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Deriving from the German weben—to weave—weber translates into the literal and figurative “weaver” of textiles and texts. Weber (the word is the same in singular and plural) are the artisans of textures and discourse, the artists of the beautiful fabricating the warp and weft of language into everchanging patterns. Weber, the journal, understands itself as a tapestry of verbal and visual texts, a weave made from the threads of words and images.

Media and Mandarin Demarcating the boundaries of any of our special issues is difficult, no less when the general focus is as large as China. Readers will find contributions on the viewing habits of Chinese moviegoers and Hollywood’s contested presence on the Chinese film market; on recent, and necessarily always ephemeral, trends in Chinese food and consumption culture; on the effects of Chinese social media on patterns of communication; and on the difficulties of learning a language for a Westerner, whose cryptic scriptedness—no matter its pictorial beauty—can easily be overwhelming. Other contributions center on the increasing slipperiness of character memorization for the Chinese themselves, as computers and text messaging have increased scriptive amnesia and reduced the neuromuscular skills necessary in writing Mandarin. In our art spread, we feature the work of Huang Quihou, whose large tableaux reflect, in the brilliant opacity of painting, on critical moments in modern Chinese, and indeed, world history. Essays by (Chinese-)American scholars offer readings of classic and contemporary Chinese feature films, including an interview with noted director Wu Yigong, the founder of the Shanghai International Film Festival. And Pulitzer-prize winning novelist Ha Jin, who was recently inducted into the American Academy of Arts & Letters, speaks about the evolution of his fiction against the background of literary craft, political repression, and the immigrant experience. At its heart, then, this focus issue speaks to the representation of China in Western and Eastern media—from handwriting and printed language to film, fiction, and painting—and that representation is always implicated in politics. Some of our readers may remember that the filmic portrayal of a Chinese peasant family suffering economic dislocation in The Good Earth (1937), based on Pearl S. Buck’s best-selling novel, was meant to mobilize U.S. sympathies and humanitarian aid for a country soon to be embroiled in the Second Sino-Japanese War. And comics strips such as Terry and the Pirates and Superman (including the Belgium-based The Adventures of Tintin) were enlisted to bring the plight of a hungry and embattled, and dignified and cultured, China into American (and European) living rooms. The handshake of art and politics, it seems, is always uneasy and never far away.

Front Cover: Huang Qihou, On the Riverside of the Volga, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm, 1999.


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VOLUME 31 | NUMBER 2 | SPRING/SUMMER 2015


EDITORIAL BOARD EDITOR

Michael Wutz ASSOCIATE EDITORS

Kathryn L. MacKay Russell Burrows Victoria Ramirez Brad Roghaar MANAGING EDITOR

Kristin Jackson EDITORIAL BOARD

Katharine Coles, University of Utah Duncan Harris, University of Wyoming Diana Joseph, Minnesota State University Nancy Kline, independent author & translator Fred Marchant, Suffolk University Madonne Miner, Weber State University Felicia Mitchell, Emory & Henry College Julie Nichols, Utah Valley University Tara Powell, University of South Carolina Bill Ransom, Evergreen State College Walter L. Reed, Emory University Scott P. Sanders, University of New Mexico Daniel R. Schwarz, Cornell University Andreas Ströhl, Goethe-Institut Munich James Thomas, editor and writer Robert Hodgson Van Wagoner, author Melora Wolff, Skidmore College Delia Konzett, University of New Hampshire Kerstin Schmidt, Universität Eichstätt-Ingolstadt Jericho Brown, Emory University Phyllis Barber, author EDITORIAL ASSISTANTS

Monica Linford and Scott Nielsen EDITORIAL PLANNING BOARD

Bradley W. Carroll Brenda M. Kowalewski Angelika Pagel John R. Sillito Michael B. Vaughan ADVISORY COMMITTEE

Shelley L. Felt Aden Ross G. Don Gale Robert B. Smith Mikel Vause

Meri DeCaria Barry Gomberg Elaine Englehardt John E. Lowe

LAYOUT CONSULTANTS

Mark Biddle and Brandon Petrizzo EDITORS EMERITI

Brad L. Roghaar Sherwin W. Howard Nikki Hansen

Neila Seshachari LaVon Carroll

EDITORIAL MATTER CONTINUED IN BACK


TABLE OF CONTENTS VOLUME 31 | NUMBER 2 | SPRING/SUMMER 2015 | $10.00

CHINESE FOCUS ART 86 Huang Qihou, A Brush as Mighty as a Sword—Capturing History from the Ground Up

CONVERSATION 4 Michael Wutz, The Individual versus the State—A Conversation with Ha Jin 63 Wu Tiange, Chinese Cinema’s Long and Winding Road—A Conversation with Director Wu Yigong

Huang Qihou......................................86

ESSAY 1 7 Ying Zhu, The Sino-Hollywood Relationship—Then and Now 28 Nathalie Aghoro, Sound Bites from the Revolution—Polyphony, Politics, and Vocal Resonance in I Hotel 35 Peter Peverelli, Many Shades of Earl Grey—Chinese Social Media as a Mirror of Chinese Culture 45 Russell Burrows, Report Card: Chinese Class 52 Greg Lewis, The Shanghai Filmscript Institute and Maoist Cinema’s Problematic Legacy, 1949-1966 75 Li Guo, Ethical Choices, Accidental Heroes—AIDS Discourse in Yang Ziye’s The Blood of Yingzhou District 97 Victor H. Mair, Character Amnesia Ha Jin...................................................4

NULC FOCUS 104 Madonne Miner, Exploring the Bosque-A Conversation with Lisa Lenard-Cook 114 Lisa Lenard-Cook, The Whirlpool Bridge 122 Janine Joseph, Putting Feet On It—A Conversation with Ron Carlson 135 Ron Carlson, The Journalist

Ron Carlson.............................122, 135

READING THE WEST

140 Kathleen Herndon, The Varied Sides of Corpus Christi—A Conversation with Bret A. Johnston 148 Mario Chard Etymology The City Leaning Spoke

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C O N V E R S A T I O N

Michael Wutz

The Individual versus the State 个人与政府

A Conversation with Ha Jin

Jerry Bauer


PRELUDE Writing under the pen name, Ha Jin, Jīn Xuěfēi is among the most widely recognized contemporary American fiction writers. Born in Liaoning in northeastern China, in 1956, Jin at age 13 joined the People’s Liberation Army during the Cultural Revolution and eventually entered Heilongjiang University in Harbin, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in English. Following a Master’s Degree in AngloAmerican literature at Shandong University, he transferred as a scholarship student to Brandeis University, where he earned a Ph.D. in American literature in 1993, which he then followed with graduate work in fiction writing at Boston University. While developing his expertise in English and American letters, Jin began writing poetry and fiction in his native language, and eventually in English as well. Jin intended to return to China to pursue an academic career, but the Tiananmen Suppression in June of 1989 forced him to reevaluate his loyalties and the motivations of the Chinese government. The crackdown of nonviolent student protests with the military apparatus of the State triggered a profound psychological and physical crisis within him and produced “a fevered state for several months.” As he has repeatedly observed, “The massacre made me feel the country was a kind of manifestation of violent apparitions.” Finding his own beliefs about vesting power in the people at odds with autocratic rule, Jin decided—in long moments of agony—to remain in and emigrate to the United States. At the same time, in a feat worthy of Joseph Conrad and Vladimir Nabokov, Jin shifted linguistic allegiance from Chinese to English, hoping “to preserve the integrity of his work.” By uncoupling the act of writing from a language shod through with a long history

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of political control, Jin opened up an expressive space for himself free from censorship and weighty ideological baggage. To date, Jin has not been able to return to his homeland. The author of 7 novels, 4 short story collections, and 5 collections of poetry, Jin won the Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction for his collection Under the Red Flag (1997), while Ocean of Words (1996) was awarded the PEN/Hemingway Award. He received the National Book Award for Fiction and the PEN/Faulkner Award for his novel Waiting (1999), as well as four Pushcart Prizes for fiction. War Trash (2004), a novel set during the Korean War, was recognized with a second PEN/Faulkner Award, thus putting him into a select group of writers—such as E. L. Doctorow, Philip Roth, and John Edgar Wideman—to have received the prize more than once. His recent fiction includes A Good Fall (2009), Nanjing Requiem (2011), and A Map of Betrayal (2014), and he has also published a collection of essays, The Writer as Migrant (2008). Jin was in residence as a Mary Ellen von der Heyden Fellow for Fiction at the American Academy in Berlin, Germany, in the fall of 2008. He was inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 2014. After teaching for a number of years at Emory University, Jin currently teaches at Boston University, specializing in the teaching of fiction and immigrant literature. He is currently at work on a short, comic novel about the exploitation of 9/11. Weber – The Contemporary West has had the privilege of publishing Jin’s story “Shame” in its Spring/Summer 2009 issue (vol 25, no 3), which was later collected in

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C O N V E R S A T I O N A Good Fall. It may not be a coincidence that Jin took his first English test, which would put him on his trajectory as an author writing in English, in a schoolhouse in Jiamusi, in Heilongjiang Province. Since then, this schoolhouse has evolved into Jiamusi University, with which Weber

State University has entertained a cooperative partnership for a number of years. I want to express my appreciation for Ha’s willingness to conduct the following interview through a series of sustained email exchanges. Xie xie, Ha!

CONVERSATION How would you characterize the relationship between your short stories and your longer fiction? Are the shorter narratives repositories for longer stories, or do you see each of them as being largely self-contained and don’t need further elaboration? Are they perhaps a practice or testing ground for differing points of view? I noticed that both the opening and closing stories framing Red Flag (and an additional one in between) are told from a childhood perspective—one male, the other female. Aina’s story about revisiting her village in the final story is enriched by her now-adult and more insightful perspective on the cultural re-education practices she witnessed as a young student. And the narrative perspectives in A Good Fall are varied and highly nuanced along gender and generation. I usually write every short story as part of a collection. In other words, I conceive a book project first and then begin writing the stories. But every piece in the book must be self-contained, able to stand on its own as a short story. Because the stories in a collection are unified, they must have diversity in voices and characters, who form the community I describe. That’s why there are men, women, boys, girls as narrators.

Red Flag and A Good Fall are separated by more than a decade in terms of publication and by an ocean in terms of geography. Yet, both collections foreground the existence of political systems rubbing up against traditional practices and beliefs— the communism of post-revolutionary

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China or the free-market economy of the United States. This co-habitation of the old with the new often leads to tension and moments of cultural jarring. How do you see this juxtaposition playing out in the future, in both China and Chinese immigrants settling in the West? The conflicts between the new and the old will continue for sure. Because there is always the strong pull of their native land on the immigrants, the tension between the new land and the old land will remain, especially in the case of China, which is returning to its old political order, the absolute rule of one party. Even the so-called Chinese dream might pose difficulties to some immigrants, who have different kinds of dreams, such as the American dream. The immigrant life will still be fraught with contradictions.

Aina, much like (the unfortunately fortunate) Lu Han in Red Flag, show intimations of having the gifts of becoming a writer. This is a thread that is carried through in A Good Fall in characters such as Hongfang Wang, who has a transformative experience when his former professor, of American literature, leaves him with a parting gift—a collection of amateurish papers on Hemingway—and he decides to become a writer that same night. Finding one’s art—whether as writer, composer, or scholar—is a major theme in your fiction. While the emerging writers in Red Flag are trying to find their voice during the heydays of the Cultural Revolution, the artists, both young and old, in A Good

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the situation has deteriorated. Besides strict and subtle censorship, there is also the tyranny of the book market. Now they are also required to serve the people with their arts. That is the same arts policy once imposed by Mao. We all know that genuine literature might not appeal to the masses. But the writers there have to obey, because the state controls the means of literary production.

Fall seem to flourish in the absence of any ostensible censorship in the United States. Should we read these differing accounts of artistry as reflections of your own career as a writer? Could one make the argument that art produced in historical moments of repression is, perhaps, more powerful and suggestive than work produced without external, political conditions? Yes. T. S. Eliot says in Four Quartets, “Only through time time is conquered.” A writer of my kind tends to seize a moment of history and describe it with clarity and insight so that the moment can be preserved in art, which might fortunately transcend history. In addition, the act of writing is also to give order to one’s life and to retain one’s sanity. This writing act is opposite to propaganda and is intended to serve truth.

Have the conditions for the production and reception of art, across the arts, changed since your departure from China almost 30 years ago? In my personal case, they have changed radically. Because I write in English, I do not fear censorship or depend on China’s book market. But for writers in mainland China,

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A Good Fall also emphasizes an aesthetics of simplicity in writing. David in “Choice” admonishes his student to write in simple English, and Professor Meng in “Shame” has made a career of acknowledging the mastery of Ernest Hemingway, who is well known for his austere writing style. Hongfang, in fact, seems to want to model his own writing on Hemingway’s aesthetics. Does Hemingway resonate particularly with Chinese sensibilities of writing, in that there are unspoken depths behind simple language? Is he, for that reason, perhaps an “exemplary” author in the way Chinese academia has construed the canon of American literature? Finally, do you see affinities between yourself and Hemingway’s work. Your writing, after all, is as self-consciously compact and resonant in its elegance as is Hemingway’s, and you too have expressed your preference for the short story form? I like Hemingway a lot, but I feel more affiliated to Chekhov and Gogol, who have been my masters in short fiction. Indeed, I tend to be simple in my writing style. Perhaps this might have something to do with poetry. Traditional Chinese poetry is simple and compact, which might have shaped my sensibility since poetry has been part of the education of Chinese writers for a long time.

In your most recent book, A Map of Betrayal (about which more later), one of your narrators, Lillian, makes a similar point about the writing of her Chinese graduate students: “They mistook verbos-

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C O N V E R S A T I O N ity for eloquence and ambiguity for beauty, worshipping the evasive and fuzzy while looking down on lucidity and straightforwardness.” Are you concerned that verbosity, circumlocution, and ambiguity—often, alas, the hallmarks of academic (and political) writing—might obfuscate rather than clarify, mystify rather and elucidate? Do you see this as a trend in contemporary fiction (as well)?

as the Asian diaspora is entering greater New York City. A Chinese real estate agent speculates on new arrivals of Asian immigrants, and other characters observe that— much in contrast to the neighborhoods in urban China—Flushing is a bedroom community with little spirit and few communal bonds. Why this sustained attention to the changing demographics of American (sub) urban culture?

Yes, I do see verbosity as a defect. English is such an eloquent language that one can easily indulge oneself in producing words without much substance. For me, every good sentence must add something to the story, giving new information or insight. I have heard some European writers complain that American fiction writers overwrite too much, but we are also blamed for minimalism. Enough is enough, more is more, as Geoffrey Wolff said.

Flushing used to be a bedroom community before the nineties. Now it has become city-like. When I went there for the first time in 2005, it struck me like a big county seat in China, full of life and noise. Seeing swarms of immigrants on the streets, I realized that many American towns and cities must have started like this, so I decided to set the collection of stories in Flushing.

Both Red Flag and A Good Fall are given local coherence by taking place in Dismount Fort and Flushing, respectively, that exceed the narrative threads binding the various stories together. And in both collections, we occasionally see characters appearing more than once. Are these forms of coherence part of your narrative design from the beginning? I am reminded of Joyce’s Dubliners and the cross-oeuvre appearance of characters in Joseph Conrad and William Faulkner, whose work is often grounded in a particular place. Yes, the reappearances of some characters are part of the narrative design. I wanted to use the geographic setting as a unifying base, and the characters in different stories as another unifying device. But I didn’t want them to reappear too often lest the collection might lapse into linked stories.

A Good Fall offers numerous commentaries on American urban history. A ChineseAmerican graduate student is doing a thesis on Jacob Riis and perceptively notes the transitions neighborhoods are undergoing

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Waiting is located at the crossroads of the old and the new China and how Lin, and Chinese culture generally, negotiates this tension. Readers are taken through ageold customs, the frictions of the Cultural Revolution, and the beginnings of the new proto-capitalist China. You invest each of these periods with generosity & sympathy, and while writing with a fine sense of wit and irony, you tend to be careful in your criticism of retrograde customs or the fumblings of the communist regime. Do you find yourself writing with a sense of self-censorship (the way some later characters in your work are aware of the long arm of totalitarian regimes)—or is it perhaps respect? Are Chinese authorities a shadowy and restraining presence in your life as a writer at all, or do you find that your writing is free from any constraints (however subliminal they might be)? There are restraints always, but many of them don’t have to come

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from above. There are stories and stories, No, not at all. Actually, some critics in China and human sufferings are not equal, so I have have pointed that out: the reading in a way to write about what is more meaningful. At also reflects a long wait. For me, when least, I must convince myself of the necesworking on the novel, I just wanted it to be sity of my effort. As for Waiting, I didn’t have long enough to convey the passage of a any sense of censorship while working on it whole life. Indeed, a man’s life is painfully because I was writing in English. I wrote with wasted. That was my emotional focus. a lot of feeling, especially when I described Yu Yuan’s story in War Trash is largely the countryside, because intuitively I felt that one of living in POW camps, alternately as many of the customs an alleged Nationalist and practices I observed and Communist, manmight disappear soon aged by the United and I wanted to preserve There are restraints always, but Nations. Inside the them on the page. In many of them don’t have to come various camps, he fact, I had no clue who witnesses acts of from above. There are stories and might publish such a gruesome violence and novel. I only knew that stories, and human sufferings torture, typically in I would have to publish are not equal, so I have to write the cause of politics a book with a reputable and ideology, and about what is more meaningful. publisher when I came contemporary readers up for tenure at Emory. At least, I must convince can’t help but think of Other than that, there myself of the necessity of my more recent, similar was no practical concern practices. Keywords: effort. As for Waiting, I didn’t at all. I had been reading water boarding, Abu some great European have any sense of censorship Ghraib, and—during love novels, such as when working on it because Vietnam—My Lai. Anna Karenina, Madame Did these contempoI was writing in English. I Bovary, and Fathers rary torturing methand Sons. Using them wrote with a lot of feeling, ods resonate with you as a source of inspiraespecially when I described the as you were at work tion, I just wanted to on War Trash, and countryside, because intuitively write a fine novel.

perhaps prompt you I felt that many of the customs Waiting’s structure of to cast the novel into and practices I observed might waiting for 18 years, particular directions? the incessant deferral Are readers invited disappear soon and I wanted to of consummation, and to think about the preserve them on the page. the eventual setting in parallels between the of disillusion, invites treatment of POWs in a reading of Waiting the 50s and then 15 as an allegory of reading. The narrative and 50 years later, regardless of whether arc parallels the reading process with its it’s Korea or Iraq, Vietnam or Laos, China, dynamic of a gradual rise in tension, its the U.S., or the U.N.? eventual climax or peaking, to be followed I was only aware of My Lai. When I started by a general denouement. Both protagonist the novel, Abu Ghraib was not in the news and reader are on their long march through yet. Later when the book came out, people the narrative texture of life. Are these the empty speculations of a critic?

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C O N V E R S A T I O N began to associate it with the recent abuses and violence committed on the POWs. Evidently history keeps repeating itself.

their words can retain facts and shape historical understanding and memories, so in Chinese history there has been a kind of reverence for writers. That’s why in Chinese, the word “writer” is not used randomly. It carries a lot of weight. Of course, in recent decades, the Communist regime has tried to corral writers and coerce them into servitude, and thus reduce literature to the level of propaganda.

To Western readers, your novels are exercises in cultural education. In War Trash, the American guards are surprised by the high quality of a theater performance which they are able to witness, so much so that they describe the players as “artists” and begin to treat their Chinese POW, and The act of reporting on wartime atrociesp. the actors, with greater respect and ties is central to Nanjing Requiem, and humanity. Yu Yuan, in turn, notes that in it provides a touchstone for War Trash China “artist” is usually as well. When Yu reserved for a “maestro,” Yuan reads about the Historically, actors have always while an actor “was exploits of war corjust an entertainer, and belonged to the lower strata respondent Margaret however talented he Hinton, he is aghast of Chinese society. In recent was, he still belonged by the playfulness years actors have begun to to the lower strata of and light-heartedness society. His job was only make more money, but people with which she apto please others, so he proaches her subject: in power still mostly view wasn’t as important as “For her, the war an officer or an official.” them as entertainers. Writers had been a publicDo these distinctions ity stunt, a game.” are different, because their still uphold in presentIn turn, he vows words can retain facts and day China, and are that “To witness is shape historical understanding they perhaps the result, to make the truth fundamentally, of the known, but we must and memories, so in Chinese Communist Revolution? remember that most history there has been a kind Are writers & journalvictims have no voice ists, like actors, appreci- of reverence for writers. That’s of their own, and that ated mainly for their in bearing witness why in Chinese, the word entertainment value, to their stories we “writer” is not used randomly. rather than as critical must not appropriIt carries a lot of weight. observes and reflective ate them.” Does voices? To an outside War Trash underobserver, it would seem stand itself as such a that China’s long tradicounter-sensational tion and respect for the literary arts and and realistic narrative? Is such, let me call philosophy would give the arts a privileged it, slipshod or spectatorial journalism a cultural position? mode of reporting against which you find yourself writing—and writing in fiction? Historically, actors have always belonged to Is it peculiar to the capitalist West, with its the lower strata of Chinese society. In recent mainstream dailies (such as the New York years actors have begun to make more money, Herald Tribune for which Hinton was but people in power still mostly view them as writing)? entertainers. Writers are different, because

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was once encircled by the U.N. forces, but nine months later they managed to find a gap and returned to the Chinese lines. He rarely mentioned the Korean War to our family. The tattoos were factual, and I saw many photos of them. In fact, my German translator, who is also a scholar of Chinese literature, told me that she has seen older taxi drivers in Taiwan still bearing the tattoos from the Korean War.

I don’t think capitalism plays a fundamental role in sensational journalism. There have been great war novels written in major Western languages. What War Trash tries to achieve is to provide a counter-narrative against the grand war narrative that is often dictated by nationalism and political needs. I wanted to tell an individual soldier’s story, a loser’s story, in this case.

We live in an age of body art in which Yu Yuan’s tattoo across his chest would not be out of place. Given to him by the Nationalists and being visible at several crucial moments in the novel, it becomes a signifier that legitimates and protects him, and lends him various identities. When oral and written communication fails, the stenciled phrase “FUCK COMMUNISM,” later amended to read “FUCK . . . U. . .S. . ., “ becomes a life saver. Did your father, a veteran of the Korean War, relate some of these tattoo stories to you? My father never became a POW in Korea, where he was injured in the head. His unit

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Many of your books center on important moments in the history of 20th century China, and a good part of your work could be seen as charting the traumas that have formed the modern Chinese consciousness. This is no more true than for Nanjing Requiem, which takes the atrocities of Japan during the Second Sino-Japanese war as its point of departure and which has, in no small part, shaped Sino-Japanese relations to this very day. You acknowledge the spade of work on Nanjing in your author’s note, and the list goes on (and includes numerous films, both documentary and feature, such as the recent The Flowers of War). What prompted you to write about this particular historical caesura? Why another—moving and impressive—book on a subject that has been studied and written about at quite some length? What makes your book different from others? In fact, there had been only few literary works written on the Nanjing massacre. There have been a lot of nonfiction books on the event, but numerous fiction writers, both in Chinese and English, attempted to write a novel on it, but most of the efforts didn’t pay off. In this sense, the Nanjing massacre remains a challenge to the art of fiction: how can literary art confront and handle a historical event of such a magnitude? After I started, I felt unable to write such a novel. I gave up twice, but at the same time, I felt my ability as an artist was challenged, so I resumed the work. I knew that many Chinese writers

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C O N V E R S A T I O N had attempted such a project but had given up or ended halfway. In that sense, I wanted to convince myself of my ability as a novelist by finishing this novel. At one point, I was so disappointed that I abandoned the novel and thought I had wasted two years. Then, a few weeks later, I resumed working on it and eventually pulled it through.

Nanjing Requiem acknowledges the important relief work of numerous foreign nationals, which saved tens of thousands of lives, and readers cannot help but think of your personal history as a one-time “foreigner” living in the United States. Do you see yourself writing as an expatriate—or from the point of view of a “foreigner”— about the history of your country of origin, from which you have retreated? What does such an, let me call it, “outside” perspective provide—both to you as an author with Chinese cultural grounding and to your readership? The narrator of Requiem, Anling, too is a Chinese national with strong Christian convictions, and hence, in a sense, a cultural half-outsider with an unusual perspective. Historically, the foreign missionaries suffered a great deal during and after the Nanjing massacre. They were actual participants of the event. For example, the Japanese war criminals were sentenced at the Tokyo trial mainly with the evidence collected by foreign missionaries. The Chinese had never been able to imagine such a trial, so they hadn’t gathered much material evidence in preparation for it. As for myself, I am both an expatriate and an immigrant, in part because I didn’t prepare to immigrate when the Tiananmen Square suppression took place. Since then, I have not returned to China. Even when my mother passed away last fall, I couldn’t go back, unable to get a visa. For me, an outsider’s perspective is vital. It can give a more objective view and more rationality.

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At one point, Minnie Vautrin insists on the immediacy and accuracy of the historical record, which Anling, the narrator, glosses as follows: Minnie “resented the Chinese fashion of forgetfulness based on the understanding that nothing mattered eventually, since everything would turn into dust and smoke—even memories would fade away.” Anling attributes this form of amnesia to the cultural influence of Daoism, which, Anling, as a Chinese Christian faithful, rejects. Could you please comment on this forgetfulness, given that “the Rape of Nanjing” seems to be anything but repressed in the contemporary Chinese consciousness. I am opposed to historical amnesia, which my writings in a way are meant to fight. The Rape of Nanjing, like many other historical events, is not suppressed totally in the Chinese consciousness, but it has been vague, and as a result, it can be reshaped time and again to serve political expediencies. A good number of major historical events

I am opposed to historical amnesia, which my writings in a way are meant to fight. The Rape of Nanjing, like many other historical events, is not suppressed totally in the Chinese consciousness, but it has been vague, and as a result, it can be reshaped time and again to serve political expediencies. A good number of major historical events have become blurred this way. Those in power mean to manipulate historical memory so as to make the record appear favorable to them.

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have become blurred this way. Those in power mean to manipulate historical memory so as to make the record appear favorable to them.

Nanjing Requiem is a moving historical fiction—a narrative (re)creating the lives of both “historical” and “invented” characters. It does not pretend toward a study of history, but locates human behavior in factual circumstances. How would you characterize the relationship between history and fiction, between two discourses that are often seen as being antithetical but which, almost by default, must both fall back onto narrative—the telling of stories – as their vehicle of communication? There was a big struggle between the historical and the fictional when I was writing, especially in the character of Minnie Vautrin, a historical figure whose life had to be kept close to the biographical facts. I could not invent major dramatic events for her at all. As a result, I relied on Ailing, the narrator, who is fictional. By portraying her intimately and giving enough details and concerns that substantiate her character, I managed to give her a voice that speaks from within the situation. That was my narrative intention. But originally I made a bad mistake telling the story in a third-person voice, and as a result, the novel did not gel. So I overhauled it and rewrote the whole thing.

The book also includes the life-saving interventions of John Rabe, the “good Nazi” belonging to the Bad Boys of History, and it describes the enormously selfless work of several American missionaries and diplomats, only to conclude with boister-

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ous American lawyers and an official U.S. foreign policy trying to downplay the war crimes trial in Tokyo in hopes of making Japan a staunchly anti-communist country. Do you understand these touching portrayals as offering a more nuanced understanding of history? Do you want to sensitize your readership to the ethical complexities of history, and the representations of history? Yes, I was aware of those nuances and complications. Nevertheless, I wanted to be fair and truthful, so I wouldn’t mind offending anyone. That is the beauty of writing in English and in America. I can make the best use of freedom of expression. Potentially, those touches could constitute criticism of the U.S. practice at the time, but nobody here has criticized me for speaking the truth. I love this kind of freedom. Literary writings should avoid simplification; and nuances can suggest depth and complexity, so we must preserve them as much as we can.

Similar to Nanjing Requiem, which resonates with contemporary war crimes, A Map of Betrayal seems to be uncanny in its pre-and perception of high-level political espionage. Gary Shang may not be trading digital data bases, but his activities suggest not only his real-life avatar, Larry Wu-Tai Chin, but also point to such figures as Army Pfc. Bradley E. Manning and former National Security Agency contractor Edward Snowden. Moreover, internal to the novel, readers encounter the Chinese founding father of “the Great Firewall” and Gary’s grandson, Ben, who does low-level espionage for China. To what degree is your writing mind receptive to contemporary develop-

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C O N V E R S A T I O N ments—such as cyber-intelligence or largescale intelligence release—which your fiction then resituates, often in an earlier phase of Chinese(-American) history? First of all, A Map of Betrayal is not only an espionage novel. It is more of a political novel and deals with the theme of the individual versus the state, or the country. Espionage is only the context of the drama here. The distance from the electronic age was kept on purpose, because the novel would straddle three generations and need the temporal gap between Gary Chang and his grandson. On the other hand, in the current line of the novel’s drama, the characters use email and cell phones, which reflects our time. In brief, the novel is a medley of different genres.

Anling in Requiem and Lilian in Betrayal are both extraordinarily detached narrators, despite the overwhelming collective or personal suffering in both novels—or is it perhaps precisely because of it? Reviewers of both books have been rather harsh in their criticism, noting that the detached narrative is not commensurate with the gruesome mass killing of Chinese citizens or the painful psychological deformation of Gary. How do you respond to such reactions? While Lilian is a historian by profession and wants to remain “as objective as possible,” she is as personally vested in explaining her father’s motivations as is Anling in her account of the Nanjing atrocities, involving as they do the death of her son and her eventual encounter with her Japanese daughter-in-law and the birth of a Sino-Japanese grandson. Are narrative restraint and detachment at odds with the emotional surcharge of both stories? “Restrained” and “detached” are different. The emotions in both novels are so intense that the narrators must suppress their feelings somewhat so that the emotions can be more effective in the long run. This is a lesson Chekhov has taught us. I

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am not worried about reviewers’ responses to this approach at all. I care about average readers’ responses. In fact, few readers have complained that the narrators are emotionally detached. How many of them wept over the novels? There have been many, many of them. That’s what I care about.

Gary, like many of your protagonists, is a suspended man, at home really nowhere and condemned to live in a kind of transnational limbo. “His heart was always elsewhere. Wherever he went, he’d feel out of place, like a stranded traveler.” He suffers from divided loyalties and becomes enchanted with what the United States has to offer in the same manner that his espionage work strips him of many illusions he has about China. Would it be fair to say that this sense of homelessness or ungroundedness, in terms of nationhood or identity, is one of our master narratives—a center story around which much of your fiction organizes itself? See how much emotion lies beneath the sentences you just quoted. That insight by his daughter is one of my themes. Once an exile, always an exile. Edward Said’s memoir is titled Out of Place, which sums up his situation. The sense of belonging to no country or group is an emotional and existential condition of

I am not worried about reviewers’ responses to this approach at all. I care about average readers’ responses. In fact, few readers have complained that the narrators are emotionally detached. How many of them wept over the novels? There have been many, many of them. That’s what I care about.

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most migrants. It’s also Naipaul’s central theme. In Gary Shang’s case, the predicament was created mainly by his own country and by historical forces beyond his control.

Have you settled this master narrative for yourself, in your personal life? If so, how— beyond the matter of citizenship, employability and your wonderful recognition as a writer? (I am thinking here more of psychological needs and effects, a different/ new/emergent sense of identity, etc.) How do you see transnationalism and global connectivity (re)shaping the modern nation state (Benedict Anderson), and what consequences might this have for the 21st century diaspora? If I were to point

China yourself and working now as a kind of cultural translator, if you will. More metaphorically, if you allow me to invoke Salman Rushdie, a writer like yourself can also be seen as a “translated” man, whose linguistic, cultural, and geographic relocation has been significantly enriching. Why does Gary, in the little spare time that he has, translate Kurt Vonnegut’s Slaughterhouse-Five, of all books?

Gary’s translating Vonnegut shows that he is a man of intelligence and that he loves literature. To a degree, his job as a translator has wasted his ability because he serves both countries, not himself. In my case, I am not a translator. out a central If I have to serve, subject matter for my work, it would I serve only on my be the individual versus the state. own terms. Service must begin with the Because I exist between languages, individual’s choice. cultures, countries, I cannot avoid That’s the fundatransnational experiences in my mental difference. I serve no country. fiction, including the life in the

I don’t have a master narrative yet. In other words, I am still in an evolutionary process. If I were to point out a central subject matter for my work, it would be the diaspora. We are all what the world For western readers individual versus the not grounded in state. Because I exist has made us, and have to make the Chinese literature & between languages, best use of our conditions. culture, it might be cultures, countries, I possible to perhaps cannot avoid transnaspot western/Ameritional experiences in can literary models in your work, less so my fiction, including the life in the diaspora. writers and thinkers coming out of your We are all what the world has made us, and own tradition. Do you write with, or out have to make the best use of our conditions.

The one remaining agency for Gary, as he is getting caught between two political systems, is his ability to manipulate translations and give them the desired twist. “Deep down, he knew no politician or general might notice the nuances of his word choices. Indeed, who would pay attention to his little verbal maneuvers.” Do you see yourself as a word smith and craftsmen following in Gary’s linguistic shoes—having, at one point, worked as a translator in

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of, a sense of Chinese literary tradition behind you? Could you identify some of these literary or cultural resonances for us? I have viewed myself as someone working within the tradition established by Conrad and Nabokov. For me, a literary writer’s worth is eventually measured by his position in the language they use. Perhaps this is due to my background as a poet and my graduate work in modern poetry. Conrad and Nabokov are from other languages and wrote with a

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C O N V E R S A T I O N great sense of displacement. As a result, their English is formal and even bookish, but they turned their disadvantages to advantages and created their own styles. They have become such essential writers that if we took them out of the English language, English letters would feel incomplete. Of course, my sensibility was more or less shaped by Chinese literature, which is actually deeply affected by Western literature. For instance, as far as literary fiction is concerned, contemporary Chinese fiction is a Western form. In this regard, my inheritance is a mixture of different traditions. We are what the world has made us and we have to accept the reality.

In your double role as writer and academic, I wonder whether theoretical literary concerns enter your creative writing as well. The English professor in A Good Fall writes a book about “the cultural heritages among Asian American authors,” and he discusses Frank Chin’s provocative claim that “the yellow autobiography is a white racist form.” One of your graduate students reads Edward Said’s Orientalism, and you reference such writers as Carlos Bulosan and Maxine Hong Kingston, among others. To what degree are

your own narrative forms political choices or express power relationships (along the lines of Chin’s thinking)? Further, do you see yourself as engaging in a dialogue with other writers in the greater Asian-American literary community? I believe in world literature and want to take whatever is meaningful and useful to me from any source. I firmly believe that Chekhov wrote his great stories also for me, a man from a different land who writes a hundred years later in a language different from Russian and from my own. I often read Edward Said, who is a model of the true intellectual for me, and I try to stay aware of the complex issues in immigration and migration, but I do not limit myself to any group or cause. I want to set my eyes on what is great out there, because the ultimate goal of literature is to transcend history.

Any pre-views to coming attractions? I understand you are at work on a short comic novel about the exploitation of 9/11. Yes, it’s called Rocking the Boat. At the moment I cannot say more than that about it.

Michael Wutz is a Brady Presidential Distinguished Professor in the Department of English at Weber State University and the editor of Weber—The Contemporary West. He is the co-editor of Reading Matters: Narrative in the New Media Ecology (Cornell, 1997), the co-translator of Friedrich Kittler’s Gramophone, Film, Typewriter (Stanford, 1999), and the author of Enduring Words— Narrative in a Changing Media Ecology (Alabama, 2009). His co-edited volume, Conversations with W.S. Merwin, is forthcoming (Mississippi, 2015).

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Ying Zhu

The Sino-Hollywood Relationship—Then and Now 中美电影一个世纪的角逐

Baidu.com

As China watchers fret about the compromises Hollywood, i.e. the United States, has made and the setbacks it has endured, what is missing from a frequently incessant political narrative about censorship and control is the more complex commercial logic and cultural dynamic at work that make the historical and contemporary Sino-Hollywood courtship so intriguing. This essay captures some of the major threads of this multi-faceted relationship during China’s Republic era and the post-Deng Xiaoping era. It puts into perspectives two historical periods when Hollywood dominated the Chinese market: one, during China’s Republic era (1911-1949), the other, since 1995 when Hollywood re-entered the Chinese market.1 In doing so, I call attention to a shifting

global power dynamic that redefines Hollywood’s relationship with China—in particular, China’s rise as an economic power and its attempt to promote soft power abroad. By sketching out the evolution of Chinese cinema from its timid infancy to its current global economic ambition and soft power mission, the essay injects historical perspective, and thus a more nuanced understanding of the ongoing political, economic, and cultural negotiations between Hollywood and its Chinese counterpart.

Sino-Hollywood Relations during the Republic Era Chinese cinema had a long and difficult infancy, which coincided with one of the most disastrous periods


E S S A Y in Chinese history. Motion pictures style feature-length movies became the entered China in 1896, two years after global prototype for narrative films, China’s defeat in the first Sino-Japanese Mingxing began to experiment with War, a humiliating moment that would making narrative features in an attempt endow the nascent film industry with to compete with Hollywood for the a patriotic purpose and mission. The domestic market. development of early Chinese cinema The early 1920s thus saw several occurred, to a great extent, under waves of speculative film financing in the shadow of imports from France China, all of which struggled under during the early period and Hollywood the shadow of imports. Demand for later on. Foreign merchants acted as Hollywood imports was the force that distributors and exhibitors in China’s drove the rapid theater expansion in cosmopolitan cities. Native exhibitors China.3 Theaters either signed excludid not emerge until sive contracts with 1903 when a Chinese Hollywood distribumerchant screened tors, or purchased Historical drama evolved into films he brought films as they became back from the U.S. available (China full-blown costume drama and Europe at a Film Archive 185-6). in 1927, spurring a wave of teahouse in Beijing. Meanwhile, block imitation. The proliferation of The first real movie booking allowed theater, Pingan Hollywood to sell cheap knock-offs tarnished the Theater, was built films in a package overall reputation of Chinese in Beijing in 1907 by deal, mixing medidomestic pictures, steering foreign merchants ocre pictures with a and opened only few good ones while middle class patrons further to foreign patrons. forcing the Chinese away from Chinese cinema, The first producto cover publicity eventually triggering a critical tion company, Asia expenses for all. Film Company, was With dozens of good backlash against the vulgarity founded in 1909, films, Hollywood and rampant commercialization by a Ukrainianwould force Chinese American merchant, of Chinese cinema. theaters to suspend Benjamin Brodsky, or abandon showing who later sold the domestically company to two American compaproduced films altogether (Zhaoguang triots in 1913 (Leyda 22).2 The new 57-65). An alternative to exclusive owners hired a local theater lover, contracts and one-time purchase was Zhang Shichuan, to run the company splitting box-office proceeds half and in Shanghai (Shichuan 1517-1548). Asia half, though Hollywood frequently Film Company dissolved in 1916, as took more than 50% of the proceeds. World War I caused a shortage of film The popularity of Hollywood films stock. Zhang, with the aid of a group forced Chinese exhibitors to accept of likeminded cinema lovers, formed high exhibition fees and low-ticket a new film studio, Mingxing (Bright prices. To better compete with HollyStar), which produced mostly narrawood imports, Chinese filmmakers tive shorts (Zhang 39). As Hollywoodmade an effort in the early to mid-

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1920s to consolidate capital and human epics further inspired Tianyi—headed resources. The industrial consolidaby the Shaw brothers Runje, Runme, tion reached its peak in 1927, reducing and Runde—to mine China’s own the number of production companies historical heritage for culturally specific from well over 100 to only 32, with narratives. Historical drama evolved Mingxing, Dazhonghua-Baihe (The into full-blown costume drama in Great China-Lily, GL), and Tianyi (One 1927, spurring a wave of imitation. Under Heaven) emerging as China’s The proliferation of cheap knock-offs big three. With the oligopoly in place, tarnished the overall reputation of Chinese national film industry took its Chinese domestic pictures, steering initial shape. middle class patrons further away from The dominance of Mingxing, Great Chinese cinema, eventually triggering China-Lily, and Tianyi remained a critical backlash against the vulgarity unchallenged throughout the second and rampant commercialization of half of the 1920s as the industry Chinese cinema. Costume drama metawitnessed both a commercial entermorphosed into Mingxing’s martial tainment wave and a series of instiarts-ghost drama film wave from 1928 tutional restructurings that emulated to 1931 by merging two subgenres of Hollywood’s integrated studio system. martial arts and ghost stories. This Both commercial wave and horizontal prolonged Chinese cinema’s first fullconsolidation aimed to compete blown entertainment wave (Zhu 56-66). with Hollywood for domestic market share. China fostered its first commercial entertainment wave in 1927-28, initially led by Tianyi’s historical drama turned costume drama. By the mid-1920s, audiences had become fatigued with the formulaic contemporary Shanghai-based urban stories with little relevance to their daily grind. Meanwhile, film commentators had grown increasingly wary of contemporary urban dramas for their perceived feminization and Europeanization seen as detrimental to building a strong China. Above: Runje Shaw (Shao Connoisseurs of Chinese Zuiweng), the oldest Shaw literary classics and folk tales, brother and founder of Tianyi turned to make films with Tianyi. Right: Entrance of Chinese characteristics. The box- Tianyi Film Company, 1925. office success in China of Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments (1923) and D. W. Griffith’s historical

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Martial arts ghost film, The Spider Queen (1927).

