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Clang Goes the Violet Snare – My Prison Diaries
Clang Goes the Violet Snare – My Prison Diaries by Li Junjie
About a week after Li Junjie (李俊杰, above, Oriental Daily photo), a Beijing student in Malaysia, was picked up on a December day in 2009 as a prostitute then imprisoned, Ma Yanhong another visiting Chinese was also arrested and thrown into the Dang Wangi (in Kuala Lumpur) police station cell. She was on the same accusation: prostitution. But Ma was lucky. She knew a friend who knew Teresa Kok who, after she was alerted, then pulled strings with one of Hishamuddin’s senior secretary. After some phone calls from Teresa, Ma was released five days later.
Li wasn’t so lucky; she got eight. This was plainly because she is Chinese and was alone without influential and political connections. Li knew no friend of any friend of any Umno bigwig so the arresting police officer told her to get her education elsewhere and get out of “my Malaysia”.
Three months later, unable to resist his own urgings, Josh Hong wrote in Malaysiakini to join in castigating her with the same racism, the same irrationality, the same contradictions and perversity that Li got from the police. Essentially Josh said Li should stop whining, for the police are just doing their job. Because the police also arrest Africans they can’t be racist. Besides – and here Josh lied, one of many – the police said sorry.
Eight days for anybody – especially for a woman in a strange town – is traumatic. Fifteen months later, it appears she hadn’t gotten over her experience although Li had attempted to exorcise the ghost of arbitrary imprisonment in her blog posts. That might still not work. Now, it is in a book.
There is no suggestion from Li that her kengqiang ziluolan - wo de zuolao riji 《鏗鏘紫羅蘭－我的坐牢日記》 is an indictment against the barbarity of Malaysian police or against Malaysian-style apartheid racism and bigotry found in abundance in the pages produced by Steven Gan’s Malaysiakini and Petra Kamarudin’s Malaysia Today. To avoid any semblance of moral judgement she would have to rely heavily on her craft and call on the serenity of hanzi, the Chinese script.
One of the strengths of Chinese culture is in the Arts – theater, dance, literature and poetry, music and song, painting.* And it’s by culling from the depths of that Art that Li would have drawn portraits of her life for eight days in, of all places, sweaty and fetid Kuala Lumpur and that in a police cell.
In her blog, Li writes poetry, lots of it, a feat in quality and quantity unmatched by all the Anglophile Chinese, so-called ‘writers’ in Malaysiakini and elsewhere in Malaysia stacked up. Even when it’s plain prose, her writing has a lyrical density (with no way to verify, non-Chinese readers here will have take shuzheng’s word for it). Kwong Wah (光華日報), which has interviewed her for the book’s pre-release marketing, calls her a poet.
The Chinese language is, on the other part, unlike English, neither combative nor argumentative. In proper hands, its allusive and metaphorical qualities seem as if Shakespearian type of English is still an everyday language.
All which then suggests that the book is going to be, as Li had herself described it, “heavy” going. It starts from the book cover. Its title kengqiang ziluolan – wo de zuolao riji 《鏗鏘紫羅蘭－我的坐牢日記》 translates as, A Sonorous Violet – My Prison Diary. (There’s, however, no formal translation given.) But this still fails to capture the nuance in Li’s original idea.
Start with keng 鏗 (new style 铿), which on its own translates as ‘strike’ whereas qiang 鏘 means ‘clang’. This still isn’t quite right because qiang and not ‘clang’ is the actual sound that’s re-produced when a Chinese cymbal is struck. Meaning, the word is untranslatable. It gets worse. Once the two character-words are paired the popular translation says ‘sonorous’ or ‘resounding’, which adds the idea of an echo that isn’t in the original.
This problem of jumbled up nuances going with translation and interpretation is repeated in the three syllable ziluolan.
One way out of the predicament is to reorder the script to translate the nuance rather than title’s sequential, literary meaning by pulling together some essential images of a prison cell, such as the clang of the steel bars and the jangle of the keys in the lock. Hence, in the English, the title could read, Clang Goes the Violet Snare – My Prison Diaries.
Because of the difficulties with the language Li has spoken of revising 《鏗鏘紫羅蘭》, though only slightly, the manuscript for the Malaysian and New Zealand Chinese markets. Curiously, it will appear only as a three-volume Chinese set (S$39 or RM100); there is no talk yet of an English version.
The book is due for release next month by its Singapore publisher. Li had been well-advised not to publish or launch the book out of Malaysia. Malaysians are a vindictive, crass people and Josh Hong, courtesy of Malaysiakini, along with its Anglophile mob, would probably hound and nail her to his Jesus cross as a bitch better to be kicked out of the country. Malaysia boleh, Joshie lagi boleh. She has told reporters she’s done with her courses and would return soon to the motherland where her father still doesn’t know she had been imprisoned as a prostitute. It almost seems as if she’s been to hell – and back.
Li doesn’t need Josh Hong or Malaysiakini. Elsewhere and all over the Chinese online sites, they are backing her: in China News, in Sina, in China Review (大馬被誤扣留 中國女作家出書揭內幕) and in NOW (曾被大馬警方當妓女扣押 中國女作家出書揭秘).
Politically, Li showed the way for the Chinese in Malaysia: they could emerge stronger from the hell hole that’s Malaysia without Teresa Kok. And if they can do without Teresa, why would they need the DAP?