Magazines

Humorists of the world, unite!

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Dou magazine, premiere issue (May 2008)

Sun Rui, Lin Changzhi, and other writers have joined forces for Dou (, "funny" or "tease"), a new magazine filled with irreverent parodies and other funny stuff.

This issue of the magazine is published by Volumes Publishing Company under an ISBN rather than a periodical registration. It's the May issue, but it didn't actually make it to print until July and arrived on local newsstands even more recently than that. According to alternate ISBN information hiding under a sticker on the back cover, Dou was originally supposed to be published by 21st Century Publishing House.

The magazine's sense of humor is similar to the egao phenomenon online (and, truth be told, a lot of the pieces in this issue could easily have come off of blogs or humor forums). There are genre pastiches, wuxia parodies, schoolyard antics, and a serialized screenplay version of Sun Rui's hit novel Waiting in the Rye (草样年华).

Sun Rui is also the writer, with Wang Yang as illustrator, of the comic strip collection "Hapless Cat" (倒霉催的猫). It's similar to The Book of Bunny Suicides (or that series' sunglasses-wearing Chinese cousin, Cartoon Suicide Rabbit), except that the cat is not suicidal: he simply has extraordinarily bad luck.

This issue of Dou has a few Hapless Cat panels; two are shown below.

In the following example, it helps to know that "hide and seek" (捉迷藏) is also known as "hide the cat" (躲猫猫 or 藏猫猫):

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"Let's play hide the cat"

Another strip is purely visual:

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The old "drunk with a flashlight" joke

In China, this joke is most closely identified with a classic crosstalk sketch by Hou Baolin.

Here's a translation of a little bit of 90s nostalgia that also serves to show how, for all their hand-wringing about protecting the country's youth from the corrupting influence of decadent culture, China's censorship regime is not incredibly effective when it comes to subject matter that teenagers really want to read:

Jia Pingwa: Sex Educator

by Sun Rui / Dou

I recently finished reading Jia Pingwa's Abandoned Capital all the way through. I bought it from a used book vendor for 4 yuan (it was originally five, I said three, but the boss refused. Thirty seconds of negotiations later, I got the discount). A genuine edition, yellowed with age.

Truth be told, the book's not bad. Instead of a critique, however, I'll discuss something a little different.

It was a certain psychological complex that brought about the purchase of this book. Fourteen years ago, the book opened up the door to sexual awareness for a whole generation of thirteen-year-olds.

Zhongguancun in those days was no high-tech park: it was just a village. And the women who walked back and forth carrying their children were just villagers - they weren't selling pornos. I had just entered my third year of junior high and I didn't even know a VCD was. Porn was out on videocassette, but those weren't in circulation among Beijing's middle-school students. And of course, BitTorrent, Xunlei, and eMule were even further off.

All of a sudden one day, a copy of Abandoned Capital appeared in class. The news quickly spread that this wasn't a healthy book, finally bringing a reprieve to the dull atmosphere of learning: we had just finished holding class meetings during which the teachers told us about how tough third year would be, that it was a turning point in our lives.

Back then, no one who acquired something like that would hide it for themselves. They'd take it out and practice communism instead, not because they were looking for the excitement of having more people talk about their experience reading it, but simply to show off how awesome they were: Maybe I can't compete with you in school, but I can get ahold of this stuff.

Before anyone had figured out who the book belonged to, it became common property of all the boys in the class.

The book was full of blanked-out spaces, following which were notes in parentheses: XXX characters deleted. From the context around the blanks, you could tell that the deletions were depictions of sex. And even though what came before the blanks foreshadowed it and what came after was a summing up, and even though there was little actual detail, we were still so absorbed by the book that we forgot to eat or sleep. It used to be that no one ever stayed in the classroom to study at noontime, but now, even during lunch itself there was always someone there holding a book. Even during the breakneck preparations for the high school entrance exams a year later, there wasn't the same sense of racing against time.

We had come across other books involving hormones, like A Health Handbook for Middle School Students, but they were a far cry from Abandoned Capital. That book's descriptions were more detailed and involved personal relationships, but the former was all stuff like: "Young friends, our present tasks are to gain scientific and cultural knowledge, to make contributions to the four modernizations, to establish a correct outlook on life, values, and love, to correctly address the stirrings of adolescence, and to put our efforts into use in their proper places so as not to lose sight of the big picture."

A short while later an even more inspiring piece of news went around: the book had been banned. Reading it had become a criminal act, which subtly increased both the "not for children" aspect of the book and the thrill of reading it. Students who had not yet had their chance were even more eager to read it. Reading on the sly was more exciting than being out in the open, and so a second round of reading began once all of the male students had gotten their turn.

