By Bruce Humes, May 16, '20
Anna Sherman’s travelogue, in which she traverses parts of the Silk Road while retracing Xuanzang’s pilgrimage from Chang’an to India, has become a major talking point on Twitter since it was published May 11.
The essay, with stunning photographs of desert sites in Gansu and Xinjiang, cites a host of Chinese poets such as Du Fu, Bai Juyi, Wang Wei and Yu Xin, as well as fiction writers Tung Yueh (The Tower of Myriad Mirrors), Pu Songling (Strange Tales from a Chinese Studio), and the Buddhist pilgrim Xuanzang (The Great Tang Dynasty Record of the Western Regions). Indeed, her piece is entitled A Poetic Journey through Western China.
A major point of controversy: Where are the Uyghurs of today, or yesteryear for that matter? In fact, they were patrons of the famous Dunhuang Grottoes whose murals often feature Uyghur culture and personages, for they were Buddhists (and practioners of Zoroastrianism and Manicheanism) before they converted to Sufi-inspired Sunni Islam.
The word “Uighur” occurs just 8 times in the 5,800-word piece, and they are described as a “minority ethnic group.” The only major reference to them is this: (Today, Xinjiang is the site of hundreds of mass internment camps, where more than a million individuals from China’s Uighur and other Indigenous ethnic groups are being held indefinitely without trial by the government.)
With the exception of Li Bai, Sherman’s main literary reference points appear to be Han writers who have been frequently (and somewhat famously) translated into English. Is this narrative simply the result of her preferences? Due to a lack of translations from other languages along the Silk Road? Or?
By Bruce Humes, April 22, '20
Ever notice that enigmatic renditions of Chinese text find their way into current China-related news?
In Missing Wuhan citizen journalist reappears after two months, one finds this closing quote:
The human heart is unpredictable, restless. Its affinity to what is right is small. Be discriminating, be uniform so that you may hold fast
Please advise: To which "Confucian" text is the author referring, and is there a better translation out there somewhere?
By Bruce Humes, April 15, '20
A number of emigrée authors are consciously choosing to write in a foreign language, rather than their mother tongue. For instance, among Chinese from the PRC, there are Xiaolu Guo in the UK and Yiyun Li in the US. Some because they believe -- rightly, I'd say -- that this will help shorten overall time-to-market. But others for different reasons.
I found this conversation between two writers, Japan's Yoko Tawada, now living in Germany and writing in German, and Madeleine Thien, daughter of a Chinese couple who moved to Canada, to be interesting from this perspective:
Madeleine Thien: When your narrator makes the leap onto the train, it’s a big leap. Maybe, in some ways, before, women in literature, when they make a big change, it must be a leap. It’s a somersault. The forces are so intense that you have to have so much propulsion to risk another life. Whereas maybe men can sort of blur from one position to another, or there’s more shading from self to self. I have the feeling that women, for a long time, if they wanted to make that jump, it was a deep cut. A break.
Yoko Tawada: Yes, that’s right. Today my friends, my male friends, do not want to go abroad or live in Europe. For a certain time, or if they’re working for a Japanese company, then it’s okay.
Madeleine Thien: But your women friends do?
Yoko Tawada: Yes.
By Bruce Humes, February 27, '20
GoogleTranslate offers translation to/from several of China's indigenous languages, the latest being Uyghur.
Others are Kazakh, Korean, Kyrgyz and Mongolian.
Turkmen and Tatar have also just joined the club -- and Turkish had long been available -- so Google Translate is doing a decent job of adding Turkic languages.
But in terms of written scripts used by a large number of PRC citizens, one stands out as missing on this list: Tibetan. It appears that its inclusion is underway, but I don't have any details.
By Bruce Humes, February 5, '20
Just got the following email from a publisher of translated contemporary Arabic literature:
Pretty impressive: One-click access to video of author speaking (in Arabic with English sub-titles) about the novel; lengthy English-language extract; background info about the author; link to publisher's blog where one can find some authors personally reading their work, etc.
Has any publisher of Chinese literature in translation done something along these lines?
By Bruce Humes, January 26, '20
Two potentially controversial novels — one by a Uyghur author, and the other by a Tibetan — have recently been published in English. They are part of the Kaleidoscope Series of China’s Ethnic Authors sponsored by China Translation & Publishing House, a dozen or so novels by authors that highlight tales in which non-Han culture, motifs and characters play a key role (民族题材文学).
Patigül’s Bloodline (百年血脉) relates the semi-autobiographical tale of a Xinjiang native, daughter of a Uyghur father and Hui mother, who marries a Han, and struggles to bring up a family in mainstream Chinese society. Told in the first person, it unflinchingly describes her mother’s mental illness, her brother’s agonizing death from an STD and tribulations of a “mixed” marriage. For an English excerpt, visit here.
Tsering Norbu’s Prayers in the Wind (祭语风中) narrates the subsequent life of a Buddhist monk who attempts — unsuccessfully — to exit China in the wake of the 1959 Tibetan uprising and the Dalai Lama’s flight to India. For an excerpt, visit here.
By Bruce Humes, December 8, '19
First, it was Howard Goldblatt and his renditions of Mo Yan's novels that helped the Shandong storyteller win the (once coveted) Nobel Prize in Literature. Goldblatt has made it no secret that he edited the text in order to heighten readability.
