Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

Nicky Harman

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Nicky Harman lives in the UK. She is co-Chair of the Translators Association (Society of Authors). She taught on the MSc in Translation at Imperial College until 2011 and now translates full-time from Chinese. She focusses on fiction, literary non-fiction, and occasionally poetry, by authors such as Chen Xiwo, Han Dong, Hong Ying, Dorothy Tse, Xinran, Yan Geling and Zhang Ling. When not translating, she spends time promoting contemporary Chinese fiction to the general English-language reader. From June 2015-June 2016, she, along with Eric Abrahamsen, Dave Haysom and Helen Wang, ran READ PAPER REPUBLIC, posting and promoting a free-to-view short story every week for a year, a project which continues to develop.

She writes blogs, give talks and lectures, and runs literary events especially with the London Free Word Centre, Southbank Centre and the Writing Chinese project (Leeds University). She also mentors new translators, teaches summer schools, and judges translation competitions: the Harvill Secker Young Translators Prize 2012, and the Writing Chinese Translation competition, run by the White Rose East Centre, University of Leeds. Also occasionally reviews China books for the UK's Tribune magazine (eg review of Sheng Keyi's Death Fugue, Giramondo, 2014) . She tweets, with Helen Wang, as the China Fiction Bookclub @cfbcuk.

Winner of a Mao Tai Cup People's Literature Chinese-English translation prize 2015. Link here: in Chinese
Winner of first prize in the 2013 China International Translation Contest, Chinese-to-English section, with Jia Pingwa’s "Backflow River", 倒流河

2019 publications:

Broken Wings, By Jia Pingwa, ACA Publishing

2018 publications:

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan, by Yan Ge, Balestier Press (awarded a PEN Translates grant)

Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China, by Rao Pingru, Knopf Doubleday (awarded a PEN Translates grant)

2017 publications:

Jia Pingwa, Happy Dreams, Amazon Crossing, 2017.

Fish Tank Creatures, by Dorothy Tse, short story, translated with Natascha Bruce

2016 publications:

Crystal Wedding, novel by Xu Xiaobin, Balestier Press, 2016 (awarded a PEN Translates grant)

2015 publications:

Paper Tiger, essays by Xu Zhiyuan, co-translated with Michelle Deeter, Head of Zeus, 2015 (awarded a PEN Translates grant).
Sissy Zhong by Yan Ge, published READ PAPER REPUBLIC.
January:Bridges, by Dorothy Tse, published READ PAPER REPUBLIC. The translation and editing of this story is discussed and illustrated here: Free Word Centre.

Also, 2015-2016, READ PAPER REPUBLIC short story series: launching, planning, translating, editing, promotion and publicity.

2014 publications:

The Book of Sins by Chen Xiwo published by FortySix, October 2014.

White Horse, novella by Yan Ge, Hope Road Publishing, October 2014.

A Tabby-cat's Tale by Han Dong, winter 2014.

The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver by Chan Koon-chung, Doubleday, April 2014.

Snow and Shadow, short story collection by Dorothy Tse, East Slope Publishing, March 2014.

A New Development Model and China’s Future, by Deng Yingtao, Routledge, March, 2014.

The Stone Ox that Grazed, short story by Sun Yisheng in Asymptote, April 2014.

A Loud Noise, poems by Han Dong, March 2014.

Other Published Translations in date order:

Urban Control and the Modernist City - essay by Leung Man-Tao, in LA Review of Books, originally appeared in Paper Republic, August 2013.

Woman Fish, by Dorothy Tse, for the Guardian newspaper, March 2013

The Shades who Periscope through Flowers to the Sky, by Sun Yisheng, for Words Without Borders, December 2012, and Dad, Your Name is Bao Tian, by Sun Yisheng, for The World of Chinese, March 2013.

Old Man Xinjiang, by Xue Mo, in China Stories for the Guardian newspaper, April 2012.

The Man with the Knife by Chen Xiwo, for Words Without Borders, November 2012

'Goodbye to Anne', in the novella collection The Road of Others, by Anni Baobei, Makedo Publishing, 2012.

Throwing out the Baby, by Xu Zechen, in Words Without Border, April 2012.

