by Guo Fulai, Li Ruo, Ma Dayong and Xu Liangyuan, translated by Jeremy Tiang
The Workshop Mouse
by Guo Fulai
I’ve been working in Picun, Beijing for almost half a year now, and my most vivid memory is of the mice we share our workspace with.
Our main task was making counters and metal racks for an events company. On a regular day, more than ten of us were squashed into a not-particularly-large workroom. Outside stood two rows of tall, broad poplars. Each time a breeze blew, every single leaf seemed to wave at passers-b...
Our News, Your News
By Nicky Harman, January 17, '19
The Guanghwa Bookshop (Shaftesbury Avenue, London) was packed for our "[Un]Happy Family" event with Yan Ge and translator Nicky Harman last night. We talked about Yan Ge's novel The Chilli Bean Paste Clan (in Chinese《我们家》), its complicated characters, and what was in Yan Ge's mind when she created her middle-aged male [anti]hero, when she herself was in her mid-twenties. And we talked about the challenges of translating colourful Pixian Town obscenities into English, a language where swearing is kind of pale by comparison...and much much more. Thank you all for coming!
His mild manner seems at odds with the lurid violence of crime novels. In “Death Notice,” the killer of two police academy cadets in a gruesome bombing resurfaces after 18 years, this time orchestrating the murder of a revered police sergeant whose failure to solve the original case haunted his career.
Then, as now, the killer fashions himself as an avenger, bringing justice to those whose crimes have gone unpunished. The killer calls himself Eumenides after the third of the Oresteia ancient Greek tragedies by Aeschylus and warns each of his victims in notes drawn with exquisite Chinese calligraphy, luring the police into a diabolical game. The new killing spree revives a special police task force that had been shelved for reasons that, to explain fully here, would amount to a spoiler.
One morning in May, a truck from the army barracks stopped at the entrance of Emerald Cloud Lane. A bevy of gaudily attired prostitutes flaunting heavy makeup ambled out of the lane and clambered up over the truck’s tailgate… The last prostitutes to emerge were Autumn Grace and Petulia of Red Delight Pavilion. Autumn Grace was wearing a silk brocade Mandarin gown and high-heels. She leant against a doorframe as she bent over to smooth out her stockings below her knees. Petulia, who was following, looked as though she had just woken up; hair unkempt and dark circles under her eyes.
The rest of the novella tells the story how the two close friends, Autumn Grace and Petulia, alternately cope with the “New Society”. Autumn Grace escapes from the common transport and ultimately takes refuge in a nunnery. The aptly-named Petulia petulantly pouts her way through her spell of manual labor, only to latch on to Mr P’u, one of the Red Delight Pavilion’s more dapper erstwhile customers and, in fact, Autumn Grace’s regular.
The three protagonists in this ménage à trois adapt to the new reality, after a fashion, not terribly well, but life goes on. All that remains of the old life in the end is a rouge tin.
The 350-page memoir, half in prose and half in color drawings, is a vivid, at times intimate, portrait of a changing China. The story begins with Pingru’s childhood in the 1930s, a time when “the charms of my hometown had not changed much since the days of the Song dynasty [10 to 13th century AD],” and ends in the 2000s, where dialysis equipment for Meitang can be installed in the couple’s bathroom. In between, we see Pingru in close combat with Japanese troops, traveling with Meitang after the war, and enduring hardship at the labor camp. The perspective of a KMT soldier – something China's censors still limit today – will be an eye-opener for many readers, especially young people of Chinese descent around the world.
In 2012, President Xi Jinping used the phrase the Chinese Dream (zhōngguó mèng) to describe “the great rejuvenation” of the nation. A national solidarity movement, the Chinese Dream attempts to fuse cultural pride and individual self-realisation with the country’s economic growth and rising influence. The slogan is everywhere, on billboards, in speeches and advertisements, and mixes patriotism and self-help with the “twin goals of reclaiming national pride and achieving personal wellbeing”.
