Nicky Harman lives in the UK. She taught on the MSc in Translation at Imperial College until 2011 and now translates full-time from Chinese. She focusses on fiction, poetry and occasionally literary non-fiction, by authors such as Chen Xiwo, Han Dong, Hong Ying, Dorothy Tse, Xinran, Yan Geling and Zhang Ling. She is a regular contributor to the literary magazines Chutzpah, and Words Without Borders, and also organizes translation-focused events, mentors new translators and was one of the judges for the Harvill Secker Young Translators Prize 2012.
Currently working on:
A collection of novellas by Chen Xiwo to be published by MakeDo Publishing, 2014
The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver by Chan Koon-chung, Doubleday, forthcoming 2014.
Snow and Shadow, short story collection by Dorothy Tse, Muse publications, forthcoming 2014.
A New Development Model and China’s Future, by Deng Yingtao, Routledge, forthcoming, 2014.
Published Translations in date order:
Urban Control and the Modernist City - essay by Leung Man-Tao, in LA Review of Books, originally appeared in Paper Republic, August 2013.
Woman Fish, by Dorothy Tse, for the Guardian newspaper, March 2013
The Shades who Periscope through Flowers to the Sky, by Sun Yisheng, for Words Without Borders, December 2012, and Dad, Your Name is Bao Tian, by Sun Yisheng, for The World of Chinese, March 2013.
Old Man Xinjiang, by Xue Mo, in China Stories for the Guardian newspaper, April 2012.
The Man with the Knife by Chen Xiwo, for Words Without Borders, November 2012
'Goodbye to Anne', in the novella collection The Road of Others, by Anni Baobei, Makedo Publishing, 2012.
Throwing out the Baby, by Xu Zechen, in Words Without Border, April 2012.
two short stories for Comma Press "Tales from Ten Cities" series, by Han Dong and Ding Liying, 2012
Flowers of Nanjing by Yan Geling, , published by Chatto and Windus, January 2012
A Phone Call from Dalian: Selected Poems by Han Dong, published by Zephyr Press, April 2012. Multiple reviews including World Literature Today and Peony Moon
The Eye of the Eagle, short story by Bai Hua, published by Hope Road Publishing
Prize-winning novel Gold Mountain Blues/Jin Shan by Zhang Ling, published by Penguin Canada
Short stories for Ou Ning's Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, 2009, and literary magazine Chutzpah, 2010 and 2011.
Message from Unknown Chinese Mothers (Author: Xinran), Chatto & Windus, 2010.
China Witness (author: Xinran), oral history
Co-translator with Esther Tyldesley and Julia Lovell. Chatto & Windus , 2008.
Banished! (author: Han Dong) (《扎根》 韩东), novel.
University of Hawai’i Press, 2009. Won a PEN Translation Fund Award (2006) for this work. Longlisted for Man Asian Literary Prize, 2008.
‘Long Corridor, Short Song’ (author: Zi Ren, in To Pierce the Material Screen: An Anthology of 20th Century HK Literature, to be pub. Renditions, Hong Kong 2008); (《长廊的短调》 梓人) short story.
China Along the Yellow River (author: Prof. Cao Jinqing, pub. Routledge Curzon, December 2004); (《黄河边的中国》 曹锦清) sociology of rural China.
K – The Art of Love (author: Hong Ying, pub. Marion Boyars, 2002); (《K》 虹影) novel.
BEYOND TRANSLATING – MY OTHER ACTIVITIES
Harvill Secker Young Translator Prize I was a judge for this prize
for the year 2012, when the language was Chinese and the author whose work entrants translated was Han Dong.
Translator-in-Residence I was Translator-in-Residence at London’s Free Word Centre, in the autumn of 2011, organizing a programme of talks and workshops which focused on Chinese and on translation but were intended for a general (non-Chinese-speaking) audience. For example, Isabel Hilton spoke on ‘Translating the Environment’ and her website China Dialogue; Fuschia Dunlop talked about translating Chinese food and brought us samples to taste; Brian Holton ran a workshop on translating Chinese classical poetry; and, with Rosalind Harvey, I ran a Bookclub Fest (sort of ‘speed-dating’ for Bookclub enthusiasts: four translated short stories to discuss in two hours).