Now, via an interview with Ken Liu in the New York Times, Why Is Chinese Sci-Fi Everywhere Now? Ken Liu Knows, we learn that translator Liu played a similar role in making Liu Cixin's The Three-body Problem popular in the West:
By Bruce Humes, November 16, '19
The Spanish-language database here is searchable in several ways:
Title in Spanish
Original title in Chinese
Entries for each of the above are also listed alphabetically, so you can scroll for a look at what is in the database even if you don't have a particular book/author/translator in mind.
It is not anywhere as complete as MCLC's one in English, but still useful.
By Bruce Humes, October 8, '19
The new emperor’s Belt & Road Initiative has already resulted in scores of contracts for highways, railways and port construction in Central Asia, Southeast Asia and even East Africa. Perhaps less well known is the PRC's solidly financed soft power campaign that aims to create or translate, publish and disseminate texts in the languages of the “Silk Road” peoples — land- and sea-based — that relate to the history of the ancient trade routes.
This post features the tale of Zhang Qian, diplomat and explorer of the “Western Realm” during the reign of Emperor Wu of Han (141-87 BCE). The book is in Chinese and Mongolian (traditional script) and forms part of a "Socialist Core Value" (社会主义核心价值观幼儿绘本) picture-book series for children aged 5-6.
To facilitate comparison, the blogger has provided the text in three languages, five scripts: the original Chinese and Inner Mongolian script (vertical); Hanyu Pinyin; Cyrillic Mongolian (used in Mongolia); and a translation of the text into English.
By Bruce Humes, September 26, '19
Fittingly, to celebrate the upcoming 70th anniversary of the birth of the PRC, a list of 70 post-1949 novels—“must-stock” classics for libraries nationwide, apparently — has been drawn up by the People’s Literature Publishing House and Xuexi Publishing House. See here for the Xinhua press release and full list.
Given that about one out of ten PRC citizens is identified on his or her ID card as a member of an ethnic minority, it might be interesting to scan the list for novels that classify as "ethnic fiction," i.e., a loose category (民族题材文学) that includes stories — regardless of the author’s ethnicity — in which non-Han culture, motifs or characters play an important role.
By Bruce Humes, January 21, '19
China-based publishers are notorious for a misleading practice: the nationality of the author — not necessarily the language of the source text — is often noted on the spine or copyright page. Thus the reader may well believe she is reading a novel translated direct from the Swahili, when the source text is actually the English rendition of a Swahili original...
If you're interested in reading and/or adding to several comments on this topic, please click:
And see the comments immediately below the article itself.
By Bruce Humes, January 1, '19
Several of Yan Lianke's novels have not been published in China, or were initially published in Taiwan because he couldn't find a publisher in the PRC. Although he teaches at Renmin University of China in Beijing, the authorities seem keen to silence much of what he says, in fiction or otherwise.
Such is the case with a Dec 27, 2018 interview of him by The Beijing News (新京报), which has already been taken off the internet (looks like I'm wrong, see comments!), but saved -- for now anyway -- in a Google cache file.
Entitled 一个伟大文学的时代已经悄然消失, it can be found here in text form, and here with several photos (covers of his novels + a few of him).
I have copied the entire interview below in Chinese (text only).
By Bruce Humes, October 1, '18
The Guardian reports that former secretary of state and Massachusetts senator John Kerry made the following comment on the current rush to vote on the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the US Supreme Court:
“There’s no reason in the world to be bum-rushing this nomination.”
How to render "bum-rushing" as used here?
By Bruce Humes, March 25, '18
Speaking at length during his recent coronation ceremony, the new emperor mispronounced the name of the Tibetan epic, King Gesar, as "King Sager" (习近平把 “格萨尔王” 说成 ”萨格尔王”).
Unsurprisingly, this news did not appear under the headline "President Hurts the Feelings of Millions of Tibetans" in The People's Daily next day.
It is significant that he mentioned two of the three ancient oral epics in his speech, King Gesar (Tibetan) and Manas (Kyrgyz). Chinese literary apparatchiks increasingly refer to them, including Jangar (Mongolian), as “China's Three Great Epics” (我国三大史诗). This despite the fact that they originated in languages other than Chinese, among non-Han peoples and in lands that were not then part of the Chinese empire.
Alerted about it via a tweet by Shawn Zhang (章闻韶), however, Victor Mair's Language Log did discuss XJP's verbal faux pas that went unreported in China mainstream media.
By Bruce Humes, August 27, '17
Glossing Africa is a fascinating piece on “glossing” — different ways to do it, and what it signifies when it is (or is not) employed. In this piece, glossing refers to practices for clarifying an indigenous term by providing a glossary, footnotes, inserting a brief definition, etc.
Of course, we translators also frequently have to decide whether to gloss or not. In Chi Zijian’s Last Quarter of the Moon, for instance, I counted about 125 Evenki terms, including for proper names, place names and unique aspects of Evenki culture. More recently, Liu Jun and I co-translated Confessions of a Jade Lord by Alat Asem, in which there are many Uyghur and Arabic terms.
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the popular Nigerian author now splitting her time between the US and Nigeria (and one of the rare contemporary African authors to have several novels available in Chinese), is definitely not a fan of glossing:
There’s a part of me that just deeply resents the fact that there’re many parts of the world where the fiction that comes from there is read as anthropology rather than as literature. And increasingly that kind of anthropological reading then means that… you’re explaining your world rather than inhabiting your world.