By Eric Abrahamsen, February 8, '10
More reading material: a sample translation of the first chapter of Sheng Keyi's Northern Girls. Edit: the English translation of Northern Girls will be published by Penguin in 2012, so I've removed the sample.
From the promotional materials we took to Frankfurt 2009:
"Sheng Keyi's first full-length novel, Northern Girls is drawn from her experiences as a job-seeking migrant in the early 1990s. Its main character, Hong, is no different from the thousands of other country girls who are moving to Shenzhen to seek work, with one exception: she has an extraordinarily full bosom. She finds herself caught up in the chaos of Shenzhen, a city that hardly existed ten years previously, where the mad rush of economic growth has destabilized moral norms and shredded the fabric of society. With hardly a thought in her head but to make her way in the world, she discovers that her body has already opened some doors and closed others, shaping her fate before she's even had a chance to gain her footing.
"After arriving in Shenzhen Hong and her friend drift at the edges of society, working in hair salons, shops, factories and hotels, owning absolutely nothing in the world but their labor and their bodies. As migrant worker girls they are doomed to be scorned by local women and humiliated by local men, but as Hong's companions slowly begin to turn down the path of least resistance, Hong herself sticks to her own idiosyncratic principles, stubbornly insisting on her own brand of integrity, and the bosom that has caused her so much grief becomes a symbol of her irrepressible vital force."
By Eric Abrahamsen, February 7, '10
Mo Yan's newest novel, called Frog, is ill-served by its publicity billing: "A novel about the One Child Policy and population control!"
Unappealing as that sounds, Mo Yan is too accomplished a writer to simply dress up an historical tract as a novel, and Frog is in many ways a good read. The first thing I noticed was that he had abandoned the baroquely florid storytelling style of Life and Death are Wearing Me Out for a more traditional Chinese narrative, a descendent of the "gather 'round and I'll tell you a story" style more often associated with Su Tong. In this case, the book is narrated by a Communist Party member whose aunt – once known in their rural county as a miracle midwife – is one of the first implementers of the new planned-reproduction policies of the late 70s and early 80s.
The aunt is the heart of the story – her determination to carry out what she sees as a vital new policy, her demonization by rural families hell-bent on raising sons, her eventual reconsideration and regret. Mo Yan is still a master of the scene, of the dramatic moment, and there are many throughout the book: starving children discovering, with shuddering wonder, that coal is good to eat; the death of a pregnant woman who has plunged into a turbulent river rather than let the planned-reproduction team drag her back for a forced abortion; the same team demolishing the houses of neighbors of an anti-abortion holdout, in order to turn the whole community against the law-breakers.
By Eric Abrahamsen, January 28, '10
The Grayhawk Agency in Taiwan is calling for translation sample submissions for Mai Jia's book Decoded. Any translators interested in submitting a sample for this book, please email a query to email@example.com, and we'll send you two novel extracts to choose from, as well as more background information on the book and author. Please send your inquiries within the next two weeks.
The Grayhawk Agency will be accepting samples through the first week of March, following which two translations will be chosen (one for each of the two extracts) to be used with the promotional package, and recommended to publishers. Translators whose samples are chosen will be paid $300.
The Grayhawk Agency's most recent sale is Zhang Ling's Gold Mountain Blues.
By Eric Abrahamsen, January 14, '10
Another good bit from Han Han's blog (we should just start a Han Han channel here). Minutes after I read this blog post I got a dirty message from Wang Xiaoshan, "in support of Han Han".
