The following review of Hong Ying's Daughter of the River, by Karen Ma, first ran on the NPR website
Hong Ying's autobiography, Daughter of the River, is doubly astonishing. First, it's an account of the Cultural Revolution that's not written by an intellectual. There's a certain genre of Chinese memoir that looks at upheaval under Mao through an elite lens, and I have to admit, I've been growing tired of those books. But Hong Ying comes from a very different background indeed.
I saw her speak at a literary festival in Jaipur, India in 2011, where she told the audience how she grew up along the Yangtze River in the slums of Chongqing — China's largest and most crowded city — and survived the great famines and Mao's failed political campaigns as a bastard child in abject poverty. I bought her memoir immediately. Her speech had touched me — but her book blew me away.
By Eric Abrahamsen, April 22 '14, 5:47a.m.
The Culture of Mistranslation
Instead of requesting [sic] the work to a translator, Kim suggests the author of the work, if he or she has the ability to write fluently in both languages, translate his or her own work into the second language.
This process called self-translation is not exactly a translation process but a re-writing and re-interpretation of the work into a different language, closer to “dual-writing” which means writing in two languages. This method gives special right to the author to not translate the work literally but create another version of the work with more freedom.
Nobel Committee's Sinologist: Poor Translation of Chinese Lit "should be stopped"
That's why he [Göran Malmqvist] believes sinologists should not only engage in academic research but also in translation; and for himself: "It's to allow people from my country to appreciate the Chinese literature I like."
Unfortunately, he says, there are as many poor translators as there are good writers in China.
"What makes me angry, really angry," he cries, eyes blazing, "is when an excellent piece of Chinese literature is badly translated. It's better not to translate it than have it badly translated. That is an unforgivable offence to any author. It should be stopped.
"Often translations are done by incompetent translators who happen to know English, or German, or French. But a lot of them have no interest and no competence in literature. That is a great pity."
There are notable exceptions such as the late British sinologist David Hawkes' rendition of Cao Xueqin's epic novel The Story of the Stone, which he regards as a rare gem of translated Chinese literature.
Report on LBF's "The Translator as Agent" Forum
“You have to be willing to do things for free at first,” said Tobler. “It’s only after you’ve got the editor’s interest that you might get a contract. If you’re starting out as a literary translator and you can’t be bothered to translate some extracts, well then, you’re not passionate enough! Getting into literary translation, every hour is not going to pay financially. You get into it because you love literary translation and then down the line it all works out.
Chinese literature on BBC Radio 4 today
SUNDAY 13 April, 16.00 - BBC Radio 4 Open Book, featuring contempoary Chinese literature with Nicky Harman, Karen Ma and Eric Abrahamsen (and available as a podcast afterwards)
Yu Hua on the Cultural Revolution: The Good Ol' Days?
The attitude of the Japanese government toward its nation’s history infuriates Chinese people. But the Chinese government also needs to reflect on its own record. We keep warning Japan that it runs the risk of repeating its mistakes if it will not face up to its history of aggression. Surely there is a lesson for us to learn, as well . . .
Monday 23rd- Friday 27th June 2014. Details here
By Nicky Harman, April 4 '14, 3:53p.m.
Beijinger Dave Haysom has uploaded a new story, ‘The Magician on the Footbridge’, by Wu Ming-yi here.
By Nicky Harman, March 30 '14, 5:10a.m.
Asian Review of Books' Peter Gordon has just reviewed Snow and Shadow, short stories by Dorothy Tse, translated by me. Great, thought-provoking review.
By Nicky Harman, March 30 '14, 5:07a.m.
Asian Review: "Running through Beijing"
The author Xu Zechen was unknown to me, but he comes with something of a pedigree. He is editor at People’s Literature magazine and was selected for the University of Iowa’s International Writing Program.
And this is a fine novel. One need not know or care more about Beijing to appreciate the humanity of its characters nor to be propelled through the story than one needs to know or care about the St. Petersburg of Dostoevsky. The foreignness of the setting and situation rapidly fades into the subconscious. I suspect, although one never knows, that the translator Eric Abrahamsen is to thank for at least of some of this. Abrahamsen has, through simplicity of language and use of terms like “the rat bastard” managed to retain a slight foreignness of tone, while delivering a fluent English text.
It’s a cliché to say that a novel deserves to be read. But if Running Through Beijing is read, it is likely to be enjoyed.
