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Swedish title: Släktgården
Original title: 舊址
Author: 李銳 (Li Rui)
Translator: Göran Malmqvist
Year: 1999

This book was one of many books available as course literature when I studied my first year of Chinese in Sweden. At the time, I chose to read another book (Gao Xingjian‘s One Man’s Bible), but I took the opportunity to buy some of the other books as well, among them Li Rui’s 舊址, which is translated to Swedish as Släktgården, but I haven’t found an English translation either of the book or its title, so an explanation like “the old place” or “the former place” will have to do.

The title refers to the mansion belonging to the Li clan, which has dominated the politics and economy of the city of Yincheng for generations. As times toughen and the winds of revolution ravages China during the first half of the 20th century, the clan struggles to survive, and prevails mostly because of the deft and intelligent family head, Li Naijing. This story isn’t about him alone, it’s about the clan as a whole, how its members fight for survival during the upheavals of the Warlord Era, then the Civil War, then the Cultural Revolution. Even though this is the story of the clan, Li Rui never moves far from the actually people involved, and manages to give an account of history at the same time as he tells the story of a handful of individuals.

This is a feat few authors can pull off in such a successful manner, but that isn’t the only reason why I like this book. The narrative used is chronological only in the wider perspective, individual chapters and sections can differ wildly. Sometimes the author starts telling about what happened during a give episode, only to spend the rest of the chapter explaining why that happened. Other chapters might be flashbacks to previous generations or even glimpses of the future. The narrative twists and finds a curiously winding way through history, always spiralling around the Li clan and the destiny of its members.

Why not more than four snails, one might ask? To start with, the language is interesting, but not extraordinarily good, especially not in the long run. Some sections feel a bit tedious because they are repetitions of what has already been said, but from another perspective. This would have been good if the language was better, but instead, I feel the urge to skip pages and get on with it. Still, on the whole I find this novel entertaining and educating, it makes me want to learn more about Chinese recent history and it makes me want to read more translations made by Göran Malmqvist. Perhaps four snails is too weak a grade for such a good book.


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Important: This is no longer my main page about studying Chinese, please visit Hacking Chinese to learn more about how to study Chinese more efficiently!


I started studying Asienkunskap in Linköping in 2007, and during that first year of Chinese studies, I accumulated a lot of material that might be of use to other students. If not explicitly stated, everything here is written by me. This is what I currently have available:

Complete lecture notes (Nordostasienkunskap 2)
Take-home exams
(Nordostasienkunskap 2)
Papers (Nordostasienkunskap 2, projektarbete)
Reviews and reflections (course-related books)
Word lists (Short-term Spoken Chinese volume 1-3)
A list of all posts related to Asienkunskap

Lecture notes for Nordostasienkunskap 2

What follows is transcriptions of fourteen lectures relating to East Asia held by Mats Anderson and Göran Lindgren in 2007 and 2008. The files are in Rich Text Format, in Swedish and provided as is, meaning that I take no responsibility whatsoever that the content is accurate, although I believe most of it is. Click on the titles to download the files.

Noa 2-1 – Kina 1
Noa 2-2 – Mentalitet
Noa 2-3 – Japan 1
Noa 2-4 – Japan 2
Noa 2-5 – Sydkorea
Noa 2-6 – Nordkorea
Noa 2-7 – Japan 3
Noa 2-8 – Ekonomi
Noa 2-9 – Kina 2
Noa 2-10 – Taiwan
Noa 2-11 – Kina 3
Noa 2-12 – Kina 4
Noa 2-13 – Kina 5
Noa 2-14 – Japan 4
Noa 2-15 – Japan 5

Take-home exams

Noa 1 take-home exam – Take-home exams for our course in North-East Asian culture and history. They cover (among other things) Western imperialism, Korean history, the Meiji era in Japan, comparisons of different versions of events during the Long March in China, and an attempt to summarise Daoism. I received 91/100 on this course and Per Bäck earned 90/100.
Download my exam in Swedish (.rtf)
Download Per’s exam in Swedish (.pdf): part 1, part 2

