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Dr. Bethune’s Children

November 21st, 2017 No comments

Living in the West has the advantage of access to everything from good to bad as long as you have money, but one disadvantage is being somewhat cut off from Chinese literary scene. Thus I was excited when NYT recently talked about a Chinese living in Montreal having his novel translated to English published. His name is Xue Yiwei. He immigrated from China to Canada on a skill visa 15 years ago. He published about 13 works, with 10 in China, and is very popular in China but little known in the West. The recently translated book is called “Dr. Bethune’s Children”, and it excites literary world in the West. While no publisher in China after 7 years of effort dare to publish it because it deals with 2 taboo subjects of CR and TAM, I do hope China will allow it to be published soon. It is time to revisit those events 50 and 38 years later to show confidence and draw lessons from history.
After I read the article, I immediately downloaded the book from Amazon and finished reading it in 1 weekend. I highly recommend it to anyone interested in China or Chinese literature. Unable to get the Chinese edition here in New York, I ordered it from Hong Kong by mail, hopefully I can read it soon.
The author was asked by publisher in China to write a biography of Dr. Bethune as he has access to archives in Montreal. After studying the archives he was unable to write it, but instead wrote a series of letters to Dr. Bethune as one of his millions of children from China. The questions he asked deal with life and death, tragedy and comedy, public persona and private anguish, parents and children, sex and emotion, in other words, philosophical questions eternally asked by philosophers. He constructed 2 characters both ended tragically to symbolize the 2 events, yet he didn’t really blame the government directly but treated them as historically inevitable, just as Dr. Bethune must go to China and died there. He skillfully interwoven events and interactions from China to Canada, from 1938 to 1976 to make you feel real. The juxtaposition of his personal struggle against loneliness and Dr. Bethune’s loneliness makes it unforgettable. For I, Mr. Xue, and even President Xi are all Dr. Bethune’s children, and by inference also Mao’s children.
Nobel Prize for Literature has been very much a political game. I think only about 10% of the winners in last 60 years since WW2 are worthy the prize, certainly not the Chinese winners. After reading only one book by Xue Yiwei, I think he may truly deserve one.

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In Praise of “Yiyun Li (李翊雲)” and ‘Kinder than Solititude”

September 14th, 2014 No comments

Growing up as a baby boomer in U.S. one experienced great changes, from civil rights, music, and now China looming in the horizon. It was a time of idealism, protests against Vietnam War, and environmentalism. Yet it is a disappointment that boomer generation wind up as Yuppies, Reagan democrats, and now Tea Partiers. For a Chinese American like myself any news about China and other overseas Chinese are treasured. I feel a sense of shared glory of success of other Chinese Americans like I M Pei, Maya Lin, and Jeremy Lin. Thus my ear perked up when I heard a radio interview mentioned Yiyun Li. I was further intrigued when she was introduced as a MacArthur genius recipient, and she was praised by Salman Rushdie as a writer. To me Nobel Literature Prize is mostly politics, and MacArthur Award is much more romantic. I decided to read her book.

Within a few pages I was hooked and finished her book in a week. The story started with the funeral of Shaoai, she was poisoned more than 20 years previously around 1989. In flashbacks of 3 teenagers, Boyang, Ruyu, and Moran, then and after. Moran who has a crush on Boyang, and Ruyu who Boying has a crush on both came to U.S.. It would seem to be a simple triangle love story with the infamous poison case as a backdrop. Most reviewers while praising the writing style treated it as such and seem somewhat disappointed it was only peripherally related to events of ’89. Shaoai was about 5 years older than the others and was a college student and was involved in the ’89 protest.

What Yiyun Li excels is her facility in English language. I am surprised that she only came to U.S. for her doctorate in cell biology before switching to writing. Some compare her to Chekov. I would compare her to Dostoyevsky in her use of interior dialects. One reads Dostoyevsky and immediately understand what his vision of Russia, honor, strength, and patriotism. One reads Yiyun Li and her vision of modern China, warps and all shines through.

As she said in one of her interviews readers put their own experiences in interpreting what the writer tries to impart in her writing. To me the story is very much more than the poisoning or triangle love story. The poisoning of Shaoai was very much the metaphor of the events of ’89. It lingered and poisoned the atmosphere for more than 20 years in China, and hopefully her death meant the lifting and coming to terms and liberating from it. She sprinkle the clues in the book most reviewers missed. The books Shaoai read, by Sartre, Camus and other existential writers, her rape of Ruyu, and telling Ruyu she would appreciate and understand it will be good for her. To me it was obvious the forcing of democracy and other values on an unready China. Boyang, Ruyu, and Moran represent different facets of China. Shaoai represents western values unleased by modernization. In the end the author didn’t assign blame on the tragedy as event does have a momentum of its own, and the author hope toward resolution.