Lastly, I saw a news report that said that any cell phones used to send dirty messages or pornographic content will have their SMS capabilities turned off, and you'll have to go to the police station and give them a written pledge before they'll turn it back on again. The government's just like this: it always gives you a verb and a noun, and then it never explains the noun. For instance, you can't be counter-revolutionary, but they never tell you what counter-revolutionary means. You can't commit hooliganism, but what is hooliganism? Now you can't send dirty messages, but they won't tell you what a dirty message is. I used to go along with the government and accept their standards, but friends kept straying unwittingly into mine fields – even some fifty-cent Party members who mean to kiss ass end up not passing inspection, and look stupid. My recommendation is that these mine fields be written out clearly: "over here is a mine field, enter at your own risk". But not only do they make no clear statements, they keeping piling mines on the sidewalk – who's fault is that if we step on them? So it's nearly the New Year, everyone will be sending text messages around: in order to avoid the tragedy of friends getting their phones shut off and having to go to the police station to give a written pledge on the first of the new year, I've decided to sacrifice myself. For the next few days I will continually send dirty messages from my phone until it is shut off. Then I'll come back here to tell everyone exactly what constitutes a dirty message or pornographic content. So if you get a dirty or pornographic message from me, please don't get me wrong: I'm not in heat and I'm not flirting with you, I'm just exploring.
By Eric Abrahamsen, January 13, '10
Following up on the announcement a few weeks ago of the re-opening of the Banyan Tree, China's first influential literary website, this is a short Q&A with Wang Xiaoshan and Yang Yong, Editor in Chief and Managing Editor, respectively, of the new Banyan Tree, the most recent acquisition of Shanda Literature Limited, which is in turn a part of Shanda Interactive Entertainment Limited, an online gaming, literature and music empire that has an eye on most of the prime digital real estate in China. The Banyan Tree, which first opened in 1997, has languished over the past four or five years, but Shanda is intent on breathing new life into the old brand.
Why did Shanda buy the Banyan Tree, instead of just starting a new literary website?
Wang Xiaoshan: I think they were looking at the Banyan Tree's brand. That site started 12… 13 years ago now, Christmas of 1997. Back then it was a personal website, but as it grew it fostered a lot of great authors and scriptwriters. So even though it's traded hands several times in the past few years, it's brand and its image is still there. This way, it's big news from the very beginning.
Yang Yong: A lot of literary youth still have an emotional attachment to the site, as well.
By Eric Abrahamsen, January 12, '10
So obviously, between Google agreeing to settle with Chinese writers on the book scanning issue, and Google announcing that it will no longer censor its google.cn search results, these are big days for Google and China.
There's been some press about the Google books issue inside of China, though as you might imagine it is carefully-edited, carefully-angled press, aimed at obscuring the censorship issue while making Google out to be a copyright-stealing, China-bullying corporate pirate. This widely-reposted article, in Chinese, represents the main thrust of reporting in China. In the interest of expediency and irony, we've run that article through the Google translator (editing only the title for clarity), and now leave you to puzzle through the (surprisingly comprehensible) results:
By Eric Abrahamsen, January 11, '10
The following is a translation of "thing number one" from Han Han's latest blog post, "Three Things". He's talking about the continued non-appearance of his much-ballyhoo'd new literary magazine, called <独唱团> (temporary translation: Band of Soloists, any better suggestions?).
I attended two press conferences in Beijing, not for any promotional purposes – I don't like doing promotion even for books that earn me money directly, and I rarely meet with media or readers face to face. The purpose of these conferences was to lower everyone's expectations for Band of Soloists. I had originally meant this magazine to be a freer, wilder sort of literary magazine, but unfortunately, given present publishing restrictions, it's going to be difficult to realize that plan, and I'm also not willing to compromise to the point where the magazine is no better than traditional literary magazines. The magazine has yet to go to print, and the first issue is far from having a publication date. Actually the contents of the first issue were ready months ago; even the second issue is mostly complete, but various stumbling blocks have kept us from printing. I'm feeling pretty helpless; I'll try harder to work with my partners. Please understand that I personally have no desire for delays, I only meant to improve the lives of writers in China, and if the delays continue they could hold up my own finances too, I might not even get a new set of clothing for New Years. So I'm not delaying on purpose, I'm just trying to get a freer creative space for the writers who believe in me. Maybe my own strength and abilities are limited – I hope readers will forgive me, and forgive my incompetence. And please, everyone, lower your expectations for this literary magazine. Even if and when it finally goes to print, the first few issues will likely be terrible. I will do everything I can to guarantee a basic level of quality, but please don't hold out too much hope for it. Let me say to you once again, the flight will continue to be delayed, not because of technical errors with the plane, but because of inclement weather conditions.
