc4c510100m2sg.html

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 59,957
Characters left to read this year: 940,043
Percent of goal completed: 6.0%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲  (4,567 characters)
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华  (8,416 characters)
《手》by 萧红  (7,477 characters)
《牛》by 沈从文 (8,097 characters)

 

[Thanks to @Lu for pointing out that the animal in this story is an ox, not a calf.]

murrayjames

948,140 Characters to Go

In the last few days I read two short stories: 《我没有自己的名字》 by 余华, and《手》by 萧红.

 

The two stories address a common theme: the humanity of damaged people, juxtaposed with the cruelty of everyday people.《我没有自己的名字》is the story of a boy with very low intelligence, 来发, and the harassment he receives from other boys in his village.《手》is the story of a poor girl with abnormally-colored hands, 王亚明, and the harassment she receives from her classmates and her school president. While 来发 and 王亚明 are dimwitted and dirty, they are good people who do not deserve the abuse they receive from their peers. They also do not object to this unfair treatment, which emboldens their abusers.

 

I have noticed a theme appear in several 20th-century Chinese stories. There is a maligned but ultimately sympathetic person (e.g.: 来发, 王亚明, 贞贞 in 丁玲’s《我在霞村的时候》). The person is damaged or compromised in some way, either by birth (来发, 王亚明), or by societal circumstances outside their control (贞贞). The damaged person is righteous, while the “normal” people in society are callous and cruel. The damaged person suffers loss, but faces this loss with equanimity. 

 

Both《我没有自己的名字》and《手》are short (under 10,000 characters). They are also easy to read. I would not recommend《我没有自己的名字》. The story is stylistically underwhelming and less engaging than 余华’s longer works, like《活着》and《许三观卖血记》. I would recommend《手》, although I don’t know quite what to make of 萧红’s style. I have added two longer works of hers,《生死场》and《呼兰河传》, to my reading list.

 

Text of《我没有自己的名字》:
http://www.rain8.com/article/class6/3582.htm

 

Text of《手》:
https://www.kanunu8.com/book3/8047/175923.html

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 51,860
Characters left to read this year: 948,140
Percent of goal completed: 5.2%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲  (4,567 characters)
《我没有自己的名字》by 余华  (8,416 characters)
《手》by 萧红  (7,477 characters)

murrayjames

964,033 Characters to Go

I recently finished reading the 1928 short story《自杀日记》by 丁玲.

 

This story has much in common with the novella《莎菲女士的日记》, a better-known work that 丁玲 published the same year. Both stories are about troubled young women in large Chinese cities who record their thoughts in diary form. 丁玲 gives both young women transliterated western names: 莎菲 and 伊萨. In some ways the women have similar temperaments. They are angsty, reclusive, and uninterested in the young men who fall in love with them. While both women are deeply unhappy—to the point of wanting to end their lives—their unhappiness manifests differently. 莎菲 is brooding, impetuous, judgmental, misanthropic. 伊萨 is apathetic. Finding no meaning in life, she resigns herself to a nihilistic suicide: 她只觉得这生活很无意思,很不必有,她固执的屡次向自己说:“顶好是死去算了!”

 

Like other works by 丁玲 from this period, the language is not difficult for a Chinese language learner to understand. The story is short, just over 4,500 characters long. Here is a link: https://www.kanunu8.com/book3/8372/186036.html

 

Below are some statistics and a list of the works I have finished reading this year. Despite showing only 3.6% my goal complete, I am ahead of my reading schedule, because these numbers do not include works currently in progress. Next up to finish is the 余华 short story《我没有自己的名字》.


Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 35,967
Characters left to read this year: 964,033
Percent of goal completed: 3.6%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
《自杀日记》by 丁玲  (4,567 characters)

murrayjames

968,600 Characters to Go

I recently finished reading《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东. It is a series of five talks on literature and art that Mao delivered between February and May 1942 at Yan’an. In these five talks, Mao expounds the purpose of revolutionary literature, criticizes the defective thinking of his Yan’an comrades, and prescribes widespread intra-party thought reform for these defects.

 

Below is my loose paraphrase of Mao’s arguments with corresponding quotations from the text, and a brief thought on mainstream art in modern-day China.

 

=

Literature is a part of the machinery of the revolution. It is a weapon used to unite and teach the people, and to strike and destroy the enemy.

我们今天开会,就是要使文艺很好地成为整个革命机器的一个组成部分,作为团结人民、教育人民、打击敌人、消灭敌人的有力的武器,帮助人民同心同德地和敌人作斗争。

 

Literature is not neutral. Writers must be on the side of the proletariat, the people, and the Party.

我们是站在无产阶级的和人民大众的立场。对于共产党员来说,也就是要站在党的立场,站在党性和党的政策的立场。

 

Unfortunately, many comrades champion petty bourgeois ideas. They view the intelligentsia and petty bourgeoisie as more important than the workers, farmers, and soldiers. They stand with the petty bourgeoisie and express petty bourgeois ideas in their work.

