Why are you mostly writing in English, is a question author Zhang Lijia, a native from Nanjing, often has to answer. In English: “I can be bold and adventurous”, she writes for the English Editing Blog.
I choose to write in English because, first of all, it frees me politically. I wouldn’t be able to publish books with politically sensitive content in Mainland China. Also, it frees me literally. It frees me from any inhibition I might have if I were to write in Chinese. Without these constraints, I can experiment with the language: I can be bold and adventurous. Because it’s not my mother tongue, I consciously and unconsciously use different words and I structure my sentences differently to those of native speakers. Let me give you an example. “One early spring day, I took my children to a park. It had been bleak winter only a week ago. Then almost overnight, it became warm and flowers were blossoming everywhere.” The word ‘bewitch’ came to my mind. In my diary, I wanted to use that word to convey a sense of drama and sudden change as if being touched by a magic wand. At first I wrote: “Bewitched by spring, the park came to life and the glorious peonies blossomed everywhere.” Then I decided to use a more active verb: “Spring had bewitched the park where glorious peonies blossomed everywhere.” Native speakers, please do tell me if they work at all or which sentence works best.
Writing in English also allows me to play up my advantage in some ways. Writing for the domestic market or the international market is very different ball game. There’s always a great deal of presumed knowledge if your target are domestic readers. Having written for international media for many years, I feel I know when and how to explain certain terminology. Tamade, I’d explain it is a national swear word, good for expressing joy or anger in equal measure. I belong to a growing yet small number of people who have the insight into a culture that remains largely unknown in the world yet able to communicate with those on the other side.
The China Weekly Hangout will hold on Thursday 18 July an open office where you can drop in to discuss upcoming subjects, panelists and current affairs in China. Here is our announcement, or you can register for participation right away on our event page.
Last week the China Weekly Hangout discussed the difficult relationship between Hong Kong and Beijing. Is the Occupy Central going to make a difference? How eager are the Hong Kong people to get one-person, one-vote. CSR expert Brian Ho is answering the questions by Fons Tuinstra of the China Speakers Bureau.