mjj (flemmings) wrote,

Go me. I have finished Peking Reijin Shou by Sumeragi Natsuki. This is a major achievement because it's a manga set in Beijing and uses a number of Chinese terms in the course of the dialogue, and as you all know, I'm terrified of Chinese.

Lots 'n' lots of kanji do that to me, even when they're Japanese kanji. Heike Monogatari had me whimpering in fear: "Aak! Kanji kanji kanji kanji kanji hiragana hiragana kanji kanji kanji kanji..." Meaning in a Japanese text is concentrated in the kanji and diffused in the hiragana, which is the reason why texts that are all in hiragana make no sense. You have to read them aloud to know what they're saying. A text that's all kanji and no hiragana is suffocating. It has no room to breathe. Every word is important oh my god.

Worse is that Chinese hanzi have rather different meanings from Japanese kanji. It's a bit like reading Dutch from an English perspective. The words are vaguely familiar in an archaic King James version sense, but the meanings are blink-blink sideways. A boom is a tree, a slot is a lock, 'dear So-and-so' is 'beste So-and-so.' In Chinese '-ish speak' means if, 'dragon head' means a faucet. Now where I come from, a faucet is a snake mouth. Dragon heads are disconcerting.

And of course there are far more hanzi than kanji, and the everyday hanzi look like you ought to know them only, somehow, you don't. 胡 looks terribly familiar. It *is* terribly familiar- it's part of cucumber and walnut and sesame. Just, when it appears in a compound, it means 'rash.' And sometimes it means beard and sometimes it's the Ho of Ho Chi Minh.

So, you see, I'm afraid of Chinese and when I read Japanese manga set in China, like Shinohara Udo's HK things, I get lost right away because everyone is calling everyone else by really funny names and the furigana only tell you more or less how it's pronounced in Chinese, which is, you know, no help at all. However, a little Chinese study reveals that mangaka don't really use that much Chinese. In fact, once you have the various family relationship kanji down (and have learned that the obscure kanji for sing means older brother) it's pretty straight sailing. Is why I have finished Peking Reijin Shou, and am ready to tackle the next Sumeragi manga.

(Sumeragi has a sad afterword about how everything is changing in Beijing and whenever she goes back another favourite building has disappeared and how she wishes she could time-travel back to an era when the old city was intact: and she wrote that in 1995. I'm sure it's worse now. But it makes me think, because in Japan, or at least Tokyo, buildings don't last at all. The oldest buildings haven't survived- they've just been rebuilt exactly as before whenever they burned down or fell over in an earthquake. OTOH Sumeragi is from Osaka, and for all I know that city survived better than Tokyo. It didn't look it to me: looked even more modern and unappealing than Tokyo; but it doesn't get the same number of earthquakes and so on, so maybe...)
Tags: china, chinese, manga_06, place

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