The Rediscovery of Cathay: Chinese Elements in Cordwainer Smith's Science Fiction (2004, 2007) -- Introduction: Mr. Forest of Incandescent Bliss (1/7)

The Rediscovery of Cathay: Chinese Elements in Cordwainer Smith's Science Fiction

Introduction: Mr. Forest of Incandescent Bliss

In the 2001 Philadelphia World Science Fiction Convention, a new sf award was presented. It was established 'to recognize the creative output of "a science fiction or fantasy writer whose work deserves renewed attention or 'Rediscovery'[1], and was christened 'The Cordwainer Smith Rediscovery Award'. The work of the awarded writer 'should display unusual originality and should embody the spirit of Cordwainer Smith's fiction.'[2] The founding of this award shows two facts: first, there have always been sf contributors neglected by readers of later generations, but their works are still excellent and worth noticing; second, Cordwainer Smith could be the representative of this kind.

Of course, Smith has never drawn as many readers as big names like Isaac Asimov or Robert A. Heinlein, and his oeuvre just contains only one novel Norstrilia and a number of shorter tales which can be compiled into a single-volume collection – The Rediscovery of Man published by The NESFA Press. However, his work is a gem in the genre. Most of his works construct a grand future history called 'The Instrumentality of Mankind' spanning the time from 2,000 to 16,000 A.D. Smith's future historical saga is unique in spite of the reader's familiarity with the theme. As a matter of fact, this categorisation of the Instrumentality stories is just because of the semblance of historical lineage, but the content of these tales is 'impossible to fit into any of the neat categories that appeal to most readers and critics'[3]. And for the reader, it is 'more than history: it is poetry, and romance, and myth'[4]. Such an extraordinary writing does appeal to a number of scholars, and a great portion of their researches have something to do with Smith's unusual personal stories – his political stance, his religious belief, his psychological history, his knowledge about science fiction, and most of all, his life experiences in China and other countries.

Cordwainer Smith was a pseudonym of Dr. Paul Myron Anthony Linebarger (1913-1966), who was a professor of Asiatic Politics in John Hopkins University as well as a psychological warfare expert serving in the U.S. Army. Besides science fiction and his professional field, he also wrote in other genres under various pen names – mainstream novels, Ria and Carola, as Felix C. Forrest; spy thriller Atomsk under the name Carmichael Smith. Though born in the United States, the name of Linebarger was close to modern China in the first half of the 20th century due to his father, Judge Paul Myron Wentworth Linebarger, who was not only a political and legal advisor but also a long-term supporter of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, one of the revolution leaders against the Manchu dynasty and later the founding father of the Republic of China as well as the godfather of the younger Linebarger. While he was still young, Dr. Linebarger had travelled around various countries and spent a couple of years in China for his own education and providing assistance to his father. According to John J. Pierce, these experiences made Linebarger develop a 'strangely ambivalent attitude toward China'[5]:

On the one hand, he [Linebarger] admired Chinese culture deeply, as evidenced by the prominence in his Washington home of Chinese art objects and his use in his fiction of Chinese prose and verse forms. Yet at the same time, he was appalled by the cruelty and disregard for individual life so typical of China, with its overpopulation and feudalistic mores.[6]

Linebarger received a doctoral degree in 1936 with a thesis on Sun's political ideology – San Min Chu I (三民主義, The Three Principles of the People)[7]; during the Second World War, he served in the U.S. Army and later became the liaison with the Chinese secret service[8]. Even when the Kuomintang government lost the control of China to the Chinese Communists and moved to Taiwan, Linebarger was still awarded the honorary degree of Doctor of Civil Law by the local National Chengchi University[9] in 1965, and he also made an address on the topic of 'The Universality of Sunyatsenism'. All these personal experiences demonstrate his Chinese background; no wonder scholars always consider that his literary works, inclusive of science fiction, are also influenced by this 'exotic' Far East culture.