Noa 2 take-home exam – Take-home exams for our course in North-East Asian recent history and politics. They cover (among other things) economy in the region as a whole, opposition parties in Japan, negative aspects of Chinese growth, Chinese system of guanxi, and politics in South Korea. I received 95/100 on this course and so did Per!
Download my exam in Swedish (.rtf)
Download Per’s exam in Swedish (.pdf): part 1, part 2

Paper (projektarbete)

Quo vadis, Taiawn?– Since I knew suspected I might be leaving for Taiwan later that year, I decided to write my paper about the election held in March 2008, which in many ways can be said to have been a crossroads in Taiwanese Cross-Strait (i.e. dealing with mainland China) politics. The title is Quo vadis, Taiwan? and the paper was written during and slightly after the elections were held. I received full points for this assignment.
Read more about Quo vadis, Taiwan?

Renminbi: Under värdering – This is a paper written by one of my friends, Per Bäck, who studied Asienkunskap at the same time as I did. It’s about the alleged under-evaluation of the Chinese currency (yuan or renminbi), a topic which was relevant then and is still debated hotly. Per also received full marks for this paper.
Download paper in Swedish (.pdf)

Course-related reviews and reflections

Miljoner sanningar – Per Bäck’s reflections on Linda Jakobsson’s book.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

The Journey to the West – My reflections on this classic by Wu Cheng’en. Probably not the pinnacle of reflective writing, but perhaps it might provide inspiration for someone. Note that the review and the document are complete different.
Download document in English (.rtf)
Read my review

Den törstige munken och hans dryckesbröder – Per Bäck’s reflections on this the first part of the Chinese classic 水滸傳. I’ll have to read it myself some day.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

China Candid – My reflections on this book by Sang Ye. Probably not the pinnacle of reflective writing, but perhaps it might provide inspiration for someone.
Download document in English (.rtf)

Röd åklagare – Per Bäck’s reflections on this book about crime, justice and corruption in China, written by Xiao Rundcrantz.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

One Man’s Bible – My reflections on this novel by Nobel laureate Gao Xingjian, a lovely book which I highly recommend.
Read my review

Vitlöksballaderna – Per Bäck’s reflections on this book by Mo Yan, telling the story of a revolt in a small Chinese village. The farmer have been forced by the government to produce garlic, and when the garlic market collapses, the people decide that enough is enough.
Download document in Swedish (.pdf)

Mei Wenti! – My reflections on this Catharina Lilliehöök’s book about living in China, a book I found somewhat deterring.
Read my review

Word lists

Important: I no longer use ZDT to learn Chinese. The lists for ZDT will still be here, but no longer updated. The vocabulary can and should be accessed from the Anki software, which is far superior to ZDT. If youh aven’t changed already, you should do so now.

Short-term Spoken Chinese – Threshold, chapter 1-30 (汉语口语速成入门) – My lists of new words for ZDT (see the Tools section), sorted into categories, one per chapter of the book. I have often left out proper names and I take no responsibility whatsoever that the lists are correct (I doubt that there are many errors, though). Please use File >> Restore Data when importing the characters to retain category structure. The file can easily be opened in any text editor for use with other software or independently.
Download list (.zdt)

Short-term Spoken Chinese – Elementary, chapter 1-25 (汉语口语速成基础)– Same as above, use at your own risk, but please report any errors you might find. Please note that proper names go in a separate category. Use File >> Restore Data when importing the characters to retain category structure. The file can easily be opened in any text editor for use with other software or independently.
Download list (.zdt)

Technical Chinese – New words from our course in technical Chinese for ZDT – Includes basic vocabulary for math, chemistry, physics and biology. As for the lists above, use at your own risk, but please report any errors you might find. Please note that proper names go in a separate category. Use File >> Restore Data when importing the characters to retain category structure. The file can easily be opened in any text editor for use with other software or independently.
Download list (.zdt)

