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

Sun Yisheng / Nicky Harman

UK publisher signs 7 authors from Shaanxi!


The publisher holds world rights to all formats (in English) to the titles and will publish Mountain Stories by bestselling Chinese writer Ye Guangqin, in July, followed by six more translated titles in 2018 and 2019, all by authors from the Shaanxi province of north-west China.

The publisher's founder Jamie McGarry said: "Readers might not have heard of Shaanxi before, or be particularly familiar with the bestselling Chinese-language authors who call that province their home, but they soon will be. We've signed an agreement to publish a whole series of titles from the region's finest authors, translated with great care by a team at Northwest University in the city of Xi'an, then edited and proof-read by native English scholars."


# 1.   


 Eric Abrahamsen, May 24, 2017, 5:27a.m.

# 2.   

It would be interesting to know who those other six Shaanxi authors are!

While Shaanxi authors may not be famous outside China, the designation 文学陕军 (the “Shaanxi Writers Army”) has been around for a while in Chinese literary circles. It generally refers to authors such as Lu Yao, Chen Zhongshi, Jia Pingwa and Gao Jianqun. Three of the four have been translated into European languages, though not necessarily into English:

Chen Zhongshi (陈忠实): Author of 白鹿原, that has been rendered in French as Au pays du cerf blanc.

Jia Pingwa (贾平凹): Author of several novels now translated into English, such as Ruined City and Happy Dreams.

Gao Jianqun (高建群): His Tongwan City (统万城) appeared in English in 2013.

Lu Yao (路遥): Author of the immensely popular, 3-volume Ordinary World (平凡的世界). But I don’t think it has been translated.

Ye Guangqin (叶广芩) appears to be the first set to be published by Valley Press, but she is not a native of Shaanxi. A Manchu, she was raised in Beijing. However, she did work in Shaanxi in the 20s and 30s, and her novel Greenwood Riverside (青木川) is set in the province. It has reportedly been published by Prunus Press in English, but I cannot locate it on the web. See here for an excerpt from her Back Quarters at Number 7.

Feng Jiqi (冯积岐) is also sometimes mentioned as a promising Shaanxi author. Several of his Chinese novels can be found here.

Bruce Humes, May 24, 2017, 8:38a.m.

# 3.   

Update on the item above: Paper Republic’s Joel Martinson has kindly alerted me to a February 2017 news item (我校教师翻译作品) from Xi’an’s Northwest University that appears to refer to the works by Shaanxi writers that will be published by Valley Press. Details:

Jia Pingwa: 《土门》

Hong Ke (红柯): 《故乡》. For an excerpt from his writing, see Urho, set in the 1960s in the Zungharian Basin at the edge of the Xinjiang’s Gurbantünggüt Desert.

Yang Zhengguang (杨争光):《老旦是一棵树》

Fang Yingwen (方英文):《太阳语》

Wu Kejing (吴克敬):《血太阳》

For an excerpt from Ye Guangqin’s Mountain Stories, visit On Camera.

Bruce Humes, May 26, 2017, 9:58p.m.

# 4.   

Fang Yingwen is not in the confirmed list given me by Jamie McGarry of Valley Press. The book by Jia Pingwa is a collection of short stories. The stories will be translated and edited by a team in the Northwest University.

Jun Liu, May 27, 2017, 12:45a.m.

# 5.   

Thanks to you both (and to Joel) for the additional information!

 Eric Abrahamsen, May 27, 2017, 3:18a.m.

# 6.   

Fantastic news ! A collection of short stories by Jia Pingwa is certainly most welcome, I hope we'll have short stories or novellas by the other writers too !

Brigitte Duzan, May 27, 2017, 3:54a.m.

# 7.   

"translated and edited by a team in Northwest University."

This has me worried, frankly. Based on my read of the version of On Camera that is currently online here, the English doesn't seem to have been edited by a native speaker.

Bruce Humes, May 28, 2017, 4:59a.m.

# 8.   

It's certainly entertaining to read, though some good polishing by an expert would really bring out the different characters. Ye Guangqin comes from the Qing Dynasty Empress Dowager Cixi's clan, and she studied Japanese literature with her husband in Japan. She also spent years in the mountains of Shaaxi, learning about its ancient history and the complicated peasant life. This is a rare author with both a broad view of the rest of the world and a keen insight of today's China, which enable her to capture the zest of her subject precisely, and also in dry humour.

Jun Liu, May 28, 2017, 5:50a.m.

# 9.   

Unfortunately, none of that means much if the translation isn't good...

 Eric Abrahamsen, May 28, 2017, 7:58a.m.

# 10.   

I agree with Eric and Bruce. I must say my heart sank at the idea of a team of academics translating a novel into a language not their own and another group copy editing it. A novel is, amongst other things, an expression of the author's existence and and experience, it is intensely personal and best translated by a single person, not a committee. It is not as if there was a dearth of good translators whose native language is English. A glance at Paper Republic's website indicates precisely the opposite. I am afraid that I do not share the publisher's enthusiasm, though I would be happy to be proved wrong.

Tony Blishen, June 2, 2017, 6:58a.m.

# 11.   

For anyone following this thread, I do suggest you take a quick look at On Camera, so that you can see what inspired this discussion. I think most readers will find that this translated text is written in decent English, but it is also a mediocre read with occasional awkward phrasing.

I’d suggest there are two different issues that need to be “unpacked” and discussed here. One of them is the issue of the mother tongue of the translator(s) and editors(s). The other is the impact of state-funded subsidies on the quality of the Chinese fiction that is increasingly appearing in English.

