The Nanfang / Blog


China marks 15th anniversary of novelist Qian Zhongshu’s death

Posted: 12/20/2013 10:00 am

Qian Zhongshu, courtesy of Google Images

Yesterday an influential Guangdong microblog paid tribute to novelist Qian Zhongshu on the 15th anniversary of his death. Although his output only consisted of a few essays, several short stories and one novel, literary translator Brendan O’Kane argued in the L.A. Review of Books 2 months ago that he deserved the Nobel Prize for Literature.

Raised by Confucian scholars and educated at Oxford, Qian drew on the literary traditions of several languages to write his novel “Fortress Besieged,” which is described by O’Kane as maybe one of the most cosmopolitan books ever written. It derives its title from a French proverb which compares marriage to a fortress besieged: i.e. everybody out wants in, everybody in wants out.

The novel is available in translation. But to give you an introduction to the wit and wisdom of Qian Zhongshu, The Nanfang will use that insidious enemy of thought, the list of famous quotes.

Here are 10 translations made by The Nanfang from :

1. More than half of romances fail: either through boredom from being married or through sadness at not being married.

2. The uneducated, because they are illiterate, are deceived by people. The educated, because they are literate, are deceived by the printed word.

3. Scientists are not like science itself. Scientists are like wine, as they age they increase in value. Science is like a woman, its value decreases with age.

4. Useful things are used by people, and therefore exist. Useless things use people, and give them reason to feel needed, therefore cannot be got rid of.

5. If you’re not crazy when you’re 20, you’ll never amount to anything. If you’re still crazy when you’re 30, you’ll never amount to anything.

6. Can pigs experience joy the way people can? We don’t know. But we see evidence every day that people can be as content as pigs.

7. Foreign scientists make progress, Chinese scientists make social capital.

8. Only women can see through women.

9. When two people are together, society concocts rumours. When two trees are close together, spiders spin webs.

10. Dating is like brown-nosing, it leaves the person on the sidelines feeling excluded.

Qian’s widow Yang Jiang, who turned 102 this year, completed a book just six years ago, continuing the legacy of one of China’s most literate families.

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