Saturday, June 28, 2008

NBCC Members Judged 2008 MCC Grants

Jane Ciabattari, president of NBCC and one of the judges for the MCC artist grants in fiction/creative nonfiction (see post below), says on the NBCC blog yesterday:

"I was a judge for this category this year, along with NBCC members Robin Hemley and Natalie Danford, novelists Brad Kessler and Thisbe Nissen; we worked hard, reading sine 473 initial manuscripts, all with author's names removed, over a period of weeks, then meeting in Boston for several days of nonstop consideration. (Plus a good fish dinner!)"

Continue reading here: CRITICAL MASS: Friday Roundup

MCC Recognizes Artists for Exceptional Work

(From MCC Press Room)

June 23, 2008

MCC Recognizes Artists for Exceptional Work
39 Visual Artists, Choreographers, Musicians and Authors Awarded $7,500

(BOSTON, MA) -- The Massachusetts Cultural Council (MCC) has recognized more than 60 Massachusetts artists for creating work of exceptional quality in a range of disciplines. MCC’s Artist Fellowship Program will award $7,500 unrestricted grants to 39 artists, and distinguish 24 others as finalists. These outstanding artists were selected from 1,800 applicants in the disciplines of choreography, drawing, painting, fiction/creative nonfiction, poetry and traditional arts.

Fiction/Creative Nonfiction Fellows include Steve Almond, author of Candyfreak: A Journey Through the Chocolate Underbelly of America; Xujun Eberlein, author of the just-released short story collection Apologies Forthcoming; and Joan Wickersham, whose memoir The Suicide Index will be published in August.


Friday, June 27, 2008

Human Flesh Search: Old Topic, New Story

Yesterday, London's TimesOnline published a news story titled "Human flesh search engines: Chinese vigilantes that hunt victims on the web." The journalist, Hannah Fletcher, had contacted me a few weeks back, after she saw my article "Human Flesh Search: Vigilantes of the Chinese Internet" on New America Media. Two months of time has elapsed since I wrote that piece, and you might've thought the topic too old. Not so. Reality continued to provide new content for Ms. Fletcher's well-written and informative story.

Coincidentally, I saw another Chinese report a couple of days ago – thanks to the resourceful ESWN – with a humorous title "Human Flesh Search Recruiting Professional Army." You can read the original Chinese here. It reports that, the interactive entertainment website that first coined the term, is going to have organized "human flesh search" that would no longer target private matters, thus making such search no longer "senseless and vulgar." It looks like the story is still unfolding.

Since Ms. Fletcher generously quoted comments I emailed her, I thought I might as well share that email dated May 23rd in its entirety –

Dear Ms. Fletcher,

Thanks for the kind note. Indeed these are important questions. I tried to address them in the article you mentioned; let me try to expand a little bit.

I do believe that "human flesh search," in terms of its large scale and angry connotation, is unique to China.

For one thing, China's population makes it easy to mobilize a large number of netizens to participate in such a search, especially considering that there are many smart and reasonably well educated people in China who are intellectually underemployed.

For another, privacy is not a traditional Chinese concern, and there is no clear law to punish exposing someone's personal information on-line. Chinese also believe that "the law does not restrict the masses." Combine this with a culturally based inquisitiveness that does not have any strong tradition of respecting privacy, and you get people who are willing to go out (or stay in) and gather information to be propagated to others.

On top of all this I think there is some pleasure in the idea of making information available when there has been such significant suppression of both thoughts and facts over the previous five decades.

Several other cultural elements are also at play here. On one hand, China's law is imperfect, and the law enforcement does not respond to morality issues. On the other hand, "righteousness" is one of the five virtues in Confucian tradition. With the convenience of the internet, in the case of non-responsive law, the righteous people tend to take matters into their own hands.

The communist tradition of deploying "people power" to carry on the Party's tasks might also have facilitated the birth of "human flesh search," though in this case it might be another case of backfire.
Is it a force for good or bad? Ancient Chinese wisdom believes everything has two sides and that's my way of thinking as well. In any mass action, regardless its motive, things can get ugly and this has proven to be the case time and again in history. The Cultural Revolution is one big example. Some recent human flesh searches in China have gotten the targets wrong and harmed innocent people.

