Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

Bruce Humes


worldcat / academia


Native English speaker who hosts Altaic Storytelling and specializes in translating ethnic-themed Chinese fiction into English.

Newly created posts include translated excerpts from Guo Xuebo's novel Moŋgoliya and Alat Asem's novel Confessions of a Jade Lord, and a bilingual "mini-database" of African literature in Chinese translation 非洲文学中文译本.

My published book-length, Chinese-to-English translations: The Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸,迟子建著), by Chi Zijian; Shanghai Baby (上海宝贝,卫慧著), by Wei Hui; Chinese Dress & Adornment through the Ages (中国历代服饰艺术,高春明著) by Gao Chunming; and two co-translations: The Most Beautiful Chinese Classical Paintings (最美的中国古典绘画); and The China Tea Book (中国茶书).



Novels (2)

Short stories (4)

Excerpts (5)


Author Yan Lianke: The Reign of "温暖的文学"

By Bruce Humes, May 1, '16

Speaking recently at the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Chinese author Yan Lianke (閻連科) spoke about the ominous rise of a "warm and fuzzy" kind of Chinese literature (温暖的文学) that the government, readers and critics all find acceptable. Here is an excerpt from notes taken at the talk (thus they may not be his exact words) which appear in an article 中國文學的唱衰者 at the newly launched (and interesting) Chinese-language web site,



China's Thinkingdom Media Invests in Editions Philippe Picquier

By Bruce Humes, April 30, '16

According to a 2016-04-28 report (战略投资) in The Paper (澎湃讯), Thinkingdom Media Group Ltd (新经典文化) has made a “strategic investment” in France’s Editions Philippe Picquier. The report does not specify the $ amount or portion of the French publisher that is now in Chinese hands. Picquier is already a major French-language publisher of Chinese fiction writing including titles by Yu Hua, Wang Anyi, Alai, Su Tong, Han Shaogong, Bi feiyu, Chi Zijian, Ge Fei, Liang Hong and Li Er.

Some 15,000 copies of Wang Anyi’s 《长恨歌》(Le Chant des regrets éternels) have sold in French, according to the news item. Picquier's first venture into the world of translated Chinese popular fiction publishing was apparently Wei Hui's naughty Shanghai Baby, back in the early 2000s.

It will be interesting to see if and how Thinkingdom uses Picquier as a platform for the campaign to bring more contemporary Chinese literature in translation to the Francophone world.


"White Deer Plain" Author Chen Zhongshi Dies

By Bruce Humes, April 29, '16

Chen Zhongshi, Shaanxi-based author of the 20th-century classic, White Deer Plain (白鹿原, 陈忠实著), has died.

Three thoughts:

1) White Deer Plain has been published in French, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. Anyone working on the English, and if not, why not?

2) The novel was published in 1993. Any insights into why he wrote relatively little thereafter?

3) How to render the first line of White Deer Plain --- especially ---:



New Ban on Homosexuality: Will it Extend to Published Chinese Fiction?

By Bruce Humes, March 4, '16

"Depictions of homosexuality, extramarital affairs, underage love and the supernatural are no longer allowed in television dramas under new regulations in mainland China," according to a report at Hong Kong Free Press (New Rules).

These rules are apparently already coming into affect. According to WSJ's China RealTime, " 'Heroin' (also known as “Addiction” in Chinese), a 15-episode Web drama about romance among teenage boys, was earlier this week taken down from major Chinese video streaming sites." This suggests that the ban applies not just to TV.

Will this ban on the portrayal of homosexuality, and "other abnormal sexual relationships and behavior," be extended to published writing as our man on the ground in Nanhai, XJP, exerts his Victorian values? Hard to say. For now, it would be neat to have a list of Chinese fiction --- particularly translated fiction or Chinese fiction you'd like to see translated --- touching on LGBT romance, lifestyles and issues. Please add to the list via the comments section.


2016 Update: Guide to China’s Contemporary Ethnic-themed Literature in Translation

By Bruce Humes, February 3, '16

I've just updated my guide.

This 民族题材文学 category includes writing — regardless of the author’s ethnicity — in which non-Han culture, motifs or characters play an important role. But the great majority of the works listed were penned by a member of one of China’s minority ethnic groups. There are entries for fiction (and a bit of poetry) touching on the Bai, Evenki, Hui, Kazakh, Kyrgyz, Manchu, Miao, Mongolian, Lahu, Lisu, Oirat, Seediq, Tibetan, Uyghur, Xiongnu and Yi peoples. Taiwan fiction is included, and the Tibetan section now features 25 entries. Unless noted, the original is in Chinese and the translation is in English. But I’ve also included a handful of renditions into French, Spanish and Japanese.


Translating the President-elect

By Bruce Humes, January 23, '16

Tsai Ing-wen’s post-election response on her Facebook page to a barrage of postings criticizing her stand in favor of Taiwan’s independence:


Various media have translated as follows:

The greatness of this country lies in that everyone has the right to be oneself.

The greatness of this country lies in how every single person can exercise their rights.

How would you render?


China's Literary Police to Feng Tang: Don't Touch Our Tagore!

By Bruce Humes, December 24, '15

Once again, we are reminded that poetry matters in China. And, equally interesting, that translation of poetry matters.

Feng Tang, author of Beijing, Beijing (北京北京 冯唐著), has apparently crossed the lines of decency with his new translation of verse by China's favorite foreign poet, Rabindranath Tagore. Just in case the world didn't know about this travesty, the Party's English mouthpiece, China Daily, has published an essay, Lust in Translation, about the “testosterone-driven” translator's very personal take on the work of this Bengali poet.