Shi Cheng: Short Stories from Urban China, Comma Press "Tales from Ten Cities" series, the two by Han Dong and Ding Liying, 2012

Flowers of Nanjing by Yan Geling, , published by Chatto and Windus, January 2012

A Phone Call from Dalian: Selected Poems by Han Dong, published by Zephyr Press, April 2012. Multiple reviews including World Literature Today and Peony Moon

The Eye of the Eagle, short story by Bai Hua, published by Hope Road Publishing

Prize-winning novel Gold Mountain Blues/Jin Shan by Zhang Ling, published by Penguin Canada

Short stories for Ou Ning's Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, 2009, and literary magazine Chutzpah, 2010 and 2011.

Message from Unknown Chinese Mothers (Author: Xinran), Chatto & Windus, 2010.

China Witness (author: Xinran), oral history Co-translator with Esther Tyldesley and Julia Lovell. Chatto & Windus , 2008.

Banished! (author: Han Dong) (《扎根》 韩东), novel. University of Hawai’i Press, 2009. Won a PEN Translation Fund Award (2006) for this work. Longlisted for Man Asian Literary Prize, 2008.

‘Long Corridor, Short Song’ (author: Zi Ren, in To Pierce the Material Screen: An Anthology of 20th Century HK Literature, to be pub. Renditions, Hong Kong 2008); (《长廊的短调》 梓人) short story.

China Along the Yellow River (author: Prof. Cao Jinqing, pub. Routledge Curzon, December 2004); (《黄河边的中国》 曹锦清) sociology of rural China.

K – The Art of Love (author: Hong Ying, pub. Marion Boyars, 2002); (K 虹影) novel.

Research publications:

Li Hao: Translation of Contemporary Chinese Literature in the English-speaking World: An Interview with Nicky Harman, The AALITRA Review, No 4 (2012)

What's that got to do with anything? Coherence and the translation of relative clauses from Chinese. In Journal of Specialised Translation ( issue 13, January 2010

Foreign Culture, Foreign Style: a Translator’s View of Modern Chinese Fiction. In Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 14(1): 13-31. (2006).

Beyond Paper Dictionaries: Mining the Web for Technical Terminology in Chinese (available from, or on request from NH).

Visiting Fellow at the Research Centre for Translation at Chinese University Hong Kong, April 2006. Visiting Scholar, Fudan University and Beijing University, China, 2008.

Nicky Harman translated for READ PAPER REPUBLIC, week 3, 2 July 2015, and READ PAPER REPUBLIC, week 10, 20 August 2015.


Read Paper Republic

Original Works

Non-fiction (1)


Novellas (1)

Essays (1)

Non-fiction (1)

Graphic novels (1)

Excerpts (1)

Collections (2)

Novels (11)

Poems (27)

Short stories (40)

As Editor


Eric Abrahamsen to translate Gongwuyuan Biji/Notes of a civil servant

By Nicky Harman, July 28, '10

It's been a good year for Chinese to English translation, and it's getting better. Eric Abrahamsen is to translate Wang Xiaofang's well-known novel on official corruption in China, working title Notes of a civil servant. The publisher is Penguin and the book is due out in 2011. Eric needs no introduction, since he is the founder and driving force behind Paper Republic. Great news, Eric!


Scatological humour in Zhu Wen and Han Dong

By Nicky Harman, June 2, '10

Pamela Hunt writes: Why are there so many modern Chinese novels in which, as Cindy Carter put it so nicely in an earlier post, ‘faeces play a starring role’? Any reader of contemporary Chinese fiction will tell you that you don’t have to look very far to find a joke about bodily functions. But at the same time humour is rarely discussed in academic writing on Chinese literature, let alone humour that centres around the toilet. The more I thought about it, the more it seemed a shame, which is why I decided to tackle the subject myself in a recent essay for the MA in Modern Chinese Literature at SOAS, University of London, focusing on the work of two authors much discussed on the pages of Paper Republic, Han Dong and Zhu Wen.

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Han Dong’s new novel: book launch Chengdu-style

By Nicky Harman, April 26, '10

It was a first for Hua Cheng publishers, for the author, and certainly for me – though perhaps not for the Bai Ye, a bar which hosts regular literary events in Chengdu’s Kuan Zhai Xiangzi district. This book launch provided non-stop entertainment for at least two hours in a packed space where people at the back carried on talking noisily regardless but the mike was so powerful that you could hear the speakers from the street. Han Dong's fourth novel was launched on 24 February 2010. Now called 《知青变形记》[Metamorphosis of an Educated Youth], it had the original, much ruder, working title 《日》(and at least one purchaser asked for “” to be inscribed above Han Dong’s signature!) An extract appears in translation on Paper Republic under the English title Screwed.

