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skylee
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On 12/17/2021 at 6:38 AM, 黄有光 said:

To me that sounds like a miserable reading experience.

 

To be fair, I've only encountered one story that totally confused me. I would actually recommend this book to people who are in the "late intermediate" or "early advanced" stages of reading skill and are looking for an easy book to read. The book has a lot of puzzling ideas hidden in it, but it's quite readable on the vocabulary and grammar level. Sometimes the absurdity of the stories becomes amusing.

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I have once again found a worthy challenge in Huo Da's "Funeral of a Muslim" book. It's really challenging, but not so challenging that I want to throw the book across the room and give up. Just like my prior experience with Wang Anyi's book, it's the descriptions of architecture, decor, landscaping, plants, specialty foods, and historical references that really get me. Huo Da's book describes a Beijing Muslim family that is the heir of a multigenerational jade carving trade (so there are ornate descriptions of all the tools used in jade carving, how the process works, what kinds of things can be made with Jade, etc.) and also lives in a siheyuan complex (so there's a very technical description of the layout of their house and courtyard, which assumes the reader has a prior knowledge of how siheyuans work).

After my second reading session with the book (I try to read 10 pages at a time), my hands were shaking from the sheer tedium of hacking through the dense vocabulary. So what to do? I reacquainted myself with a dear old friend, the Pleco reader (with pop-up definitions and the "add to flashcards" feature), which wonderfully cuts my time spent by up to 50%. It's a guilty pleasure, and it feels really great. I've read 7 books with it, then 12 books without it. And for these next few really tough books, I'm just swallowing my pride and going back to using it.

 

Despite the rocky beginning, I'm really liking the story so far. It's shaping up to be a fine book.

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I love reading historical / cultural content in English, but I find those very hard to read in Chinese.  Something about reading about culture / history X described in language Y where neither X nor Y are familiar. 

 

I end up having to first translate all the names into English, so I can at least figure out if the names & places in X are names & places I already know of, or not. 

 

E.g. I felt it in 撒哈拉的故事, where I kept distracted by whether some African or Spanish name, place or historical event was something I'd heard of before or not.  I don't know if it's the same problem that you're having but I can see myself getting similarly bewildered when reading about Muslim Jade trade in Chinese.

 

Otherwise I'd probably start reading a bunch of 3rd country history on Chinese Wikipedia, something I can waste away hours on English Wikipedia.

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On 12/26/2021 at 11:30 PM, phills said:

I end up having to first translate all the names into English, so I can at least figure out if the names & places in X are names & places I already know of, or not. 

 

Yeah, that gets interesting for me, too! I also read Stories of the Sahara, and San Mao uses so many non-Chinese terms in it. At first, I'm just looking at a string of Chinese characters that look like an entire phrase, and I can't fathom what it could possibly mean. Then I realize the characters are being used phonetically, and it's actually a foreign word.

That happens sometimes in the Muslim book I'm reading (although not as much, because the locale is in Beijing, rather than Africa). I spent a lot of time pondering one particular string of characters, and then it suddenly hit me--OH, this phrase isn't Chinese. It's the "As-salamu Alaykum" greeting that Muslims use. But if I hadn't known about that phrase already, how would I have ever guessed, at least without putting my book down and using Google or some such thing?

 

Even in the Chinese context, I run into obscure names of Emperors, and each emperor's reign has a special name, and then there are names of dynasties, military campaigns, etc. 

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Nudged by the convo, I finally decided to install a Browser Plug-in to do instant pop-up translations.  Strangely, I'd avoided this up to now, as I thought it would impede my reading improvement, because it's somehow "cheating". 

 

Lo and behold... Chinese wikipedia is a lot more enjoyable!  The reduction of a lookup from 10 seconds to 1 second makes all the difference.  It's vaguely dismaying though how many look ups I have to do for a history article. 


E.g. I was just randomly looking up some history topic and ended up reaching  https://zh.wikipedia.org/zh-cn/察举.  I could barely read 2 sentences without being baffled.  Thus deciding to try the Browser Plug-in. 

 

Incidentally, is that something an average 12 yr old Chinese kid can read, or would they find it mind numbingly boring and thus not be able to read it? I'm not talking about your A student over-achievers, but your C skating-by-kids (if such kids exist in the Chinese education system).

 

Anyways, I'm going to see if I can now get myself addicted to Chinese wikipedia.  I figure some of it is just getting used to style & jargon.

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Happy new year!  After the holiday break, I'm getting back to my reading routine.  I'm now reading 棋王 by 阿城, as suggested by @Publius.

