Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

My challenge is over!

By Helen Wang, published

A few weeks ago I took on a challenge – to post something on Paper Republic every day until the London Book Fair (see more here). The LBF starts tomorrow, so my challenge is now over! I’ve learnt a lot in the process. If you’re interested, read on…

If you’ve been following my entries and links, you’ll know that I’m based in London and earn my living in the non-fiction world. In other words, I’m an amateur, an outsider compared with people like Eric Abrahamsen and Bruce Humes (to name just two of the contributors to Paper Republic) who are based in China and who really know what they are doing. As I’ve been scratching away at the surface, I’ve come to appreciate their knowledge, expertise and experience all the more. Similarly, Nicky Harman has been incredibly active in the UK and she has done a huge amount to promote Chinese fiction in translation. These people are experts and professionals, and I’m very grateful for what they do!

There is a lot of information and activity out there, and part of the challenge was how to find it and navigate it. Mostly I followed any questions that popped into my head, did a bit of web-surfing, and set up a few web searches. During the period of the challenge, Google searches, eg for ‘Chinese fiction’ and ‘Chinese novel’, were dominated by Bo Xilai, science fiction and the politics of the London Book Fair, but this doesn’t give the full story at all. Doing similar searches on Google Scholar is extremely interesting when you want to get deeper into something, but often the academic pieces I read were discussing some amazing piece of writing, and I wanted to read the piece for itself, in English, for pleasure – and that wasn’t always possible. I appreciated and enjoyed the academic discussion, but it sometimes felt like people discussing a picture that you can’t see! Maybe there are better ways of searching? Maybe I just want too much?

But it is frustrating to hear about an ‘amazing’ Chinese author and then discover there is nothing in translation! For example, The Wall Street Journal recently posted an article on wealthy Chinese wanting to move to the US, and focussed on the writer Shi Kang (including a mini-film), and yet I couldn’t find anything by Shi Kang in English translation. It just happened that a group of us were doing a translation experiment on one of his short stories, so we posted it here. These things are frustrating because it’s fun to discover new writers and see what their writing is like (content, style, etc). I know reading groups are very effective, but sometimes I’d like to be able to find out about these things more easily, and be able to talk about them more generally and more spontaneously ‘with’ (rather than ‘at’) English-reading friends and family. Maybe the answer is to try to encourage more collections of short stories or chapters of novels in translation… perhaps something a bit more substantial than the current samples on Paper Republic?

Having done some translation over the past year (yes, I have put info about them on the PR website during this challenge), I’m interested in the question of editing. So, it was encouraging to be able to post a piece on editing by Kate Griffin, and to see that there will be a session devoted to Editing China and Japan at the London Book Fair. []

The challenge has been fun. It’s been a good experience and a great learning curve. But it’s time for me to stop now and throw down the gauntlet … and encourage someone new to take on a challenge of their own…


# 1.   

We thought a few months ago that Paper Republic was looking a bit sad and neglected (probably because we're all too busy doing the translating and/or earning a crust) and that it needed an injection of time, energy and faith. You've done that magnificently, Helen, and keeping it up over a month was heroic. Lets not let P R get sad-looking again...

 Nicky Harman, April 17, 2012, 2:57a.m.

# 2.   

Congratulations for a great job, showing that there were lots of links and info that we did not used. Many thanks, I also have learned a lot from what you have been doing... Bertrand Mialaret

Bertrand Mialaret, April 19, 2012, 2:25a.m.


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