Words Hit Hard at the Bookworm Translation Slam
TheTranslation Slam (part of the Bookworm Literature Festival and Jue music and art festival) exploits the issues of translation by pitting two translators against each other to decipher a difficult Chinese text and recreate it in English. The event is wonderfully unique, and wholly appropriate for a city like Beijing where countless people are caught between the worlds of Mandarin and English every day.
Mai Jia Decoded
Over a decade after it was first published in China, best-selling author Mai Jia's maiden work Decoded finally hit Europe and the US on Monday. After winning him numerous awards in China and setting up sales for his follow up novel In the Dark, this novel is now winning him acclaim on an international level.
Approaches to Teaching The Story of the Stone (Dream of the Red Chamber)
The Story of the Stone (or Dream of the Red Chamber), a Chinese novel by Cao Xueqin and continued by Gao E, tells of an amazing garden, of a young man’s choice between two beautiful women, of his journey toward enlightenment, and of the moral and financial decline of a powerful family. Published in 1792, it depicts virtually every facet of life in eighteenth-century China—and has influenced culture in China ever since.
Part 1 of this volume, “Materials,” provides information and resources that will help teachers and students begin and pursue their study of Stone. The essays that constitute part 2, “Approaches,” introduce major topics to be covered in the classroom: Chinese religion, medicine, history, traditions of poetry, material culture, sexual mores, servants, Stone in film and on television, and the formidable challenges of translation into English that were faced by David Hawkes and then by John Minford.
Only Ten Percent of Ma Wing-shing’s Epic Chinese Manhua _Chinese Hero_ Has Been Translated
I recently found out that one of the first and only manhua to be translated into English and published in North America was edited to remove anti-Caucasian racism. In the first issue of the original version of Chinese Hero 中 華英雄, created by Ma Wing-shing (馬榮成) which was published in the early 1980s in 《金報》 [Golden Daily?] , the protagonist’s parents are killed by ‘foreign devils‘ 洋鬼子...
Literary Criticism in China: Abstract Potemkin Villages
What about literary critiquing in China? Is there any?
Abrahamsen: Yes, but not that anyone takes it very seriously. It’s like a lot of aspects of Chinese society, where there’s this whole thing in place that looks like it’s supposed to be the thing it is, but isn’t. There are book fairs, review sections in newspapers and magazines and there are people writing reviews, and there’s this whole, critical thing out there, but it’s hollow. Most of it’s paid advertisement by the publishers. No reader takes that stuff seriously, it doesn’t sell books, it’s not information.
Morse: Think of it as abstract Potemkin villages.
(Top: Peter Behr, Stephen Nashef, Edward Ragg. Bottom: Emily Stranger, Yuan Yang.)
Last month we made an open call for poets to participate in a curated community event at the Bookworm Literary Festival, and the response was exceptional. Please consider this our official thank you to all who answered. The curators of Poetry Night in Beijing -- Canaan Morse, Helen Wing and Eleanor Goodman -- read nearly 200 poems before finally (painstakingly) choosing five writers whose works resonated with them in style and substance.
Please keep in mind that the process of evaluating art is imperfect and the final decisions are always subjective. Nonetheless, we'd like to congratulate our featured poets who will be reading this Sunday at 8 pm at the Bookworm:
By Canaan Morse, March 14 '14, 5:34a.m.
As the number of Chinese novels translated into English annually rises into the teens, here's a figure to contemplate:
" . . . 781 Japanese novels were translated and published in South Korea in 2012," according to Takayuki Iwasaki in Japan's Literati Impervious to Politics.
By Bruce Humes, March 14 '14, 12:46a.m.
In Other Words: a discussion about translation and translators
Most Asian literature—with the exception of works by authors belonging to an anglophone elite that is increasingly globalized—will come to readers via translation. Without translators, then, most writing from China, Japan, Korea, Indonesia, India, Pakistan, the Arab World—just to name places from which translations have recently appeared in the Asia Review of Books—would be entirely inaccessible English-language readers.
But translations are most often noted when they are clunky or when the translation appears directly via footnotes.
