A Dictionary of Maqiao 《馬橋詞典》書評

A Dictionary of Maqiao is a really considered and philosophical book, whilst managing to retain an earthiness and wit throughout. 10867069_10101763657599809_38699079_nI liked the way the narrator poses the book as an effort to deconstruct traditional story-telling. He sees the traditional novel as directing its gaze selectively – focusing in on those things that relate to the central narrative, while ignoring the things that are on the periphery of this:

Things that can’t be put in the traditional novel are normally “insignificant.” However, when your focus is theocracy, science is insignificant; when it is humanity, nature is insignificant; when it is politics, then love is insignificant; when it is money, then aesthetics are insignificant. I suspect that everything in the world has the same level of significance, however, and that the reason that some things appear insignificant at times, is because they are filtered out by the author’s framework of meaning and are resisted by the reader’s framework of meaning, as they are not exciting enough. Clearly, these frameworks are not innate and unchanging, but rather the contrary, they are reformed by fads, habit and cultural tendencies – this mould is then set in the form of the novel. [My translation]

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Variants in literature: 犟嘴 for 強嘴 jiang4zui3 To talk back/to give lip

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犟 jiang4 (/qiang3)

I found this variant of 強 in a traditional character version of a mainland Chinese novel (《馬橋詞典》 Dictionary of Maqiao by 韓少功 Han Shaogong). This character is not listed in the Taiwanese Ministry of Education dictionary although it is listed in the variant dictionary. I was surprised to see the character in a traditional character book, because it incorporates the simplified version (or variant) of 強: 强 above 牛 (ox). Lots of simplified characters were adapted from variants or commonly used shorthand however, so it’s not overly unusual. At first I thought it might be an amusing glitch thrown up in the process of transcribing the simplified characters into traditional characters, but after checking the original on Google Books, it seems to have been a choice by the author:

simplified

In the Taiwan variants dictionary it is weirdly listed as a variant of standard character  c07107 although this character cannot be typed – as it automatically switches back to 犟 when typing in zhuyin 注音 and Cangjie 倉頡.

Neither are listed as variants of  either. So I can only assume that Taiwan chose to replace this character with 強 in daily usage, although it still exists in its simplified form.

Side by side or top and bottom? Varying it up with variants

m500_22024607701OK – just a quick post today! Am reading 《馬橋詞典》(Dictionary of Maqiao) by 韓少功 (Han Shaogong) at the minute and came across a word for a woman’s period or menstruation – 例假 – that I hadn’t seen before. For some reason I read this as 例期 however and looking it up I found the variant 朞 – a bottom top variant of 期 – combining 其 and 月. This reminded me of a few other variants that follow this pattern, like 峰 and 峯 feng1 “summit,” and 群 and 羣 for “qun1” crowd.

There’s also 鑒 and 鑑 jian4 which have their ingredients stirred around a little.

Let me know if you know of any others!

What I’m reading 我在讀什麼?

I have been jumping from book to book lately, so going to post what I’m reviewing next in the hope that this will put a little pressure on me to stick with one all the way through. I started I Am China by Xiaolu Guo, but not overly impressed by what I’ve read so far – a tired story about a Chinese dissident rocker who is seeking asylum in the UK that right now is seeming a little bit pretentious, somewhere between an Amy Tan novel and Ma Jian’s Red Dust, except not as edgy, equipped with dullish references to the Beat generation (((((Kerouac’s overrated))))) and China’s misty poets – but going to give it a chance, because I completely misjudged Jennifer Egan’s A Visit from the Goon Squad and ended up loving it – so going to put it on the back-burner, and I am currently nose-deep in the long-awaited counterpart to Li Ang’s (李昂) 1997 work 《北港香爐人人插》 (Everyone sticks it in the Beigang incense burner) called 《路邊甘蔗眾人啃》 (Everybody nibbles on the sugar cane at the side of the road). The new book, published this year deals with men and power, whereas the previous book dealt with women and power. I haven’t read the previous book, but have heard interesting things about the author. I’m also interested to see if the “restricted to ages 18 and over” label stuck on the front is actually warranted, or is just a marketing technique.

 

The other books I’m lining up are 《馬橋詞典》 (A Dictionary of Maqiao in English) by Han Shaogong (韓少功), recommended to me by Chris Peacock, so looking forward to it.

I’m also going to give Yu Hua a second chance after the average but disappointing 《活著》 (To Live).

maqiaoyuhuaGot any recommendations? Reading any books that you are enjoying? Or read these books and want to have your say, comment below and I’ll get back to you.

I’ve also got a review of A Touch of Sin by Jia Zhangke in the pipeline, it’s a great film.