Posted by Joel Martinsen on Friday, May 28, 2010 at 6:14 PM
Illustration for Mark of the Cavalier by oneone
Guo Jingming (郭敬明), the magazine editor and writer of phenomenally-popular YA fiction, has a novel coming out in the summer supplement to Harvest (most respected literary magazines.), one of China's
The news has been somewhat controversial, but then Guo is no stranger to controversy. He's been held up as the representative of the over-commercialized generation of young writers born in the 1980s and criticized for publishing work that is heavily inspired by other writers. Most recently, a motivational group staged a book burning at the South China University of Technology on April 13, where the "spiritual garbage" they fed to the flames included Guo's Never-Flowers in Never-Summer, the volume for which he lost a plagiarism lawsuit.
In Harvest's case, readers who see the magazine as a bastion of serious literature have accused it of betraying its standards to take advantage of Guo's popularity. Making matters worse is the subject matter of Guo's new book: Mark of the Cavalier () is the first volume of a new epic fantasy series. Is Harvest repositioning itself to compete with the pulps?
To address these concerns, the following FAQ was posted to Harvest's blog:
Deputy Chief Editor Zhong Hongming answers reporters' questions about Harvest: Novels Special (Spring/Summer issue)
1: Harvest will publish Guo Jingming's new work of fantasy. Did you contact him first, or did he seek you out?
2: Could you tell us your opinion of the work? What does it mainly deal with? How would you evaluate it?
3. Harvest has always been thought of as the best magazine of pure literature. Does your choice of Guo Jingming represent a change in direction?
4: Are you able to tell us when the magazine will go on sale?
5: Can you give an estimate of the market?
6: Will Harvest print more of the same type of work?
The summary Zhong provides in his answer to #2 contains so much "technical terminology" as to be practically unreadable to someone who knows nothing of the novel. The translation above was assisted by summaries and glossaries found online, illustrations by Oneone (王浣), and the complete text of chapters 1-16.
These resources are available because of a fact that goes unmentioned in most media reports on the upcoming issue of Harvest: Guo Jingming began serializing the story in his Top Ink ( ) magazine in early 2009, as Ages Below Critical (临界纪年之爵迹). A standalone edition will be released this summer, so Harvest's publication does not seem to be targeted at Guo's own fans (beyond the completists). Something similar happened when Guo's Tiny Times 2.0 ( ) was published in People's Literaure in 2009.
Harvest does accompany Guo's novel with two critical essays for the benefit of readers utterly perplexed by the magical vocabulary, and both critics are probably representative of the readership in that neither has read much fantasy.
Shanghai Literature editor Fu Yuehui, who writes approvingly of the novel as a coming-of-age story, identifies Lord of the Rings as a major influence on Mark of the Cavalier's world-building, magic, and quests. Certainly, Tolkien's influence on contemporary fantasy is almost undeniable, but these days it is mostly indirect; the examples Fu mentions have been the basic building-blocks of fantasy novels, games, and movies for decades.
Mark of the Cavalier appears to add Mesopotamian mythology into the mix of traditional Chinese martial arts and Japanese anime Guo used for Ice Fantasy (, 2003). The former first-class Cavalier, for example, is named Gilgamesh, and he was overthrown by the current first-class Cavalier, who remains in seclusion with his three chief apostles, Uriel, Michael, and Lucifer. Combined with the way in which the Cavaliers summon spirits who manifest as animals to do battle for them, it would seem that Philip Pullman's His Dark Materials trilogy is a far likelier western influence than Lord of the Rings.
Fudan University professor Gao Yuanbao is similarly unacquainted with the tropes of fantasy: Guo's eclectic invented vocabulary of geographical locations, personal names and titles, and magical terms is insufficiently Chinese.
Guo's Chineseness is an issue for both writers. Gao suggests that the authorship of the Classic of Mountains and Seas was lost because the peculiar names it uses to describe its mountains and monsters led later writers to imagine it was written elsewhere; he asks the same about Guo's book: "I worry that several thousand years from now, even given the existence of major events and the author's real name, that the technique of using fantasy names will cause the true identity of the author of Mark of the Cavalier to vanish into the clouds." Fu has a similar problem:
Gao makes two other arguments that are better-founded. He starts off his essay by going through the opening of the novel, paragraph by paragraph, and eviscerating Guo's overwrought prose:
And it all does seem a little out of character for Harvest, but a balance between so-called pure literature and readable stories with broad appeal must be hard to maintain. Coincidentally, the last major dissatisfaction over a Harvest story involved the autobiographical novel by Huang Yongyu that Zhong Hongming mentioned in his answers above. When that work was serialized at the end of 2009, it was criticized for being the scribblings of an amateur (Huang is better known for his painting), and for moving at a glacial pace. "I suggest that Huang Yongyu's little dog grow up fast. Don't keep going on about the dog this and the dog that for issue after issue. It's pathetic!" wrote one online critic.
Best-selling writers of serious fiction like Wang Anyi and Ye Zhaoyan stood up to defend Huang's right to write and Harvest's right to publish fiction that might not have the fast-paced, cliffhanger-packed storylines that a contemporary audience raised on TV dramas might desire. And Zhang Yesong, professor of literature at Fudan University, appealed to the magazine's reputation:
If that direction includes the second-run publication of excerpts of the first volume of a new fantasy series by one of China's richest authors, who's to argue?
Links and Sources
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Henry on The Eurasian Face
Caroline W on Big in China
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Brandon K. on Clueless academic takes on popular fantasy novels
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The Eurasian Face : Blacksmith Books, a publishing house in Hong Kong, is behind The Eurasian Face, a collection of photographs by Kirsteen Zimmern. Below is an excerpt from the series:
Big in China: An adapted excerpt from Big In China: My Unlikely Adventures Raising A Family, Playing The Blues and Becoming A Star in China, just published this month. Author Alan Paul tells the story of arriving in Beijing as a trailing spouse, starting a blues band, raising kids and trying to make sense of China.
Pallavi Aiyar's Chinese Whiskers: Pallavi Aiyar's first novel, Chinese Whiskers, a modern fable set in contemporary Beijing, will be published in January 2011. Aiyar currently lives in Brussels where she writes about Europe for the Business Standard. Below she gives permissions for an excerpt.
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+ Religion and government in an uneasy mix (2008.03): Phoenix Weekly (凤凰周刊) article from October, 2007, on government influence on religious practice in Tibet.
+ David Moser on Mao impersonators (2004.10): I first became aware of this phenomenon in 1992 when I turned on a Beijing TV variety show and was jolted by the sight of "Mao Zedong" and "Zhou Enlai" playing a game of ping pong. They both gave short, rousing speeches, and then were reverently interviewed by the emcee, who thanked them profusely for taking time off from their governmental duties to appear on the show.