By the early 1930s, however, the quality of martial arts-ghost drama seriously deteriorated. Meanwhile, the genre’s superstitious elements met with derision from the more elite cultural critics. As the outcry against these films grew, the KMT (Kuomintang) government took action. In March 1931, the National Film Censorship Committee (NFCC) was instituted under the joint administration of the Ministries of the Interior and of Education, and NFCC quickly issued a decree to crack down on films featuring martial arts or immortals and demons. Over the next three years, NFCC banned over 60 martial-arts ghost films, which took up 70 percent of the domestic production. Martial arts ghost films phased out of the market completely by 1935, under repeated order of the NFCC (Qian). At the same time as the film industry witnessed its first entertainment wave, it also saw a series of institutional restructurings. Mingxing took the lead by establishing its own distribution network and building its own theater chains. It further sought to buy out foreign-run distribution-exhi-

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bition networks and initiated cooperation with other local companies to form a united exhibition network. The resulting company, United Film Exchange, screened exclusively films made by the affiliated companies (“Lianhua xuanyan” 4). 1930 saw the arrival of a formidable new studio, the Lianhua Film Company (United China Film Company) founded by Luo Mingyou, the owner of a theater chain located in Northern China. The son of a wealthy Southern merchant family with close ties to the KMT government and the Hong Kong business community, Luo ventured into film exhibition by building the Zhen Guang Theater in Beijing in 1918. By 1930, his company was managing over 20 theaters spread all over Northeast China. Foremost a Southern patriot, Luo considered the massive penetration of foreign imports a disgrace, and thus vowed to enter film production to compete with Hollywood (Mingyou 768). His timing was good because film was making the global transition from silent to sound, which presented an opportunity for producing Chinese domestic talkies.4 Luo courted existing production companies in an attempt to form a vertically integrated studio system seen by early Chinese film practitioners as a cure to the ailing domestic industry. Cinema to Luo was first and foremost a vehicle for nation building. Lianhua’s debut film, Spring Dream in an Old City (Guodu chunmeng, 1930), directed by the American-educated Sun Yu, was an instant classic that dealt with government corruption and society’s moral decay. The film’s box-office return during its premiere in Shanghai, Hong Kong, and Beijing equaled that

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of an average Chinese film’s full run, commercial, urban, and Hollywoodsignaling the beginning of the revival driven characteristics of early Chinese of Chinese national cinema via quality cinema, subsequently planting the art films rather than the Tianyi- and seeds for a different cinema driven by Mingxing-led commercial fares, whose patriotism and enlightenment, the ideopopularity was waning by the early logical underpinnings that continue to 1930s. Influenced by Alexandra Dumas, drive Chinese cinema to this day. fils’ play Camille and Frank Borzage’s When the Japanese took over Seventh Heaven (1927), Lianhua’s second Shanghai in 1942, they established the feature Wild Flowers (Yechao xianhua, China United Film Production Corpo1930), again directed by Sun Yu, was a ration (Zhonglian) to take control of all melodrama about a romantic relationfilm activities in Shanghai, which led to ship between a wealthy young musia ban on Hollywood films in 1943. The cian and a flower ban on Hollygirl with singing wood led to a talent. The film surge of Chinese The war against Japan rocked the was a popular domestic films in commercial, urban, and Hollywoodhit among urban 1943-44, breathing driven characteristics of early youth and intelfresh energy into lectuals, demonthe industry. Chinese cinema, subsequently strating the ability Chinese cinema’s planting the seeds for a different of quality domestic surge proved to cinema driven by patriotism and films in attracting be short-lived, elite viewers. however, as enlightenment, the ideological Lianhua produced underpinnings that continue to drive Japan’s defeat twelve pictures in August 1945 Chinese cinema to this day. in 1930 and 1931, meant the return most of them of Hollywood socially conscious films, which melodramas. took up a 92% Though Chinese social realist share of all screenings by 1946. To films attracted much critical attention, forcefully reclaim the Chinese market, Hollywood continued to dominate eight Hollywood studios with interthe Chinese screen. The outbreak of ests in China formed the Film Board of the second Sino-Japanese War in 1937 Trade in 1947 to facilitate a concerted disrupted film activities in China, as effort to block Chinese domestic films, Japan’s 1937 bombing of Shanghai which had experienced a brief reprise destroyed much of the industry’s during the war. Hollywood’s effort in physical resources, forcing some thirty recapturing its old glory met strong small companies out of business. 16 resentment from the Chinese film out of 39 theaters in Shanghai were community. Chinese cinema staged also destroyed in the bombing, most an unprecedented revival during the of them theaters screening Chinese post-war era. More quality Chinese films. Production, however, resumed films entered the market beginning shortly after and the remaining studios in 1947, splitting screen time nearly and theaters resolved to make patriotic equally with Hollywood films. As the films. The war against Japan rocked the Chinese civil war drew to its end, with

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E S S A Y the U.S.-backed KMT ceding ground to political than economic concerns. The the CCP (Chinese Communist Party), centralized economic model would last Hollywood became disillusioned with until the 1980s, when China’s economic China’s political and economic instareform brought Chinese cinema down bility and the looming defeat of the to its bottom line, and the industry KMT. It reduced its exports to China in had to re-learn the difficult tricks of 1948 and lost its market share, eventucommercial operation. Meanwhile, the ally coming to an abrupt halt during the rise of alternative entertainment options Korean War when the newly founded such as TV and Karaoke began to erode People’s Republic of China put a ban on cinema audiences throughout the Hollywood imports altogether. 1980s. As the 1990s dawned, attendance The defeat of the continued to decline, KMT ended Hollyrevenues remained wood’s honeymoon Hollywood returned to China in slim, and producin China. But Hollytion funding meager. 1995, with an invitation from wood would return Hoping to bring with a vengeance back audiences, the none other than the Chinese only decades after. Ministry of Radio, film industry itself. Hollywood The love-hate relaFilm and Television tionship would repeat re-entered China in a splash, (MRFT)—a state itself. The following regulatory body in instantly resuscitating China’s section sketches charge of Chinese film market. It has dominated out Hollywood’s media at the time— the Chinese market since, renewed China issued a policy venture since the mid provoking the same fascination in early 1994 to 1990s, as I tease out approve the imporand resistance in China of the patterns of evolution tation of ten internaRepublic’s years, and thus a reminiscent of the tional blockbusters interwar period when new round of restrictive policies annually, primarily economic imperatives big-budget Hollyaimed at curbing Hollywood’s frequently overshadwood films (Zhu). owed ideological and popularity. So after four and a political or cultural half decades in exile, concerns. Hollywood returned to China in 1995, The post-1995 Sino-Hollywood with an invitation from none other than Relationship the Chinese film industry itself. Hollywood re-entered China in a splash, A private and commercial industry instantly resuscitating China’s film in its infancy and throughout its adolesmarket. It has dominated the Chinese cence, Chinese film industry spent market since, provoking the same fascimuch of its adulthood getting cozy nation and resistance in China of the with a state-run system that treated Republic’s years, and thus a new round film production as an ideological rather of restrictive policies aimed at curbing than commercial exercise. The newly Hollywood’s popularity. founded People’s Republic of China When Hollywood returned to kept Hollywood at bay, more out of China in 1995, the MRFT stipulated

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F I L M that films selected for import must represent the best in global cultural achievement and in cinematic art and technique. In practice, more than ideology, economic interest determined China’s selection of Hollywood imports. Star-studded, big-budget and high-tech blockbusters, such as Natural Born Killers (Oliver Stone, 1995), Broken Arrow (John Woo, 1995), Twister (Jan De Bont, 1997), and Toy Story (John Lasseter, 1995), were chosen as films representing the best in culture, art, and technology. These imports generated huge revenues, totaling 70 to 80 percent of the box office in 1995, and restoring Chinese audiences’ moviegoing habit. The change subsequently benefitted domestic pictures, as recaptured Chinese movie-goers took notice of some of China’s own big-budget and high-tech entertainment fares that emulated Hollywood’s high-cost production formula. The domestic bigpics of that year all became box-office blockbusters, with Red Cherry (Hong yingtao, Ye Daying) even edging out over the imports (Lucian 6). Chinese cinema made a quick recovery, and 1995 came to be known as “the year of cinema” (Ping 7). Yet Chinese state-run studios performed poorly overall. Two-thirds of the domestic films produced in 1995 were cheap knockoffs of Hollywood-and Hong Kongstyle entertainment fares, which failed to generate profits while triggering critical backlash and, in turn, tough state sanctions. Cinema’s enlightenment/pedagogical function was once again foregrounded. Chinese studios responded with the only way they knew how, which was self-censorship, slating predominately propaganda films. Chinese audiences, after a taste

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of exhilarating Hollywood commercial fares, were not going to fall for drab socialist films again. Film revenue fell, together with the number of films produced (Jianghua et al. 4-7). The fear of a domestic film market overshadowed by foreign imports compelled the state to enact protective policies, which stipulated that two-thirds of the films distributed and exhibited must be domestic productions, and that two-thirds of screening time must be reserved for domestic pictures. Such protectionist policies, however, did not steer Chinese audiences away from imports. Hollywood blockbusters continued to dominate the Chinese market throughout the late 1990s, owing primarily to the performance of Titanic (James Cameron, 1997) and Saving Private Ryan (Steven Spielberg, 1998), which together accounted for about one-third of the total box office in Beijing and Shanghai. As the state gradually came to terms with Hollywood’s dominance, it sought to maximize income by revising revenuesharing formulas for Hollywood imports. By the 2000s, China was in a more powerful position to negotiate that than during the Republic era. This was reflected in the restrictive financial agreement Hollywood had to consent

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E S S A Y to, which operated at two levels: 2012, under intense lobbying from the revenue sharing and flat fee, both Obama Administration that directly aimed at capping the amount of profit involved Vice President Joe Biden, Hollywood was allowed to take home. China agreed—on the heels of the The state allocated an annual quota then-incoming Chinese president Xi to cap the number of imported blockJinping’s good will trip to the U.S.—to buster films that were allowed to share increase the revenue-sharing quota to a percentage of box-office revenues. 34, adding 14 Imax or 3-D films to the The rest of the imports annual quota of 20 operated under pictures (CRI). the flat-fee model, In summer 2012, Due to the high demand in which studios the time came for received a one-time the newly jazzed-up for Hollywood imports, the fee of a few hundred Hollywood blockstandard quota of 10 revenuethousand dollars busters to descend on sharing pictures a year was and no cut of ticket the Chinese domestic sales, never mind that increased to 20 in 2001, the market. China Film many films under the Group, the most year China joined the World flat-fee model made powerful state-run millions at the Chinese Trade Organization (WTO). production company, box-office. Hollywhich has been at the On average, 80 percent of wood financiers were forefront in making the coveted revenue-sharing allowed up to 17.5% and promoting quota slots have been awarded of all Chinese ticket China’s domestic sales, compared with blockbuster films to Hollywood films, and the more typical 50% and which holds the under the intense lobbying of in U.S. theaters.5 distribution rights Hollywood, the percentage of Due to the high to major Hollywood demand for Hollyfilms, scheduled the China box-office revenue wood imports, the U.S. films of the that a U.S. studio may keep standard quota of same genres on the has inched upward to 25%. 10 revenue-sharing same dates, limiting pictures a year was their total grosses increased to 20 in 2001, while boosting the the year China joined the World Trade percentage of box office revenue generOrganization (WTO). On average, 80 ated by Chinese domestic pictures. percent of the coveted revenue-sharing Thus, The Dark Knight Rises (Christoquota slots have been awarded to pher Nolan, 2012) and The Amazing Hollywood films, and under the intense Spider-Man (Marc Webb, 2012) opened lobbying of Hollywood, the percentage against each other; Ice Age: Continental of the China box-office revenue that Drift (Steve Martino & Mike Thura U.S. studio may keep has inched meier, 2012) opened against The Lorax upward to 25%. Yet as the new millen(Kyle Balda & Chris Renaud, 2012), nium settled in, Hollywood wanted and The Bourne Legacy (Tony Gilroy, more concessions from China, and 2012) and Total Recall (Len Wiseman, it turned to the U.S. government for 2012) opened opposite each other. support (Fritz and Horn). In February Looper, meanwhile, was allowed a much

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Code that sought to ensure inoffensive sought-after Golden Week holiday entertainment. Overall, Hollywood has release with a shifting story location been acutely attuned, from its incepfrom Paris to Shanghai. The practice of tion, to what is permissible and indeed “double dating” undermined Holly6 preferred in its vast export destinations. wood’s performances in China. MPAA, To stay out of (financial) trouble, Hollythe Motion Picture Association of wood has modified, obfuscated and America (formerly, the Motion Picture even eliminated content that foreign Producers and Distributors of America, regulators deemed inappropriate in a Hollywood trade association estaban effort to appease global audiences lished in 1922) was promptly engaged of vastly different cultural, religious to ease the tension between China Film and political persuasions. The selfGroup and Hollywood studios. MPAA censorship trend has only intensified again turned to the U.S. government in the last decade, for assistance. Yet with the majority facing an increasof moviegoers ingly assertive now living abroad, China, the U.S. To stay out of (financial) which accounts for government had trouble, Hollywood has modified, up to 80% of Hollylittle leverage in obfuscated and even eliminated wood’s box-office settling the case in income. Hollywood’s favor. content that foreign regulators The relationship deemed inappropriate in an effort This essay has between Hollywood to appease global audiences of compared two and the Chinese periods in Chinese film industry is vastly different cultural, religious film history when more harmonious and political persuasions. Hollywood played when it comes a dominant role: to co-production one during the these days, as such Republican era deals allow Chinese (1911-1949), and the other on-going producers to coast on Hollywood’s since 1995, when China reopened its fame and reputation for a potential door to Hollywood imports, officially global market, a goal mandated by the lifting a ban enacted 40 years earlier at Chinese state’s soft power mission. In the cusp of the Korean War. I’ve tried this regard, China’s Hollywood partto show how commercial interests ners are entrusted with the responsioverride or complicate political and bility of safeguarding China’s image on ideological posturing on both the U.S. screen. Addressing issues of perceived and China sides. I argue that the story censorship, Zhang Xun emphasized of the Sino-Hollywood relationship is that China Film Co-Production one about competing cultural values Company vets scripts for possible and developmental models, as well changes needed to ensure that the final as nationalism and exceptionalism— products would be safe for distribuAmerican and Chinese—and about the tion. Zhang’s clarification pretty much shifting global power dynamic and the followed the playbook of China’s film struggle between transnational and censorship board during the Republic local capitals. era and Hollywood’s Production

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E S S A Y Notes 1. This comparative angle was first explored in my essay, “Commercialism and Nationalism: Chinese Cinema’s First Wave of Entertainment Films.” CineAction 47 (1998): 56-66. I further addressed this dynamic in chapter six of my 2003 book, Chinese Cinema During the Era of Reform: The Ingenuity of the System. 2. The Nationalistic sentiment was so strong in China in the early 1910s that when a cowboy from one of Brodsky’s American films cocked his gun at the camera (audience) on screen, the angry Chinese spectators shouted “white devil” and burned the theater. 3. Film distribution and exhibition in today’s China very much resemble the earlier period, driven by the demand for Hollywood features. 4. The first sound film was introduced to China from the U.S. in 1929. 5. The huge Chinese gross for Transformers 3 brought Paramount Pictures less than $30 million. 6. The aggressive measure to keep imported films in check in the summer of 2012 was the result of a number of factors: imported films accounted for 65% of China’s $1.3 billion box office receipts by early summer in 2012, and all of the top five movies in China from January through June in 2012 were American, which was an embarrassment to the Chinese government. Also, in anticipation of the 18th Party Congress when the once-a-decade leadership transition was to take place in 2012, the Chinese government launched an aggressive campaign in 2011 to aggressively export its own culture and cultural industry.

Works Cited China Film Archive. Zhongguo wusheng dianying. (Chinese Silent Cinema.) Beijing: China Film Press, 1996: 185-6. Print.

CRI. “China’s Quota Change Heralds Reform.” China.org.cn. 24 February 2012. Web. <http:// china.org.cn/arts/2012-02/24/content_24721975.htm>. Fan, Jianghua, Mao Yu, and Yang Yuan’s report on the film market in 1996, Chinese Film Market, 1 (1997): 4-7. Print. Fritz, Ben, and John Horn. “Reel China: U.S. film producers are engaging the Chinese.” Los Angeles Times. 24 August 2011. Web. <http://articles.latimes.com/2011/aug/24/enter tainment/la-et-china-film-quota-20110824>. Leyda, Jay. Dianying: An Account of Films and the Film Audience in China. Boston: MIT, 1972: 22. Print.

“Lianhua xuanyan.” (“The Opening Statement of United Film Exchange.”) Shenzhou gongshi Shanghai zhiye (The Evening of Shanghai). Special Issue of Shenzhou gongshi Shanghai zhiye (The Evening of Shanghai) 4 (1926): 39. Print. Luo, Mingyou. “Wei guopie fuxing wenti jinggao tongye shu.” (“To My Colleagues About the Issue of Reviving Chinese Cinema.”) Ed. Zhongguo wusheng dianying. China Film Archive. Beijing: China Film Press, 1996: 768. Print.

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Ouyang, Yuqian. Wuode yanyi shengya. (Since I Started My Acting Career). Beijing: China Drama Press, 1959. Print.

Pan, Lucian. “Aside from Red Cherry’s Commercial Operation.” Film Art, Dianying Yishu 3 (1996): 6. Print.

Ping, Fan. “Domestic Pictures in 1997 Dare Not Entertain Bill Sharing,” Chinese Film Market 8 (1997): 7. Print. Qian, Gu. “Detailed Explanation on KMT’s Ban on Martial Arts-Ghost Films.” Media and Art Researches 20 July 2011. Web. <http://www.cmysw.org/html/dianyingyishu/dianyingy icun/20110720/4164.html>.

Wang, Chaoguang. “Mingguo nianjian Meiguo dianying zai Hua shichang yanjiu.” (“A Market Analysis of Hollywood films in China during the Republic Era.”) Dianying yishu 1998: 57-65. Print. Zhang, Shichuan. “Zhang Shichuan he Mingxing dianying gongshi.” (“Chang Shichuan and the Star Production Company.”) Dai Xiaolan. Ed. Zhongguo wusheng dianying. (Chinese Silent Cinema.) Beijing: China Film Press, 1996: 1517-1548. Zhang, Zhen. “Asia Film Co.” Encyclopedia of Early Cinema. Ed.  Richard Abel. Abingdon: Taylor & Francis, 2005: 39. Zhu, Ying. “Commercialism and Nationalism: Chinese Cinema’s First Wave of Entertainment Films.” CineAction 1 Jan. 1998: 56-66. Print. . Chinese Cinema during the Era of Reform: the Ingenuity of the System. Westport: Praeger Publishers, 2003. Print.

Dr. Ying Zhu is a leading scholar on Chinese media studies. She has published eight books, including Two Billion Eyes: The Story of China Central Television (New Press, 2013). Her writings have appeared in major academic journals and edited book volumes as well as national outlets such as The Atlantic, The Los Angeles Times, The New York Times, and The Wall Street Journal, among others. Her works have been translated into Chinese, Dutch, French, Italian, and Spanish. Zhu is a recipient of a National Endowment for the Humanities Fellowship and an American Council of Learned Societies Fellowship. Zhu also co-produces with the Netherlands National TV current affairs documentary programs such as Google vs. China (2011) and China: From Cartier to Confucius (2012).

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Nathalie Aghoro

Sound Bites from the Revolution— Polyphony, Politics, and Vocal Resonance in I Hotel

Nancy Wong Protestors lock arms in front of the International Hotel to prevent officers of the San Francisco Sheriff's Department from evicting the hotel's tenants in the early morning hours of August, 1977.

Asian America (where’s that?) —Karen Tei Yamashita, I Hotel.

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here precisely is Asian America located? When and how did it appear on the national map of the United States? These questions run like a golden thread through Karen Tei Yamashita’s novel I Hotel, a fictional inquiry into the origins of the conceptualization of Asian American communities that was shortlisted for the National Book Award in 2010.

In Yamashita’s novel, Asian America resides in the San Francisco of the late 1960s. Its centerstage location is the International Hotel, a historical Asian American site in downtown San Francisco. Home to mainly elderly Asian Americans—to a large extent first generation immigrant Filipinos—the International Hotel was one of the two last buildings that constituted Manilatown: a former neighborhood of San


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Francisco that became part of Chinaopinions. Rather, the story evolves from town in the course of urban reorganizaa polyphony of voices debating and tion carried out by city planners during negotiating about how to form a transthat period. The Asian American national, multi-ethnic Asian American community fought for the preservacommunity able to make their concerns tion of the building until 1977 when the heard in the national socio-political authorities forcefully evacuated and landscape. destroyed it. Published only a couple In a review published in the of years after the inauguration of a new magazine Ars Memorativa, Keith International Hotel Johnson observes rebuilt at the same that “Yamashita location, Yamashita’s depicts the ongoing From the locale of one single work revolves around crisis from multiple residential building arises a the colliding lives of perspectives, Asian Americans in covering the specdiverse storyworld filled with the Bay Area and their an abundance of characters trum (ethnic and involvement with the generational) of from multiple backgrounds, International Hotel, people involved. their political and The many-voiced united in their fight for the cultural concerns, as International Hotel, but never chorus she conducts well as their activithroughout the novel, ties in the midst of the exclusive or single-voiced in whose arias blend Civil Rights movetheir expressions and opinions. into one another to ment and the student produce startling Rather, the story evolves from protests of the era. harmonies, demona polyphony of voices debating strates her bravura Although I Hotel features a delineated technique”(23). and negotiating about how local setting, the The use of acoustic to form a transnational, stories of its characters denominations – such picture a transnational multi-ethnic Asian American as “chorus,” “aria,” community in search and “harmonies” – community able to make their of a constitutive role concerns heard in the national points to the audias American citizens. tory dimensions of socio-political landscape. Like Yamashita’s Yamashita’s novel. former novels Through With 10 novellas the Arc of the Rainforest told by a wide array (1990), Brazil-Maru (1993), and Tropic of narrative voices, with a built-in of Orange (1997), I Hotel problematizes soundtrack, and the frequent incorporaclear-cut national and ethnic identities tion of sound bites from different media through the representation of a global (e.g. television or radio), the novel’s diversity. From the locale of one single polyphony mirrors the resounding residential building arises a diverse intensity of protest against social injusstoryworld filled with an abundance of tice as well as the call for freedom and characters from multiple backgrounds, free speech. united in their fight for the InternaThe many sounds and voices tional Hotel, but never exclusive or resonating in I Hotel create a polysingle-voiced in their expressions and phonic imaginary soundscape that

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E S S A Y conveys an environment tangible in its loss represented a real cultural defeat; synchronic diversity and contempoYamashita’s novel faces that defeat raneous complexity. As Sarah Banetbut chooses resilience, however heartWeiser argues in the introduction to broken, over victimization” (Johnson Sound Clash, a 2011 special edition of 23). Along these lines, I consider American Quarterly, “[t]he ability to Yamashita’s resilience to be a result of generate sonic matter—to listen, to hear the novel’s soundscape. Built from its some sounds and not others—involve emphasis on vocal resonance, it reflects practices and forms of labor [...] that the multiplicity of voices, opinions, engage in and revolve around relalanguages, and lives populating the site tions of power. These power relations at a specific point in time. enforce certain kinds of inclusions and The auditory dimensions of exclusions, involving gender, race, Yamashita’s novel define the places class, sexualities, and situations in and other formulathe story world by tions of identity, enhancing the sonic I Hotel captures the points of contact, and materiality of its importance of the concrete instances of conflict” voices. Polyphony (v). I Hotel captures and vocal resonance resonance of voices relegated the importance of the in I Hotel foreground to the margins of society for concrete resonance of voice as an embodied voices relegated to the the free speech movement, medium that engages margins of society for the Civil Rights movement, with the boundaries the free speech move- and the student protests of and possibilities of ment, the Civil Rights political consent and the 1960s. The novel’s voices movement, and the dissent in a revolustudent protests of engage with the exclusion they tionary era. Morethe 1960s. The novel’s encounter, asking the powers over, Yamashita’s voices engage with work reintroduces at hand to listen and hear them the sound qualities of the exclusion they encounter, asking the voice into narrative, out. powers at hand to with its combination listen and hear them of formal and story out. elements that suggest Therefore, the novel’s polyphony an engagement with vocal sound matenot only reconstructs the experiences rial and its political impact. of its characters in the building; it Illustrations of unfolded take-away also exhibits its political or “material boxes preceding the narrative repreforce,” to use Banet-Weiser’s words, sent the 10 novellas that constitute in the public space of the streets, often I Hotel. They contain the names of enhanced by the use of megaphones major characters featured in each one and remediated through audiovisual of them, references to their ethnic and media (v). When Johnson compares historical backgrounds, their respective the historical events to their fictiontakes on the development of an Asian alization, he argues that “[t]hose American experience, and the narrafamiliar with the history of the real tive implementation of their voices. The I(nternational) Hotel—the one on narrative techniques in I Hotel include Kearny and Jackson— know that its modes of oral transmission, such as

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the storyteller griot—a reference to the single authorial consciousness; rather sound aspects of storytelling and oral a plurality of consciousnesses, with historiography— as well as acoustic or equal rights and each with its own audiovisual remediations of jazz music world, combine but are not merged in or cinema verité. the unity of the event” (6). Bakhtin’s In the chapters themselves, the definition of the polyphonic novel resonarrative implementations suggested nates with the polyphony audible in by the short descriptions evolve into the storyworld of I Hotel. Yamashita’s individual narrative styles. “Chinacontemporary take on the historical town Verité,” for instance, implenovel reflects a world governed by ments the principles of the cinema individual experiences and percepverité aesthetics and tells the story of tions. The uncommented simultaneity three Chinese-American poets and of a plurality of single voices creates a scholars who live in tangible storyworld San Francisco (79-90). that defies teleo“Chinatown Verité” is logical reduction. The auditory dimensions of the fictional transcript The political cause Yamashita’s novel define the of a movie that takes of saving the Interplace in Chinatown, national Hotel from places and situations in the with detailed stage destruction creates story world by enhancing directions concerning new alliances beyond the sonic materiality of the cinematic images, national interests. such as “real takes of Nathan Ragain writes its voices. Polyphony and Chinatown nightlife,” that “Yamashita’s vocal resonance in I Hotel as well as information novel engages with foreground voice as an on the soundtrack, 1970s ethnic political like the sound of radio embodied medium that movements in order music (in this case the to provide a narraengages with the boundaries song Mighty, Mighty tive and form for and possibilities of political by Earth, Wind & interethnic political Fire) or the diegetic exchange, which consent and dissent in a sounds of the yearly centers around the revolutionary era. parade, audible “as a ways...nationalist kind of residue only” movements negotiate (79). The records the conflict between represent seemingly everyday situaparticularity and universality” (139). tions, following the procedures of the The polyphonic novel represents this cinematic style, where conversations struggle between particularity and and interviews are recorded first and universality through its manifold only provided with visual material irreducible voices that stand for themafterwards. selves, but still engage in a common The multiple references to the speech act that unites them. resounding oral aspects of its narraThe soundscape of I Hotel goes along tion are evocative of Mikhail Bakhtin’s with a written remediation of revolureading of Dostoevsky’s works: “What tionary writings, audiovisual media, unfolds in his works is not a multiand sound recordings of contempotude of characters and fates in a single rary witnesses and speeches. These objective world, illuminated by a intertextual and intermedial references

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E S S A Y mirror the historical documentacratic juxtaposition of their different tions Yamashita consulted during her voices conveys its fragmentation and research. As she states in the afterword pluralism. With titles designating to the novel, she spent “countless hours aspects of the residential building, the in Asian American archives, wandered narrative focus shifts to new perspecaround the old brick-and-mortar sites, tives in each part. read books, viewed films, listened to As Jinqi Ling writes in Across Meridmusic, speeches, and rallies, and had ians, “[e]ach of these metaphoric hotels both long and short conversations represents a historical moment in or with over 150 individuals from that a different view of Asian American time” (610). In I Hotel, the polyphonic activism in the decade leading up to display of the many voices that lived in the tenants’ forced eviction” (173). In or fought for the low-income housing one case, the I Hotel manifests itself as arises from the synchronic complexithe “‘I’ Hotel” as in me or myself, which ties of the movement represented in illustrates the multi-layered structure the novellas or, as of identity formaYamashita describes tions (193-220). them, the “ten The main characIn the novel’s context, the ‘hotels’”: ters assert their close link between voice and chosen identities, I found my research such as “I am the architecture suggests a vocal was scattered, scatVanguard,” “I am resonance that takes into account a Brother,” “I am tered across political affinities, ethnicities, the living bodies that inhabit an a Martial Artist,” artistic pursuits— and many more. An architectural space through their difficult to coalesce epigraph of selected into any one storyline material production of voice as song lyrics and the or historic chroit gives rise to a multi-faceted name of the singer nology. The people precede every I spoke with had literary soundscape. chapter and provide definitely been in the movement, but often the entire part with times had no idea a soundtrack. From what others had been doing. Their Janis Joplin’s “Freedom is another ideas and lives often intersected, but word for nothing left to lose,” Aretha their ideologies were cast in diverse Franklin’s “R.E.S.P.E.C.T,” to Diana directions. Their choices took different Ross’ “Stop!,” these songs set the tone trajectories, but everyone was there, for the respective chapter and provide really there…. Multiple novellas an acoustic platform for the late 1960s allowed me to tell parallel stories, to identity politics. The section with the experiment with various resonant title “Aiiieeeee! Hotel” is reminiscent narrative voices, and to honor the of the groundbreaking anthology of the complex architecture of a time, a movement, a hotel, and its people. same name published in 1974 (221-91). (Yamashita, Afterword 610) The “Internationale Hotel” establishes close conceptual ties between the Asian Each one of the novel’s parts thus American movement of the time and stands for different aspects of the Asian the promotion of artists by the state American movement, and the demothrough the Public Works of Art Project

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F I L M during the Great Depression (493-531). Yamashita dedicates this part of the novel to the Coit Tower murals in San Francisco, fittingly narrated in social realist form—a fictional form that stands out in the otherwise experimental mixture of narrative styles the novel displays. The episodic structure of the novel reveals an overabundance of details difficult to process for the reader. According to Ling, I Hotel displays “a bewildering array of simultaneously entangled and proliferating events or relationships that can hardly be contained by the conceptual boundaries of the hotel itself and yet at the same time refuse to be developed any further in a predictable fashion” (173). The relation between the metaphorical space suggested by the unfolded boxes and the novel’s polyphonic voices shifts our attention as readers from one fragmented part of the movement to another; and every time a shift occurs, we conceive of the hotel as a different site shaped by the sound of voices resonating within its walls. In Dumbstruck, a history on ventriloquism, Steven Connor argues that “[t]he voice goes out into space, but also always, in its calling for a hearing, or the necessity of being heard, opens a space for itself to go out into, resound in, and return from” (6). In the novel’s context, the close link between voice and architecture suggests a vocal resonance that takes into account the living bodies that inhabit an architectural space through their material production of voice as it gives rise to a multi-faceted literary soundscape. A passage from the chapter entitled “And this will conclude our transmission from the International Hotel” illustrates the novel’s concern with the interdependencies between politics,

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polyphony, and vocal resonance. The chapter introduces the reader to the final act: the demise of the site and scattering of the evacuated inhabitants. In a final outcry, the many voices that had lived in the International Hotel come together as a narrative we: Now we saw Mr. Chang parking his blue Civic hatchback loaded with cabling and recording equipment, and over a period of two years before that fated day in August 1977, we followed Mr. Chang into the hotel [...]. We mapped that brick structure with a complex nervous system of cabling that led to amplifiers, loudspeakers, IFB connectors, multiple microphones, recorders, transmitters, and a master control in a hidden broom closet on the last floor. And this system responded to our reporting voices, communicating our information on every location inside and outside, our message sent through hotel and street corridors [...]. Our wiring caused a great explosion of live sound, our voices and our protest resonating and rippling in waves into the far reaches of the City, across the Bay and through its fingered peninsulas. And the center of our great uproar was a gigantic organic voice box of our own making; it was our I-Hotel. (580)

This passage summarizes Yamashita’s endeavor to re-inject the destructed site and its historical legacy with new life to convey its former tangible existence in all its complexity by reimagining its soundscapes. The passage compares the novel to a radio show delineating how it was recorded and virtually rebuilt as this “gigantic organic voice box.” The narrative we sets in at a time when the political defeat is imminent and epitomizes the loss, while suggesting, at the same time, that something new is born out of the

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E S S A Y rubble: a new alliance that helped to put Asian America on the map in terms of its many shared and nevertheless always particular experiences in the U.S. With I Hotel, Yamashita sounds out the Asian American movement as an initiative that asserted its political relevance through its polyphonic voices, whose impact echoes wider than the initially confined areas of Manilatown, Chinatown, and Japantown. Vocal resonance in the novel ultimately transmits the plight of taking part, an S.O.S. for being heard and accepted as citizens. Works Cited Bakhtin, Mikhail. Problems of Dostoevsky’s Poetics. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1984.Print. Banet-Weiser, Sarah. Preface. Sound Clash: Listening to American Studies. Ed. Kara Keeling and Josh Kun. Special Issue of American Quarterly. Vol. 63. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 2012. v-vi. Print. Connor, Steven. Dumbstruck: A Cultural History of Ventriloquism. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2000. Print.

Johnson, Keith L. “Ars memorativa.” American Book Review Jan./Feb. 2011: 23. Print. Ling, Jinqi. Across Meridians: History and Figuration in Karen Tei Yamashita’s Transnational Novels. Stanford: Stanford University Press, 2012. Print. Ragain, Nathan. “A Revolutionary Romance: Particularity and Universality in Karen Tei Yamashita’s I Hotel.” MELUS: Multi-Ethnic Literature of the United States Mar. 2013: 137–54. Print.

Yamashita, Karen Tei. I Hotel. Minneapolis: Coffee House Press, 2010. Print.

Nathalie Aghoro is a lecturer and a Ph.D. candidate in North American Literary and Cultural Studies at the Catholic University of Eichstaett-Ingolstadt. She studied American, English and French literary studies in Munich and London and wrote her MA thesis on transnational subjects in novels by Caryl Philips, Salman Rushdie and Zadie Smith. She has published essays on works by Thomas Pynchon and Mark Z. Danielewski. Her current research project examines the role of voice and sound in contemporary American novels. She was a visiting scholar at UC Berkeley in 2013. Her research interests include postmodern and contemporary American literature, twentieth and twenty-first century drama, postcolonial studies, sound and media studies, and literary theory.

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Peter Peverelli

Many Shades of Earl Grey—

Chinese Social Media as a Mirror of Chinese Culture 格雷伯爵茶的不同色彩— 中国文化在社交网络中的反射

Instagram artist: photogarrett

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arl Grey tea is my favorite drink for washing down my breakfast. It has been for years. I was therefore delighted to see Earl Grey’s statue in the English port city of Newcastle earlier this year and to learn a bit more about why this particular tea was named after him. A couple of months later, I read a note on WeChat, one of the most popular Chinese social media, from a former Chinese student of mine: “I love to drink a cup of Earl Grey tea.” Interestingly, while the message was in Chinese, the name of the beverage was in Latin letters. Apparently, she regarded it as a very foreign thing, something that did not have a proper name in Chinese. In fact, it doesn’t. Lipton is marketing its Earl Grey tea in China as Gelei

Bojue, where Gelei is the transliteration of Grey and Bojue the translation of Earl. So far, so good. I know Nicolette, as she likes to call herself, as someone with an eclectic taste, who can strike a good balance between the Chinese tradition and foreign influence. She is not one of those young Chinese who interlace their language with English words and phrases, as if their own language is insufficient to describe the thoughts of a member of the ‘after-ninety’ generation, the Chinese designation for people born after 1990. This is certainly not a typically Chinese phenomenon. I am confronted with it daily in my own country. Many people do not refer to their offspring as kinderen, the Dutch word for “children,” but as kids. Most of the readers


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Only a few days after reading that message on WeChat, a friend from China was in town, leading a small delegation from the bank she works for. We had invited her and her party to have coffee at our home. The moment she entered the front door, she stated brashly that she was thirsty, and would like to have a cup of—you guessed it: Earl Grey tea. of this text will do so, too, but then you are mainly Americans, whose mother tongue happens to be English. The word kids, by the way, is always pronounced “kits,” because native speakers of Dutch have a problem with ending words with voiced consonants. Still, these fellow countrymen do not always refer to their children with that English expression. There seems to be a pattern, a set of contexts in which Dutch kinderen becomes kids. Someone should set up a research project to check this out, but it won’t be me. I was trained as a linguist once, but switched to another field two decades ago. However, I still have my radar open for peculiar language. Only a few days after reading that message on WeChat, a friend from China was in town, leading a small delegation from the bank she works for. We had invited her and her party to have coffee at our home. The moment she entered the front door, she stated brashly that she was thirsty and would like to have a cup of—you guessed it: Earl Grey tea. My first reaction was to remind her that our home is our home and not a café, and that although I like

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to think that I am a good host, I am not a waiter. However, I also remembered the post on WeChat that had aroused my interest a couple of days earlier. Was this merely a coincidence, or was this sudden liking of Earl Grey tea perhaps a fad, a vogue among young and well educated Chinese women, possibly to differentiate themselves from the others? After she and her colleagues had left, I wanted to check this little theory of mine. WeChat is an online social medium; call it the Chinese Whatsapp. Was this liking for Earl Grey transmitted through social media. Had it perhaps “gone viral”? Another extremely popular medium is Weibo, the Chinese counterpart of Twitter, which comes with a good search engine and made it a good way to start my little research project. Weibo literally means “micro blog” in Chinese. Twitter has been blocked by the Chinese authorities for some time. No reason has been publicly announced for that decision, but most people believe it was because the Chinese government had no control over the contents of messages tweeted into China. However, others—in particular those more familiar with the Chinese cyber-scene—have claimed that it was also a move to let Weibo monopolize the Chinese market. I opened the Weibo app on my iPhone and typed in “Earl Grey” in Latin script in the search box, to focus my search on tweets that regard the beverage as “foreign.” This resulted in an avalanche of Chinese tweets about Earl Grey tea. And that was by no means a collection of posts covering the past few months, weeks or even days, but only of that particular day. Although the peculiar nicknames make guessing the gender of the writ-

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ers behind these tweets more difficult than regular Chinese names, the majority of those twitterers seemed to be female. The two friends introduced above are also female, so that already was a strong link with the outcome of the search. Most netizens, as they are usually referred to in the China Daily, China’s prime English language newspaper, associate Earl Grey (and Lady Grey, which is also mentioned frequently) with high-end living. When you are tired, there is no better way to boost your spirits as well as your physique than a cup of Earl Grey and a piece of cake. More than a few of the messages are accompanied by photos of a cup of tea and a piece of pie. Let’s have a closer look at the first four pages of the search result. A young girl (she adds a selfie, so we can establish the gender) who calls herself Yvette shares a picture of her cup of tea and her, also female, companion. A boy (again a selfie, with a girl [friend?] in the background) even tweets in English: “A cup of Earl Grey Tea made my day.” The photo of the “cup” shows a paper cup with a plastic lid, much less sophisticated than Yvette’s picture of a China cup. He also should have left out the word

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“tea,”which would have produced a rhyming tweet. He had missed that linguistic detail. Anyway, the photo seems to indicate that his lady friend was quite impressed and that is all that matters. Diana apparently believes that some of her followers are not familiar with this type of tea and volunteers the information that Earl Grey is Lapsang souchong + bergamot oil + Ceylon tea. If you believe that is incorrect, please don’t blame me; blame her. QueenJ confides to us that she is a single-minded woman: her favorite perfume and beverage are both Earl Grey.