By Eric Abrahamsen, January 6, '10
A couple of days ago (we're slow), the Three Percent translation/literary weblog posted their longlist for their 2010 Best Translated Book Award. They've picked their 25 titles based on an impressive (and possibly unique) breadth of reading and understanding of world literature; the list includes some darlings of the international scene (ie Robert Bolano) as well as a hefty representation of relative unknowns. We've got one dog in the race: Cao Naiqian's There’s Nothing I Can Do When I Think of You Late at Night, translated by John Balcom, but of course everyone's a winner…
By Eric Abrahamsen, January 3, '10
A recent review from the NYT Sunday Book Review begins like so:
Jean-Philippe Toussaint’s wonderfully stylized new novel, “Running Away,” begins with a question: “Would it ever end with Marie?” That’s only fitting for a book that leaves so much unanswered — we never learn the narrator’s name or occupation or, indeed, why his relationship with Marie, his Parisian girlfriend, is tanking. Those aren’t the only riddles, either. From the outset, the narrator fails to divulge why Marie has asked him to deliver $25,000 to a Shanghai associate, Zhang Xiangzhi.
Now I may be afflicted with some occupational disease here, but to me the only thing that stands out in that paragraph is the fact that an author with a French name, writing an English-language thriller, has not only chosen to set part of his international storyline in China, but has given a major character a Chinese name containing two "zh"s and the dreaded "x".
By Eric Abrahamsen, December 26, '09
Last week, a friend called me up and told me to show up at such-and-such a place, at such-and-such a time, and to have my nice pants on. It had something to do with the Banyan Tree, one of China's oldest literary websites, but beyond that I frankly didn't catch the drift.
So this morning I went, and here's the deal: The Shanda Company, an online literature/media company which is eating up everything in sight, recently bought the Banyan Tree (榕树下, róngshùxià). The Banyan Tree was started in 1997, early days for the Chinese internet, and in the late nineties and early oughts it was the place to go for Chinese literature online. It's been pretty quiet for the past five years, but as part of Shanda's campaign to own mostly everything (someone offhandedly mentioned purchasing Paper Republic over lunch, good lord), they bought the Banyan Tree and are bringing it back to life. It was a large and loud event, attended by dignitaries such as Wang Meng, Ai Weiwei, Hong Ying, Feng Tang, Xu Xing, Lu Jinbo and a host of other half-writer, half-journalist chimeras.
As it turns out the friend who called me, whom I've always known as a highly-intelligent, deeply cynical journalist and inveterate rager against many machines, is the new head editor of the Banyan Tree. As soon as I've figured what the hell he's up to I will post in more detail, but I wanted to get this up here now, because when you go look at the Banyan Tree website (http://www.rongshuxia.com/) there's just a great big countdown clock to midnight tonight (Beijing time), at which point presumably something magical will happen. So here's this for now, watch the clock, and we'll get you something a little meatier when the fireworks are over.
EDIT: Well it wasn't immediately magical; it looks like most other online literary sites. We're on vacation at the moment, and will have a talk with the editors when we get back in early January. More then!
By Eric Abrahamsen, December 7, '09
The Foreign Correspondent's Club of China held an event last Friday that was a sort of retrospective on the Frankfurt Book Fair – lessons learned, insights gained, etc. (details here) The four speakers were Michael Kahn-Ackermann, head of the Goethe-Institute in Beijing; Jo Lusby, General Manager (China) of the Penguin Group; Zhou Wenhan, a freelance writer based in Beijing; and Kristin Kupfer, a German freelance journalist.
