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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Archives: October 2007 most recent posts

Get Thee to the Guardian Art Blog

The Guardian Unlimited's World Literature Tour turned its attention to China a couple of days ago, and we were caught napping. Get over there and tell them what you know about good Chinese literature!

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 31 '07, 11:23p.m.

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The Unspeakable Bi

The idea of ‘untranslatable words’ is very nice. It’s a token of value; it adds a touch of solemn mystery to the work of translation, which otherwise consists mostly of nose-scratching, window-staring, and finding something to weight the book down with. But look, you see? We also have an ineffable something; a tragic ideal; we’re not simply pulling a plow.

Sometimes I think there’s actually such a thing as an untranslatable word, sometimes I don’t. On a good day it seems that any word or phrase could be rendered into English with enough care, even if the word itself vanished and were detectable only through a subtle ruffling of the surrounding text.

But on a bad day, I'm trying to translate níubī.


By Eric Abrahamsen, October 31 '07, 11:06p.m.

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Jung Chang… Attack!

The slow pre-Olympics ramp-up continues, now with a lengthy Guardian article on Jung Chang, in which she has harsh words for Mao and China in general. I'll admit that, when I see things like this, I get nervous. It's not that what she's saying is incorrect, but I worry that this is only a warning rumble before the avalanche…

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 31 '07, 10:58p.m.


Man Asian Literary Prize Shortlist

The shortlist has been announced for the Man Asian Literary Prize: of the twenty-three names on the long list five have been selected, including Jiang Rong (Wolf Totem) from the home team. Xu Xi (Habit of a Foreign Sky) also counts, depending on your definition of, erm, the home team. Wolf Totem, translated by Howard Goldblatt, will be published by Penguin in March, 2008. The shortlist is as follows:

  • Jose Dalisay Jr., Soledad’s Sister
  • Reeti Gadekar, Families at Home
  • Jiang Rong, Wolf Totem
  • Nu Nu Yi Inwa, Smile As They Bow
  • Xu Xi, Habit of a Foreign Sky

The winner will be announced in November.

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 26 '07, 3:47a.m.

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The New Jia Pingwa

Joel Martinsen had an excellent post on Danwei yesterday about the new novel by Jia Pingwa, called Gaoxing (Happy). I haven't gotten around to picking up a copy, but I am halfway through Jia's previous masterpiece, Abandoned Capital, and absolutely loving it (more on that in the next week or two). Gaoxing is apparently the fictionalized life story of one of Jia's old childhood friends, and looks at first glance as though it might be similar to Jia's last novel, Qinqiang. We'll have to read it to see…

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 24 '07, 7:20p.m.

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From the Archivists

We recently received word from an undercover Paper Republic field operative in the world of American academia, code name Julie H. (alias J. Hackenbracht). Pursuant to our earlier post on road literature she sends us links to two fascinating books available on Google. While they both fall squarely on the travel literature side of the travel literature/road literature divide, they’re not the average travelogues.

The first is The Silent Traveler in London, published in 1938, mostly interesting because it reverses the Theroux/Hessler paradigm of the western traveler writing for an audience back home. Here, Chiang Yee (presumably Yi Qiang in pinyin) describes London and British society for his compatriots. He comes off as having a delightfully turn-of-the-century combination of pluckiness and delicacy; I can’t tell if it’s because of the contemporary translation, or because of sensibilities that really were common to many nations at that time. He’s very sensitive to the weather (the book is arranged according to seasons), and provides many little prose passages and poems describing parks and wind and leaves – the Chinese and the British may have this in common. Somewhat surprising were his very modern meditations on the plight of British women:

Oh, life, it is difficult for everybody. But I am inclined to think it has been always even more difficult for women than men. Our Chinese women may have suffered a great deal from lack of freedom in the old days, but they all hoped to become the rulers of houses and to be served and highly respected by their sons and daughters. Now they enjoy equal rights and as much freedom as English women enjoy, and they can still expect to become rulers of houses as well, and to have filial children.

The second book is Great Women Travel Writers, which includes a tantalizing, sadly truncated chapter on Xie Bingying (1906-2000). Two pages are all that Google allows us – just enough to know that Xie was forced to experience footbinding as a child, but not enough to tell us where her damaged feet nevertheless managed to take her.

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 23 '07, 4:55a.m.

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Letters and Paintings

ESWN, the first place to look for all things Zhang Ailing-related (as well as a good deal else), posts a transcribed letter from Hu Shi to Zhang Ailing (aka Eileen Chang) on the subject of her novel Qiuge (秋歌). This is part five of a series of reproductions of Zhang Ailing’s letters…

The South Bend Tribune carries an article on an ink-and-wash art exhibit by Gao Xingjian at Notre Dame University. A nice background on Gao is accompanied by a really rather astonishing sample of his painting.

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 23 '07, 1:06a.m.

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Back from vacation…

The Beijing Foreign Languages Printing House, once the country's sole purveyor of Communist propaganda, is struggling for solvency.

Upcoming: the shortlist of the Man Asian Literary Prize (aka the 'Asian Booker') will be announced on the 25th of October.

Rejoice, for Jonathan Spence hath published another book. This one is on the 17th-century historian and essayist Zhang Dai, and sounds excellent.

More soon…

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 13 '07, 7:04p.m.

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We're Translators, Don't Hurt Us!

Who knew? Apparently a shady consortium of literary types known as the International Federation of Translators pulled some strings in the UN, leaned on a few world leaders, and got September 30th (that’s today) declared International Translation Day. Good to know we’ve got the clout of a transnational cartel behind us! Ruining the effect slightly is this year’s rather apologetic theme: “Don’t Shoot the Messenger!” Granted, there are incidents of violence against translators (though I can only think of the Rushdie situation at the moment), but this is hardly the way to signal our pride. Rectify the situation! Today’s your day to read a book in translation, brush up your foreign languages, or kiss a translator.

If you’re curious, September 30th was picked because it was originally the day sacred to St. Jerome, best known for translating the Bible into Latin.

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 1 '07, 2:11a.m.

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