Tai Shan


Shanghai Launch: Voices of the Elders


The Shanghai launch of my third poetry collection, Voices of the Elders, was a lot of fun. A very good crowd showed up, and very diverse. On one end of the room, one of my current students (studying English) sat with her parents, on the other, my former Chinese language/literature/writing teacher sat with her soon-to-be-born child. In between were many friends who have worked with me on numerous projects or who I have met here and there over the years. One friend who I have known since university days 20-something years ago was able to attend the launch, and on the other end of that spectrum, there were new friends who I met on the day of the event. As I said, a diverse crowd, and I appreciated the support of each one.

I cannot say a big enough thank you to the day’s moderator, poet Miho Kinnas, for helping me prepare the presentation of the book to those who attended. She spent much time reading, thinking, discussing, and organizing things with me, and I am indebted to her for that kindness. She proved herself not only to be a reader that any poet would love to have, but also an excellent presenter of ideas, someone who can bring her engagement with a text to a crowd of people.

And of course, thanks are also due to Strictly Designers United for hosting the event. The space was perfect, and the generous support of the organizers was unbelievable. Shanghai is lucky to have an organization so dedicated to supporting the arts.

Below are a few photos from the event, contributed by several different participants.

Launch at Cool Docks


Don’t forget to make your way down to Wharf 1846 this afternoon for the launch of Voices of the Elders, my third poetry collection. The event is open to all, so come to Waima Lu, and feel free to bring your friends along.


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Moon Spotlight Beijing & Shanghai


My friend Susie Gordon has compiled a guide to China’s two most important cities, Moon Spotlight Beijing and Shanghai.  While I have not received my copy yet, I did get to have a look at it recently, and I really like the way it is put together.  It is slim and light enough to carry around, but also very informative.

You can pick up your copy from Amazon. It is available in hard cover or for the Kindle.


Book Discussion: Mishi Saran’s The Other Side of Light


I was at the Shanghai launch of Mishi Saran’s first novel The Other Side of Light a month or so ago.  When I heard later that she would be at the RAS Book Club discussion this week to talk about the book, I marked the date on my calendar and made it a point to be there.  I am very glad that I did, for the novel is truly stunning in its handling of the language, and Saran herself is such a pleasant conversationalist who eloquently discusses both the work itself and her own writing process.  It is a true joy to be around such a mind, and to see how generously she shares of herself with her readers.

You can get more information about the author and her book at her website.  The Other Side of Light is published by Harper Collins in India, and is available both on Saran’s and the publisher’s websites.  I highly recommend it.

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Shanghai Launch of Voices of the Elders


Everyone’s invited, so mark your calendar for 3 November, and come join us at Wharf 1846.

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Northern Girls: A Discussion



It has been a busy several weeks of literary discussions and events. Last night, I was honored to participate in the RAS book club, which was discussing Sheng Keyi’s Northern Girls. After the work I had put into translating the book last year, it was a real pleasure to hear the thoughts and insights of readers of the book’s English version. This was the first extended discussion I’ve had with a group of readers since the book was released in May, and it was intriguing to hear what these readers thought of the book. Some of the things that stood out for me included:

  • it’s hard not to love Qian Xiaohong and the other characters in the book
  • there are many things about Chinese culture that are challenging for foreigners to understand and/or accept, particularly in the interpersonal relationship department
  • the question of whether the book is a feminist text (or any other genre-marker you might want to employ) is not as important as the question of whether it is a good book
  • the notion of hope, joy, and happy endings is all a matter of perspective
  • I’m really glad we used the subtitle “Life Goes On” for the book; it was derived from the original title (《活下去》,changed to 《北妹》in later Chinese editions) and though it would not have worked as well as a catchy title, it serves as a good subtitled that captures an important aspect of what the book is all about
  • the book is deceptively light in the early going, but moves on to some weightier topics as it progresses; one reader had a rather specific turning point for the novel that comes in at the 3rd or 4th chapter
  • Northern Girls would make an excellent movie

I have been anticipating hearing feedback from real readers of the book, and the RAS Book Club was the perfect group to hear from.  I enjoyed their insights and appreciated the studied attention they gave the text.

A S Byatt in Shanghai


I’m very excited about my schedule for the evening. Tonight, A S Byatt and Wang Anyi will be speaking on “Contemporary Female Writers – UK and China.” I am very much looking forward to hearing what these two fine writers have to say.

The event will be held at the Grand Hall at the Bund. I believe you have to have reservations to attend, so I can’t guarantee there’s a spot for anyone who tries to show up last minute.

I will post more about the event at a later date. For now, it’s enough to say I’m really looking forward to it.

Li Na’s memoirs


I recently had the pleasure of reading the memoir of world-class tennis player, Li Na. Li is a colorful character, having made quite an impression on the Chinese public, and the world outside China’s borders as well.

The memoir centers around the title Li won at the 2011 French Open. It was an emotional, exhilarating time for her, and reading about her journey up to that point in her life is fun. The memoir is lively and funny, and also easy to read. It is not yet out in an English edition, but I have hopes that it might be one day.

For those who read Chinese, the book (titled 《独自上场》) is written in simple language and style, and can be taken in at one sitting.

The Tortilla Curtain


I finished reading T. C. Boyle’s The Tortilla Curtain over the weekend. I know what you must be thinking: “So what. This is your China-related blog, remember?”

OK, yes. I do remember that. But I also think this fine novel is relevant. The issues covered, including the wealth gap and the problem of migrant workers, are extremely relevant to the China situation. In fact, I found the book resonating with Sheng Keyi’s Northern Girls on many levels, though there are also some very clear differences between the way the two books handle common themes and issues.

If China’s migrant worker situation has any interest to you, Boyle’s novel might be worth picking up. No, it is not set in China, nor are there Chinese characters working out Chinese problems (other than a very minor role). But reading it might make you feel that we’re not so isolated in our own little world with our own little problems. The situation in China is not so unique as we are sometimes tempted to think, and reading book like The Tortilla Curtain can be a good reminder of that.

A plot without conflict?


A plot without conflict? How is that possible? Of course, those of us who have been raised on Western literature know that it is not.

But we are wrong in this assumption. In Chinese and Japanese literature, there is a type of plot that is not based on conflict.

Sounds crazy right? Well, I’ve just come across an amazing article that does a pretty good job not only of explaining this narrative structure, but also of demonstrating how it can poke some holes in a number of other assumptions we who are products of the Western model of education and thought make about writing, philosophy, and life. I think I will be reading it again soon (and probably a couple of more times after that), and taking a good deal of time in the upcoming months to process it all.

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