在实际上,在行动上,他们是否对小资产阶级知识分子比对工农兵还更看得重要些呢?我以为是这样…… 他们是站在小资产阶级立场,他们是把自己的作品当作小资产阶级的自我表现来创作的

 

There is much of value in Chinese and foreign literature traditions. What has value should be kept. Older literary forms can be used, but they should be changed, filled with revolutionary content, and pressed into the service of the people.

对于中国和外国过去时代所遗留下来的丰富的文学艺术遗产和优良的文学艺术传统,我们是要继承的,但是目的仍然是为了人民大众。对于过去时代的文艺形式,我们也并不拒绝利用,但这些旧形式到了我们手里,给了改造,加进了新内容,也就变成革命的为人民服务的东西了。

 

Some comrades mistakenly believe that all art must flow out of “love,” as though love were some transcendent ideal untouched by social class. Others argue that literature should reflect “human nature.” But human nature is a concrete thing with a class dimension, not an abstract concept. What is often called “human nature” is actually capitalist individualism. Literature must not proceed from so-called abstract notions of love, freedom, truth, or humanity. The presence of these errors in the Party show that some comrades have been deeply influenced by bourgeois and capitalist ideas. These comrades should cast off this influence, and study Marxist-Leninist thought.

但是我们有些同志… 说什么一切应该从“爱”出发。就说爱吧,在阶级社会里,也只有阶级的爱,但是这些同志却要追求什么超阶级的爱,抽象的爱,以及抽象的自由、抽象的真理、抽象的人性等等。这是表明这些同志是受了资产阶级的很深的影响。应该很彻底地清算这种影响,很虚心地学习马克思列宁主义…… “人性论”。有没有人性这种东西?当然有的。但是只有具体的人性,没有抽象的人性。在阶级社会里就是只有带着阶级性的人性,而没有什么超阶级的人性。我们主张无产阶级的人性,人民大众的人性,而地主阶级资产阶级则主张地主阶级资产阶级的人性,不过他们口头上不这样说,却说成为唯一的人性。有些小资产阶级知识分子所鼓吹的人性,也是脱离人民大众或者反对人民大众的,他们的所谓人性实质上不过是资产阶级的个人主义,因此在他们眼中,无产阶级的人性就不合于人性

 

We must not love our enemies. We must not love noxious social phenomena. Rather, we must seek to destroy them.

我们不能爱敌人,不能爱社会的丑恶现象,我们的目的是消灭这些东西。

 

Many petit bourgeois writers write pessimistic literature that exposes the darkness in society without also showing the light. Capitalist writers invert light and darkness, portraying revolutionaries as thugs and themselves as saints. Only true revolutionary writers praise and expose correctly. All dark powers that harm the people must be exposed, and all the revolutionary struggles of the people must be praised. This is the fundamental duty of revolutionary writers.

许多小资产阶级作家并没有找到过光明,他们的作品就只是暴露黑暗,被称为“暴露文学”,还有简直是专门宣传悲观厌世的…… 反动时期的资产阶级文艺家把革命群众写成暴徒,把他们自己写成神圣,所谓光明和黑暗是颠倒的。只有真正革命的文艺家才能正确地解决歌颂和暴露的问题。一切危害人民群众的黑暗势力必须暴露之,一切人民群众的革命斗争必须歌颂之,这就是革命文艺家的基本任务。

 

Revolutionary writers must expose the invaders, the exploiters, the oppressors, and their harmful influence on the people. Revolutionary writers must not expose the people themselves.

对于革命的文艺家,暴露的对象,只能是侵略者、剥削者、压迫者及其在人民中所遗留的恶劣影响,而不能是人民大众。

 

Literature is subordinate to politics. But literature is also a tool of great political influence. Revolutionary literature is like a gear and a screw. These tools are less important than other parts of the machine, but the machine cannot function properly without them.

文艺是从属于政治的,但又反转来给予伟大的影响于政治。革命文艺是整个革命事业的一部分,是齿轮和螺丝钉,和别的更重要的部分比较起来,自然有轻重缓急第一第二之分,但它是对于整个机器不可缺少的齿轮和螺丝钉,对于整个革命事业不可缺少的一部分。

 

How can we know if the primary motivations of a writer are correct and good? Not by listening to what the writer says, but by observing the effect of that writer’s work on society.

检验一个作家的主观愿望即其动机是否正确,是否善良,不是看他的宣言,而是看他的行为(主要是作品)在社会大众中产生的效果。

 

In light of many false ideologies that have taken hold among the comrades, what is needed is a strict rectification campaign. Many comrades are unclear of the difference between the proletariat and the petit bourgeoisie. Many comrades have joined the Party with their bodies, but have only partially joined the Party in their thinking. The minds of these comrades are filled with the thoughts of the exploiting class; they do not know what proletariat thinking is, what communism is, what the Party is. So although most within the Party and its ranks are pure, for the future of our leadership, there must be a serious transformation in the thinking and organization of the Party. To transform the organization of the Party, first we must transform the thinking of the Party. There must be an ideological struggle against non-proletariat thinking.