CheckPoint Coffee in Bengbu, Anhui province, introduces Early Grey tea from Tea Pigs as the best brand for this product, explaining that it is Himalayan Darjeeling tea scented with Italian bergamot oil. Here we can observe a very Chinese way of thinking: what has come from afar, in particular from abroad, must be good.

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Businesses are also active. CheckPoint Coffee in Bengbu, Anhui province, introduces Early Grey tea from Tea Pigs as the best brand for this product, explaining that it is Himalayan Darjeeling tea scented with Italian bergamot oil. Here we can observe a very Chinese way of thinking: what has come from afar, in particular from abroad, must be good, so we should not forget to point out the geography of the ingredients, which have been blended in the UK and then shipped to China, to be consumed by high-end tea lovers in Bengbu. Chinese residing abroad chip in too. A Canada-based Chinese, Leeeeeeeeeon (sic), tweets completely in English. “Cake is soo good! Earl grey tea is soo good! Sunshine is soo good! Ohsogood is soo good! Everything in my life is soooooo good.” Zooming in on his account, I see that most of his posts are in Chinese, so the choice of English for his tweet on Earl Grey also stresses the “foreign” character of this brew. He describes his location as “Overseas, Canada.” Canada alone is insufficient, so he adds the emotionally laden expression “overseas” (haiwai) to stress how far away from home he lives. His

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exaggerations about how all aspects of his life are so good may be a hint that in fact the opposite is true. Many of his posts are reminiscences of Chinese food and how good it tastes at home. So, cake and Earl Grey tea may actually be a poor substitute. Extolling something is a very Chinese way of expressing sarcasm. The post of Zhang, also living in Canada, strikes me as almost a poem: A hazy sky, red maple leaves, a wet street; it is the rainy season in Vancouver. The last day of October is already half finished. Drinking a cup of Earl Grey [in Latin script], cleaning my room. Although it is only noon, the unlit room looks gray.

This IS a poem, and a classic Chinese one too. However eager Chinese may seem to learn about foreign regions (and their beverages), in the end there is no place like home. Throughout Chinese history, Chinese residing outside the Chinese homeland have been writing poetry about their anguish for being separated from their hometown and their friends. The single most famous poem in this genre was written by Li Bai (701–762),

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while in exile. It is entitled “Thoughts On a Quiet Night” and runs: In front of my bed, there is bright moonlight. It strikes me as frost on the ground. I raise my head and gaze at the Bright Moon, I lower my head and think of my hometown.

That lonely Chinese in Vancouver in late October 2014 is expressing exactly the same feelings as those of Li Bai, even using a few analogous symbols. Now, Earl Grey is no longer a beverage that has come from abroad and gives the consumer the privileged feeling of being able to recognize and enjoy such a rare drink. It is a symbol of being stuck in a foreign land with very little reminding you of home. Even the tea, China’s national beverage, is foreign. This was a great catch. So many different shades of meaning given to Earl Grey tea in Chinese tweets, and all in a single day. Given this function of Earl Grey as a signifier of foreignness, I was curious whether a traditional Chinese tea, like Pu’er, would be discussed in the same media. Pu’er is a special kind of tea grown in southern Yunnan province. It is widely believed in China that after a heavy meal, a cup of Pu’er tea will help to dissolve the grease and remove excessive fat from the body. It is traditionally pressed into bricks, which are easy to transport and store for longer periods. In the old days, traders would sell the tea bricks in Tibet and Southeast Asia. There even was a special TeaHorse Road, a kind of Silk Road for tea. Nowadays, Pu’er tea is exported to all continents, bringing in more than USD 2 million p.a. in hard currency. It has become such an important product for its home region, that the local government changed its original name, Simao, to Pu’er a few years ago.

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The first post on Pu’er captured on still the same day likens various types of beverages to different types of friends: Some friends are like mineral water: pure and transparent. They are always there for you, when you need them. Some friends are like green tea: fragrant and pleasing. When you are together you feel warm, even when not speaking. Some friends are like Tieguanyin: strong flavored. When you are together, you are never short of a topic for conversation. Some friends are like Pu’er tea: they leave a long after taste. Their deep thoughts stay with you while making strategic decisions.

Wow, the difference with the elegance of Earl Grey is striking! It clearly shows that Pu’er and other indigenous teas have deep roots in Chinese culture. The next tweet is very down to earth referring to Pu’er’s reputation of decreasing body fat. Nothing philosophical there. Another recommends Pu’er tea for a mental boost, or as (s)he puts it in Chinese: “to make your spirit return (hui hun).” I wonder where it went. According to Chinese medicine,

It is widely believed in China that after a heavy meal, a cup of Pu’er tea will help to dissolve the grease and remove excessive fat from the body. It is traditionally pressed into bricks, which are easy to transport and store for longer periods. In the old days, traders would sell the tea bricks in Tibet and Southeast Asia. There even was a special Tea-Horse Road, a kind of Silk Road for tea.

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He Who Carries a Sword, in spite of his mythological cyber-name, gives a scientific explanation about the polyphenols in Pu’er tea, the active antioxidants that play a key role in all those positive effects ascribed to this brew. When you surf to his Weibo home page, you learn that he has a medical background, but is now a tea merchant. He seems like a guy who is literally following that Chinese tradition of mingling food and medicine. humans have two souls. The hun, or ethereal soul, is coming from the father, three days after birth, and the po, the corporeal soul, is given by the mother, three days after conception. The hun leaves the body immediately after you die, while the po remains with the body until it has completely decayed. When your hun leaves the body, like the astral body can leave the physical one, during out of body experiences, you are losing something quite essential to your existence. You would want it to return, soon preferably. If Pu’er can help you do so, it is a powerful concoction, a medicine, almost. I sense a link with the friends that are like Pu’er tea. Such friends are like a mental boost, like people that help you keep your body and (ethereal) soul together. Such friends should be cherished. Several posts about Pu’er tea of that day follow suit. Some discussants add that Pu’er can also lower hypertension. Stupid Man (sic!) even wants to

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make us believe it can prevent cancer. Perhaps that’s why he chose such a nickname for his Weibo account. I remember that during one of my longer periods in China, during the early 1980s, I was struck by a beer advertisement in the China Daily. It too claimed that drinking it regularly could prevent several diseases, in particular cancer. The next day’s issue also carried that ad, but without the strong medicinal claim. This apparent ease in making medicinal claims for everyday beverages like tea or beer is again linked to the Chinese medical tradition, which sees a huge overlap between nutrition and medicine. When you have lung problems, you can visit so-called medicinal restaurants in China and ask the chef to compose a meal from dishes that alleviate lung ailments. He Who Carries a Sword, in spite of his mythological cyber-name, gives a scientific explanation about the polyphenols in Pu’er tea, the active antioxidants that play a key role in all those positive effects ascribed to this brew. When you surf to his Weibo home page, you learn that he has a medical background, but is now a tea merchant. He seems like a guy who is literally following that Chinese tradition of mingling food and medicine. RED (sic, again) from Shanghai recommends a newly opened restaurant that serves Yunnan food. One of the dishes highlighted is shrimp prepared in Pu’er tea. That doesn’t ring a bell. However, my instinct tells me that it is a kind of “local” dish that restaurant owners often create outside their home region to make their dishes even more authentic than genuine traditional ones, like if I would start a Dutch restaurant in New York and put “shrimp prepared in Heineken” on the menu. It would not appeal to the Dutch palate, but Ameri-

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cans may actually buy it as typically Dutch. Businesses are posting about Pu’er tea as well, like an outlet of Coffee Accompanies You (Kafei Pei Ni) in Luoyang, Henan province. Coffee? Sure, why not. We drink coffee when we need a mental boost, and Chinese drink Pu’er for the same reason. French missionaries must have realized that when they brought a coffee sprout to Dali, another city in that region. This small sprout rooted itself deep into the local soil, and this century-old coffee tree is said to still stand tall today. 98% of China’s coffee production is located in Yunnan. I am reading on, hoping to stumble across more exciting thoughts, like some of the posts about Earl Grey tea. Several tweets tell a little history of Pu’er tea. Not uninteresting by itself, but for whom? They must realize that most of their readers share a basic

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knowledge about this famous tea. So why post it after all on this medium? Are they perhaps so proud of this one of China’s national treasures? Chinese do have a propensity to stretch patriotism to the verge of nationalism. Hey, what’s this: the Editorial Board of Pu’er Tea magazine. So there is a magazine dedicated to this tea? I was not aware of that, but it makes sense. Chinese are not only strong patriots, but even more ardent regional chauvinists. Think of Li Bai’s poem that I quoted earlier, where he writes that the moon-lit ground reminds him of the frosty soil of his home town. If it is Pu’er tea that puts your home region on the map, then it is worth compiling a magazine for it, filled with stories and information, perhaps even more poems. Interestingly, the magazine’s logo consists of the stylized Chinese characters for the name and Pu-erh in Latin letters. This is the older

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Wade-Giles transliteration of Chinese, devised by Western missionaries in the second half of the 19th century, and the most common one until 1958, when the Pinyin transliteration crafted by Chinese linguists was officially adopted by the United Nations. This was when Peking became known as Beijing; and Pu-erh became Pu’er. It is getting time to turn to what the Chinese think about their social media themselves. My dear friend and academic associate, Lynda, was thrilled when hearing about my writing about the Chineseness of Chinese social media. The ideas she shared with me are deep, so I will share them here with you. She believes that the Chinese feel that Weibo is a way for individuals to promote themselves and for companies to promote their brands. Weibo is also a platform on which friends or relatives communicate on a small scale. According to Lynda, some people say that Weibo “is like putting your stinking socks outside on the street to dry.” Weibo does not have a broad scope, but through word of mouth transfer, rumors can be spread quickly and can be a cause of irritation.

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WeChat is a stage on which the entire family can talk, chat, or exchange photos. It’s great fun. WeChat has a function which allows you to exchange short spoken messages that you can play and reply to in your own time. It is like making a telephone call with shorter or longer pauses in between the statements of the interlocutors. When you receive a message at a moment at which it is inconvenient to speak, you listen and wait for the next moment you can record and send your reply. In theory, spouses who are in different parts of the world can be engaged in a continuous teleconversation, starting at home in the morning, continuing in the subway on your way to the office, while at work, during lunch break, any time. Sometimes statements will be seconds between one another, but at other times there can be pauses of several minutes or longer. And that is not all. WeChat allows you to be engaged in such continuous conversations with several people simultaneously. You can do so by intermittently replying to messages from several contacts, or by grouping close friends, family members or colleagues together in a group, so you can leave

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one message that can be read and heard by all group members. My wife became an ardent user of WeChat almost from the moment it was launched. She is Chinese residing in The Netherlands. Her two sisters live in Beijing, and until the WeChat era, they stayed in contact through email and cheap telephone schemes. Once they had all installed WeChat, they formed a group called Three Sisters, and they are exchanging spoken messages, photos, links to interesting web sites, and even making video calls, all using their respective homes’ existing Internet connection. My friend Lynda introduced me to a group of Chinese academics active in the same field. Whenever someone has read an interesting article, (s)he immediately shares it with the group on WeChat. They also share useful contacts and links for collecting data, communicate dates and venues of seminars and guest lectures at their respective universities. This suits the Chinese collectivist culture. Take a ride in the underground of any major Chinese city and you will see people of all ages fiddling with their cell phones, typing or recording messages, reading or listening to the replies, looking at pictures sent by that cousin who is on a trip in the UK. WeChat is still the favorite medium. So, are online social media in China one big success story? Not quite. A Chinese organization has tried to launch a Chinese version of Facebook, which is also blocked in China. The name again reflects the collectivistic inclination of the Chinese: All People Net (Renren Wang). It was not a success, and very few people are actively using it. WeChat is imitating many features of Renren, while WeChat still has the edge in possibilities for instant communication.

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Similarly, a company has attempted to establish a Chinese competitor for LinkedIn, Ushi (Youshi, which is homophonous with the Chinese word for ”advantage”). However, that experiment has failed completely. I tried to visit the site while writing this article, only to find out that it is no longer on the web. LinkedIn is not blocked by the Chinese authorities. Many Chinese professionals have joined and use this platform actively for networking and profiling themselves in general, or seeking jobs, or business for their companies. LinkedIn seems to work well for them for these ends, but from a Chinese cultural perspective it is too cold, too impersonal—it misses what the Chinese like to call renqi. This expression literally means “people spirit.” It can be used to describe an event like a trade fair or a location like a shopping street that attracts many visitors, whose collective presence constructs a lively atmosphere. The total impression of

LinkedIn is not blocked by the Chinese authorities. Many Chinese professionals have joined and use this platform actively for networking and profiling themselves in general, or seeking jobs, or business for their companies. LinkedIn seems to work well for them for these ends, but from a Chinese cultural perspective it is too cold, too impersonal—it misses what the Chinese like to call renqi. This expression literally means “people spirit.”

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E S S A Y people, their chatter, their diversity, is what constitutes renqi. And that is probably what makes Weibo and WeChat so successful. They are virtual reconstructions of locales high in renqi. You connect there with existing contacts and pick up many new ones, who share some of your own interests. Even professionals like my friend, Lynda, who joined LinkedIn on my advice, are far more active on WeChat than LinkedIn, even in their contacts with professional relations.

Why? Because WeChat beats LinkedIn in renqi. Am I advising that LinkedIn should adapt? I donâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;t think so. LinkedIn needs to stay as it is, to serve a global crosscultural community. Moreover, the very fact that it lacks renqi is probably the reason that it has not been blocked by the Chinese cyberpolice. LinkedIn is therefore an important link between the indigenous Chinese online media and the outside world. Let Chinese media serve the Chinese people; they are doing a good job.

Peter has been part-time affiliated with the Faculty of Economics & Business Administration of VU University Amsterdam since 2001, alongside his consulting practice. His core academic interests are organization theory, corporate culture and identity and entrepreneurship. Peter laid the foundation for this expertise at the age of 14, when he started to learn Chinese in an evening course, purely out of personal interest. This resulted in a PhD in Arts (Leiden University, 1986). After his freshman year, in 1975, Peter was one of the first Dutch students to be selected to go to China for a year. As that was the final year of the Cultural Revolution, it was quite eventful, which he has recently re-captured in his book, One Turbulent Yearâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; China 1975. Peter moved back to China to teach Dutch at Peking University from 1982 to 1984 and while there, apparently did more than teaching, as he got married to a Chinese national as well. From 1986 to 1991, Peter represented a Dutch firm in China, after which he established his own consulting practice. During his work as a consultant, Peter developed, and is still developing, an organization theory. This has led to a second PhD in Business Administration (Erasmus University Rotterdam, 2001). His co-authored book Understanding the Basic Dynamics of Organization is his core work explaining his thinking on organizations. After several years of publishing academic books and articles, Peter has recently grown an interest in more popular writings. His book about his year in China as a student is the first product of that change.

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E S S A Y

Russell Burrows

Report Card: Chinese Class 中文课的成绩单

Michael Wutz

W

hy, what, who? Why would a professor make of himself a student? What could have gotten into me when I chose, of all things, beginning Chinese? Who turns himself inside-out who doesn’t have to? Those questions share this context: indeed, yes, I work here at the university, primarily in American literature. I also fly sorties into world literatures and sometimes into Shakespeare. Not least, the occasional writing class helps to flesh out my assignments. I am well down the career track, in fact. If I had

a lick of sense, I might content myself with this work that was once hard-won. Why not husband what remains of it? Instead, I try to mimic the snarls and squeals of Mandarin Chinese. This is how I spend my spare energies, and, somewhat perversely, I like it. Its classwork is more structured, more intense than the patter/natter of literary discussion. Our voices in Chinese recitation honk like bike horns. All as one, like a school of fish, our heads wheel from one blackboard to another. Then, all alone, and condemned, we go


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To speak any hefty passage in Chinese is to accept the dance of a dunce. Nervous tics in great variety appear and disappear. For one, I have taken to swinging an elbow as did herky-jerky Mitch Miller at his choral podium. This is my body in sympathetic suffering with what remains of my brain. Why can’t I string together ming and ping, gong and zhong without a spastic stripping of some deep-down gears? A billion souls yammer this language, with apparent ease, yet I can strangle on so little as four syllables. to the front where we deliver ourselves of our memorizations. We blast, and scrape, and dredge them up. To speak any hefty passage in Chinese is to accept the dance of a dunce. Nervous tics in great variety appear and disappear. For one, I have taken to swinging an elbow as did herky-jerky Mitch Miller at his choral podium. This is my body in sympathetic suffering with what remains of my brain. Why can’t I string together ming and ping, gong and zhong without a spastic stripping of some deep-down gears? A billion souls yammer this language, with apparent ease, yet I can strangle on so little as four syllables. More precisely, the four infamous “tones” of Chinese are the difficulty. The problem down near its nub is I have never learned to sing. At least, I cannot sharply inflect my voice, as singers will. Safe at the backs of congre-

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gations—hardly ever up front, I have grown up talking in the monotones and in the laconic idiom of the great American West. “Bury me nigh on the lone prairie.” This won’t answer the Chinese, who effortlessly hit sustained tones, and rising tones, and falling tones—all meaningful. The Chinese can even hit the fourth on that list of four, the “reverse hiccup” tone. The term is my own and may be quite a bit better than the dictionary’s terms, which I half-quote, half-paraphrase: sandhi, a “bidirectional” tone or a “fusional change” from the Sanskrit for “joining together.” This mouthful undertakes to describe a tone that falls and rises, almost at once. For the first half of its split-second duration, the tone falls. And for its second half, the tone brightens or rises. In effect, it’s the reverse of a hiccup but without the push of a diaphragm. By any other reckoning, this falling/rising tone is a hitch in the Chinese get-a-long and is maddening to make with any semblance of spontaneity. Although, make those tones students must, if they mean to speak well. Much turns on ma 妈 with its sustained or flat tone, meaning “mother”; on ma 麻 with its rising tone, meaning “hemp”; on ma 骂 with its falling tone, meaning “to scold”; and on ma 马 with its “reverse hiccup,” meaning “horse.” What’s more, if those aren’t enough, ma 吗 without stress—up, down, or around—at the end of a sentence, works as an interrogative particle. That is, the Chinese very obligingly say their question marks, while we signal questions in English with sentence rearrangements and

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often with context or with inflection. commonplace that Chinese has homoIt’s bothersome when I must admit this phones piled atop homophones because much, but there have been those times Chinese is impoverished of sounds: in Chinese when I hadn’t caught one there is a ji 鸡 for “chicken,” a ji 机for word. Nevertheless, I took the sen“machine,” a ji 基for “base,” a ji 绩for tence rightly as a question, because it “product,” a ji 饥 for “hungry,” and ended with “ma.” Something, then, was then, two ji’s for the two infinitives: “to wanted of me . . . . strike 击” and “to amass 集”—all seven Such a slippery business are tones, of those ji’s pronounced in flat tones. they have given rise to a joke: one about I could make further lists of homoa Shanghai tourist who would try out phones, just thumbing my dictionary. his Chinese, come what may. Intent on Still, this ji grates memorably over my buying a pair of pants, this intrepid one nerves. There was once that dinner skidded onto the wrong tone and mantable, where I thought I had heard the aged in an instant to sell the pants he ji 鸡for “chicken.” It did seem a likely wore. How was this, place for “chicken.” if you haven’t already And I had been thinkcaught the humor—its ing well of “chicken,” Across from our travails— drift, and its point? owing to marvelous The words for “buy” aromas. So I would that is, across the hallway— and “sell” are prepostalk “chicken.” If another language class has the managing nothing terously both mai买,卖. comforts of its Latin cognates. They turn on the difelse, I would declare ference of their tones. in the wooden syntax They have the sounds (as well And, yes, the mai 买 of our text: “chicken as the printed appearance) for “buy” does admit meat is good to eat.” of linguistic ground stakes, of that exasperating But the ji 机there “hiccup.” So who’s meant “machine”— driven steadfastly home. We been going around the machine, as it could sure use some of those. with this one, pleased happened, in “cell to tell it, and to tell it phone.” Undersome more? A part of stand, the Chinese me wants to decline the credit of it (and rather plainly call their phones “hand perhaps also the disgrace of it) and steal machines,” and my underdone “chickback beneath the cloak of the thirden” wing, ungarnished on its cold plate, person: he likes the anonymity of those didn’t present all that delectably beside third-row seats—this wisenheimer the others’ “phones.” To miss the condoes, where he has caught, and tended, text in Chinese is usually to miss the and petted whatever comedy would whole shebang. offer itself—when so many rapid-fire We persist, anyway—and improve sounds have kept breaking into so perceptibly, if not rapidly. Across from many disparate meanings. our travails—that is, across the hallOn a closely related point, if I also way—another language class has the seem to exclaim over numbers of purecomforts of its Latin cognates. They bred homophones, it’s because Chinese have the sounds (as well as the printed has more than ever were at Babel’s appearance) of linguistic ground stakes, Awful Confounding. It’s a linguistic driven steadfastly home. We could sure

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E S S A Y a page, and my finger again has its use some of those. Language classes old employment, running beneath the all up and down the curriculum have sentences, leading me “half a [line], half their foundations in the various Roman a [line] onward” (this in debt to Tenscripts. And what a crippling loss are nyson’s “Brigade”). I feel my lips again those elementary ABC’s. The three move. Any half hour over new stuff can elementary Chinese characters are those exhaust my concentration. Whether I that represent one, two, and three: 一, try to write or to read, the characters 二, 三. And, thereafter, Chinese begins blur, blend, and come up off the page to riot in its complexities. Picture any like a bee swarm, straight for me. teaming Chinatown in the uproar of its At this point, is anyone ready to call street signs. Next, picture a pint-sized me on my claim that I can somehow but large-hearted Taiwanese lady, our like this torture? I teacher, laying down like it in the way that hard propositions: with I have liked my other so few as 2,000 charadventures. They acters, we might begin In tighter summary: the can turn tough, but to read ads, and road characters are damnably hard I keep them in the signs, and such workto recall. They’re damnably category of the hard a-day stuff. With 3,000 hard to write neatly, to say pleasures. Recall to 4,000 characters, we that twang in my might begin to reach nothing of gracefully. The talk? Its address is into the newspapers. parts of mine in proportion to authentic. Western, With 4,000 to 5,000 their other parts are often as born and raised, I characters, we might have always loved begin to keep up with ugly as the old queen beside broken landscapes, the college grads. Here her dwarf. Sitting at my climbing up high, is dicta to slaughter off and getting off to the a handsome number of calligraphy, which is odd to far side of nowhere. American students—to say, I am again the school kid, Tagging along with ruin them clear down “fisting” a fat pencil over a other fools, I have to the pedagogical thebeen hungry, wet, ories about their (dim) fatly-ruled tablet. sun-struck, blistered, scholastic potentials. frozen, saddle-sore, In tighter summary: thirsty, bug-bit, the characters are damand altogether played out. But those nably hard to recall. They’re damnably weren’t such bad times. hard to write neatly, to say nothing of Neither have been the classes, gracefully. The parts of mine in pronever mind my grousing about some portion to their other parts are often deep Chinese pot holes. Adventuras ugly as the old queen beside her ing in linguistics, I will bow to the dwarf. Sitting at my calligraphy, which Indo-European and kiss her fair hand is odd to say, I am again the school kid, goodbye—then, surmount a Himalayan “fisting” a fat pencil over a fatly-ruled hump—and ski, tramp, and raft down tablet. “Then, sir, if writing’s so much into the Sino-Tibetan heritage. It’s a trouble, why not just read and quit far country, with funny ways. Jets may your bellyaching?” Would that reading whisk us away. But they don’t leap the were any great relief. No, I start down

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barriers of speech, nor of text, nor of sion hits another bull’s-eye: “face/test custom. Those abide. Strange to ponder, 面试.” The Chinese combine the simple but some of my adventuresome affeccharacter for “face 面,” and the simple tion for Chinese may be the improbable character for “test 试,” and take from mark the culture lays down. It could “face/test 面试” the idea of an “interbe the closest I will ever approach the view.” This metaphor is too close for space alien. comfort. In the meantime, I have fallen in A third one is the character for love with the poetry of the characters. “protection.” As a metaphor for guardNotice how I cannot love the characters ing property (or persons), this expresthemselves but the poetry that seems to sion also has its appeal: “hand/house inhere, to inhabit, or to animate. In the 护.” The Chinese combine the simple spoken language, I still overheat and character for “hand 扌,” and the simple labor as if pulling sharply uphill. But in character for “house 户,” and take from the written language, “hand/house 护” the when I’ve time to look idea of the symbolic twice at the characters, hand ready at the Jets may whisk us away. But I don’t rev up above door, capable of they don’t leap the barriers the red-line. In this protecting whomever sense, the most intermay stand within. of speech, nor of text, nor of esting of the characters No less than seven custom. Those abide. Strange strike me purely as expressions make one-word poems. The to ponder, but some of my various uses of the best one, which I have adventuresome affection for character for “heart been impatient to get 心.” Perhaps the simChinese may be the improbable plest one, if not also to, is the character mark the culture lays down. It the best, is the characfor “lesson 课.” As a metaphor of what a ter for “happy 开心.” could be the closest I will ever lesson ought to be, This metaphor should approach the space alien. the expression seems please nearly everythe perfect creation: one: “open/ heart “word/fruit.” The 开心.” The Chinese Chinese combine the combine the simple simple character for “word 言 ,” and character for “open 开,” and the simple the simple character for “fruit果,” and character for “heart 心,” and take from take from “word/fruit 課 ” the idea of “open/heart 开心 ” the idea of “happia “lesson.” If there are better connotaness.” Since learning to recognize this tions in other languages for lesson, one, I haven’t had that many happy then I will gladly hear of them. Until moments without musing over my own then, I’m throwing in with the Chiheart, perhaps, grown somehow more nese. “Word/fruit” should sweeten the open, more willing, more ready. complexions of teachers and of texts in If Chinese has an “open/heart,” subjects of whatever sort. what about the possibility of a “closed/ Another good one is the character heart”? As it happens, there is such for “interview” or for “audition.” As a an expression, though it’s a late addimetaphor of what interviews and audition to what I have been able to learn tions can often exact of us, this expresabout Chinese “hearts.” This one is for

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开心 the “miserable” times. Why must they be? The Chinese combine the simple character for “door 门,” and the simple character for “heart 心,” and take from “door/heart 闷” the idea of “misery,” the result of keeping one’s emotions slammed “indoors,” in the “heart.” Almost predictably, the Chinese also have the expression of a “hurt/heart,” which they use for “sadness.” They take the simple character for “hurt 伤,” and the simple character for “heart 心,” and very directly take from “hurt/ heart 伤 心” the idea of “sadness.” The fourth combination to use “heart” is the expression for “caution” or for “care.” As a metaphor, this may not satisfy your first expectations. But give it its due. The Chinese combine the simple character for “small 小,” and the simple character for “heart 心,” and take from “small/heart 小心” the idea of being “careful.” While on their staircases, and while at their crosswalks, they will admonish one another with insistent repetitions: “small/ heart, small/heart 小心,小心”—take care, take care. The fifth combination to use “heart” is the expression for “fear.” This metaphor seems to have originated from something physiological. The Chinese combine the simple character for “white 白,” and the simple character for “heart 忄,” and take from “white/heart 怕” the idea of “fear.” Fear, of course, seems to drain our faces, leaving them colorless. This is common enough in our western context. Its counterpart across the

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Pacific is the “fear” that likewise drains a “heart”of its blood. The sixth combination to use “heart” is the expression for “busy.” This metaphor seems a superior condemnation of the bad “busy” habit. The Chinese combine the simple character for “heart 忄,” and the simple character for “death 亡,” and take from “heart/death 忙” the anxious distraction of being “busy.” They haven’t healthy “hearts,” apparently, the Chinese, freed now as they find themselves, for money-making in wildly open markets. The seventh combination to use “heart” is the expression for “forgetfulness.” This is another especially poignant metaphor. It, too, uses the simple characters for “heart/death.” But the arrangement on the page is different. In your mind’s eye, put the character for “death 亡” directly above the character for “heart 心.” This vertical arrangement is permissible in Chinese script. And here, as I say, we have the character representing “forgetful.” “Heart/ death 忘.” Yikes, those are some high stakes, when my memory more and more proves to be semi-permeable. This is a study in which the rank amateur can have a continually mystifying kind of fun. So indulge me for another fast, short run of it: (1) the characters for “map” are “earth/picture 地图.” (2) the characters for “gift” are “ceremony/thing 礼物” (so much for private generosity and quiet gifting).

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(3) the characters for “cash” are “now/ gold 现金.” (4) the related characters for a “snack” are either “small/food 小吃,” or better yet, “zero/ food 零食.” (5) the characters for “nurse” are “protection (as in hand-at-the-door)/scholar 护士.” And (6) the characters for “hurry” are “on/horse马上.” I have in mind, finally, the poem “On First Looking Into Chapman’s Homer” by John Keats. The occasion for this poem was Keats having read Chapman’s famous translation deep into the small hours. Keats then found his figurative language in the adventure of the conquistadors climbing Central

America’s mountains and catching the Europeans’ first glimpse of the Pacific. Such was Keats’ imagination, which I liken to mine for Chinese. It still feels very much like a boundless quest. My hope is prompt: get out there with something just about as skullcracking as my Chinese. Ride your hobby in your own way. But go up against something big and don’t turn it loose. You could find yourself asking the question I have asked of myself, many more times than once: I chose Chinese, and what in the devil had gotten into me?

I want to recognize two splendid individuals: Melissa Su-Wen Pittman, my Chinese teacher. She stands with the very best teachers all across the disciplines. John Clements also commands my great respect and gratitude. He didn’t need the college credit any more than I needed the credit. He studied and stumbled through Chinese for the fun of it. John may be the best student I have ever known. And I’ve known some good ones.

Russell Burrows is a professor of English at Weber State, specializing in American literature. He is also a contributor to The Festschriften and Other Analyzed Collections Section of the Modern Language Association’s International Bibliography, a position he has held since surviving his mandatory Research and Bibliography course in graduate school. He divides his free time between writing personal essays and woodworking. On weekends, he escapes to the hills, where he works as a National Ski Patrolman.

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Greg Lewis

The Shanghai Filmscript Institute and Maoist Cinema’s Problematic Legacy, 1949-1966 中国电影剧本创作所与毛泽东时代中国电影的一些问题

I

Great Leap Forward-era classic: The Red Detachment of Women, 1961.

n this essay I will consider three political movements triggered by China’s central government, namely, the Movement to Criticize the Story of Wu Xun/ Wu Xun zhuan pipan yundong in 1951, the Anti-Rightist campaign of 1957, and the Great Leap Forward between 1958 and 1961. Each of these substantially affected Shanghai filmmakers and their institutions during the so-called seventeen years (1949-1966) of the Maoist period. More specifically, I find the work of Shanghai Filmscript Institute executive secretary Wang Shizhen, writer Shen Ji, and Shanghai Film Studio director Xie Jin potentially helpful in examining aspects of this history. Though differing considerably in their backgrounds, personality, and areas of responsibility,

these three men were close colleagues and collectively are associated with the best Shanghai cinema produced during the Maoist period. Several questions come to mind as one looks at these individuals, their institutions, and for want of a better word, China’s film culture. Most simply and directly, who was responsible for what the Chinese saw on the silver screen in these years? Second, Maoist-era films came under heavy fire from scholars after the “new period/ xin shiqi” (also sometimes called the “second liberation”) after 1979 and now are routinely dismissed for their excessive propaganda and artificiality. As identified by the people in the industry itself, what were the problems and how does one assess their efforts in response


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to the challenges they faced? Finally, with recent explosive and damning revelations about the Great Leap Forward (1958-1962) coming to light— based on archival research by Chinese journalist Yang Jisheng and European scholar Frank Dikotter, among others—does an even more negative appraisal of this era’s films await in the future? (And by implication, a harsher appraisal of the filmmakers themselves?)

worker-peasant-soldier (gongnongbing) themes. This was often easier said than done. Changchun in the northeast was China’s film capital, not Shanghai, and nearly all of the 19 state-sponsored features made in Changchun in 19491950 embraced gongnongbing themes. Many Changchun filmmakers, in fact, had come from the ranks of workers, peasants, or soldiers. What early Changchun features like Daughters of China/Zhonghua nu’er and The White-Haired Girl/Bai mao nu lacked The Wu Xun Movement/Wu Xun in production values, they more than zhuan pipan yundong (1951-52) made up for in unflinching realism. By contrast, Shanghai’s Of the three men, half-dozen private Wang Shizhen (1922studios often dealt Many Changchun filmmakers, with urban social 2014) was the first in fact, had come from the to professionally problems, and few confront the Maoist of its filmmakers had ranks of workers, peasants, political maelstrom. direct knowledge of or soldiers. What early Lacking a sufficient gongnongbing lives. Changchun features like urban presence when This relatively it took power in 1949, tranquil period of Daughters of China/ the Chinese CommuChinese filmmaking nist Party (CCP) called Zhonghua nu’er and The came to an abrupt White-Haired Girl/Bai upon Shanghai-gradend in May 1951 with uated youth to return the onset of the Wu mao nu lacked in production to the city. Among Xun zhuan political values, they more than made these was 27 year movement. Publiup for in unflinching realism. old Wang Shizhen, cized as “the story of who had joined the a worker’s struggle CCP in 1947. With a for self-education,” degree from Yanjing the film Wu Xun University, Wang found himself on a zhuan/The Story of Wu Xun was nearly career fast-track as co-editor of Dazhong four hours long and had taken six years dianying/Popular Cinema. In its first year for the private Kunlun studio and its of publication, China’s only film magadirector, Sun Yu, to produce. It gained zine established a steady readership both popular and critical acclaim after through features, film criticism, letters its December 1950 premiere. However, to the editor, and even advertising for Mao Zedong’s People’s Daily editorial American Simplex cameras (Bian 1986). criticizing the film for “failing to touch At first, Wang Shizhen and his staff the economic roots of feudalism” and substantially met government political for “fanatically propagating a servile, expectations through praise for, and feudal culture” set off a firestorm of emphasis toward, films with so-called criticism nationally. Nearly 50 negative

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E S S A Y editorials appeared in major publicaties between the central government tions within weeks, including one in and the film industry were such that Dazhong dianying (Chen 2013). Dazhong dianying ceased publication for Dazhong dianying was enormously fifteen months, and the industry itself, popular with readers, and partly filled with doubts about what kind of because of voluminous incoming mail films to produce, completed only one its editors had voted Wu Xun zhuan feature film over the next eighteen the 9th best film of 1950. As criticism months. According to my research, swirled around the film in spring Wang was hardly the fearful type. He 1951, co-editor Wang Shizhen faced was, however, relatively young and an unenviable dilemma. Like most of new to the film business, and with the the Shanghai film industry in a state community, he of paralysis, it respected Sun Yu seemed his promand felt the film ising career might was undebe prematurely serving of its derailed. Fortupolitical nately, in the tribal opproenvironment that brium. On the marked early postother hand, with liberation Chinese the written selffilmmaking, Wang criticisms of Sun Yu Shizhen and a half-dozen had two other film and important cultural adminbeneistrators in hand factors: (for publication), Xia Yan he could scarcely and Chen avoid writing an Huangmei. Iconic image of Maoist-era popular culture: Actress Zhang editorial himself. Xia Yan (1900Ruifang as Li Shuangshuang. Despite his status 1995) had first as a Party member, Wang Shizhen joined the CCP and then the Mingxing had little knowledge about how deep Film Company in 1932, and over the the criticism of Wu Xun zhuan should next two decades was perhaps the go, or how long it might last. He was industry’s most versatile screenwriterprofoundly troubled after writing the critic. Chen Huangmei’s (1913-1996) editorial condemning the film—and the initial success also came as a writer in Shanghai film community behind it— the left-wing movement of the 1930s, and had few regrets about remaining though he turned exclusively to film in Shanghai when the entire Dazhong administration work after 1949 (Chen dianying operation was transferred to 2006). Beijing directly after the Wu Xun zhuan In observing the chaotic conditions campaign subsided in summer 1951 then prevailing in the film industry (Wang 2004). (even as the rest of China’s economic Wang Shizhen could not have recovery proceeded apace), both Xia known that the tensions and uncertainYan and Chen Huangmei identified

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a lack of quality scripts as the critical Shanghai’s return to film preemiweakness in the filmmaking process. nence came in 1954 with the engrossing Furthermore, each man had longthriller Reconnaissance Across the Yangzi/ standing ties to Shanghai cinema, Dujiang zhenchaji. With its civil war-era and expected Shanghai to recover its focus on a Communist scout team sent preeminent position. Accordingly, they to discover Nationalist army artillery established China’s first scriptwriting placements, Reconnaissance conformed organization, the Shanghai Filmscript to worker-peasant-soldier sensibilities. Institute/Shanghai chuangzuo yanjiIt featured former soldier-turned-writer usuo (SFI) on March 13, 1952, with Xia Shen Mojun’s taut script, sure-handed Yan as chairman, Ke Ling as vice-chair, direction by veteran Tang Xiaodan, and Wang Shizhen as secretary. This and outstanding performances by actor master stroke enabled Wang Shizhen Sun Daolin and others. The Shanghai to shore up his career Film Studio (SFS), prospects, and in a Wang Shizhen, and city where, despite the the Filmscript InstiPrivate film production in movement to criticize tute all benefited Wu Xun zhuan, the from Reconnaissance Shanghai ceased altogether industry would likely in February 1952, putting Across the Yangzi’s stand to flourish longpopularity. Steady pressure on Wang Shizhen’s term. increases in SFS Although Premier Filmscript Institute to produce production volume Zhou Enlai had and quality led to the viable stories. Favoring assured Xia Yan and formation in April resumption of film production Chen Huangmei, 1957 of three separate among others, that Shanghai studios, and was a resilient group of they should continue filmmakers, most of whom had still greater producto make films as tivity even after the made films through more than Anti-Rightist political before, film production in later 1951 and campaign began in a decade of war and inflation. 1952 did not recover. the same year. For the State-run studios in Filmscript Institute, Shanghai, ChangXia Yan’s removal chun, and Beijing released only four to Beijing (as Vice-Minister of Culture) films in eighteen months after Wu Xun and additional national administrazhuan was withdrawn from circulative duties taken on by Institute vicetion. Meanwhile, private film producchairman Ke Lin, led to Wang Shizhen’s tion in Shanghai ceased altogether in effective day-to-day management of February 1952, putting pressure on operations (though in title he remained Wang Shizhen’s Filmscript Institute executive secretary)(Shanghai 1999). to produce viable stories. Favoring Others in Shanghai cheered the film resumption of film production was a industry’s apparent return to normalcy. resilient group of filmmakers, most of Writer Shen Ji (1924-2011) shared much whom had made films through more in common with Wang Shizhen. He than a decade of war and inflation had graduated from college (as an (Chen 1989). English literature major at Shanghai’s

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E S S A Y Fudan University) during China’s for an industry makeover even before civil war and, inspired by pre-WWIIChen’s diatribe. For one, the Institute U.S. films, wrote ten scripts in three attempted to interface with literary years in Hong Kong. Shen Ji eschewed circles and to popularize script-writing politics and saw the criticism of Wu by publishing a newsletter from 1953. Xun zhuan as unwarranted. Yet he According to Wang Shizhen, one of returned to Shanghai and joined SFS SFI’s main reasons for being was to as Reconnaissance Across the Yangzi recruit a greater variety of stories and neared completion. On the brink of writers for the film industry. In his dramatic expansion, SFS employed report Chen Huangmei had specifically more than 1,000, including 23 directors. referenced historical dramas, satires, They lacked viable scripts, however, comedies, and minority films as being providing an immediate opening for too few in number. By contrast, formuShen Ji (Zhou 2011). laic and stereotypical gongnongbing/ One of these 23 directors was Xie worker-peasant-soldier films abounded, Jin (1923-2008), who had come to films mostly to no good effect. SFI’s national in 1948 from the theater. His versatile recruitment signaled a concerted education included acting and writing, effort to move beyond these, and by which prepared him well for his new 1956, so-called Soviet socialist realism, position, as did having mentors like too. Most SFI recruits were placed in the pioneer leftist filmmaker Hong studios, and many in the Shanghai Film Shen. More politically savvy than Shen Studio (Chen 2006). Ji, Xie’s tenure as SFS’s most prolific One writer so assigned, Shen Ji, filmmaker advanced with an apprenoffered an additional example of ticeship as assistant director to the how the SFS addressed some of Chen legendary filmmaker Shi Hui (1913Huangmei’s criticisms in his discus1957). Though Shi’s compelling Letter with Feathers/Ji mao xin proved to be his last film, its popular and critical acclaim deeply impressed his 31 year old assistant. In retrospect, the three years following the release of Reconnaissance Across the Yangzi give the best indication of how Maoist-era film writing might have evolved had film administrators managed to avoid the political winds that swept in the Anti-Rightist movement. Film Bureau Director Chen Huangmei’s lengthy, often critical report on the subject in the relatively tolerant atmosphere of the Hundred Flowers (1956) served as a blueprint for decisive change. Lifelong regret: Director Xie Jin's As the vehicle implementing these decision not to expand the "love line" in Red Detachment of Women, 1961. reforms, the Shanghai Filmscript Institute became “ground zero”

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sion of the screenplay writing process group seldom praised during the Mao for Woman Basketball Player No. 5/Nu Zedong era). He returns from abroad lan wu hao. Chen had called for closer to take over his father’s textile business cooperation between writers and filmduring the Anti-Japanese War, suffers makers, including directors and even from the inflation of the civil war, and those acting in films. With this in mind then reaps the benefit of new China’s FSI had located its writers in residential financial and social stability. With its housing on studio grounds, including controversial subject matter, a script Shen Ji and his five crafted by FSI head man “Five Flowers (and prolific screenSociety” (wuhuashe) play writer) Ke Ling, By end-1957, more than 300,000 a stellar cast, and group. As indicated by its name, the group individuals (mostly intellectuals) veteran director Tang of two writers and Xiaodan, The City that were labeled Rightists, with three directors was Never Sleeps became formed in the midst of many relocated as part of a statement film, an a political campaign “thought reform” campaigns. ambitious bid by the that encouraged “a Chinese film industry The film industry suffered hundred flowers to to gain a measure of bloom, and a hundred grievously, with both filmmakers autonomy, and to schools of thought to and films attacked in print. implement measures contend.” The Five advocated by Chen Just three months after China’s Flowers Society’s Huangmei and others. collaborative writing film industry recognized its It was also a producoutstanding post-1949 films and tion that might never on Women Basketball Player No. 5 produced filmmakers for the first time, have happened except a script unusual in for the Hundred its sports theme, and the Anti-Rightist campaign, or Flowers campaign. what one film industry figure with crisp dialogue, The collaborative substantive character later called “hell with the lid off,” effort to produce a development, riveting script that would domestic patriotism, effectively ended the industry’s satisfy both governprogressive reforms. and petit bourgeois ment and business elements. Of the exceeded even that complexities in the of Woman Basketball script, Shen Ji later Player No. 5. As Ke said, “it would have been impossible Ling had little business experience for one writer to come up with all the himself, he asked industry and business dialogue (and different perspectives) in consultants to weigh in on his script, that film” (Zhou 2011). and the breadth and depth of their Another rare color SFS film from suggested revisions surprised him. 1957 indicates both the progression, Overwhelmed, he handed the story to and limits, of FSI influence. The City Wang Shizhen and another unnamed that Never Sleeps/Bu ye cheng features FSI writer for revisions, and after signifa unique, positive portrayal of a “red icant delays, The City that Never Sleeps capitalist” of substantial means who was finished just prior to the start of also happens to be an intellectual (a the Anti-Rightist Campaign in summer 1957 (Dai 2004).