Short-term Spoken Chinese (汉语口语速成) – Complete glossary for the first three volumes in .xls format, an outstanding word list compiled and contributed by Henrik Gustavson. Not only does it contain all the words for the first three volumes, but they are also neatly arranged in various useful ways. For the automatic generation of the lists to work, changes should be made in the tab named “kapitel”.
Download list (.xls)

Related posts

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Title: 天地英雄
English title: Warriors of Heaven and Earth
Directed by:
He Ping
Written by:
Bai Song, Chen Kuo-fu
Year: 2004

I have decided to start watching films in which the characters speak in Mandarin, not because I hope to understand what they are saying, but because I want to hear more spoken Chinese. Occasionally, I do understand what they say, but not very often. Even though many of these films are made for export, I still get a taste of China by watching them, which is also partly why I do it. As was the case with The Emperor and the Assassin, the films are sometimes brilliant as well, which certainly helps.

Regrettably, Warriors of Heaven and Earth does not come close to The Emperor and the Assassin, although they are set in a similar environment. The story is set much later, around 700 A.D. in which fugitive ex-lieutenant Li, who is to be hunted down for starting a mutiny by refusing to kill women and children prisoners. Japanese emissary to the Chinese court, Lai Xi is sent to kill Li, but recognises that his target is on an imperial mission and they postpone their final duel until they reach the capital. However, many perils awaits in the desert before they get their, since the caravan they have undertaken to protect is more valuable than it might seem at first.

To my mind, this is the major problem with this film is that it does what the Emperor and the Assassin, only not as good. Still, this film has certain merits which might make it worthwhile (I say might, because I am still quite not sure). Firstly, the sceneries are marvellous and covers a wide range of beautiful landscapes, nicely integrated into the narration. Secondly, the soundtrack succeeds in blending with the rest of the film and adding to the general atmosphere thus created.

This film lacks an interesting story, together with deep and moving themes, all this performed by brilliant actors. All this (and more) can be found in the Emperor and the Assassin, so I can see no reason at all to recommend this film.

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Title: One Man’s Bible
Original title: 一个人的圣经
Author: Gao Xingjian
Year: 1998

I read this novel as part of a study assignment, which is why it is more ambitious than my normal reviews. The instruction was basically to reflect upon the novel and its contents and since I thought I might as well publish what I hand in, here you have my reflections on Gao Xingjian’s One Man’s Bible. This novel is utterly impossible to spoil, so even though I do reveal parts of the story, I do not feel that I have to issue a spoiler warning.

One Man’s Bible is a story composed of two narrative threads, beautifully interlaced to form varied and lucid fabric depicting the author, his background and relation to his native country: China. The focus of the novel is roughly equally distributed between the two threads. The first explores the author’s historical heritage, focusing on the Cultural Revolution and the period following it, the second consists reflective musing on literature and life, always with clear connections to his personal background.

About the author
Gao Xingjian is a fascinating character in many ways, not least because of his background. He was born in 1940 to a bank official and an actress in Ganzhou, People’s Republic of China. Before the Cultural Revolution, he studied at university and worked as a translator. During this period, he also produced numerous works of literature, but he was compelled to burn them all out of fear of government reprisals (Literature resource center, 2008-02-21).

As the tremors of the Cultural Revolution shook China, Gao fled to the rural parts of western China in order to hide. He worked on a farm and later as a teacher, but persevered in his writing. Yet again, he had to immolate his manuscripts to avoid persecution by the authorities. After the Cultural Revolution, he moved back to Beijing and became a renowned and prolific playwright (Literature resource center, 2008-02-21).

In 1987 he left China, probably for good, since he does not want to return to that authoritarian state. He is now settled in France, where he has begun to produce literature in French, as well as to publish old material in translation to English (as of 2008, four books are available in English). Gao Xingjian is possibly most well-known for being awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2000 (Literature resource center, 2008-02-21).