The girls knew that the boys were passing a book around, and whenever boys came to them to copy homework, they kept wanting to ask for it in exchange. But the ever-bashful girls couldn't bring themselves to say anything.

Fifty people in the class sharing a single book: a case of many wolves but little meat. Therefore, an unwritten rule formed: each person could have it for one day, but the following day he had to pass it off to the next student.

Before half a month was out, the book had turned black from all of those fingers. But not all black: the dingy pages all had blank sections on them. Our reading habit at the time concerned only our lower bodies, not our upper bodies. All that page-turning meant that the book would flip open to a page with blanks at the mere touch of a hand.

The sign on the classroom wall showed more than 200 days until the high school entrance exam when one boy, thinking of sustainable development, wrapped it in a book cover. He'd never done that for any of his textbooks.

As time went by I discovered that every student exhibited the behavior when they acquired the book: when class let out they went straight home, not reporting for duty or taking part in any sports activities. They didn't linger one extra minute at school.

The book's protagonist, Zhuang Zhidie, I had always thought to be a weasel who seduced other men's wives and even dallied with nannies and prostitutes; the book, I believed, was merely the story of one man and countless women. Now, fourteen years later, I finally realize that Zhuang Zhidie is actually a person with feelings, a broad-minded author. When I first read it, I saw only the sex, but reading it now I see humanity, sophistication, and romance.

Picking up the book this time, the only words I didn't read were the ones around the blanked-out sections, because I already had them memorized. Science has shown that if you really read something (carefully enough to absorb it in your mind) a few times, it produces a memory.

Middle school students today will never have such vivid memories of a work of pure literature that only touches on sex because they can easily get their hands on movies that are much more direct than anything was back then. And because it has become so much easier, they no longer treasure it and it doesn't make an imprint on their minds.

Later on, we weren't satisfied with just the text surrounding the blocked-out portions. Taking our limited knowledge of sex, we used our imaginations to try and fill in those blanks. Following the blanks were notes from the author reporting how many characters had been deleted, so we had to come up with a corresponding length of text to fill in. This training greatly improved our ability at writing fixed-length essays. However, when we were given assignments, our writing tended to go in that direction.

I suppose that Jia Pingwa had adult readers in mind when he wrote Abandoned Capital and never ever imagined that he'd have such a large market among young readers. I'll be the first to argue with anyone who calls Jia a nativist writer, because he wrote Abandoned Capital, clearly a piece of young adult literature.

Two years ago I was looking to publish The Debris of Memory (朝三暮四, 2006), and when I found out that the ISBN would be issued by Beijing Publishing House, I said excitedly to my agent, I know them: they're the press that published Abandoned Capital! My agent couldn't understand where that excitement came from.

Later, Jia Pingwa also published Remembering Wolves (怀念狼), Qin Qiang (秦腔), and Happy (高兴). My buddies and I, who read Abandoned Capital back in the day, believe that he'd do better to change their titles to 怀念色狼 ("Remembering Lechers", 盆腔 ("Pelvic Cavity"), and 高潮 ("Climax").

Jia Pingwa for people of our generation is the Simon Yam or Veronica Yip of the literary world: no matter what kind of books he comes out with, we'll always remember Abandoned Capital, the book that teased at our heartstrings. And we believe that whenever Jia Pingwa is introduced from now on, he should be given the title "educator" in addition to his roles as author and calligrapher, because he truly gave youth of our generation a course in sex education.

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There are currently 3 Comments for Humorists of the world, unite!.

Comments on Humorists of the world, unite!

Who is this Sun Rui guy? He is quite prolific.

There's plenty of sex in "Happy (Gao Xing)" as well, though a bit unrealistic, since a trash collector gets laid with a hot masseuse usually in the illicit employ of a rich Shaanxi cadre. The two get it on on the protagonist's shabby mattress in a shantytown on the outskirts of Xi'an. It's a bit out of place, since "Happy" is largely a work of social realism told in the first person, much in keeping with the Communist literary tradition. The weirdest part is that the protagonist has a pair of high heels he bought with his hard-earned money, which throughout the story he is just waiting to give to some future wife. His country bumpkin friends make fun of his shoe fetish until this masseuse comes along and snuggles into them nicely. Jia Pingwa has a strange imagination.

I agree with you about Jia's imagination, Iacob, but I thought the romantic subplot fit in quite well with the rest of the novel. Jia's comic touches keep it from grinding what little plot there is in that book to a halt, and the fact that it's not a happily-ever-after sort of affair makes it mostly believable, in my opinion.

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