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E S S A Y The Anti-Rightist Campaign/ Fanyou pipan yundong (1957) Just three months after China’s film industry recognized its outstanding post-1949 films and filmmakers for the first time, the Anti-Rightist campaign, or what one film industry figure later called “hell with the lid off,” effectively ended the industry’s

Collaborative screenplay success: Woman Basketball Player No. 5, 1957.

progressive reforms. By end-1957, more than 300,000 individuals (mostly intellectuals) were labeled Rightists, with many relocated as part of “thought reform” campaigns. The film industry suffered grievously, with both filmmakers and films attacked in print. Shen Ji and three of four other “Five Flowers Society” members that produced the Woman Basketball Player No. 5 script were eventually removed from the studio. The film meanwhile, received mild criticism for its bourgeois elements. It avoided a worse fate when it received the silver prize at an international film festival in Moscow just prior to the onset of the Anti-Rightist campaign. Because he

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was in Moscow to accept the award, Woman Basketball Player No. 5 director Xie Jin managed to steer clear of political trouble (Xie 2002; Zhou 2011). The Anti-Rightist campaign also potentially imperiled the Filmscript Institute and Wang Shizhen politically. Wang, Chen Huangmei, and FSI leader Ke Ling were all linked to each other and to The City that Never Sleeps, which was formally censured even before its release. Several revisions and re-editing (without input from its veteran director Tang Xiaodan) could not save it, so that The City that Never Sleeps finally premiered, not in China but in Britain, nearly 25 years later. Amazingly, individuals associated with the film—including Wang Shizhen— largely avoided trouble. Wang helped his political cause with blistering editorials directed in Fall 1957 toward colleagues he in fact admired, much like his Popular Cinema editorials during the Wu Xunzhuan movement in 1951 (Lan 2005).

The Great Leap Forward/Da yue jin (1958-1962) China’s Great Leap Forward became the unlikely saving grace for Wang Shizhen and a score of other filmmakers. The Leap aimed to transform the country from an agrarian economy into a socialist society through rapid industrialization and collectivization. Increased film production would be an important part of this, with eight new studios opening in 1958-1959. With unprecedented demand for scripts, Wang Shizhen embarked on a new round of nationwide educational and recruiting workshops for FSI. His efforts paid off most notably with the discovery of writer Lu Zhun, who penned one of the great satirical

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screenplays of the entire Maoist era, Li was appointed the Vice-Chairman of Shuangshuang (Wang 2004). Shanghai’s Tianma Film Studio in 1962, The Leap also resurrected fallen and with his discovery of Li Zhun and Rightists like writer Shen Ji, who the release of Li’s film Li Shuangshuang turned up in a new version of the “Five in the same year, the FSI’s hopedFlowers Society” for progression in with director Xie Jin. Chinese filmmaking Their 1960 screenwas fully realized. Wang Shizhen’s own play The Red DetachMoreover, after the ment of Women, offers Cultural Revolution catharsis came gradually, interesting insights ended in 1976, Wang beginning with The Legend into the schizodelivered the film of Tianyun Mountain. He phrenia of the times. screenplay that came The story of female to define the entire adapted to the post-Cultural peasants in Hainan “New Period” (1979Revolution market-driven who form a guer1985). system that economic reforms rilla militia in 1930, The Legend of Xie’s film incorpoTianyun Mountain/ brought by opening a school rated many elements Tianyunshan chuanqi on scriptwriting that in Chen Huangmei was the earliest many ways mirrored his had sought with his entry in the genre of reform program: “trauma stories” that old Filmscript Institute. crisp dialogue, charoffered a cathartic It enrolled as many as acter depth, complex experience for tens of 800 students and featured heroes and villains, millions of Chinese and maybe most of filmgoers. It was prominent filmmakers and all, with its beautiful not an accident that scholars as guest lecturers. women and exotic Wang chose someone tropical locale, tremen- Philosophically, despite from his own generadous audience appeal. obvious disillusionment tion to make the film, On the other hand, Xie Jin, who had with the failed promises of mindful of the “Five experienced the full Maoist-era cinema, Wang Flowers Societies’” fury of Maoist-era recent calamities, the political movements Shizhen continued to believe director declined Chen in the didactic function of film. and was likely the Huangmei’s suggesonly director who tion to expand the could have made the film’s so-called “love film. line” (between a peasant girl-heroine Wang Shizhen’s own catharsis came and her male commissar-teacher)(Xie gradually, beginning with The Legend 2002; Zhou 2011). of Tianyun Mountain. He adapted to the post-Cultural Revolution marketConclusion driven system that economic reforms brought by opening a school on scriptWang Shizhen’s long-term cultiwriting that in many ways mirrored vation of script-writing and writers his old Filmscript Institute. It enrolled paid him enormous dividends. He as many as 800 students and featured

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E S S A Y prominent filmmakers and scholars as guest lecturers. Philosophically, despite obvious disillusionment with the failed promises of Maoist-era cinema, Wang Shizhen continued to believe in the didactic function of film. Late in life he became fast friends with Nancy Stilwell, the daughter of General Joe Stilwell, and wrote his own screenplay, a WWII-era story of enduring SinoAmerican friendships. He also visited the United States and gave a remarkably frank assessment of “the seventeen years” at Weber State University in 2006 (when he was 82, making a kind of last testament as it were). This was most unexpected, for in dozens of conversations I had with Wang Shizhen over a ten year period, he seldom criticized the political excesses of the Mao period, and he was not given to rationalizing things away either (Wang 2004, 2006). Shen Ji’s equanimity in the face of fierce political persecution persisted to the end. For him, catharsis came in the form of escape, as his became the first science-fiction screenplay filmed in China after the Cultural Revolution. He also wrote a biography of the tragic 1930s film star Ruan Lingyu and served as a consultant on Stanley Kwan’s 1992 film on Ruan, Center Stage/Ruan Lingyu (Zhou 2011). If Shen Ji strenuously avoided political involvement or commentary, his director-colleague Xie Jin fully embraced both. He was a Commu-

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nist Party member, but his trilogy of post-Cultural Revolution films critical of government amply displayed his ambivalence. In some ways Xie was “only” a filmmaker, turning down “prestige” posts like Shanghai Film Studio vice-chairman. Under pressure and frequently under the spotlight because of the success of his films, the director ultimately was the most influential of his generation. Some made notable films before the Cultural Revolution, while others made them after, but only Xie Jin had controversial films in both eras (Lin 2004). We should conclude by returning to the questions posed at this essay’s beginning. Each of the half-dozen men under consideration involved themselves deeply in film production during these years and accepted in large measure the responsibility for what Chinese audiences viewed on the silver screen. Along the way, they sought vigorously for quality scripts and writers who could portray, at least until the Anti-Rightist campaign in 1957, gongnongbing lives with reasonable accuracy. Often contradictory political policies, rapid changes in policy, and arbitrary judgments with regard to scripts especially, substantially compromised these efforts, however. Indeed, the contributions of men like Wang Shizhen, Shen Ji, and Xie Jin are and will remain a part of the story of formative Chinese Communist cinema for as long as their films continue to be exhibited.

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WORKS CITED Bian Xiji. “Wang Shizhen,” Zhongguo dianyingjia liezhuan/Biographies of China Filmmakers, vol. 7, 1986: 37-43.

Chen Huangmei, Ed. Dangdai Zhongguo dianying/China Today: Film (Beijing: Zhongguo shehui kexue chubanshe, 2 vol., 1989).

Chen Huangmei. “Wei fanrong dianying juben chuangzuo er fendou/Struggle for glorious film script creativity,” in Wu Di, Ed., Zhongguo dianying yanjiu ziliao, 1949-1979, zhongjuan/ Chinese Cinema Research Materials, 1949-1979, volume 2 (Beijing: Cultural Arts Publishing, 2006), 3-20.

Chen Mo. “Dianying [Wu Xun zhuan] jiqi pipan yundong yanjiu/The Review of Wu Xun Zhuan,” Dangdai dianying/Contemporary Cinema 211 (October 2013), 53-60. Chen Wenping and Cai Jifu, Editors. Shanghai dianying yibai nian/100 Years of Shanghai Cinema (Shanghai: Shanghai Culture Publishing, 2007).

Dai Hua and Zhuang Xin. You bi ru chuan: Ke Ling jishi/A Pen in the Rafters: Remembering Ke Ling (Shanghai: Academic Press, 2004).

Dazhong dianying/Popular Film. Shanghai, 1950-1952, Beijing, 1952- . Dikotter, Frank. Mao’s Great Famine: the History of China’s Most Devastating Catastrophe, 1958- 1962 (London: Walker and Company, 2011).

Han Fei. “Meiyou xi ke yan/No Plays to Act In,” in Wu Di, Ed., Chinese Cinema Research Mate- rials, 1949-1979, vol. 2 (Beijing: Cultural Arts Publishing, 2006), 56-57. “Jinian Chen Huangmei yanzhen 100 zhounian/For Huangmei’s 100th Anniversary,” Dangdai dianying/Contemporary Cinema 213 (December 2013), 22-50.

Lan Weijie. Transcript of Interview with Greg Lewis (Shanghai, 2005). Greg Lewis. “The History, Myth, and Memory of Maoist Chinese Cinema, 1949-1966,” Asian Cinema 16:1 (Spring/Summer 2005), 162-183. Lin Yuzhen. Transcripts of Interviews with Greg Lewis (Shanghai, Ogden, 2004-14). Qian Li and Qing Na. Sun Daolin zhuan/Biography of Sun Daolin (Shanghai: Shanghai People’s Publishing, 2009).

Shanghai dianying jituan gongsi Shangying wushinian. 3 vol. (Shanghai Film Group Publishing, 1999).

Sun Yu (1956). “Zunjing dianying de yishu chuantong/Respect the Artistic Tradition of Film,” reprinted in Wu Di, Ed., Chinese Cinema Research Materials, vol. 2 (Beijing: Cultural Arts Publishing, 2006), 54-56.

Wang Shizhen. Transcripts of Interviews with Greg Lewis (Shanghai, Ogden, 2004-2013). Wang Shizhen. “Briefly on the General Situation and Evolvement of the Feature Film Creation in the First Seventeen Years After the Foundation of the People’s Republic of China,” English- language speech given at Weber State University, April 2006.

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E S S A Y Wang Zhuoyi. Revolutionary Cycles in Chinese Cinema, 1951-1979 (New York: Palgrave Macmillan, 2014).

Xie Jin. Transcripts of Interviews with Greg Lewis (Shanghai, 2002-2006). Yang Jisheng. Tombstone: the Great Chinese Famine, 1958-1962 (New York: Farrar Straus & Giroux, 2013). Zhongguo dianying tushi bianju weiyuanhui/China Film Illustrated History Editorial Committee, Zhongguo dianying tushi, 1905-2005/China Film Illustrated History, 1905-2005 (Beijing: China Communications University Publishing, 2007). Zhou Xi. â&#x20AC;&#x153;Shen Ji fangtanlu/Interview with Shen Ji,â&#x20AC;? Dangdai dianying/Contemporary Cinema 178 (January 2011), 106-112.

Greg Lewis (PhD, Arizona State University) is a Professor of History at Weber State University, where he has taught Asian and world history since 1999. His research interests center on Maoist Chinese cinema history, foreign trade, and banking. His work has appeared in Twentieth Century China, Asian Cinema, Education about Asia, Pacific Affairs, Shixue yuekan/Journal of Historical Science, and other Chinese publications.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N

Wu Tiange

Chinese Cinema’s Long and Winding Road— A Conversation with Director Wu Yigong 中国电影曲折的一条路--跟吴贻弓导源谈话


PRELUDE Born in wartime Chongqing, Wu Yigong graduated from the Beijing Film Academy’s first directing class in 1960. He served as an assistant director in Shanghai’s Haiyan Film Studio before the Cultural Revolution, and eventually, as director, made the landmark films Evening Rain/Bashan ye yu (1981) and My Memories of Old Beijing/Cheng nan jiu shi (1983), the latter of which won numerous domestic and international “Best Picture” awards. Flush with success, Wu unexpectedly became chairman of the Shanghai Film Studio at age 47. After 1985, Wu Yigong devoted most of his energies to making the Chinese film industry viable domestically and internationally. He presided over the Shanghai Film Studio when it could have gone the way of the Changchun Studio in the northeast, i.e., into bankruptcy. Instead, the Shanghai Film Studio became the Shanghai Film Group under his tutelage, a much larger, more diversified organization, with deeper pockets and some astute investments, too. Wu Yigong also prepared Shanghai to host an international film festival that received an “A” class designation almost immediately upon its founding in 1993. He did this by developing the Shanghai Film Art Center, a property located in the old French

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Concession, and the adjacent Holiday Inn Crown Plaza Hotel. Wu Yigong also served as the Chairman of the China Film Artists Ass’n, the Chairman of the China Federation of Art and Literary Circles (comparable to the Actors/ Screenwriters/Theater Guild in the United States, with 15,000 members), and he also chaired the Shanghai Film Artists Ass’n and the Shanghai Film Bureau, among others. None of these appointments were empty positions, and none came because of Wu’s self-promotion. In April 2012 the China Director’s Guild bestowed on Wu its highest honor, a Lifetime Achievement Award. After more than fifty years working in the film industry, Wu Yigong retired in 2013. This rare and substantive interview was made possible as a result of Wu Yigong’s visit to Weber State University soon after his retirement. Weber is grateful to Wu Yigong for making himself available for an interview, and to his son Wu Tiange—a prominent Shanghai Film Studio director and executive board member of China’s Directors Guild—for conducting this interview with his father. Thank you, too, to Sun Peipei, for transcribing and translating the interview into English.

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CONVERSATION Do you have memories of wartime Chongqing where you were born, or about growing up in Shanghai during the Civil War?

the owner liked us. Even though some memories of Chongqing are vivid like this and others blurry, it was a blessing to return to the place where I was born so many years later.

I was only 8 when I left Chongqing. The only memories I have about the war are Your father was an educator and then besome bombardments. I remember people came a businessman. How did he influence hiding in bomb shelters and the shriek you before and after 1949? of alarms. As for Shanghai, I moved there My father shifted to business when I was too at the end of 1948, so not much was in young to understand the reason. He took an my head of Shanghai before 1949. interest in literature and In 1997, I returned art, and films in particuto Chongqing where I lar. The ultimate joy in had lived as a child. My My father stated his clear my life then was watchold “Da Yang Gou” (“the ing films with him every street of big sunshine”) opposition when I tried Sunday in Nanjing—ocis now “Metropolitan to enter the Beijing Film casionally Chinese, but Square,” a vast place of Academy after graduation mostly Hollywood films. open space and comThree years later, we merce, including the from high school in 1956. I continued this habit in Pacific Department never understood why he said Shanghai at nearby firstStore (which, by the no, because we never talked run theaters like the Upway, cost the businesstown, Majestic, Jinmen, man Li Ka-shing 2 billion about it again. With his and the Roxy. We would RMB [=$325 million] open-mindedness, maybe he sometimes also visit in annual rent). recognized I was not little Da further-away theaters The only evidence of like the Grand, Metropol, the old neighborhood Hu anymore, but old enough Cathay, and Paris. is a market and a high to decide my own future. It That could reasonslope, together the only may be also—I later heard ably be called the origin landmarks remaining from of my career path, and my childhood paradise. from my mother—that (he felt) my father probably The old houses where I entertainment was an inferior never saw it coming played are gone, replaced, career for children from a even after all the time among others, by an we spent in the theaters. Agricultural Bank of more decent family. Was he right to The older I grew, the than 30 stories. I loitered some extent? more I could absorb. there, emotional and And I would make my imagining my childhood own “motion pictures.” playmate, Hui Miantou I’d find a cardboard box, cut a hole in the [meaning “a fat boy who scarcely washes his bottom, and put a flashlight on the tongueface”) in the lane near my home. Hui Miantou shaped board behind the hole. The flashlight and I often sneaked into the opera house on helped make a projection of “impressionist” top of this high slope without paying, partly pictures (made with cellophane and paper) because it was shabby, and partly because

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C O N V E R S A T I O N on our white wall. Thus, with live dubbing guiding me into the film industry. For various I did myself, I would present a “film.” reasons, I only returned to BFA once after It came to be that after dinner, my father— graduation, so I am probably not the pera gentle and smiling man—would ask, “what son to talk about the difference in eras. is the show tonight, Da Hu” (“great tiger,” As a freshman I was labeled a “Rightmy nickname)? Joyous laughter and various ist”1 for proposing that BFA should embrace comments accompanied the show in the dark, all that is useful in filmmaking, including and because it was my family, I felt a certain learning from the strong points of Hollywood jubilation. Looking back, I did accept my films as well as from those of the Soviet “great” nickname, and childish though it was, Union. I believed that other nations with the “greatness” was backed by the genuine advanced film industries, like France and encouragement and praise from my father. Italy, were also worth studying. For that I was However, my father put under detention stated his clear opposiand surveillance. tion when I tried to enter The only person the Beijing Film Academy As a freshman I was labeled a who regarded my punafter graduation from ishment as inappropri“Rightist” for proposing that high school in 1956. I ate, and fought for my BFA should embrace all that is never understood why right to study between useful in filmmaking, including he said no, because we intervals of laboring, never talked about it was my teacher in the learning from the strong points again. With his openDirecting Department. of Hollywood films as well as mindedness, maybe he Ms. Wu Guoying was from those of the Soviet Union. recognized I was not an internationally little Da Hu anymore, but I believed that other nations recognized documenold enough to decide tary maker, and by the with advanced film industries, my own future. It may time of my graduation like France and Italy, were be also—I later heard in 1960, had become from my mother—that an associate dean. I also worth studying. For that (he felt) entertainment am most grateful to I was put under detention and was an inferior career her for removing my surveillance. for children from a “Rightist” label so I decent family. Was he could find work. As a right to some extent? one-time “Rightist,”

Can you describe how you came to be a student in the first director’s class at the Beijing Film Academy? How did the school differ compared to later time periods? Was it better to be a student in the later 1950s or 1960s or 1980s? Upon graduation, I held a College Guide, 102 pages thick, with the entry for the Beijing Film Academy (BFA) at the very end. In 1956 BFA had 300 or 400 students in three majors: directing, cinematography, and acting. I am sincerely grateful to my alma mater for

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I earned less than my classmates once hired by the Shanghai Haiyan Film Studios, but I still felt fortunate.

You told us in Utah about the frequent script rewrites necessary for Li Shuangshuang (1962), a signature film about a simple woman living in the country.What was your expectation, and those of others, about how the film would be received when finished? Did anyone expect that it would be a blockbuster, and in fact one of the greatest films from the 17-year- period, 1949-1966?

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Most of the films you made after 1977 as director were very different than those you were involved with as assistant director before 1966. Was there anything in your “apprenticeship” before the Cultural Revolution that helped prepare you for the later films you directed? After graduating with my bachelor’s degree from BFA in 1960, I worked as an assistant director for six years in the Shanghai Haiyan Film Studio, and established my reputation after workAn iconic image from My Memories of Old Beijing. ing for Lu Ren. I was young and vigorous, and I spared no effort to When shooting, Ms. Zhang Ruifang (who work and learn, participating in the making of played Li Shuangshuang) raised several six films, including Li Shuangshuang (1962) questions regarding the characterization of and Bei guo jiang nan (1963). The road for my the heroine. She wanted to create a bold and life’s career as director was amply paved via fiery-tempered girl for comedic effect, while the practical experience and advice I gained director Lu Ren preferred to adopt a plain, working with master directors of differing implicit method for the sake of realism. They styles such as Wu Yonggang and Shen Fu. engaged in such a white-hot argument on the Director Wu Yonggang, for example, set that I, the assistant director, was sumtaught me to pursue beautiful elements in moned to mediate. Zhang Ruifang and I had the human heart, to pursue simplicity—the both met the real “Li Shuangshuang,” and most valuable element on the screen, and she was indeed a stouthearted and straightto understand the inevitable great sacrifices forward woman living in Songjiazhuang Vilalong the way, just as he did. After I “went lage, where we filmed on-location. So I agreed off” by myself, he always worried for me with Zhang Ruifang. Angry as director Lu until My Memories of Old Beijing/ Cheng was, he eventually accepted Zhang’s advice. nan jiu shi (1983). He then once said he was Thanks to this, Li Shuangshuang’s wonderful relieved, his eyes welling with tears. Percomedic effect distinguished the film from haps, I wondered, they were not triggered other realist-type films. During production, only by the film? Later, I heard that he would our film crew did feel that this would be a ask everyone he met, “have you seen My high-quality work. However, we never dared Memories of Old Beijing? You should see it.” to think it would achieve all that it finally did.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N Another example is director Shen Fu, who was renowned for his gentle disposition. My closest contact with him was as his assistant director on Bei guo jiang nan (1963). I was 25 then, and Mr. Shen, 58. I remember we were talking about the film’s theme with scriptwriter Yang Hansheng, which dealt with the urgency and significance of lifting Chinese farmers out of poverty. I still see in my mind’s eye the advisor Master Han, pointing at me and saying, to director Shen, “youngsters like him might not fully understand the urgency and significance!” I remained calm but was much embarrassed and even discontented toward Master Han’s blunt comments. As Shen Fu and I made our departure he said, “Wu, don’t sulk . . . . I should also consider his idea step by step.” He had read my mind! How modest and kind of him to speak to me this way! Filming Bei guo jiang nan was an arduous trial. We once slept in a standard village inn for horses and mules in a place called Xiaohaizi, where seven or eight people were sleeping next to each other on one earthen bed of 10 square meters (110 square feet). Director Shen also squeezed in with us. He even taught me to strip naked to prevent fleas from infesting my clothes. I had never experienced this, but seeing him without a thread, I had to grit my teeth against the night. For many years I took the liberty of calling myself a student of director Shen, for he absolutely qualified to be my mentor in every respect.

Can you describe how your life changed between the time you made the important films, Evening Rain/Bashan yeyu (1981) and My Memories of Old Beijing/Cheng nan jiu shi (1983), and when you were made chairman of the Shanghai Film Studio? My life didn’t change much, but my work did. In 1984 I took over the executive work as deputy director of the Shanghai Film Bureau. Before that, I had never been leader of even

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a small team. To be frank, I hesitated and felt reluctant with the appointment, for I was most enthusiastic to continue directing. However, others offered encouragement and support, and some even said I was extremely lucky. After consideration, I decided to accept the job (as Shanghai Film Studio chairman), but only after I finished the filming of University in Exile, a film I had promised the studio. Even so, this film was not up to my expectations and satisfaction, because the script could not be properly revised in such haste. I felt regretful because it was an excellent topic for a film. Many have asked me, “do you ever regret that administrative work distracted you from directing?” To say that I have no regrets at all would be lying, but regrets are indeed unnecessary. Those things need to be taken care of. If it was your turn, you must do your best. After all, I did help and support filmmakers in one way or another; I was still working in film. This is my consolation. At a press conference for the Golden Rooster/Hundred Flowers Film Festival2 in 2004, a journalist bluntly asked me, “you haven’t made a film

Filming Bei guo jiang nan was an arduous trial. We once slept in a standard village inn for horses and mules in a place called Xiaohaizi, where seven or eight people were sleeping next to each other on one earthen bed of 10 square meters (110 square feet). Director Shen also squeezed in with us. He even taught me to strip naked to prevent fleas from infesting my clothes. I had never experienced this, but seeing him without a thread, I had to grit my teeth against the night.

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roles, and to embed their feelings into this film to the full extent of their power through every little bit of work. Interestingly enough, this otherwise plain film procured for itself an ardent sensibility, which was increasingly echoed, strengthened, and supplemented by the actual feelings of the audience. It was the fruit of the audience’s “mind.” I did not truly realize this point until this film. Most importantly, Film poster of My Memories of Old Beijing/Cheng nan jiu shi, 1983. making the film was free of box office pressure in China’s planned economy at the time, in years . . . . How are you qualified to be although the investment of this film was 2 to Chairman of the China Film Association?” My 3 times that of other films of our studio; we thought was, others were too busy filming only needed to fully dedicate ourselves to and making money to spare any time for this filmmaking rather than worrying much about non-paying position. That is what I gave as an audience numbers. Now it is different. I once answer and triggered a burst of laughter. It participated in a Tong Li seminar when this relieved me to hear this kind of response and topic was raised. After heated discussion, we to feel the kind expressions around the room. reached agreement that a film like My MemoWe understand that the film Evening ries of Old Beijing would never be produced Rain/Bashan yeyu (1981) could not be today because no one would invest in it. made today? Do you agree? Can you exOddly, My Memories of Old Beijing is plain to Westerners why this might be so? still replayed three times per year on CCTV (China Central TV) to this day. Every time it is I also hold that My Memories of Old Beijing shown, afterwards someone would comwould not be produced today. It was the ment on the film as “touching” or “beautiaccumulation of emotions in the 1980s, the ful,” be they young or middle-aged. powerful resonance of the era. When shooting the film, I was struck by the idea that Any particular controversy in choosing a not many would see it in the future. Hence, Taiwan novel to be filmed in China in the my aim was simple. Not thinking about how early 1980s? The film, Old Beijing, took to impress an audience, I intended just to you in a different direction than Evening honestly present those characters I loved and Rain, away from politics, and toward a sympathized with, and to present the old Beinew film aesthetic (for which you were jing of the 1920s through these characters. justifiably praised). Did you anticipate this I wanted all the crew members to love these would be the most important film in your

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The love for literature was especially influential. If you view literature as just a hobby, you would never realize the great impact it secretly exerts upon you. In my filmmaking, what I learned from literature is about how to tell a story and how to convey its meaning. That has certainly influenced me even subconsciously. This might be the reason why I could re-create the poetic style of the original script to maximum effect on the screen. career, and that it would define you as a filmmaker? The pre-and post-production of My Memories of Old Beijing in Shanghai did not lead to much controversy, because the relations between the straits were actually thawing out at the time. Chairman Ye Jianying had proposed the Nine Principles for the Peaceful Reunification with Taiwan, ushering in a new phase for the reunion of China. Before that, Taiwan had filmed If I Were for Real/ Ruguo wo shi zhende, In Society’s Archive/ Zai she hui, and The Coldest Winter in Peking/ Huang tian hou tu, all of which were about mainland China. In addition, the Institute of Literature from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences (in Beijing) started to publicly introduce the literary works of Taiwan writers. I did not deliberately pursue or establish any kind of aesthetic style when filming My Memories of Old Beijing/Cheng nan jiu shi. However, my aesthetic “vision” as a director would be unintentionally revealed in my works. It is inevitable. Perhaps, this spontaneity is the exact reason for the film’s

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natural expression. I love literature and loved classic Chinese poetry from childhood. As for Chinese films, I love the works of Fei Mu, Wu Yonggang, etc. The love for literature was especially influential. If you view literature as just a hobby, you would never realize the great impact it secretly exerts upon you. In my filmmaking, what I learned from literature is about how to tell a story and how to convey its meaning. That has certainly influenced me even subconsciously. This might be the reason why I could re-create the poetic style of the original script to maximum effect on the screen. Of course, My Memories of Old Beijing has a special meaning to me. In November 1981, by pure accident I had read the original novel by Ms. Lin Haiyin. Thereafter, I immersed myself in the author’s childhood memories, as well as those of my own. These memories were like two rainbows, adding radiance and beauty to each other. Sometimes I could not even tell one from another. From its filming to its release, it was as if I was awake all the time, but also in a dream. I did not know whether other directors would be as excited, even to the degree of unease and anxiety I felt, when releasing this new production. The film was not only enthusiastically received at home, but also received the Golden Eagle as Best Feature Film in the Cine Manila International Film Festival. This became the Chinese film industry’s first such international award since the founding of our nation in 1949.

After Memories, you became chairman of the Shanghai Film Studio. What was it like to follow Xu Sangchu, and how difficult was it for you to prove yourself as chairman? After My Memories of Old Beijing, I started administrative work in 1984, first as the deputy chairman of the Shanghai Film Studio. The biggest difficulty was my unfamiliarity with administrative tasks and my lingering feelings about filmmaking. When I became chairman, I

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I could not guess the motives for investment, let along sit in judgment. It took me three to four years to get the hang of administrative work, mostly by working and learning simultaneously. Due to my limited knowledge of economics and finance, the only two projects I did was to establish the ShangFilm poster of Evening Rain/Bashan yeyu, 1981. hai Film Art Center/ Ying cheng3 and the had already familiarized myself with the work Crown Holiday Inn Hotel, which I managed that needed to be done. Also, I should thank mostly because of the advanced experimy colleagues and friends who were very supence I gained from my research abroad. portive at the time.

You presided over the Shanghai Film Studio just as China’s film industry began to lose money. How did the Shanghai Film Studio become the conglomerate that it is today? Did you go along with decisions to invest in other fields, like real estate? How long did it take you to understand all the administrative/financial facets of the business, and how did you go about learning these things? Behind the foundation of the Shanghai Film Group (SFG), there were definitely demands to follow the trend of economic and social development. However, the details are too long and complicated for me to relate, and I was not in a position to say the Group’s investment in other fields like real estate was right or wrong. In the final analysis, SFG is dedicated to filmmaking. However, these other kinds of investment might have been a countermeasure against financial difficulties, while earnings from the currently booming real estate would boost the development of films. Not being involved in these decisions,

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Can you relate the story of saving money to buy clothes for your first trip to Italy in the early 1980s? In fact, wasn’t the socalled “new period/xin shiqi” (1979-1985) marked by high anticipation, a significant degree of freedom (regarding film scripts and type of films made), and a camaraderie among filmmakers that doesn’t exist today? It was 1982, right after the beginning of the year. Unexpectedly, the studio chairman summoned me and said, “you are to go to Italy as part of the Chinese film delegation . . . . Go prepare yourself!” It was my first time to go abroad, and it was Italy, a country I had always dreamed of, or rather, never dared to dream of. I was exhilarated. My wife Wenrong and I led a frugal life. The only few “decent” clothing items of mine could not bear up under close scrutiny. But, I was going abroad. I should look “decent” enough, and not so shabby. By then Wenrong and I made 108 yuan every month [about US $43]. Minus the money given to our parents, the rent, water, and electricity, meals, clothing, etc, the amount left at our disposal was

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C O N V E R S A T I O N Hotel and Convention complex)? How about 10 yuan. According to government regumany years did it take, how much money, lations, every person who went abroad for and how did you find the support for this the first time then was given 500 yuan [about project? Has the success of SIFF surprised $190]. To me it was a considerable figure, you? but not enough, for I needed new outfits from head to toe! We spent 580 yuan in total, after To found a film festival of our own had been Wenrong’s careful budgeting, on two sets of the dream of Chinese filmmakers over the underwear, two pairs of socks, two shirts, years, with Shanghai, holding up half the sky one woolen Mao suit, one business suit, one of the film industry, naturally shouldering the woolen overcoat, one pair of leather shoes, task. We wished for the success of the Shangand two ties—some bought, some customhai International Film Festival, but dared not made. All the above cost us every penny of the dream of it, for no one “outfit fee” from the had done it before. I studio, plus our savled a research team ings for a year! We did To found a film festival of our own that meticulously everything we could. had been the dream of Chinese studied the Berlin and We were poor Tokyo Film Festivals in filmmakers over the years, with indeed, but also had Germany and Japan. an excessive sense of Shanghai, holding up half the sky In Germany, with pride. If we had just of the film industry, naturally the help of my friend bought the business Manfred Durniok, shouldering the task. We wished suit and Mao suit the chairman of the rather than had them for the success of the Shanghai festival gave me unretailored, we would International Film Festival, but stricted access to all have saved half the the relevant informadared not dream of it, for no one money. However, tion about the festival, considering the quality had done it before. I led a research enabling me to grasp of tailored work, the team that meticulously studied the the most detailed design, the fabric, etc., facets. In Japan, the Berlin and Tokyo Film Festivals in we were just overMinistry of Education, reaching ourselves. Germany and Japan. Culture, Sports, SciNevertheless, Wenrong ence and Technology, was happy and proud, at the request of my for all the fuss was in friend Sen Fan, urged the festival’s organizers preparation for me to go abroad. By the way, to allow me access to all information. After after overspending we honestly had no money this research I basically integrated aspects of, to buy a suitcase. Fortunately, there was one and followed the models of, the two film feshigh-quality suitcase lying idle in the studio tivals. Then, considering our own capabilities office, for the studio chairman to use if he and circumstances, we managed to host SIFF. went abroad. Mr. Xu Sangchu, then chairman, Though we were inexperienced, we pooled our lent me the suitcase himself, thus rescuing efforts. I myself was of some “importance” me from the dilemma. I was so grateful! thanks to My Memories of Old Beijing, which was released in 48 countries and thus carried Can you tell the story of how the Shanghai some influence. Therefore, I personally invited International Film Festival (SIFF) came big names like Oliver Stone, Nagisa Oshima, into being, including the development of and Sophia Loren for the first SIFF (in 1993). “ying cheng” (the Crown Holiday Inn

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They all agreed to come. All nine judges of the screen all kinds of films and to allow large first SIFF were known worldwide. This shocked audiences (and professionals) to see films. It other film festivals, who wondered what was built at a cost to the Shanghai Film Studio was SIFF’s secret. Well, of 50-60 million yuan. there was no secret at all, In the meantime, I just sincerity. The first needed to handle the I myself was of some year was a blockbuster, accommodation issue for “importance” thanks to My a success, so that the distinguished internaInternational Federation of Memories of Old Beijing, tional guests during the Associated Film Producfestival. So I decided which was released in 48 ers (FIAPF) acknowledged to build a hotel nearby. countries and thus carried SIFF’s position as an “A” The Crown Holiday Inn some influence. Therefore, category film festival. Hotel cost more than The idea of building a US$40 million, and most I personally invited big “Shanghai Art Film Cenof that was secured by names like Oliver Stone, ter/Yingcheng” stemmed a loan from an internaNagisa Oshima, and Sophia from a visit to Belgium tional bank consortium in the late 1980s, when and some by personal Loren for the first Shanghai it was the only country investments from Hong International Film Festival with “comprehensive” Kong and Macao. Many (in 1993). They all agreed cinema all over Europe. shook their heads over That cinema consisted of this decision, worrying to come. All nine judges of about 10 screening halls, that we might not be the first SIFF were known with capacity ranging able to pay them back. worldwide. This shocked other Luckily, the then-Deputy from dozens to hundreds of people. What was most film festivals, who wondered Mayor of Shanghai, in critical was the screening charge of economic what was SIFF’s secret. Well, model: a film would first development, supported be seen in the largest hall there was no secret at all, just me and gained the post of 600 people, while three sincerity. The first year was a of special board direcor four days later, the film tor of the hotel. Upon blockbuster, a success, so that was relocated to smaller the hotel’s completion, halls of 400 people (audi- the International Federation I suggested that we let ence numbers decreased the Holiday Inn Group of Associated Film Producers over time). Then, the manage our hotel. This (FIAPF) acknowledged SIFF’s unprecedented move biggest room could show position as an “A” category other new films. One film was challenged by many could be screened for four film festival. who asked, “why should to five months consecuwe hand over the hotel tively, from the biggest we built to foreigners?” hall to the smallest, with Mr. Zhu Rongji, the high attendance and little waste of resources. mayor, also summoned me, asking for my This kind of model generated great profit for reasons. I said, “how can I manage a hotel? the cinema. I was thinking right then that I am the opposite of ‘qualified’! Isn’t it desirwe certainly could build a cinema like this in able to hire an international hotel group, Shanghai. Meanwhile, we prepared for SIFF, who would guarantee our yearly income which was wanting for such a main venue to and only charge management fees?”

