petition to b&n to pull blog on chinese bootlegged books

Today I began the morning as I often do: perusing social media and checking out articles and other information I wanted to reference later on when I’d have the time to read. I came across this fun article on Barnes & Noble’s blog on why adults (ahem, like me) can put away their “YA shame,” that is, embarrassment over the fact that they still read young adult novels. I enjoyed this quick read, tweeted about it, and saw in the right-hand column that there was also a recent blog post about the bestselling 50 Shades phenomenon hitting China.


Not only in reference to 50 Shades; you know who they’re *really* for.

Now, I won’t touch the 50 Shades trilogy, in English or in any other language, but the headline grabbed me enough for me to check it out. The result? I spent the rest of my time at home before leaving for my personal training session in the afternoon in a huff.

The problems I have with this blog post all have to do with its author’s obvious lack of basic research. The strikes are twofold:

  1. She refers to the translations being smuggled from Taiwan into China as having been  “translated into Taiwanese.” All right — first off — a quick lesson here. Technically, there is no such thing as “speaking Chinese,” as Chinese is essentially a written language. All languages under the Chinese linguistic umbrella are pretty much written the same — the different regions simply pronounce the words differently. In fact, there is some disagreement among linguists as to whether to call it “Chinese language” or, more confusingly, “Chinese languages,” because of all the regional dialects. Additionally, the national languages of both China and Taiwan is Mandarin!
    I won’t bore you with the scientific nerdy stuff that goes into the differences between languages and dialects, but think about this: If Taiwanese were a separate language completely from Chinese, just how would the Chinese be able to read said “Taiwanese” copies of the book? That’s right . . . just as no standard American would be expected to blow up black-marketed copies of fiction imported here from Brazil, if in fact Taiwanese were a different language entirely, the Chinese would not be able to comfortably read it.
    Furthermore, as it turns out (and I only found this out a couple years ago when my cousin’s family came to visit), there is more than one Taiwanese dialect. The one my family speaks is the version common to Taipei. So when it comes to talking about a written book being translated into what is essentially only a spoken dialect, you can understand my confusion. Until I realized she was just lazy (keep reading).
    Now, I could perhaps forgive the writer of the article for not knowing that Taiwanese in fact is not its own separate written language, if not for . . .

    Screen Shot 2013-05-22 at 6.32.22 PM

    Image courtesy of

  2. She refers to Chinese currency as “yen.” Now, if I’m mistaken and it is actually clear to others that she suddenly COMPLETELY SWAPPED COUNTRIES to Japan, which for me was never once mentioned otherwise in the article, then that’s my bad. My problem with her talking “yen” when meaning to talk “yuan” (actual Chinese money) is the negligence that implies that hey, it’s still an Asian currency — after all, aren’t all Asians the same?
    This is precisely the battle that we must beat every day. Look, even I had to look up Chinese currency myself, because I’ve never been to China, nor have my parents. When we talk about prices in their homeland, it’s always the New Taiwan dollar. But when it comes to perpetuating the ignorant grouping of “all Asians” as one and the same? That’s like calling Canadians, Americans, and Mexicans all the same thing because we happen to occupy the same continent, regardless of governments and culture.

I’ll point out as well that I only know what I do about the written Chinese language being more or less standard across dialects because I remember this fact surprising me when I took an Asian studies class as an undergrad. (I’m a writer; you can hardly fault me for taking an unnatural interest in the nature of words!) I checked my facts doubly before I made any snarky comments on the blog — there is nothing worse, after all, than someone who corrects others with the wrong information — and this is officially my complaint against this article . . . no, this writer.

This article makes several entities look bad besides its author: It represents Barnes & Noble, a national brand that I have VERY regularly supported since the early naughts (as I call the beginning of the 2000s); non-Asians and some of their not-so-savory decisions to classify Asians as one indistinguishable group of people; Americans, because after all this time this ignorance should not still exist; and writers BECAUSE YOU SHOULD NEVER PUBLISH SOMETHING WITHOUT GETTING YOUR FACTS STRAIGHT . . .

This all just reminds me of that huge scandal that hit Kitchen-Aid with their (now dismissed) social media marketer who tweeted an unspeakably insensitive remark during the presidential debates.

Having both mistakes present in the same article is just about the highest level of writing faux pas I’ve ever seen. It takes away everyone’s credibility (not to mention — and I kid, here — the Chinese people who are gobbling up that literary monstrosity!), and nobody wins.

Barnes & Noble, I love you, but please, for the sake of diplomacy and respect to the Chinese, Taiwanese, and Asians at large . . . take down the article, or at the very least, edit it.


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