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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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Yan LiankeWang XiaolongLiao WeitangBrian HoltonBlue Light in the Sky

Yan Lianke

Wang Xiaolong

Liao Weitang

Brian Holton

Blue Light in the Sky

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January: Bridges

by Tse Dorothy (Hiu Hung), translated by Nicky Harman

The crimson mothers live in a crimson sea. We, island-like, still live on the city’s island. In January’s cold blast, we lean out of our windows. Quarter past three in the afternoon, and everyone in the street has a coating of frost on their lips. If they open their mouths even a little, they cannot close them.

‘Everyone has become a silent, broken bridge. A musician stands on every bridge, eyes lowered, surrounded by young female flesh, his...

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Recent Posts

Introducing "Read Paper Republic"

I suspect that some of you out there have, from time to time, wondered: “but what do you people at Paper Republic actually do all day long? Surely you can’t survive by snarky literary judgments alone? Also, can’t you make your website look a little less ’My First HTML’?”

I am here with a resolution to one of your questions, at least: what we do all day is to get Chinese literature into English, and though actual readable texts have been in scant supply on the site, that will change starting a week from today. June 18th we’ll be launching something called “Read Paper Republic”, where we’ll present one complete free-to-view short story, essay, or poem on the site itself, both as a webpage and a download, once a week.

We’ll be kicking off with an original translation of a story by A Yi, translated by Michelle Deeter. Our editorial team consists of Dave Haysom here in Beijing and Nicky Harman and Helen Wang in the UK.

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By Eric Abrahamsen, June 12 '15, 1:32a.m.

3 comments, viewed 278 times

Best Translated Book Award: Detailed Links

As part of the Best Translated Book Award project, recently announced on the Three Percent site, they're publishing short essays on the various books and the reasons for their nomination. There are four Chinese-language books on the longlist, and I'll update this post with links to the essays as they're posted. As of April 11, we've got:

  1. Nomination essay by judge Monica Carter on why Qiu Miaojin's Last Words from Montmartre, translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich, should win.
  2. Nomination essay by ??? on why Hsia Yü's poetry collection Salsa, translated by Steve Bradbury should win.
  3. Nomination essay by guest critic Christine Palauon why Dorothy Tse's Snow and Shadow, translated by Nicky Harman, should win.
  4. Nomination essay by ??? on why Can Xue's The Last Lover, translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen should win.

By Eric Abrahamsen, May 4 '15, 10:57a.m.

1 comment, viewed 58 times

Sinophone Women Write Better

Or they get translated better, if not more—at least in 2014. Now that prize season is upon us, we get a chance to see which, if any, Chinese writers in translation are making an impression on the judges. This year, with Best Translated Book Award fiction longlist nominations for Can Xue 残雪, Qiu Miaojin 邱妙津, and Dorothy Tse 謝曉虹, a Best Translated Book Award longlisting in poetry for Hsia Yü 夏宇, a Griffin Prize shortlisting for Wang Xiaoni 王小妮, and a Newman Prize for Chinese Literature for Chu T’ien-wen朱天文, two points pop out: all nominees are women, and of the six a stark majority are from outside the PRC—which means some would call them “sinophone,” a potentially broader category than just “Chinese.”*

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By Lucas Klein, April 13 '15, 2:02a.m.

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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.

1 comment, viewed 30 times

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.

2 comments, viewed 164 times

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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