The only criticism I would like to mention is her slight to tiger mom. I understand she disagree to Amy Chua’s child rearing philosophy, but slurring her ethnicity was uncalled for.

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Kissinger’s “On China” – not quite a book review

March 23rd, 2013 5 comments

Kissinger‘s On China

Instead of a proper review, this is more like a sketch of the thoughts which struck me while reading Henry Kissinger’s On China.

In the past, writers were often individuals who saw things differently. Being different helped them to highlight alternative perspectives and popular social ills. Once in a while, they turned out to be right, and even listened to; and their visions delivered impact. Nowadays, books are written for a mass market. Guided by publishing preferences, more and more writers build their positions on opinion polls and market surveys. It is therefore refreshing to read Kissinger who, at nearly 90, has neither the time nor incentive to appease popularised prejudice.
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Truth Bent, Credibility Broken – a scathing review of Ping Fu’s book & her actions

March 1st, 2013 6 comments
The following is a re-posted review (find the original on Amazon.com) of the book “Bend, not Break” by Ping Fu. For those who don’t know the context, this book is an “autobiography” detailing the horrors Ping Fu supposedly faced during the Cultural Revolution (a summary of her side of the story is on Wikipedia). When Chinese netizens started to investigate and voice skepticism about the accuracy of her stories, Ping Fu and her defenders in academia and media labeled these actions “online terrorism”. This is not surprising, given that anyone – especially someone believed to be ethnic Chinese – who supports the Chinese government and the PRC, or simply voices skepticism about western political/ideological dogmas, is immediately labeled as part of the “fifty-cent party” or a “brainwashed fool”. Well, here at Hidden Harmonies, we have some of the most infamous “brainwashed online terrorists” around, so we could hardly let this one go without giving it some proper attention. Enjoy the book review, everyone (for those who do not wish to read such a lengthy review, I’ve bolded some parts of the text to draw attention to the key issues).

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The Tragicomedy of Errors: China, British Imperialism, and the Opium Wars

July 30th, 2012 21 comments

  Julia Lovell, in her new book The Opium War: Drugs, Dreams and the Making of China, finds something funny in the tragedy

Great Britain has many reasons to feel great about itself. Its empire was the largest in history and covered over a fifth of the world’s population. It had more Asian and African colonies than any other European power. It came, it saw, it divided, and it conquered. It raped and it reaped, gleefully slaughtered millions of people, joyfully massacred entire populations, regularly caused civil wars, flattened countless cities and towns, and destroyed whole civilizations and dynasties with pleasure. It sucked the life out of its colonies and reduced them to what we now call third-world nations. It drew and redrew boundaries and created whole new countries randomly on a whim. Most of the conflicts in the world today can be traced back to British Imperialism – the Kashmir issue and India-Pakistan rivalry, the Sino-Indian border dispute and India-China rivalry, the Tibet issue, the Israel-Palestine conflict, Northern Ireland, Cyprus, Sudan – the list goes on.

Yes – Great Britain had reason to feel greatly proud about itself. It had the largest empire in the world. It had managed to keep it’s European competitors in check. There was no known threat to its global dominion. It seemed that Great Britain was destined to rule the world.

And then it all came tumbling down. Sometime in the past century, the great Island Story crumbled to pieces, and the empire followed. Slowly but surely, the empire on which “the sun never sets” went out like a cigar puff. Today it finds itself with as much geopolitical influence as an American missile base. Once great, Great Britain is now America’s top bitch – a tart of a nation that can be ordered to suck America’s coattails whenever required. The relationship between the two countries is much like that between a dog and its master, or as they call it in public, a “special relationship“. Read more…

Aminta Arrington’s “HOME is a ROOF OVER a PIG, an American Family’s Journey in China”

June 22nd, 2012 4 comments

In this delightfully written memoir, “HOME is a ROOF OVER a PIG, an American Family’s Journey in China,” Aminta Arrington details the experiences of her all-American family, from suburban Georgia, fully immersed in language and culture in Tai’an, a relatively poor city in China’s Shandong Province. The title derives from the character, “家,” which Arrington recounts someone explaining to her the top radical means roof and the bottom pig. Embedded in the Chinese characters are history and culture which she found fascinating. Her genuine interest in this ancient culture lead her to adopt a baby girl, and it was out of the desire to want to offer her a bond with her roots that ultimately brought the entire Arrington family to China. Read more…