同志们中间还有很多的唯心论、教条主义、空想、空谈、轻视实践、脱离群众等等的缺点,需要有一个切实的严肃的整风运动。我们有许多同志还不大清楚无产阶级和小资产阶级的区别。有许多党员,在组织上入了党,思想上并没有完全入党,甚至完全没有入党。这种思想上没有入党的人,头脑里还装着许多剥削阶级的脏东西,根本不知道什么是无产阶级思想,什么是共产主义,什么是党……

因此我们的党,我们的队伍,虽然其中的大部分是纯洁的,但是为要领导革命运动更好地发展,更快地完成,就必须从思想上组织上认真地整顿一番。而为要从组织上整顿,首先需要在思想上整顿,需要展开一个无产阶级对非无产阶级的思想斗争。

 

[end paraphrase]

 

=

A concluding thought: Back when I lived in China, I ascribed the bathos, banality, and overwrought patriotism of much modern-day mainstream Chinese music and television to government censorship. But I also sensed that such an ascription was pat and lacked explanatory power. Seeing mainstream Chinese music and television in light of Mao’s instructions on literature and art makes a lot more sense. One of the many things Mao did at Yan’an was come up with—and inculcate—a framework for understanding the making of art in modern China. He provided artists and future leaders of the Party with answers to questions like: Why make art? Who is art is for? What does art do? How should art be made? At Yan’an, Mao made a positive case for Chinese art that serves the people and their Party. This view of art was highly influential and informs the making of art in China to this day.

 

I became aware of Mao’s talks on literature and art through an episode of the Chinese Literature Podcast. A link to that episode is below.

 

Link to the text in Chinese:
https://www.marxists.org/chinese/maozedong/marxist.org-chinese-mao-194205.htm

 

Link to the text in English:
https://www.marxists.org/reference/archive/mao/selected-works/volume-3/mswv3_08.htm

 

Chinese Literature Podcast: “Art for the Masses: Mao Zedong’s Yan’An Lectures”
https://www.chineseliteraturepodcast.com/?p=493

 

Some statistics:
Characters read this year: 31,400
Characters left to read this year: 968,600
Percent of goal completed: 3.1%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)
《在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话》by 毛泽东  (18,276 characters)
 

murrayjames

986,876 Characters to Go

Today I finished reading the short story《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲. Like《三八节有感》, 《我在霞村的时候》was written by 丁玲 during her Yan'an period, and addresses the indignities Chinese women of the time faced from their countrymen. The story is told from the perspective of a writer who travels to Xia village from Yan'an to write and recuperate. Soon after the writer arrives, a commotion breaks out in the village. The commotion is due to the return of 贞贞, a young female villager who has been working as a Chinese spy and was abused by Japanese soldiers.

 

《我在霞村的时候》is not long; the story has about 10,750 Chinese characters. The language is not difficult either. 丁玲 writes in an undecorated prose style. She leaves many questions relevant to the story unexplored or unanswered. The result is an obviously moral tale that is nonetheless open to differing interpretations. Here is a link to the story: www.millionbook.com/mj/d/dingling/dlzp/003.htm

 

Up next for me is an article by 毛泽东. I will also continue with that far longer work I read parts of last year.

 

Some statistics:

Characters read this year: 13,124
Characters left to read this year: 986,876
Percent of goal completed: 1.3%

 

List of things read:
《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2,370 characters)
《我在霞村的时候》by 丁玲   (10,754 characters)

murrayjames

997,630 Characters to Go

In “The 2019 Aims and Objectives Progress Topic” thread, I recently resolved to read one million Chinese characters in books and articles this year. Our esteemed forum administrator @roddy reached out to ask if I would chronicle my attempt to do this through posts on this website. And here I am.

 

My goal is to read one million characters in 2019. To accomplish this will require reading 2,750 characters per day, or three to seven pages of text per day, on average. That is a manageable amount of reading. However, it could quickly become unmanageable if I am not diligent. 2019 will be a very busy year. To meet my goal, I will need to stay disciplined while facing many demands on my time.

 

So far, I have finished《三八节有感》, a short 1942 article by 丁玲 about the treatment of CPC women at Yan'an. That article contains 2,370 Chinese characters. I am currently reading a second article by 丁玲, as well as a far longer thing I started last year that will take several more months to complete.

 

It is hard to overstate how helpful this website and its denizens have been to my Chinese language learning. In twelve years of studying Chinese, I have found conversation, motivation, tools, tips, and answers to many questions here. Hopefully this series of posts will be helpful to other Chinese language learners like other Chinese language learners’ posts have been helpful to me.

 

Some statistics:

Characters read this year: 2,370
Characters left to read this year: 997,630
Percent of goal completed: 0.2%

 

List of things read:

《三八节有感》by 丁玲   (2370 characters)

×
×
  • Create New...