Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

Yan Lianke, Dream of Ding Village: Surely, one sky is enough.

By Cindy M. Carter, published

Wanted to to share a few short passages from Yan Lianke's novel. The first is a dream sequence; the second, a poem. The translation is almost finished. Only a week to go, as I race toward the finish line (and try not to stumble). -C

The night the tomb was robbed, grandpa had a dream:

The sky was filled with bright red suns. There were five, six, seven, eight, nine of them, crowding the sky and scorching the plain below. Drought had left the soil parched and cracked. Across the plain and well beyond, crops had died, wells run dry and rivers vanished. In an effort to banish the suns from the sky, to rid the sky of all the suns but one, strong young men had been chosen from each village, one man for every ten villagers. Armed with pitchforks, spades and scythes, they chased the suns across the plain, trying to drive them to the ends of the earth, topple them from the sky, and toss them into the ocean. Because surely, one sun in the sky was enough.

As grandpa stood at the entrance to the burial chamber, he remembered a bit of doggerel he'd heard as a child. It was an old folk saying here on the plain, a truism passed from generation to generation:

When graves are robbed of treasure,
there's not enough treasure to go around.
When graves are robbed of coffins,
there are too many coffins to be found.


# 1.   

The first is kind of a cool amalgamation of 羿射九日 and 夸父逐日。Thanks for this.

 Canaan Morse, October 20, 2009, 10:11p.m.

# 2.   

Just to inform that Yan Lianke is in Paris this week; his novel "The Joy of Living" has been translated by Sylvie Gentil and just published by Editions Philippe Picquier;a great novel...

bertrand mialaret, October 22, 2009, 3:06a.m.

# 3.   

Thanks for your post, Bertrand. I've always wondered why Yan Lianke's La Joie de vivre/The Joy of Living/Shouhuo wasn't the first of his novels to be translated. It's his finest work.

I hear Sylvie Gentil is an outstanding translator, and am very excited to learn that the French translation will be available soon. Here's a mention on

 cindy carter, October 22, 2009, 4:10a.m.

# 4.   

Bertrand, could you explain the origin of the word "Benaise"? I noticed that 受活村 is translated as "le village de Benaise". Is that a permutation of "bien aise"/"bien a l'aise"? Does it contain any other meaning or implication? It seems a very brilliant invention on the part of translator Sylvie Gentil and I'd like to understand it better. Thanks.

(Also thanks to our local Francophile Bruce Humes, for helping to explain the terms "bien aise" and "bien a l'aise".)

 cindy carter, October 22, 2009, 6:26a.m.

# 5.   

Could come from "bien aise", makes sense. What is said in the book is " to be benaise" is in the Hénan dialect "enjoy life".I will question Yan Lianke during an interview tomorrow.I have also a problem with the french title which has recently changed and is now "Bons baisers de Lenine", perhaps eye catching but not in line with the book to my point of view!

bertrand mialaret, October 22, 2009, 12:55p.m.

# 6.   

Hee-hee. Wu Wei, the deputy director of the State Council Information Office and head of the country's book export program, doesn't seem aware of the French translation, according to an interview conducted just before the Frankfurt Book Fair and printed in this week's Southern Weekly:


It's actually a pretty decent interview despite a few "ignorant foreigners" bits.

jdmartinsen, October 23, 2009, 12:07a.m.

# 7.   


Give the lady a break, Joel.

Besides exporting the country's fine literature, I suspect her department has another and time-consuming mission: to ensure that the "wrong" books -- or authors -- don't end up appearing in the West.

Like Yan Lianke, for instance, who was reportedly told by the powers-that-be that he was NOT to go to Frankfurt Book Fair...

 Bruce, October 23, 2009, 1:20a.m.

# 8.   

Confirm that Benaise comes from "bien aise" which is a pretty elegant translation.The recent change in the french translation of the title of the book has nothing to do with the translator and is the responsibily of the management of the editor Philippe Picquier.

bertrand mialaret, October 23, 2009, 6:54a.m.

# 9.   

English translation of Joel's post about the interview with Wu Wei (deputy director of the State Council Information Office and head of China's book export program):

"For example, the Shaanxi Writers' Association asked me to come speak to them about how to help Shaanxi literature go global. Shaanxi [Province] is home to some tremendous literary talent. When I spoke to foreign publishers about it, they said they were willing to publish works from Shaanxi, books by writers such as Jia Pingwa, but in the end, the works weren't translated. Jia Pingwa's books contain a lot of Shaanxi dialect that even we Mandarin-speakers don't understand, dialect that foreigners are even less likely to understand. Another example is Yan Lianke's Shouhuo [The Joy of Living]. The translation rights were sold in 2004, but the book has yet to appear in translation. The reason is that they can't translate it - they just don't understand the dialect."

Sorry if my translation is a bit rough, but I wanted to post this for the benefit of those who don't read Chinese. I know everyone is busy, but I encourage contributors to post English translations, or at least partial translations, of Chinese-language comments and posts whenever they can. Not always, but when it's appropriate.

Just keep in mind that this site is intended to promote Chinese literature to a wider audience, not a select priesthood of Mandarin-speakers and academics.

We love the choir, but it's already singing our song, and has probably heard most of our sermons.

 cindy carter, October 23, 2009, 9:43a.m.

# 10.   

Thanks for the translation, Cindy. This one's kind of point-and-laugh rather than anything valuable to a larger audience, but I'll admit that I've been pretty bad about posting untranslated snippets in the comment section here. I'll shape up in the future.

jdmartinsen, October 24, 2009, 6:42a.m.

# 11.   

@Joel and Cindy

Thx to both of you!

Loved this tidbit so much that I have gone on and translated a larger excerpt of Comrade Wu's comprehensive take on what the market wants and why Chinese cultural product can be so dismally difficult to move...

Check it out if you like:

Chinese Books, English Reviews

 Bruce, October 24, 2009, 7:40a.m.

# 12.   

Hi Bertrand,

I was amazed when I read through the running conversation on the translation. Very interesting stuff I observe.

Wonder when you are coming this way again, Malaysia that is.

Cheers Boss.


Sani Yusof, November 11, 2009, 2:03a.m.

# 13.   

Here for the first time and loving it! Keep up the great work.


China Law , November 18, 2009, 10:47a.m.

# 14.   

Great to be here and learn so much. I am from Shaanxi and the conversation above is very interesting. I was in the team trying to invite Madame Wu to Shaanxi. We are now doing sth to help introducing Shaanxi Literature to the West. We know that few of the works of my fellow writers (Shaanxi) were translated so far. Even Jiang Pingwa, he has 80% plus, only in Chinese.

Peter in Shaanxi, March 28, 2010, 3:34a.m.


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