Censorship in China has been built upon the premise that certain literature will insight disorder and as anyone who understands China knows, disorder is the last thing that people want. Because of this great films and books have been promptly banned because of their content.
For example the film ‘Farewell My Concubine’ was originally banned in China because of its ‘homosexual themes’ coupled with some negative representations of Communism. The reasoning for this negative representation was that the main characters in the film were subject to interrogations during the Cultural Revolution. With all this being said, the film did win a Cannes award and in my opinion is an essential film for understanding China’s turbulent history ranging from the beginning of the fall of Qing Dynasty to the beginning of the economic reforms in China under Deng Xiaoping.
However, despite all this I had still found five books to be available in China. From Ayn Rand (Who I do not endorse) to George Orwell, literature which is at the opposite spectrum of the Chinese Communists Party’s was still available to be bought in middle of Beijing. I had been invited by good friends to accompany them to Wangfujing in Beijing to go and buy some books from apparently ‘The biggest bookshop’ they had ever seen. And of course it was.
1-2: Animal Farm and 1984
I was hoping to maybe find some HSK books or a nice Harry Potter book to read but instead as I glanced near a translation section for foreign literature I had found ‘Animal Farm’ and 1984. Seeing these two books side by side I had assumed their titles were in Chinese but the books themselves were not translated. But I quickly found their contents were all in Mandarin. I immediately bought them and reveled with them when I had gotten home.
3: V for Vendetta
I had always known that Manga and Anime were very popular in China but I had never expected to come across the graphic novel ‘V For Vendetta’. It was next to Watchmen and I had gone through the same train of thought again. I assumed it was only a Chinese title but I flicked through the graphic novel and realized again to myself this was a Chinese translated version. It was cheaper than the English version and I knew I had to have it.
4: Ayn Rand’s ‘Atlas Shrugged’
As I had stated before I am not endorsing Ayn Rand, after all I am not a Republican Candidate for the Presidency. Finding this book was by far the biggest shock to me. Ayn Rand started what was known as ‘Objectivism’ which is anything but objective. Her works focused upon the extreme rights of the individual trumping all other things in life. Ayn Rand had suggested that any form of collectivism was wrong, yet I was holding her book in my hand in the middle of Beijing. That said, I doubt anyone would pick up the book besides me. It was a novelty for me. I am not sure it could be that for anyone else.
5: A Clockwork Orange
This book was actually given to me. I found it odd because the book (and film) were something I could not see being shown or published in China. That said I had watched A Clockwork Orange with the film society whilst I was in my host university in China.
It was a strange experience to find such books in a country which has been portrayed as being restrictive. Indeed Facebook, Twitter, Google and many other websites are blocked in China and much literature by Chinese both home and abroad that veers between into the sensitive and not safe have been banned or limited in China. Yet here I was in Beijing, finding these books. It made me understand that China is not as restrictive as it has been painted to be, but with that said sensitive topics are not going to be something to be discussed easily in literature in the near future.
Firely: Gorram Mandarin
Firefly, directed by Josh Whedon, is a 2002 sci-fi series set in a future where Earth has become uninhabitable and humans have migrated to another solar system. The story revolves around a crew of smugglers who are disillusioned by a war which unified all planets in the Verse (the name of the new solar system) who take on passengers who are disillusioned with their own troubles. Within this space of time Western and Pan Asia culture have mixed. English and Mandarin are used interchangeably and this is seen in the show. Although it seems most of the time the Mandarin is used for swearing.
Before the advent of Hollywood integrating China into plots as a way of selling it to the Chinese market, Firefly had used Mandarin as an interesting aspect of story telling and created a more immersive universe that you could believe. For many films today the use of Chinese actors and locations is an easy way to market the film in China and usually adds little or nothing to the main story. Everything from directions, advertisements and the writing on cans of peaches in Firefly have Mandarin. Firefly is by far one of the most enjoyable sci-fi series out there and despite being cancelled after one season, saw itself rise again in the form of a 2005 feature film ‘Serenity’ or in Mandarin 宁静(pronounced ning jing).
However, listening to the Mandarin in the show, i was left wondering ‘what the hell are they saying?’. For years i had thought my Mandarin swearing must be bad because i couldn’t understanding half of what they were saying. I had brought Firefly with me to China and showed it to friends who at first liked it for the novelty of having Mandarin swearing. After a few episodes they were hooked on the show. The Mandarin and Pan-Asian culture had been quirky but the show ultimately stood out. On the other hand they had found it hard to understand the Mandarin the cast was speaking. For a glimpse into the Mandarin speaking in the show here is a compilation of when Mandarin is spoken in the series and film.
Before i begin to sound ‘pretentious’ it has to be pointed out that the use of Mandarin by the cast is still appreciated. The cast are not Mandarin learners and use phrases and words in the show that help add to the allure. The use of Mandarin in the show without subtitles is very progressive for the time. There were also times when the Mandarin quite clear. In episode 2 ‘The Train Job’ Captain Reynolds says some of the clearest mandarin in the show.
The Robot’s Voice has thankfully put together 15 of the best Chinese curses, though i have to say i cannot image ever using any of them in China, they range from ‘Cow Sucker 吸牛‘ to ‘the explosive diarrhea of an elephant 大象爆炸式的拉肚子’.
By far what i enjoyed most what the subtle use of English and Mandarin such as ‘Goram’ which is the equivalent of ‘Goddamn’. I think it is a mixture of goddamn and the Chinese for Dog ‘Gou 狗‘, hence ‘Goudamn’ turned to ‘Goram’. Slang such as a ‘Shiny’ meaning good or brilliant in the show also shows a progression in English which is interesting. With that all said and done the introduction of Firefly to China could see a new audience for the show. Despite being cancelled and having a feature film a more than a decade ago, the show is still adored by its fans who are among the most loyal and call themselves ‘Browncoats’. Just like the Browncoats, I am hoping for a new season or film. Perhaps introducing the show to China might be a good way forward.