Archive for the ‘Chinese Classics’ Category

The Super Adorable Liu Ba (translation)

Tuesday, August 25th, 2009 by Mei and Lara

This translation is based on an essay found on many Chinese 3 Kingdoms sites. Unfortunately I couldn’t track down the name of the original author. The characters and events in this essay are based on historical records, not based on the novel. Read on to find out why it’s a popular little piece on characters from the 3 Kingdoms period.

Liu Bei once said that winning Zhuge Liang’s service was like a “fish winning his water.” It was an emperor-minister relationship that’s been the envy of hundreds of later generations.

The three visits to the straw cottage has to be our best-known legend. But if you think getting Zhuge Liang was Liu Bei’s most arduous recruiting task, you’d be wrong. (more…)

Little Mighty got his lunch, and Stephen Chow left his mark on the Chinese language

Sunday, March 9th, 2008 by Mei

“Has Little Mighty picked up his lunch yet?” (小强领便当了吗?)

This was a question posted on a Baidu forum on The Ravages of Time, a Chinese comics series marginally based on the events in Three Kingdoms. Twenty years ago this question would have been incomprehensible. Then Stephen Chow movies happened, and these words now make perfect sense to many young (and some old) Chinese speakers.

Dong Zhuo meets Dracula?

Thursday, February 7th, 2008 by Lara

In Chapter 8 of the novel of Three Kingdoms the bad guy Dong Zhuo makes a habit of throwing banquets with sinister intent – either to threaten ministers into compying with his plans to usurp the throne, or to intimidate anyone who disagrees with him. In one open-air banquet in this chapter, he eats happily while having various horrible things done to prisoners of war in front of him and his guests – eye-gouging, cutting off of hands, feets, tongues, etc. The other ministers lose their appetites, but his is undisturbed.

This reminds me of one of the stories about Vlad the Impaler, a Transylvanian nobleman whose exploits were so nasty he became known to history as Dracula. Vlad enjoyed impaling his enemies on stakes through their rear ends, then hoisting them off the ground and watching while they struggled to get their feet on solid earth, which of course only drove the stakes further into their vitals. Vlad is particularly notorious for an outdoor feast he held, surrounded by hundreds of his struggling, groaning bleeding victims on their stakes.

Vlad lived in the fifteenth century, so too late to be an influence on the composition of Three Kingdoms, but perhaps some version of the Chinese tale had filtered down to him? Or do ghastly evil cruel tyrants tend to think alike?

Three visits to rule them all (Part I)

Wednesday, January 16th, 2008 by Mei

The appeal of Luo’s Three Kingdoms, to me, is its insistence on telling the story as an outsider. Battles, ploys, and occasional moments of sincerity, are all “seemingly so”. The book keeps us mere observers, shut out of the intimate thoughts and emotions of all characters, much like our daily encounters with colleagues at a workplace. We are provided with efficient paragraphs of vivid details and quick evolution of events, yet denied explanations of motivations and intentions that our curiosities so crave for. As in real life, we cope with such abundance of evidence and shortage of confessions with that ever-useful life skill: gossiping. Generations of Three Kingdoms readers get together to debate the people and events in it, to offer our own speculation of why and our own imagination of what-ifs. The book is similar to life itself in so many ways — each time we re-visit the pages, we see a bit more, perceive it a bit differently, love it all the same, and cannot suppress the urge to grab the first available friend and gossip about it. (more…)

Can you really die from swallowing gold?

Tuesday, September 18th, 2007 by Lara

In Dream of the Red Chamber, Phoenix makes her husband’s concubine’s life so miserable that the poor girl decides to kill herself, by swallowing a piece of gold. She’s found the next morning, lying peacefully deceased in her bed, and everyone knows exactly how she killed herself. So how much gold would an average person need to swallow to die? And what are the symptoms? Does it have to be coated in arsenic to be effective? Or is this just a mildly poetic method of suicide, preferable in the literary context to jumping off bridges or using a knife?

What’s the deal with cricket fighting?

Thursday, June 7th, 2007 by Lara

I’ve been bumping into stories about cricket-fighting and famous champion crickets in the stories about the monk Ji Gong, and in one of Pu Songling’s Strange Stories. It seems that there was a wild China-wide fad for cricket fighting, that people submitted their crickets to regional and national contests, and that some places experienced an extortionate cricket-collection tax system. Did the emperor really run a cricket-fighting den? (And if so, didn’t he have anything better to do, like training the troops?) Does anyone know if this fad really happened? Could you explain, please?

Tackling Two English versions of Dream of the Red Chamber

Tuesday, June 5th, 2007 by Lara

My first attempt at Dream of the Red Chamber was via the 1996 abridged translation by Hsien-yi Yang and Gladys Yang. I believe their approach is one in which they left out chunks of the actual text, but translated the rest very accurately. This resulted in my being really drawn in by dramatic events, like the way Hsi-feng deals with that over-lusty Chia Jui, or the big fight over Chia Lien’s adultery with Pao-erh’s wife. But sometimes starting new chapters would leave me feeling as if I’d just stepped off a cliff, since years seemed to have passed since the previous chapters’ events. And I was much more interested in Hsi-feng than in either Pao-yu or Tai-yu, who seemed tediously willful and relentlessly morose, respectively. The details of action were wonderful, in other words, but I missed the point overall.

But I know that this is the most popular book in Chinese history, and figure that 1.6 billion people can’t be wrong. So I’m determined to find out what’s so great about it. (more…)

Neophyte to Chinese Lit

Saturday, June 2nd, 2007 by Lara

I used to be intimidated by the idea of diving into the Chinese classics – who could possibly take on all those millenia of books? But since I started with the classics listed on our site I’ve been a very happy camper! It helps to have a good Chinese friend to talk about them with, but if you don’t, you can always use this website!

Pearls of Wisdom from Journey to the West

Tuesday, May 22nd, 2007 by Lara

1) The clever people do all the work: clumsy oafs just sit around.
2) Even a fart can strengthen a breeze.

The Monkey King meets the Amazons in Journey to the West: Chapters 53 and 54

Saturday, May 19th, 2007 by Lara

I’ve just gotten to the part where the four Buddhists get to Womanland. This is amazing stuff, both because of the author’s blindness to any actual desires women might have to live outside the Chinese paradigm, and because there are similar stories in western lit about the land of the Amazons – a men-free zone. And of course there’s the rather dull humor involving male pregnancy, ho ho. But it makes a really nice break from all that tedious demon-busting!