Historian Simon Winchester in the Times Book Review on an unexpected encounter:
Traveling in China back in the early 1990s, I was waiting for my westbound train to take on water at a lonely halt in the Taklamakan Desert when a young Chinese woman tapped me on the shoulder, asked if I spoke English and, further, if I knew anything of Anthony Trollope. I was quite taken aback. Trollope here? A million miles from anywhere? I mumbled an incredulous, “Yes, I know a bit” — whereupon, in a brisk and businesslike manner, she declared that the train would remain at the oasis for the next, let me see, 27 minutes, and in that time would I kindly answer as many of her questions as possible about plot and character development in “The Eustace Diamonds”?
The lesson: Always know your Trollope.
There’s something about James Joyce’s last and arguably unreadable novel Finnegans Wake that has always attracted the obsessive. Fans range from Marshall McLuhan—who, one critic quipped after reading his manic interpretations, was possibly the only living person to have read every single line of the book—to those various reading clubs that have popped up where people read a couple pages each meeting over the course of many years.
Now, after one woman spent eight years doggedly translating what Joyce’s wife termed “that chop suey” into Mandarin, the book has proven to be surprisingly successful in China. Per the Wall Street Journal:
A newly affluent nation that prizes black Audi sedans and Louis Vuitton handbags has made a literary status symbol of what may well be English literature’s most difficult work. Thanks in part to a canny marketing campaign involving eye-catching billboards and packaging, “Finnegans Wake” sold out the first, 8,000-volume run shortly after it was released in December. The book briefly rose to No. 2 on a bestseller list run by a Shanghai book industry group, just behind a biography of the late Deng Xiaoping, the architect of China’s modern-day boom.
Perhaps it’s a sign of increasing affluence that people have the inclination to acquire status novels that they have little intention of actually reading.
Although the martial art that Westerners most associate China with is kung fu or one of its many variations, one of the most popular physical-contact sports in the country right now is Western-style boxing. Outlawed by Chariman Mao in 1959 as being too Western and too violent (a boxer died at a match in 1953), the sport was made legal again three decades later, and has been gaining ascendancy ever since. When China hosted the 2008 Summer Olympics, the nation took home a gold medal. Although a film about the popularity of this sport in the home of kung fu would seem destined to highlight the obvious cultural dissonances, director Yung Chang (Up the Yangtze) does the right thing by focusing on the young and hopeful athletes for whom this tradition isn’t foreign at all…
China Heavyweight is playing now in limited release. You can read the full review at Film Journal International.