Ma was born in 1953, the same year as Xi Jinping. Both men witnessed the shaming, exile and loss of family members during Mao Zedong’s political campaigns. In 1983, Ma himself was arrested for the crime of spiritual pollution; he chronicled his exile to the most remote regions of the country in Red Dust, an unforgettable memoir of post-Mao China. Today, the lives of Ma and Xi remain strikingly at odds. In 2018, Xi ended term limits on the presidency, thus opening the door to his indefinite rule. Ma, barred from even entering China, has mischievously stolen Xi’s signature slogan.
Ma, who has gone under the sobriquet of “dissident writer” for most of the past 20 years, is banned from his native country, his works unpublished in mainland China. Ironically, the suppressing of one form of liberty has allowed his own freedom of expression to flourish — Ma is a far more explicit, and, for a man of famously tranquil demeanour, enraged interpreter of China than his compatriots.
Mr Ma’s critique of the totalitarian mindset recalls that of Soviet-era dissidents. For him, the might of the state rests on its erasure of history, private and public. His anti-hero tells pensioners at a mass golden-wedding festival that “the past must be buried before the future can be forged”. This novel suggests the contrary, in scenes of slapstick mockery punctuated by tragic and elegiac interludes. Coercive amnesia traps a person, or a society, in a cycle of neurotic repetition. What is repressed always returns. Ma Daode finds that “his memories are like footballs on a pond: the harder he pushes them down, the higher they bounce up again.”
“China Dream” is a sharper political allegory than Mr. Ma’s earlier novels. It crackles with bruising satire of Chinese officialdom, and an acerbic wit that vaguely recalls Gary Shteyngart’s sendup of Russian oligarchs in “Absurdistan,” or even Nikolai Gogol’s portraits of Russia’s provincial aristocrats in “Dead Souls.”
Yet even for Mr. Ma, whose work is banned in mainland China, the novel is especially provocative because it makes a critique that is rarely uttered aloud these days by ordinary Chinese: that censorship and repression under a Xi-controlled Communist Party bears an eerie resemblance to that of the Cultural Revolution.
While one might expect “Little Reunions” to chart Julie and Chih-yung’s affair and subsequent marriage, and then her later affair with Yen Shan, it does not. In fact, the novel resists tracing any one particular relationship in a focused way. Eileen Chang (1920-95) uses broad brush strokes to take the reader through decades of a crumbling family. At this time in Chinese history, the aristocracy is falling out of favor. Looming on the horizon a few decades ahead is the Cultural Revolution. Readers should expect an extensive cast and speedy transitions, and take stock of the character index, a helpful 10-page, alphabetized list of everyone in the novel. And, given these quick transitions, be prepared to jump from event to event; for example, from an intimate conversation between mother and daughter to a sudden bombing.
First published in 1994, “Notes of a Crocodile” is in many ways a futuristic text, as it contains conversations about identity that are happening now — and ones that have yet to. It is refreshing to read a novel that so frankly examines patriarchy, misogyny, homophobia, gender normativity and capitalism — especially one that howls so freely with pain. Lazi and her friends are philosophers who feel. They convey the rich and vital role of emotion in any revolution. Like gender and sexuality, the depths of pleasure and especially of sorrow are revealed here on a spectrum. Qiu reminds us that “positive” examples of the homosexual in literature and pop culture can be neutering and dehumanizing, as they often speak more to the institutions that despise them. Lazi exhibits moments of bliss and epiphany in a more complicated emotional terrain — the joy is in her mind, her pleasure in thinking, talking and writing — especially writing what she is unable to say.
...only a few [African] authors have had more than one volume dubbed into Chinese, and even fewer with two or more books. These include the likes of Nigerian authors Wole Soyinka and Chinua Achebe, Egyptian Nobel Prize winner Naguib Mahfouz, Kenya’s Ngũgĩ wa Thiong’o, South Africa’s Nadine Gordimer and J. M. Coetzee, and the sole Lusophone writer with at least three novels now in Chinese, Mia Couto of Mozambique.
“Science fiction is as rare as unicorn horns, which shows in a way the intellectual poverty of our times”, wrote Lu Xun, one of China’s most towering and revered literary figures, writing about science fiction literature in China in his preface to his 1903 translation of Jules Verne’s From the Earth to the Moon.
