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Chinese Literature in Translation

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Pathlight Magazine

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A quarterly literary journal featuring translations of the best contemporary Chinese fiction and poetry.

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Zhu LingDai SijieIan ClarkDai GuangleiYu Qiuyu

Zhu Ling

Dai Sijie

Ian Clark

Dai Guanglei

Yu Qiuyu

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Recent Posts

Pathlight at the Bookworm Literary Festival

On Monday the translation aficionados of Beijing descended on iQiYi to hear author Sun Yisheng discuss his story《猴者》("Apery" née "Monkey Business") with translator Nicky Harman and Pathlight editors Eric Abrahamsen and Dave Haysom. Raw first drafts were exposed, ancient linguistic enmities unearthed, and the democratic process defiantly spurned. A big thank you to everyone who came, to all the people at the Bookworm and iQiYi for hosting us (and resolving our inevitable technical crises), to Lacey for the seamless interpretation, and to Karmia for the photos!

iQiYi1

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By David Haysom, March 26 '15, 1:12a.m.

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Sun Yisheng and Pathlight at the Bookworm Literary Festival

Those of you who are in Beijing: come to the iQiyi cafe next Monday night (March 23rd) at 8pm, for an event with Sun Yisheng, Nicky Harman, Dave Haysom and myself, talking a bit about Pathlight magazine, but mostly about Sun Yisheng's story 《猴者》, and Nicky's translation of it: "Apery". Expect the usual keen textual autopsy, mixed with general literary commentary and snarky asides.

The event is part of the Bookworm Literary Festival, and is 60 RMB. It's taking place at iQiyi, the cafe sort of kitty-corner to the Bookworm that sticks up all by itself, you know the one.

By Eric Abrahamsen, March 19 '15, 10:27a.m.

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Paper Republic Shortlisted for LBF International Literary Translation Initiative Award

Each year the London Book Fair hands out awards in a number of categories as part of its International Excellence Awards program. We're pleased to announce that Paper Republic has made the shortlist for this year's International Literary Translation Initiative Award. This is a wonderful bit of recognition, and many thanks to all who made it happen.

The short list is short: besides us it's Asymptote and the Dutch Foundation for Literature, so we're in excellent company.

By Eric Abrahamsen, March 18 '15, 10:03p.m.

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Wolf Totem: The Movie They Forgot to Make

So I saw Wolf Totem last night, and I think stayed awake for enough of it to be able to write a short review.

A bit ago Bruce posted some thoughts and questions about the film, focusing as he does on the ethnic minority angle, and asking about its depiction of Mongolia and Mongolians.

Having seen the film, I can say with some confidence: it’s not really about Mongolia at all.

By which I mean, this is a storyline that has been cooked down to its essentials until it looks more like a film-school exercise in story-boarding than it does a real story. It ended up being a prototype for any and all films that follow the “civilized man visits wise natives and learns their wisdom but doesn’t get the girl” arc. Sure it’s set in Mongolia, and sure its got wolves, but all the plot particulars are so rudimentary they feel like placeholders that the filmmakers later forgot to replace with actual content. The Mongolians could just be blank blobs tagged INSERT NOBLE SAVAGES HERE. Chen Zhen might have a sign on his chest reading INSERT NAIVE IDEALIST HERE.

Mongolian is spoken, in exactly the same quantities as Lakota was spoken in Dances With Wolves, or Na’vi in Avatar. In the same quantities, and to the same purpose. Those movies – and a barrel more like them – fleshed out the civilization-meets-savagery theme into something that (even if you objected to it) had specificity, and the emotional weight that comes with that. Wolf Totem remains an insubstantial Platonic ideal.

Even the wolf scenes, sad to say. I did enjoy the night storm scene with the wolf-pack chasing the horses. The shot of the horses the next morning was the film’s most arresting visual image. And yet… the “thrilling” wolf scenes were filmed in an entirely generic way. The cinematography and the score were more appropriate to Avatar’s scenes of dragon-riding or attack helicopters than wild animals. Wolves have their own pace, their own tension, their own menace, and the camera failed to find that.

Try reading this Q&A with Jiang Rong and you’ll see what I’m talking about: his comments on the differences between the film and his book immediately restore a sense of depth and reality to the story. And no wonder:

  1. Discussion of ethnic conflict removed.
  2. Doomed cross-cultural romance added.
  3. Death of wolf-cub removed.

This last is probably most revealing. Jiang Rong’s first explanation is “Westerners would not be able to bear this. They would think this was too cruel, and the animal rights people might protest.” Passing over that non-sequitur, we come to what feels like the real reason:

…the parts of the film that include the cub are pretty superficial. People were very moved by the wolf cub in the book because I wrote about it in great detail. So when the wolf cub dies in the book, many readers cried. Even I cried while I was writing it. The wolf cub’s personality is very strong in the book up until its death, so it is a very complete chain of events.

But since the cub wasn’t very prominent in the early parts of the film, to have this shocking thing happen to it wouldn’t be very logical.