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C O N V E R S A T I O N for—your great films, being Shanghai Film Studio chairman, or being the founder/developer of SIFF?

Mayor Zhu kept walking around in front of me, thinking. Finally he said, “this will be an exception.” It was the first time that a foreign company was hired to manage one of our own. Later, to the surprise of the Shanghai Film Art Center, the Holiday Inn prospered and generated much profit. Mayor Zhu, in his departure gathering before leaving for the Central Government, noted in particular this bold move and lavished praise upon me.

With all that you have accomplished, what would you most like to be remembered

In April 2012 I was granted a “Lifetime Achievement Award” at the annual meeting of the China Film Directors’ Guild. I said it was the highest award I had ever been given, a pure, professional, unmixed award voted for by 370 members of the guild. Most valuable was their high appraisal and acknowledgment of my career. Therefore, I always say, “Director is the title I am most proud of.”

Endnotes 1. China’s Anti-Rightist campaign in 1957 led to labeling, arrest, thought-reform, or relocation of as many as 400,000 individuals, mostly intellectuals. The official definition of Rightist referred to those intellectuals who appeared to favor capitalism and/or were opposed to collectivization. 2. The Chinese equivalent of the U.S. Oscars ceremony. 3. Wu Yigong is being quite modest here. The Shanghai Film Art Center and the Crown Holiday Inn Hotel complex together is a world-class facility and was one of the most expensive commercial developments in China at the time. It serves as home to the Shanghai International Film Festival (SIFF), the world’s 8th largest film festival.

Wu Tiange, born in 1968, received his Bachelor's and Master's degrees in Fine Arts from the prestigious Shanghai Academy of Drama, then joined the Shanghai Film Studio as director in 1993. Over the past two decades, he has filmed more than thirty feature films, TV films, and TV dramas—nine of which have received either domestic or international recognition. He currently sits on the executive committee of the China Director's Guild and has had teaching appointments at Shanghai's Jiaotong University and the Shanghai Academy of Drama. He screened his internationally awarded film A Warm Winter/Nuan dong at Weber State University in October 2013 and has been invited by WSU to be a Visiting Honors Professor (Film Studies) for the Spring 2016 semester.

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FEOS CS UA SY

Li Guo

Ethical Choices, Accidental Heroes— AIDS Discourse in Yang Ziye’s The Blood of Yingzhou District 無名英雄,倫理情懷: 從楊紫燁的紀錄片《潁州的孩子》 看中國艾滋病話語的演變

The Huang family orphans. http://news.renminbao.com/063/3079g.htm.

B

efore making her Oscarwinning documentary on AIDS orphans in rural China, The Blood of Yingzhou District (潁州的孩子) (2007), Yang Ziye edited Hollywood films such as Joan Chen’s Autumn in New York and Wayne Wong’s Joy Luck Club. Regarding the differences between film editing and the making

of documentary as “taking an accidental shot of real life,” she observes: “Editing feature films is much easier. The emphasis is on the craft and you just need to bring out what the director envisions; but in documentary, you don’t have any control of your subjects. You just let the story unfold on its own.” This essay inves-


E S S A Y tigates how The Blood of Yingzhou District reconstructs China’s AIDS discourse and the processes in which such discourse regulates social practices. As one critic comments: “Shot with small-format cameras entirely by Chinese film crews, The Blood of Yingzhou District achieves a level of intimacy and candor rarely seen in documentary work from China” (see Cinema Guild). Yang maneuvered the filming process carefully to avoid risks of governmental interference, since the film’s subject is about rural children affected by AIDS. In an earlier documentary, Julia’s Story (朱 莉婭的故事), Yang had interviewed a young university student who confessed that she had contracted the HIV virus through sexual contact with her American boyfriend. In both of Yang’s films, audiences perceive a thoughtful negotiation of what, in documentary ethics, is often termed a “three-way relationship” between the filmmaker, the filmed subjects or social actors, and their viewers (Nichols 59).

Redefining Documentary Ethics The question of documentary ethics evokes rich interpretations and theoretical ramifications. Regarding the concept of “documentary conscience,” Alan Rosenthal proposes that, “in one way or another, film should be used as a tool, some would even say, as a weapon, for social change”(1). Contrarily, filmmakers such as Wu Wenguang, a representative of China’s New Documentary movement, claims that, “To hope to change certain things through making a documentary is no more than unrequited love, since ‘what you have documented cannot change their

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lives, or help them in any way.’ A documentary is ultimately premised on the cruel dialectic ‘between hurting and being hurt’” (qtd. in Wang 222). The ostensible conflict between the ideological power of documentary, and its social function and obligations, invites a critical assessment of authorship and the role of the filmmaker as a quasi-social worker. Documentaries “make social reality visible and audible in a distinctive way, according to the acts of selection and arrangement carried out by the filmmaker. They also convey truths if we decide they do” (Nichols 1). Filmmakers not only need to follow the principle of “informed consent” (Nichols 12), which is to make the subject interviewed or filmed aware of the anticipated usage and impact of their personal experiences, but also need to assess the potential risk of causing secondary harm (distress or suffering in evoking the traumatic experiences of the filmed subjects), and reflect on the organizations and institutions to which the filmmakers themselves belong. Yiman Wang argues that ideology and the politics of representation play crucial roles and that “the dilemma of documentary ethics is the documentary maker’s schizophrenic sense of simultaneous intimacy with, and alienation from, even exploitation of, his or her subjects” (235). The question of documentary ethics is all the more complicated in the filming of survivors of the AIDS epidemic, which, Xiaopei He and Lisa Rofel propose, is “both a physical disease that damages the human immune system and a social virus that stigmatizes people who have the infection.” When documentary functions as a medium to represent and

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Yingzhuo District focuses on the social stigma that afflicts AIDS orphans and AIDS-infected children, recording their fear, alienation and angst. As critics have noted, “confronting stigma and fear is an everyday occurrence for HIV-infected children and their families. Children are confronting ‘teasing, discrimination and ostracism’ by their friends and family members.” reconstruct the discourse of AIDS, documentary conscience entails both the filmmaker’s self-reflection of media representations and his or her tactical intervention in social affairs. In China’s ongoing struggle against the AIDS epidemic, documentary plays an instrumental role in generating social impact. For example, director Ai Xiaoming’s (艾曉明) documentary films, which featured the victims of the HIV epidemic in Hebei, led to successful negotiations with local authorities and elevated film, “together with other forms of civil activism, [to] a form of political change” (8). Similarly, Chris Berry has proposed that “the ‘socially engaged’ mode of independent documentary film and video making in East Asia,” since the late 1980s and early 1990s, could reconfigure “the transnational as a public space of resistance.” This nascent cinematic mode, with its "immediacy, spontaneity, and contact with lived experience,” also carries new social obligations and challenges.

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An ethics of care in documentary AIDS filmmaking means representing both the “physical suffering and misery, and the social meaning of diseases,” assessing the risk of “engendering fear of and discrimination against” HIV carriers, and engaging negotiations with media, public health officials, volunteers, and multiple social and institutional organizations that contribute to the social discourses on HIV patients and orphans (Berry 4). In media representations of AIDS, children are often left out of the discussion. Unlike adults, “who sometimes still have a degree of agency, HIV-positive children were often unwittingly exposed to others under duress, and are often not prioritized for treatment” (Heymann et al). Yingzhuo District focuses on the social stigma that afflicts AIDS orphans and AIDS-infected children, recording their fear, alienation and angst. As critics have noted, “confronting stigma and fear is an everyday occurrence for HIV-infected children and their families. Children are confronting ‘teasing, discrimination and ostracism’ by their friends and family members” (Adams et al. 77). The tragedy of AIDS orphans caused by the transfusion of tainted blood procured through the illegal blood-selling industry evoked social sympathy in the reportage of the 2000 AIDS epidemic of rural central China (see Kaufman et al.). This context for Yang’s film shows that the issue of HIV/AIDS orphans evoked deep social concerns about income inequities and rural governance problems, which caused many educated Chinese to develop greater sympathy for the misfortunes of the villagers and their

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E S S A Y children. In a study on the impact of parental HIV/AIDS on the emotional wellbeing of children in central China, researchers found that many children who had lost one or both parents to AIDS, or have lived with AIDSaffected parents, carry emotional burdens. For AIDS/HIV orphans, the care setting—living in an orphanage, group home, or with kin—affects their psychosocial adjustment (Fang et. al. 1053-62). These studies show that filming HIV/AIDS orphans reconfigures the ethical principle of “do no harm” and “protect the vulnerable” typical of documentary making (see Aufderheide et al.). The filming process inexorably brings out the power differential between the children as filmed subjects and the filmmakers, who are themselves participating in the daily life of the orphans. In The Blood of Yingzhou District, Yang builds this sympathetic relationship between herself and the children through interviews, recordings, private discussions and observation of everyday life activities. She and her team consciously involve themselves in the lives of the filmed children, and they see a clear purpose of social transformation through the documentary. Thomas Lennon, the producer of the film, decided early on that his and Yang’s work would need to be shown in China. “There was no way that we wanted to go do work on AIDS in China without contributing in some way . . . . Otherwise, it would have been an act of hypocrisy.” In addressing his efforts to

merge the documentary with social activism, Lennon comments: “It’s rare for a filmmaker to prevent loss of life . . . . If you get that chance and don’t seize it, you’re a fool” (qtd. in Boustany). Likewise, in preparing for this film, Yang sold her house and moved to Beijing with her husband to immerse herself in the practices of AIDS prevention. This ethical awareness comes from the filmmakers’ sense of social responsibility, of participating actively in the ongoing social transformation of the country.

Fighting the AIDS Stigma Yang’s visits to the orphans of Anhui, and the social stigma they suffer, motivated her to participate in AIDS awareness campaigns, but also made the editing of the film a challenge. She notes: The stories of the children were heartbreakingly sad; we had to find that balance where you don’t overwhelm the audience or drive them

Gao Jun. http://i.mtime.com/OneMyRoad/blog/7587553/.

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F I L M away, yet at the same time keep the power of the narrative. Also, maintaining emotional distance was difficult. For months, I wouldn't give up certain stories even though I kind of knew they slowed the film down. Tom would fly in and we’d have screaming matches over cutting the film down (qtd. in Internal Documentation Association).

This self-proclaimed bond with the orphans provided the filmmakers a powerful incentive to provide a true-to-life account of the children’s lives and also reduced the distance between audience and children. One of the three major narrative lines of the film follows the life of Gao Jun (高俊), a four-year-old HIV-infected child, whose parents both died of AIDS. He is living with his grandmother, who, stricken with grief, comes down with a mental disorder. While the film often uses close-ups to capture the experiences of Gao in his attempt to find a family, the camera is also meticulous in capturing Gao’s reactions to his surroundings as well as his uncertain future. As the focal point of Yingzhou District, the film describes Gao as suffering— and suffering silently—from “the hot disease,” which invites strong sympathy and the wish for immediate intervention. The child is alienated from his own uncles and the neighboring families and their children. In front of the camera, he rarely speaks or makes direct eye contact with others. The child’s agonizing condition highlights his ostracism, rejection, and discrimination. Fortunately, Gao receives help from an AIDS assistance group called Fu’Ai Center (阜愛中心) led by former businesswoman, Zhang Ying (張穎). With Zhang’s help, the Dings—a couple

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infected with AIDS—adopt Gao, whose personal story ends with a hopeful tone, showing him becoming more open and optimistic. Gao’s story serves as a compelling medium of Yang’s activist endeavors to reduce the AIDS stigma and to reeducate the villagers. Yingzhou District foregrounds the contrast and outcome of social intervention and assistance of the AIDS orphans in a scene when Gao is first adopted. As he is taken to the Dings, two boys instantly embrace Gao and welcome him to their family. The mother carries him in her arms, praises him for his good looks, and tells him, “When your sister and brother are at school, I will have someone to talk to.” Two boys at the Dings offer to be his playmates and walk with him to play outside. On the way, Gao suddenly bursts into tears, which is the first time the reticent child shows a strong emotional reaction to his circumstances. Three months later, Gao adapts to his new environment and is much improved in his health. The film, similarly, features a scene when Gao plays in the golden, blossoming oilseed flower fields with the children of his foster family. In his foster father’s arms, he tastes the fresh oilseed flowers, which, according to the father, are “most nutritious.” As they walk back home at sunset, the camera follows them and then changes to a front shot. Chiming in with the father, Gao waves a handful of blossoming flowers at the camera and says happily, “come, come to fetch the flowers! Come fetch the flowers!” This mise-en-scene, overflowing with joy, illustrates a strong contrast with the bleak outlook of the village at the beginning, and transitions to a more optimistic note in

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E S S A Y encounter with Nannan three years depicting the lives of AIDS-affected ago, introduces her to the audience. children. It is Nannan’s deteriorating condiWhile the film deploys long shots tion, which motivates Zhang into of a village graveyard in the desolate organizing the association called wilderness and projects bilingual Fu’Ai (literally, “Love of Fuyang [阜 subtitles to provide contextual infor陽]”). Thanks to the Center and their mation about the practices of illegal education of the villagers about AIDS blood-selling, two other narratives care, Nannan’s relatives change their in Yingzhou District are intertwined attitudes and begin to give her love with Gao’s story. One is about three and affection. Nannan also returns to orphans, from a Huang family, whose school and gradufather died of AIDS ally makes progbecause of tainted ress in her studies. blood. Blended into Yingzhou District’s focus on Through interthe film’s interviews and recordChina’s children orphaned by view with the three ings of real-life sobbing children AIDS foregrounds an ethical experiences, the who recollect their imperative in constructing and stories of Nannan, father’s death, a Gao and the three reenacting personal narratives black-and-white siblings of the montage of their from AIDS/HIV children, Huang family give deserted house, and addressing the unjust treatment a both composite the father’s postthey receive and transforming the and compelling mortem picture, account of AIDS gives a compelling social climate in which they live. orphans in Anhui. view of China’s This form of social activism gives Yingzhou bleak rural landthe filmmakers an ethical position District’s focus on scape afflicted China’s children with the AIDS in interacting with their filmed orphaned by AIDS epidemic. The film subjects and building extensive foregrounds an transitions to the ethical imperative networks with AIDS-assistance story of another orphan, Nannan institutions and organizations in in constructing and reenacting (楠楠), who likeChina and abroad. personal narrawise suffers social tives from AIDS/ stigma while living HIV children, with her sixteenaddressing the year old sister. unjust treatment they receive and Even her grandmother, uncles and transforming the social climate in aunts refuse to live with them. With which they live. This form of social blisters in her mouth, Nannan is activism gives the filmmakers an both unable and unwilling to speak. ethical position in interacting with Haunted by fear, she rejects help their filmed subjects and building and isolates herself in anger and extensive networks with AIDS-assissolitude. Zhang Ying, the head of tance institutions and organizations the Fu’Ai Center, who recollects her

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F I L M in China and abroad. Interventions include educating villagers and promoting AIDS awareness through personal visits and by giving out pamphlets, finding governmental and overseas support for AIDS-orphaned children, relying on international specialist teams to provide medical treatment, organizing festival gatherings and activities for children, and supporting education for AIDS orphans. Nannan, for instance, is fortunate to receive regular medical support from an American patron, and when Gao’s disease deteriorates, he receives examinations and treatment from the international Doctor Clinton Foundation, which makes arrangements to provide pediatric medications to replace the adult medicines for HIV patients. Being part of the China AIDS Media Project, Yingzhou District received funds from the Starr Foundation and assistance from the Sesame Workshop, and was produced by Thomas Lennon Films Inc. in 2006. The making of the film involved numerous local and international volunteers, social workers, translators and medical teams, thus showing the potential impact of global humanist collaboration in transforming the living conditions of children living with AIDS. Yang and Lennon’s approach to utilize the documentary format to bring about change is reminiscent of many independent filmmakers in China, who are “a hybrid between social ethnographers and social realists” seeking to “bring subaltern interests into public consciousness, thereby producing an alternative strategy of representation” (Lu 24). The documentary’s focus on children orphaned by AIDS, as a specific

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socially marginalized group, shares similarities with China’s New Documentary filmmakers, who are most concerned about ordinary people and attentive to issues concerning “gender, national minorities, and the lower strata of society” (Lu 24). Traditional documentary film displays the tensions between a participatory democracy and a representative democracy. Representative democracy “relies on elected individuals representing the interests of their constituency. In a participatory democracy, each individual participates actively in political decision-making rather than relying on a representative” (Nichols 3). Yingzhou District shows a dialectic relationship between these two aspects, showing the inside and behind-the-scenes stories about interactive collaborations with multiple social groups in order to make the documentary a source of social empowerment.

Yang and Lennon’s approach to utilize the documentary format to bring about change is reminiscent of many independent filmmakers in China, who are “a hybrid between social ethnographers and social realists” seeking to “bring subaltern interests into public consciousness, thereby producing an alternative strategy of representation.”

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E S S A Y

Yang Ziye (楊紫燁) and the film crew of The Blood of Yingzhou District. http://news.renminbao.com/063/3079g.htm.

Accidental Heroism and Beyond Yingzhou District’s exploration of the medium of film as an accidental record also contributes to a new understanding of film ethics through video activism, which exerts a social impact on Chinese society and beyond. Jing Jun, a sociology professor, called Yang and Lennon, and the people who helped them, “accidental” heroes. “People act out of great kindness, not expecting their work to evolve on such a large scale,” he comments. The documentary records the accidental happenings of the everyday with the least intervention (see Blood of Yingzhou). The filmmaking process itself involves accidental happenings and the unexpected participation of new social members and agencies. The spontaneous filming of events and the subjects’ reactions as they happen, with small-format cameras, natural lighting, and sound, is reminiscent of so-called jishi zhuyi (紀實主義), or “on-the-spot realism,” in China’s

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New Documentary movement represented by the films of Wu Wenguang (see Berry, Lu and Rofel, 5-9). Events unravel in front of the camera as they occur in real life and real time. Lennon comments that making the film was like “walking in the dark and trying to grab the banister. You start out on a project not knowing what you are going to do, and you find your way in the dark” (qtd. in Boustany). Similar situations happened in the making of their earlier documentary, Julia’s Story. Lennon confesses, “We filmed without guarantee. Those scenes had immediacy because she [Julia] was in mid-crisis and agonizing over her decision” (qtd. in Boustany). The spontaneous act of the subjects contributed to the filmmakers’ cautiously distanced standpoint. The self-conscious lack of directorial intervention allows the camera access to an accidental gaze and avoids secondary effects of victimizing the subjects in portraying their lives. While the specific outcomes of Yingzhou District must, of necessity, remain uncertain, the filmmakers’ constant interaction with the children, villagers, volunteers and activists are by no means accidental, but serve their overall purpose of humanist intervention through audience mobilization. Director Ai Xiaoming experienced similar collective support

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F I L M when making her AIDS-themed film Care Love (關愛之家). Ai comments: “the people I interviewed became my real crew; they welcomed me quickly as one of them, and were willing to work with me for the program as their voice” (“On Film”). In Yang and Lennon’s experience, the success of their film yielded a significant impact on an international audience, made the voices of the victims heard, and empowered the orphans and the villagers through care, education, economic assistance and organizational support. Some who suffered social stigma became active social agents and assisted others in need. In 2013, seven years after Yingzhou District was first released, Yang made a follow-up video by revisiting the filmed orphans. Nannan and the eldest sister of the Huang family, now in their early 20s, are teachers at Fu’Ai; Gao Jun, now thirteen-yearsold, has dreams of becoming an astronaut when he grows up; Nannan is married to an understanding husband; and thanks to advanced medical technology, which prevents HIV transmission from mother to child, she has given birth to a healthy son. Fu’Ai has also grown in scale and has assisted more than six thousand children through various channels. The film no doubt has mobilized many social members and even patients into participating in a continuous grassroots course for AIDS care. As with the music in feature films, the sound track of documentary film making involves ethical choices. Music drifts in and out of the film to highlight joy, loss, sadness or hope. The award-winning composer Brian Keane composed eleven soundtracks for the film, which are named after

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the children. Themes such as “Gao Jun,” “Nannan,” “Nightmare,” “Epidemic of AIDS,” “Transition,” “Gao Jun in the Field,” and “Redemption” play a fundamental role in the film’s diegesis. Hailed as the “King of the Documentary Soundtracks,” Keane has composed music that illuminates the personal lives of the orphaned children. Music merges with the director’s mise-en-scene seamlessly to evoke empathetic responses, facilitate communication with the audience and the characters’ psychological world, or punctuate the children’s perspectives. Alternatively, moments of silence accompany the camera’s panoramic view of the graveyard, the abandoned houses and dilapidated courtyards, and, most importantly, the silent orphans Gao Jun and Nannan who can’t speak for themselves. Keane’s non-vocal music, integrated with traditional erhu (Chinese violin), showcases how the soundtrack can replace traditional voice-over narration and generate “auditory” space for audience imagination. Many scenes use song or the stories of the children and their relatives as background to bring together the narrative, or as sound bridges between shots to achieve continuity between sound and image. The extensive use of the subjects’ voices to replace imposed voice-over magnifies the agency of those filmed and portrays the documentary from a sympathetic position. The Blood of Yingzhou District projects a grassroots model of heroism compared with the “AIDS hero” as represented by public celebrities, such as the actor Pu Cunxin (濮存 昕), who is “enlisted in the CCP’s goal of halting the spread of HIV/

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E S S A Y AIDS through educational movies and commercial TV series” (Hood 15). Contrary to such celebrity activism, Yang’s documentary exemplifies the work of non-governmental organizations and individuals who assist AIDS-affected children and patients through charity centers and associations. In the Johnnie Walker Project: Keep Walking (語路計劃), a documentary made by Jia Zhangke (賈 樟柯), Zhang Ying was honored as an “accidental hero,” one of twelve public figures who have profoundly transformed the lives of the Chinese people. Domestic and international NGOs and private organizations have

since made notable contributions to AIDS care and health in China, such as Save the Children UK, the Clinton Foundation, and the Hong Kong Chi Heng Foundation (香港智行基金 會). Unlike governmental organizations, these agencies and initiatives focus on cultivating communal care and support. Yang’s portrayal of this rising “accidental heroism” in the social course of AIDS care reconfigures the notion of documentary ethics and suggests that such cinema can have a profound impact on the social climate and the future of numerous individuals.

Works Cited Adams, Lisa V, Helga Naburi, Goodluck Lyatuu, Paul Palumbo, and C. Fordham von Reyn. “Closing the Gaps in Pediatric HIV/AIDS Care, One Step at a Time.” Narrative Inquiry in Bioethics 2.2 (2012): 75-8. Ai, Xiaoming. “On Film, Not As Art but As Propaganda and Agent for Change.” ASIANetwork Exchange XV.3 (2008): 8, 21. Aufderheide, Pat, Peter Jaszi, and Mridu Chandra. “Honest Truths: Documentary Filmmakers on Ethical Challenges in Their Work.” Center for Media and Social Impact (2009). http://www.cmsimpact.org/making-your-media-matter/documents/best-practices \honest-truths-documentary-filmmakers-ethical-chall (January 4, 2015) Berry, Chris. “The Documentary Production Process as a Counter-Public: Notes on an Inter- Asian Mode and the Example of Kim Dong-Won.” Inter-Asia Cultural Studies 4. 1 (2003): 139-44. Boustany, Nora. “U.S. Filmmakers Help Bring AIDS Out of the Shadows in China.” Washington Post (2006): http://www.washingtonpost.com/wpdyn/content/article/2006/06/22/ AR2006062201925.html (January 4, 2015) Fang X, Li X, Stanton B, Hong Y, Zhang L, Zhao G, Zhao J, Lin X, Lin D. “Parental HIV/AIDS and psychosocial adjustment among rural Chinese children.” Journal of Pediatric Psychology 3.10 (2009): 1053-62. He, Xiaopei, and Lisa Rofel. “’I Am AIDS’: Living with HIV/AIDS in China.” positions: east asia cultures critique 18. 2 (2010): 511-36. Heymann, Jody, Lorraine Sherr and Rachel Kidman, eds. Protecting Childhood in the AIDS Pandemic. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2012. Hood, Johanna. “Celebrity Philanthropy: The Cultivation of China’s HIV/AIDS Heroes.” Celebrity in China. Hong Kong: Hong Kong UP, 2010. 85-103.

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Internal Documentary Association. “Meet the DocuWeek Filmmakers: Ruby Yang and Thomas Lennon—The Blood of Yingzhou District.” http://www.documentary.org/feature/meet docuweek-filmmakers-ruby-yang-and thomas-lennon-blood-yingzhou-district (January 4, 2015) Kaufman, Joan, Arthur Kleinman, and Tony Saich, eds. AIDS and Social Policy in China. Boston: Harvard University Asiatic Center, 2006. Lu, Xinyu. “Rethinking China’s New Documentary Movement.” In Chris Berry, Lu Xinyu, Lisa Rofel, eds. The New Chinese Documentary Film Movement: For the Public Record. Hong Kong: Hong Kong UP, 2010. 15-48. Nichols, Bill. Introduction to Documentary. Bloomington: Indiana UP, 2001. Rosenthal, Alan, ed. The Documentary Conscience: A Casebook in Film Making. Berkeley: U of Cali- fornia P, 1980. The Cinema Guild. “The Blood of Yingzhou District.” The Cinema Guild: Non-Theatrical Films for the Educational Community (2014). http://cinemaguild.com/mm5/merchant. mvc?Screen=PROD&Store Code=TCGS&Product_Code=2268 (January 4, 2015)

Wang, Yiman. “’They Are My Actors’ and ‘I Am One of Them’—Performing, Witnessing, and DV Image-making in the Plebeian China.” In Berry, et. al: New Chinese Documentary Film. 217-36. Yu, Haiqing. “Governing and Representing HIV/AIDS in China: A Review and an Introduction.” IJAPS 8.1 (2012): 1–33.

Li Guo (Ph.D., Univ. of Iowa) teaches Chinese language, literature, and culture at Utah State University. Her research interests include late imperial and modern Chinese women’s narratives, folk literature, film, and comparative literature. Her book Women’s Tanci Fiction in Late Imperial and Early Twentieth-Century China is forthcoming from Purdue University Press.

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A Brush as Mighty as a Sword— 画笔像强大的剑一样—

Huang Qihou Capturing History from the Ground Up

捕获历史从地面向上 The Boiling Pacific Ocean, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm, 1999.


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The Boiling Pacific Ocean represents the eventual defeat of the Japanese and the victory over the fascists in the Pacific theater of World War II. During the war, naval operations were surpassed by air operations, and the painting reflects this transition. Combat planes are everywhere in the air. The warships are buffeted by the waves, and the sky is lightened by the shell explosions from anti-aircraft guns. In the foreground, Japanese bushido soldiers who refuse to capitulate are committing hara-kiri, ritual suicide by disembowelment. Above Iwo Jima is Kagoshima Island, where Japanese women who refuse to surrender commit suicide by jumping into the water. In a parallel action, the upper left corner of the painting features anti-Japanese Chinese heroines from the mountains of northeast China who kill themselves by drowning. Mount Fuji and the mushroom cloud of the Abomb are also visible on the horizon. Several groups of ghosts appear in the painting: to the left of Mount Fuji sails an ancient warship, with soldiers of the Yuan Empire on board. A portrait of Genghis Khan is visible on the masthead. On the left edge of the painting, a group of ministers represents the period of Westernization in northern Asia. Another group shows Li Hongzhang witnessing the battle scene with his Northern Sea Fleet. Li Hongzhang and the Yuan soldiers were groups of historical figures fighting the Japanese. The gunner in the bomber on the lower right is a representation of the painter himself.


Huang Qihou is an internationally acclaimed painter, a member of the Art Faculty at Shanghai Normal University, and director of the Shuang Bai studio. Among his major commissions in oil are Zhou Enlai in 1927 (1979), Execution (1987), Beheading (1989), Xing Tian (1989), Battle of Hengyang (1990), Keep Your Head or Keep Your Hair (1990),The Bridge of Life and Death (1991), Tours of the Sky (1992), A.38 and Machete (1993), “Holy War” Under the Sun (1994), and Cai Wenji’s Return to Han (1997). He is also widely known for his war painting series 2,190 Days of Flame (1999), Comprehension with the Stare (2002), and Looking Back in Shock—1921 (2005). Most of the works are owned by collectors in Europe, the United States, Hong Kong, Macao and Taiwan. In 1968, I left home and worked on a farm by the seaside in Feng Xian, near Hangzhou Bay. An old Chinese poem states, “Each bowl of rice . . . is the fruit of hard toil,” and the folk songs of China’s Great Leap Forward (1958-1961) celebrate a sense of pride and enthusiasm: “how brave a man can be, how much a piece of ground can yield.” No painting, however vivid, can portray the “fruit of hard toil,” nor can it adequately render the icy coldness in early spring, the penetrating stench of cow dung, or the ache in one’s limbs—reportedly “the happiest times of the peasant.” Still, in this painting I tried to capture the large body and strength of a water buffalo, particularly its moving bones and working muscles, as it pulls the plough. It is like a tank pushing along its way. Working with animals is a unique experience and is no substitute for doing manual work on a farm.

Untitled, pen-and-ink watercolor on paper, 30 x 25 cm, 2005.

Untitled, pen-and-ink watercolor on paper, 36 x 25 cm, 2005.

1950, born in Shanghai, China.

1957-1963, studies at First Elementary School of Jiangsu Road, Shanghai, watching films like Shang Guan Ling, From Victory To Victory, and Occupancy of Berlin. Also influenced by reading Robinson Crusoe, Robin Hood, and picture-story books like Qu Yuan, The Romance of The Three Kingdoms, Stories of the Warring States.

1963-1968, studies at Yan’an High School, Shanghai. Qihou is enthralled by the picture-story book Big Changes in Mountain Villages, which he reads repeatedly.

1965, Captured by Jules Verne’s science fictions, like 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, The Mysterious Island etc.

End of 1966, makes a pilgrimage on foot to Jingang Mountain and Shao Mountain.


In the summer of 1969, after the armed border conflicts between China and the Soviet Union, China began constructing a new round of air-raid shelters. The Chinese Army, however, was too unprofessional and dug everywhere, regardless of terrain. We even dug air-raid shelters that looked more like kilns or holes for cats on the sandy soil near the seaside of Feng Xian. I, together with some roommates, decided to convert some of our digging projects during our off hours into “installation art,” guided by the criterion that our efforts should be without pragmatic or utilitarian value, but possessed of structural/aesthetic properties. After 10 days, we had dug a hole under our cottage that was about 5 feet deep and about 6 feet wide. While the hole was eventually filled with soft soil from around it, the process made us long for times gone by. Besides, my comradein-arms, Cao A’mao, and I also played a game of pretend that could be considered “action art.” By swapping our clothes, he purported to be an old worker who came to the farm at the beginning of the 1960s. In the countryside, even if you couldn’t recognize a person’s face at a distance, you could still recognize that person from his clothes and habitual behaviors. So we imitated each other’s habits and elevated our drudgery into fun.

Untitled, pen-and-ink watercolor on paper, 35 × 25 cm, 2005.

A portrait of the artist, Huang Qihou

1967-1968, during the Cultural Revolution reads Tolstoy’s War and Peace on the sly.

1968-1974, joins the “Farmland Reclamation Troop,” working on Xinghuo Farm, located on the coast of the East China Sea, near Huangzhou Bay.

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1969, repairs air-raid shelters in an attempt to make “action art” and “installation art.”

1974-1977, studies “décor art” at Shanghai Drama Art School.

1977 – present, teaches at Shanghai Normal University, and is eventually appointed Professor of Art and director of the Shuang Bai studio.

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In this painting appear two of my favorite Dutch painters, Rembrandt van Rijn and Vincent van Gogh. My son, Tian Tian, and I are also present. I am still dressed like a scruffy truant, but wear a Shao Zing style hat. On the wooden pillar is a sketch of Decapitation by Rembrandt. None but the Picturesâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;The Images Present Keep our Eyelids Unblinking, oil on canvas, 90 Ă&#x2014; 72 cm, 2002.


The famous battle at Lunding Bridge in the west of Sichuan Province in 1935 determined the fate of the Chinese Communist Party. The KMT, the Kuomintang or Chinese Nationalist Party, did not anticipate the outcome of the battle, which was rich in dramatic conflict. Though the Red Army’s soldiers did not carry guns, they did have three mortar shells. The scene is meant to evoke the knightly spirit of the Middle Ages combined with modern idealism. In the lower left corner are the chief Communist Party leaders: Zhu De, Mao Zedong, Zhou Enlai, and Liu Bocheng. (Detail) The Bridge of Life and Death, oil on canvas, 170 × 140 cm, 1991.

The Bridge of Life and Death, oil on canvas, 170 × 140 cm, 1991.

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2,190 Days of Flame, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm, 1999.

This painting illustrates a battle on the Thames during World War II. In the lower left, I am sitting on the ladder with my palette and brush in hand, wearing a British uniform, while Churchill is talking to me. 2,190 Days of Flame begins with this self-portrait and gradually evolves to the right. The upper part shows London after the bombings, while the lower part shows the English Channel with boisterous waves. Significant buildings in Londonâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;such as the London Bridge, the Tower of London, Big Ben, and the Parliament buildingâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;are also depicted. On the left, children carry gas masks near the Royal Greenwich Observatory and a tank factory in the suburbs of London. In the sky, German bombers and fighter planes confront British fighter planes. The top of buildings are equipped with anti-aircraft artillery. Warriors with Middle Age bows and arrows, and the legendary British hero, King Arthur, are also present. Boats carrying the Allied forces of Britain and France are making landfall near the coast. The landing craft of the Allied Forces on the lower right are dashing to the companion painting, Normandy Invasion.


The Germanic Spectre, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm, 1999.

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This painting entitled The Germanic Spectre depicts the Nazi Killing Machine during World War II. Its primary colors are black, dark green, and red. The swastikas throughout the painting suggest a ghastly and funereal scene. In the Black Forest, numerous German castles surround Jewish concentration camps. A train of death is running eastward. Close to the camps and the incinerator, Goethe (dressed in red) and others ask, “What’s wrong with the great German people?” The chivalrous knight of the Qing Dynasty is the painter himself. He thrusts a dagger toward Heinrich Himmler, one of the architects of the camp system, while liberating a Jewish girl. Inside the red castle, German officers trying to sabotage the fascist regime are being shot by the Nazis. On the upper left side of the river, a French soldier and German ex-President Hindenburg, sitting tête-à-tête, drink beer together. At the top, a Nazi parade proceeds through the Brandenburg Gate—the famous, triumphal arch in Berlin.


Untitled, pen-and-ink watercolor on paper, 36 x 25 cm, 2005.

In November 1996, I joined the railroad expedition The Revolutionary Contact on foot. The section of railroad between Zhejiang and Jiangxi Provinces left a deep impression on me. The charm of steam locomotives lies in their huge size and their steel-forged wheels. Every time the wheels would roll past the joints of two rails, their crunching sound was audible. This rhythmic sound seemed to harmonize with the human heart. One day, on the muddy path beside the railroad, a peasant pushed a one-wheeled cart with two pigs in it. To me, he looked like the fruit vendor in the “Birthday Present Robbery,” a short story from Shi Nai’an’s classic novel, All Men Are Brothers (also known as Water Margin). His appearance was, for me, no less dynamic than that of the giant locomotive beside him.


This painting depicts the Kuomintang Army during the Pacific War fighting alongside the Allied Troops against Japanese soldiers in the southern Chinese city of Hengyang. The ferocious battle lasted 41 daysâ&#x20AC;&#x201D;both sides nearly fighting until the last man. War is coexistent with humanity; it is an everlasting demon that cannot seem to be shaken off. At the same time, it also often displays the highest form of human wisdom and strength. Since 1990, I have been interested in war painting and have tried hard to portray this paradoxical complexity.

(Detail) Battle of Hengyang, oil on canvas, 100 x 66 cm, 1990.

Battle of Hengyang, oil on canvas, 100 x 66 cm, 1990. SPRING/SUMMER 2015

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The Sunny Tokyo Bay, oil on canvas, 90 x 60 cm, 1999.

The Sunny Tokyo Bay marks the end of this series of war paintings. The blue ocean, the planes, and the clouds suggest quietude. The Allied Forces accept the unconditional surrender of Japan on the deck of the USS Missouri. The fireworks display is an artistic exaggeration, an echo of the explosion in the previous painting. The red plane adds color to the painting and represents the Red Baron, the notorious fighter pilot Manfred Albrecht Freiherr von Richthofen during World War I. The paratrooper sitting on the tail of the Red Baron is the artist himself. A group of black ghosts sit on the right side of the Japanese officer signing the treaty. The ghosts represent a Don Quixote-shaped Hilter, a Sanchoshaped Mussolini, and the donkey and horse from the Spanish story, Don Quixote. In the lower left a nuclear submarine surfaces, suggesting that the Cold War will threaten humanity in the coming decades. Human beings are still under the shadow of war, and hidden crises exist everywhere.


E S S A Y

Victor H. Mair

Character Amnesia 汉字失写症

Michael Wutz

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essimists and alarmists have long been lamenting the negative impact of computers upon the ability of Chinese to write characters by hand. See, for example, Jennifer 8. Lee’s article, “In China, Computer Use Erodes Traditional Handwriting, Stirring a Cultural Debate,” in the Technology section of the New York Times (February 1, 2001). If the situation was bad already a decade and a half ago, it is far more grave now that short text messaging is so wildly popular.  In “China worries about losing its character(s),” Barbara Demick provides

graphic evidence of the starkly diminishing powers of supposedly literate Chinese to produce many characters that are essential for daily usage (Los Angeles Times, July 12, 2010). Demick tells of supposedly “literate” people who cannot even write zàijiàn 再 見 (“goodbye”). Even before computers, exceedingly few people could write both characters for “sneeze” (pēntì 噴嚏). Though I’ve asked scores, I personally have never met any Chinese, including individuals with master’s and doctor’s degrees, who could do so, and David Moser—much to his astonishment—had


E S S A Y similar results (see his classic piece entitled, “Why Chinese is So Damn Hard,” written nearly twenty-five years ago. Further extensive and very recent research by Moser has only strengthened and confirmed his original findings). Given that such a common word as “sneeze” cannot readily be written out by the vast majority of allegedly literate Chinese, one can only imagine what trouble they would have with a word like zhā 皻 or 齇 (“red flecks on the nose of a drunk person”)!  Well, they wouldn’t have any trouble with the word zhā or the word pēntì (I hear people say the latter all the time; I’ve only heard the former spoken a couple of times); it’s the characters for these words that flummox people. Because of their complexity and multiplicity, writing Chinese characters correctly is a highly neuromuscular task.  One simply has to practice them hundreds and hundreds of times to master them.  And, as with playing a musical instrument like a violin or a piano, one must practice writing them regularly or one’s control over them will simply evaporate. Demick’s article ends thus: “It will take a lot of effort to preserve our Chinese characters. It is the same way they try to preserve these old hutongs,” said Zhu Linfei, 24, a Beijing graduate student, referring to the traditional Beijing alleys, now rapidly succumbing to the wrecking ball. Zhu, who was touring the old bookstores of Liulichang with her classmates to buy calligraphy books, estimated that she had already forgotten about 20% of the characters she knew in high school. “But it’s not such a big problem,” she said. “If I don't know a character, I take out my cellphone to check.”

