Perry Link is Chancellorial Chair at the University of California at Riverside. His recent books include An Anatomy of Chinese: Rhythm, Metaphor, Politics and a translation of the memoirs of the Chinese astrophysicist Fang Lizhi, entitled The Most Wanted Man in China: My Journey from Scientist to Enemy of the State. (November 2016)

Follow Perry Link on Twitter: @perrylink.


A Magician of Chinese Poetry

Eliot Weinberger, New York City, circa 2000

19 Ways of Looking at Wang Wei (with More Ways)

by Eliot Weinberger, with an afterword by Octavio Paz

The Ghosts of Birds

by Eliot Weinberger
Some people, and I am one, feel that Tang (618–907 CE) poetry is the finest literary art they have ever read. But does one need to learn Chinese in order to have such a view, or can classical Chinese poetry be adequately translated? In 1987 Eliot Weinberger, who has written …

If Mao Had Been a Hermit

Cai Liang: Sons of Poor Peasants, 1964

The Big Red Book of Modern Chinese Literature: Writings from the Mainland in the Long Twentieth Century

edited by Yunte Huang

Dragon in Ambush: The Art of War in the Poems of Mao Zedong

by Jeremy Ingalls, compiled and edited by Allen Wittenborn
At the annual meeting of BookExpo America that was held in New York last May, to which most leading US publishers sent representatives, state-sponsored Chinese publishers were named “guests of honor.” Commercially speaking, this made sense. China’s book industry, with sales now reported at $8 billion annually, is the second-largest …

China: Novelists Against the State

Ma Liang: Postman, No. 1, 2008; from Jiang Jiehong’s An Era Without Memories: Chinese Contemporary Photography on Urban Transformation, published recently by Thames and Hudson

Death Fugue

by Sheng Keyi, translated from the Chinese by Shelly Bryant

A Map of Betrayal

by Ha Jin
Can writers help an injured society to heal? Did Ōe Kenzaburō, who traveled to Hiroshima in 1963 to interview survivors of the dropping of the atomic bomb on that city eighteen years earlier, and then published a moving book called Hiroshima Notes, help his compatriots to recover? Did Primo Levi, …

The Wonderfully Elusive Chinese Novel

‘Pan Jinlian (Golden Lotus) Humiliated for Being Intimate with a Servant’; from Illustrations for the Novel Jin Ping Mei, or The Plum in the Golden Vase, seventeenth century

The Plum in the Golden Vase or, Chin P’ing Mei, Vol. 5: The Dissolution

by an unknown author, translated from the Chinese by David Tod Roy
During the four hundred years since it appeared, Chin P’ing Mei has been known in China as an “obscene book.” Governments have banned it and parents have hidden it from children. One widespread anecdote—a false story, but a true indication of the book’s reputation—is that it originated as a murder weapon: the author applied poison to the corners of the pages and presented it to an enemy, knowing that his foe would need to wet his fingertips with saliva in order to keep turning the pages fast enough.


Beijing’s Bold New Censorship

A billboard showing Chinese President Xi Jinping with the slogan,

The art of controlling speech while avoiding the appearance of doing so has a long history in China. If ten years ago political censorship was done by telephone, now it is out on the table, in writing. Though euphemisms continue to be useful to China’s rulers, it has now become increasingly obvious that their use is declining. In the era of Xi Jinping, repression is often stated baldly, even proudly.

The Passion of Liu Xiaobo

Liu Xiaobo, mid-2000s

Liu Xiaobo felt haunted by the “lost souls” of Tiananmen, the aggrieved ghosts of students and workers alike whose ages would forever be the same as on the night they died. His “final statement” at his trial in December 2009 opens: “June 1989 has been the major turning point in my life.” In October 2010, when his wife Liu Xia brought him the news of his Nobel Peace Prize, she reports that he commented, “This is for the aggrieved ghosts.”

The Mind: Less Puzzling in Chinese?

Edward Ruscha's I Can't Not Do That at Sotheby's, London, England, March 4, 2015

Are people who think in Indo-European languages better off because their languages lead them to a clear conceptualization of an important puzzle? Or are thinkers in Chinese better off because their language gets them through life equally well without the puzzle?