Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

Christopher Peacock on Translating Tibetan Lit

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. . . there is one tricky (but very enjoyable) challenge with Tsering Döndrup’s work, and that is his tendency to use Chinese words and phrases in his fiction. Many Tibetan authors avoid this for a variety of reasons, but Tsering Döndrup is quite unique in his desire to bring this issue of language to the fore in his writing. He wants to highlight the effect that Mandarin is having on modern Tibetan, especially the fact that many Tibetans have little choice but to experience many aspects of life in modern China through Chinese. In some of his recent work he has used Chinese characters [ed. hanzi] directly in the text. In the stories in this volume, however, he renders them phonetically in Tibetan. These spellings (Tibetan has an alphabetical writing system) are of his own invention, and to all intents and purposes they come across as gibberish (imagine making up your own spellings of Chinese words in an English short story). I specialize in Chinese literature, and I still couldn’t figure out what some of the words were on my own, even when he included a Tibetan translation in parentheses.


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