Tai Shan


Upcoming Events at the Suzhou Bookworm


I got an announcement of these Sunday brunches at the Suzhou Bookworm, in conjunction with the RAS in Suzhou, and thought I would post them here for anyone who might like to join in these events in the next couple of months:


Sunday, November 18, 2012
In November Anne Witchard comes to Suzhou to discuss one of China’s greatest modern writers, Lao She. Anne is author of Lao She, London and China’s Literary Revolution. His life and work have been the subject of volumes of critique, analysis and study. However, the four years the young aspiring writer spent in London between 1924-1929 have largely been overlooked. Anne Witchard, a specialist in the modernist milieu of London between the wars, reveals Lao She’s encounter with British high modernism and literature from Dickens to Conrad to Joyce.

Anne Witchard is Lecturer in the Department of English, Linguistics and Cultural Studies, University of Westminster. She is the author of Thomas Burke’s Dark Chinoiserie: Limehouse Nights and the Queer Spell of Chinatown (Ashgate Publishing, 2009), co-editor with Lawrence Phillips of London Gothic: Place, Space and the Gothic Imagination (Continuum, 2010) and editor of Chinoiserie and Modernism (Edinburgh University Press, 2012).


Sunday, December 9, 2012
Bill Dodson discusses China’s history of invention and when and why it all stopped – and if it will ever restart again. Bill is the author most recently ofChina Fast Forward: The Technologies, Green Industries and Innovations Driving the Mainland’s Future (Wiley, August 2012), and of China Inside Out: 10 Irreversible Trends Re-shaping China and Its Relationship with the World (Wiley, 2011). He writes the Energy and Environment column for the China Economic Review.
ALL EVENTS AT THE SUZHOU BOOKWORM: tell your taxi driver the intersection of Wu Que Qiao and Shi Quan Jie.
Or, take the subway to the Lindun Lu stop in downtown Suzhou and take a 10 minute ride by pedicab or five-minute taxi ride to the Bookworm. It’s a fifteen minute walk due south from the Lindun Lu subway station: Gongyuan Lu (across from the old Sofitel Hotel – now Marco Polo), cross Shi Zi Jie to Wu Que Qiao. The Bookworm will be on your left at the intersection of Wu Que Qiao and Shi Quan Jie.
30 rmb for students; 50 rmb for members; 90 rmb for non-members. Includes one glass of wine or beer (meals not included). For more information or membership applications, contact Bill Dodson at bdodson88@gmail.com.

He Yuan, Yangzhou – one more special feature


Alongside the famed double-level corridor in He Yuan, I really loved this feature.  What you see at the opposite end of the pond is not a window, but a mirror.  I am standing behind the rockery framed there.

Scenes from He Yuan, Yangzhou


Alongside the famous Ge Yuan, Yangzhou is home to another beautiful garden, He Yuan.  It is quite different from its better-known cousin, most known for its double-layered corridor, which offers views of the garden from a great variety of angles.

I love the way it sets up these sorts of framings:

White Deer Plain


The art film White Deer Plain, adapted from the Chen Zhongshi novel of the same name, is showing on screens in the Mainland now.  I managed to catch it last week, and am glad I watched it on the big screen.  The visual impact was quite powerful, though, like this reviewer, I thought it lacked emotional access points.  The plot is a little confusing because of the shifting points of view, but if you pay attention, it’s not too hard to follow.

I have not read the novel, but have heard that the film focuses on a small part of the overall story.  I am tempted to get the book and read it, but I know it is very long and would be a real challenge for me.  The film, though, has done enough to capture my interest to the point that I think it might be worth working my way through the novel.

The scenes from Shaanxi and the traditional opera that is featured in the film are both magnificent.  If you are a fan of art films, it would be worth sitting through the 2 1/2 hours of White Deer Plain.  If you are not familiar with modern Chinese history, you might want to read over the events.  Knowing what was going on in history during the timeframe of the film will make it a much more enjoyable viewing experience.

One more batch from Ge Yuan


I used this lotus flower as a reference point to snap some pictures of the summer mountain scene Ge Yuan. I thought it would be nice to include these here as well as the earlier shots of the garden.





The lotus is one of my favorite flowers to come across in Chinese gardens, thanks to its rich symbolism.

More from Ge Yuan, Yangzhou


Because now is the season for guihua, I just can’t resist adding these photos:





Photos from Ge Yuan, Yangzhou – The Seasons


Ge Yuan is known as one of the four greatest gardens in China.  Its central feature is the seasons rockeries.  Surrounding a pavilion and waterway that sit at the center, there are four different scenes that trace the seasons of the year, using different colored rocks and different types of plants.  Walking through is like walking from one season to the next.  It is quite a lovely effect.

Here’s the summer rockery:


And autumn:


This is winter (notice the floor tiles, which simulate cracked ice):


And here is the spring section, where this hall sits surrounded by stone formations in the shapes of the 12 animals of the Chinese zodiac:

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.

The Voice of China


When I first moved to Singapore 20 years ago, I very quickly got used to the fact that a large part of Chinese television programming consists of music competitions, variety shows, and live onstage performances. Traveling about Asia, I found this same tendency toward live performance was a preference in television programming throughout the Chinese-speaking world. When reality TV came along decade or so later, shows such as American Idol and other competitions fit right into the tastes of Chinese audiences, and many programs were launched that were either franchises or imitations of those reality-TV competitions in the West.

When I got back to China last month, then, I was not at all surprised to find that The Voice of China was the thing everyone was watching. For those not familiar with The Voice programs, it is a singing contest that began in Dutch television, and has gradually begun spreading to other countries, gaining some real traction in the Ukraine and, if I am not mistaken, the US. The contests is judged by 4 professional singers who also act as coaches to a team of fourteen performers that they choose from a pool of musicians who come to audition. Each of those four teams of fourteen is slowly whittled down to seven, then four, and so on until there is one representative of each team that competes head to head against the others.

As I said, China’s fanatical following of a program of this nature has not surprised me at all. It fits the bill perfectly for the kind of show that seems to catch on very well in East and Southeast Asia. What has been a big surprise to me, though, is the quality of performances we’ve seen on the show. I’m a particular fan of the jazz singer Wang Yunyi. She has a fantastic voice, and her grasp of jazz as a genre has been a very pleasant surprise to me. I hope she wins the whole thing (though I never have any confidence in the voting public on such things — my favorites rarely win, no matter what country it is doing the voting).

I’m not a reality TV fan at all, nor have I ever picked up Asia’s liking for variety shows and music contests. That said, I’m enjoying seeing some good music performances during the current The Voice of China craze. I think you can catch most of the earlier episodes online, if you want to get a peek at some of the musical talent China is producing at the grassroots level.

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.

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