Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

1.4 billion Chinese. 300 million Americans. 10 measly books.

By Cindy M. Carter, published

According to the 2009 translation database compiled by the literary website Three Percent, there were 348 new translations of fiction and poetry (283 novels and short-story collections; 65 volumes of poetry) on American bookshelves this year. Of the 348 works of literature to reach America from distant shores, only 10 were penned by Chinese authors. One, Dai Sijie's Once on a Moonless Night, was translated from the French. Another - In Such Hard Times: The Poetry of Wei Ying-wu - is a collection of poetry written during the Tang Dynasty. Yang Xianhui's Woman From Shanghai: Tales of Survival from a Chinese Labor Camp, although well worth reading, is a collection of eyewitness accounts presented as fiction (or semi-fictionalized) in order to elude Chinese censors. That leaves us with a total of 7 contemporary Chinese novels translated into English for the American literary marketplace in 2009. Seven. Books. From China. To America.

Compare this to the stats for other translations from various languages published in the U.S. this year: 59 from Spanish, 51 from French, 31 from German, 22 from Arabic (a mark of progress), 18 from Italian, 18 from Japanese, etcetera.

Here's the link to the Three Percent translation databases for 2009 and 2010. And a nice little pie-chart from The Faster Times ("What Are We Translating From?") illustrating the languages from which the 348 books were translated. Chinese works form a minuscule slice of an embarrassingly tiny pie.

Since there were so few Chinese offerings published in the U.S. this year, I can easily list them all here:

  1. Banished! by Han Dong, translated by Nicky Harman. University of Hawaii Press.

  2. Brothers by Yu Hua, translated by Eileen Chow and Carlos Rojas. Pantheon.

  3. English by Wang Gang, translated by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan. Viking.

  4. Five Spice Street by Can Xue, translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. Yale University Press.

  5. Feathered Serpent by Xu Xiaobin, translated by John Howard-Gibbon and Joanne Wang. Atria.

  6. In Such Hard Times: The Poetry of Wei Ying-wu, translated by Red Pine. Copper Canyon Press.

  7. The Moon Opera by Bi Feiyu, translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

  8. Once on a Moonless Night, by Dai Sijie, translated from the French by Adriana Hunter. Knopf.

  9. There's Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night, by Cao Naiqian, translated by John Balcom. Columbia University Press.

  10. Woman From Shanghai: Tales of Survival from a Chinese Labor Camp by Yang Xianhui, translated by Huang Wen. Pantheon.


# 1.   

Wow. Finally a book of Wei Yingwu's poetry in English. It's about time! Thanks for the tip--I'll pick it up from amazon as a belated Christmas present to myself. Now, if we can just get a book of translations from Du Mu.

DavidofSanGabriel, December 30, 2009, 9:22p.m.

# 2.   

Somehow I'm not surprised. I attended the annual American Translator's Association conference this year to find basically no representation from Chinese to English translators and no presentations by native English speakers in the language pair. In comparison, other East Asian languages and European languages were very well represented. Pretty disheartening, but I guess the good news is the only way to go is up!

Jeff, December 31, 2009, 10:35a.m.


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