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A new literary magazine features new writing from Zhou Zuoren

O-pen, Spring 2011

Following Zhang Yueran’s NEWriting (鲤), Han Han’s defunct Party (独唱团), and Di An’s ZUI Found (文艺风赏), Annie Baobei becomes the latest popular novelist to launch her own literary magazine.

The inaugural issue of O-pen (大方) makes a splash by featuring a pair of literary giants.

The first half of the magazine is devoted to a lengthy interview with Haruki Murakami. The interview, conducted over the course of three days in May 2010 by Matsuie Masashi, first appeared in the Summer 2010 issue of Kangaeru Hito (考える人, “The Thinker”). The O-pen version is translated by Zhang Lefeng.

Accompanying the interview is a 1Q84-inspired trip through Tokyo courtesy of Peggy Kuo (郭正佩), the author of a book of photo-essays about the Tokyo locations featured in Murakami’s fiction.

One of the issue’s other highlights is “What Are Dragons” (龙是什么), a previously unpublished essay by Zhou Zuoren. Critic and O-pen editorial board member Zhi An (止庵) describes the essay’s journey to publication:

“What Are Dragons” is an unpublished piece by Zhou Zuoren written in the early 1950s. In Zhou’s diary, we find in the entry for August 24, 1953: “Copied out the old essay, ‘What Are Dragons’, twelve pages by the afternoon.” August 25: “Copied out the old essay, eighteen pages in all.” August 27: “This afternoon went to the post office to send off the old essay ‘What Are Dragons,” eighteen pages, to Mr. Pan.” Mr. Pan is Pan Jitong (潘际垌), then head of the Beijing office of Da Kung Pao. However, the piece was not published. Zhou rewrote some of its material into “Yangtse Crocodile” and “The Qilin, Phoenix, Tortoise, and Dragon,” collected in Wood Chips (木片集). The October 28, 1964 edition of Hong Kong’s New Evening Post (新晚报) printed “Dragons Today” (现今的龙), which included the line, “Ten years ago I wrote a piece called ‘What Are Dragons,’ and although it was not published, the manuscript fortunately still survives.’ The piece excerpted part ten of “What Are Dragons,” with certain additions and deletions. The handwritten manuscript of “What Are Dragons” is retained by the late author’s family. Neither Uncollected Writings of Zhitang edited by Chen Zishan nor the Complete Prose of Zhou Zuoren edited by Zhong Shuhe include this essay.

In the essay itself, a rather lightweight investigation into the origins of the mythological creature, Zhou Zuoren briefly discusses traditional Chinese depictions of the dragon as a reptile, as a supernatural being, and as the Dragon King, before moving on to look at how dragons are depicted in India and in the West. He also compares the dragons to dinosaurs, crocodiles and lizards, and suggests, “We can conclude that the Chinese dragon actually existed as a large reptile, a kind of lizard. Closest to it today is probably the Komodo dragon, and hence it could be raised domestically. But the strange thing is that this not particularly sophisticated creature has left such a deep influence upon Chinese culture.”

This issue also features a translation of “Pharmacy” from Elizabeth Strout’s collection Olive Kitteridge, an appreciation of Hou Hsiao-hsien by Jia Zhangke, a short story by Hong Kong writer Flora Wong Bik-wan (黄碧云), and an essay by Annie Baobei herself.

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