“You’re stepping on my shadow, please back off,” she said.

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

Eric Abrahamsen

worldcat / academia

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Eric has lived in Beijing since late 2001, when he studied Chinese at the Central University for Nationalities. He began struggling through Wang Xiaobo at an early date, and kept at it through the intervening years. He is the recipient of a PEN translation grant for Wang Xiaobo's My Spiritual Homeland and a NEA grant for Xu Zechen's Running Through Zhongguancun, later published as Running Through Beijing.

 

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AALITRA Translation Prize Announcement

By Eric Abrahamsen, February 2, '16

Below is the announcement of the Australian Association for Literary Translation (AALITRA) translation prize for 2016, featuring prose and poetry selections from the Chinese. I'll be acting as judge of entries for the A Yi prose bit.

See below for details (keep in mind this is open to Australian citizens only…):

The Australian Association for Literary Translation (AALITRA) now invites entries for the AALITRA Translation Prize.

The AALITRA Translation Prize aims to acknowledge the wealth of literary translation skills present in the Australian community. Prizes are awarded for a translation of a selected prose text and for a translation of a selected poem, with the focus on a different language each time the prize is offered.

In 2016, the focus language is Chinese. The prose text for translation is by A Yi (阿乙). The poetry text is by Rong Rong (荣荣). Each text is available from our website.

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Alligator Pear

By Eric Abrahamsen, January 29, '16

I'd always assumed that one of the Chinese words for avocado – 鳄梨, or "alligator pear" – was something made up by Chinese wordsmiths who were coming into contact with the funny fruit for the first time. Now, after reading an article on the Washington Post about restaurant menus in the US from a hundred years ago, I learn that "alligator pear" was something made up by… US wordsmiths who were coming into contact with the funny fruit for the first time. Who knew!?

Now can someone tell me the origins of 牛油果?

Edit: And I spelled wrong...

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Data Entry

By Eric Abrahamsen, January 25, '16

While the rest of us are sleeping, the Paper Republic Science Elves are hard at work updating our database of Chinese authors, books, translations, and publications. We've made a few bits of visible progress recently, to which the Science Elves would like to call to your attention.

The first change is that we've consolidated some of the database pages: it used to be that original Chinese works, their translations, and respective publications of the two, all had their own separate pages in the database. That led to a sort of round-and-round-the-mulberry-bush situation as you clicked from one page to another, and though this amused the Science Elves very much, it was largely unhelpful for the rest of us. This various information is now gathered into more comprehensive pages, where you can see more, while clicking less (for instance see Feng Tang's Beijing Beijing. We've tried to provide redirects for old URLs, so none of your links go broken.

The second change is the introduction of the publications search page, where you can search through publications listed in the database. You can reach this page from the link top and center. For the past few years, we've been compiling lists of "Chinese literature translated and published in 20XX", which has meant quite a bit of manual labor for the people involved. The whole point of having a database, of course, is that you can spit out information automatically, so why not let you do the searching yourself? You can now find publications by year, language, zone, format…

There will be more coming in the future – the database is already quite extensive, and we'll be adding more entry points and search features over the coming months. The Science Elves are dedicated to bringing us into the 1990s, at least, and the 2000s are within reach!

In the meantime, I'll see if I can rouse the Design Elves…

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Beijing International Book Fair: Literary Salons

By Eric Abrahamsen, August 20, '15

As Bruce has already noted, Paper Republic is helping the Beijing International Book Fair plan a series of literary events during the book fair in Beijing next week. It's a relatively small affair, but we've had fun with it, and I think have some very nice events on the way.

Do note: These events are aimed at a Chinese-speaking audience, and most will not cater to English-speakers!

You can see the full event schedule, plus our awesome posters (designed by Sun Xiaoxi, about whom more later), at this link.

Events we're particularly excited about include a few with Alan Lee, illustrator of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit, a conversation between Enrique Vila-Matas and Ge Fei, a writing workshop with Simon Van Booy, and a discussion about the future of publishing in China with folks from Guoren and Douban. But there's a lot going on in there, check out the link!

Lastly, one event that didn't make it into the official schedule, but which I'm very enthusiastic about, is a talk with author and poet Wang Xiaoni and editor Li Jing, about Wang's short story collection 1966. That's happening Sunday, August 30th, at 3pm, at the One Way Street Aiqinhai location, and shouldn't be missed.

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Beijing International Book Fair: Literary Salons

By Eric Abrahamsen, August 4, '15

The Beijing International Book Fair, which takes place annually at the end of August, has always been primarily a publishing event – domestic and international publishing houses trading their wares. This year, with the help of Paper Republic, the BIBF is growing an additional limb: the Literary Salons, a small, reader-focused literary festival taking place alongside the publishing event.