 

I'll also give my belated review of 圆月弯刀.  I really liked the set-up, but I didn't like how it was resolved.  I thought the book climaxed about a third of the way in, but then the author didn't have a good way to resolve the plot, and it meandered after that.  Lots of interesting possibilities were set up, but the 2nd half didn't do a great finishing them off.  But the beginning part was great and really drew me in.

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  • 2 weeks later...

I picked up 神医嫡女 by 杨十六 last week as an audiobook (does that sort of count as reading?), it's about a 21st century Chinese & western doctor who dies in an accident and and finds herself transmigrated into an alternate historical time period. It's a popular troupe in the webnovel world.

I‘m actually also reading 撒野 by 巫哲, which I started about a month ago because many people on a Chinese Discord server started it so decided to join in the bangwangon. I'm almost at the end of this book.

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I'm re-reading a Japanese novel 有頂天家族 Uchouten Kazoku a.k.a. The Eccentric Family by 森見登美彦 Morimi Tomihiko. I absolutely love his style. It's a mixture of highfalutin classical phraseology and mundane modern silliness. Take for example a phrase which appears repeatedly in the book: 阿呆の血のしからしむるところだ. 阿呆 is the Kansai counterpart of 馬鹿, meaning a fool, a stupid person or behavior. The verbal part is 然り 'to be so' combined with しむ a causative suffix 'to make happen', mostly used in translating classical Chinese literature. So this phrase means 傻瓜之血所使然也. The protagonist's hedonistic motto 面白きことは良きことなり 'Fun things are good things' is also formulated using the classical grammar. The story, although a bit long-winded, is fun to read. Both this book and its sequel have been adapted into animated series. Here's the Prologue of the novel for those interested (English translation courtesy of Mochiguma Translations):

 

 桓武天皇の御代、万葉の地をあとにして、大勢の人間たちが京都へ乗りこんできた。

    During the reign of Emperor Kammu, vast multitudes left behind the land of the Manyōshū and poured into Kyōto.
 彼らは都を築き、産み増え、政権を争い、神を畏れ、仏にすがり、絵を描き、歌を詠み、刃をきらめかせて合戦し、ついに火を放って街を焼いたかと思えば、飽かずに再建し、また産み増え、商いに精を出し、学問をたのしみ、太平の世を満喫し、四隻の蒸気船に仰天したとたん、うっかり火を放ってまた街を焼き、「文明開化」を合い言葉に懲りずに再建し、やがて来たる戦争の時代を乗り越え、笑ったかと思えば泣き、泣いたかと思えば笑い、色々あって現代に至った。
    These people raised the capital, multiplied in number, struggled for dominance, paid reverence to the gods, made entreaties to the Buddhas, painted pictures, composed poems, clashed swords, and no sooner had they set fire to the city than they [tirelessly] rebuilt it, multiplied once more, toiled unceasingly at the wheels of commerce, diverted themselves with the pursuit of knowledge, and revelled in an age of peace, but were terrified at the arrival of the four Black Ships, and in their confusion once again burned down the city, and with “Westernization” as the slogan of the day, paid no heed to their past mistakes but once again rebuilt the city, passed through the [forthcoming] war years, came to tears on the cusp of laughter and laughter on the cusp of tears, and thus it has been up to the present day.
 桓武天皇が王城の地をさだめてより千二百年。
    Twelve hundred years have passed since Emperor Kammu established the seat of his imperial authority.
 今日、京都の街には百五十万の人間たちが暮らすという。
    Presently, over 1.5 million people live in the city of Kyōto.
 だが待て、しばし。
    But hold, a moment.