In essence: “We took out the most emotionally affecting part of the film, because the film doesn’t really have any emotion in it.”

I left the theater with the weird feeling that I hadn’t seen a film at all, merely a description of one.

By Eric Abrahamsen, March 7 '15, 11:05p.m.

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What does it mean to be a Hongkonger in 2015? Views from the award-winning poet Jennifer Wong.

Francis Beechinor (from SOAS) has asked me to post this event for anyone in London next week: "Having lived in both Hong Kong and the UK, Jennifer Wong, the author of Goldfish and winner of the Hong Kong Young Artist Award, will share her insights on Hong Kong as both an inherently Chinese and international city. Through readings of some of her own poems about Hong Kong, she will share her views on the city's unique culture and identity. Come along to hear about the life of a poet and what it means to be a citizen of Hong Kong today. Feel free to join the Facebook event.

Venue: School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, Rm 116 Date/time: Tue 17 Feb 2015 - 18:30 - 20:00.

By Nicky Harman, February 9 '15, 6:43a.m.

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Changing the Way We Read: A Review of Hsia Yu's "Salsa," translated by Steven Bradbury

CANAAN MORSE reviews:

Salsa, by Hsia Yu, translated by Steven Bradbury (Zephyr Press, 2014)

The poet and the translator of this collection have successfully created and re-created poetry across a linguistic boundary. This may sound unremarkable, but consider: not all translation, but only good translation can achieve this. These poems, especially the translations, exist both within and outside of their originators’ control, and now that each of the many essential parts has coalesced, it is also necessary to name those parts: a name on the book cover that belongs to one of the most important poets in Taiwan’s literary history; a collection of forty-six poems that has been through ten printings in the Chinese; forty-six English poems that are translations of the forty-six Chinese poems, and are also poems in themselves; the visible hand of the translator, Steven Bradbury, a professor of English literature in Taiwan whose scope as a translator encompasses classical, modern, and contemporary poetry in Chinese; and a vast, burgeoning interpretive space, not a gulf between the two versions but an aura around each that opens up as the reader vivifies the writing.

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By Canaan Morse, January 23 '15, 2p.m.

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China Fiction Book Club hits two milestones

The new Social Media list on the right of the Paper Republic home page lists the China Fiction Book Club. For those of you who haven't come across it before, the CFBC started out as a London-based translation club, meeting every month to translate and discuss contemporary Chinese fiction. After a couple of (very lively and successful) years, work pressures got the better of most of us, and the CFBC went a bit quiet until the day, soon after, when it turned into a Twitter account, @cfbcuk. Amazingly, Helen Wang and I got together over a cup of coffee to set up the account on Twitter the very day that Mo Yan won that prize. Two and a bit years later, the @cfbcuk has hit two milestones: over 1,000 followers and very nearly 5,000 tweets. Follow it if you can!

By Nicky Harman, January 16 '15, 2:22p.m.

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Beijing Jan 17 Event: Sheng Keyi to Launch Novel at her Premier Painting Exhibition

You may recognize the name of Sheng Keyi (盛可以) as the novelist who wrote Northern Girls (北妹) and more recently Death Fugue (死亡赋格), both translated into English. But you might not know that she is a budding artist as well. She took up painting in 2013. Check out her brushwork here.

You are invited to attend the exhibition, comprising 26 tableaux, as well as the launch of her latest novel, Savage Growth (野蛮生长), which also features her own illustrations:

Date/time: 3:00-5:00 pm, January 17
Venue: New Millenium Gallery (北京千年时间画廊)
Curator: Zhang Siyong (张思永)
Academic Support: Feng Tang (冯唐)
Special Guests: Li Jingze (李敬泽), Liu Zhenyun (刘震云), Wu Hongbin (武洪滨), Li Jian (李健), Li Xiuwen (李修文) and A Yi (阿乙)

By Bruce Humes, January 13 '15, 12:51a.m.

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Jia Pingwa: Popularity in China Contrasts with Low Profile in Translation

In 贾平娃只能是守株待兔, we learn that Jia Pingwa’s latest novel 老生 (Lǎo Shēng) topped Sina Online’s 2014 ranking of “ten great books” (新浪年度十大好书).

The report points out that despite his popularity in China, his novels are rarely translated. “Whoever is willing to translate [my books], I welcome to come and negotiate the rights. But if no one does, I don’t know where to go to find translators,” says the author himself, perhaps slightly exasperated at the lack of interest from overseas publishers.

As usual, this is a bit of an exaggeration. Several of his books have been translated into French, including the once-banned La capitale déchue (废都). But only one of his novels, Turbulence (浮躁, tr. Howard Goldblatt), appears on Amazon in English. So this is probably more about his failure to gain more prominence in the English-speaking world.

Thus the question: Given his reputation in China, why haven’t most of Jia Pingwa’s novels been translated into European languages?

By Bruce Humes, January 12 '15, 10:11p.m.

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