Between August 22nd and 30th, Chinese and international writers will appear in more than a dozen literary events within Beijing, most taking place at the One Way Street Space.

We'll be announcing a full schedule in the next week or so, but expect to see Enrique Vila-Matas in conversation with Ge Fei, Alan Lee discussing his illustrations for The Lord of the Rings, Feng Tang reading poetry, and much more. Stay tuned!

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Nanjing Will Pay You

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 15, '15

To translate Nanjing writers!

The Nanjing municipal 文联 is teaming up with the Nanjing Municipal Publishing and Media Group to dump some money on the promotion of Nanjing arts and literature. There are many programs getting funding over the next three years, but one of them is particularly relevant to our interests: they're paying translators who successfully publish translations of works by writers in Nanjing.

Here's the link to the official application instructions.

The rules, as I understand them (and I could be wrong), are:

  1. You sign a contract with them before the deadline, which is the end of July, 2015, ie fifteen days from the date of this posting.
  2. Within three years of the signing, you translate and publish either one novel-length work, or two shorter works, by a Nanjing writer.
  3. They pay you either 180,000 RMB (one novel), or 150,000 RMB (two shorter works). Actually it looks like the fee is disbursed in yearly installments.
  4. Step four is usually "profit", but that's already happened in step three.

I'm not sure of the exact definition of a "Nanjing writer". I'm also not sure what happens if you translate the novel, and then no one agrees to publish it, which to be honest seems fairly likely. There are a few other terms and conditions, for which see the full explanation at the link above.

Update: I checked with them, and you don't need to have a novel publication contract in place to apply. They will be reviewing the applications, and making decisions based on likelihood of success, and it's enough that you find a publisher within the three-year term of the contract.

What is there to lose, comrades?

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Introducing "Read Paper Republic"

By Eric Abrahamsen, June 12, '15

I suspect that some of you out there have, from time to time, wondered: “but what do you people at Paper Republic actually do all day long? Surely you can’t survive by snarky literary judgments alone? Also, can’t you make your website look a little less ’My First HTML’?”

I am here with a resolution to one of your questions, at least: what we do all day is to get Chinese literature into English, and though actual readable texts have been in scant supply on the site, that will change starting a week from today. June 18th we’ll be launching something called “Read Paper Republic”, where we’ll present one complete free-to-view short story, essay, or poem on the site itself, both as a webpage and a download, once a week.

We’ll be kicking off with an original translation of a story by A Yi, translated by Michelle Deeter. Our editorial team consists of Dave Haysom here in Beijing and Nicky Harman and Helen Wang in the UK.

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Best Translated Book Award: Detailed Links

By Eric Abrahamsen, May 4, '15

As part of the Best Translated Book Award project, recently announced on the Three Percent site, they're publishing short essays on the various books and the reasons for their nomination. There are four Chinese-language books on the longlist, and I'll update this post with links to the essays as they're posted. As of April 11, we've got:

  1. Nomination essay by judge Monica Carter on why Qiu Miaojin's Last Words from Montmartre, translated by Ari Larissa Heinrich, should win.
  2. Nomination essay by ??? on why Hsia Yü's poetry collection Salsa, translated by Steve Bradbury should win.
  3. Nomination essay by guest critic Christine Palauon why Dorothy Tse's Snow and Shadow, translated by Nicky Harman, should win.
  4. Nomination essay by ??? on why Can Xue's The Last Lover, translated by Annelise Finegan Wasmoen should win.

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Sun Yisheng and Pathlight at the Bookworm Literary Festival

By Eric Abrahamsen, March 19, '15

Those of you who are in Beijing: come to the iQiyi cafe next Monday night (March 23rd) at 8pm, for an event with Sun Yisheng, Nicky Harman, Dave Haysom and myself, talking a bit about Pathlight magazine, but mostly about Sun Yisheng's story 《猴者》, and Nicky's translation of it: "Apery". Expect the usual keen textual autopsy, mixed with general literary commentary and snarky asides.

The event is part of the Bookworm Literary Festival, and is 60 RMB. It's taking place at iQiyi, the cafe sort of kitty-corner to the Bookworm that sticks up all by itself, you know the one.

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Paper Republic Shortlisted for LBF International Literary Translation Initiative Award

By Eric Abrahamsen, March 18, '15

Each year the London Book Fair hands out awards in a number of categories as part of its International Excellence Awards program. We're pleased to announce that Paper Republic has made the shortlist for this year's International Literary Translation Initiative Award. This is a wonderful bit of recognition, and many thanks to all who made it happen.

