Most of those who have
ever cycled in Beijing and lived to tell the tale would have entertained countless muggles (non-cyclists, who don’t
have the power to cheat death on a daily basis) with stories of scrapes, near-misses, and worse. Before long –
sooner rather than later if there is an attentive audience – the Beijing cyclist will get around to recounting the tale
of the “big-one” which, through the magic of story-telling, becomes an increasingly large badge of honour instead
of the portent of doom nature intended it to be. Then there are those who prefer to stay silent. I am one of their
cycling in Beijing, I have experienced horrors that I can still not bring myself to talk of. I have been
within a second of being annihilated, with several seconds to think about my fate. The really frightening
bit is that throughout the ordeal I knew I was powerless to save myself. I have heard the mocking cry of
“Zhuyi anquan! Zhuyi anquan! Zhuyi anquan! [Be careful! Be careful! Be careful!]” while feeling its icy
metal squeezing me, vice-like, against unforgiving parked cars. I now have a bone-chilling idea what it
must be like to feel oneself slipping between a soon-to-be-departing London Underground tube train and the station platform
while hearing the warning to “Mind the gap… Mind the gap… Mind the bloody gap”.
I haven’t read Harry Potter and the
Deathly Hallows – the dénouement of JK Rowling’s seven book series – but I did see the trailer for
the film (Part 1) the other day as I was strolling around Beijing. I have to say that, if the best that
you know who – Harry’s nemesis – can summon is a swarm of Death Eaters, then the Boy who Lived
is in for a walk in the park. It could have been much, much worse… he could have found himself written
into a storyline that has him on a bike in Beijing pursued by a Beijing Bendybus… The bus whose name should never be
No amount of training in defence against the Dark Arts
would have prepared him for the ordeal with you know what, whose drivers have spent years perfecting the skill of sandwich-making
using only cold metal and a sweaty cyclist.
As novel as this may appear,
the seemingly wizard idea of creating a Harry Potter storyline with Chinese characteristics – with or without the noble
aim of persuading a generation of young Chinese readers that reading can actually be great fun – is not new.
In China, you could be forgiven for not knowing that Ms Rowling has capped her effort
at a stingy seven Potter books. For those with an insatiable appetite for all things Harry, there is an
ever-growing number of Potter books to choose from:
Harry Potter and the Hiking Dragon; Harry Potter and the Chinese Porcelain Doll; Harry
Potter and the Young Heroes; Rich Dad, Poor Dad, and Harry Potter; Harry Potter and the Water-repelling Pearl; Harry Potter
and Leopard-Walk-Up-to-Dragon; Harry Potter and the Golden Turtle; Harry Potter and the Big Funnel – not to mention
the topical Harry Potter and the Chinese Overseas Students at the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry.
To name just a few of those published.
Then there’s Harry Potter and The Showdown, whose author, a Mr Li from Shanghai, told the New York Times:
“I bought Harry Potter 1 through 6 for my son a couple of years ago, and when he finished reading them, he kept asking
me to tell him what happens next… We couldn’t wait, so I began making up my own… I had to get up early
and go to bed late to write this novel...” Mr Li’s industry was not in vain – more than
150,000 people claimed to have read his book.
At least it’s clear that Mr Li is the author of Harry Potter and The Showdown.
Less honourably, the publisher of “Harry Potter and the Strange Horned Beast”, not only claims that the
book is written by JK Rowling, they also include her photo and bio. Even the easily-fooled, though, would
be wondering about the credibility of the plot suggested by the illustration on the book’s cover: a triceratops and
a stick insect from the film, a Bug’s Life (reproduced below from images that appear at 'mutantfrog' website).
Its publisher, The Inner
Mongolian People’s Publishing Company, was presumably trying to do its bit to help the region’s tourism drive
(Inner Mongolia boasts one of the world’s most important dinosaur fossil grounds, at Erenhot, in the Gobi desert, close
to the border with Mongolia).
Then there was what was claimed to be the “eighth”
Potter book, “Harry Potter and The Chinese Empire”, which was published and promoted in Shanghai. This
effort combined famous Chinese fictional characters of yore with Hogwarts characters in a kung-fu-fighting extravaganza.
As well as the pile of fake titles that have appeared, there is a book-mountain of
counterfeit titles (using official and unofficial translations of the actual seven-book series):
One of the most popular of these was the translation of
the Deathly Hollows, which was available in China months before the official translation arrived at the book shops.
In fact it was finished – by a team of university students working round the clock, “eating nothing but
instant noodles” (according to Reuters) – within days of the publication of the 759-page original.
In mitigation, the students said, "We translated the book because we love Harry… and we do not intend to
use it for commercial purposes”. I am sure JK Rowling and her team of legal advisers were perfectly
relaxed after hearing that.
But there is one silver lining in the dark cloud of fakery that hangs over the Chinese Harry Potter market, and
that’s the hype that these “authors” and translators add to what is already a wildly successful brand.
Indeed, the controversy concerning dubious translations (widely reported in the Chinese press) also translates into
more people paying to watch the (officially-released) films at Chinese cinemas.
Cinema goers paid more than 200 million yuan last year to watch Deathly Hallows Part
1, the tenth-highest-grossing film of the year (not a bad achievement considering it was launched on November 19th and is
still going strong). That said, I would be surprised if many more than a handful of official DVDs of the
Harry Potter franchise have been sold... but that’s another story.
As you can see from the attached photograph, the latest release in the film series continues
to play to an eager audience in the capital. I took the photo of the end frame of the trailer outside of
Joy City, in the Chaoyang district, which houses the Jinyi international cinema – one of the most impressive in China.
It wasn’t until I put the image on the computer screen
that I saw the chilling, unearthly shape of you know what – the bus whose name should not be mentioned.
Harry Potter’s seven-book struggle against evil has come to an end, but my battle with
my nemesis is set to continue as soon as the weather warms up and I get back on my bike.