116 years later, science fiction in – and from – the People’s Republic of China has come a long way since then, to become what is arguably the most popular genre of literature in China and with translations of Chinese science fiction picking up pace and finding a ready and eager audience – to the extent that some have even referred to it China’s greatest cultural export since kung fu – one can safely say that Chinese SF’s journey to the west (and elsewhere) has only just begun, with its star showing no signs of diminishing. But it wasn’t always so.
The Shanghai Writing Programme invites several internationally acclaimed writers to spend two months in Shanghai, China. The residency is an annual event which has hosted 69 writers from over 30 countries since it began in 2008.
By Eric Abrahamsen, January 9, '19
Comma Press, based in Manchester, is putting on a one-day translation event together with Multilingual Manchester, part of the University of Manchester.
Helen Wang will be leading the Chinese workshop, so sign up now! It's free. More details here.
The novel is set in a village over a 24-hour period in June in which the villagers are afflicted by mass somnambulism, or as the Chinese put it “dream walking”. The events are recounted hour by hour through the eyes of a 14-year-old boy, Li Niannian, whose parents eke out a living making and selling funerary paraphernalia.
Our hero’s maternal uncle is also in the death business, as the official in charge of the crematorium: his zealous enforcement of regulations that ban burials and mandate cremation make him both rich and universally hated. It is also widely suspected that Niannian’s father is an informer, earning money from tipping the crematorium off about village families secretly burying their dead. Later, he buys and stores barrels of human oil that the crematorium collects from the corpses. Quite why is unclear, although those same barrels re-enter the plot at the redemptive finale.
Despite Yan’s demurred (and understandable) aversion to political interpretations, the novel’s critical intent is self-evident. “Dreamwalking” inverts President Xi Jinping’s much-vaunted though nebulous “Chinese Dream” with horrifying effect. At one point, Niannian’s dreamwalking aunt and uncle prepare four dishes and a soup laced with an insecticide for their fellow Gaotian ruling elites, who, unlike the villagers, eat and socialize rather than steal and kill. Although the expression “four dishes and a soup” dates to the Ming Dynasty, President Xi has used it as a coded exhortation towards modesty and frugality amongst Party elites. As Niannian observes early in his narrative, “Everybody believed in dreams, but didn’t believe in reality. It was all quite odd.”
Alat Asem begins his narrative with the backstory to the name of the protagonist, an anti-hero ripe for moral transformation named Eysa ASAP who exemplifies the hardened, survivor's will of a Uighur man out to better himself, but who in the process only hurts those closest to him.
"ASAP" originates from his ability to attract women with stunning immediacy. It is his weakness for compulsive action that sends him spiraling into the pulpy yarn of "Confessions," rich with the special qualities of Uighur literary wit arguably best interpreted in four sequences, as subtle plays on the pseudo-religious themes: death, resurrection, repentance, redemption.
Including papers on Chinese children’s lit (gender, politics, war, transculturation, ethnicity, criticism)
By Bruce Humes, January 1, '19
Several of Yan Lianke's novels have not been published in China, or were initially published in Taiwan because he couldn't find a publisher in the PRC. Although he teaches at Renmin University of China in Beijing, the authorities seem keen to silence much of what he says, in fiction or otherwise.
Such is the case with a Dec 27, 2018 interview of him by The Beijing News (新京报), which has already been taken off the internet (looks like I'm wrong, see comments!), but saved -- for now anyway -- in a Google cache file.
Entitled 一个伟大文学的时代已经悄然消失, it can be found here in text form, and here with several photos (covers of his novels + a few of him).
I have copied the entire interview below in Chinese (text only).
Review by Julian Gewirtz in The New York Times of THE DAY THE SUN DIED, by Yan Lianke, tr Carlos Rojas (Grove Press)
I’m a banned Chinese novelist not a corrupt spy chief: author Ma Jian tries to clear up news outlets’ confusion
Warning: Several Paper Republicans figure on this list...
She is settled with the current image of herself, resting in a second language, watching the world through fresh lenses. It’s hard to know why she came all this way. She always enjoys doing difficult things, possibly a consequence of her over-exposure to Greek mythology as a child. But it’s more than that. She thrives when there’s a struggle and believes life is ultimately about endurance – but neither matters here. Ah, yes: a second language interrupts her, reflects her constantly as a stranger, and as a fiction writer, a compulsive observer she enjoys meeting strangers. Slowly and imperceptibly, she discovers who she really is.