Working with young people I use a clip from the Chinese cartoon film, Monkey, to work with young people on translating and creative story-telling/writing. I tell them that by the end of the session (about an hour), they will be able to translate the dialogue. I then tell them that translators have to do a bit of inspired guessing too. As we watch the clip, I also get them to repeat a few of the more entertaining bits of the dialogue. I've done this at various venues, including Nottingham Night of Festivals 2012, the Islington Chinese Association 2012, (part of the Islington Word Festival,) and in secondary schools - in places where the students know some Chinese, and where they know none at all.
Podcasts I have collaborated with Steve Wasserman to provide podcasts for his Short Story Bookclub and Read Me Something You Love. He podcast a Han Dong short story, The Deer Park and I read some of Han Dong’s poems for Read Me Something You Love.
I co-edited a series of five short stories translated from Chinese for the Guardian Online book pages, and wrote an accompanying article, in the week leading up to the London Bookfair, April 2012.
Mentoring new translators I have mentored a new translator, Anna Holmwood for the first British Centre for Literary Translation mentorship scheme, 2010, and will continue to mentor translators under the same scheme in 2012.
China Inside Out day at English PEN, March 2012. I helped plan this event and was instrumental in bringing over from China writers, a translator and a director for a fascinating day-long programme of debates, readings, film screenings and music.
I also run the "China Fiction Bookclub", an informal group of Chinese speakers who meet every couple of months in London to discuss and practise translating a variety of short stories or novel excerpts. All welcome. Contact me for details. Also on Twitter: @cfbcuk
What's that got to do with anything? Coherence and the translation of relative clauses from Chinese. In Journal of Specialised Translation (www.jostrans.org) issue 13, January 2010
Foreign Culture, Foreign Style: a Translator’s View of Modern Chinese Fiction. In Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 14(1): 13-31. (2006).
Beyond Paper Dictionaries: Mining the Web for Technical Terminology in Chinese (available from http://isg.urv.es/cttt/cttt/research.html, or on request from NH).
Visiting Fellow at the Research Centre for Translation at Chinese University Hong Kong, April 2006. Visiting Scholar, Fudan University and Beijing University, China, 2008.
Nicky's sample translations:
- Works by Nicky Harman
- So Black, December, 2013
Translated from Hao Hei, by Tse Dorothy (Hiu Hung)
- Gold Mountain Blues, December, 2011
Translated from Jin Shan, by Zhang Ling
- Message from an Unknown Chinese Mother: Stories of Loss and Love , January, 2010
Translated from Zhongguo Muqin, by Xinran Xue Xinran
- Banished!, January, 2009
Translated from Zha Gen, by Han Dong
- China Witness (with Julia Lovell and Esther Tyldesley), January, 2008
- China Along the Yellow River, December, 2004
- K: The Art of Love, June, 2004
Translated from K, by Hong Ying
- A Phone Call From Dalian
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
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
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
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.
Chinese Literature Today
By Nicky Harman, January 8 '14, 11:03a.m.
Here's this year's list, compiled by Nicky Harman and Helen Wang. Feel free to add any we've missed out:
Ten Loves by Zhang Yueran , translated by Jeremy Tiang , pub. Math Paper Press, Singapore
Island of Silence by Su Wei-chen , translated by Jeremy Tiang , pub. Ethos Books, Singapore
Durians Are Not The Only Fruit by Wong Yoon Wah , translated by Jeremy Tiang , pub. Epigram Books, Singapore
Tongwan City by Gao Jianqun, translated by Eric Mu, pub. CN times Books.
I can almost see the clouds of dust, poems by Yu Xiang, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain, pub. Zephyr Press and Chinese University Press of Hong Kong (bilingual)
Canyon in the body, poems by Lan Lan, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain, pub. Zephyr Press and Chinese University Press of Hong Kong (bilingual)
Wind says, poems by Bai Hua, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain, pub. Zephyr Press and Chinese University Press of Hong Kong (bilingual)
Other Cities, Other Lives by Chew Kok Chang , translated by Shelly Bryant , pub. Epigram Books, Singapore
Mr Ma and Son by Lao She , translated by William Dolby , pub. Penguin Modern Classics
Cat Country by Lao She , translated by William A Lyell , pub. Penguin Modern Classics
Irina’s Hat: New Short Stories From China by Authors and translators various , translated by ed. Josh Stenberg , pub. Merwin Asia
Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian , translated by Bruce Humes , pub. Harvill Secker
The Song of King Gesar
by Alai , translated by Howard Goldblatt
, pub. Canongate Books Ltd
Black Flame by Gerelchimeg Blackcrane , translated by Anna Holmwood , pub. Groundwood Books of Toronto, Canada (in association with Anansi Books)
For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey Through a Chinese Prison by Liao Yiwu , translated by Wenguang Huang , pub. New Harvest Books
The Matchmaker, The Apprentice and The Football Fan by Zhu Wen , translated by Julia Lovell , pub. Columbia University Press
The Earnest Mask by Xi Ni Er , translated by Howard Goldblatt & Sylvia Li-chun Lin , pub. Epigram Books, Singapore
The Man With The Compound Eyes, by Wu Ming-Yi, tr Darryl Sterk, pub. Harvill Secker
Every Rock a Universe: The Yellow Mountains and Chinese Travel Writing, writings by 17th century poet and artist Wang Hongdu, translated by Jonathan Chaves (Floating World Editions). Review forthcoming in Chinese Literature: Essays, Articles, Reviews.
