It’s a world many outside China don’t know much about – the realm of Chinese fantasy novels. Immortal heroes and martial arts warriors spring from the pages. And now, this genre is making waves overseas. Driving the popularity, one young man from Washington, DC. CGTN’s Frances Kuo has more on how he uses his words as a window to Chinese culture.
Website offers western window to Chinese fantasyIt's a world many outside China don't know much about - the realm of Chinese fantasy novels. Immortal heroes and martial arts warriors spring from the pages. And now, this genre is making waves overseas. CGTN's Frances Kuo has more on how he uses his words as a window to Chinese culture.
Richard Kong looks like a typical college student. But, he’s anything but typical. Kong is opening a door into a world more and more people want to be a part of.
It all started two years ago when he stumbled upon a Chinese website featuring fantasy novels. They’re the same ones he read as a kid, when he was in China.
So, he thought, why not share this passion with non-Chinese by translating them into English and offering at his website: GRAVITY TALES.
It’s a genre that’s different than Western style novels, like Harry Potter.
An example of the lucid styles of Chinese fantasy can be seen in this excerpt from Canjian Li De Niu’s “Martial World.”
“In the vast and limitless expanse of mist and snow, endless ice shards swirled in the wind and collided in a violent maelstrom. Subzero temperatures chilled one’s bone to a freezing cold temperature, as if it would turn even one’s very soul into nothing but ice.
Here, was the Snowfall Realm, within the myriad dimensions of the Realm of the Gods. It was a bleak and hopeless land of endless, blinding white tundra. From one year to the next, there was nothing but desolate snow, and the bitter cold.
Within these bleak fields of ice, the wind picked up, and dozens of ice shards whistled through the air, revolving and condensing in a vast eddy. Within this current, a shimmering mercurial veil bloomed into existence, and in the next second, a woman in a sapphire blue dress emerged.
The woman’s aura was like a regal queen. Her raven black hair flowed like a river of the purest ink. Every inch of her body exuded an aura of holiness. In this desolate wasteland, it was as if the most beautiful pure ice lotus had fully bloomed. The only flaw on her otherwise perfect features was a thin stream of bright red blood that dripped down from the corners of her red lips.”
He sees the Chinese versions – often depicted on film – as more focused on individualism, with characters making sacrifices for the greater good.
But translating the essence of these stories into English is a whole other story. The original books in Mandarin can be long. For a book with a thousand chapters, the translation process can take up to two years.
Still, for Kong and his translators, the work has great rewards.
“There’s obviously a lot that we don’t understand about the Chinese, and the Chinese don’t understand about us,” he said. “Hopefully, with our translations, we can get talk started and increase understanding between both cultures.”
Website fan Stephan Loh began reading the translated novels last year and was immediately hooked.
“Part of my excitement of the day is waiting for these chapters to come out,” Loh said. “I just spent all of my class time reading instead of focusing on the teacher, which is probably not a good idea.”
Loh says his non-Chinese friends took notice of his new passion.
“They ask us about it. I can explain it to them, and we’ve gone into these great conversations about American vs. Chinese cultures.”
Kong says the site gets two and a half million daily page views from readers all over the world. One third of whom are from the U.S.. In the future, he hopes to get more financial support from China and expand into e-books and hardcover.
Not bad for a college student, turning fantasy into reality.
Chinese fantasy: In praise of Jin Yong
For anyone looking to explore Chinese fantasy, Gravity Tales founder reccommends beginning with the works of Jin Yong, a Chinese novelist and essayist based in Hong Kong. Having spent much of his career as a journalist and newspaper man (his real name is Louis Cha), Jin Yong is currently the best-selling Chinese author alive with over 100 million copies of his works sold worldwide. His books have been translated into English, French, Korean, Japanese, Vietnamese, Thai, Burmese, Malay and Indonesian. Many have been turned into films, television series, comics and video games.
Tain Long Ba Bu (Demi-Gods and Semi-Devils) – Kong appreciates the novel “because of how well the story is crafted and how it doesn’t focus on a single perspective – but rather disperses it between three separate viewpoints. The separate stories tie together at the end.”
Another one is Fei Hu Wai Zhuan (The Young Flying Fox) – Kong recommends this because of how realistic the story is because of its lack of exaggeration.