New China's "Family Planning" : Recommended Fiction Reading

By Bruce Humes, November 11, '15

As Sheng Keyi writes in today's New York Times (Still No Dignity):

The Chinese Communist Party leadership announced on Oct. 29 the end of the one-child policy, to be replaced with a law that allows married couples to have two children. But dropping the one-child policy will not end the government’s control of women’s bodies. We still will not have the final say when it comes to our reproductive rights.

Clearly, the battle for those rights won't be won in a day.

In the meantime, let's make a list of Chinese fiction (both untranslated and translated) that touches on various aspects of China's Big Brother Family Planning Program over the decades. Mo Yan's Frog should be on the list, but that's an easy one. I wonder: Are there any novels or short fictional pieces out there about what it's like to live in China if you were a child born sans production permit, and therefore can't get a national ID?


1982-2015 Mao Dun Prize: 43 Winners — But which Ones Truly Benefited Sales-wise?

By Bruce Humes, September 18, '15

Over the last few years, the veil has been partially lifted on what has been China’s long-running and most coveted literary set of awards for the novel, the Mao Dun Literature Prize, which is awarded once every four years. You can bone up on the scandals behind this and other awards here if you like.

The Beijing Daily has just published an interesting article (茅奖销售) which details “before and after” sales figures, queries authors on how winning the award has affected their work, and concludes with a brief overview of 1982-2015 winning titles by literary critic Bai Ye (白烨).

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Apartheid online at Beijing’s Int’l Book Fair?

By Bruce Humes, August 18, '15

Nice to see that the BIBF (Aug 26-29) has fairly attractive Chinese and English sections to its new-look web site, both of which – congrats! – are already up and functioning here.

But as I glanced through it, it reminded me of my first trip to the New China in 1981. When my father and I went for breakfast with our tour group at Shanghai’s Old Jinjiang Hotel, we were immediately forced to choose: Chinese cuisine at this table, Western at the other. Naturally, I dragged him along with me to the Chinese table — after all, it was my first meal in China! But when I tried to order a cup of coffee for my father, the waiter snapped: “If you want coffee, sit at the Western table!”

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The Dao of China Publishing

By Bruce Humes, August 13, '15

I have noticed that many of the promising new books about China's ethnic minorities -- their history, culture, and even award-winning short stories and novels by ethnic authors -- to which I call attention in my blog are just about impossible to track down and purchase. They are publicized in a press release duly carried word-for-word on certain politically correct web sites, and then fall off the radar.

A Manchu grad student in Beijing explained it to me thus:


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"Unavailing": Learning English via Xinhua News Translations

By Bruce Humes, July 21, '15

As of July 22, at least 238 people have been detained or questioned since the nationwide clampdown on China's attorneys began, according to the Hong Kong-based China Human Rights Lawyer Concern Group, reports The Guardian.

That sounds worrisome indeed!

But I'm also interested in the adjective applied to describe the apparently futile efforts of critics of the crackdown as noted below:

China’s state-controlled media have rejected claims Beijing is waging a war against civil society. “Critics should first get the facts right, get to the bottom of the problem before embarrassing themselves in another unavailing episode of finger-pointing,” an editorial by Xinhua, Beijing’s official news agency, argued this week.

My question: What's the Chinese for "unavailing"? I assume the Xinhua news item was translated from the Chinese original.

I get the feeling this term may be appearing more often . . .

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Beijing Jan 17 Event: Sheng Keyi to Launch Novel at her Premier Painting Exhibition

By Bruce Humes, January 13, '15

You may recognize the name of Sheng Keyi (盛可以) as the novelist who wrote Northern Girls (北妹) and more recently Death Fugue (死亡赋格), both translated into English. But you might not know that she is a budding artist as well. She took up painting in 2013. Check out her brushwork here.

You are invited to attend the exhibition, comprising 26 tableaux, as well as the launch of her latest novel, Savage Growth (野蛮生长), which also features her own illustrations:

Date/time: 3:00-5:00 pm, January 17
Venue: New Millenium Gallery (北京千年时间画廊)
Curator: Zhang Siyong (张思永)
Academic Support: Feng Tang (冯唐)
Special Guests: Li Jingze (李敬泽), Liu Zhenyun (刘震云), Wu Hongbin (武洪滨), Li Jian (李健), Li Xiuwen (李修文) and A Yi (阿乙)

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Jia Pingwa: Popularity in China Contrasts with Low Profile in Translation

By Bruce Humes, January 12, '15

In 贾平凹只能是守株待兔, we learn that Jia Pingwa’s latest novel 老生 (Lǎo Shēng) topped Sina Online’s 2014 ranking of “ten great books” (新浪年度十大好书).

The report points out that despite his popularity in China, his novels are rarely translated. “Whoever is willing to translate [my books], I welcome to come and negotiate the rights. But if no one does, I don’t know where to go to find translators,” says the author himself, perhaps slightly exasperated at the lack of interest from overseas publishers.

As usual, this is a bit of an exaggeration. Several of his books have been translated into French, including the once-banned La capitale déchue (废都). But only one of his novels, Turbulence (浮躁, tr. Howard Goldblatt), appears on Amazon in English. So this is probably more about his failure to gain more prominence in the English-speaking world.

Thus the question: Given his reputation in China, why haven’t most of Jia Pingwa’s novels been translated into European languages?