The mastering of Chinese language and culture of Linebargers (both father and son) can be shown in their interpretive translation of their Chinese names. I would like to explain both here since they are misinterpreted in the postscript section of Carol McGuirk's essay 'The Rediscovery of Cordwainer Smith'. Dr. Linebarger's name 林白樂 (Lin Bah Loh, and Lin, Bai-Le in Pinyin) is given a translation as 'Forest of Incandescent Bliss'. While McGuirk quotes from another scholar Mikael Huss that
"Lin" [林] is the character for "forest" ... [but] Chinese names are usually not meant to convey one single idea like “Forest of Incandescent Bliss” ....Le (or Loh) [樂] is a very common character meaning "joy," "happiness," or why not "bliss." I think Bah/Bai [白] just means "white" ....[10]
Huss might misunderstand a concept here. Of course it is usual for a Chinese character to have more than one meaning; however, in the process of naming, the giver of the name often seeks for the best idea constructed by the combination of the characters in a given name, and this idea thus represents his/her expectation of the name bearer. Hence a parent who wishes the son will be always lucky would call him 來福 (Lai-Fu, incoming good fortune), and another who is eager for a boy may call the new-born daughter 招弟 (Zhao-Di, calling for a brother). So is in Linebarger's case; and it needs more advanced understanding of Chinese culture for such a beautiful translation. The ordinary meaning of 白 (Bah/Bai) is exactly 'white'; but it is not too hard for Chinese people to understand that 'white' is the colour of the west, whose corresponding element is 'metal'. So, here it is more likely representing the shining sparkle when a piece of metal is in the status of incandescence. What is more, combining this meaning to 樂 ('bliss'), the idea 'incandescent bliss' might also be related to the Christianity, the common religion of Linebarger and Sun families[11].

The interpretation of Judge Linebarger's name 林百克 (Lin Bah Kuh, and Lin, Bai-Ke in Pinyin) is more straightforward, but it is worse misinterpreted instead. McQuirk provides two sources to negate the translation appeared in Pierce's introduction to The Rediscovery of Man – 'Forest of 1,000 Victories'[12], the first one is still from Huss's email:
I have no idea about the father's name. "Lin" [林] is the same, of course. "Bah" [百] could be "bai" (not the same as above) [we can tell the difference between the characters I add in the previous quote and here] meaning one hundred (not one thousand). I can't find any character for "victory" even close to being pronounced "kuh" [which is 克] .... "Victory" is usually translated as "sheng." [勝][13]
First, the translation of 百 (Bah/Bai) is indeed one hundred, so Pierce is surely wrong in the introduction. But I think it could be merely an editorial mistake, because the translation appeared in his 1973 essay 'Mr Forest of Incandescent Bliss: a Profile of Paul Linebarger – Wordsmith Extraordinary' is the correct 'Forest of 100 Victories'. As for the character 克 (Kuh/Ke), it has the meaning of 'to win over' or 'to conquer' while used as a verb, so that it can be translated as 'victory' without any problem.

The other misinterpretation is from the Photogallary section in Rosana Hart's website 'The Remarkable Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith' http://www.cordwainer-smith.com/photogallery.htm. There is a reference of the Judge's name as 林百架 (Lin Bai Jia)[14]. And McGuirk interprets it as below:
"Jia" means "home," so the characters (if the first sense of "Bai" mentioned by Mikael Huss is retained) would mean Forest-White-Home. I wonder whether "white" (and even "white-home") might have referred to the elder Linebarger's non-Chinese ethnic/national status.[15]
We must notice that this 'Jia' (架) is completely different from the 'Jia' (家) McGuirk interprets. The meaning of 架 is 'frame' or 'shelf' as a noun and 'to install, to erect' as a verb. And we have seen the differences between both 'Bai' (百 and 白), where百 is definitely not 'white' but 'one hundred'. Therefore this version should be translated as 'the forest of a hundred frames' instead of McGuirk's. In my opinion, the person who wrote these two notes on this picture just translated 'Linebarger' directly from a wrong pronunciation. According to Alan C. Elms's 'Pronunciation Guide', 'Linebarger' should be read as 'LINE-bar-ger' with a hard 'g'[16]. But if we pronounce it as 'LIN-bar-ger' with a weak 'g', it will sound like 'Lin Bai Jia'. Since the translation of Judge Linebarger's name in Chinese records is always 林百克, 'Forest of 100 Victories' is the correct interpretation.

This dissertation is aimed to search for solid evidences of the traditional Chinese fantastic writing's influences on Cordwainer Smith's science fictional work. Since most critics acknowledge them, some even proposed their theories, but there is almost no conclusive proof revealed. The only clue provided by Smith himself is in the prologue of Space Lord, where he vaguely tells the reader that 'The Ballad of Lost C'mell' was loosely inspired by a certain scenes in The Romance of the Three Kingdoms.[17] Lisa Raphals's research 'The Limits of "Humanity" in Comparative Perspective: Cordwainer Smith and the Sousenji' is a promising attempt; however, she is more concentrating on the comparison of the human-animal and human-underpeople relations in Smith's oeuvre and the Chinese collection In Search of the Supernatural: The Written Record. I will as well review these theories in the following chapters respectively.