However, instead of targeting individuals, if this force turns itself to government monitoring, I think it will help reduce the corruption that is commonplace right now.

In the end, it will depend on which characteristics of the trend dominate – nosiness or the desire to get information out. The latter would be a good thing, and I do think there is some indication that things are trending that way. (One of my recent blog posts touches indirectly on this).

In any case I expect there will be lots of undesirable activity mixed in. It would be interesting to compare this to something like Wikipedia, which is another venue for harnessing spare intellectual capacity.

I hope this is helpful. Please let me know if you need any further information, and when your article comes out.

Best wishes,

Xujun Eberlein

Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Jiang Qing (蒋庆) on Women and Confucianism

Note: A reader asked, under guest blogger Larry Mongoss's post "Confusion Democracy for China," whether Jiang Qing had written about the role of women. I forwarded the question to Miwan, a student and friend of Jiang Qing's in Beijing, and Miwan pointed me to the transcript of a speech. Jiang Qing seems to take a view that is very consistent with traditional Confucianism. He says somethings that I agree with, and others that I disagree with. I’m posting this for discussion.

The following is my translation of an excerpt from the speech Jiang Qing gave on April 16, 2005, during the "Cultural Dialogue and the Development of Contemporary Academy" forum in Shenzhen, China. The speech was titled "Liberty, Democracy, Three Cardinal Guides, and Feminism." The "Three Cardinal Guides" referred to in the text are: the sovereign guides the subject, the father guides the son, and the husband guides the wife. – Xujun

[In translation] Jiang Qing:

In his speech just now, Professor Tu Weiming views the Three Cardinal Guides as uni-directional, because the sovereign's authority is higher than the subject's, the father's higher than the son's, and the husband's higher than the wife's. Professor Tu asks whether I think the Three Cardinal Guides can be developed further. I think this needs some specific analysis.

Though Confucianism talks about heaven-father and earth-mother, about yin-yang harmony and unity, there must be an absolute, leading role, otherwise the universe would be in disorder.
From the viewpoint of highest philosophy, I-Ching affirms heaven's leading role. But that does not deny the role of the earth. Heaven is the source of the universe's vitality and creation, while earth is life's carrier and undertaker. This is not our subjective assumption; this is the natural order of the universe.

When this natural order of the universe runs through societal and familial relationships, it becomes the Three Cardinal Guides. The relationships are indeed uni-directional, which is the greatest, most positive characteristic of the Guides. We all know that as far as morality is concerned, a moral principle is an absolute command on the actor. It is not a reciprocal or symmetric interpersonal demand. There is no negotiation on morality. To follow the Guides is not to obey a particular person; it is to obey one's own absolute moral obligation.

Therefore, under the requirement of the Three Cardinal Guides, even if the sovereign is unkind, the subject must be loyal; even if the father is unloving, the child must be filial; even if the husband is unjust, the wife must be faithful.

However, the traditional Three Cardinal Guides proscribe the uni-directional morality requirements mainly to the subject, the son, and the wife. From a modern point of view this is a deficit, it is incomplete. The Guides should be supplemented with the uni-directional morality requirements proscribing to the sovereign, the father, the husband as well. This is to require that the sovereign be absolutely kind, regardless whether the subject is loyal; the father be absolutely loving, regardless whether the son is filial; the husband be absolutely just, regardless whether the wife is faithful.

Another layer of the Three Cardinal Guides is that, in each relationship, the guiding party also bears the responsibility. For example, if the son has behavioral problems, the main responsibility is the father's, not the son's.

Confucianism speaks about different roles of husband and wife, but not equality between them. This means man and woman each have a particular role in the social and family order, and that each should realize his or her own value of existence. I really don't understand Western feminism; I think feminism is actually poisoned by masculinism. Why? Because when the universe was created everything was not equal. Absolute equality is not possible and does not exist. Differences and unevenness are natural. A woman's role in family, as in society, is different from a man's. This bears natural rationale.

But Western feminists want everything to be equal between men and women, like the earth fighting the heaven for equality. How can this be possible? If men can do something, women must want to do the same. What is the measurement here? It is men. Feminism uses men's standards to measure women. The feminist is adopting a male value system; she is trying to realize her value by male standards. This disregards the importance of "difference." If a woman really wants to achieve her potential, she should instead realize her unique, particular female value, and not aim at the abstract, general, so-called "equality" that imitates male values.