So we invited five experts covering different languages, countries and parts of the process to discuss translations, translators and the role they play in bringing Asian literature to English-speaking readers:
Julia Lovell, Lucas Klein, Sophie Lewis, Arunava Sinha, and Marcia Lynx Qualey
Mu Shiying: China's Lost Modernist--New Translations and an Appreciation by Andrew David Field
When the avant-garde writer Mu Shiying 穆時英 was assassinated in 1940, China lost one of its greatest modernist writers while Shanghai lost its most detailed chronicler of the city's Jazz-Age nightlife. Mu's highly original stream-of-consciousness approach to short story writing deserves to be re-examined and re-read. As Andrew Field argues, Mu advanced modern Chinese writing beyond the vernacular expression of May Fourth giants Lu Xun and Lao She to reveal even more starkly the alienation of a city trapped between the forces of civilization and barbarism in the 1930s.
Mu Shiying: China's Lost Modernist includes translations of six short stories, four of which have not appeared before in English. Each story focuses on Mu's key obsessions: the pleasurable yet anxiety-ridden social and sexual relationships in the modern city, and the decadent maelstrom of consumption and leisure epitomized by the dance hall and nightclub. In his introduction, Field situates Mu's work within the transnational and hedonistic environment of inter-war Shanghai, the city's entertainment economy, as well as his place within the wider arena of Jazz-Age literature from Berlin, Paris, Tokyo and New York.
Atwood in Translationland: Margaret Atwood, 2014 Sebald Lecture
The Guardian has this piece on Margaret Atwood's February 18 2014 Sebald Lecture, Atwood in Translationland.
There's also a blurb re said lecture here,on the British Centre for Literary Translation website.
The lecture was recorded and will be available on YouTube at some point.
"...the choices that bedevil the writer bedevil the translator 10 times over. If a writer has a bad day, you can say, 'At least I don't have to do a freaking translation.'"
This post was so popular on the Pathlight Facebook page, we figured we'd put it up here.
We're very grateful to Kendall Tyson for reviewing these ten books by Chinese authors in translation, including Pathlight: New Chinese Writing contributing authors Chen Qiufan, Chi Zijian, Bai Hua, and Mai Jia.
We're also a little disappointed that he failed to mention that the books WERE all masterful translations, and who those translators were. Let us update the list:
THE WASTE TIDE, by Chen Qiufan, translated by Nebula Award-winner Ken Liu;
CAT COUNTRY, by Lao She, translated by William Lyell;
SEARCH FOR THE BURIED BOMBER, by Xu Lei, translated by Gabriel Ascher;
THE MATCHMAKER, THE APPRENTICE, AND THE FOOTBALL FAN, by Zhu Wen, translated by Julia Lovell;
FOR A SONG AND A HUNDRED SONGS, by Liao Yiwu, translated by Huang Wenguang;
WIND SAYS, by Bai Hua, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain;
THE LAST QUARTER OF THE MOON, by Chi Zijian, translated by Bruce Humes;
TONGWAN CITY, by Gao Jianqun, translated by Eric Mu;
DECODED, by Mai Jia, translated by Olivia Milburn and Christopher Payne;
MR. MA AND SON, by Lao She, translated by William Dolby.
Congratulations to both translators and authors!
By Canaan Morse, February 11 '14, 10:17p.m.
At the end of his new article, “What’s the Point If We Can’t Have Fun?,” David Graeber, anarchist anthropologist and public intellectual, writes: "Years ago, when I taught at Yale, I would sometimes assign a reading containing a famous Taoist story. I offered an automatic “A” to any student who could tell me why the last line made sense. (None ever succeeded.)" The story as Graeber quotes it:
Zhuangzi and Huizi were strolling on a bridge over the River Hao, when the former observed, “See how the minnows dart between the rocks! Such is the happiness of fishes.”
“You not being a fish,” said Huizi, “how can you possibly know what makes fish happy?”
“And you not being I,” said Zhuangzi, “how can you know that I don’t know what makes fish happy?”
“If I, not being you, cannot know what you know,” replied Huizi, “does it not follow from that very fact that you, not being a fish, cannot know what makes fish happy?”
“Let us go back,” said Zhuangzi, “to your original question. You asked me how I knew what makes fish happy. The very fact you asked shows that you knew I knew—as I did know, from my own feelings on this bridge.”
Graeber admits, in a manner of speaking, that he would have had a hard time earning the “automatic ‘A’” himself. “After thinking about the story for years,” though, he concludes that Zhuangzi shows “himself to be defeated by his logician friend” as a form of play—“arguing about the fish, we are doing exactly what the fish are doing: having fun, doing something we do well for the sheer pleasure of doing it.”