The discussion, held in the Sequoia Cafe, was good – highlights (from my point of view) included Michael Kahn-Ackermann's point about the enormous disconnect between the official delegation and the Chinese writers who attended. Essentially that the two groups had entirely separate goals, different methods of presenting themselves, and different styles of communication. Jo Lusby continued this with comments that the government would have to learn how to balance its control over "the message" with allowing those people who actually create culture to do their work. There was also a lively debate/argument over the responsibilities of the western press, with one excitable audience member (a journalist) saying, "When we ask Mo Yan if he's a dissident writer he has to answer!"
Zhou Wenhan, the freelance journalist, wrote his remarks out in Chinese, which were then ably translated and read by Jonathan Rechtman. I was impressed with how succinctly and forcefully he presented some very important ideas about how the Chinese government works, and so rather than regale you with half-remembered anecdotes I will paste below, with permission of both author and translator, the English version of what he said:
Kristin has asked me to talk about the strategic issues surrounding the communication between the German and Chinese organizers in a broader sense, but I'm not part of any government think tank or anything, so I can't really say much about the strategic side of things. I can only speak about some of my observations as to how the Chinese government seeks to manage information in all of its interactions with other countries, whether in terms of cultural exchanges, international conferences, or the Olympics.
By Eric Abrahamsen, November 25, '09
The University of Oklahoma is on the verge of launching a major initiative into Chinese literature, which comes as a surprise to those of us who were twiddling our thumbs, but has actually been in the making for three years now. This initiative comes in two parts: a series of Chinese books to be published starting in 2011, and the launching of a new literary journal, Chinese Literature Today, a sister publication of the venerable World Literature Today, available in Chinese through Beijing Normal University. The new journal will launch next year, and they're soliciting submission, so have at it. The order of the day is "scholarly articles written to be accessible to a wide readership", ie not just smart but well-written, too.
From the Submissions Guidelines (PDF):
World Literature Today, the University of Oklahoma’s College of Arts and Sciences, and Beijing Normal University are pleased to announce an exciting new scholarly journal focusing on contemporary Chinese literature and culture in partnership with NOCFL. The new title, Chinese Literature Today, will feature articles, literary criticism, and original works of fiction and poetry by accomplished scholars and authors from China and abroad. As the editors of Chinese Literature Today, we would like to invite you to take full advantage of this exciting new opportunity by submitting your work today.
In 2006 World Literature Today (WLT), one of America’s oldest periodicals devoted to world literature, began working with China’s most prestigious College of Chinese Language and Literature at Beijing Normal University (BNU) to produce a special issue focusing on China. WLT celebrated this publication in the summer of 2007 by holding the first “China and World Literature Today Conference” in Beijing. Following these initial successes, WLT and BNU began the more ambitious project of initiating a Chinese-language edition, which was unveiled at the “China and World Literature Today International Conference” held in Beijing in October 2008. Many of the nearly three hundred international and Chinese novelists, scholars, editors, and poets who attended the conference voiced a desire to see more Chinese literature and literary criticism available in English translation. Thus, Chinese Literature Today was born.
Submissions should be sent to the CLT editor at firstname.lastname@example.org by December 16, 2009.
Download the full submissions guidelines (PDF) here.
Download the CLT styleguide (PDF) here.
By Eric Abrahamsen, November 17, '09
News broke today that Su Tong's novel The Boat to Redemption was chosen by the Man Asia Literary Prize judges as this year's winner. Su Tong was the only Chinese writer on the long list. The book is to be translated by Howard Goldblatt and published in the UK next February by Transworld UK.
Here's an article from the Guardian with more detail. The following is from the press release from the Peony Literary Agency (née Creative Work) which represents Su Tong.
