It is a privilege to review this premiere issue of a premier publication from the publishers of the time-honored and highly regarded World Literature Today at the University of Oklahoma. Chinese Literature Today is a gorgeous magazine – even the ads are spectacular – and an important one on multiple levels.
I’ll let Deputy Editor in Chief, Jonathan Stalling, who is eloquent and persuasive, speak for himself:
As the world enters what many have already begun calling the Pacific Era, it is more important than ever for Westerners to gain a better understanding of Chinese culture, history, and perspectives…How has Chinese literature responded to China’s modernization? How does Chinese literature compare with other national traditions? What are Chinese literature’s central debates, concerns, and trends?
Literature, he insists, is “more than the sum of its parts; it gives a uniquely human shape to the world in which we live.” Every part of this new journal is shaped thoughtfully and designed exquisitely as it works to provide us with a view of the contemporary literary scene in China.
The inaugural issue includes a short story and a speech by featured author Bi Feiyu, as well as a critical article on his work by Li Jingze; prose and poetry presented in the original Chinese and with English translations by modern (no longer living) and contemporary writers; critical articles by scholars in the US and China; a special section on “Beijing/Shanghai: The Twin Cities of Modern Chinese Literature”; an interview with fiction writer Can Xue of Beijing; an interview with featured scholar David Der-Wei Wang of Harvard University and an essay by Wang. Features are accompanied by classy author photos, reproductions of extraordinary artwork, and subtle, appropriate, elegant graphic treatments. The cover is an exceptional painting of a boy in a marsh, arms poised like the wings of a bird, Take Off, by Hung Liu. From the captivating design to the serious, well-wrought prose, to the thoughtful selection and balance of writers, the magazine is original, unique, and engaging.
There isn’t anything here to skip, skim, dismiss, or ignore. So, it is difficult to single out selections for special mention. I loved poems by Zhai Yongming, who began publishing in China in 1981, expertly translated by Jami Proctor-Xu. If I did not know these were translations, I might not suspect I was not reading them in their original form/language. Here are a few lines from “Facing a Phone Call”:
I spend a whole day coping with my fear
Every day I’m alarmed beneath the whole world’s sky
I want to splash some of life’s speech in every direction
An essay on the changing role of women on the Chinese stage by Shiao-ling Yu who teaches at Oregon State University in Oregon, is fascinating. Another by Meng Fanhua, a professor at Shenyang Normal University on contemporary “literary experience” in China as it relates to world experience is equally stimulating. Fiction offers fascinating glimpses into life in China. All of the translations are of exceptional quality, readable, natural, and fluid.
The special feature section on Bi Feiyu includes a speech he delivered in 2009 at Jinan University in Guangzhou, China, “Memory is Unreliable,” in which he reminds us that memory is “intensely personal.” I think this is one of this tremendously exciting new journal’s strengths. CLT gives us a glimpse into a national culture and experience, while offering work that is idiosyncratic, unique, and, ultimately, personal in the best sense of the term – something that can matter to an individual reader as much as it matters to us as members of a global community.