About the novel
As I have already stated briefly, One Man’s Bible consists of two parallel stories, and although interlaced and supporting each other, I think reflections upon the book will merit from treating these threads separately. Let me begin with the thread concerning historical times, because it is the basis of the novel and without it, the thread taking place in modern times would be pointless.

Writing about terrible things belonging to the author’s personal history is always difficult, because there is so much suffering in the world that I as a reader do not feel the need of adding more. Certain authors are capable of writing about terrible events and, at the same time, manage to create great literature (Imre Kertész and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn spring to mind). I think that Gao Xingjian places himself firmly in this exclusive group of authors, mostly because of the reflective writing that parallels the historical retelling (more on that later), but also because it is apparent in his writing that his main objective is not to earn sympathy or to paint as dark a picture as possible of China’s history. This impression does of course not render this very story in a more positive light, but it makes the novel worthwhile.

The author focuses on fairly subjective narration of his experiences, not always in chronological order, but always with added comment and thought. It is not a wallowing in filth, repression and terror, but rather a story of a deeply reflective man put in a society in which he cannot thrive. It is moving to know that although he risked death, he still wrote during the Cultural Revolution. Thinking reflectively and openly was not something he felt that he could do, but over and over throughout his writing, he expresses an aptitude for reflective writing.

Note that Gao Xingjian does not write to encourage humanity to learn from history, because, as he rather cynically puts it “when people have forgotten about it [the terrible times], it will make a comeback, and people who have never gone crazy will go crazy […] This is because madness has existed since the birth of humanity, and it is simply a question of when it will flare up again” (p. 195). Instead, it is a one man’s bible, a story about a lonely man and his need to “release himself”, something which he associates with a “deep, instinctual animal drive” (p. 196).

I have previously read one book which takes place during the cultural revolution (Red Azalea by Anchee Min) and, even though I would like to make it clear that I do in now way intend to say that these books are similar in any other way, I would like to say that their portrayal of society is reminiscent of each other. Both are stories about repression, albeit it in different ways, and paranoia and fear are themes which run as a scarlet thread through both novels.

Throughout the novel, the author often touches on the issue of wearing a mask to conceal one’s real emotions and thoughts about what is going on in one’s vicinity, which is a theme I think can be traced to most novels set in repressive, totalitarian states. Perhaps, it is something present in most societies, albeit that the consequences of violating the masquerade is fatally different in the China of Gao’s youth, compared with that of present day Sweden. We all wear masks to present a face to the world which enables us to survive and thrive in the social milieu. The difference for me personally is of course that changing masks is something that can be allowed to function naturally and is seldom forced upon me from the outside. In the China of One Man’s Bible, this is not so. The author notes that “[h]is real face only came into existence later on, when, finally, he was able to take off the mask. But taking it off was not an easy matter, because the face and the facial nerves had become stiff from wearing the mask” (p. 212).

By way of making a connection to the other narrative thread in the novel, I would like to comment on another theme, which is present in almost all 61 chapters of One Man’s Bible, namely women. In the beginning, Gao’s relationship to the opposite sex is fairly ordinary, but after being scorched by a particular girl who betrays him after him having invested trust and emotion into his relationship with her. He says that you (here using second person singular to address aspects of himself, more on that below) “wander from country to country, city to city, woman to woman, but don’t think of finding a place that is home. You drift along, engrossed in savouring the taste of the written language, like ejaculating, leaving behind some traces of your life.” (p. 426) It is through his conversations with these women that we receive the story of One Man’s Bible. Women also constitute an important thread running through the historical narration, since the author often uses them as a basis from which to explore his past.

