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    Capturing Chinese

    Learn Chinese Through Stories: Hu Shi's Mr. Almost Good Enough

    Capturing Chinese have brought you notable authors in the past months. This week, our featured author is Hu Shih (胡适-Hú Shì), a Chinese Nationalist scholar, philosopher, diplomat and essayist born December 17, 1891 (Shanghai, China) and who died February 24, 1962 (Taiwan). Hu is well-respected for his great help on the institutionalization of vernacular Chinese as the formal written language of China. Today, he still remains as an inspiration and influence to modern China, due to his exemplary contributions to Chinese liberalism and language reform. Hu was a recipient of the Boxer Indemnity Scholarship Program, which provided for Chinese students to study in the US.  In 1910, he enrolled at Cornell University’s agriculture program. His passion for language motivated him to shift from agriculture to literature and philosophy in 1912.  After his undergraduate degree he went on to study under the tutelage of John Dewey at Columbia University. Hu was deeply influenced by Dewey’s perspectives towards pragmatic evolutionary change. He brought his professor’s idealisms back to China. He facilitated a series of lectures in Peking University where he served tenure. Chinese intellectuals admired Hu’s strong conviction, and he quickly rose to prominence. He became a leader among Chinese intellectuals and supported the May Fourth Movement. With the aid of his devout supporters, he wrote several political journals and newspapers. He also lead the advocacy towards language reform. He proposed that classical Chinese should be replaced by vernacular Chinese as the formal writing medium which would thus simplify the writing process and allow average Chinese people to enjoy literature, newspapers, etc. Hu succeeded on this endeavor and was one of his most important contributions to modern China. In 1938, Hu served as the ambassador of China to the United States until 1942.  In 1946, he went back to China and became chancellor of Peking University.  However, on the eve on the the communist revolution in 1949 he moved to New York where he lived in semiretirement.  In 1956 he went to Taiwan to became president of the Academia Sinica in Taipei. He continued to write through the Free China Journal where he was chief executive.  While being a vigorous critic of the govenerment on the mainland, the Kuomingtang (the government in Taiwan) gave him no mercy.  The journal was eventually shut down by the government due to its solid criticisms against Chang Kai-Shek. On the mainland, Hu Shih was villified as an American trained, liberal intellectual.  He was even denounced by his own son.  The pragmatic evolutionary change that Hu Shi had preached had been replaced by revolutionary change instead.  His works were in disrepute on the Mainland until an article written in 1986 advocated remembering Hu Shi’s great contributions to modern Chinese literature. At the age of 70, he perished due to a heart attack. He is buried in a tomb inside the campus of Academia Sinica. Hu Shi strongly opposed mediocrity and criticized government officials on their incompetence. Disappointed about the ‘close-to-good-enough’ performance of the nation’s servants, he wrote the essay called “Chabuduo” (差不多) which means, depending on the context, “good-enough,” “close-enough,” or “just about.” In Chinese, it is literally defined as “difference not much.” In the essay, Hu presented laziness in human form whom he calls Mr. Chabuduo. “Mr. Chabuduo’s appearance resembles yours and mine. He has two eyes - but does not see things very clearly.  He has two ears - but they don't listen very well.  He has a nose and a mouth, but does not distinguish much between different smells and tastes.  His head isn't particularly small -  however - his memory isn't very good.” He described how China is responding to the likes of Mr. Chabuduo, in terms of education, work, and discipline. Without any inhibitions, he gave a  grave warning that a societal cancer of laziness is spreading and must be suppressed. With each passing day, Mr. Chabuduo’s reputation continues to spread far and wide.  Countless people study his example with the result that everyone is now becoming a “Mr. Chabuduo” and is the reason why China is quickly being transformed into a country that the rest of the world will soon call “the Nation of Laziness.” Here is the story. Learn Chinese Through Stories: Hu Shi's Mr. Almost Good Enough     Helpful links: http://www.jstor.org/pss/651783 http://www.answers.com/topic/hu-shih http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hu_Shih http://www.readchinese.net/chabuduoxiansheng