Confucianism opposes both masculinism and feminism, but advocates gender differences under an orderly heaven-earth universe and harmonious yin-yang unity. Feminism is to be commended for its historical role in opposing overbearing masculinism. However when it goes to the extreme, Confucianism does not agree.

Monday, June 23, 2008

TNYRB Review of Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

In today's The New York Review of Books

Beijing Coma by Ma Jian

Casting a Lifeline
A Review by Francine Prose

Sixty pages or so into Ma Jian's novel Beijing Coma, the hero, Dai Wei, is troubled by the memory of a harrowing anatomy lecture that he attended as a university student. Taught by "a celebrated cardiovascular specialist," the class observed the dissection of the fresh corpse of a criminal whom the government had just executed (in celebration of National Day) and whose organs had been speedily harvested for transplant.

Dai Wei's moral revulsion was tinged with personal anxiety, for this was not the first time that politics had placed a serious strain on his love life. In high school, he had been interrogated and beaten by the police for meeting his girlfriend in a cement culvert, the only place they could be alone. And now the distressing physiology lesson reminded his college girlfriend of why she had been so reluctant to obey her parents' wish that she cross the border from Hong Kong to study medicine in the brutal, unenlightened People's Republic. How she longed to go to Canada...
Read the entire review

Friday, June 20, 2008

"Collision Puts Taiwan and China in Same Boat"

New America Media, News Analysis, George Koo, Posted: Jun 19, 2008

"Last week, a Japanese frigate on patrol, Koshiki, collided with Lien Ho, a deep-sea sports fishing boat from Taiwan. The incident was virtually ignored by the media in the West. Yet future developments from this provocation will bear close watching." Read the complete report here>>

Thursday, June 19, 2008

PIF Magazine Interview on "Apologies"

Steven Wingate, whose story collection Wifeshopping won the 2007 Bakeless Prize from Bread Loaf, interviews me for PIF magazine. This is one of the more fun interviews I've had since the publication of Apologies Forthcoming. Wingate asks some very interesting questions, and once again the topic of cultural differences is touched upon. You can read the complete interview here.

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Confusion Democracy for China

by Larry Mongoss, guest blogger

Xujun’s recent article on The China Beat and the comments it engendered made me think a little bit more about the whole concept of democracy. I can’t help but admire Jiang Qing, he really is a man who believes in his cause, and his cause does seem worthy. His epic search for good governance is reminiscent of both the spiritual search that Siddhartha undertook in search of enlightenment and the adventures of Odysseus.

Of course most people who go off in search of something don’t end up being noticed, let alone becoming Buddha. Much of the trick in making an impact is finding the right stopping place. Had Jiang Qing decided he liked Christianity, or gone on to become a libertarian it is unlikely any would have heard his name again. But, as it happens, he stopped on Confucianism and that does seem to strike a chord with many in China.

While the article itself seems to be more about the man and his journey, the comments all seem focused on his landing point. Few of those who commented embrace the idea of a Confucian state, deriding it as a quaint but impractical, if not simply bad, idea. I share in that skepticism, though not the derision, but it is worth pointing out that what is proposed is quite similar to the evolution of democracy in England and so is not without precedent. Perhaps, if there hadn’t been that pesky communist revolution, Confucianism would have been a nice path to democracy for China, but the cards have changed.

What did strike me strongly in the things Jian Qing said was that popular will alone is not sufficient for good governance. To put this in a more western turn of phrase, how do we protect democracy from the voters?

While that may seem like a tongue in cheek questions, it really is worthy of pretty serious consideration. Iran, Iraq, Russia, Venezuela and Gaza all have governments that have been voted into power by what appear to be a legitimate democratic process. Yet none of those governments behave in a way that most people in the US and Western Europe would think of as democratic.

It is not simply that the people voting don’t understand what is being asked of them. The voting processes in the United States, Japan and other stable democracies are also driven by lots of irrational impulses. Good governance demands more than, and does not really depend upon, good elections. Most, in the US, would point to the constitution as the basis for both governance and law that keeps things right. By that argument, China should also be a thriving democracy. So maybe the constitution has to be strictly adhered to, so that Canada, until 1982 was not really a democracy.