Zhu Linfei is mistaken. It is a big problem that she cannot write 20% of

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the characters she knew just 5 or 6 years earlier. By relying on her cellphone to check those characters she can’t recall, that percentage will increase with each passing year.  Furthermore, every time Zhu Linfei has to stop to take out her cellphone crutch to remind her how to write a character, she is wasting time, and that in itself is a problem. And just how does she use her cellphone to check how to write a character? Simple: she merely types in the sound of the word, e.g., pēntì, and up pop the characters—噴嚏—on the display screen of her cellphone. That is to say, by inputting the sounds of Chinese words in her cellphone with Roman letters, the cellphone in essence writes the characters for her. Unlike aphasia, a type of language disorder that usually occurs suddenly because of physical injury, the impairment of the ability to write Chinese characters brought about by frequent cellphone checking is gradual.  Nonetheless, the attrition that results is just as real as that brought about by dysphasia (limited aphasia). Several years ago, I surveyed nearly two hundred individuals who are literate in Chinese, asking them what their preferred IME (Input Method Editor) was.  About half of them were professional teachers of Chinese, and they hailed from around the world. Around 98% of the respondents used Pinyin (Romanization) to input Chinese characters, with the remaining tiny handful using a shape-based system such as Cangjie or a stylus to write them on a pad or window.  Both of those who used Cangjie were from Hong Kong and Taiwan, and a couple of respondents from Taiwan said that they used bopomofu (Zhuyin Fuhao), a phonetic inputting system somewhat reminis-

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cent of Japanese kana, though—unlike aid of electronic devices. Consequently, kana—it is not strictly syllabic. instead of the characters all of a sudden Computers, cellphones, smartdisappearing and being replaced by an phones, and all other such electronic alphabet (as happened in Vietnam and gadgets are wonderful tools for comKorea), in China I foresee the develmunication, but they all exacerbate opment of what I call an “emerging the predicament of declining ability to digraphia.” By “digraphia,” I mean a write characters among the Chinese situation in which Chinese characters population, and they are hastening reliand Chinese written with the alphabet ance on alphabetical access to literacy, will coexist for an indefinite period of instead of a direct time in which each approach through the script is used for the 11 or so basic strokes, purposes to which it Computers, cellphones, the 200 or so radicals, is best suited. Indeed, and the 850 or so pho- smartphones, and all other as we are witnessing netic components that on the internet more such electronic gadgets are the basic building and more, characters are wonderful tools for blocks of characters. and the alphabet are Are these worrisome increasingly being communication, but they all trends?  Can anything mixed in the same exacerbate the predicament be done to stanch text. Below we shall of declining ability to the hemorrhaging of see two powerful active character proexamples of how this write characters among the ficiency at the hands is happening even Chinese population, and they of cellphones and with handwritten computers?  Finally, is are hastening reliance on texts. Romanization ineviSo how will alphabetical access to literacy, table? If so, how will digraphia come instead of a direct approach it come about? By about? We are by through the 11 or so basic government fiat? now familiar with All indications are the phenomenon strokes, the 200 or so radicals, that the current trend of Chinese speakand the 850 or so phonetic of declining ability to ers forgetting how components that are the basic write characters by to write characters hand will continue. because of their building blocks of characters.  Then what? Will the reliance on Pinyin characters just disap(i.e., Romanization) pear? Hardly. First inputting schemes.  of all, the heritage of three thousand Even those who were once literate in years of writing with characters will characters notice a distinct regression always survive, if only as a type of in their ability to write characters by classical learning. On the other hand, hand.  For school children who are in just as information technology is posthe process of learning to write characing a threat to the ability of literate ters, the addiction to electronic devices Chinese to write characters by hand, (computers, cell phones, etc.) that write at the same time it is providing them the characters for them when Pinyin is means for writing characters with the entered in many cases means that they

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E S S A Y never do become fully proficient in writing the characters without the help of their gizmos. This is already a fact of life in a wired country like Singapore. As proof that digraphia exists even for highly literate adults, I offer the powerful evidence provided by a humble dumpling ingredient shopping list taken from John DeFrancis’s article on “The Prospects for Chinese Writing Reform” (below):

猪肉 zhūròu ‘pork’

姜 jiāng ‘ginger’

虾仁 xiārén ‘shrimp meat’

香油 xiāngyóu ‘sesame oil’

白菜 báicài ‘Chinese cabbage’

鸡蛋 jīdàn ‘egg’

韭菜 jiǔcài ‘chives’

ˆ

葱 cōng ‘scallion’

Shopping list of ingredients for jiaozi ‘dumplings’ written February 15, 2006, by a PRC social science researcher on a visit to my colleague Cynthia Ning, who kindly passed it on to me. I have added the printed equivalent of the list. Note that three of the thirteen different characters are rendered in Pinyin.

I believe that this humble scrap of paper has great historical importance as a brutally honest testimony to what is happening to the Chinese writing system, irrespective of any intentional language planning or engineering. A scholar from the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences with a Ph.D. was unable to write simple, common, everyday characters, substituting for them Pinyin (Roman letters).

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On October 15, 2014, I delivered the 10th Annual “Yip So Man Wat Memorial Lecture” at the University of British Columbia before an audience of more than two hundred people. The full title of the lecture was “Changing Language in China: The Evolution of Chinese and the Impact of the Internet” (see Works Cited for the full video link.) More than half the members of the audience were native speakers of Mandarin or another Chinese language, and everybody else present was familiar with at least one East Asian language. When I showed the famous jiaozi ingredients shopping list from John DeFrancis’s article, the entire audience audibly gasped, and some people almost fell out of their seats. I really didn’t have to say anything to make my point about character amnesia, which was one of the main topics of my lecture, but I did elaborate on the connection between IT and writing by hand. After the lecture, people came up to me to comment excitedly about the list, and

several people later wrote e-mails to me to follow up on the lecture, especially expressing their astonishment over the jiaozi ingredient shopping list. Sometimes extremely powerful and convincing evidence shows up in the most unexpected places. Just as supposedly highly literate adults are now forgetting how to write many characters, young children who are learning to write are relying on Pinyin with increasing frequency for characters that they cannot remember or never learned.

Just as supposedly highly literate adults are now forgetting how to write many characters, young children who are learning to write are relying on Pinyin with increasing frequency for characters that they cannot remember or never learned. (Above) A diary entry made by an elementary school student made the rounds in the Chinese media and in the blogosphere last fall.

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E S S A Y Jacob Rutherford, who called this “trending post” to my attention, remarked: [It’s] about a young girl from Fuzhou whose school received a visit from Xi Jinping [the President of China]. Besides the adorable message, it is more interesting evidence of how Chinese children learn Pinyin before characters and how Pinyin (here written by hand and on adults’ computers/ phones typed) is used as a substitute when dreaded character amnesia descends upon us.

Nobody made a fuss over the fact that little Zōu Ruìníng couldn’t write several key words of her diary entry

in characters. The use of Pinyin simply was not noteworthy. It’s a natural phenomenon in elementary school education, just as the use of English is widespread in youth culture in China. Where and how all of this will end remains to be seen. One thing is certain: this is an exciting time for all speakers and users of Chinese languages. I, for one, am glad to be a part of the changes that are taking place, and through my posts on Language Log and articles like this one, I am trying my best to help those who do not know Chinese get a grasp of the monumental transformations that are taking place with the script and the languages it is used to write.

Prior to giving the Yip So Man Wat Memorial Lecture at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, I was invited to deliver the keynote address at the 68th annual convention of the Rocky Mountain Modern Language Association in Boise, Idaho. In that address I spoke about the impact of information technology and the internet on the study of language and literature.  (Please see Works Cited for a website and video link.) It was as a result of attending that RMMLA meeting in Boise that I met Michael Wutz, the editor of Weber— The Contemporary West, who graciously invited me to write this article.

Works Cited DeFrancis, John. “The Prospects for Chinese Writing Reform.” Sino-Platonic Papers No. 171, June 2006. http://www.pinyin.info/readings/defrancis/chinese_writing_reform.html Demick, Barbara. “China worries about losing its character(s),” Los Angeles Times, July 12, 2010, http://articles.latimes.com/2010/jul/12/world/la-fg-china-characters-20100712 Lee, Jennifer 8. “Where the PC Is Mightier Than the Pen: In China, Computer Use Erodes Traditional Handwriting, Stirring a Cultural Debate,” Technology News section of the New York Times, February 1, 2001.

Mair, Victor H. “Changing Language in China: The Evolution of Chinese and the Impact of the Internet.” http://www.asia.ubc.ca/2014/09/05/changing-language-in-china-the-evolution-of- chinese-and-the-impact-of-the-internet/ —. “The Impact of Technology on the Study of Language and Literature.” RMMLA Keynote Address, 10 October 2014, Boise, ID. <https://www.youtube.com/watch? v=SOg4Lo9fOck&feature=youtu.be>

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Mair, Victor H. Posts on Language Log (http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/): · “Character Amnesia” (7/22/10), http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=2473 · “Character amnesia revisited” (12/13/12), http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=4367 · “Spelling bees and character amnesia” (8/7/13), http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=5669 · “Character amnesia and the emergence of digraphia” (9/25/13), http://languagelog.ldc.upenn. edu/nll/?p=7142 · “The future of Chinese language learning is now” (4/5/14), http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/ nll/?p=11580 · “Dumpling ingredients and character amnesia” (10/18/14), http://languagelog.ldc.upenn.edu/ nll/?p=15217 · “A child's substitution of Pinyin (Romanization) for characters” (11/9/14) http://languagelog. ldc.upenn.edu/nll/?p=15644 Moser, David. “Why Chinese is So Damn Hard.” In Victor H. Mair, ed., Schriftfestschrift: Essays on Writing and Language in Honor of John DeFrancis on His Eightieth Birthday (Sino-Platonic Papers No. 27, August 1991). Also available at http://www.pinyin.info/readings/texts/moser.html

Victor H. Mair ​(Ph.D., Harvard University) is Professor of Chinese Language and Literature at the ​ University of Pennsylvania. He specializes in Buddhist popular literature as well as the vernacular tradition of Chinese fiction and the performing arts. Throughout the 1990s, Professor Mair organized an interdisciplinary research project on the Bronze Age and Iron Age mummies of Eastern Central Asia​, which resulted in ​three documentaries for television (Scientific American, NOVA and Discovery Channel)​and the landmark volume, The Tarim Mummies: Ancient China and the Mystery of the Earliest Peoples from the West (2000).​Other recent books include The True History of Tea (2009) and Sacred Display: Divine and Magical Female Figures of Eurasia (2010). Professor Mair is​​also ​the founder and editor of Sino-Platonic Papers and General Editor of the ABC Chinese Dictionary Series at the University of Hawaii Press. He has been a fellow or visiting professor at the University of Hong Kong, the Institute for Advanced Study, the Institute for Research in Humanities (Kyoto University), Duke University, and the National Humanities Center.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N

Madonne Miner

Exploring the Bosqueâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; A Conversation with Lisa Lenard-Cook

Kyle Zimmerman


PRELUDE In early April, 2014, author Lisa LenardCook visited Weber State University to participate in the National Undergraduate Literature Conference. In addition to reading from her work, she team-taught a creative writing class with another guest writer, Bret Anthony Johnston. As the author of two novels—Dissonance and Coyote Morning – as well as two writing texts—The Mind of Your Story and Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (this latter with Lynn C. Miller)—Lenard-Cook impressed attendees with her careful and thoughtful analyses of drafts and with her insights into the world of publishing today. I was particularly interested in talking with Lenard-Cook because both of her novels are set, at least partially, in New Mexico. I have an aunt, uncle, and five cousins who, in the 1970s, traded their comfortable middle-class Midwestern lives for a cramped VW camper, in which they traveled across Canada and the United States, stopping only when they got to

Dixon, New Mexico. Described by other family members as radical and bohemian, this aunt and uncle fascinated me; I made a point of visiting them whenever possible in the small northern New Mexico communities where they have lived since leaving the Midwest. Reading Lenard-Cook’s fiction prior to our interview meeting, I was struck by how many of her characters were transplants, how many worried over whether they belonged (and how they belonged) in her New Mexican landscape of coyotes, bosques, and Los Alamos laboratories. I also was struck by a feeling of déjà vu; I recognized both the emotional and physical terrain traversed by Lenard-Cook’s characters. In the interview that follows, Lenard-Cook and I address a range of topics: “extraliterary” matters associated with getting one’s books to readers; how Lenard-Cook begins her stories; and what those stories are about.

CONVERSATION Let’s talk a little bit about the novels. One of the things I observed is that in both Coyote Morning and in Dissonance, you have writers and readers as characters. If we think about Dissonance, Anna is reading Hana’s diary. In Coyote Morning, there are all those letters to the editor that other people are reading and then commenting on. Would you talk generally about how you think reading shapes who we are and how reading and writing interact with each other? I know why I became a writer, and maybe that’s a good place to start the answer to

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this question. I think most people don’t find that real connections are made on a person-to-person level. So when, as a child, I found connection with the way my own mind worked, with my world, with the way I perceived things that didn’t seem possible interpersonally, when I read, I was wowed. Now, in my mind, then, I thought that men wrote books. I mean, there were lots of books on the shelves at home—but they were written by men. But when I was in 4th or 5th grade, I learned that my friend’s mother, Gerda Weissman Klein, had written a memoir called All of My Life, about her life in Europe during

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C O N V E R S A T I O N WWII. Mrs. Klein ended up in Auschwitz and was liberated by her husband—he wasn’t her husband at the time, but it was how they met. My friends and I all read Mrs. Klein’s book, and from that I learned two things. First of all, about the Holocaust. Nobody would talk about it. It was the late ‘50s and early ‘60s, and if you asked, “Why does Mrs. So-andso have a number on her arm?,” the answer might be, “Don’t ask. We don’t want to talk about that.” Nobody wanted to talk about it. I think adults thought they were protecting us, for one thing, but for another, that we should look to the future, move on, rather than dwell in the past. But, precocious children that we were, we all read Mrs. Klein’s book and learned, first of all about the Holocaust, and second, we realized—or at least, I did—that a woman wrote a book. Wow, I thought. Women can write books! When I was a girl, I always wanted to know more about things. Sometimes, my parents didn’t want to answer my questions because (I think) they didn’t want me to know about certain things. Sometimes, if I saw or heard something that didn’t make sense to me, I tried to figure out what happened myself. I had to know the end of everything, I had to know why this, why that. If no one would give me an answer, I went first to the World Book Encyclopedia my father had encouraged me to buy. But not everything was there. When there were no other avenues, nothing at the library, nobody to answer my questions (and I have to add my grandmother here, a master storyteller), I would just make up what I didn’t know. Now,

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there are a lot of things that we see in passing that we can’t know everything about. In those instances, I would just make it up. In my head, that is—it isn’t like I was walking around lying all the time (in fact, I’m a terrible liar!). When I was older, I sometimes wanted vengeance on various people and would do wicked things to them—this of course was all in my head, too, I wasn’t writing it down. Then my girlfriends and I started putting on musicals, and we would take the music from other musicals and make up new words. I started writing in earnest when I was in junior high, 7th grade. I wrote poetry of course, because that’s what one does in adolescence. I still write poetry so I can’t really say that. . .but when I was in grad school and had to pick a topic for my critical thesis, I knew immediately that I wanted to know how writers connect with readers; how does that happen? It seemed like one Michael Wutz of those amorphous projects, something that was impossible to get to, but I wanted to get to it. It was very difficult. I was inventing the wheel, not reinventing it—no one had really looked at this. I was reading a lot of literature on immanence, because it seemed like it occurred there, and I ultimately realized that the connection is made on a very individual level. If I were to say to you—and I’ll use the Holocaust as an example—“six million Jews died in the Holocaust,” you’d go, “wow, that’s a big number, that’s big, that’s incredible!” But if you read The Diary of Anne Frank—one person—if you read Mrs. Klein’s book—one person’s story—then you understand the

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MIchael Wutz

Holocaust. The connection is made on an individual level. And they are universal connections.

So you wrote your thesis, an academic piece. Were you also writing fiction at the time? I had to. I was in grad school. I wrote and wrote and wrote. I had a poem published accidentally in Cosmopolitan in the ‘70s. I sent it in on a dare and they used it as filler. That was the first thing that I ever submitted, and got a check for it—for a poem, how often does that happen? And then, I didn’t write much for a number of years. But after my first marriage, I started writing short stories, and found myself going back to stuff I never thought I would—my childhood, Buffalo, all of those things I thought I had left behind when I moved to New Mexico. I wrote two practice novels, both of which were mysteries. By then, I was with my second husband, and we were in southern California. A community college was advertising for someone to teach some computer classes. I was hired, and taught Introduction to Microcomputers and Lotus 1-2-3—and it turned out that I loved teaching. It never occurred to me that I would love to teach. So when I was finished teaching that semester, I said to my husband, “I really like teaching, but I don’t want to teach Introduction to

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Microcomputers and Lotus 1-2-3; I want to teach writing.” After some research, I learned that to teach writing you need a terminal degree, an MFA. Because we were moving so much (my husband manages large construction projects), I didn’t know how I could do this. Then I discovered the non-residency MFA. This was the late ‘80s—at the time there were only a few—now there have to be 100, 200, 500. But Vermont College was one of the first, and sounded really good, so I applied, found people to write me letters of recommendation, and was accepted. In a non-residency MFA, you go for two weeks. You don’t sleep. You’re thrown together with all these other introverts like yourself who suddenly must become extroverts. It’s just insane. Also, because it was a non-residency program, most of us were of a certain age. There were a few young people there, but we were mostly in our 30s; a few people were in their 40s, 50s, 60s; there was one man in his 70s. Thirty people for each class, so there were 120 students total. We had workshops, lectures, readings, just a total immersion in writing. I’d never been in a writing program or workshop before. To me, this was all new. You pick an advisor while you’re there, and then you work with that advisor throughout the semester. They give you assignments, you pick your reading list, they assign additional readings, and then you mail a packet to them once a month. Now they do it by email of course, but back then, it was mailing that packet and then waiting for two weeks while your advisor read it and then sent it back with their comments and usually a ten page letter. I think about these people and what they were doing, because they were all writers in addition, and they were working with six students each, and often teaching at other schools at the same time. And yet they were reading everything that we were sending, which in my case was often half a dozen short stories, and then sending these long, detailed letters. It’s just remarkable to me what they

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C O N V E R S A T I O N did. The Vermont program was wonderful, and it also connected me to other writers—we students would exchange work, too. It was truly life changing. I was hired to teach writing at Fort Lewis College in Durango before I had finished and did that for five years.

and what pushes on them so that they move to a different place by the end.

Because you read The Mind of Your Story, you know that I don’t begin with the overarching theme but rather with my mysterious seeds, and then everything rises out of them. If you begin with a theme, you’re doing your work Were you doing fiction, poetry, nona disservice because you’re trying to start fiction? at the universal, when the best works arises I was hired to teach advanced composition. from the specific. However, that said, in the I was told I could do whatever I wanted, so case of Coyote Morning, the final seed was I decided to make it a how we fear what we literary journalism class. don’t know when we We looked at writers like should be afraid of I started thinking, we are so Joan Didion, Tom Wolfe, what’s closest to us. afraid of so many things. Some David Quammen—every But let me lay this out semester I did somemore clearly. The first people are afraid of coyotes, one else. With each some people are afraid of a plane seed for that book was piece, I focused on the letters to the editors hitting a building. We’re afraid one aspect of writing in small town newspaliterary journalism that pers. Because of my of getting on a plane in the first the students would husband’s job, we lived place. We’re afraid of the guy then try themselves. in a lot of small towns, driving behind us and following and I loved (love) those Let’s go into the letters. I love that they us too closely, we’re afraid of novels again, because are un-edited. I love that someone making a left turn in one of the things that the editors don’t change strikes me about them front of a car. We’re afraid of all people’s voices. They is this sense of fear. will leave the wonderful of these abstract things, when An almost inability to idiosyncratic speech, in fact, what we really need to move—a stasis that misspellings, their the characters want to, be afraid of is the people that we sometimes ungrammatiwell, I don’t know if love—the people who are closest cal ways of writing, and they want to get out of the way people will go to us. The greater unknowns, it or not. They’re sort on at length, trying to of holding on to their and statistics prove this, are the get to what they really stasis. And as I read mean. This began in ones we are living with. your book, The Mind Ord, Nebraska, populaof Your Story, you tion 2,400 at the time. talk about big quesPeople would rant and tions that shape novels. So, I don’t know if rave about all sorts of things—creating confear is one of the big questions for you, but versations that I could read in the paper. The for me as a reader, it was. I’d like you to same thing was true of Cortez, Colorado, and talk about how you see the two female charin Durango to a lesser degree. The Mancos acters from Coyote Morning and from paper was even smaller. Corrales, outside Dissonance at the beginning of the texts, of Albuquerque where I lived when I

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wrote Coyote Morning, has a little paper that is totally the community paper. Coyotes are a huge controversy there. They still are. So I suppose that I really began there with the coyote controversy, but also with the letters to the editor. So I had two seeds. Then, one weekend, a local doctor shot his wife and then himself. They weren’t discovered until the following Monday. It was horrific—and I knew them. I started thinking, we are so afraid of so many things. Some people are afraid of coyotes, some people are afraid of a plane hitting a building. We’re afraid of getting on a plane in the first place. We’re afraid of the guy driving behind us and following us too closely, we’re afraid of someone making a left turn in front of a car. We’re afraid of all of these abstract things, when in fact, what we really need to be afraid of is the people that we love—the people who are closest to us. The greater unknowns, and statistics prove this, are the ones we are living with. Now, nowhere in Coyote Morning do you see what happened to that couple. We do have a couple in Coyote Morning who are separated, and whenever these two get into a conversation it just escalates—you can feel the violence that could possibly happen between them. And I don’t know this couple—I made them up . So to hear that you too felt the terror that I felt when I created them, tells me I made that connection, that what I thought and then wrote connected to you. In Dissonance, fear was not one of the things that I began with. I began first with

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music theory, second with the Holocaust—and more specifically with Theresienstadt, with that particular concentration camp—because once I remembered it again, I started thinking about it—and third, with Los Alamos. But inherent in the Holocaust and inherent in Los Alamos and the bomb is fear.

I am curious about Anna in Dissonance, because, at first I am reading and she makes her life sounds so staid.“I’m a piano teacher,” as though there’s nothing more. “I’m just a piano teacher, and in the afternoons, I have these grade school kids come in and they have no ear or heart or soul for music. But they come in, and I teach them.” She seems to have compromised on her life. She’s got such a limited relationship with her husband and I’m thinking, why is she even married to him, MIchael Wutz because they’re not talking. What’s going on? Then, as we get further into the novel, she starts remembering things, and we realize that she’s far more complicated. I found myself asking, is it primarily because of her relationship with her father that she feels like she has to repress those memories of her mother and the past and her mother’s lover? Talk to me more about that. Okay, this is how I write a book. Part of this is my writing process. Anna of course doesn’t know that those memories are repressed— that’s what repressed memories are. However, she has chosen to circumscribe her existence and she is also an unreliable narrator. Of

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C O N V E R S A T I O N thinking, Oh, what’s in the letter? I think I’ll course I had no way of knowing this; I’m make some tea. So that’s what Anna did. She just writing down what she’s telling me. She made some tea and opened the letter, and I keeps saying, I’m no good. She thinks that got to see what the letter said. I thought, Who her mother is saying, “practice, practice, is this person? She didn’t know, I didn’t know. practice,” when in fact, she’s saying, “wow, Then, music theory jumped back in: It’s right that’s amazing.” But her mother also doesn’t brain/left brain. About two thirds through communicate very well. Again, one of my the book, Anna remembers Carl—a friend of thematic concerns is that one person is sayher mother— because ing this, and this, and she’s gone back to La thinking that another Fonda. She finds some person is going to hear Just as Jews were maligned in photographs, then them, but all they say is WWII, homosexuals still have a goes down to Carl’s. just being missed over very hard time in this country Is there something and over. Anna misses I’m missing? she asks a lot about her mother. and all over the world. In some him. And he says, She then represses, places they are still stoned to “They were lovers, for whatever reason death or killed on sight. So, if Anna,” and she says, that she represses. “NO!” Well, that I did not know what we are talking about accepting was me yelling no. was going to happen in people no matter what their race I talk to a lot of this book. I have this book groups about notebook and I have the or religion, then we also have this book. Invariably, date, it was right after to include people whose sexual someone will say, why Christmas. I came back orientations are different. That’s did the women have to from Los Alamos— I’d be lesbian? Of course like to say it was the next why I couldn’t say, well, they they were lovers, but morning, but I think the can just be good friends. They that’s not how I see it. notebook has a date in both needed love; they both My reaction was kind January. I sat down and needed to love. They needed both of the same thing. I I wrote, “The piano is thought, okay, I’ll get unique among instruparts of that. And really, even to the end and see ments for its double though they loved other people, if this is necessary stroke.” That first line the love that they had was the because I was not has not changed at all, expecting it. But at which is very unusual for love that they both deserved. the end of the book, me, because I go back That had to be there. Hana writes a letter to and revise a lot. Then the Anna that Raja (Hana’s first section came out sister, now living in and then it stopped. Big Israel) has. She gives the letter to Anna, and white space. Then another voice began speakwhen I think about that letter I get chills. That ing. The voice said, “My name is Anna Kramer letter is about love and forgiveness. The last and I am a piano teacher. Weekday afternoons line of that letter, which my daughter put on from three until six, I entertain students of a bracelet for me, reads, “Remember and various ages….” That’s how it came out and forgive. There is time for little loss.” That’s it remained the same, too. And then, that when I realized that the book is about acceptsection stopped. More white space. And then ing others, accepting otherness—and the fact (in the book) the mail came, a letter, and I’m

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that they were lovers is part of that. Just as Jews were maligned in WWII, homosexuals still have a very hard time in this country and all over the world. In some places they are still stoned to death or killed on sight. So, if we are talking about accepting people no matter what their race or religion, then we also have to include people whose sexual orientations are different. That’s why I couldn’t say, well, they can just be good friends. They both needed love; they both needed to love. They needed both parts of that. And really, even though they loved other people, the love that they had was the love that they both deserved. That It turns out that had to be there.

Can we go back to their names, “Hana” and “Anna”?

school teachers. Anyone I went to elementary school with probably knows that. Sometimes they get street names from Buffalo. So, when Hana appeared, her name was Hana. I looked it up in a baby name book and found out that Anna is a derivative of Hannah, another spelling of Hana, so I put that in Dissonance. It’s as if they showed up with the same name and there’s nothing I can do. Well, of course there’s something I can do, and originally I may have thought that it was a twinning, but while I don’t think there’s a twinning, there could be, I just leave that open to readers’ interpretation. Because the other thing that Sherman is happens with any text is that, of course, the whoever any woman that he reader is going to come encounters wants him to be. in and impose his or For his sister, Natalie, he brings her reading on it, and it will become something news of the outside world. else. Which is really my For Alison, he is the Knight intention. I want my text in Shining Armor—he comes to become the readers’. I want readers to to rescue her from what she inhabit my books the perceives as a horrid marriage. way I inhabit others’— Then of course, for Rachel, he’s that connection, again.

Practially every book about fiction writing says, “Thou shalt not name thy characters too much alike.” But Francine Prose wrote an essay some time ago that touched on even better than this. She was teaching creative writing at Sarah Lawrence and taking the train once a week to teach the class. On her way back and forth, she’s reading Chekhov—she’s re-reading his short stories. Each week, she goes into the classroom and she says, “Don’t ever do this.” And then on the way home, she’s reading Chekhov again, and of course, he has done this very thing: not used a transition, changed point of view, or—in this instance—given characters names that are close to each other. My characters come named, honestly. Sometimes there’s a minor character who’s not named, and, if that’s the case, usually they get the last name of one of my elementary

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Chris Coyote.

I’m a little worried about Rachel, Alison’s daughter in Coyote Morning. She’s so drawn to the idea of the prince and the man who’s going to come and rescue her. And I was worried when Sherman entered the scene, because I thought, “Oh, no, Sherman. All signs are negative. Don’t go there.” Then Rachel is taking up with Sherman, and I start to see her as someone who may allow that handsome male figure to show up, and she’ll be swept off her feet. But I don’t know if you follow Rachel in your thoughts after you close the novel or not. Let me take that to two different places. First of all, Sherman. When Sherman showed up

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C O N V E R S A T I O N in that book it was one of those moments, ex-husband. Rachel will not marry—maybe about twenty pages in, where I thought, I because her parents divorced when she was gotta’ go back and get rid of this guy. Who is young, maybe because she is too much her this guy? Where did he come from? I didn’t own person. I’m going to give her that. She want him there. But it turns out that Sherman is far too much her own person to make comis whoever any woman that he encounters promises. So even though it seems like she is wants him to be. For his sister, Natalie, he looking for Prince Charming, she’s not. Part of brings news of the outside world. For Alison, what Alison is going to ultimately give her is he is the Knight in Shining Armor—he comes that she doesn’t want Prince Charming—that to rescue her from what she perceives as a it is much more important to be strong. horrid marriage. Then of course, for Rachel, One of my interests is in the future of he’s even better than Chris Coyote. Sherman publication and what’s happening with actually evolved from someone who is a friend university and hard copy presses. What do of a friend—that happens so seldom. He’s you see going on? Do someone I don’t really you think we’re moving know at all, but he always primarily into electronstruck me as careless with Digital publishing has opened ic publishing? What other people’s lives. I’ve the door for people who’ve might be the assets and only met this guy a few the deficits of such a always thought about starting times. I know him mostly by the stories that my a publication. It means they’re move? friend tells me about him. I’m hardly an expert, but small, it means they have Because they’ve of course I have my own particular wants and needs, it been friends since they take on it... Publishing were children, my friend means that there are probably has changed dramatidoes not allow him to be cally. My take is that not going to be advances— careless with her. But the “big guys,” who are except for the top ten writers he has been careless now down to four or five with many other people. in the world. because they’ve conThat was a seed to me in solidated so much, go some way, even though back to the same thing. If it wasn’t one of the main something’s worked they seeds. Being careless with other people’s look for it over and over—hence the preponlives is appalling to me. Of course that is derance of vampire novels; they’re afraid who he is, and he doesn’t think of it as beto take a chance. The chance-taking is now ing careless. He is just who he is, and other happening in an entirely new scene. There are people perceive him— because his mask is a lot of new indie publishers right now, comso caring and so giving, and because he’s so panies that use digital publishing, printing, malleable—as empty. So he’s really a mirror, and all of that, which is much cheaper than it he just reflects oneself back to the person. used to be. We use a digital publisher for our About, Rachel. When my daughter, Kait, literary journal [bosque]—it’s out of Minneapwas six, I was divorced, but Rachel in the olis—they do a beautiful job. Digital publishnovel is not my daughter. There was never a ing has opened the door for people who’ve coyote encounter. My daughter, like children always thought about starting a publication. of many divorced families, liked to play us off It means they’re small, it means they have of each other. But Chris—Alison’s ex-husband particular wants and needs, it means that and Rachel’s father—is not even remotely my

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there are probably not going to be advances— except for the top ten writers in the world.

You have a very nice looking website. I’m wondering, do readers interact with you via the website? What sort of questions or issues do they introduce? I re-did the website recently, and I have to say that WordPress is very user friendly. I am not afraid to do anything on computers. I was a secretary for many years, so I just jump in—if I need to do something, I do it. So WordPress is a breeze, to me. I try to change my banner by season. Right now [spring], it’s got a blossoming fruit tree.

When Dissonance and Coyote Morning came out over ten years ago, a friend did reader’s guides for each of those. I do a lot of editing and coaching, so there are links for those, and then of course I have links to buy the books. We have entered the era of immediate gratification. People who find me through my website ask me all kinds of things—will I talk to their book group, thanks for posting this blog entry. When Dissonance was first published, my goal was to connect with one reader I didn’t know. Now, with the Internet, we connect with hundreds of people daily. Connection—to me, that’s why we write. Why I write.

Thank you so much for your time.

Like Lisa Lenard-Cook, Madonne Miner spent her early years in the Midwest, only arriving in her heart’s land, the Rocky Mountain West, as an adult. After receiving a Ph.D. in English from SUNY-Buffalo, she taught English at the University of Wyoming and Texas Tech University. She has published critical work on twentieth-century American literature, women’s studies, and popular culture. Currently, as dean of the Telitha E. Lindquist College of Arts & Humanities, she writes primarily annual reports and program reviews rather than literary analysis, but she keeps a hand in the game by teaching critical theory and introduction to literature classes. Very early in the morning, you will find her running Ogden’s trails with her dog Luca, both in training for upcoming races.

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F I C T I O N

Lisa Lenard-Cook

The Whirlpool Bridge

S

kinny and lank-haired, he sprawled in a corner of the big Norton Union room where we students hung out. His scraggly beard suggested either a failed stab at looking older, laziness, or plain lousy grooming, and I realized a few steps before I reached him that it was likely the latter: He stank. Which meant he was going to stink up my car. I reminded myself that this wasn’t about me, or about him. Vietnam loomed large against our futures. For boys, escaping the draft—whether by way of a high draft number, a student deferment, a baby, or a clandestine move to Canada—had become the far more desirable option. For girls, the only possibility seemed to be to help those boys, and there were plenty of babies conceived out of that necessity. I had no intention of helping someone—anyone—that way. A baby would hinder my own escape, which I plotted each night instead of falling asleep but could not yet see clearly. It was January, the month Buffalo’s dusk is difficult to differentiate from the foreshortened day that precedes it. I’d grown up here, but ever since I’d turned eighteen the year before, I longed for streets unlike the sad familiar ones I drove to work and school each day. But no matter what I dreamed, each morning I was once again greeted by the rust lacing the fenders of my VW bug, the ruts and potholes and saltstained stop signs, the empty houses whose windows were hammered-over with boards that read “Emergency Enclosures by Macaluso.” Faced with yet another cold, dark, relentless winter, the possibility that I’d ever save enough to escape seemed absurd. I’d probably still be bartending when I was my parents’ age, my voice husky with smoke, my face pale from lack of sunlight. Buffalo was a border city, once the terminus of the Underground Railroad, now the terminus for a different kind of peoplesmuggling. So when I’d seen the flyer on the board at Norton soliciting people with cars to assist in the antiwar effort, I’d read between the lines. Of necessity, there wasn’t any formal organi-


zation, but I’d torn off one of the tabs on the bottom of the flyer and called the number. Then I’d met a guy, in this same large room, and told him I’d help. Weeks had gone by, and I’d forgotten all about it when the call had come this morning. Thus it was that I stood now, before this boy I’d never met. The plan was that I’d drive him across the border in the trunk of my VW, and he’d escape the draft. Simple. Never mind what might happen if we got caught. Never mind that he could never return. Canada was a safer option than Vietnam. It was the least I could do. And the most. I looked down at him. His eyes were closed, which allowed me time for further appraisal: the requisite tattered jeans, the ratty R Crumb T-shirt beneath a faded flannel shirt. His fingernails were dirty. His shoulder-length dirty-blonde hair begged for a wash. I pushed my distaste aside in the name of our common cause. “Hello?” I said, tapping his scuffed boot with the toe of my own. I hadn’t been told his name, and he wouldn’t know mine. Anonymity was part of the game. “Hey. You awake?” The eyes opened to reveal a watery grey. He blinked. It took him a long minute to orient. When he appeared coherent, I told him I was his ride. He stretched, scratched under an arm, then unfolded himself to a stand. “Okay,” he said, his voice soft. Even in the one word, I heard a trace of the south. He followed me out of Norton into the frigid late afternoon dark. The lights on the quad illuminated the plow-blackened snowbanks; the salted sidewalks crunched beneath our feet. The fogs of our breaths preceding us, we crossed into the wide expanse of the parking lot and headed down the hill toward my car. My first class hadn’t been until 10, so it was a long walk to where I’d found a space. The boy shivered, but he didn’t say anything. I didn’t speak until we got to my car, where I explained that the key didn’t work on the passenger side in winter. The boy shrugged, then shivered again, and I hurried around to unlock my door. I got in, then leaned across to open his, and he slid in quickly and shut the door. As always, for some reason I never understood, it felt colder inside the car than out, and as soon as I started the engine, I pulled up the heat controls, then turned to tell him it would take a few minutes. He nodded, and crossed his arms. After pulling out of the lot, I took side streets over to Niagara Falls Blvd. We’d stay on the Boulevard all the way up to the Falls, my contact having explained that we didn’t want to take the Grand Island bridges because a toll collector could potentially narc us out. I didn’t mind. I liked Niagara Falls Blvd., especially once past the ever-expanding northern suburbs to the still-rural stretches where the pale light of periodic corner taverns spilled into the night. I’d never been in one, but I liked to imagine the men who sat there quietly drinking after work. I never imagined women. It was 1971. The heat began coursing into the car by the time we reached Eggert, and I cracked my vent window open. The boy’s shivering slowly ebbed,

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F I C T I O N and after we’d passed the mall I turned and asked him where he was from. He looked at me (maybe to make certain I was what I was supposed to be?) long enough to make me uncomfortable. Then he turned and stared straight ahead again, before responding, “Georgia.” Just the one word. Georgia! I wondered what it looked like there. Here, the Boulevard stretched out flat before us, the usual snow flurries dancing in each streetlight’s halo as we passed. I squinted to imagine hills in this place where none existed, a childhood pastime I’d never abandoned. I wondered if there were hills where he came from. I asked him. Again the slow turn, the long gaze, the slow return. “I guess,” he said. It occurred to me he was slow. Or maybe just not very bright. I felt the first brush of annoyance. This was who I was risking my future for? With the heat, his body odor had become more obvious. I opened the vent a bit more, made a crack about VW heat. He nodded, as slowly as he spoke, then reached into his shirt pocket and extracted half a joint and a soggy book of matches. I reached toward him. “You can’t,” I said. Now he offered me a mix of surprise and confusion. “I cay-ant?” I shook my head, emphatically. “And listen. We’ll have to toss it, before we…cross. Can’t have pot at a border crossing. Not even the smell of it.” He took a moment to process this. Then he said, “Pull over,” somehow stretching the first word into two syllables. “Pull over?” I echoed. We might as well have been speaking different languages. He nodded. “Ain’t wastin’ a perfectly good J. If I got to smoke it outside, I got to smoke it outside.” It was the most he’d said. We were almost to the turnoff for the dairy where my parents had sometimes taken us for ice cream when my brothers and I were younger. I took the right, then pulled into the parking lot in front of the dark storefront and continued around to the back of the building, where there were no lights, my tires crunching tracks in the new snow. I shut off the car, and the boy creaked open his door and got out. I got out, too, crossed my arms on the roof and watched as he bent to light the joint. He took a long hit, then held it out to me. “Want some?” he asked in the pinched voice of held-in smoke. I shook my head. “Allergic,” I told him. It was true. Two hits and I’d be puking. I lit a Lark instead. I didn’t like the smell of a smoked-in car, especially my own. By now he was shivering again, but he smoked that joint all the way down, then used a clip on a keychain to finish it off. A keychain. With keys to places he’d never go again. He dropped the ash into a snowbank and it fizzled, then disappeared. His shivering seemed to strobe each gesture. He’d never been this cold, I realized. I shrugged off the sheepskin coat my brother had brought me from Israel and thrust it toward him across the front of the car. “Here,” I said. “That’s your coat,” he protested.

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“I live here,” I told him. “I have others.” He eyed the coat covetously. It would be a jacket on him, but its wooly inside was cooing warm nothings. “You sure?” he asked. Shoo-are? “Take it,” I said, suppressing a shiver of my own despite my oversized fisherman’s knit sweater and turtleneck. As soon as he took the coat, I slipped back into the car and started it. It hadn’t been off long, and the heat roared through the vents. I closed my window. The boy slid in and shut his door, then began studying the coat’s construction as I pulled back onto the road. It really was a sheepskin—pale sueded skin on the outside, curly fur on the inside. I’d yelled at my brother when he’d given it to me—“I’m a vegetarian! I won’t wear it!”—but he’d known how warm it would be in the Buffalo winter and hadn’t bothered to argue. What would I tell him when he asked what had happened to it? Maybe he’d never know. Now that I had my own apartment, I didn’t often see my brothers, who were younger, and still lived with our parents. The coat didn’t matter to me, I told myself. Georgia needed it more. Up ahead, the square mile of Bell Labs pinked the sky. The snow had begun to thicken, and the boy squinted at it through the window. “We gonna make it?” he asked. I thought he was worried about the crossing to Canada, and, even though I’d not done it before, I sought to reassure him. “We’ll take the Whirlpool Bridge. Only locals use it. They don’t check like they do at the bigger bridges. You’ll see.” He looked at me, then away. “I mean the snow,” he said after a moment. “It’s not bad,” I told him. It wasn’t. Another slow look, but he didn’t say anything more. The pot smell had stuck to him, and in the hot car mingled with his body odor. By now we were passing between the chemical plants, and the belching from their smokestacks confused the mix. I might as well light a cigarette, I thought. But I didn’t. At the V, I turned toward the river and Buffalo Ave. It was a little out of the way, but it was the route I liked best and it was possible I might not see it again for some time if something went wrong. We passed the community college and the once-elegant mansions, then drove through Niagara Falls’s mostly empty downtown. Cars were already parked in front of Shaky’s, though. Maybe I’d head over there after I’d dropped Georgia off. A drink in a dark smoky bar, a blues band, a friend or two—the very familiarities I longed to escape seemed suddenly enticing. This wasn’t how I’d pictured what I was doing, or rather, who I’d pictured. I’d thought I’d help some conscience-wracked young man through his final passage to a new life. I’d imagined the kind of philosophical conversation my friends and I often had at 4 a.m., after the bars closed. It had never occurred to me I’d be helping some dumb kid evade the draft. A familiar clutch of anger suggested I bail, but I was already in too deep. I couldn’t turn back now.

