Lin Shu Michael Hill


Lin Shu, Inc.: Translation and the Making of Modern Chinese Culture
by Michael Gibbs Hill
Oxford 2012, 320 pages

Imagine, if you would, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s classic Uncle Tom’s Cabin written with a late 19th-century Chinese reader in mind. How would it play out?

That is one of the more intriguing finds of Michael Hill’s intellectual history Lin Shu, Inc.: Translation and the Making of Modern Chinese Culture, a must-read for those of us dabbling in modern China studies or comparative literature.

Hill’s monograph doesn’t quite align Walter Benjamin’s theory of translation to Lin Shu’s intellectual labor. (A little context here – Lin was a Chinese man of letters, best known for translating literature from the West in the late Qing period, an exceptional feat given that he did not know foreign languages and employed assistants as needed.) If Benjamin believed “Translation issued from the original—not so much from its life as from its afterlife,” Hill takes that afterlife of Lin Shu’s work to task — prodding it with a healthy dose of skepticism.

Hill, who teaches Chinese and comparative literature at the University of South Carolina, addresses Lin’s ‘suspicious labors’ and his ‘questionable methods of translating text,’ and indeed, he should. As he points out, Chinese translations of original works of foreign fiction would add new plots, which the author more or less views as tampering with the integrity of literature. Lin took great liberties, for example, with the character of George Harris (from Uncle Tom’s Cabin), who takes on a new afterlife in the Chinese translation, as he emerges as the “hero and as the vessel of the (Chinese) translators’ hopes for national salvation.” According to Hill, Harris’ search for a national identity and his “choice to identify with African-Americans and the state of Liberia” (in Lin’s translated rendition of the story) resonates and serves the interests of the Chinese translators who saw in Harris China’s own modernizing future, and perhaps an answer to its crisis in the wake of encroaching Western imperialism. So an afterlife existed in Lin Shu’s enterprise, but also produced a translation that misconstrued the original work for Chinese, or more specifically, to Lin’s ends.

Hill’s monograph excels when taking a penetrating look into the relationship between translation and Chinese national subjectivity, the latter convincingly depicted as vacillating in a perpetual state of negotiation. The Chinese translator’s choice of identities and identifications across textual life cycles, then, draws attention to the experience of a destabilizing modernity wherein concepts in opposition can roughly coexist, a key condition for China’s then burgeoning ‘linguistic market’ that was part of the process of the building of a nation, or the forming of a “consciousness of the Chinese nation and the world.”

Aside from the fascinating insight into a tumultuous period in Chinese history, the book serves as a reminder nations are constantly being rewritten and reinvented, as our intellectual needs and moral imagination guides, and at times, misguides us.

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Traffic Officer In Pyongyang, North Korea

For those of you in the news business — and maybe for some of you outside of it — North Korea just may be the gift that keeps on giving.

And, speaking of gifts, Chad O’Carroll and his talented news team at NK News in collaboration with Global Asian Culture is giving away one free 2014 North Korea Calendar — featuring the photography of Eric Lafforgue — to a lucky winner!

January NK news

So here’s what you need to do to enter.

1. Follow @nknewsorg and @GlobalAsianista on Twitter.
2. Tweet the giveaway (Enter to win a 2014 North Korea Wall Calendar from @nknewsorg and @GlobalAsianista http://tinyurl.com/otojylu)
3. Leave a comment in the comments section at the end of the post, telling us you entered.

September NK News

I will draw the winner on Thursday, January 2, 2014.

Have a Happy New Year!

[Photo Credit: Eric Lafforgue]

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empire

The Clash of Empires: The Invention of China in Modern World Making
by Lydia Liu
Harvard, 334 pages

As an avid reader of non-fiction books about East Asia it’s come to my attention academic works rarely cross over to enjoy the popularity of a Thomas Friedman bestseller or a Malcolm Gladwell paperback.

The most common complaint is academic books are dry, boring or hard to read.

While this may be true for some, it’s also increasingly the case I find works that are not only fascinating to read but are ferociously relevant to the present.

Lydia Liu’s The Clash Of Empires was published in 2004, but with its insights into the construction of ‘China’ in the 19th century it does astonish the reader with a completely overlooked episode in history.

According to Liu, mistranslation and appropriation of key Chinese words enabled European powers, and specifically Britain, to extract unfair treaties from relatively reclusive Qing China.

Through the reconstruction of the Chinese term ‘Yi‘ and misappropriating it into the false equivalence of the English word ‘barbarian,’ Liu argues that the diplomatically mediated British empire was able to bring Chinese writing under Western control.

It’s a flicker of an episode but one with catastrophic consequences for the Qing, because once philology was colonized even the Chinese elite was at the mercy of a new kind of control.

An event from such a distant past may not sound too relevant today but as Liu demonstrates that’s only because the hidden powers of political technologies have been kept out of view for so long.