    Learn Chinese Through Stories: Yu Dafu's Sinking

    Yu Dafu is our author of the week. His Chinese name is 郁达夫 (Yù Dáfū). He was born December 7, 1896 near Hangzhou and died in Sumatra in 1945.  His father died when he was only three years old and hence his family struggled.  Early loss of a father seems to be common among Chinese writers at this time.  Other such authors are Lao She, Lu Xun, and Ding Ling. He was lucky to secure a scholarship so received a standard education. While Yu Dafu went to university in Hangzhou, he was quickly expelled for protests and then went to Tokyo continued his studies. In Tokyo, he met other Chinese intellectuals and together in 1921 they created the Creation Society (創造社) whose goals were to promote modern Chinese literature written in the vernacular Chinese. Yu Dafu became famous in 1921 (while still in Japan) after the publication of Chénlún 沉淪, known in English as Sinking. Sinking was published in the Creation Society's newsletter (创造季刊) and instantly pushed his society and him into fame. Sinking is also the a name of his collection of short stories which also includes Moving South and Silver-Grey Death. During the Sino-Japanese War, Yu Dafu worked in Hangzhou as an anti-Japanese propagandist.  In 1938 he went to work as a literary editor for a newspaper in Singapore.  When the Japanese invaded Singapore, he fled to Indonesia under a different identity.  However, once his identity was found to be Yu Dafu, the anti-Japanese propagandist, he was most likely killed by the Japanese army. Sinking is about a young Chinese man pursuing a college education in Japan at the behest of his parents.  In Japan he constantly feels uncomfortable and uneasy due to being alien, being Chinese.  The story frequently has long monologues highlighting the young man's aloneness.  With its frank descriptions of sex as well as an annoyance with the current Chinese government, Yu Dafu's Sinking became a hit. Similar to Lu Xun, Yu Dafu never could seem to break past the short story.  He only wrote short stories, novellas in addition to poetry, literary criticism, and essays. This week we introduce Yu Dafu's Sinking for the intermediate/advanced student of Chinese literature.  While modern Chinese literature can be difficult, we believe with confidence and determination breaking into Chinese literature can be done.  Our Learn Chinese Through Stories series features weekly/biweekly installments of famous Chinese authors of modern Chinese literature. Enjoy and until next week, 加油! Learn Chinese Through Stories: Yu Dafu's Sinking 郁达夫 《沉淪》

    A Note on the Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake

    Today, I am writing to reflect on the earthquake which struck Japan on March 11th, now known as the Tohoku-Pacific Ocean Earthquake.  Three weeks have already passed and northern Japan is still struggling.  The main city struck in the earthquake was Sendai (仙台市) and for those who have read Capturing Chinese Short Stories from Lu Xun's Nahan would recognize that Sendai is the city in which Lu Xun studied medicine while in Japan. Lu Xun did not start his career as an author, but instead dreamed of being a doctor and nursing China back to health.  He won a government scholarship and took to Japan to study medicine.  He was the first foreign student in Sendai and the city of Sendai celebrates this fact. Lu Xun is just one of the many connections between China and Japan.  Hopefully, both sides can use this crisis as an opportunity to heal relations between the two countries.  We all know that China-Japan relations are anything but simple.  Japan has a lot to offer China and China has a lot to offer Japan. The tsunami and the following nuclear crisis is what did real damage in Japan.  The buildings withstood the earthquake mostly intact.  Schools acted as evacuation centers and business could move back to normal except for a lack of fuel and other supplies.  Japan undoubtedly has some of the best seismic design in the world.  The whole country is seismic territory so they benefit from a countrywide awareness of the danger. China, too, sits along many fault lines.  The Sichuan earthquake in 2008 exposed that one fault near Tibet.  During the year of Mao Zedong's death (1976) a fatal earthquake struck Tangsha, which is near Tianjin.  The Tangsha earthquake killed hundreds of thousands and might have been the most deadly natural disaster to ever strike. Cooperation in seismic design and preparedness is just one way the two countries can continue to move their relations forward.  Here is to hoping so.