Graeber’s is a compelling answer, but it’s not quite right.
By Lucas Klein, February 11 '14, 9:22p.m.
“Grassland Fiction”: Mongolian Tales on the Horizon
You may find the term “culture industry” strange to the ear or a throwback to the days of the defunct Soviet Union’s “Command Economy.” But it’s a palpable reality in the People’s Republic, and based on my research over the last year, the budget now devoted to “ethnic minority” publishing and films has skyrocketed.
Among Tibetans, Uyghurs and Mongolians, it appears that the latter—perhaps because they are better integrated, more likely to speak Mandarin and rarely accused of “splittism”—is emerging as a major beneficiary of that largesse . . .
The Vermont Studio Center invites applications for its Chinese Poetry & Translation Fellowships Program supported by the Henry Luce Foundation. In 2014, VSC will award 12 outstanding Chinese poets and literary translators with 4-week joint residencies to create new work individually and in collaboration as part of VSC’s diverse creative community.
Applications for the next round of VSC/Luce Foundation Chinese Poetry & Translation Fellowships are available online or in printable form as part of VSC’s April 1, 2014 international fellowships deadline.
2014 VSC/Luce Foundation Chinese Poetry & Translation Fellowships:
- Six awards for outstanding poets living anywhere in the world whose primary language is Chinese. These awards include roundtrip travel and a discretionary stipend.
- Six awards for talented English-language translators working with Chinese poetry. These awards include a discretionary stipend.
These fellowships are available to individual poets and translators, as well as established working pairs, with fellowships awarded (and individuals ultimately paired) by a distinguished selection committee. If an established pair wishes to apply together, each person must submit an application and each must identify his/her preferred working partner. Applicants who wish to be considered as a pair should also select the same preferred residency dates. Due to the joint structure of these residencies, once an applicant (or pair) has been accepted, there may be little to no scheduling flexibility. For all VSC applicants, at least partial fluency of English is advised for participants to gain the greatest value from their residency experience. In addition to rendering exceptional translations on paper, translators should also be conversant enough in the writer’s primary language to help facilitate exchange with their working partner.
By Eric Abrahamsen, February 10 '14, 2:41a.m.
The deadline is May 26 for the Susan Sontag Prize for Translation, a 5,000 USD grant for a literary translation from Mandarin Chinese. Translators under 30 years of age can submit proposals for translations projects (fiction or letters) expected to be completed within a four-month period – July to November, 2014. See the link above for more details.
By Eric Abrahamsen, February 6 '14, 12:06a.m.
I write the following as a tribute to C.T. Hsia, as a student of his
and as a modest contributor to the field he created almost
single-handedly with the publication of A History of Modern Chinese
Fiction. I had been trying to visit Hsia over the course of the fall
semester because I had not seen him for about two years. But my own
difficulties prevented it until late December, when I had the
opportunity to visit him in New York on Dec. 19--as it turns out,
just one short week before he passed away.
I started my PhD studies in Chinese literature at Columbia University
in 1988, three years before C.T. Hsia retired, which means that I
took the full three years of PhD coursework under his direction. I
applied to six graduate schools, and Columbia was one of the two that
made compelling offers to me. My decision to go to Columbia was in
part based on an attraction to New York City, but the real reason was
the opportunity to study with C.T. Hsia; I had read his History and
The Classic Chinese Novel in college and was aware of his preeminent
stature in the field of modern Chinese literary studies. I had no
idea that the timing put me right at the end of his teaching career.
By Charles Laughlin, January 23 '14, 12:38a.m.
Guo Xiaolu on "Overrated" Anglo-American Literature
"If you write in Japanese or Vietnamese or Portuguese you have to wait [...] to be translated, and translated literature never really works immediately as English literature unless it wins the Nobel or some big prize," Guo said. "In a way, the easiest and laziest way is to write in English. What a struggle to write in any language other than English.
I'm saying language is a passport. A dubious, dangerous passport, too."
In my letter to the MCLC list in support of Jonathan Stalling’s complaint that Xiao Jiwei’s LARB review of Mo Yan’s Sandalwood Death didn’t mention translator Howard Goldblatt, I wrote,
the quantity and quality of translations from Chinese to English (by which I mean primarily, but not only, literary translations) cannot be separated from questions of how our societies approach translation in general. And a big part of that is how we treat translators: are translators acknowledged? Do translators get paid well for their work, get their names on the covers of their books, have their work credited when up for promotion or tenure? In short, are there incentives in our society for people to work as translators? And do our conversations about translation reflect a general understanding of the work translation involves, its importance, its difficulty, its shortcomings, its possibilities?
