1. A trackback on Peter Hessler’s recent China Beat photo essay, “Behind the Wheel, About to Snap” led us to this Spanish-language review of his latest book, Country Driving. If you don’t read Spanish, there’s a button on the page that takes you to a Google translation of the review; while the translation hits a few potholes along the way, it’s a generally good rendition of a perceptive and well-written overview of Hessler’s book.
The site at which the review appears, ZaiChina, is new to the China blog scene; only a few weeks old, it aims to provide readers in Spain and Latin America with a window into what’s going on in China today, and translates articles from the Chinese press into Spanish. Among the first few stories posted at ZaiChina are the following titles: “Todos Contra el Hukou” (“All Against the Hukou”), “Educación o fútbol, ¿qué mejorará antes?” (“Education or Soccer, What Will Improve First?”), and “El mendigo más guapo de China” (“The Most Handsome Beggar in China”).
2. We also stumbled across this partial translation of a post originally written in Chinese that discusses some of the many China-oriented books on the market today. The author flags Peter Hessler’s work, as well as Lisa See’s nonfiction-influenced fiction (her most recent book is Shanghai Girls), and Jeff Wasserstrom’s writing, including his forthcoming China in the 21st Century: What Everyone Needs to Know.
3. Francophone China Beat readers can now enjoy a translation of Ken Pomeranz’s The Great Divergence: China, Europe, and the Making of the Modern World Economy. Une Grande Divergence was released by publisher Albin Michel this week, and can be purchased at sites such as Bibliosurf.com
4. Late last year, web magazine The Quarterly Conversation ran a feature titled “Translate This Book!,” in which writers (and others in the publishing industry) were asked to name the book that they’d most like to see translated into English. Andrea Lingenfelter, who has translated titles such as Farewell My Concubine and Candy, suggested that Yang Dongping’s work, Chengshi jifeng (城市季风 City Monsoon), should be made available to non-Chinese readers:
I’d like to recommend Chengshi jifeng by Yang Dongping, which might be translated as “Urban Currents: Shanghai and Beijing in History and Popular Culture.” I’ve gotten a bit carried away with the title. The literal title, “City Monsoons” doesn’t quite get at the heart of the matter. Some people refer to this book in English as “A Tale of Two Cities,” which is witty but perhaps a bit misleading. Urban Currents/Chengshi jifeng is not a riff on Dickens, nor is it about torrential rains. Rather, it is a lively and extensively researched, scholarly and yet personal account of the long-standing and ongoing rivalry between Shanghai and Beijing, two cities whose cultural differences and relative merits have been hotly debated ever since Shanghai became a treaty port in the 19th century. In Chengshi jifeng, Yang Dongping explores what lies behind this intense urban competition. He delves into the history, society, economy, and culture of China’s two leading cities, while also discussing their roles in the popular imagination. Beijing and Shanghai have staked out or been assigned opposite positions in the popular mind, jingpai and haipai. Some may take these categories with a grain of salt, and others maintain that the differences are superficial; but Yang examines and interrogates a long list of polarities associated with these two cities: North vs South; yang vs yin (and the corollary opposition of macho vs feminine); hierarchical vs democratic; xenophobic vs cosmopolitan; distrustful of the West vs adoring of the West; conservative vs open-minded; socially stratified and rigid vs socially mobile; traditional spiritual values vs modern materialistic values; Chinese vs foreign. The list goes on. With a deep personal connection to and affection for both cities, the author, an academic, contrasts jingpai and haipai without taking sides. For readers of English, the book introduces deep-seated cultural patterns, trends and concepts that are part of the fabric of Chinese society, in addition to offering a wealth of historical information and interesting tidbits (e.g., what is now Shanghai was underwater until the 12th century; you could tell someone’s rank in the capital of Beijing by the height of the threshold of the front gate of their house). This book is well-known among North American scholars of Chinese studies (especially urban studies), and if it were available in English it would be widely taught in universities. Chengshi jifeng would also give people who do business in China more solid cultural footing. Non-Chinese may be tempted to see China as monolithic and homogeneous, but regional differences like those described in Yang’s book are the rule, not the exception, and they reflect the diversity and complexity of Chinese society and culture.
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