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Blonde Asians

by Liz on August 3, 2013

in Fashion,Opinion

Model Xiao Wen Ju. Photographed by Tim Walker


There’s a new breed of Asian trendsetters in fashion magazines and on the streets, and they seem to pop up everywhere.

Asian blondes are probably nothing novel. No matter where you go these days almost all people dress as they please and dye their hair to their tastes.

It’s a bit harder to say why they are increasingly visible.

I think about Saskia Sassen’s theories of transnationalism and how globalization’s most potent effects manifest themselves in the denationalization of the national. The networks of surveillance and biofeedback that holds the threads of commercial civilization together have become so embedded in the daily life of even the most atomized individual they allow her (or him) to defy the heavy gravity of national identity and join the floating world of mobile apps, sound bytes and downloadable movies.

Some may say the mimicking of European hair color among Asian women is a post-colonial kow-towing to a Western standard promoted by Vogue or Swiss watch advertisements. I don’t entirely disagree with this observation. But if we are increasingly shedding the old Orientalism and trading it in for something a bit more cold, unblinking and sterile, we realize the blonded Asians are a visual metaphor for experimentation, though one that’s boxed in and limited to the superbrand sponsorship that has the final say about everything, including, dare I say, the color of our hair, no matter how off-key it may appear to the untrained eye.

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Myeongdong Encounters

by Liz on May 25, 2013

in Travel

Myeongdong Street Scene. Seoul, Korea

First of all, a disclaimer: I am not a photographer.

But I like taking photographs.

For years, I shied away from taking photographs of actual people.

Which is ironic, because people are the only subjects actually worth photographing.

Last year in my first semester of graduate school, and thanks to great teachers at NYU, I’ve been making strides in photojournalism and videography.

I have a long way to go, but in the meantime, I use what I know, and do what I can to capture the fleeting moments of life.

This summer in Seoul I’ll be interning at the Associated Press, and I am greatly honored to be part of a bureau that includes Jean Lee and Foster Klug.

Meanwhile, I’ll leave you with these photographs of Myeongdong in weekend mode.

Myeongdong is located in central Seoul (aka non-Gangnam), and it is a bustling hub of shopping, dining, and entertainment. Every day, crowds wash over the granite walkways like waves crashing the rocks of a beach in Maine. They leave behind footprints, and come away with shopping bags.

Writerly superlatives aside, I really like the first photograph. In a forest of urban anonymity, this lady saw me, and I saw her.

I like that she is not glaring at the camerawoman. Instead, she just acknowledges my presence, as she moves on.

But, for a brief moment, we ‘met.’

Oh, and I also like her bag, which I think is — for lack of a better metaphor — ‘Myeongdong style.’

And you can check out more Myeongdong style here:

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Laughter, and a cart selling Korean celeb paraphernalia.

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One of many couples.

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He wanted another hat, as she tried to distract him.

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Half-foot long soft serve ice cream everywhere!

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Hello!

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A steady gaze against the backdrop of a poster promoting loans.

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Smartphones as walking companions.

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Qingdao Beach | Katharina Hesse

April 28, 2013

About a year ago, I was immensely lucky to interview photographer Katharina Hesse for AsianTalks, and speak to her in length of her work with publications like TIME and Newsweek. Her projects have taken her to Bangkok, around Asia, and recently to China’s northeast where she has photographed North Korean refugees who are fleeing the […]

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South Korea’s Disgraced Power Structures

February 6, 2013

Democracy : demo from studio shelter on Vimeo. What is democracy anyways? According to this tongue-in-cheek “video game” by South Korean outfit, Studio Shelter, it’s just another platform for repression. In under three minutes, a video simulating a MIDI game found in penny arcades takes you through 20th century Korean history, marked by protests, uprisings, […]

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Cultural Symbols and Nationalism

January 29, 2013

With all the buzz about the clash of nationalisms in Asia today, I found my attention slowly turning towards less newsworthy but visually arresting items. Like this captivating photograph of a Japanese geisha, whose finery, grace, and beauty underscores an important point about gender: because in Japan, even if men are politically powerful, it is […]

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Seoul’s Gwangjang Market

January 25, 2013

It was a chilly day when I visited Gwangjang Sijang in Seoul, but the subzero temperatures didn’t seem to bother some of Korea’s hardiest street stall entrepreneurs. Most of them, nearly all women, were too preoccupied with pancakes on the griddle, or cauldrons filled with porridge. Maybe it was because it was a Saturday, but […]

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North Korea Talks Consumer Slaves

November 23, 2012

Today is Black Friday. In the United States, this is a chance for citizens to prove their financial worth by shopping for things they don’t really need. Or, go into debt trying to accomplish this bizarre feat. Through some Foucauldian coup of governmentality, we now believe a citizen isn’t really a citizen unless that citizen […]

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