Search for the Buried Bomber, by Xu Lei, tr. Gabriel Ascher, pub. AmazonCrossing
By Nicky Harman, December 13 '13, 1:28a.m.
Free Word London ("a global meeting place for literature, argument and free thinking") are offering two places on its Translators in Residence programme for 2014. Any languages can be offered by interested applicants. More information, including deadline for application, available here: http://www.freewordonline.com/info/work-for-us/
By Nicky Harman, August 1 '13, 10a.m.
Here is a fascinating podcast on translating and subtitling and working with Chinese directors from That's Beijing. With Brendan O'Kane and Linda Jaivin.
By Nicky Harman, April 23 '13, 5:38a.m.
Karen Emmerich on Words Without Borders. This link is to part 2 of her essay, follow WWB link for part 1. http://wordswithoutborders.org/dispatches/article/the-making-of-originals-the-translator-as-editor-part-2
By Nicky Harman, April 6 '13, 6a.m.
Some of you will have noticed that the London–based China Fiction Book Club, has a thriving twitter account, @cfbcuk. Launched, serendipitously, the day of the announcement that Mo Yan had won the Nobel Prize for Literature, it's going strong and has nearly 200 followers…(198 today and counting. Several new followers arrived between yesterday and today as a result of the Dorothy Tse story which appeared in the Guardian).
PLUS Helen Wang has launched 3 more Twitter accounts, all worth browsing:
Story of the Stone @caoxueqin1760; Lin Yutang @lytwords; and – together with the Emerging Translators Network - Translated World, @translatedworld. These have daily posts - have a look. If you don't yet have a Twitter account, then google the @names and you can reads the tweets...
By Nicky Harman, March 22 '13, 7:17a.m.
"Writers have long been fascinated by the wet stuff, and now we're opening the floodgates on a series of aquatic-themed short stories" says Richard Lea in the Guardian today. The Guardian has featured Chinese fiction before - five short stories translated from Chinese marked last year's London Book Fair. The current collection of "water" stories are from all around the world, some written in English, others translated. Dorothy Tse (谢晓红）wrote one in Chinese especially for this series, and it's translated by me.
By Nicky Harman, March 15 '13, 11:25a.m.
This year, the Birkbeck (London) Translation Summer School offers Chinese to English as an option again. There will be a mixture of texts to study - from literary to technical via reportage. Dates: 22-26 July 2013. For more details see here. The workshop leader will be Nicky Harman.
By Nicky Harman, February 16 '13, 9:52p.m.
Translate a poem from any language, classical or modern, into English. Three categories – Open, 18-and-under and 14-and-under – and cash prizes. Details, entry forms and free booklets of past winning entries available from the Stephen Spender Trust. Closing date Friday 24 May 2013.
By Nicky Harman, February 7 '13, 12:42p.m.
Bruce Humes has been too modest to flag this up, so I will: Last Quarter of the Moon by Chi Zijian, translated by BH, is out now and Harvill Secker is gearing up with some Twitter promotion
By Nicky Harman, January 15 '13, 7:09a.m.