 平家物語において、ミヤコ狭しと暴れ廻る武士や貴族や僧侶のうち、三分の一は狐であって、もう三分の一は狸である。残る三分の一は狸が一人二役で演じたそうだ。そうなると平家物語は人間のものではなく、我々の物語であると断じてよい。皆の者、誇りをもって高らかに宣言しよう。人間の歴史に狸が従属するのではない、人間が我らの歴史に従属するのだ。
    Of the warriors and nobles and monks who run amok through the narrow confines of the capital in The Tale of the Heike, one-third are foxes, and another third are tanuki. The remaining third are the tanuki merely masquerading as humans. This being the case, it is obvious to see that The Tale of the Heike is not a human tale, but really a tale of us tanuki. Young and old, great and small, be ye proud to declaim this truth far and wide! It is not our history that rides the coattails of the history of mankind, but their history that clings to ours!
 という大法螺を吹き、偽史を書き散らす長老がいた。
    ...or so some old windbag once claimed, in a feeble attempt at rewriting history.
 言うまでもなく狸である。
    Naturally, he was a tanuki.
 彼はあまりにも毛だらけで、もはや長老というより、知恩寺阿弥陀堂裏に転がったふはふはの毛玉であった。先年、誰も気づかぬうちにまがうことなきホンモノの毛玉になっており、いつの間にか白玉楼中の狸となっていたことは記憶に新しい。
    He was so hirsute that he resembled less an old, venerable tanuki than a fluffy ball of fur rolling about behind the Amida Hall in Chionji, and the memory is still fresh in my mind of how several years ago, [without anyone noticing,] he really did turn into a motionless [an unmistakable real] ball of fur and died a poet’s death.
 平家物語云々は老い先短い毛玉の見た夢にすぎないとしても、今日もなお、洛中には大勢の狸たちが地を這って暮らしている。ときには人間に交じって右往左往する。かつて平家物語の端役を演じたように、狸はいつだって人間をまねたがる。
    Perhaps this stuff about The Tale of the Heike was no more than the fancy of a short-lived [an ancient] furball [who had few years left to live], but nevertheless it remains a fact now more than ever that the grounds of the capital [still] teem with tanuki. At times they hobnob with the humans, dashing this way and that. Tanuki are always seeking to imitate humans, as if reprising background roles in The Tale of the Heike.
 狸と人間はこの街の歴史をともに作ってきた――そう語る狸もある。
    Withal, there are some tanuki who claim that the history of this city was created by tanuki and humans, paw in hand.
 だが待て、しばし。
    But hold, a moment.

 王城の地を覆う天界は、古来、我らの縄張りであった。

    Since time immemorial, the skies above the palace have been our domain.
 我らは天空を自在に飛行し、その天狗的威厳を発揮して下界へ遍く唾を吐き、地を這って暮らす有象無象どもを手玉に取ってきた。人間というものは己が功績を大げさに吹聴し、まるで己の腕一本で歴史を練り上げてきたようなツラをする。ちゃんちゃらおかしい。笑ってやる。たとえ狸たちの毛深い手を借りたとて、吹けば飛ぶような人間風情に何ができよう。いかなる天災も動乱も、魔道に生きる我らの意のままである。国家の命運は我らが掌中にあり。
    We soar through the firmament as we please, displaying the supremacy of the tengu far and wide, raining contempt and spittle wheresoever we please. The rabble who crawl along the surface of the earth below are but subjects at our beck and call. Humans chunter on about [trumpet] their accomplishments, looking smug as you please, as if [they single-handedly shaped] the whole of history was written by their paltry, paper-thin efforts. An absurd proposition! Laughable! Even had the tanuki lent them a furry hand, what could the likes of humans hope to accomplish? Magickal creatures that we are, disasters and catastrophes are ours to command. The fate of the realm lies wholly within our hands.
 街を取り囲む山々の頂きを仰ぎ見よ。天界を住処とする我らを畏れ敬え。
    Look up to the mountaintops that surround the city. Fear us! Honor us! We who abide in the skies!
 ということを傲然と言ってのける者がいた。
    ...or so someone once haughtily declared.
 言うまでもなく、天狗である。
    Naturally, he was a tengu.

 人間は街に暮らし、狸は地を這い、天狗は天空を飛行する。
 平安遷都この方続く、人間と狸と天狗の三つ巴。
 それがこの街の大きな車輪を廻している。
 天狗は狸に説教を垂れ、狸は人間を化かし、人間は天狗を畏れ敬う。天狗は人間を拐かし、人間は狸を鍋にして、狸は天狗を罠にかける。
 そうやってぐるぐる車輪は廻る。

    Humans live in the city, tanuki creep along the ground, tengu soar the skies. This triumvirate has co-existed since the capital was established in Heian [relocated to ancient Kyōto], and so the wheel continues to turn. Tengu lecture tanuki, tanuki impersonate [bewitch] humans, humans fear and venerate tengu; tengu spirit away humans, humans make tanuki into stew, tanuki catch tengu in their traps; round and round it goes.
 廻る車輪を眺めているのが、どんなことより面白い。
    Nothing interests me more than watching this wheel spin round.

 私はいわゆる狸であるが、ただ一介の狸であることを潔しとせず、天狗に遠く憧れて、人間をまねるのも大好きだ。

    I myself am a tanuki, but not content with that lowly station, I find admiring [admire] the tengu from afar[,] and [find] imitating humans to be great fun.