I concluded, “I do not agree that we can address or redress the general indifference to Mo Yan or Chinese literature, or that we can bridge contemporary Chinese literature and the world, without talking about translation … I hope we can combat that, for the benefit not only of Mo Yan or Howard Goldblatt, but for the benefit of our profession and fields of teaching and research.” In light of responses such as Jeffrey Wasserstrom’s, comparing translators to other figures who might get left out of reviews, such as book editors or cinematographers, I thought I’d delve a little deeper into my sense of why discussion of translation is an important part of the program for advocating for more and better translations.
By Lucas Klein, January 22 '14, 5:12a.m.
Exploring the Impact of Manchu on Northeast China’s Place Names and Dialects
In a recent informal and informative interview in Chinese (探寻满语背后的文化圭璧), Shi Lixue chats about idioms and place names that bear a Manchu imprint. He points out that almost one-half of Jilin’s place names—including Changchun (长春), Jilin (吉林), Siping (四平), Liaoyuan (辽源) and Tonghua (通话)—are actually based on Manchu words . . .
Dylan Suher on Tao Lin and Murong Xuecun
A paradox of our times: apparently nobody can sit down and read a whole novel anymore, and yet people are still writing the damn things. A lot of ink and anxiety is expended over the first proposition—considerably more than over the latter, though the latter is far more interesting. Two prominent examples, from nearly opposite points on the globe: Tao Lin, based in New York City, and Murong Xuecun, the handle of Hao Qun, from Beijing.
"Funeral of a Muslim": Tale of Three Generations of a 20th Century Hui Family
If Funeral of a Moslem (穆斯林的葬礼，霍达著) is not well known in the West, neither are the Hui (回族), the “other” officially recognized Muslim people in China who actually number over ten million. Unlike the Turkic-speaking Uyghur of Xinjiang, the Hui are descendants of Silk Road travelers—Arab, Persian and Central Asians—who married Han Chinese and converted to Islam, itself introduced during the Tang Dynasty by Arab traders . . .
Poets! Yes, you. Beijing Cream and Pathlight: New Chinese Writing are excited to present Poetry Night in Beijing at the Bookworm Literary Festival on Sunday, March 16, a curated community event to promote English-language POETRY in this wonderful city of ours. We need your help.
We are seeking four poets enthusiastic about reading their work for a keen audience of peers and poetry lovers. There are no limits on theme, subject, or style, as long as the pieces are original and in English. Poems written with a strong voice that plumb the depths of honesty and emotion while remaining intellectually compelling will be favored.
By Canaan Morse, January 16 '14, 4:07a.m.
"Duobukuer River": Oroqen Painter Finds her Niche in the City
Ever since I completed my translation of Han author Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon, set in the Greater Khingan Range (大兴安岭) that divides the Manchurian plain of northeastern China from the Mongolian Plateau of Inner Mongolia, I’ve been wondering: How would one of the indigenous nomadic peoples, an Evenki, Oroqen or Daur for instance, recount the tale of how they lost their mountains, rivers and shamans, only to face modern life in “fixed settlements,” or even as migrants to big cities where the Han dominate?
Xinjiang’s Xibe Authors: Inspired by “Language of Exile” that has Outlived Manchu
Ironically, thanks perhaps to a centuries-old separation from its origins in northeast Asia, the Xibe language (锡伯语)—closely related to Manchu, the language of the Qing Dynasty rulers—remains a living language in modern-day northwest Xinjiang. Most Xibe are concentrated in Qapqal Xibe Autonomous County, descendants of Manchu soldiers first dispatched in 1764 from Shenyang, Liaoning to garrison the frontier . . .
Pathlight: New Chinese Writing is currently looking for a Graphic Design Intern to work alongside its English-language editorial team as they prepare to launch a brand new website and expand other operations over the upcoming months.
The suitable candidate must be based in Beijing and will be expected to commit for a period of 16 weeks, helping out with a wide range of creative projects, including (but not limited to): overseeing online advertising campaigns, producing promotional materials, designing and updating logos and online avatars, and exploring merchandising avenues.
By Canaan Morse, January 10 '14, 4:23a.m.