2012/13 season > Chinglish > Engaging asides
From the phenomenon of Chinglish to the Cultural Revolution, the history of China, films and fiction, this lengthy list compiled by our literary department will satisfy your curiosity of many things Chinese.
Fiction authors to investigate
- The Chinglish phenomenon of hilariously mistranslated phrases, especially in Chinese signage, has long delighted English-speaking tourists. The New York Times compiled photographs of some particularly amusing phrases.
A big mis-read of Chinese text
- In fairness to the mishaps of Chinese translators, it’s important to remember that mistranslations abound in every culture, as featured in this article about a prestigious magazine that accidentally published an advertisement for a Chinese brothel as its cover art (an incident referred to in the play).
- Chinglish laughs at language, but it also celebrates the unique beauty of each language and how it expresses a culture’s unique sensibilities. An exploration of Chinese proverbs demonstrates both the simplicity of Mandarin characters and the brilliant imagery of original phrases that often have an equivalent in English idiom. For example, while the literal translation of the proverb, “If anyone spits in your face, let it drip dry” may seem odd, it roughly corresponds to, “Turn the other cheek.”
Timeline of 20th-century China
- Last year marked the 90th anniversary of the founding of the Communist Party of China in 1921. Although Americans may be most familiar with the controversies and policies of Mao Zedong, China in the 20th century has witnessed a number of landmark events outlined in this Reuters timeline.
Survey—Who leads the world’s economy?
- As China now looms as an international economic powerhouse, countries are split on whether they consider the U.S. or China to be #1 in international economics, while both nations believe the other holds the top spot.
Modern business in China
- China’s switch to a socialist market economy—which has allowed private enterprise since 1978 while still having the communist government direct the country’s growth—may seem a contradiction in terms to those of us still used to a “capitalism versus communism” mentality. However, the Chinese government’s dedication to promoting business has helped catalyze a boom of businesses moving to China in the last 20 years.
Communists on Wall Street
- For many young Chinese entrepreneurs, like the ones profiled in this Guardian article from 2008, the philosophies of communist politics and capitalist financing are easily compatible.
A modern matchmaker
- Another major shift in Chinese culture is the role of marriage, which has transitioned from a history of marriages arranged by families or approved by the government to become an increasingly private and personal choice. In this video, an unexpected matchmaker discusses the goals and challenges of finding love in modern China.
Love on the Global Brain
- Do all cultures experience love the same way? After exploring how the different words used by Chinese and Americans to describe love indicate different cultural expectations, scientists got to the bottom of the matter by tracking the brain’s response to love in this article from The New York Times.
F.O.B. and Other Plays by David Henry Hwang (Dec 30, 1989)
- For more of playwright David Henry Hwang’s work, check out this collection of his early plays. More recent works include Golden Child, Yellow Face, M. Butterfly and Flower Drum Song.
Chinglish: Found in Translation by Oliver Lutz Radtke
- If you enjoyed the delightful and revealing Chinglish signage in the play, then this picture book of mistranslated signs will tickle your funny bone and your brain.
Lonely Planet Signspotting: Absurd & Amusing Signs from Around the World by Doug Lansky
- China is not the only place with entertaining signs for tourists. This Lonely Planet book compiles photos of humorous translations from around the globe.
China Road: A Journey into the Future of a Rising Power by Rob Gifford
- Rob Gifford, a reporter for the National Public Radio, tells the story of his 3,000-mile journey along Route 312, the Chinese equivalent of Route 66 that stretches from Shanghai to the border of Kazakhstan. Along the way he meets people from all walks of life, and charts China’s contemporary rise to power.
Land Without Ghosts: Chinese Impressions of America from the Mid-Nineteenth Century to the Present by R. David Arkush and Leo O. Lee
- This collection of journal entries from Chinese visitors to the U.S. offers a fascinating perspective on American politics and culture.
Foreign Babes in Beijing: Behind the Scenes of a New China by Rachel DeWoskin
- Feeling lost after graduation, author Rachel DeWoskin packed up her college Mandarin and moved to Beijing. In this true-life account, she describes with vivid detail her experiences acting in a Chinese soap opera and navigating life as a foreigner in one of China’s biggest cities.
Serve the People! by Yan Lianke (translated by Julia Lovell)
- Set during the Cultural Revolution, Yan Lianke’s controversial debut novel describes the steamy love affair between a Division Commander’s wife and a family servant.
China: A Fragile Superpower by Susan L. Shirk
- Author Susan L. Shirk, a former deputy assistant secretary of state responsible for China, offers a fascinating assessment of China’s contemporary leaders and the delicate lines they walk between upholding a weakening communist regime, riding the wave of China’s astronomical economic growth and appeasing citizens who long for greater political openness.
A Contest for Supremacy: China, America, and the Struggle for Mastery in Asia by Aaron L. Friedberg
- This provocative book investigates the current complex relationship between the U.S. and China. While economically dependent on one another, their political and cultural ideologies often clash, making for an uneasy partnership and intense rivalry between the two countries.
A Thousand Years of Good Prayers by Yiyun Li
- A collection of short stories by Yiyun Li, an award-winning author who grew up in Beijing and moved to the U.S. for a master’s degree. A MacArthur Fellow whose work has been published in the New York Times and the Best American Short Stories anthology, Yiyun Li lives in the Bay Area and teaches at UC Davis.
fiction authors to investigate
- American writer Amy Tan has written many best-selling novels such as The Joy Luck Club, The Bonesetter’s Daughter and Saving Fish From Drowning. Her work explores cross-cultural identities and mother-daughter relationships, among other subjects.
- Perhaps most well-known for his semi-autobiographical novel Balzac and the Little Chinese Seamstress, Dai Sijie is also an accomplished film director. After going to France on a scholarship, he decided to remain permanently, writing in French and living in Paris.
- In his early teens, Ha Jin was a member of the People’s Liberation Army before discovering a love of literature. He was on a scholarship at Brandeis during the Tiananmen Square protest, and decided to remain in the U.S. He writes exclusively in English, with a number of poetry collections (Ways of Talking, Wreckage), short story collections (Ocean of Words, A Good Fall, The Bridegroom) and novels (Nanjing Requiem, A Free Life, In the Pond) to his name.
- Born in China, Anchee Min worked as a film actress in Shanghai before ultimately settling in San Francisco. A visual artist, musician and writer, Anchee Min has written a memoir, Red Azalea, and a number of novels including Becoming Madame Mao and The Last Empress.
M. Butterfly (DVD)
- Chinglish playwright David Henry Hwang once again combines Western and Chinese culture in this film, adapted from his play, based on the true story of an incredibly naïve French government official who falls in love with a Chinese opera star.
Lost in Translation (DVD)
- The lives and loneliness of two Westerners abroad is explored in this film starring Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson. From their first encounter at a hotel bar, the disillusioned actor and the young wife turn to each other in an attempt to navigate the streets of Tokyo and the confusion of their own lives.
China from the Inside (DVD)
- This PBS documentary explores modern Chinese life in four segments, following the roles of communism, women, industrialization and freedom of expression.
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