Anyway, titles notwithstanding, the evening was a great deal more fun that any book launch I’ve been to in London (normal format: speech from publisher, reading by author, and too much wine on an empty stomach). There was, true, the obligatory and slightly over-long speech by the publisher, followed by a reading by the author, but thereafter it all became much more lively. Han Dong gave an impromptu speech in which he said he turned to writing novels when he figured he would never write poetry as good as that of his favourite poets, Yu Xiaowei and Xiao An, so thought he had better try something different. The presenter interviewed him on stage about the book; there were also readings of some of Han Dong’s poems – some read in Chengdu dialect and other dialects/languages – and I read a few pages of my translation. A woman played the pi-pa, including a modern arrangement with a backing track that had at least some of the audience dancing, the 200 copies brought by Hua Cheng publishers sold out… and the beer flowed generously.

Hey, you book launch organisers! A model to follow for future events?

Han Dong signing copies of his new novel

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BCLT Translation Summer School with Yan Geling

By Nicky Harman, March 12, '10

The British Centre for Literary Translation is holding its Summer School 18-24 July 2010 and registration is now open. Bursaries are available for students translating from Chinese to English. Our resident author this year is Yan Geling, and I'll be leading the group. Here's the link: BCLT

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BCLT Norwich Literary Translation Summer School 2009

By Nicky Harman, August 1, '09

British Center of Literary Translation Summer School, Norwich, United Kingdom, 19-15 July (with Authors Xin Ran and Translator Nicky Harman)

The BCLT Literary Translation summer course was an opportunity for new entrants to refine their technical translation skills. The course turned out to be a most remarkable journey (thanks to the extraordinary stories shared by our author Xin Ran); and an opportunity to meet (and have fun) with inspiring and like-minded individuals.


What made this translation course most worthwhile for beginners was the chance to work alongside authors and their translators and see them in action. It was a chance for us to appreciate the importance of communication with authors in the process of literary translation. An author “translates” his/her perception of the world into text. A translator translates and bridges the gap between the original text and the foreign readers. Throughout the workshop, we constantly consulted our author Xin Ran on the true meaning or intention behind her words. By setting the scene, background and history for us, Xin Ran made translation into English so much easier.

Translation is usually a lonely exercise. The workshop created a unique setting that is very rare for a translator – a chance to do spontaneous group translation! The chance to discuss and debate about choice of words, language and rhythm was exhilarating - words and ideas fly across the room like flying daggers. Sometimes we get unanimous agreement on words straightaway; other times, even with six minds put together, it took over an hour to search for an appropriate single phrase. Good translation requires dedication and attention to detail – but it's all worth the effort in the end. The thrill when you’ve found the exact right phrase that is accurate in meaning, tone and register is simply magic.

As group leader, I found the whole experience extremely rewarding. BCLT will be running a similar week-long course next year.


Call for Chinese Short Story Proposals from Literary Translators

By Nicky Harman, June 6, '09

Comma Press is an independent publisher based in the UK, specialising in short fiction. In 2007 Comma launched a translation imprint, with the remit of bringing original, contemporary short stories in translation to UK readers.

Comma is currently exploring the feasibility of publishing an anthology of contemporary Chinese short stories, translated for the first time. They say: "As we begin our search for stories to consider, we’d welcome putative submissions from literary translators interested in taking part and willing to recommend stories for inclusion in the anthology."

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University of East Anglia, UK, celebrates Chinese literature this summer

By Nicky Harman, May 27, '09

From Sunday 19 - Saturday 25 July 2009, the British Centre for literary Translation (BCLT) at the university holds its tenth annual International Literary Translation Summer School, which will for the first time offer an intensive workshop in translation from Chinese to English. This hands-on networking and training opportunity takes place at UEA from July 19-25 and will involve author Xinran (China Witness: Voices from a Silent Generation, Miss Chopsticks, The Good Women of China) and her translator Nicky Harman.

Also, as part of the Worlds Literary Festival, to be held at various venues in Norfolk from June 20-25, BCLT is also hosting author and filmmaker Zhu Wen (I Love Dollars, released by Penguin in 2008) and his translator Julia Lovell. The festival, entitled Worlds in Translation, is a celebration of international writing and includes various readings, workshops and panel discussions that will be open to the public.

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