There are many ways to translate a given sentence, but how do we know which one works best? These language-specific workshops (running simultaneously) will be aimed at would-be translators of fiction from Arabic, Chinese and Polish. Groups will work on collaborative translations of texts across different genres, guided by experienced literary translators. This is a great opportunity to take your translating to the next level, hone your creative writing skills and meet like-minded people.
As 2018 comes to an end, according to the bilingual database African Writing in Chinese Translation, there are 143 titles dating from the sixties through today — mainly novels, but including short story and poetry collections — from which to choose.
The 2018 batch of new titles — 13 in all — looks rather more varied...
‘The list of award-winning titles is more diverse than ever, with translations from 15 countries and 12 languages, including Bosnian, Indonesian, Slovenian and Tamil, with the first ever novel from the Comoros Islands to be translated into English. English PEN is thrilled and proud to be supporting such an exciting range of outstanding titles.’
The Leeds Centre for New Chinese Writing has just launched its 5th Bai Meigui Translation Competition. This time it's a short story by award-winning Hong Kong writer Chan Ho-Kei. Judges: Jeremy Tiang, Tammy Ho Lai-Ming and Natasha Bruce. Deadline: 25 Feb 2019.
...in which I interview Natascha Bruce, who has been on a residency with Dorothy Tse, the noted Hong Kong author of surreal stories.
One thinks of the hidden time bombs that explode about a decade after they were set. Are these metaphors for shocks to the Chinese psyche such as the Cultural Revolution or, to quote Yu, China’s current “societal progress [which] has already damaged an entire generation of young people who revere materialism”.
15 classic SF stories selected by Liu Cixin (author of The Three-Body Problem) and Han Song.
By Nicky Harman, December 10, '18
The brilliant Charlotte Collins has chosen at least one great translation for each of the last 60 years. Read about them here or on Twitter #TA60, or on Charlotte's Facebook page. And keep following until next June, and like and share, of course. She has unearthed some fascinating nuggets of information about some classic novels.
By Nicky Harman, December 9, '18
We say this every year, but this really is a bumper crop. From classics to contemporary literature, poetry to scifi to short stories and a beautiful graphic memoir (Rao Pingru), our list this year has nearly forty novels or other book-length works, and six poetry collections.
And some of last year's books have won or been listed for prestigious prizes:
Remains of Life by Wu He, tr. Michael Berry (Columbia University Press), 2017, was shortlisted for the Best Translated Book Award 2018.
Notes of a Crocodile, Qiu Miaojin, tr. Bonnie Huie (New York Review Books), was longlisted for the 2018 PEN Translation Prize and won the 2018 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize.
The Stolen Bicycle, by Wu Ming-yi, tr. Darryl Sterk (Text Publishing Company), was longlisted for The Man Booker International Prize.
Click Roll-call of Book Translations from Chinese in 2018 for the full list.
And finally, our previous years' lists start here.
The TSLR has nominated works by Sheung King, Xiao Yue Shan, Lynn Zhao, Francis C. Macansantos, Andrena Zawinski, Xu Xiaobin and Nicky Harman for The Pushcart Prize
Alexander Dickow reviews two quite different books of Chinese poetry in translation: Li Shangyin 李商隱, translated by Chloe Garcia Roberts, Lucas Klein, and A.C. Graham (NYRB), and October Dedications, the selected poetry of Mang Ke 芒克, translated by Lucas Klein with Yibing Huang and Jonathan Stalling (Zephyr/Chinese UP).
The books that will be the focus of our attention will be English language books for children and young adults that are either written by authors who have lived in Hong Kong, or were produced in Hong Kong, or follow a story set in Hong Kong.
By Nicky Harman, December 3, '18
Paper Republic has produced some new resources, for general readers and for librarians. Resources for readers provides guidelines, links and suggestions, all on one page. The resources for Librarians, intended especially for librarians in schools and community groups, has two sections: Stories in the Original Chinese for Schools and Libraries and Chinese Books in English for Schools and Libraries. Check out the clickable links on the left-hand side of this page, under Resources
"LIKE THE GHOSTWRITER, THE TRANSLATOR MUST SLIP ON A SECOND SKIN."