    Learn Chinese Through Stories: Lao She's Teahouse

    This week we are introducing Lao She's seminal work.  Teahouse (茶馆) is a three act play that is very famous in China  and in the West.  The work was published in 1957 and marks the peak of Lao She's career as a playwright.  The play is also remembered as a historic work in modern Chinese drama. The play takes place in one scene throughout the three acts.  That scene is, you guessed it, a teahouse. While being situated just at a teahouse might seem boring, it provided a good base to contrast the historical changes happening in China.  The play has  a total of 70 characters and the play covers 50 years of Chinese history. The play uses a lot of the Beijing dialect and has old Beijing customs like walking your bird its cage. The first act takes place at the end of the 19th century and the beginning of the 20th century as the Qing Dynasty was attempting to make some reforms, but was near the end of its life.  The second act depicts the worst of the Republic of China (1912-1949).  He highlights the petty fighting between warlords while the common people continued to struggle.  The third act is about the Kuomingtang's disgraceful government in Beijing after the end of the Second Sino-Japanese War (第二次中日战争).  The Second Sino-Japanese War began in 1937 and ended in 1949. A teahouse in Qianmen called 老舍茶馆 has now become a huge tourist attraction in Beijing.  The scene of the Teahouse from the story has become an actual teahouse where you can enjoy some of China's best tea while watching a variety of Chinese shows.  You can find more on their website: www.laosheteahouse.com. By reading Lao She's Teahouse you can learn Chinese through stories as well as learn some important Chinese history.  Since the play spans 50 years, you can read about Chinese life during the imperial Qing, the Republican period, and after 1949.  The best way to improve your Chinese is to keep reading Chinese.  Reading Chinese stories is very enjoyable and you can learn so much abut Chinese culture as well.  Lao She's Teahouse is one of our favorite stories and will be included as a book in our Capturing Chinese series in the future.  Remember when you are reading Chinese in general, don't focus on understanding everything.  If a few characters are difficult, then skip them and keep reading.  You might see the Chinese characters in a different context and then remember their meaning.  Your Chinese will get better as you read Chinese short stories, so 加油 and until next week. Enjoy! Learn Chinese through Stories - Lao She's Teahouse 老舍茶馆

    Learn Chinese Through Stories - Lao She's An Old and Established Name

    Lao She (老舍) is our author for this week.  He was born in 1899 as Shū Qìngchūn (舒庆春).  He is one of the most famous authors from the May Fourth Movement and his most famous works include Teahouse (茶館) and Rickshaw Boy (骆驼祥子 Luòtuo Xiángzi literally Camel Lucky Boy). Lao She’s father was part of the banner soldiers for the Qing Dynasty government.  During the Taiping Revolution, in which peasants started an uprising against the Qing dynasty and foreigners living in China, his father was killed by the Eight-Power Allied Forces (a collection of European soldiers) during a street battle.  Undoubtedly, Lao She was shaped by these events which he recalls as:

    During my childhood, I didn't need to hear stories about evil ogres eating children and so forth; the foreign devils my mother told me about were more barbaric and cruel than any fairy tale ogre with a huge mouth and great fangs. And fairy tales are only fairy tales, whereas my mother's stories were 100 percent factual, and they directly affected our whole family.
    Lao She’s family was poor so with the loss of his father early in childhood, his mother had a hard time making ends meet.  He worked his way through college, graduated and started work as a teacher in primary and secondary schools around Beijing and Tianjin.  During the May Fourth Movement in 1919, he was inspired to take up writing although he didn’t write his first novel until 1933.  His first novel was called Cat Country ((猫城记) which is regarded as China’s first science fiction novel and was a bitter satire about Chinese society.  Rickshaw Boy and Teahouse were written in 1936 and 1957 respectively. This week we are introducing a shorter work of Lao She’s which will make the jump into his longer works easier.  The Chinese name is 老字号 which translates as An Old and Established Name.  It was published in 1936. Lao She's An Old and Established Name (老舍 - 老字号)