 したがって我が日常は目まぐるしく、退屈しているひまがない。
    And that means there’s never a dull moment to be had in my hectic, exhilarating life.

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On 12/13/2021 at 9:14 PM, PerpetualChange said:

Picked up 蕭十一郎  by 古龍.

Aaaand done. 

 

Good one, actually. Some of the usual quirks (tons of loose ends, meandering plot, characters that aren't very important, no "big picture") but to be quite honest I was totally entertained for all 500ish pages. So not bad. Could very well  be that I'm more of a 古龍 guy than a 金庸 guy. 

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  • 2 weeks later...

 

I was browsing through amazon.cn and dangdang.cn for books I would be interested in. I noticed the majority of "bestsellers" were translations of foreign books. When I googled "best Chinese fiction books of the last century" or skimmed threads such as this one, I came across 活着 and the usual suspects. However, the number of great books appears very limited. 

 

Is my impression wrong that there are not that many great Chinese books (by Chinese authors)? I mean if I go to amazon.com or goodreads.com I will probably find more amazing books than I could every finish in a life time.  Also, in English there are some decent "popcorn writers" (i.e. not brilliant from a language or literary point of view, but enjoyable reads). Are there no John Grishams, Tom Clancys, Bill Brisons or Steven Kings in China? If so, why? There are 1.5 billion Chinese world-wide...

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Is my impression wrong that there are not that many great Chinese books (by Chinese authors)?

 

There must be some list somewhere in China of current prizewinning books that their critics feel are high quality and likely to last.  Maybe look up lists of Chinese novels that have been translated into Western languages?  Some years back I read (in English) "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" and liked it a lot.

 

Granted that novels translated into English or German would be deemed interesting for Western tastes, but still, they tend to indicate novels that were successful and perhaps critically acclaimed first in the other language.  The way this often works is that literary agents from all over the world meet at the annual Frankfurt Book Fair and make translation deals based on sales figures, movie deals, synopses, translation of sample chapters and reviews from the home country.

 

How about lists like these:

https://booksandbao.com/chinese-novels-in-translation/ (then tracking down the Chinese originals)

 

And looking up Chinese literary awards yields:

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I've been looking for a NYT bestseller's list equivalent for Chinese books for a while.  The closest I've found so far, in terms of accessibility at least is:

 

https://book.douban.com/annual/2021?source=navigation#13

 

That seems like a reasonable list of top mass-market books of the year.  And you can go back to previous years, by replacing 2021 with 2020, 2019 etc. 

 

I'm also curious as to who the John Grishams and Steven Kings of China are.  I'm not necessarily looking for artistic reputation, but just popular works that lots of people have read or heard of. 

 

Maybe the book industry in China hasn't developed in the same way to push mass-market author superstars like in the U.S.  Although even in the U.S. that might be a remnant of the late 20th century ... the 21st century hasn't really made the same number of authors into mass-market household names.  Middlebrow has been called "The Taste that Dares not Speak its Name" :)

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On 2/7/2022 at 10:36 AM, Moshen said:

There must be some list somewhere in China of current prizewinning books that their critics feel are high quality and likely to last.  Maybe look up lists of Chinese novels that have been translated into Western languages?  Some years back I read (in English) "Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress" and liked it a lot.

 

My impression is those either are praised for the literary value and/or they are critising China. Currently, I would be more interested in apolitical, suspenseful crime/thriller/mystery books that are so engaging they keep you reading. I know there are probably tons of wuxia novels, but this is not my current interest.

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I would be more interested in apolitical, suspenseful crime/thriller/mystery books that are so engaging they keep you reading.

Here are a few:

 

https://crimefictionlover.com/tag/chinese-crime-fiction/

 

And from https://www.theguardian.com/books/2007/aug/27/top10s.asian.crime these:

1. Death of a Red Heroine by Qiu Xiaolong

Qiu is a Chinese writer now living in America. His Detective Chen is an inspector in the Shanghai police force. When a female model worker is found dead, Detective Chen investigates, and the trail leads him onto dangerous political ground. The book has a gentle feel to it which makes the violence of murder even more shocking. It is a vivid description of present day Shanghai, and the satisfying ending is utterly believable.

2. Playing For Thrills by Wang Shuo

Wang Shuo was one of the inventors of so-called hooligan literature. It tore into Chinese conventions by romanticising the lives of young people who had no interest in politics. Wang Shuo writes Chinese literature's version of punk, often described as gritty and sarcastic, and his work is frequently banned. Playing for Thrills has narrator Fang Yan trying to clear himself of a murder he may - or may not, he's not quite sure - have committed a decade earlier.

