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 2010 most recent posts

Manchester LitFest invites Ding Liying

Manchester (UK) Literary Festival 2010 invited Shanghai short story writer and poet Ding Liying to their Translation Evening last week.

By Nicky Harman, October 28 '10, 5:23p.m.

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Jia Pingwa records album of jazz standards, writes Cultural Revolution novel...

Western critics have expected Chinese authors to unambiguously answer political questions, to stake out their positions, to be in opposition to Mainland China's prevailing social order. Chinese books are mostly translated into English and published by university and academic presses to support Western ideological claims, and everybody stopped reading them a long time ago.

So, if I had to jot a list of reasons that Jia Pingwa has never really been translated into English in a major way... somewhere on that list, I'd note a cultural conservatism that doesn't appeal to Western readers of Chinese fiction, and I'd also list a general ideological subtlety. When Jia Pingwa's Turbulence dropped, it was met with kindhearted confusion, and reviews of it still resorted to calling it a critique of "the bureaucracy that hamstrings modern China." They had nothing else to say. Okay. What if Jia wrote a novel set during the Cultural Revolution?

Just like you've always wanted to hear Rod Stewart rip into "My Funny Valentine," there are those that are stoked to have, say, Mo Yan tear into the central government's family planning policy or have Jia Pingwa really get into the Cultural Revolution.

Jia's early writing, which is not very highly regarded (even by Sun Jianxi, really), is often set casually during the Cultural Revolution ("casually" because it's not the Cultural Revolution of Scar Literature or Western imagination). He has never really laid into the subject, as, I guess, he's been expected to. But... he has now.


By Dylan Levi King, October 26 '10, 11:52p.m.

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Get It Louder literary events: Shanghai

It seems that, for the Beijing Get It Louder events we could have done a slightly better job of, ahem, publicity, so I'm getting the word out early about Shanghai. Here's the full list for literature (follow the links for film and art, etc). Individually:

All events are at the 800Show site. All are free, but the INS Shanghai Declaration on Inauthenticity requires advance signup, you can email me for that.

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 17 '10, 1:01a.m.

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Translating outside the box

Last Friday afternoon I took part in a “Black Box: Literature on Spot” event at the Get it Louder festival, which wrapped up its Beijing leg over the weekend. You can click through for a detailed description of the program and its participants, but in brief, “Black Box” was literary creation as performance art. A writer, sequestered in a curtained cubicle, composed in isolation. Beyond the wall, a translator attempted to keep pace as the text scrolled up the monitor. Spectators viewed the entire process on screens outside.

I was translating for Pan Haitian (潘海天), a writer of science fiction and fantasy and the editor of Odyssey of China Fantasy magazine (九州幻想). (You can find a brief introduction to some of Pan’s work in this post.) I’ve translated a bit of Pan’s work in the past, including a version of "The Eternal City" (永恒之城) in English for submission to ALIA6, an Italian-language anthology of SF in translation.

Pan warned me beforehand that his typical approach to composition involved leaving lots of sentence fragments and place-holders, which he’d expand once he had a rough framework of the story sketched out. Thankfully, this did not become apparent until about half an hour into the event, at which point my nerves had settled.

Ordinarily, I’d probably have gotten sidetracked early on by the quotation from Diary of a Madman and would have spent the full two hours reading up on the historical figures mentioned in the text. Or, if I were particularly disciplined that day, I’d have substituted dummy text for the quotation and moved on to the next paragraph, leaving the decision of how to translate Lu Xun for a later revision. Neither option was available to me, the first because I brought no reference materials and could not access the Internet, and the second because I needed to put up some sort of translation, however imprecise, for the audience. I had to make decisions, even if they weren’t ideal. Don’t recognize a locust tree? Then “tree” it is. Forget the alternate term for tuberculosis? Let’s call it a “fatal illness.” Although I often take this approach in a first draft when I want to capture an uninterrupted voice, I usually tag provisional translations so I can refine them later. Leaving them unmarked disguises my translation as a finished product instead of a work in progress, or more accurately, a partial transcript of a one-time performance.

It’s not a complete transcript because it doesn’t show where edits were made during composition and translation, and it retains just a few traces of Pan’s fragments and place-holders. His writing process seemed to mirror the pace of the story. The opening, which sets the scene and gives a bit of back-story, appears in the final product pretty much identical to how it was initially typed in. The sole edit I can remember was a change from “the man in the gown” to “the mustached man” (which I unfortunately rendered as “the bearded man.”) During the action scenes, things got more hurried and fragmented. For example, at a point in the story when Lu Xun has plummeted from a rooftop to grapple with an intruder (later revealed to be Liang Shiqiu), Pan inserted a bracketed note that I translated as “[insert blow-by-blow].” And the title only became Lu Xun: Demon Hunter after Lu Xun was mentioned by name in the text (to gasps and laughter from audience members who hadn’t caught on yet).