To get good governance, even political stability, you need a clear set of rules that people, by and large, will adhere to. For a democracy with individual freedom, those rules are pretty complicated since they have to let people do mostly what they want but not anything they want. The wealthy democracies have all found their own mix of freedom and restraint managed by both the force of law and social custom. I guess, when you reflect on it, all of this is painfully obvious, and was well understood by people from Cromwell to Jefferson. It was also well understood by Lenin, Mao, Tito, Hussein and Amin who put emphasis on force, though certainly channeling it through social conditioning.

So what does that imply for China? I think the implication is actually that the social conditions for democracy (or perhaps something even better) need to be in place before the new system will work. Those conditions, based on Confucianism or not, need to be engendered by a government that is definitively not democratic. That may seem like an unlikely prospect, but then the current degree of economic and information freedom would have been unthinkable just two decades ago. Let’s just hope that the release of the old state apparatus is timed right – for Mikhail Gorbachev it was too soon, for Saddam Hussein much too late.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

"A Sichuan Family and Tibet’s Future"

A friend alerted me to this interesting article on the NY Times website. The friend has an indirect connection with the author, and I heard that it was not easy getting the article published, despite the author's credential. It seems anything from a Chinese perspective is a lot harder to get in than the opposite views. Still I applaud the NY Times for eventually getting it out. Balanced reporting is important for a renowned paper like NY Times.

The comments below the article are also very interesting to read as a whole.

Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Social Pressure, or Humanity? - Letter from Shanghai

by Anonymous

Introduction: I received this letter
last week from an English reader in Shanghai. I'm posting it with permission, because he has some very interesting points. Either you agree or disagree with him, I'd love to hear your thoughts. – Xujun

Hi Xujun,

I came across your blog today and am interested in your ideas. In the blog post "Heroism, or Humanity?" you talk about the response of the Chinese people to the Sichuan earthquake. You noted that this was dramatically different to the responses to previous natural disasters and how it seemed to be based more on humanity than the Chinese concept of heroism. I found this very interesting and would like to share my thoughts.

One thing I can add is that, in China, there was enormous social pressure on people to support the earthquake victims. I am not sure whether this feeling existed in previous cases (e.g. Tangshan earthquake), but from your writing, I suppose not. Whether this is a good thing or not is an interesting moral question, but I want to look at why / how it happened rather than the ethics of it.

(slight sidetrack here, but will be relevant eventually, I promise!)

My own personal feeling is that culture is less a reflection of the psychology of a people and more a response to the environment in which they find themselves. For example, I am not at all sure that the low-level Nazi prison guards during the Holocaust or the Japanese soldiers at Nanjing are so different from us. In most cases, before and afterwards they lived normal lives. Is it plausible that so many people simultaneously changed from normal to abnormal and then later changed back? I don't think so. More likely the environment changed and they changed in response. The famous Milgram experiment supports this view.

I haven't read any of your writings, but it seems you view the Cultural Revolution somewhat similarly. There were no fixed groups of victims and victimizers, but people moved between groups depending on circumstance.

This also works in less dramatic ways. The concept of "guanxi" is often said to be a core part of Chinese culture - especially business culture. However, my belief is that this is not due to some fundamental characteristic of the Chinese, but is just a response to the fact that the legal system in China makes it hard to enforce your rights. If you do business with someone and they cheat you, it is much harder to sue them successfully in China than in the US. As a result, business people rely more on the relationships and personal knowledge than on the law to protect themselves. Recently, the legal system has begun to improve in some areas of China, like Shanghai, and people tell me that guanxi are far less important in Shanghai than in certain other areas. I guess the decline in the importance of guanxi will continue as the legal system in China improves.

Which environmental forces affect culture or behavior? In modern societies, I think the social forces have the most powerful effect. Most people like to belong to a group. Even so-called rebels normally conform within their group. People who truly differ from their peers are often treated with suspicion or contempt. Although some people might say the group thinking is stronger in China than the US, I am not sure this is true. Look at the response of the US to 9/11 and the run up to the Iraq War. I was in the UK at that time and the new there clearly showed that it was unlikely Iraq had weapons of mass destruction - hence you had one million people protesting against the war in London before it started. Meanwhile, in the US such news was suppressed and very, very few people opposed the war. In other words, I think people everywhere feel and mostly respond to the pressures to join groups. This effect will tend to be greater the more uncertain and risky the environment. Being part of a group is a safe choice, opposing the majority is risky.

