China Censors: What's Translatable/Importable?

By Bruce Humes, published October 11, 2013, 6:46a.m.

On October 31, Professor Tai Zaixi will speak on (Self) Censorship and the Translator-Author Relationship: The Case of Full Translations, Partial Translations, and Non-translations in the Chinese Context at HK Baptist U's Centre for Translation.

Full translations are those in which "the work being translated falls entirely within the category of 'translatable/importable' foreign literature, defined in turn as being 'harmonious' in relation to existing Chinese constitutional laws."

More interesting, perhaps, are "partial" translations "whereby omissions, shifts of meaning, or the modulation of overall author-tone necessarily change the intentions of the author, so as to avoid potential conflict with government censors." In his summary of the talk, he cites PRC versions of Hilary Clinton's Living History and Henry Kissinger's On China as examples.

I can think of two other related aspects it might be interesting to examine: censorship of book reviews of Chinese fiction by overseas critics that are eventually published in China, and difficulties in distributing English versions of Chinese books originally written and published in the PRC.

Here's an example of what happened to Newsweek's review of Yu Hua's Brothers, when it was Repackaged for Chinese Eyes by Cankao Xiaoxi.

Wei Hui's Shanghai Baby (上海宝贝) was banned by the authorities in Beijing in 2000, and is still not available in hard copy on the mainland. But my unexpurgated translation of it is widely available at airports and larger Xinhua bookstores in China.

This double-standard -- No Chinese, Just English please -- continues, but nowadays it can be a bit more complicated than that. It has taken almost six months to get China's major online bookstores to carry my English translation of Chi Zijian's Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸). Apparently China's purchasers of foreign books for resale online -- and this counts as "imported" -- get nervous when it comes to selling the English versions of writing by their own authors. The reason? They figure if it was translated and published in the West, it's probably because the book contains a good helping of politically incorrect thinking in one form or another. Ironically, the original novel won the prestigious 2008 Mao Dun Literary Award. . .

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Comments

# 1.   

It is something like reimport of the exported local goods to raise the status of the products. Things said in English are higher class than that done in Chinese,in the eyes of many Chinese people.

Lao Zhang, October 15, 2013, 12:11a.m.

# 2.   

An article in today's NY Times, Authors Accept Censors' Rules to Sell in China helps to answer the question "What's importable?" in a concrete way.

Bruce, October 20, 2013, 1:27a.m.

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