Pan’s original (恶魔猎手鲁迅), an application of wuxia tropes to Lu Xun’s account of why he chose to apply himself to writing, is entertaining, although it terminates abruptly — Pan said afterward that he needed additional resources before he could move forward. As a translator, I enjoyed the game of keeping up with the small changes and additions that the author was continually making to the text; as a reader, my mind had already filled in the details, and I just wanted him to continue with the story.

Photos of the event are available at the Get it Louder website, captioned in English and Chinese.

By Joel Martinsen, October 14 '10, 5:24a.m.

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From "Let's Swing Our Oars" to Black Cat Detective, from Young Pioneers to the dregs of society...

Internet writing comes in for its fair share of abuse-- check Jia Pingwa in a recent China Daily profile, joking that he doesn't have to stoop to writing about tomb raiders or eulogizing entrepreneurs... or Tibetan mastiffs, I guess... or alienated, aging 80hou kids....

Damn, people are reading it, though.

Even before Yuan Lei (also known as Yuan Ping) got picked up by the Dongguan PD "on suspicion of disseminating pornography," his novel, In Dongguan, posted on Tianya had two million views.

Is there anything beyond the easy story, about (very poorly executed) censorship, which has been picked up by the usual gang of Western China watchers? Anything?



By Dylan Levi King, October 10 '10, 4:25a.m.

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Just got back from another of the Get It Louder literary events, this one on science fiction, featuring Han Song, Pan Haitian and Fei Dao. There will be a proper post on this at some point, but I needed to say that after tonight's event I feel more hopeful about the future of Chinese literature than I have in years. Who says that science fiction/fantasy is only good for escapism? Over the course of two hours we got: the Communist ideal as science fiction; designs for anti-urban-demolition weaponry, to be distributed to the populace; both internet firewall technology and anti-firewall-technology as China's two greatest inventions since the compass; correlations drawn between The Matrix and Lu Xun; multiple references to Liu Xiaobo's winning of the Nobel Peace Prize.

I have never heard any Chinese writers speak as incisively or as passionately about the Chinese condition as did these few sci-fi writers tonight. Perhaps the burden of "speaking for the country" has proved too weighty for those designated as China's "serious" authors; at any rate these sci-fi writers, charged with nothing more than entertaining themselves and their readers, came out with all the intelligence and ferocity that we've been missing these many years… If this is how it's going to be done, then bring it on!

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 9 '10, 1:49p.m.

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Liu Xiaobo awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

On this day, October 8th (John Lennon's birthday), writer, literary critic, political essayist and democracy advocate Liu Xiaobo was awarded the 2010 Nobel Peace Prize.


By Cindy M. Carter, October 8 '10, 6:54a.m.

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Down South

I got back to Beijing from Sydney yesterday, where I was lucky enough to have been invited by the Writing and Society Research Group of the University of Western Sydney (actually a front for the guerilla publishing and literary activities of one Ivor Indyk, the man behind Giramondo Publishing and HEAT magazine), to run on at the mouth about Chinese literary translation at a symposium entitled the Sydney Symposium on Literary Translation

Before you raise an eyebrow, I'll admit I was junior member at what was largely a gathering of really pretty intimidating literary and academic figures—I was approximately fifteen years and two university degrees behind the median. But that made for a wonderful experience: a relatively small group of people presenting fascinating papers and talks on topics ranging from poetry to "the classic" to "nonsense", drawing from languages including French, Italian, Chinese, Spanish, Japanese and Aboriginal Australian.


By Eric Abrahamsen, October 7 '10, 6:23a.m.

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On the ABC

I've just got back from a literary translation symposium in Sydney (more on that anon), and while there I also did a radio interview for the Australia Broadcasting Corporation which can be accessed, if I'm not mistaken, at this link.

By Eric Abrahamsen, October 5 '10, 8:13p.m.

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How to make your new book headline news

Jonathan Franzen's book Freedom suffers UK recall: More than 8,000 copies of the American author's latest opus have been recalled due to hundreds of typesetting errors. This has been headline news in the UK for the past two days. That's unheard-of for any novel except perhaps Harry Potter. Now how about this for a great way to launch one of those translations some of us are busy working on: ooops, it comes out only half-translated, or with an eye-catching English cover and all in Chinese inside?! OK, I was just joking. But then again........

By Nicky Harman, October 4 '10, 7:47a.m.

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