I think a lot of the stress people felt during the cultural revolution was because the "right" groups to belong to kept changing. People tried to fit in with the dominant group to be safe, but then the political wind changed, and they were in the subjugated group and had to try to change again. Therefore, it was very difficult to find any safety of security.

(back to the point)

OK. So what does this have to do with the Sichuan response. Let us look at the difference between the Tangshan earthquake and the Sichuan earthquake. If I am right, the difference in public response should be attributable to a different environment.

In 1976 the cultural revolution was just ending and, I suppose, Chinese people felt very insecure. They had seen others (and maybe themselves) suffer for not being part of the dominant group and did not want that to happen again. I do not know much about the situation after the Tangshan quake, but I do know that the government tried to suppress information about it. Most people probably interpreted this to mean that the government did not want them to make a big deal about the earthquake, so they didn't. I am sure they felt sad, but they did not act because it might be dangerous - who knows if people trying to support the earthquake victims would be seen as next target for the cultural revolution? The social pressures forced people to look away.

Now the Sichuan case is very different. The Chinese government's response was very open. Coverage of the earthquake has been constantly on the TVs and there was even a three day mourning period where no other news was shown. Supporting the earthquake victims is seen as a duty. Instead of the social pressure working against contribution, it works for it. In order to be part of the group you must contribute. For example, around where I live, people collect money from neighbours and then post the amount donated by people in the apartment buildings. So people can see who has donated how much. If you do not donate, you lose face. In some companies, I have heard contributions are compulsory. Even as a foreigner, I can feel a strong social pressure to contribute, and I am sure it is more powerful for the Chinese themselves.

So I guess my point of view is this: there is no fundamental difference between Chinese people now than in 1976, but the environment is very different. I am sure many people then felt sadness for the victims at Tangshan, but there were strong social pressures not to organize support for them. Now, the opposite is true. Even those you may not want to help the victims are under pressure to do so. I would be wary of using the comparison between Tangshan and Sichuan to deduce some change in the humanity of the Chinese because powerful social pressures are working in opposite directions. I think the response to Tangshan dramatically underestimates the compassion felt and the response to Sichuan may actually overestimate it.

Of course I have only been in China a couple of years, so I do not have the same depth of understanding that you do. Therefore, I would be very interested in your thoughts.

– Anonymous

Monday, June 9, 2008

The Endless Knots Blog

by Jessica Lipnack

Introduction: Today I'm talking about writing and gardening (and you'll see where my blog header comes from) on Jessica Lipnack's Endless Knots, an eclectic blog. (She explains the title here.) Jessica is an intelligent, hard-working, and energetic woman expert in the design of virtual teams and network organizations. She has published a pile of nonfiction books on the subject. She has also written a novel haunted by the ghost of Margaret Fuller, the great 19th-century futurist. Since our friendship began in 2004, we have helped each other in our writing careers and also fought over sensitive topics such as Tibet's relationship with China. We disagree on things and we agree on other things, yet our friendship continues.

I asked Jessica about her motivation for blogging, interesting things that happened to her blog, and the evolution of Endless Knots, and here is what she tells me. – Xujun

I began my writing career as a reporter when I was sixteen, working for a daily newspaper in my hometown, churning out as many as seven or eight articles a day. That experience, gained over four summers, gave me the training to grab facts and turn them into something readable. Shortly after I got the job, the editor gave me a column, which is where I learned how to explore single topics in more depth - and have fun with it.

When I first went online in 1979, I quickly became addicted to posting to online conferences, originally on EIES (housed at the New Jersey Institute of Technology), and then on many other online networks, listservs, and eventually websites. Soon, I found myself posting similar things in multiple places (the reporter in me has the irrepressible urge to share what I see), writing similar emails to multiple people, and wearing out my keyboard with repetitive strokes.