I think #1 was written in English but it has a Chinese translation.

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On 2/7/2022 at 3:37 AM, phills said:

I've been looking for a NYT bestseller's list equivalent for Chinese books for a while.

 

I personally like to use the Weixin Dushu app to browse books and sometimes buy the digital edition (so I can read it on my phone through Pleco, and not have to worry about the 错字 and other issues that exist in downloaded .txt files). They have some helpful "Top 200" lists: https://weread.qq.com/web/category/all 
 

I'm usually looking for native Chinese content, and unfortunately, a high proportion of popular books in China seem to be translations of English and Japanese books, as others here have noticed.

 

On 2/7/2022 at 2:07 AM, Jan Finster said:

Is my impression wrong that there are not that many great Chinese books (by Chinese authors)? I mean if I go to amazon.com or goodreads.com I will probably find more amazing books than I could every finish in a life time. 


I've thought a lot about that, too. It's such a huge country, and yet sometimes the book market doesn't feel terribly accessible. I'm left thinking, "Where are all the books? I know they exist! Where are they?" Somebody helpfully suggested going through a Taobao agent (there seems to be a lot more books available there). I got most of my books from Amazon, where the choices are very, very limited, and the books cost significantly more than they would in Mainland China. I got a decent collection of popular modern books, but it just doesn't feel like the vast ocean of choices that Western book markets enjoy. I would try to look things up on Google, like, "Modern Chinese literary classics" and other such things, and I get really odd lists built by non-Chinese people that seem to favor politically controversial and/or banned books, or non-Chinese books about China, or English translations of Chinese books that are not easy to get. Not terribly helpful.

Edit: I'm sure a lot of us crave lists like these, which are very easy to find for English novels, but harder to find for Chinese ones:

https://oxfordsummercourses.com/articles/books-for-english-literature-students-to-read/
https://www.penguin.co.uk/articles/2018/100-must-read-classic-books.html

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I've thought a lot about that, too. It's such a huge country, and yet sometimes the book market doesn't feel terribly accessible.

 

I've hesitated to mention this, because it sounds like I'm just culturally short sighted, but when I spent a month in China in late 2019, I did not once see anyone reading a printed book.  Not once!  On the subways and trains people would be bent over their phones, and of course I couldn't be sure what had on their phones, but I got the impression it was social media, games, news and the like, not books.  By comparison, when I've been at an American beach during the same time period, a good one-third to one-half of the beachgoers are either reading a book or have a book visible next to them.

 

Does anyone have any statistics on the extent to which Chinese people actually read books?  Could it be that they're not that big on literature?

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On 2/7/2022 at 10:21 AM, Moshen said:

Does anyone have any statistics on the extent to which Chinese people actually read books?  Could it be that they're not that big on literature?

 I wish I still had the link to this information (maybe it was actually discussed on this forum), but I recall somebody saying that Chinese authors are paid much less money than Western authors (which disincentivizes people from choosing writing as a career), and that Chinese people tend to be more pragmatic than recreational in their reading choices—they mostly read for school, work, etc. My Chinese friends might take note of the books I’m reading and say, “Oh, yes! That’s a very famous classic in China.” But they don’t have time or desire to read those books, opting to focus on their career/academic research, and to consume as much English content as possible.

 

Actually, I read an (English) interview with Yu Hua, who also said that he had no interest in Chinese fiction. He just reads Western books. Ha!

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On 2/7/2022 at 7:10 PM, Woodford said:

But they don’t have time or desire to read those books, opting to focus on their career/academic research, and to consume as much English content as possible.

 

Actually, I read an (English) interview with Yu Hua, who also said that he had no interest in Chinese fiction. He just reads Western books. Ha!


How is this different from what you're doing? 😜


 

 

On 2/7/2022 at 6:21 PM, Moshen said:

I've hesitated to mention this, because it sounds like I'm just culturally short sighted, but when I spent a month in China in late 2019, I did not once see anyone reading a printed book.  Not once!  On the subways and trains people would be bent over their phones, and of course I couldn't be sure what had on their phones, but I got the impression it was social media, games, news and the like, not books.  By comparison, when I've been at an American beach during the same time period, a good one-third to one-half of the beachgoers are either reading a book or have a book visible next to them.


Interesting. Just last week one of my tutors commented that she sees a lot of people in Europe reading in trains, busses, etc., that Chinese people don't read that much, and that she had read somewhere that Europeans read the most in the world or something like that. Her working theory was that the mobile reception is so bad that people read books instead of social media...

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