The dissertation is divided into four chapters: the first one is to compare Smith's narrative structures with the traditional Chinese storytelling method, and discuss their similarities and differences; chapter two makes another comparison between Smith's only novel Norstrilia and the famous Chinese fantastic work The Journey to the West; the third chapter clarifies the influences from The Romance of the Three Kingdoms and explains miscellaneous Chinese origins which could be clearly observed in Smith's oeuvre; the last chapter pays more attention to the 'non-human' intelligent beings, and discusses whether their creations have something to do with Chinese backgrounds.

Since I refer to so many Chinese materials and some of them have never appeared in English world, a great portion of these references are in fact translated by me. And I would like to take all the responsibilities while there are any mistakes in the translations. As for the names and places, they are translated in Pinyin, the official system used in the United Nations, if without a specific indication.

[1] Silverberg, Robert, 'The Cordwainer' in Asimov's Science Fiction (2002), pp. 4-7 (p. 4).
[2] Ibid.
[3] Pierce, John J., 'Introduction' in James A. Mann, ed., The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith (Framingham, MA: The NESFA Press, 1993), pp. vii-xiv (p. vii).
[4] Ibid, p. xiv.
[5] Pierce, John J., 'Mr Forest of Incandescent Bliss: A Profile of Paul Linebarger – Wordsmith Extraordinary' in Speculation, 33, (1973), pp. 2-23 (p. 5).
[6] Ibid.
[7] The title of this thesis is The Political Doctrines of Sun Yat-sen, an Exposition of the San Min Chu I.
[8] See Elms, Alan C., 'The Creation of Cordwainer Smith' in Science-Fiction Studies, 34, (1984), pp. 264-283 (p. 267).
[9] This school had been reformed from Kuomintang's Central School of the Party Affair, and Linebarger was the first person to be honoured when the school resumed the honorary degree ceremonies after the Nationalist's retreat onto Taiwan, hence we can see the close relationship between Linebarger and the Chinese Nationalist Party. According to Arthur Burns, Linebarger even held a Kuomintang party card which had been issued earlier than Chiang, Kai-shek's. See Arthur Burns, 'Paul Linebarger' in Andrew Porter, ed., Exploring Cordwainer Smith (New York: Algol Press, 1975), pp. 5-10 (p. 8).
[10] Cited from Carol McGuirk, 'The Rediscovery of Cordwainer Smith' in Science Fiction Studies, 84 (2001), pp. 161-200 (p. 196).
[11] Though I do not know which schools they believe in respectively.
[12] Pierce, 'Introduction' in The Rediscovery of Man: The Complete Short Science Fiction of Cordwainer Smith, p. vii.
[13] Cited from McGuirk, op. cit.
[14] See the picture in http://www.cordwainer-smith.com/photogallery4.htm.
[15] McGuirk, op. cit.
[16] Elms, Alan C., 'Pronunciation Guide' in Cordwainer Smith Unofficial Biography Page, http://www.ulmus.net/ace/csmith/cspronunciation.cfm [accessed 25 August, 2004]
[17] See Smith, Cordwainer, 'Prologue' in Smith, Space Lords (New York: Pyramid Books, 1965), pp. 9-10 (p. 10).

→ Chapter 1: The Instrumentality of Storytelling


Anonymous said...



Daneel Lynn said...

重點在於 Linebarger 自己已經有正式的解釋文字來說明他漢文名「林白樂」所代表的意義,就是 Mr. Forest of Incandescent Bliss,因此研究者只能針對他「為什麼」要這樣解釋,而不是「怎麼能」這樣解釋來入手。

Anonymous said...


but it is not too hard for Chinese people to understand that 'white' is the colour of the west, whose corresponding element is 'metal'. So, here it is more likely representing the shining sparkle when a piece of metal is in the status of incandescence.


Daneel Lynn said...

正是因為「白熱」化,再加上 Linebarger 用 Incandescent 這種大單字,才會讓人聯想到「西方庚辛金」啊。寫這篇時所想的基本原則:Paul M. A. Linebarger 的中文造詣及素養很可能比沒受過專業訓練的普通人還強。


如果要說教育部國語辭典過於丁丁科科不可信,我也沒辦法 @_@

另,Sousenji 是《搜神記》沒錯,參考書目裡面該列的全列了。

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