In early 2005, I had a fortunate request. Because I'd written many books about networks, a client who trusted my opinion asked me to attend a conference on the rising phenomenon of social networks and report back on what I'd learned. There, a blogger described his experience with his blog in such compelling terms that by the time I got home, I'd drafted the first post for what would become my blog (a too-long essay, in fact, to be a real post) that I distributed to my network. Then a few months later, I attended Solstice Summer Writers Conference (at your suggestion, for which I'll always be grateful) and realized that this event deserved to be blogged. The writers at the workshop – Dennis Lehane, Roland Merullo, Meg Kearney, Manette Ansay, just to name a few – were fascinating ... and saying things that I thought others would want to hear. Thus was born Endless Knots. And Solstice took! I finished the novel I was working on in nine months in midst of three work trips to Europe.

Some bloggers choose particular topics as their sole focus, a common practice that I regard as absolutely wrong-headed. One of the joys of blogging is that there are no editors pounding on you to stay out of areas where you are just in the infancy of understanding. I'm interested in a lot of seemingly unrelated topics, which means I wander into fields where I'm a complete novice. One brought unexpected gifts. Last December, I did a post about reducing the carbon impact of team meetings, suggesting that "we," meaning anyone reading, develop a checklist to use before traveling endless miles to attend the next face-to-face meeting. The Content Economy, a blog in Sweden written by people I didn't know, picked up on it and drafted a checklist, which a blogger in New Zealand (whom I did know from speaking to his group when I visited there last year) turned into a flow chart, and the whole stream of blogs has been widely referenced on other blogs. So that was a wonderful, practical outcome of a speculative post.

Some other, completely unexpected and unusual things have come from my blog: I was asked to teach "The wisdom of bloggers," a course on blogging for creative writers in an MFA program, have had a number of invitations to talk to executives about the power of new social media, and been asked to write a monthly column for The Industry Standard.

You ask how my blog is evolving: I'm still having fun with it. In a few moments, I'm leaving for a morning meeting with a group of bloggers whom I've invited to join me on a panel this week at a technology conference here in Boston. The panel's topic is "What blogging brings to business." The move from the online world to the real one continues to fascinate me as I meet new people and develop new friendships with others around the world. I deeply believe that by expressing our most fundamental beliefs we build bridges across cultural, political, religious, and ethnic divides that ideologies and fear cannot bring down. Writers bear responsibility for spanning our separateness, especially when so much of the world is fragmenting.

Friday, June 6, 2008

A Conversation on

You can probably call Peking Duck one of the China blog tycoons, together with Danwei, ESWN, and China Law Blog. If backlinks are of any measure for their popularities, here are the statistics:

Danwei - Age: 6 years 6 months; Backlinks: 5290
ESWN - Age: 8 years 4 months; Backlinks: 4,530
Peking Duck - Age: 4 years 10 months; Backlinks: 4,540
China Law Blog - Age: 2 years 4 months; Backlinks: 3,900

I'm having a conversation about Apologies Forthcoming with Lisa, an e-friend, on Peking Duck today . Because of the blog's large readership and outspoken, sometimes nasty, commenters, I expect interesting and contentious responses there.

Reader Feedback on Political Confucianism

Confucianism as a State Ideology? I Don't Think So....

Thursday, June 5, 2008

China: Democracy, or Confucianism?

The China Beat, Xujun Eberlein, published: June 3, 2008

Last October, when the CCP held its 17th congress, CNN reported the event with the headline "China rules out copying Western democracy." My first reaction to this headline was, So what? That spontaneous reaction might have been an unconscious consequence of my reading Political Confucianism by Jiang Qing (蒋庆), a contemporary Confucian in China. In this book, Jiang Qing draws a blueprint for China's political future based on Confucianism. It is the first such conception since the 1919 May 4th movement that denounced the traditional Chinese ideology as a feudal relic and began the age-old country's modernization efforts.

It seems typical of American thinking to regard either a republic or parliamentary democracy as absolutely the only right model for all countries. For a political system to succeed, however, it needs to be rooted in the particular country's cultural history. Throughout thousands of years, China has never lacked great thinkers, political or philosophical. Which poses an interesting question: why does China need to adopt a Western model for its political system, be it Marxist communism or capitalist democracy? Read the complete article on The China Beat

Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Serious Frolic in LitPark

I'll be having fun in the "park" today – the LitPark, where I'll talk about the first Chinese novel I read as a child, the artwork in my book, and other things. Susan Henderson, a talented and generous writer and editor, is the host of this outstanding literary blog. My book's namesake story, "Men Don't Apologize," was first published in Night Train when Sue was the managing editor there.