The short list is short: besides us it's Asymptote and the Dutch Foundation for Literature, so we're in excellent company.

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Wolf Totem: The Movie They Forgot to Make

By Eric Abrahamsen, March 7, '15

So I saw Wolf Totem last night, and I think stayed awake for enough of it to be able to write a short review.

A bit ago Bruce posted some thoughts and questions about the film, focusing as he does on the ethnic minority angle, and asking about its depiction of Mongolia and Mongolians.

Having seen the film, I can say with some confidence: it’s not really about Mongolia at all.

By which I mean, this is a storyline that has been cooked down to its essentials until it looks more like a film-school exercise in story-boarding than it does a real story. It ended up being a prototype for any and all films that follow the “civilized man visits wise natives and learns their wisdom but doesn’t get the girl” arc. Sure it’s set in Mongolia, and sure its got wolves, but all the plot particulars are so rudimentary they feel like placeholders that the filmmakers later forgot to replace with actual content. The Mongolians could just be blank blobs tagged INSERT NOBLE SAVAGES HERE. Chen Zhen might have a sign on his chest reading INSERT NAIVE IDEALIST HERE.

Mongolian is spoken, in exactly the same quantities as Lakota was spoken in Dances With Wolves, or Na’vi in Avatar. In the same quantities, and to the same purpose. Those movies – and a barrel more like them – fleshed out the civilization-meets-savagery theme into something that (even if you objected to it) had specificity, and the emotional weight that comes with that. Wolf Totem remains an insubstantial Platonic ideal.

Even the wolf scenes, sad to say. I did enjoy the night storm scene with the wolf-pack chasing the horses. The shot of the horses the next morning was the film’s most arresting visual image. And yet… the “thrilling” wolf scenes were filmed in an entirely generic way. The cinematography and the score were more appropriate to Avatar’s scenes of dragon-riding or attack helicopters than wild animals. Wolves have their own pace, their own tension, their own menace, and the camera failed to find that.

Try reading this Q&A with Jiang Rong and you’ll see what I’m talking about: his comments on the differences between the film and his book immediately restore a sense of depth and reality to the story. And no wonder:

  1. Discussion of ethnic conflict removed.
  2. Doomed cross-cultural romance added.
  3. Death of wolf-cub removed.

This last is probably most revealing. Jiang Rong’s first explanation is “Westerners would not be able to bear this. They would think this was too cruel, and the animal rights people might protest.” Passing over that non-sequitur, we come to what feels like the real reason:

…the parts of the film that include the cub are pretty superficial. People were very moved by the wolf cub in the book because I wrote about it in great detail. So when the wolf cub dies in the book, many readers cried. Even I cried while I was writing it. The wolf cub’s personality is very strong in the book up until its death, so it is a very complete chain of events.

But since the cub wasn’t very prominent in the early parts of the film, to have this shocking thing happen to it wouldn’t be very logical.

In essence: “We took out the most emotionally affecting part of the film, because the film doesn’t really have any emotion in it.”

I left the theater with the weird feeling that I hadn’t seen a film at all, merely a description of one.

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Book Expo America, 2015

By Eric Abrahamsen, November 18, '14

Book Expo America, the largest US book fair, is schedule for late May 2015, and a certain ancient civilization is going to be the Guest of Honor. That means BEA is going to get the Frankfurt-2009/London-2012 treatment, with a small army of Chinese writers and publishers and "other" descending on New York for a few weeks.

Right about now is when the list of lucky writers is being compiled, and we'll have some small say in the compilation. They'll take into account which writers have recently published books in English (thanks again to Nicky Harman and Helen Wang for their timely compilation. Now I'm going to the peanut gallery with two additional questions:

  1. Who among you (translators or publishers) have English-language translations coming out next year, ideally (but not necessarily) in the US, and ideally (but not necessarily) in the first half of the year?
  2. Publications aside, who do you think should go? Who would make an interesting addition to the delegation?

Please comment here, or email me directly. Thanks!

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Three Body I is Number One in Chinese Literature on Amazon

By Eric Abrahamsen, November 14, '14

Check out the Amazon.com page for the hardback edition of volume one of Liu Cixin's epic sci-fi trilogy, The Three Body Problem. Volume one, translated by Ken Liu and published by Tor Books, has only been out for a few days, and as of today is ranked #683 among all books on Amazon, and #1 among Chinese literature. Holy crap.

Congratulations to Liu Cixin, Ken Liu, and in advance to Joel Martinsen, the translator of the forthcoming second volume.

And to the rest of you Chinese authors… Reach for the stars.

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