But it is hard to argue that Chang’s work is a simple rejection of the notions that history affects people’s lives or that people often ponder their place in the larger scheme of things. Perhaps the best way to characterize Chang’s attitude toward historical consciousness is not as a pat rejection, but instead a speculative probing of the margins of this consciousness as it ineluctably affects her protagonists. Rather than the patently visible epic vicissitudes of history, Chang looks at such consciousness as if looking at the negative to a film.
As translators, we believe it’s vital to comprehend the context of the story and convey the author’s message holistically, both spoken and unspoken, rather than simply translating the text on a word-for-word level.
Paris Review on Can Xue's Love in the New Millennium
Translated from the Chinese by Isabelle Li.
"The tick-tock of time dripped from clocks like rust stains, dot by dot, covering the entire iron piece, finally obscuring it. The murky, red-brown rust turned darker and darker until the iron could no longer be seen."
By David Haysom, November 18, '18
For anyone in Guangzhou or Shenzhen over the coming week, don't miss the 3rd EU-China International Literary Festival! We have leading European authors from Cyprus, Denmark, Finland, Malta, the Netherlands, Romania, Poland, Sweden, and the UK, plus 40 great Chinese writers. An array of wonderful discussions lined up in a week jam-packed with literary events. Check out the full programme here: http://eu-china.literaryfestival.eu
In mid-October, I was swiping through the news when a headline caught my eye: “RTHK’s Below the Lion Rock 2018 Season Opener to Revisit Causeway Bay Books Incident.” That may read like standard entertainment news, but it was anything but. RTHK – a government-financed channel – had adapted one of the most sensitive events in recent Hong Kong memory.
The narrator of the story, who is the absent daughter of the main protagonist Xue Shengqiang, describes Pingle as a “piddling little town, where walking from East Street to West Street only took fifteen minutes.” And Pingle was all about mala, the numbing heat born of mixing chilli bean paste and Sichuan peppers. The narrator explains that the “townsfolk grew up with a hole in their tongues. In fact, they were almost born eating Sichuan pepper powder.” And for Xue Shengqiang, mala is a key thread in his story––the sweat it induces, the sex it inspires, and the fiery temper and constant stream of expletives it arouses. They’re all connected. As the omniscient narrator explains it, “Dad used to pepper his love-making with a lot of swearing.”
A cultural venue run by a nonprofit organization with close ties to the Hong Kong government has abruptly canceled plans to host two events featuring an exiled Chinese writer [Ma Jian, author of China Dream], in what some saw as the latest sign of eroding freedoms in the city.
by Graham Earnshaw, who translated The Book and The Sword.
An exhibition by a dissident Chinese-Australian cartoonist in Hong Kong has been cancelled by its organisers over what they said were threats from China.
Badiucao's work focuses on rights abuses and satirizes President Xi Jinping.
His show was part of events examining free speech in Hong Kong since the 2014 pro-democracy "umbrella" protests.
It’s a shame, then, that ghost stories now struggle to find a readership in China. In 2008, the government — concerned about the spread of “superstition” — added supernatural elements to the list of content banned in films, books, and other media...
Mo, together with a group of elite Chinese authors, will represent China in the book fair. They were welcomed by Algerian Minister of Culture Azzedine Mihoubi at the international airport of Algiers.
In Invisible Valley, protagonist Lu Beiping’s life is governed by taboos, rules, conventions and fears. He is subjected to the Chinese tradition of a “ghost marriage” when the foreman pairs him off with his deceased daughter. After the foreman gives him a plum job in isolation tending cattle on the fictional Mudkettle Mountain, Lu Beiping encounters a clan of polyamorous “driftfolk,” whose way of life helps him escape the prevailing Maoist ideology of the time.
Ce roman a été publié à Taiwan en 2015 et comme la grande majorité des œuvres de Yan Lianke, n’est pas autorisé en Chine. Le livre a été couronné en 2016 par le prix prestigieux attribué tous les deux ans à un roman écrit en chinois par un jury international à Hong Kong (2). Une traduction française, « La mort du soleil » par Brigitte Guilbaud qui, avec Sylvie Gentil, récemment disparue, a traduit avec talent les romans de Yan Lianke, sera disponible dans quelques mois.
