Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

The Best Translated Chinese Books (weekend challenge by @cfbcuk)

By Helen Wang, published

At the end of last week on twitter this question was posed: why don't people complain about poor quality Chinese>English translations? Good manners prevailed (no one was named and shamed), and as a critical session was not forthcoming, @cfbcuk held an ad-hoc Weekend Challenge to turn the question around and try to identify the 10 best translated Chinese books. For those who aren’t on twitter, but who might be interested, we’ll post the results below. The challenge was open to all, and while some eminent people participated (thank you!) we were also happy to include translated titles that people have enjoyed reading (thank you too!). In the end we received more than 10 titles. Here they are, in no particular order, except for The Story of the Stone, which was the clear favourite.

The Story of the Stone, by Cao Xueqin, tr. David Hawkes and John Minford
The Song of Everlasting Sorrow, by Wang Anyi, tr. Michael Berry and Susan Chan Egan
Atlas: the Archaeology of an Imaginary City by Dung Kai-Cheung, tr. by Anders Hansson and Bonnie S. McDougall
The Plum in the Gold Vase,or Chin P’ing Mei. Vol. 4: The Climax, tr. David Tod Roy
More Ways Than One to Make a Kite, by Ma Yuan, tr. Zhu Hong
Anthology of Chinese Literature, ed. Stephen Owen
Selected Poems of Li Po, tr. David Hinton
China in Ten Words, by Yu Hua, tr. Allan Barr
Notes of a Desolate Man, by Chu T’ien-wen, tr. Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin
The Carnal Prayer Mat, by Li Yu, tr. Patrick Hanan
Dictionary of Maqiao, by Han Shaogong, tr. Julia Lovell
Dream of Ding Village, by Yan Lianke, tr. Cindy Carter
Monkey, by Wu Cheng’en, tr. Arthur Waley
Cold Mountain Poems, tr. Gary Snyder
Wandering on the Way, Zhuangzi, tr. Victor Mair
Cathay, tr. Ezra Pound
A.C. Graham’s translations of poetry and philosophy


# 1.   

great idea that got lots of tweets! interesting mix of very old and very new (translations)

Nicky Harman, April 1, 2013, 6:48p.m.

# 2.   

Please note that The Song of Everlasting Sorrow was co-translated by Michael Berry and Susan Chan Egan

Susan Chan EGAN, May 2, 2014, 11:41p.m.

# 3.   

Thanks for pointing this out - I've just amended the post. Apologies.

Helen Wang, May 6, 2014, 10:48a.m.

# 4.   

Further to comment #2, please note that Notes of a Desolate Man was a co-translation with Sylvia Li-chun Lin.

Howard Goldblatt, May 30, 2014, 12:56p.m.

# 5.   

Thanks for pointing this out - I've amended it to include the names of both translators. Apologies.

Helen Wang, June 17, 2014, 10:03a.m.


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