Further to my Czech mentor Paul Kratochvil:
Along with Flann O’Brien, high on the guest list for my fantasy dinner-party would be Jaroslav Hašek—”humorist, satirist, journalist, anarchist, hoaxer, truant, rebel, vagabond, play-actor, practical joker, bohemian (and Bohemian), alcoholic, traitor to the Czech legion, Bolshevik, and bigamist”.
Hašek’s The Good Soldier Švejk has long been popular in China. Cecil Parrott, its English translator, also wrote a biography of Hašek’s “bottle-strewn life”, The bad Bohemian. Former British Ambassador in Prague, Parrott effortlessly avoids betraying any sympathy with Hašek’s reprobate behaviour (see also Hašek’s adventures in Soviet Tatarstan). As he explans in the introduction to his translation:
His next escapade was to found a new political party called The Party of Moderate and Peaceful Progress within the Limits of the Law […] publicly debunking the monarchy, its institutions and its social and political system. Of course it was only another hoax, designed partly to satisfy Hašek’s innate thirst for exhibitionism and partly to bolster the finances of the pub where the election meetings were held.
Among his many japes, his short-lived editorship of the journal The Animal World was curtailed after he published articles about imaginary animals.
Dangerous herds of wild Scottish collies have recently become the terror of the population in Patagonia
Thoroughbred werewolves for sale
Newly discovered fossil of an antediluvian flea
And his hobbies combined:
Everyone who votes for us will receive as a gift a small pocket aquarium.
Gratifyingly, The Good Soldier Švejk clearly appeals to Chinese sensibilities; it was translated, and the 1956–1957 Czech films were dubbed into Chinese:
Alexei Sayle wonders if the Czech regime knew what they were doing promoting Švejk, since its message hardly supports the ideals of socialist conformity. Though it became popular in many languages, I suspect there’s something about it that appeals in particular to Chinese people—an antidote to compulsory patriotism? The Chinese translator dutifully portrays it as a tirade against imperialism, but it surely spoke to The Common Man (Flann O’Brien’s “The Plain People of Ireland”) oppressed by the destructive irrationalities of a newer system…
* * *
À propos, Milan Kundera’s 1967 novel The joke is a brilliant exposé of the “fakelore” indignities to which traditional music and culture in Moravia were subjected under state socialism—with clear echoes of China and its “Golden Age” myth (see my Daoist priests of the Li family, pp.343, 371–2; note also “heritage” tag, and for further east in Europe, here). See
- Michael Beckerman, “Kundera’s musical joke and ‘folk’ music in Czechoslovakia, 1948–?”, in Mark Slobin (ed.), Retuning culture: musical changes in central and eastern Europe, pp.37–53.
… This is why Tereza, when she met the chairman of the collective farm at the spa, conjured up an image of the countryside (a countryside she had never lived in or known) that she found enchanting. It was her way of looking back, back to Paradise.
The state supported folk music and festivals in an attempt to show, quite simply, that in this “people’s paradise” the folk, at least, were alive and well.
Even in cases where local cultures have not been remoulded by the state, scholars may unwittingly impose their own agendas…