Paper presented by Wenqian Zhang, at IPCITI conference, Manchester, 25-27 Oct 2018
“We are all singing from the same hymn sheet,” remarked the pioneer of Translation Studies at the end of our conference; among young translators particularly, there was a “fervor,” a “zealotry,” that was admirable and encouraging.
This desire for unanimity and solidarity is understandable, and no doubt, at a deep level, we do all share a passion for literary translation and a wish that the practice thrive. This is why we invest so much time in learning our languages and working on our writing—so that our translations will be better. It is the logic behind every course that teaches translation: that one can improve. If someone is not happy with the hymn sheet, or with hymn sheets in general, let’s hear them.
A critical review of Na Duo's All the Way to Death by Angela Qian in the LARB China Channel. By coincidence it was published on the same day as Tim Parks' critical piece "Why Translation Deserves Scrutiny" in the New York Review Daily.
By Helen Wang, October 23, '18
In 2016 Minjie Chen, Anna Gustafsson Chen and I started a blog/web-resource Chinese Books for Young Readers. Here's a list (with weblinks) to the first 72 posts. Thanks to everyone who has helped us along the way. Keep following! (twitter: @cb4yr)
-- The China Shanghai International Children's Bookfair is coming up (9-11 November).
According to Dr. Tammy Lai-Ming Ho,
Hong Kong literature has for too long been relegated to a secondary position, or even worse—it is as though the city is incapable of producing significant literary works and writers of note. Hong Kong poetry is to many perhaps an even more abstract and chimerical concept. Xi Xi’s poetry, at times whimsical and at times serious, speaks to the character of the city and its people. Her poems also demonstrate how stories of a city can be told through narratives that are at first glance insignificant, allegories and fairy tales instead of grand statements. Feminine, tender, witty, observant, and capable of tugging at the heartstrings, Xi Xi’s poetry reminds us Hong Kong poetry should not be ignored in any discussion.
“No one here has actually read anything I’ve written, or knows that my books are banned. To live in China in 2018 is to inhabit a reality that makes you question the very nature of reality.” The absurdity of the evening’s events seemed, ever so slightly, to please the author. “The people we met today, they know the name Yan Lianke and that he’s a Henanese who’s come by a bit of fame,” he said. “But, in their minds, I might as well be a character in a story.”
There's a little song in Bronze and Sunflower which took ages to translate. It's the one about the woman and the little girl, with their different hairstyles, swapping places. The original Chinese is loaded with detail, but is also like a nursery rhyme. I couldn't fit all the detail into similarly light rhyme in English, and in the end, I decided to go for the light rhyme and compromise on the detail. Our two dogs enjoyed extra long walks at that time, as I kept repeating things over and over in my head until they began to fall into place!
“Originally written as a nightmare, it is based on events that are happening in reality and have affected me,” Sheng told me. “Metaphor disease is defined as the excessive use of metaphors. The fear of uncontrolled speech and knowledge-dissemination prompted the ruling class to create a new centre for ‘healing patients’, which is actually used for controlling people. Creators of metaphors, and metaphors themselves, are imprisoned.”
By Bruce Humes, October 1, '18
The Guardian reports that former secretary of state and Massachusetts senator John Kerry made the following comment on the current rush to vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court:
“There’s no reason in the world to be bum-rushing this nomination.”
How to render "bum-rushing" as used here?
By David Haysom, October 1, '18
We are delighted to announce a new series from Read Paper Republic: China Dispatches. Over the next month we will be publishing a selection of non-fiction pieces chosen from OWMagazine (单读). This will be a three-way collaboration between Paper Republic, OWMagazine, and the LARB China Channel. Each of the stories will be appearing first on the China Channel, then published here on Paper Republic one week later. We’re very excited about our initial run, which includes some of our favourite writers as well as some new voices, and we’re sure you’re going to enjoy these dispatches from different corners of China.
The first installment – “Three Sketches of Peter Hessler” by Wu Qi, translated by Luisetta Mudie – is available to read on the China Channel now!