On Nov 16, 2009, the Man Asian Literary Prize announced in Hong Kong the recipient of
the prize. Open to all Asian novels unpublished in English, the prize aims to bring
exciting new Asian authors to the attention of the world literary community.
Su Tong's prolific and provocative oeuvre – six novels including Rice (2004) and My Life as Emperor (2006), a dozen novellas, more than 120 short stories – have earned him a
place at the centre of China's literary scene. His best known work abroad is the novella
Wives and Concubines, which was made into the film Raise the Red Lantern directed by
Zhang Yimou and starring Gong Li. The film garnered an Oscar (1991), and won a Bafta
in 1993. Su Tong's Binu – The Myth Of Meng Jiang Nu (2006), the tale of the girl whose
tears collapsed the Great Wall, sold more than 100,000 copies in China within a month of
publication. It has since been sold into 15 countries.
Boat to Redemption which won the award is a raw, charged and unerringly human
comedy of the revolution. It is the story of disgraced Secretary Ku who has been banished
from the Party and leaves the shore for a new life among the boat people on a fleet of
industrial barges. Refusing to renounce his high status, he maintains a distance – with
Dongliang, his teenage son, from the lowlifes who surround him and he takes on Life,
Fate and the Party in the only way he knows…
For further information, please contact Marysia Juszczakiewicz (in Hong Kong) or Tina
Chou (in Beijing) at:
Tel: (852) 2167 8887
Fax: (852) 2167 8885
By Eric Abrahamsen, November 15, '09
EDIT: We've made a permanent home for the materials we brought to the Frankfurt Book Fair, which you can see by clicking here or following the link under the Explore Paper Republic heading on our home page.
So, very briefly: I and Nicky Harman have arrived in Frankfurt, where we'll be attending the Frankfurt Book Fair through the 28th.
In the near future I'll put up a longer, more detailed post about what we're up to here, but the short version is: we've come with a small packet of seven Chinese books that we think the whole world ought to translate and read. The small version of the packet can be downloaded by clicking here (PDF, right-click to download), and in the next couple of weeks we will be uploading substantial translation samples for each of those books, which can be downloaded separately. Take a look at the packet for now, and let us know what catches your fancy!
The sample from Han Dong's forthcoming novel Screwed!, can be downloaded here.
Three essays from Liang Wendao's Common Sense are here.
By Eric Abrahamsen, November 10, '09
Julia Lovell very kindly consented to give us the following interview, on the occasion of the Penguin Classics' publication of her translation of the complete fiction of Lu Xun.
Edit: Great minds think alike, or at least ask their questions of the same folk – Danwei has also posted an interview with Julia.
Lu Xun occupies a transitionary literary period between the classical writing of imperial China and what we consider modern Chinese today. How did you go about choosing an appropriate voice and register in English? What were some of the resources you turned to?
I suppose that when I started I was trying to recreate Lu Xun's own frame of reference. As is well known, he was a voracious reader of foreign literature. He once advised young writers to "read no Chinese books. Or as few as you can. But read more foreign books"; he even advocated something called "hard translation" that imported foreign syntax into the Chinese language through translation. So I thought that an obvious place to start might be some of the (particularly Eastern European) writers that he was keen on, and whose impact on his writing some scholars have studied: Gogol's "Diary of a Madman", for example. My own academic background is also very much in May-Fourth period writing - so I found it helpful to draw on knowledge of that era and of its ideas about the literature it was trying to create. A big part of the May Fourth vision of a new, modern literature was that it should intervene in life, that it should have an edge of political urgency to it - and that's strongly there in a lot of Lu Xun's fiction and essays.
But finally, and at the risk of sounding lazy, I think that Lu Xun does a lot of a translator's work for him/her. There's a tightly controlled fury bound up in his best, most powerful stories (I'm thinking particularly of pieces such as "Medicine", "Tomorrow", "Kong Yiji") that simply asks to be recreated in the target language. (Though I'm not saying I've succeeded at that.)