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F I C T I O N Before I headed north on Whirlpool, I turned into the park. Nobody was there. I shut off the car and turned to Georgia. “It’s time,” I said. He turned toward me. “Time for what?” “For you to get in the trunk.” In the eerie snow-reflected light, I could see his surprise. “In the trunk?” I nodded. “Why can’t I just sit here? They’ll just think I’m your boyfriend.” A wave of revulsion rose into my throat. You would never be my boyfriend. I took a deep breath. He had a point, but I wasn’t about to concede it. “If they ask for ID, what do you do?” He shrugged. “Show ’em my driving license?” I shook my head, then tried to speak more slowly than my usual rat-a-tat. “Nope. And if you’ve got it, you need to burn it. You can’t be you anymore. You—who you are—have a low draft number. Uncle Sam wants you. You need to leave all of it behind. Your keys, too.” He jingled the keys in his pocket. “Whoa,” he said. “This is heavy.” Was this the first time the irrevocability of what he was doing had occurred to him? “What you’re doing is final,” I told him. “You won’t get to come back. But just think—you’ll get to start over. A new name. A new life.” It was only as I said these things aloud that I realized how much I envied him. For a moment, he didn’t move. Then he nodded. “Okay,” he said. “I’m ready.” He pushed open his door and walked to the back of the car. I grabbed my lighter from my purse and went around the front. “Trunk’s up here,” I called. “But first, we have to burn your stuff.” He shuffled toward me, warm in my coat that was now his jacket. The cold seeped through my heavy sweater, but I wasn’t about to let him see it. I flicked the lighter. “Make a pile here on the sidewalk,” I told him. He dug into his jeans, extracted a few crumpled ones, scraps of paper, his license, the keys, made a small pile where I’d pointed. The money was gross, but I shoved it in my own pocket. I tossed the keys toward the nearest trash can, and surprised myself by scoring a three-pointer. I handed him the lighter. “You do it. Make it a ceremony, if you want. It’s okay. I’ll wait.” He flicked the lighter a few times. “I can’t think of anything to say,” he finally said. Then he looked at me. “You’re smart,” he said. “You say something.” You think you’re so smart, my father would say. But all I could think of now was ashes to ashes, dust to dust, and I knew it wasn’t the right sentiment for the occasion. Then a Richie Havens lyric arrived, unbidden. “To freedom,” I said. “To new beginnings.” Georgia nodded, then squatted and lit up the papers. They were gone so quickly they generated no heat. He kicked at the now-blackened remains, once, then passed me my lighter.

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After I’d shoved it in my pocket, I turned and opened the trunk. It had begun to snow more heavily, and felt still colder. I shivered, half-wishing I hadn’t given up my coat. I moved a pile of books to the passenger seat, then patted the shallow well in front of the car. Very shallow. It wasn’t going to work. What had I been thinking? But Georgia climbed in, then carefully folded himself into some version of a fetal crouch. When he was ready, I lowered the hatch slowly to make sure he fit. He had to squirm a little more to make himself still smaller, and a breeze of fat snowflakes joined him, melting on his face and disappearing into the coat’s smooth surface. From between his wrapped arms, he looked at me. And then it really hit me, what I was doing. I could go to jail, for a very long time. I could hear my father’s potential fury roar toward me, a locomotive threatening to push me off the track. My mother’s disappointment weighed me down with its silence. What on earth was running through your mind? I could hear my father saying. What will I tell everyone? asked my mother, without saying a word. No. They were wrong. In their war, my father had known he was a good guy. In our war, the good guys—people I knew and people I didn’t, like Georgia—were dying for reasons that had nothing to do with what we believed our country to be. At what moment would I be able to silence the critical voices in my head and do what I knew was right? Was I about to back down again, now, with this boy in my trunk and his future—his life?—literally in my hands? Was I? I asked if he was ready and he answered with one slow nod. I shut the trunk. I got back in the car and started it. I eased up on the clutch and headed down toward the bridge. I skidded, once. The snow was new, and it was night. The salters wouldn’t be out until morning. I slowed down. I didn’t skid again. As soon as I’d crossed onto the bridge, the sound of the tires grew loud inside the car. The roadbed was wood, old wood that despite the fresh coat of snow creaked and protested and bumped against the tires as I edged forward. What did it sound like from the trunk, I wondered? Was Georgia imagining some apocalypse? I should have told him what to listen for, what to expect. I should have thought to consider his fears. Well, he should have voiced them. I couldn’t be expected to think of everything. The speed limit was fifteen. The bridge wasn’t long, but because of the snow I couldn’t yet see the other end. Then, finally, pale light from the customs booth on the Canadian side began to shimmer through the thickly falling flakes. I inched toward it, interminably. And then a loud roar overhead set my heart thumping. I squeezed the steering wheel so tightly my gloved fingers ached, then leaned toward my side window, searching for the border patrol helicopters I imagined were swooping in to cut me off. The colored lights that rainbowed the Falls of-

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F I C T I O N fered a faint glow a mile upriver. But next to me there was only the black of the gorge. Still, the roar grew louder. Was the bridge collapsing? Was God punishing me for my hubris, as my father had so often threatened He would? It was then that I remembered the railroad tracks on the second bed of the bridge, above me. A train was passing over. As soon as I realized this, it was gone, and the only sound was the now-comforting clack of tires on snow-wetted wood. I laughed out loud. Border patrol helicopters. In this snow. For one sorry kid from Georgia. Who by now had probably shit in his pants. Still smiling at my foolishness, I pulled up to the customs booth, and after a moment one of the two guys inside slid the window open partway. I handed him a quarter for the toll. “Citizen of what country?” he asked in a disinterested monotone. “U.S.,” I answered automatically. Border crossings were part of what you did in a border town. “Purpose in Canada?” he asked, shining a flashlight into my empty back seat. Maybe it was the flashlight. The panic returned. I hadn’t considered an answer to this question, even though it was a common one. You can’t hesitate, my contact had said. Pretend it’s just another border crossing. Which it is. No. It’s not. Then I remembered what Georgia had said, when he’d tried to avoid getting in the trunk. I offered the customs guy my best smile. “Boyfriend,” I said. He smiled back. Or was it a leer? “You leave some for our own girls, eh?” And then he waved me on with the flashlight, its glare momentarily blinding me. I let up on the clutch. I pulled away, slowly. I made a full stop at the stop sign, drove a few cautious blocks up the hill, then turned onto a street of quiet clapboard houses and drove a few blocks more before I pulled over. The snow had stopped, or maybe never had been falling on this side of the river. Canada always felt like a different world, even though it was less than a quarter mile across the gorge. Polite, it felt. Reserved, more considered. I don’t know why I thought so, but I suppose I think it still. I got out of the car and opened the trunk, helped Georgia out, then lit a cigarette. He put his arms over his head and stretched, then looked around. “Canada?” he asked. I nodded. In this newly silent world, I’d been struck dumb. “What do we do now?” I’d take him to the bus station. I’d give him ten bucks Canadian. That was what I’d been told to do. But suddenly I was furious. Where was an acknowledgment of our shared risk? Where was his relief? And where in hell was my thank you?

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I could do whatever I wanted now. I could get in my car and leave him on this deserted side street without any idea of where he was. He didn’t have a dime, Canadian or American. I could even take my coat back. I narrowed my eyes at him. “They didn’t tell you?” I asked. The first hint of fear I’d seen crossed his face: a quick blink, and then another. Good, I thought. You should be scared. Look what you’ve done. Then he shook his head. “They said you’d take care of it,” he said in his slow, quiet, infuriating voice. I nodded. “And I have, haven’t I?” He looked around him, and I watched the sorry old houses grow gothic and mean in his eyes. “You’re not leaving me here?” His voice squeaked as it had when he’d held in the smoke from his joint. I willed him to thank me. That would change everything, I decided. A simple thank you. He waited for me to answer, and I let him worry for a minute. I looked off toward the bridge, saw myself crossing back, without him. Then he spoke again. “You done a good thing for me here,” he said, poofs of breath accentuating his words. “I appreciate it. I really do.” I should have struck a tougher bargain, I thought. I turned back toward the car. “Come on,” I said. “I’ll take you to the bus station.” I couldn’t name the disappointment I felt. What I’d been anticipating was over. And what was there now? I could see Georgia’s future unfolding before him, full of promise. But I couldn’t see my own, no matter how hard I tried.

Kyle Zimmerman

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Lisa Lenard-Cook’s PEN-shortlisted novel Dissonance, originally published by University of New Mexico Press, was reissued in paperback and e-editions by Santa Fe Writers’ Project in September 2014. She’s also the author of New Mexico Penwomen Zia Prize-shortlisted novel Coyote Morning (UNM Press), and the writing guides The Mind of Your Story (Writer’s Digest Books, Zia Prize Finalist) and (with Lynn C. Miller) Find Your Story, Write Your Memoir (University of Wisconsin Press, IndieFab Bronze winner), as well as numerous trade nonfiction books. Her short fiction has appeared in Southwest Review, Rosebud, Puerto del Sol, and other journals. Lisa is a faculty member at the Santa Barbara Writers Conference and the Taos Summer Writers’ Conference, and was recently a featured writer at the National Undergraduate Literature Conference in Ogden. Lisa is a co-founder of ABQ Writers Co-op, bosque (the magazine), and the Bosque Fiction Prize. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. For more information on Lisa, visit: www.lisalenardcook.com

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C O N V E R S A T I O N

Janine Joseph

Putting Feet on itâ&#x20AC;&#x201D; A Conversation with Ron Carlson

UCI Communications/Christine Byrd


PRELUDE Praised in a New York Times Book Review as being a “master” of “the happy ending,” Ron Carlson is the author of many books. His most recent publications include the flash fiction collection, The Blue Box (2014), the novels, Return to Oakpine (2013) and The Signal (2010), and the poetry collection, Room Service: Poems, Meditations, Outcries & Remarks (2012). His collection of essays on writing, Ron Carlson Writes a Story (2007), is taught widely in creative writing classrooms. His short stories have appeared in Esquire, Harper’s, The New Yorker, The Atlantic Monthly, among other journals, and have been performed on National Public Radio’s “This American Life” and “Selected Shorts.” His work has also been anthologized in The Best American Short Stories, the O. Henry Prize Series, The Pushcart Prize Anthology, and The Norton Anthology of Short Fiction. The subject matter of his multi-genre writings is, as you will see from our conversation, often playful, tender, adventurous, and dynamic. “Do yourself a favor,” as Stephen King best put it, “and read Ron Carlson.” A Utah native, Carlson was born in Logan and grew up in Salt Lake City. He earned a Master’s degree in English from the University of Utah. After teaching at The Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, Connect-

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icut, and then at Arizona State University, Carlson moved to California, where he joined the faculty of the MFA Programs in Writing at the University of California, Irvine. He currently serves as the program’s Director. Carlson visited Weber State University in the spring of 2014 as part of Weber State University’s annual National Undergraduate Literature Conference (NULC). During his time here, he participated in two panel discussions along with writers Bret Anthony Johnston and Lisa Lenard-Cook, and gave the keynote address at the Conference’s Opening Banquet. As the featured speaker, he read several poems from Room Service and a short fiction that presents a plea for mercy masquerading as a recommendation letter, a story I suspect appears in his postNULC appearance collection, The Blue Box. In a more candid moment, Carlson revealed to an audience of students, faculty, administrators, and members of the local and national communities, a fortuitous event when a misplaced and unread letter was returned to him. The letter, written by his late mother, was somehow tucked away in a book that was purchased secondhand. To the rapt audience, he read the letter. I talked with Carlson about his work, his process, and what writing advice he might leave behind for my students, who were fans of “A Kind of Flying,” a story anthologized in our semester’s reading.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N CONVERSATION It’s great to meet you. I have a number of questions for you, some I fielded from my students because we read “A Kind of Flying” together in one of my classes. Oh, you read the story?

Yes, yes. They were really excited when they found out that I was going to get a chance to meet you. To my students, you feel like a real writer—because you’ve made a real career out of, not just teaching, but out of writing. You feel very big to them and they want to know how you got there. So, I’d like to start out by asking you about your professional trajectory— how you went from teaching to directing a creative writing program. Okay, well, I’m from Utah.

From Logan, right? Yeah, originally from Logan and then I moved as a little kid to Salt Lake. I grew up on the west side. I always liked stories. I had a bunch of friends and we told and talked stories. I had a couple of teachers who let me put on skits when I was in elementary school. So, the world of the imagination—I think it was a little different then because we didn’t have anything but our imaginations. Nobody had an iPhone. I’m going to talk a little bit about that tonight. When I got into school, I liked skits, I liked writing—I didn’t see it as a career, I was trying to study history. When I got to the University of Utah after going to West High School— where I wrote the senior skit and wrote a lot of poems, mainly I gave them to girls that I had crushes on—I tried to major in every possible thing. I looked at geology. As a junior, I took a class in every department. I took accounting, I took all kinds of math—I loved math. I took a lot of physics. Geology was very

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tempting, especially at the University of Utah. There was a professor there named Eardley, Professor Eardley—magnificent. But I just kept coming back to English and Emily Dickinson and Robert Frost and the Victorian poets. Then I met a guy named David Kranes—all you need is one teacher. David pointed at me, and said, “You’re ready if you want to be.” I wrote a lot of extra things and he let me know that he would look at my stories. He was a very busy guy, a very popular professor with two little kids of his own, but he made space for me. He encouraged me in my writing. So it’s always against the grain. You do what you love and if you’re in love, you find a way to see what you love. A lot of things get in the way, life gets in the way. Writing isn’t going to happen to you unless you insist upon it—it’s about being stubborn. So I went off and taught high school for ten years. I took a job, I taught at a prep school where I coached. I taught and I ran the dorm. Underneath that, for a half-hour a day, or an hour a day, I was writing my book. I wrote a book set at the University of Utah—it’s still in print, it’s called Betrayed by F. Scott Fitzgerald. It’s the classic first novel with everything in it, even the kitchen sink. (Laughter) You can kind of see a guy learning to write. I’m proud of that book and I feel the same about it now as I did then. I’m a professional writer and a professional teacher and I’ve been through some things. Still, every day when I go into work, I’m in the same exciting, dark place that I was in then. I haven’t known, particularly, where I was going in my stories, but I wanted to find out. I wrote these stories to find out what happened— these were stories I wanted to tell myself. I was incredibly fortunate to have the success that I have had. I wrote things that I was interested in and people would publish them. I thought, “That’s their problem.”

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What luck (Laughter).

But I want you to take a deep breath and reconsider it and remember who you are in Being from Utah, I didn’t know what to do your bones. Why don’t you write—the writing and I wrote a letter into the dark to a woman I will take care of the publishing. How do you didn’t know. I got her name out of a reference publish a book? You write a good book.” book and she wrote back from New York sayI will say that in my entire career, I never ing that she would read my book. I sent her met an editor before they saw my work. My my book and then she wrote back and said work was my introduction. I don’t know many that she’d like to publish it. So, I thought, that editors or many agents—I’m not in that world. is pretty strange. Being from Utah, I’ve been I lived in the West on purpose, because I love told many times, you’re nobody from noit. I love Utah, I love Arizona, I love the mounwhere. Utah’s been all found out since I was a tains in Colorado and Idaho, I love Wyoming. kid. In 1970, nobody knew where it was and I live in California—it’s a strange place. now it’s like Aspen. “Oh, I was in Utah for the Trusting yourself—which is very difficult weekend...” Shut up. (Laughter) I knew about when you are a young person, because you’re Utah when it was a real place—it still is a real thinking, there’s somebody somewhere who’s place despite the fact going to give me that they try to pretend approval—you’ve got that it’s precious, to have to strength which it is. I still spend I will say, that in my entire career, to say, I’ll keep my a lot of time here. I never met an editor before they own council, I’ll trust my own evaluation of saw my work. My work was my I read in Ploughmy work and do the introduction. I don’t know many shares that little best work that I can.

story about how editors or many you got that first that world. book published. It was funny because one of my students said, “Well, can you ask him how he first got published?” and I said, “Well, do you want the truth?” (Laughter) because it doesn’t really happen like that anymore. You mean with Carol Smith, meeting Carol Smith?

Yes, yes. Just sending something off into the dark. What I would say if that student was here… what’s the name?

Joni. I’d say “Joni, look. I like that impulse that you have—that you want to be published.

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agents—I’m not in

I am interested in knowing if you concern yourself with audience when you’re writing. Do your readers ever enter the room? Or, do you just have to ignore them—ignore us—for a large chunk of your writing time? You can’t think of your audience—I’m speaking for myself, but my audience is myself. The person who needs to believe the work is the writer so that he or she can survive the story and complete the draft. It’s not for you to necessarily understand even what it is. You’ll finish your work, and what will happen is, you’ll be in love with it, and that’s your job. Later, after it cools down a little bit, you can begin to evaluate it and make some editorial changes. Nobody can get in your room—not your parents, not your fiancé, not your minister or your rabbi, not your children,

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C O N V E R S A T I O N talking to? They are self-correcting even not all the kids that you went to school with, though there is no one there to ask, “What not the people you think won’t approve—if do you mean?” you’re writing for other people you’re making a mistake. I would say you write it as fiercely Your question is a good question because as you can and have that real, personal conit is vexatious—I don’t know. I look at that nection to your work. That doesn’t mean that book and you get to be a lot of people—a it is sloppy or imprecise. It means that you lot of people in different moods. There are said what you wanted to some characters in say in the best way that there that are talking—I you could. If you finish must confess to you the work and you finish You can’t think of your that they make sense it right, then, as soon as to me, (Laughter) and audience—I’m speaking for you start to take it out of that may be a problem. your office, you can think myself, but my audience Many times, ideas about your audience. You is myself. The person who are floating in the air. don’t want to offend your Breaking news, things needs to believe the work is mother with something that are issues, and I you wrote. There might the writer so that they can write about these things. be some other things to survive the work and they can I certainly wouldn’t call consider, but you can’t let them outcries. I wrote complete the work. It’s not for you mother in the room a piece for this new when you are writing—you you to necessarily understand book—a new book of have to take it right to the even what it is. Nobody can poems—and one of the wall, breathe deeply, and pieces is about a woman get in your room—not your be energetic, and go for it. explaining how her yard, parents, not your fiancé, not now, is sacrosanct—it’s That brings me to a few your minister or your rabbi, a country—and you are questions that I have going to need a visa to about your speaker in not your children, not all the come onto their grounds. Room Service. When kids that you went to school They are establishing reading, I found that I their own currency and was palling around with with, not the people you think their own post office and all the voices. There is won’t approve—if you’re something very converwriting for other people you’re some of this just makes me scared—that people sational to the pieces making a mistake. might think I am a little that are in Room Serdisturbed—but I’m not vice—and I keep saying disturbed, I’m excited. “pieces” because I know I write these things the tag-line (Poems, down as opposed to letting them get away. Meditations, Outcries and Remarks)... I love your question because there are a Yeah, that’s perfect. lot of different speakers in that book. I like them because one thing that they share is a So now I am very curious to know if you kind of hope. They’re kind of callow, they’re imagined no one else in the room. All of the kind of innocent, as they say these things. pieces in Room Service are very converWhen writing, you go in, you type so far, and sational. Who do you think the poems are then there comes a point when you’re on a

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promontory and can see where you might go, but you can’t see where you might go from the first line. I know that lots of poets have this experience, though I don’t know that I would call myself a poet—we’ll see about that. In one of the pieces in Room Service people’s teeth are getting whiter. We could talk about this a long time. I’m an expert reader, I analyze texts, but I don’t know what to say about that—for me it makes sense. The poem always makes me quiet; it satisfies an ineffable sadness that I feel, but I couldn’t say beyond that.

Another reason that I got the sense that there might be someone who was talking to me, or at least was aware that I might be listening, has to do with how you ordered Room Service. I think about how well placed “A Simple Note on How Best to Use This Humble Bookmark” is— where it falls, it’s almost like it just comes at a place where the speaker is acknowledging that the reader has this life outside of this book. It just comes at the perfect moment in that particular collection. This placement suggests an awareness and acknowledgment of the reader—which is not something that I find in other poetry collections, not to say that the move doesn’t exist, but I’m a little hypersensitive to moments when I feel like someone is talking to me— it changes my relationship to the piece, as a reader. So I wanted to talk to you about how you ordered this collection. You have all these voices, but there are moments

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when I can feel them reach over and say, “Hey, you can turn out the lamp now. I’ll talk to you later.” (Laughter) Well, I think you may be my perfect reader. (Laughter) You’re giving me a lot of credit. I did work to make sure that there was a kind of a balance in the book. I didn’t want light, dark, and I didn’t want rough, smooth. There are a lot of different things, and I wanted to keep it all so that there would be a vital jumble.

A lot of our students here are multi-genre writers, and many of them take classes outside of what they feel is most sacred to them. I feel like you are a good writer to have as an example for them because you cross through many genres. I was curious about what your writing process is like from genre to genre. Nance Van Winckel was just here to do a reading and someone in the audience during the Q & A asked her Michael Wutz if she knew, when she was writing, whether something was going to turn into a poem or a short story. Her response was that she always knew—from the first few words that she put down on the page—if something was going to be a poem or a story. It was like fishing, she explained, and when she pulled that hook up, she knew if it was going to be a fish (a poem) or a whale (a story)—just from those first few words. Do you ever know if you’re writing an “outcry,” or a “meditation,” or if what you start jotting down is a story?

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C O N V E R S A T I O N I think I do; I think I know before I start. Essentially, I wait on a story. I have to kick myself out of bed because sometimes it’s a surprise when I start. I just say, “Get in there, go.” I have a sense from where I’m starting— usually, I start in a scene in fiction—so I have that a little more under control. The other pieces are odd, because I really feel I am resourceful enough—there’s enough juice—that I can let one thing lead to another and follow where it wants to go. I know that I am going to go in, and I am going to get a draft today. I’m not going to put it down. I’m going to get a draft of the thing—it’s only going to be half a page, quarter page, page and a half, every once and a while, you get into a story that’s a short story that’s three to four to five pages—and I would say even there, I know. I’m always a little surprised when it wants to be longer than that. So, yeah, I do know.

When reading “The Chapman Branch,” I couldn’t help but wonder about how you came to fall in love with language—how you came to be a writer. When we read Tobias Wolff’s “Bullet in the Brain,” I ask my students to think back on a piece of language that moved or has stuck with them. Are you familiar with that story? Uh huh.

With that in mind, I was wondering if you have a “They is, they is, they is.” If you have a piece of language that’s stuck with you and is the music in the background?

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I don’t know, my head is so full of junk. I’ve got a lot of echoes and I’ve noticed that when I talk to myself, I don’t always say the same things. I don’t have a mantra or a phrase that’s caught.

Is there anything that is from someone else that has stuck with you? Some strange or curious piece of language that... Odd bits. The old Dean of Students at the prep school where I taught always spoke in French. He was a math teacher. I just remember when we were crossing somewhere, he’d say “vite vite,” “hurry hurry”— and I say that all the time, I just picked it up. At weddings, I always say to the groom, “Twenty minutes to live,” (Laughter) and that’s from Our Town, Thornton Wilder’s play, when the boys are baiting each other. That’s all. There’s lots of stuff an old guy Michael Wutz gets in his head.

I read Ron Carlson Tells a Story and there was something you said about the two homeless people that you wrote into your story that really struck a chord with me. You say, “It terrified me: Ron Carlson rips off the homeless to write his little story…But now that I had them in, I had a responsibility to them.” I was in a workshop with Philip Levine when I was at NYU and had a similar experience. I’d written in a homeless woman into a poem and he told me that I had a responsibility to her—that I couldn’t just move her around like furniture to make a metaphor. It made me think about

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the way that you handle your characters. I was wondering if you could speak a little bit about when you realized or when you learned that you had a responsibility to the people who were characters in your stories.

in the morning, one mid-September freezing night—and saved two guys’ lives. I talked to him for three hours, we had coffee in his little cabin. I had my tape recorder out and when I left I couldn’t get over the feeling that I had because I was exhausted. I realized what it was: I was responsible for his story.

Well, it’s just a fact—you do. You may have made up something, like the busy housewife, or the cheating executive, or the evil develYou talk about waiting a while, allowing oper, or the precocious child, but they’re for an “incubation period.” Has a story not in the story for you. The best stories are ever gotten away from you because you going to have a resonance that comes off the kept it in an incubation period? Or, do you authenticity of that character. The homeless have a fast turnaround? are always symbolic—I Stories come up and want to move away from they’re waiting in line. the symbolic to the acYou may have made up These little notions—that tual—you want to put feet something, like the busy story about the accident, on everybody. I always or that injury, or that housewife, or the cheating question the best thing incident. They come to you can make a character, executive, or the evil developer, the top of the wheel, like and I didn’t know what I or the precocious child, but the top of a Ferris wheel, was doing when I wrote or the bottom—whatever they’re not in the story for “The Governor’s Ball,” but I see now that I made you. The best stories are going you want the metaphor to be—and you’ve got to those characters, the gift to have a resonance that comes pluck them. I wrote The I gave them, I saw them Speed of Light about off the authenticity of that come to life, was that I three twelve-year-old made them knowing. I character. The homeless are boys when I was 32. made them capable of always symbolic—I want to Had I not written it that understanding, of seeing year, I think that book move away from the symbolic what was happening. One of the things I always say to the actual—you want to put might have gotten away. My valence, my is that everybody in the feet on everybody. charge, my ability to pay story needs to be at least full attention to all the as bright as the author. world I made up there, If you can do that, you’re would have dissipated. going to be fine. There’s a I haven’t had any stories get away. I lost a lot of characters who move to type, or move to story once—I had a first draft, and I lost the symbol, or help the author make their theme draft—it was a long time ago. Pretty good or their point. But that isn’t where the best story it seems to me now. But, I wait and fiction is or what creates the most resonance. then when I start a story, I keep it before I wrote an article in 1983 about a terme—I don’t go sideways. I’m not going to flirt rible mountain climbing accident on the over here—it takes me 5, 6, 8 days, maybe Grand Tetons. I went up to Jackson Hole and it takes me three weeks to write, to get the I interviewed the guy who saved these lives. draft. Once you’ve got a draft, you’re pretty He had intervened on the Grand Tetons—three safe. I try to get the story as done as I can.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N How did you recover from losing that story? I feel like that happens more and more right now because students will be writing on their phones or on their iPads. Just the other day, one of my students recovered something he thought he lost because he had lost the very thing it was saved on. How did you recover from losing that story?

you wrote about living in Salt Lake. Is that a place that you feel is central to you?

Location and place means a great deal to me. If you believe the place, then something can happen. I just wrote a story set at the northern end of the Great Salt Lake called “Gray Gumbo.” It’s online with TriQuarterly Review. I love the west side of Salt Lake and the University of Utah. I was sort of there for Well, it was on paper, it was a hard copy, those last few years. Walked all over, climbed and I thought I had it. I couldn’t find it on my all over. I love the feeling of Salt Lake—when clipboard, I couldn’t find it in my notebook, you break through the mountains and you couldn’t find it in my file, it was just gone. So get out of town. I knew Park City before it I wondered if—I remembered my handwritwas anything—when it was 35 buildings. I ing on the page—I wondered if I was going to had some lovely things there, they’re almost re-write it but I knew stupid to recount. I wouldn’t. It’s just You can’t have them gone. I haven’t lost again, because the that much, I lost that places are gone. I love Utah, and I’ve tried to write story, I lost a few othI love the mouna love letter to it over the years. The er things, but if you tains of Utah—The epigram for my first novel was from write steadily for as Uinta’s are such a long as I have, there’s the Daily Utah Chronicle at the delicious and beautia lot of work. I have ful mountain range. University of Utah. It will always be over forty stories that I love to drive south that way for me. aren’t in books. I am on US-89 down beginning to round through the center. them up now to make Every time I’ve driven for the next book. through Gunnison, Utah, past the Big Rock Candy Mountain and There are folders on my computer that I Panguitch, and Bryce, and Carmel Junction, haven’t touched in a while and I keep thinkand Kanab—I love Kanab—it opens my heart. ing, “Oh, there must be an idea there someI can feel the expectation and promise and where,” but then I just start a new project. nostalgia. I spent a lot of time driving because Perhaps I will just continue to accumulate I was at college in Utah and my summer jobs things that I will never find again. They were in Phoenix. Salt Lake City and Phoenix will all be in the cloud that is my comwere twin cities for many, many years. I loved puter and then one day, it will be gone and to just clamor around in Utah. I wrote a story somehow that will be a relief to me because called “Plan B for the Middle Class,” where I won’t have to sift back through them. Lewis goes swimming on the Great Salt Lake I recently visited the Spiral Jetty and and it was pretty rough stuff. I love Utah, and was wondering—and this might be more of I’ve tried to write a love letter to it over the a question for me—if you could recommend years. The epigram for my first novel was from some places in Utah that I should go visit the Daily Utah Chronicle at the University or that you really feel spoke to your writof Utah. It will always be that way for me.

ing? I know that in Ron Carlson Writes,

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When you’re living in California, is Utah still at the writing desk? It’s huge. It’s huge for me. If you said to me, “Where do you want to be this Saturday,” I’d say somewhere in Utah. I don’t know what to do about that. It’s too late to fix it.

Can you talk a little bit about whether or not there is a distance between the lived events and the stories in the fiction you write? Is there a similar distance—or is it altogether different—with your poetry or outcries?

I like the first person fine. Whichever point of view is going to help you, whichever tense will help you finish the draft, use it. My favorite work of mine is probably in the third person. I think that it is as intimate and has as much velocity as first person. I don’t think I’ve been indulgent with the first person. I think there is a little bit of a danger for the beginning writer as he or she wanders in and out of autobiography and back to fiction. But, if you’re stringent with the “I” and you get a hold of it after a couple of pages, then it can be right and tight. But I love the intimate third person.

Do you have a process for developing that

I would say that in dealing with those poems, voice—whatever distinctive voice a story I would say that they are much more pure or an outcry or a poem has? Do you follow flight. There’s much that particular voice, more imagination or do you find that operating. Of course, you are constantly I think there is a little bit of a whenever you’re worktightening and honing the imagination, danger for the beginning writer ing and creating that you’re trying to use a as he or she wanders in and out voice through revimuscle, you’re trying sion? of autobiography and back to to put feet on it so that the characters and the fiction. But, if you’re stringent No, not through revispeaker—there’s a little with the “I” and you get a hold of sion. Through the first shadow of me that falls draft. It has to evolve, it after a couple of pages, then it across each of them. and you screw it down “The Chapman Branch” can be right and tight. But I love ‘til it’s tight. You try to is autobiographical and get it as tight as you the intimate third person. I sort of think each poem can—start tight and or piece establishes its stay tight. If you start own terms. I used lots loose, it’s very hard to of germs of my own experience in the stories. tighten up. It’s like trying to get a newspaper Every one of them surprised me with where it in a tighter roll after you’ve already done went. Writing from what I know, toward what I one this big. It’s a sweeping answer—I don’t don’t. In the poems, I usually start with someknow that it will help anybody. Sometimes thing, a speaker in the middle, and then go. I’ll be writing in the first person, and I’ll be

I noticed that a lot of your short stories are written in the first person. I gravitate toward this “I” because, again, I like being talked to. So, I wanted to know if this is a point of view that feels more comfortable to you, or if you think there are certain aesthetic properties that voice has built into it?

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thinking, how is this person not me? It will become clear, it takes two or three pages, but then I have a real hold of the instrument and can go. It’s easier in the third person to understand how he’s different.

What you’re saying makes sense. Earlier, when we were talking, you said, “I don’t

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C O N V E R S A T I O N know, I don’t really consider myself a poet,” but you’re talking very much like a poet—where you’re immediately tightening as you go along. Regarding your first drafts—you said sometimes it will take a few hours, sometimes it will take a few days, sometimes it will take a few weeks—is it a slow process or do you just sort of sit down and type, type, type, type? When you start writing, you’ve got to stay on it. You’re not gobbling—you don’t have to shovel it in (Laughter), but you need to pay attention, you need to bring things to a boil. You can’t be vacuuming while you’re cooking. You’ve got to come to the stove and climb in. Sometimes that does mean that you work on a story for 24 days straight. It doesn’t mean eight hours a day, but it means an hour. Forty minutes. An hour-anda-half. Ninety minutes. You keep it before you. You can go away for a couple of days—if you’ve got to go teach, or you’ve got somebody in the hospital—but you keep it before you. That’s what I need to bring the proper amount of attention—because I want a certain number of threads per inch in my pieces. I don’t want them dilute or too spare.

I was going to ask you how you found that balance. You have two very big jobs. You’ve always, it sounds like, had two very big jobs—that is, teaching and paying the bills, and writing. You mentioned that if you can just squeeze in an hour, you can

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do the writing. Does that feel like balance to you? Well, it’s the oldest topic in a way. My friends that want to quit their job and write their book, I say, no, take another job, work from 4 to 11 at El Pollo Loco or something (Laughter).

That’s how I know you’re living in California (Laughter). I don’t want to quit my job and go to a mountain cabin—it would be the same life I have. My time away, my time goofing-off, my time working, my time reading student papers, my time on my bicycle, is all time that pays my writing. I guess I could have had 20 books, but I don’t want 20 books. I wrote 12 books or 11 books— I don’t even know how many books—I’m glad I wrote them, but I wanted this other life too. I’ve been fortunate in that I still love to teach. My Michael Wutz notes aren’t yellow yet. I’m very interested in what’s happening, and I’m obviously working with remarkable people. So, when I turn to this project that I am working on, I have a special feeling about it and that creates the muscle and the density that I need.

I wanted to ask you, and maybe this is sort of putting you on the spot, but are there any stories that you feel like you want to see more of in the world? We see lots of stories, lots of stories come our way. It’s great to have a buffet. I admire so much the late stories of Anne Beattie—

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her great observational skills. I love the every once in a while, someone will come stories of Robert Stone. There is a certain up and take my sleeve having read it. period, writers are a lot of different people. But at the end, he comes in and he says, The very conventional stories—I don’t mean “Come to bed,” to his wife and she’s ironing that to be pejorative—of William Trevor. Of the tablecloth. She says, “I need to put those course Alice Munroe—I admire her work, the wrinkles in it like in the painting of DaVinci.” levels of time operating. If I see a name in As I was writing that, I thought, (Gasp) that’s a table of contents—I like Rick Bass’ storight, that tablecloth is out there. I immediries. There’s so many people that I read and ately wrote it down and when I finished the read constantly. I like the stories of Annie story, the two pages left in “Phenomena,” Proulx—her novels are I turned and I wrote good too—Heart Songs “The Tablecloth of is a wonderful book. I’m interested in stories that have Turin” as a monoI’m interested in logue. Those were a kind of form, that create a world the days when I had stories that have a kind of form, that create a that “Bigfoot Stole My in such a way that we might world in such a way that Wife.” I wrote twelve see parts of it twice before we’re we might see parts of of those, many of them finished, as opposed to the linear it twice before we’re were published tabloid finished, as opposed to headlines. Some of stories that we see a lot of. I’m the linear stories that them have never been sort of full of irony, I don’t need we see a lot of. I’m sort published. So I was any more hard irony, sardonic of full of irony, I don’t glad to get it. It was a need any more hard discovery, it was a colstories, the hipster stories. I think irony, sardonic stories, lision as I was typing. that’s a way that people say, with the hipster stories. I How long did the a flourish, “Here’s my talent.” think that’s a way that tablecloth story take people say, with a flour- But I say, “I got your talent, I you? ish, “Here’s my talent.” like your talent, what are you But I say, “I got your I probably wrote that talent, I like your talent, delivering, where’s your heart?” story that day. I might what are you delivering, have adjusted the where’s your heart?” opening. I made a mistake in the story in that I used someone’s real Can you tell me a little bit about the oriname, but I liked it, so that was the way it is. gins of “The Tablecloth of Turin.” Well, that’s non-fiction. I’m kidding (Laughter). I’d written a story called “Phenomena,” about a sheriff and a UFO. His wife is the set designer on a passion play. That story took me 30 days—I wrote it in November of 1983—it took me all month and I loved that story because I got totally out of control. When it started to come back, and there was a son, I realized I had tears in my eyes. People don’t know that story very often, but

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If you were to write another Ron Carlson Tells a Story, which piece would you choose to discuss? Well, I might talk about “Phenomena” in a general way, I would certainly talk about “Zanduce at Second,” about the baseball player—because these are stories that radically surprised me. But I would also talk about two stories that I’ve just completed.

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C O N V E R S A T I O N One is called “Line from a Movie,” which was in Zyzzyva—about a guy in a thrift store where I went. I helped a guy move a table and it became a germ of a story. But the other story I would talk about is one that I am going to talk about here called “Blue Heart.” It’s about a guy who ruins his shirt with a pen. So, I may write that book. I didn’t understand that I was writing a book called Ron Carlson Writes a Story, the title got totally away from me. I’d given it as a lecture for eight or ten years. Finally, I thought, I’m going to write that book. So I wrote the book, it was published, and it was titled Ron Carlson Writes a Story, and I thought, why’d I put my name on the book? (Laughter) So then, when I went to Irvine and I went in to the office, our administrator said, “Oh, Ron Carlson gets his mail” (Laughter), so it was a big joke. I would like to write a book just called, Another Story. It’s a book that’s taught widely, my

little writing book, and I get a lot of mail about it, so I’m very happy that I wrote it.

I really love it. I like that you are willing to break down a story without losing any part of the magic of writing. It doesn’t feel like you strip your story bare as you’re trying to explain how one sentence led to another. It’s great. It makes me wish that I were teaching an Introduction to Fiction class so that I could teach it. I’m thinking about using parts of it for the next Intro to Creative Writing class that I teach. It’s advice that I give my students—but they’ll listen to you. (Laughter) Well, good, whatever helps. Take the authority wherever you can get it (Laughter).

Thank you, it was great to talk to you. Thank you, it was nice to talk with you.

Janine Joseph is the author of Driving Without a License (Alice James Books, 2016). Her commissioned libretti for the Houston Grand Opera (HGOco) stage include From My Mother’s Mother and On This Muddy Water. She holds an MFA from NYU and a Ph.D. from the University of Houston. Janine is an Assistant Professor of English at Weber State University.

