Chinese Literature in Translation

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

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"Translate in the City" Literary Translation Summer School 2014, London, UK

Monday 23rd- Friday 27th June 2014. Details here

By Nicky Harman, April 4 '14, 3:53p.m.

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New story by Wu Ming-yi

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.

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The Weird and Wonderful World of Dorothy Tse's Hong Kong - review by ARB

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.

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Poetry Night in Beijing Featured Poets Announced

I'm a picture.

(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.

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Literary Translation by the Numbers

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.

1 comment, viewed 69 times

Adding Translators to "Great Reads This Spring Festival"

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:

  1. THE WASTE TIDE, by Chen Qiufan, translated by Nebula Award-winner Ken Liu;

  2. CAT COUNTRY, by Lao She, translated by William Lyell;

  3. SEARCH FOR THE BURIED BOMBER, by Xu Lei, translated by Gabriel Ascher;

  4. THE MATCHMAKER, THE APPRENTICE, AND THE FOOTBALL FAN, by Zhu Wen, translated by Julia Lovell;

  5. FOR A SONG AND A HUNDRED SONGS, by Liao Yiwu, translated by Huang Wenguang;

  6. WIND SAYS, by Bai Hua, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain;

  7. THE LAST QUARTER OF THE MOON, by Chi Zijian, translated by Bruce Humes;

  8. TONGWAN CITY, by Gao Jianqun, translated by Eric Mu;

  9. DECODED, by Mai Jia, translated by Olivia Milburn and Christopher Payne;

  10. 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.

6 comments, viewed 65 times

Anarchist Anthropology, Happy Fish, and Translation: Where do you get that?

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.

11 comments, viewed 307 times

Henry Luce Foundation Chinese Poetry & Translation Fellowships

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.

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Susan Sontag Prize for Translation

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.

4 comments, viewed 100 times

C.T. Hsia as Mentor

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.

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Translation & Translation Studies as a Social Movement

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.

17 comments, viewed 675 times

Poetry Night in Beijing: Call for Submissions

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.

I'm a picture.


By Canaan Morse, January 16 '14, 4:07a.m.

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Pathlight Internship: Graphic Design

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.

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Reviewing translations: Jonathan stalling, Chinese Literature Today

I (Nicky) was very struck by JS's review of a review in LA Review of Books of Mo Yan's Sandalwood Death. It appeared on the MCLC list. His words immediately reminded me of the endless debates we've had in UK among translators, about how we'd like our translations reviewed, and the struggles to remind even long-established cultural institutions like the BBC that translations of poetry and fiction should be credited when they are broadcast, not treated as if the author had originally written in English. With Jonathan's permission, I have reproduced his letter to the list here. In the event, it sparked off a lively debate, including contributions from the reviewer, Jiwei Xiao, herself. Those interested can join the list to read the whole thread.


I was quite excited to discover that at long last the LARB had published a review of Mo Yan’s Sandalwood Death. As the editor of the CLT Book Series that published Howard Goldblatt’s English translation of the novel at the beginning of 2013, I had all but given up on the LARB reviewing it. By the time I reached the end of this substantial review, however, I had to face a rather peculiar and unsettling reality: after nearly 2,400 words, the reviewer, Jiwei Xiao, never mentions the fact that the book she is reviewing is Howard Goldblatt’s English translation of Mo Yan’s novel. I may be a bit more sensitive to this omission given the fact that I, as the editor and a translator myself, am quite excited by the attention Goldlatt’s translation is getting from the translation community: the book has already been nominated for several awards, and, in fact, only a few months earlier Goldblatt had been interviewed by LARB about his translation work!

So while Xiao quotes liberally from the English text (sans citations), she never mentions even once that the book under review is not《檀香刑》, which was published well over a decade ago, but is instead its English translation. Of course, any review of translated literature will necessarily focus on the merits of the original, but at the very least professionalism requires a reviewer to acknowledge the work of the translator in some form. Most of the time readers rely on a review to find out whether a book is a good read in English, so it is important for a reviewer to offer a critical opinion on this matter so the reader can make an informed decision. In this review, however, the reader is invited to enter the original text as if it were still in Chinese, yet miraculously transparent to the English reader’s mind.

The reviewer spends a fair amount of time discussing the “dissonant sounds” upon which “the novel was inspired,” and while Mo Yan’s aural ingenuity naturally rests at the heart of the reviewer’s commentary, it is important to note that these aural textures were delicately and boldly translated into English by Goldblatt. In fact, I would argue that these challenging moments constitute some of the most formally experimental—and successful—moments in Goldblatt’s esteemed career. When I first read the translated manuscript, I marveled at his ability to imbue the English with a parallel set of aural textures (rhyme, meters, vocables, etc.), producing often uncanny results.

Yet this is not really what left me feeling so uneasy. Instead, I fear that there remains a deep and stubborn refusal to take translation (and translation studies) seriously enough within both Chinese Studies and our broader public literary culture (after all, the LARB editors must have first read this piece before publishing it). I am not going to speculate on the latent ideological (or epistemological) conditions that undergird moments like these, but I do feel we must take such opportunities to refocus attention on the collaborative nature of world literature translated into English. As most people know, literary translators are incredibly important cultural producers and yet most of them struggle to make a living wage from their work. In fact, a recent report by the Conseil Européen des Associations de Traducteurs Littéraires concludes with the following observation: This survey clearly shows that literary translators cannot survive in the conditions imposed on them by "the market". This is a serious social problem on a continent that is meant to be developed, multilingual and multicultural, but it is also and most importantly a very serious artistic and cultural problem. Indeed, what does it say about the quality of literary exchange between our societies if literary translators are forced to dash off their work just to be able to earn a basic living?

The objectives outlined by UNESCO in its 1976 Nairobi Recommendation are far from being realised, that is the least one can say. It’s time to act! (

What is true in the European context is even worse in the US (and for Chinese-English-Chinese translation, the pay scale of which is often calculated in RMB as a way of lowering the cost). Translators work for many of the same mysterious reasons writers do—not because it pays well (though I hope this can be remedied soon), but to contribute to the cultural work of our time, to participate in the global conversation of literature itself. If our work as translators is not discussed in reviews of our work (or even simply acknowledged), when, pray tell, will it be?

It is important for me to note, however, that I believe Professor Xiao would have gladly incorporated her thoughts on the translated nature of the text had it been brought up in the editing/review process, or if it had been listed as a prerequisite on the LARB contributor information page, or if there existed broader university support of and academic/prestige capital invested into translation inside the realm of Chinese Studies. So I do not wish for the instructive moment of this review to be reduced to a critique of this review alone (for clearly Professor Xiao has many interesting things to say about this novel), but as a general reminder to all reviewers (and to those of us who publish them) to spend a moment engaging with (or better yet, exploring) the translative nature of world literature, for this is our responsibility, not to mention one of the great joys of our work.

Jonathan Stalling Chinese Literature Today

By Nicky Harman, January 8 '14, 11:03a.m.

6 comments, viewed 215 times