As seen in the quotation above, the author uses second person singular to separate himself from the story, because, as he says, literature is like a camera for a photographer in that it allows the author to shield himself from what he is writing about. This technique feels awkward in the beginning, but after a while, I sense a true separation between author and main character, and I cannot help but admire how skilfully this is executed. In certain chapters later in the novel, Gao uses this technique to highlight certain effects (since he uses third person singular for his historical narration, he is thus enabled to comment on what has happened, both from his standpoint behind the camera, as it were, and as a participant in the events he describes).

Gao Xingjian manages to do what few other authors are capable of, namely to write about suffering and misery in a way which makes his novel worthwhile to read, not because of the suffering, but because of the way in which the author relates to it. The greatness of One Man’s Bible resides in its ability to combine such reflections and still manage to create great literature. The language of this English translation (by Mabel Lee) is excellent and the stylistic ingenuity shown by the author makes this pure joy to read. Even though it is sometimes hard to relate to what is being told, and although the story itself is not always mesmerising, my overall impression of One Man’s Bible is very good. I intend to read more by Gao Xingjian and, if I may, I humbly suggest you do the same.


Gao Xingjian. (2003). One Man’s Bible. Flamingo: London.

Literature resource center (accessed 2008-02-21).

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Title: Empire of the Sun
Author: J.G. Ballard
Year: 1984

Empire of the Sun is a three part novel which draws inspiration and material from the author’s own experiences of Word War II. The story revolves around the young boy, Jim, and his tribulations in Japanese-occupied Shanghai. I emphasise that it is a novel in three parts, because I have widely differing opinions about the different sections.

The first part is perhaps the most interesting, as the reader follows Jim’s hardships, breaking into derelict buildings and stealing food to avoid starvation. His parents has disappeared and he seeks support from other adults, who do not always have the best of intentions. War-struck Shanghai is not a place for children, but Jim manages to survive until he is interned together with a lot of other westerners in a prison camp.

So fa, so good. I enjoyed the description of Shanghai and the main characters fight to survive, but stories about life in prison camps have simply stopped to interest me (not because they are bad, but because I have read so many). Certain writers can get away with it, because they use a different angle or are such good authors that it really does not matter that the theme has gone stale (Nobel Prize winners Imre Kertész and Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn are good examples of this). Sadly, J.G. Ballard is not among their numbers.

Admittedly, the book regains momentum in the third and last part, but it is not enough to pull it back up. I can recommend this book only to people who are, in particular, interested in Word War II Shanghai or what the war might have been like from the point of view of a young English boy. Since I do not count myself in this category, Empire of the Sun only gets two and a half snails.

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Title: Mei wenti!
Author: Catharina Lilliehöök
Year: 2002

This book is part of our course aiming at giving us more general knowledge about north-east Asia and the idea is, in this case, to get a first hand account of modern China. I have read some books on China, but I would not call my reading anything near extensive. Thus, I have few other accounts of modern China to compare with, which makes this review somewhat uncertain.

The author describes her life in China, from the arrival at the airport to daily life several years later. She does it by means of using small anecdotes and expanding them to more general discussions on China and the people who live there. This method is very successfully employed, although I feel that the anecdote part is somewhat too wordy at times. However, the transition from anecdote to more abstracted discussion is often fluid and the narration flows without much interruption.

It should be understood that this book is a first-hand account of life in China as it is perceived by a new-comer. The book seems to lack in deeper insights into the society, but is very helpful in describing everyday and probably very common problems for foreigners coming to China for the first time. I get an incoherent picture of China from reading this book, because the author often states positive things about China in general, but then goes on to give only negative (or what I perceive as negative at least) examples of this. For instance, she says that the Chinese are flexible, but most examples throughout the book tend to portray them as the diametrical opposite of being flexible.

By reading this book, I got a fairly negative picture of modern China, which I am sure is not the intention, since the author seems to enjoy herself living there. Most of my friends, who have read the same book on the same course, also think the book paints a positive picture of the country, so I seem to be on my own. Anyway, I still think the books is adequately well-written to be enjoyable and at the same time shedding some light on Chinese society.

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