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F I C T I O N

Ron Carlson

The Journalist

I

had got it in my head that I was a journalist, could be, and I drove one afternoon to Jackson Hole under that impression. What I was actually was a substitute history teacher supposed to be working on my masters degree at the University of Idaho in Moscow, though since the accident I wasn’t working any longer on that degree and I knew I would never work on that degree. I was, then at the time, nothing. It was October and I had my camera and notebooks on the front seat of the old Honda Civic which had been Olivia’s until a year ago and after she was killed in the accident, her parents gave it to me. I also had a whole lot of her stuff still in the apartment on Brewer Street in Moscow, her music, her dishes, some of her books, and I had given her clothing and her bicycle to her sister. Because I had heard of this trouble on the Grand Teton involving snow and because some of the party had survived, I thought I would write a simple story about that. Our accident was in the snow and involved what I saw as carelessness, and I was thinking that I could bring new care to this project, do something carefully and I would feel better. Plus, I wanted to talk to people who had survived. Two people had perished on the Grand Teton and two people had survived. In our accident one person had perished and one person had survived. I had survived. Driving the little car was a kind of a pleasure, because it was so small that the road and the wind affected it at all times. I mean I could feel the door flex in the mountain wind. It made you understand at all times that something was happening, and it felt like harm and I think I wanted trouble. It was October and was dark by five o’clock, real dark with all the tourist traffic long gone and the dark highways empty, just my headlights and the stars. I’d made my appointment with the one survivor in Jackson Hole for six o’clock some weeks before, telling him I was a journalist, and now it seemed incredibly late, and the dark lonely highway had changed my original spirit for this project. The wind was biting at my car and I had to slow down and still it wanted me off the road. I think I got confused being out of town and my head full of things, and I didn’t eat, just went to the address he’d given me, Hallam, the survivor, and I parked in the apartment parking lot and waited for the hour. There had been days since I had survived when I ne-


F I C T I O N glected things. I neglected to eat some days. It isn’t a big dramatic problem, it just happens: it’s late in the day and you could eat and then you don’t. I don’t know what to say about it except that it doesn’t matter. I had my notebook and my tape recorder and when I knocked on the door the girl who answered gave me an important look and then I realized it was my stuff and the cord to the tape recorder, and the girl, Marissa, thought I was a journalist. Hallam was lying on the couch in a new brown plaid robe. He was young, maybe twenty-three and his short hair stood up in all directions and he said to me, “You’re a young guy.” I told him I was thirty-two. “So who are you doing the article for?” “I’m going to send it to Mountain Sports,” I said. I’d never considered where to send the story, and then it hit me that I would have to write this story now that I had met Hallam. His feet were propped up on an extra couch cushion and the front half of each foot was black, burned by frostbite, and when he saw me looking, he said. “They think I might get to keep some of my toes.” His toes were shrunken and separated from each other like ten victims of the accident. He’d been out of the hospital three days. He told me the whole story of the day of the climb with his friend Artie who had fallen and frozen to death because he couldn’t stand staying in the body pile they’d made under an overhang on the mountain. They had gathered in the rocky alcove and when spots on their faces began to turn white with frost, they lay together the way you’re supposed to, as close as possible, but it didn’t help. It had been too windy; the wind had stolen everything and Artie pushed his way from the other three men and said he knew the way down and he went into the snow. They found his body way below the day after the storm. Hallam talked very fast and he told the story seamlessly. I wrote down the high points knowing that I had the whole thing on tape and could use great sections of the narrative from that. Marissa was watching me the whole time, and I wrote a few things down which were not important but I did it just to be writing. She had been caring for Hallam who was camped pretty permanently on the couch, and late in our interview when Hallam asked for a beer, Marissa brought me one too. I felt it crack me open as I drank it and in the cracked space came the dread. Part of it was hearing his relentless story which was a story of relentless snow and relentless wind, and even though the rangers found him at three in the morning with their lights, death came relentlessly for his companions, and now we were drinking beer in front of his ten dead toes. The beer made me question the reasoning behind my journalism. “Do you have any choice of what goes on the cover?” Marissa asked me. She was speaking about Mountain Sports which always had great covers, usually large photographs of a bicycle on top of a ridge or a tiny canoe in a canyon river. It was a monthly magazine free in racks in towns in the West.

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“Not really,” I said. “They’ll read the story and come up with something.” “If they think it’s a cover story,” Hallam said. “It’s a cover story,” she said. “Look at your toes.” “They wouldn’t make a good cover photograph,” Hallam said. “Are you going to take some pictures?” Marissa asked me. She stood and went to a little toy desk against the wall, a green thing you might buy at Pier One, and she picked up two photographs and handed them to me. The eight by ten was a young man sitting on the top of a rail fence pointing at the camera and grinning like the happiest guy in the world. He was very handsome and his dark hair curled on his forehead. The other was a color snapshot of the same guy standing in a lake to his waist. Marissa was sitting on his shoulders with both hands on his forehead. “I thought you could use these if you wanted,” she said. “Was Artie your boyfriend?” I said and as I heard it I knew I had made a mistake. Hallam looked at the girl with a kind of challenge on his face: what are you going to say now. “Artie was spontaneous,” she said. “Hallam didn’t say that part. It was Artie’s idea to go up the mountain in light gear, fast and light.” My stomach was hollow and my head felt hollow in the hollow light of their little apartment, all the gray carpet and the gray couch, and the seascape sunset on the wall above the gray couch, like some totem from a hospital waiting room. In it the rocks were glowing green and the sun was a brittle toxic orange. The ocean looked like motor oil. Hallam had told me they had made the decision to go fast and light, foregoing real gear, layers, backup. And now here was culpability. As I thought the word, I wrote it down and writing—after what she had said—felt a lot like taking names. I had felt like people had been taking names for a year in my life. This is when as a journalist I should have probed. From Hallam’s story, Artie didn’t seem like a careless or a reckless person. Was Artie careless? Could this accident have been avoided? Then I was off on my own: can any accident be avoided? If it can’t be avoided is it still an accident? When our car slid off the road into the snowbank, were we correct in staying with the vehicle? Should I have used physical force to prevent Olivia from climbing out the window on the second day? Should Olivia and I have been together in the first place? Now that I had taken the blame for the accident was there a way ever to put it aside so I could sleep? Olivia was spontaneous. Was there another person, some journalist I could tell the story to? I had stood in my suit in the corner of the carpeted room at the funeral and everyone looked at me as if reading the story, but I stood there silent and it was a lie. We were warm enough in the car and dry, and we could have stayed another night, but she called me a name and climbed out into the snow. I didn’t stop her. I’ve lived my whole life without calling anyone a name; isn’t that odd? I’m certain I would be a better person if I had. I sat with Marissa and Hallam another twenty minutes. Hallam had another beer and I just double checked the spelling of all the names and

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F I C T I O N ages and the names of the climbing routes, all the climbing routes have wicked names and nicknames as they are created by people who climb mountains, and I got their phone numbers again and unplugged my tape recorder and left. Of course that night in the little motel I could have gone over everything again, practiced the scenes I would write for Hallam’s story trying not to cloud it up with blame, just tell the story of two guys caught and killed by the weather which is an old and honorable story, but I did not want to go over it all again. What my mind did, even after I had fed my body with a basket of fries and a cheeseburger at a place off the square in Jackson called Sasquatch and lay in the cold bed in my room, was practice again telling Olivia to please just wait with me. I did not know that I would never see her again. I should have held her leg and wrestled with her as she called me names, name after name, and I would have held on with the power that comes from knowing if I let go I would never see her again. And then my mind was on the word never and that is a hard word for a cold night in the fall of the year. The next day I made my great mistake as a journalist. I drove Olivia’s little car back up into the park in the brittle afternoon sunlight. The leaves were all down and the day was shot, and the mountains gathered the great loads of shade heavily and I could feel the earth had tilted for the season to come. There was no traffic on the highway such that it made me feel I was going the wrong way. My appointment with the ranger was at four. I had never been up in the park before, but I found the huge log edifice opposite a large parking lot and I went in. It was a spacious park headquarters with heavy rustic furniture and rugs on the wall, more like a lodge than the ranger office. They had moved some of the furniture and were closing down parts of the building for winter. I thought that would be a good detail for my story, if I could figure out a way to work it in. A very lean woman with her gray hair parted down the middle and pulled back met me and showed me into the ranger’s office. It was a big room centered by a yellow pine desk, lacquered to a high shine. I was hoping there would be a moosehead on the wall or an elk, something for my story, but there were ranks of pictures on the one wall each of a group of rangers from each of the years. The huge desk was clear except for a green shaded desk lamp which was off and two inch thick manilla folders. I sat in one of the two log chairs in front of the desk. The woman showed me where I could plug in my tape recorder in the floor outlet and told me it wouldn’t be long, that the ranger would be right in. By now in my career as a journalist I was sort of thinking in paragraphs. I could feel the end of the day and the end of the season in the dim light of the room and out on the valley floor looking north I could feel night coming. It was a sickening feeling really, but you can’t say that. Something had taken the air out of me, and I was reminded again

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that I should have eaten something in Jackson Hole instead of reorganizing the car as if there was some need or purpose in that activity. You couldn’t write about having no air and feeling a sadness as the light goes if you are a journalist. You could write about the fabulous paned window which was the entire north wall of the ranger’s office. You could write about the ranger himself coming in, his uniform, his suntan, his moustache, his athletic manner as you interviewed him about the accident on the mountain. But I never got that far. I sat in my chair in the empty silent ranger headquarters and then I stood up and looked at the two manilla folders on the beautiful expanse of the desk and I saw that one was labeled Arthur Gustafsen, which was Artie’s name. Then I made my mistake. Standing there the dark came up around me like a fog. It did. I was tired and the darkness came like a real thing and I reached out with two fingers and slid the folder toward me, turning it around as I did and then I opened it and it fell open to an eight by ten photograph of Artie’s body in the morgue and I closed the file. I slid it back into place. I sat down and then I went to my knees before the desk and unplugged my tape recorder. I was empty. I walked out across the lobby and pushed open the heavy doors quietly and felt the cold air come into my shirt. The world was gray or brown, not dark. It would be dark in half an hour as I drove back to Jackson Hole and listened to the World Series from Cleveland on the car radio, full of static, coming in like a report from a game on another planet. As I walked across to my car I heard something and ran across the road thinking a truck was coming, but it wasn’t a truck or a plane. I stood and listened to the hissing friction and then I saw the first plume of the geyser spear into the air and then the second plume appeared and shot steaming into the sky. I looked around. I was alone. My car was the only car in the vast parking area. I walked over to the boardwalk with my journalist’s gear in my arms. I’d never seen Old Faithful and I stood there alone and I knew it would be hard to write about.

Ron Carlson’s most recent novel is Return to Oakpine. His short stories have appeared in Esquire, Harper’s, the New Yorker, the Atlantic Monthly, and other magazines. He is director of the graduate program in fiction at the University of California, Irvine. UCI Communications/Christine Byrd

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C O N V E R S A T I O N

Kathleen Herndon

The Varied Sides of Corpus Christi A Conversation with Bret A. Johnston

Nina Subin


PRELUDE Corpus Christi (2004), Bret Anthony Johnston’s debut collection of short stories, has received enthusiastic reviews from the Los Angeles Times Book Review, the Boston Sunday Globe and Kirkus Reviews, and was named a Best Book of the Year by The Independent of London and The Irish Times. The Gulf Coast becomes as much alive in the collection as the characters do, whose dramatic lives unfold against the drama of the south Texas coastline. An avid skateboarder for 20 years, Johnston has written the script for the documentary film Waiting for Lightning, about a skateboarder jumping the Great

Wall of China on a skateboard. Johnston has also edited the landmark collection Naming the World: And Other Exercises for the Creative Writer (2008), and recently released his debut novel Remember Me Like This (2014). A graduate of Miami University and the Iowa Writers’ Workshop, Johnston read his work at the National Undergraduate Literature conference at Weber State University in 1994. Currently, he is Director of Creative Writing at Harvard University. For more information on Johnston’s work, see http:// bretanthonyjohnston.com.

CONVERSATION I’m delighted to have the opportunity to talk to you about your work. When I read Corpus Christi, I found it so interesting because I don’t think I’ve read many Texas authors—Larry McMurtry, but that’s it. I know virtually nothing about the Galveston/Corpus Christi area, and that part of the Gulf Coast. The area becomes a character as much as the humans living in it. Was that part of your purpose, to bring in the region as well as the stories? Or could you not tell those specific stories unless they were in that region? I think it’s definitely the latter. My feeling is—and this is something that we’ve talked about in the workshop here and in every workshop I’ve taught—if a story can take place anywhere else, I don’t think it’s a story for that place. I think it has to be locked to a specific region. With that, the story generates a certain kind of urgency. If something can only happen in Ogden, Utah, then there’s power and an urgency that gathers with that. I hoped to exploit that. Corpus Cristi and south Texas is an area of the country that I know just well enough to know that I

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don’t know it at all—that fascinates me. It’s a part of the country where you can be facing one direction and you’ve got the coast and you’ve got the water and the seashore and that life. You can turn ninety degrees to the north and you’ve got a fairly complex urban area—it has a nice downtown area and it has an area of downtown that is struggling. You can turn another ninety degrees and you’ve got farming and ranching. Then you turn once more, and you’re looking at the naval air station—you’ve got this military aspect. How those different aspects of the character of the landscape come together—how they form and inform each other, how they are at odds with each other—that’s fascinating to me.

I thought the power of the location was very strong and I didn’t think that the stories could be located any place else, especially the hurricane story, which I thought was both interesting and altogether frightening. The three stories don’t come one after the other. It wasn’t until I came to the end that it dawned on me that you were telling a life story: The story of a marriage, and the story of a mother and a

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C O N V E R S A T I O N son. I like their discontinuous placement. Was there a particular inspiration for the patterning or for the location, as well as for the story? When the book was first acquired by Random House, the way it was laid out was that the first story, “I See Something You Don’t See,” in that trilogy was supposed to be the first story in the book. “The Widow” was going to be the middle story, and then “Buy for me the Ring” was going to be the last story. But my editor said that starting the book with that first story in the trilogy would be too sad. He thought it would be too much for the reader to take in terms of being invited into the book. So we put “I See Something You Don’t See” as the second story and it’s done really well in that way. The other interesting thing that I can say about the construction and the inspiration is that I wrote the last story first. I sent it off and it got published—it did very well. Then I wrote a number of other stories. And then I had another idea for those same characters, much earlier in that cycle, so I wrote what is now the first story. The middle story was the last story that I wrote. So they didn’t come to me in any way in a chronological order. They came to me based on curiosity about the characters that wasn’t fulfilled in one story. It may have been satisfying for readers and magazine editors to have one story for the characters, but for me, it took three stories to really exhaust my curiosity about them.

I liked all three of those stories in the trilogy, but the one that really got to me was the last one. I lost both of my parents

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within a space of nine months. My mother’s death was a complete shock. It was an accident—a fall—she hit her head. At the time my father was in an Alzheimer’s unit and he was gone by the following July. The whole process that the son goes through to comfort his mother was not identical to what my father experienced. My family was in Portland, I was not able to be present, to work with my sisters at that time. I appreciate that story and the way the son reacts. The hopes for the girlfriend that he’s enamored of—though you know it’s never going to work. I didn’t have that kind of baggage in that situation, but that core situation really got to me. I agree with your editor that the hurricane story should be the first one, because it sets the tone for the location. Do you think that is what your editor was thinking about? You said he thought that story was too sad... Michael Wutz

He did say that, but I think that story, “Waterwalkers,” does act as something of a foyer for the book. You come in, you pick up the book, and you have certain thoughts about south Texas. You know it or you don’t, or you have preconceived notions or stereotypes. Then that story, because it is so place-centric, that story really becomes a transition into the rest of the book. One of the things that we really hoped that the book would do, and it certainly has—the book has been in print for over a decade now, it’s gone through multiple printings, and no one is more surprised and humbled by that than I am—but if you’re from Corpus Christi, you never call it “Corpus Christi,” you call it

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pushing and then it was over. But there was one fight where I saw these two guys about to go at it—they were in the locker room so they didn’t have their shirts on—and one of the guys had a really beautiful gold nugget chain around his neck. It was clear that these two guys were going to fight, but the guy with the chain was just so composed and so quiet. There wasn’t any name calling or anything like that, and I can still remember to this day, him reaching up and unclasping the necklace and handing it to his friend. He just pooled that necklace in his friend’s palm and then he went over and beat When you said in the tar out of the other the Q&A, “You look When I go back and I read those guy. That confidence, one direction, you see that composure, that stories, or even reading from this one thing, you look felt like the exception another direction, you novel, the way I think of it is to the rule to me. The see another,” it had like a bird’s nest. If you look at a rule was, there’s a lot never occurred to me of name calling, there’s bird’s nest, there will be a lot of that there was a naval a lot of pushing, and straw, there will be some mud, air station there. I nothing really hapenvisioned the city and there will be a green twist pens. But this wasn’t as being like a beach anything like I had tie in there, or there will be some town where most of the seen before and so it cotton, or there will be a candy population comes in stuck with me. Then I the summertime and wrapper. When you see those started thinking, what there’s a lot of tourthings, they really draw attention would it be like if a ism. It didn’t occur to father did that to his me that there would be to themselves in the construction son? What if he took livestock and farmof the nest. off a piece of jewelry ing. The story that and gave it to his son I thought was very because he was about interesting, too, was to go beat on somebody. That’s how the story “In the Tall Grass.” Was there a particular started. “Corpus.” So what we wanted to do was call the book Corpus Christi, introduce the place in the first story, then have the reader move through the whole book, and by the end of the book have the reader no longer think of it as “Corpus Christi,” have them think of it as “Corpus.” They’ve been initiated in a way. They feel a part of it in whatever ways they can relate to it. You and your very unfortunate loss of your parents—you can relate to it that way. Other people can relate to it from different angles, but it’s an invitation to a place that most people aren’t very familiar with.

seed or experience that began that story?

That story begins with the father taking off his rings and giving them to the boy and saying something along the lines of, “your old man might go to jail tonight.” It’s such a small and juvenile seed to begin a story with, but when I was in tenth grade, there was an unfortunate and typical school-yard fight at the high school. Where I grew up, when people would fight, it was just a lot of name calling and

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It’s always interesting to know how stories start. What the seed is, what you see when you’re walking around the block and it creates a story for you. I also thought the wife and the mother was an interesting character. I’m not quite sure that I can articulate what I thought about her, but she reminds me of a young woman who didn’t have too much in her background, too many aspirations; she didn’t have a lot of education or

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C O N V E R S A T I O N a lot of hopes. She’s in this marriage and is committed to it, and yet you wonder, is it really there or is it not. Then when the father comes home, of course the police are there, and he’s released. Then when she says, “I’ll draw you a bath,” and the boy hears his father sobbing in the bathtub, I just thought that those details were so poignant, so telling. Well, thank you. I am really glad to hear you say that. That’s one of the stories in the book that I am still really fond of. I don’t remember writing those scenes—I remember the scene where she’s feeding popcorn to the ants and that’s something that I used to do. When I go back and I read those stories, or even reading from this novel, the way I think of it is like a bird’s nest. If you look at a bird’s nest, there will be a lot of straw, there will be some mud, and there will be a green twist tie in there, or there will be some cotton, or there will be a candy wrapper. When you see those things, they really draw attention to themselves in the construction of the nest. When I look back on those stories, or anything I’ve written, I can see a lot of straw and a lot of mud, and I can see it all braided together, but I can also see the twist tie and I remember, oh, that’s where that came from. I remember, oh, that’s where the candy wrapper came from. But those things are really few and far between. I can still remember them, but they are laced in a way that I think of them as part of the whole fabric as opposed to anything else. So it is difficult to go back and tease out, this is because of this.

Well, one of the other stories that I found really interesting, was the one about Fancy.

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I chuckled when I was reading it, but at the same time, I thought, “No, I don’t like this.” I thought the characters were kind of interesting; the two boys going to the house and taking a lot of stuff and bringing it back to the father’s house, and the ex-husband and the fact that she calls him “bunny.” They seemed like honky-tonk characters. What was your inspiration or your spark for that one? Well, I know that the name “Fancy” came when I was working in a bookstore and a woman came to sell her books, and we would look at the books and then we would get on the intercom and say, “ your offer is ready,” so she had to leave her name and her name was Fancy. I asked her if that was her real name and she said it was. That just stuck with me. Other than that, I don’t know much about that one. I did Michael Wutz know someone who would bring in illegal animals from Mexico and I knew that would wind up in a story someday.

I found the story to be quiet believable. It was not an unfamiliar plot idea—those kinds of things happen in stories all the time. Let’s shift gears just a little bit. Talk to me about how you work: where it starts, if you even know where it starts. I don’t think they all start in the same place. You can hear a line of dialogue and it can bring up the idea of a whole story, a whole novel. They all start in different places. As far as my work habits go, they’re pretty regimented and they are pretty rigorous. There’s no romance in writing for me. I don’t

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No, as far as the teacher thing, they wouldn’t put any stock in inspiration or talent or the let me come close to those students. They muse or anything like that. It’s a vocation, would fire me on the spot. As far as a writer, and if you think about the word “vocation,” it I’m not very interested in writing memoir. means that it’s your job, it’s your livelihood, I’ve written a fair amount of non-fiction, but the other definition of vocation is that and I’ve enjoyed that. I really enjoy reading it’s a calling. There are plenty of people who poetry, but I would never deign to write it. are not called to do this. So, I think of it as a vocation. I show up for work every day and I Could you tell me about your work in film log the hours and I don’t worry about if I had that you have done? a good day or a bad day; I only worry about if I showed up for work. I tend to work on more I wrote a documentary film called Waiting for than one project at a time. I tend to always Lightning that is about a skateboarder who have at least two projjumped the Great Wall of ects running simultaneChina on a skateboard. ously and I’ll leapfrog He’s the only person to As far as my work habits go, back and forth between clear the wall on a nonthey’re pretty regimented them and that’s always motorized vehicle. And been a method to keep and they are pretty rigorous. that aspect is the least things going. If I start to compelling part of the There’s no romance in writing feel too frustrated or stistory—he’s just a very fled by one project, I can for me. I don’t put any stock complicated person. His move over to the other in inspiration or talent or the father was murdered project and it’s eventuin prison when he was muse or anything like that. It’s ally going to betray me six months old and his a vocation, and if you think and start to be frustratmother was a meth ing and stifling, and then about the word “vocation,” it addict. He’s broken his I’ll go back to the other neck; he’s a very commeans that it’s your job, it’s one. I’ve always worked plicated character. That your livelihood, but the other that way—whether I’m movie did very well, it working on stories or definition of vocation is that it’s was released all around films or novels—I’ve the world. It was up for a calling. always worked that various awards and it way. It doesn’t make was a great pleasure. sense to me to work I’d never done anything another way. I’ve never gotten a rush of in film before that, but with the team that inspiration and run to write a story. It’s not put that film together, I really found some like that, it’s far more pedestrian for me. kindred spirits. We’re constantly working on It’s a very blue collar way to approach it. different things. There’s talk of Remember Me Like This being turned into a film. I’ve been Well, I like that term—a blue collar way. contacted about writing a television show, so That describes the intention to start the it’s interesting. It’s very different from writing project and to keep working, to do your due fiction. diligence. Let me ask you about your teach-

ing and what you are doing at Harvard. You specialize in fiction when you are working with your students, but do you also dabble in poetry or memoir?

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Let’s talk a little about the book you edited, Naming the World. I am really interested in it, because it looks like such a good

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C O N V E R S A T I O N collection of advice and exercises from such a wide range of authors. I’ve had that book on my shelves for a while. I just hadn’t gotten around to using it—either in my own work or with my students. Did you get the idea for that, or did someone else have the idea and asked you to be the editor? It’s a “how to” book in a way, kind of a guide for how to proceed in a variety of genres. When I was in workshops as a student, and as I have become a teacher, it’s never made any sense to me at all to talk about writing in ambiguous terms. When I would go to a workshop and people would be talking about themes and symbols and inspiration, it was no help to me. It was helpful for people to tell me what a plot was, to tell me how to use a flashback, to tell me how to move through an essay—those kinds of nuts and bolts considerations were what I needed and what I craved. It was the only way that made sense for me to talk about writing. It was the only way that made sense for me to listen to those talking about writing. So, I was working with an editor and I had made these feelings known over a number of years, and she asked me if I would consider writing a whole book on craft and I said, “I would rather do it a different way. I would rather have a variety of visions and voices in this book so that it’s not just how does Bret write a short story, how does Bret write a novel.” I wanted to bring in all the people that I admired and that I had learned from. That’s the way it came about. I sent out a bunch of invitations and there were only two or three people who

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declined and they only declined because of time commitments. That book has been very well received. It’s to the point now where it’s been out long enough that I’m starting to get unexpected packages in the mail, and these are published books that have grown out of these exercises. So that’s really gratifying.

I’ve tried some of the exercises and surprised by what popped into my head, what kinds of things just erupted. I just started scribbling on the page, I didn’t even go to the computer, I was just writing by hand and I thought, my gosh, where has that been hiding all this time? Where was that thing that came out so clearly after I read that prompt? (I’ve looked through all the sections—some were more interesting to me than others, because I don’t’ aspire to write poetry—I’m interested in creative non-fiction Michael Wutz and memoir.) It’s a very good book with a really good idea. I can understand why it is being used by so many people. Well, thank you. I think what happens is, in terms of the experience that you’ve had, I think that’s a typical experience for people who are working with that book. I think it’s a fairly simple mechanism in the sense that by focusing the attention with an exercise, it liberates the imagination as opposed to suppressing it. If you have too many choices, if you’ve got your whole life to look back on and recall, it’s too much, you’ll just be overwhelmed. None of the memories will rise up with the same clarity. But, if

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you can look at a very specific place, which the exercises ask you to do, by limiting the scope of the imagination, the imagination is actually emancipated. That’s what those exercises aspire to do and I think that they by and large succeed in different genres.

I do. I read the first short story that I’d ever written, which was called “Cartography,” and it was about a woman going to a park and interacting with a homeless man. Then I also read an essay about John Keats’ ode that I don’t remember that well.

Do you remember when it was that you came here to the Undergraduate Literature Conference as a student?

We are glad to have you back on our campus. Thank you for your time.

1994

Do you remember what you read?

Kathleen M. Herndon is a professor of English at Weber State University. Her areas of expertise are English Education, Young Adult Literature and Middle Eastern Women Writers. Dr. Herndon began her career as a high school and junior high school teacher of English in Salem, Oregon; Port-au-Prince, Haiti; Isfahan, Iran; and Dubai, United Arab Emirates. She earned a doctorate at Vanderbilt University, and joined the Weber State English Department in 1989.

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P O E T R Y

Mario Chard

Etymology

A knock along the boxcarâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s hull. A barber sleeping. The desert from a hole in the siding, bound. The barber, waking to the cold, the sound, warms his hands by the hole, the railâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;s fevered hiss. In his pocket, in his shirt pocket, a razor does not slip. In the city now, when I find where the barber found work in the city, he lathers my face to shave. I do not ask why the razor feels warm.


The City Leaning at dusk like a woman resting on the rust of brick her two hands rinsed in kitchen water when I cross Adams in a car, climbing the street names that age where the valley ages: Jefferson; Madison; Monroe; long past Lincoln theyâ&#x20AC;&#x2122;ve misplaced, bound to keep the municipal Grant from the immigrant Wall; across the valley rising like a bowl two hands make that still holds the lake that gave it form: benches where the water receded, primitive shorelines, the electoral road. Where it ends the names go out, the sheer rock knots into a face, mouthless, without tongue, like the nameless who first brought their young to the shore, looked down into the water, shapeless: city without form.

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Spoke The kite string I unraveled for my brothers, hiking, cast our way back. We climbed out of order: the youngest ahead, skinny, short as the sagebrush he slipped between; the oldest in center, weightlifter, listening. The story wasn’t mine, but when I spoke I couldn’t feel the hiking. Beneath us what had cut the canyon was also out of order: railway, freeway, river. Three mixed like twine beginning to unspell. I must have loved the story: horses spoke, kept sacred names. My older brother put the youngest between us. We reached the oldest sheets of snow. They stopped climbing when I forgot, waited, kept on when I spoke. * The string spun out— I could see my brothers hiking, one sometimes passing the other. Soon they grew older. Their faces wore the same but would not become

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each other, the way two mountains rise the same way out a canyon and do not meet again. They climbed because my tongue spoke behind them in the story. The canyon was a mouth. My brothers turned back: the three roads became an artery, the white tongue lost in snow. Soon one trembled, both cold, until the other put his ear low, listened—I listened— horses spoke. Kept sacred names. The older always put the younger behind, followed those names, their making, down—which was in—until my bright mouth closed.

Mario Chard was raised in northern Utah. He is a graduate of the MFA Program in Creative Writing at Purdue University and a winner of the 2012 “Discovery” / Boston Review Poetry Contest. He recently completed a Wallace Stegner Fellowship in Poetry at Stanford University and was a featured speaker at the 2013 National Undergraduate Literature Conference (NULC) at Weber State University.

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T S E W E ING TH

READ

read-ing [from ME reden, to explain, hence to read] – vt. 1 to get the meaning of; 2 to understand the nature, significance, or thinking of; 3 to interpret or understand; 4 to apply oneself to; study.

GOLD MOUNTAIN Chinese, mainly from Guangdong Province, came to “Gold Mountain”—the American West—in the mid-19th century. They came as miners in the gold rush, 25,000 by 1852. Most stayed to labor in agriculture, industry, food service, and in the 1860s, building the Transcontinental Railroad. In spite of their significant role in the development of the American West—in both the United States and Canada—the Chinese suffered severe discrimination. Chinese workers were exploited and Chinese businesses were boycotted. The hostility eventually resulted in Congress passing the Chinese Exclusion Act of 1882, which barred Chinese laborers from immigrating to the U.S. for ten years and barred any Chinese currently in the U.S. from naturalization. Artifacts from the 19th century include the Liet Sheng Kong, Temple of Many Gods, in Oroville, California. In an article for The Sacramento Bee, Stephen Magagnini reported: Here along the banks of the Feather River, you can step back in time by entering…a red-brick sanctuary where the spirits of Oroville’s original Chinese pioneers live on. Here, thousands of Daoist, Confucian and Buddhist prospectors from China worshipped side by side for health, happiness, wealth and gold….Oroville’s Liet Sheng Kong…is the best preserved of the three remaining Chinese temples from the Gold Rush era. It features three deities on an altar from China. Sources: Stephen Magagnini, “Well-preserved Chinese temple in Oroville recalls Gold Rush era,” The Sacramento Bee, 29 November, 2014; http://www.sacbee.com/entertainment/living/travel/article4171477.html “ California Historical Landmark 770 (above, right). ” NoeHill Travels in California, http://noehill.com/butte/cal0770.asp

TALL TOWERS Nowadays, Chinese developers are building other architectural structures. The skyline of downtown San Francisco will be transformed by two towering buildings, one of which will be the second tallest building in the city. Although New York is the leading city in the U.S. for Chinese investment overall, the Shenzen-listed real estate company Oceanwide Holdings is focusing its investments on California. As reported in Forbes magazine: [The] First and Mission [project] will include apartments, a hotel, offices and retail space… and is scheduled to be completed in 2019….Oceanwide is expected to begin construction on its Los Angeles development this month. Also, just days after its acquisition of First and Mission was announced, news broke in northern California that Oceanwide had acquired a 186 acre (75 hectare) site for a resort in Sonoma Valley. The Chinese developer bought the wine country site, which has already been approved for development of homes, a hotel and a winery, for $40.7 million after the projects had been stalled for decades. Source: “Chinese developer To Build San Francisco’s 2nd Tallest Tower, Forbes, 25 January 2015; http://www.forbes.com/ sites/michaelcole/2015/01/25/chinese-developer-to-build-san-franciscos-2nd-tallest-tower/


RAREFIED AIR A proposed tower at First and Mission streets would be the second-tallest building in San Francisco. Here’s how the building would stack up against some of the city’s tallest structures, including the soon-tobe-tallest building, Salesforce Tower, now under construction.

Golden Gate Bridge 746 Feet

Transamerica Pyramid 853 Feet

Proposed Tower 910 Feet

Sutro Tower 977 Feet

Salesforce Tower 1,070 Feet

John Blanchard/The Chronicle

http://archinect.com/news/tag/224/san-francisco

BUFFALO BILL IN CHINA In November 2014, a contingent from the Buffalo Bill Museum in Cody, Wyoming, went to China to explore future cultural exchanges. Their ventures were described in the China Daily USA and by the Associated Press in several western newspapers: “It turns out the Chinese have a stronger affinity for the Old West than most Americans understand. Part of that link stems from the 1950s spate of television Westerns which have long aired in China,” museum director Bruce Eldredge said. He also noted that there is a rodeo circuit in China: “They may not know where Cody, Wyoming, is on the map, but Yellowstone is a good starting point. China is going to be a huge tourism player in our area.” A 2011 Yellowstone visitor study revealed that China ranked sixth in the number of foreign visitors, behind the United Kingdom, France, Germany and the Netherlands. Source: “Center Officials Rope China Museums with Tales of old, New West,” Casper Star Tribune, 27 December 2014. http://trib.com/business/center-officials-rope-china-museumswith-tales-of-old-new/article_92446146-2642-56c1-af1d-9ed35b7a3262.html


R E A D I N G

T H E

W E S T

CHINESE TOURISTS IN MOUNTAIN TOWNS Visits to the U.S. by Chinese nationals grew from 1.4 million to 1.8 million between 2012 and 2013, and the Department of Commerce forecast is that by 2018 the U.S. will have a 20 percent increase in the total number of foreign visitors. The countries with the largest total growth percentages are: China, Colombia, India, Taiwan, Brazil, and Argentina. Chinese visitors are beginning to arrive in the Intermountain West at destinations other than the national parks. Journalist Allen Best noted in summer 2014: Chinese tourists have begun to arrive in Jackson Hole in significant numbers, by one estimate 500 a day in June….[That] is no accident, said Jeff Golightly, chief executive of the local chamber of commerce….[T]he new Chinese visitors are the reward of a “multiyear strategy.” And Jackson’s proximity to Yellowstone National Park—it’s just an hour away—is a major reason for Jackson’s newfound popularity…. Ski areas are seeing almost no business—yet….“Aspen Skiing sees enough potential in China that it has sent sales teams. Visits will grow, but how fast, it’s hard to say,” believes David Perry, senior vice president of marketing. Individuals are also intrigued by China. Aspen Skiing gives employees time to learn a second language, especially as it relates to customers. Many employees are trying to learn Mandarin, the dominant language of northern China. Source: Allen Best, “Chinese Tourists Now Numbering 250 to 500 Daily in Jackson Hole, Numbers also Rising in Colorado,” Mountain Town News, 18 August 2014; http://mountaintownnews.net/2014/08/18/chinese-tourists-mountain-towns/. Also: Rafat Ali, “The Future of American Tourism is Written in Chinese,” Skift Travel IQ; http://skift.com/2014/04/07/the-future-of-american-tourism-is-written-in-chinese/.

MORE CHINESE VISITORS IN THE AMERICAN WEST In November 2014, the U.S. and China jointly announced a rule change allowing Chinese visitors to return to the U.S. multiple times over a 10-year-period. The federal government predicted the economic impact could be $85 billion by 2021. Reporting that this change could spur tourism in Las Vegas and elsewhere, Deepti Hajela wrote for the Associated Press: Business and short-term visas that currently expire after one year will now be valid for 10 years, while student and cultural exchange visas will last for five. Obtaining a U.S. visa involves waiting in long lines at a consulate during the work day, passing an interview and then waiting at least three days, a process that won’t change under the new rules. “That is going to allow many folks the encouragement to go ahead and apply for the visa no matter how hard it is….It’s worth the effort,” said Harry Chen, operator of San Francisco-based Joy Holiday, which books tours for Chinese tourists in the western U.S.

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In New York City, Chinese visitors have increased more than 300 percent over the past five years, with 646,000 in 2013 and 743,000 expected by the end of this year. Las Vegas gets an estimated 300,000 Chinese visitors annually, and officials hope to see that number increase to more than 1 million by 2021. Source: Deepti Hajela, “Longer Visas for Chinese Could Spur Tourism in Las Vegas, Elsewhere,” Las Vegas Sun Times, 20 November 2014; http://www.lasvegassun.com/news/2014/nov/20/longer-visas-chinese-could-spur-tourism-las-vegas-/.

WEST COAST HIPSTERS PROMOTE CHINESE FOOD American Chinese food is a combination of several influences, which Chinese immigrants have used over time to appeal to American palates. Today, along with pizza, American Chinese food is the “king of the take-out.” As explained by Adam Laptina: America’s got a type of Chinese food all its own, and it’s super different from what they’ve got across the pond. It’s mysterious, it’s delicious, and it’s been evolving ever since the California Gold Rush…. In the 1920s, Chinese food started to catch on among the bohemians on the West Coast. Chinese chefs would often have two menus: one for Chinese people and one for Americans,…but as its popularity grew, the American-tailored menu came to dominate. It wasn’t until after World War II that it started to become more mainstream…. Chinese takeout became a staple of city life and then expanded to the suburbs. The folded paper boxes that were traditionally used to transport oysters also began transporting chop suey and Mongolian beef…. Chop suey is an almost entirely American invention. It was born in California and translates to “odds and ends”—basically, it was a bunch of foods thrown together in a pinch, and ended up becoming one of the most popular dishes of all time. Source: Adam Laptina, “10 Little-Known Historical Facts About American Chinese Food, Thrillist, 12, January 2014; http://www.thrillist.com/eat/nation/chinese-food-history-how-american-chinesecuisine-is-different-thrillist-nation.

EDITORIAL MATTER

ISSN 0891-8899 —Weber is published biannually by The College of Arts & Humanities at Weber State University, Ogden, Utah 84408-1405. Full text of this issue and historical archives are available in electronic edition at https://www.weber.edu/weberjournal Indexed in: Abstracts of English Studies, Humanities International Complete, Index of American Periodical Verse, MLA International Bibliography, and Sociological Abstracts. Member, Council of Learned Journals. Subscription Costs: Individuals $20 (outside U.S., $30), institutions $30 (outside U.S., $40). Back issues $10 subject to availability. Multi-year and group subscriptions also available. Submissions and Correspondence: Editor, | Weber State University 1395 Edvalson Street Dept. 1405, Ogden, UT 84408-1405. 801-626-6473 | weberjournal@weber.edu Copyright © 2014 by Weber State University. All rights reserved. Copyright reverts to authors and artists after publication. Statements of fact or opinion are those of contributing authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the editors or the sponsoring institution. Special thanks to The Florida Center for Instructional Technology (http://etc.usf.edu/clipart/) for allowing us to use illustrations from their website on the following pages: 4, 6, 11, 13, 63, 64, 97, 100, 114, 153, 154, and 155.


©Hains, Ogden, UT

ANNOUNCING the 2015 Dr. Sherwin W. Howard Poetry Award

to Richard Robbins

for “Breeder Reactor,” and other poems in the Fall 2014 issue The Dr. Sherwin W. Howard Award of $500 is presented annually to the author of the best poetry published in Weber during the previous year. Funding for this award is generously provided by the Howard family.

Dr. Howard (1936-2001) was former President of Deep Springs College, Dean of the College of Arts & Humanities at Weber State University, editor of Weber Studies, and an accomplished playwright and poet.


©Jon Williams

ANNOUNCING the 2015 Dr. Neila C. Seshachari Fiction Award

to Jessica Barksdale for “Leaving Mr. Wong” in the Fall 2014 issue The Dr. Neila C. Seshachari Award of $500 is presented annually to the author of the best fiction published in Weber during the previous year. Funding for this award is generously provided by the Seshachari family.

Dr. Neila C. Seshachari (1934-2002) was a much respected advocate for the arts and humanities. Professor of English at Weber State University for 29 years, committed teacher, accomplished scholar, critic, and fiction writer, Neila was editor of Weber Studies for 12 years.


Nonprofit Org U.S. POSTAGE PAID PERMIT No. 151 OGDEN, UTAH

Weber State University 1395 Edvalson Street, Dept. 1405 Ogden, UT 84408-1405 www.weber.edu/weberjournal Return Service Requested

Spotlighting personal narrative, commentary, fiction, nonfiction, and poetry that speaks to the environment and culture of the American West and beyond.

SPRING/SUMMER 2015—VOL. 31, NO2—U.S. $10

CONVERSATIONS.......... Ha Jin, Wu Yigong, Ron Carlson, Bret A. Johnston, and Lisa Lenard-Cook ESSAYS.......... Victor H. Mair, Ying Zhu, Nathalie Aghoro, Peter Peverelli, Li Guo, Russell Burrows, and Greg Lewis FICTION.......... Ron Carlson and Lisa Lenard-Cook POETRY.......... Mario Chard ART.......... Huang Qihou

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Spring 2015 book for web  

Weber—The Contemporary West Vol. 31.2

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