LitPark is an exceptional blog in that it has a lively, entertaining, compassionate, yet thoughtful design, and is participated in by a wide audience from the literary and art world. It is always a learning experience when I visit LitPark. If you are even peripherally interested in literary stuff or writing in general, take a look and you'll see what I mean.

I asked Sue a few questions about her blog and here is our conversation:

Xujun Eberlein: Sue, what motivated you to start blogging?

Susan Henderson: I saw too many writers tearing each other down, hording industry secrets as if it gave them an edge, and that was a part of it. The other was that I would regularly talk with writers via email or private rooms at Zoetrope, and the discussions about writing were so interesting to me, at some point it just seemed like a good idea to start having those conversations where others could listen. Not just to share industry secrets, but so others could hear the joys and struggles of writing, editing and trying to get published.
XE: What is the most interesting thing that has happened to your blog?
SH: A lot of really wonderful things happened from blogging, not the least of which is the community of writers, readers and artists that's come together. It's also been a real pleasure watching writers finally find some success, seeing the hard work and luck come together, that's the best. Also, blogging has taught me to be more spontaneous. I think I over-edited my thoughts before. I've definitely shifted from an unrealistic desire to reach some kind of writing perfection to a desire to communicate with others and create a dialogue.
XE: The last bit especially resonates with me. What's the one unusual thing that's come from blogging?
SH: Well, the weirdest thing was that I was contacted a year ago by a talent scout at Warner Brothers, and to make a long story short, ended up doing a (hopefully never to be aired) reality TV show. My "role" in the show was a frustrated, workaholic artist.
XE: I'd love to see that show! How do you envision your blog evolving?
SH: The real joy I have with blogging is that it is all about my whim. Sometimes I'll do a serious interview. Sometimes I just want to gossip with a masseuse to the rock stars or talk about Neil Gaiman's hair. Having a structure but no real agenda within that structure keeps it exciting and spontaneous for me.
"Having a structure but no real agenda within that structure" is indeed the fun of blogging for me as well.

Tuesday, June 3, 2008

Mayra Calvani Interviews 15+ Book Reviewers

Mayra Calvani, co-author of The Slippery Art of Book Reviewing, is interviewing 15+ book reviewers and review editors during the month of June on Blogcritics. The first two interviews have already taken place and they are quite interesting to read in comparison:

Interview with editor of Midwest Book Review
Interview with editor of Reader Views

For more info and the complete line-up visit:

Monday, June 2, 2008

On Chineseness

In his Perpetual Folly review of Apologies Forthcoming today, Clifford Garstang talks about the book's "unstinting authenticity" and its "Chineseness". The review is generous and insightful but not all rosy - and I appreciate its honesty. Apparently, Cliff has a mixed feeling toward the book's language. This is interesting and might be worthy of some discussion.

In my English writing I sometimes like to invoke Chinese adages or direct translation of Chinese expressions. A Chinese adage is often both pictorial and metaphorical, and I feel that, when rendered it in the right place, it adds freshness and color. While many native English speakers seem to enjoy this aspect of my writing, it is curious that the mixed feelings come mostly from those who know the Chinese language. Cliff is one example - he has worked on World Bank projects in China and his Chinese is quite good.

Another bilingual friend, Carma Hinton, after reading the galley of Apologies Forthcoming, called me to say that although she felt the stories filled a void in the English literature on the Cultural Revolution, she found my rendering of some Chinese proverbs awkward. One particular example Carma gave is the Chinese expression 徒费唇舌 - meaning idiomatically to waste time on explanations, which I used in the story "Second Encounter" as follows:

If he says Chongqing, he will have to spend too many lips and tongues in explanation.

Those reader comments interest me very much. What is the appropriately apportioning of an immigrant writer's native language idioms, that is the question.

On a related note, a reader of Peking Duck, schtickyrice, made the comments that my work "examining the complexities of the CR from an apolitical, humanistic perspective fills a major void in this subject in the English language medium." It is comforting to know that some English readers have seen through to this.