My own experience is that, ideally, native speakers of both the source and target languages should play a part in the publication of translated literature. At which point in the process — draft translation, proofreading against the original, editing the translation — depends on each individual project and the talents of those involved. I agree with Jane Pan’s comment in Are Foreign Devil Translators Hijacking China’s Debut on the Global Literary Stage?:

It is pointless to judge or predict the quality of a translation based on the translator’s nationality or language background. It takes more than “the right” nationality and language background to produce a good translation. We all have the experience of reading good and bad translations produced by native speakers, be it in English or in Chinese. Why don’t people . . . judge the quality of a translation on its own merits?

Briefly then, I am not suggesting (as Tony appears to, above) that Shaanxi fiction would necessarily be better served if the draft translation were realized by a native speaker of English. But to avoid “translationese” and copy that sometimes feels odd, it is essential that the translated text be professionally edited by an editor whose mother tongue is the target language.

Bruce Humes, June 3, 2017, 12:39a.m.

# 12.   

(continued from above)

Re: the second issue, the question of China-based subsidies for publication of contemporary Chinese fiction in foreign languages is somewhat of an elephant in the room, and it needs to be recognized. It is an open secret that various government bodies are subsidizing the translation and overseas publication of contemporary Chinese fiction. I cannot offer any concrete figures, but I can assure you: Some of these subsidies are very handsome indeed. I know this because a few publishers have told me they are so large that even after paying for translation, editing and printing, they can still earn a good profit.

As I understand it, these subsidies come from a variety of official sources, though many appear to be administered by the China Writers Association. One fund that I know about is limited to foreign publication of fiction by ethnic writers. From my point of view, this particular fund is a very good thing. I’d like to see more writing by Dai, Mongolian or Tibetan authors, for instance, appear in the West.

At present, this subsidized publication process is not being tightly managed. The main element in the “QA” process appears to be showing that a given work has indeed been printed in a given foreign language. The danger here is that since a profit can be earned regardless of retail sales, quality may suffer as recipients of the subsidy devote limited resources and $$ to the translation, editing, printing or distribution of the “product.” Obviously, commissioning China-based translators and editors would be one way of keeping costs low. Another is to print a small number of hard copies that are not actively marketed to leading overseas vendors, or to list them online without ensuring they can be found by searching by title, author or translator’s name.

I am not saying the upcoming Shaanxi series suffers from any of these problems; I have no personal knowledge whatsoever of Valley Press, why it chose these particular works, or how it is managing this series. But based on the level of English expression one finds in On Camera, if I were Jia Pingwa’s agent, I’d be looking into how my client — one of China’s most renowned contemporary writers — will be presented to the English-speaking public via this collection.

Bruce Humes, June 3, 2017, 12:42a.m.

# 13.   

While preconceptions are not a good thing, my experience is that the vast majority of translations that are first produced by a non-native English speaker are below par. This doesn't mean that all native speakers are great writers (far from it), and I'm happy to acknowledge that there are exceptions to this rule. But the exceptions are so few that I have no compunction saying that this way of doing things should simply be avoided.

I believe that a native English polisher is not enough. When it comes to good fiction, a good translation starts in the bones, with choices of structure and tone and rhythm. These things are extraordinarily difficult to add in after the fact -- and if they are, that's simply a rewrite. The most an editor can do is smooth the skin.

Regarding these publishing projects and support, etc... In most cases I assume the foreign publisher is being paid to publish. I'm not saying this is necessarily a shameful thing, but the fact is that a small independent publisher is not going to wake up one morning and buy the rights to six Chinese books, sight-unseen. There's a lot of desire on the Chinese side to get books out, and a lot of money, and this is a fairly natural development. It makes me nervous, because publications that aren't driven by "real" demand can often come out as these weird zombie books. But it's not a given that there is no real demand.

As for the translation funds, I do think they are getting better. Those in charge have caught on to the most egregious of Chinese publishers' plans to eat all the funds themselves, and they've started getting pickier. I helped the publisher of my translation of Running Through Beijing get funding from the China Writers Association, and they came back to me just last week wanting a list of media reports on the book, and also sales figures. It would have been nice if they'd mentioned this requirement up front, but... It's still good to see that they're taking it seriously.

 Eric Abrahamsen, June 3, 2017, 1:04a.m.

# 14.   

Hi everyone, Jamie McGarry here, co-director of Valley Press. We are newcomers in this field, and would appreciate any help and support this community is willing to offer.

For our part, we genuinely love 'On Camera' (hence our promoting of it on Medium), and the feedback on this first volume from readers so far has been very positive. We expect to only get better at the production and promotion of these books as the project continues.

As one commenter suggested, we didn't wake up one day and decide to publish seven Chinese translations... we had numerous in person meetings with the English-speaking members of the team in Xi'an, which inspired sufficient faith in them to approve the project. We're counting on their support (and yours) over the next few years.

Re: financials, I can't comment on the university's end, but Valley Press are not receiving funds from any of the organisations mentioned above. Our income will be from the sale of the books, though some will be direct to the university (thus minimising our risk).

Jamie McGarry, June 4, 2017, 1:59p.m.

# 15.   

Hi Jamie,

Thanks very much for taking the time to comment! And I'm very glad to see that my assumption about the publishing arrangement was incorrect. We see a lot of questionable practices going on, and a bit of cynicism becomes natural.

Best of luck with the series, and let us know if there's anything we can do to help with promotion, etc.

 Eric Abrahamsen, June 4, 2017, 7:23p.m.


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