Thanks, everyone, for your additions and corrections. Here's what we've got now:
An Unusual Princess, by Wu Meizhen, tr. Petula Parris-Huang (Egmont UK)
Atlas: The Archaeology of an Imaginary City, by Dung Kai-cheung, tr. Dung Kai-cheung, Bonnie McDougall and Anders Hansson, Columbia University Press
Dream of Ding Village, Yan Lianke, tr. Cindy Carter (Constable)
Flowers of War, by Geling Yan, tr. Nicky Harman (Chatto & Windus)
Hanging Devils, by He Jiahong, tr. Duncan Hewitt (Penguin China/Australia)
Jackal and Wolf, by Shen Shixi, tr. Helen Wang (Egmont UK)
Lenin's Kisses by Yan Lianke tr. Carlos Rojas (Chatto & Windus)
Northern Girls, by Sheng Keyi, tr. Shelley Bryant (Penguin China/Australia)
Pai Hua Zi and the Clever Girl, by Zhang Xinxin, tr. Helen Wang (https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/pai-hua-zi-clever-girl-vol./id553372788)
Shi Cheng: Short Stories from Urban China, various authors and translators (Comma Press)
The Civil Servant’s Notebook, by Wang Xiaofang, tr. Eric Abrahamsen (Penguin China/Australia)
The Road of Others, by Anni Baobei, tr. Nicky Harman (Make Do Publishing)
This Generation: Dispatches from China's Most Popular Literary Star (and Race Car Driver) Han Han tr. Allan Barr (Simon & Schuster)
Trees Without Wind: A Novel, Li Rui, tr. John Balcom, Columbia University Press
Under the Hawthorn Tree, by Ai Mi, tr. Anna Holmwood (Virago Press)
A Phone Call From Dalian, Han Dong, tr. Nicky Harman and others, Zephyr Press (Jintian series)
Doubled Shadows, Ouyang Jianghe, tr. Austin Woerner, Zephyr Press (Jintian series)
Jade Ladder: Contemporary Chinese Poetry, tr. W.N. Herbert, Yang Lian, Brian Holton and Qin Xiaoyu (Bloodaxe Books)
June 4th Elegies, Liu Xiaobo, tr. Jeffrey Yang, (Graywolf Press)
Notes on the Mosquito, Poems of Xi Chuan, tr. Lucas Klein (New Directions Publishing)
Stone Cell, Lo Fu, tr. John Balcom, Zephyr Press (Jintian series)
The Changing Room, Zhai Yongming, tr. Andrea Lingenfelter, Zephyr Press (Jintian series)
Wind Says, Bai Hua, tr. Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Zephyr Press (Jintian series)
2013 January, fiction
Last quarter of the Moon, Chi Zijian tr. Bruce Humes, Jan 2013 (Harvill Secker)
Sandalwood Death, Mo Yan, tr. Howard Goldblatt, Jan 2013 ( University of Oklahoma Press)
And a Happy New Year to all!
By Nicky Harman, December 31 '12, 7:38a.m.
I make it a total of nineteen books. OK, I’ve cheated a bit – three of the publications below are poetry, and two others come out in January 2013. Still, it’s a good haul and many times better than the annual total, say, ten years ago. (Please post a comment if I’ve missed anyone out.) I couldn’t begin to add up just how many hours of translation the whole list represents, and that’s without the extra work translators have put in, on some of these books, to get them off the ground. So, lets raise a glass to translation and all pat ourselves on the back!
In alphabetical order, this year’s publications from Chinese are:
By Nicky Harman, December 20 '12, 4:15a.m.
... has a short story by young writer Sun Yisheng called
The Shades who periscope Through Flowers to the Sky. (The title is taken from a poem When Once The Twilight Locks No Longer by Dylan Thomas, translated into Chinese by the poet Bai Hua.)
By Nicky Harman, December 1 '12, 10:35a.m.
Check out the goings-on at the Crossing Border festival, in The Hague and Antwerp, till Monday 17th Nov, where Yan Ge and Phil Hand are among the guest writers and translators. Guest authors write daily blogs (Chronicles) which the translators translate. The rest of the fest begins this evening.
By Nicky Harman, November 16 '12, 4:18a.m.
Danny Hahn and I did a radio interview about the state of the art of translation for Monocle24 Globalist programme on Thursday 4th October. A bit nerve-wracking (for me), but they were lovely people and they gave us a decent amount of time to say what we wanted to say. You can listen here: http://www.monocle.com/monocle24/?openepisode=10600244. It's a nearly 2-hour programme, and we come at 1:29 ie practically the end, but you can download and scoot that progress bar along to the point where they start with a phone interview with David Bellos (Is that a fish in your ear). Should you be so inclined.
By Nicky Harman, October 6 '12, 11:30a.m.