Obstacles to Popularizing Chinese Lit in Translation: Inattentive Publishers, Renegade Translators

By Bruce Humes, published

Speaking recently at the China Development Forum in London, Goran Malmqvist (马悦然), a sinologist and Emeritus Professor at Stockholm University, said that "poor translations and little attention Chinese literature received from Western publishers are the major obstacles for Chinese culture to go global."

Translators' sins include:

"Normalizing and leveling" are the current problems facing Chinese texts translation, such as forging new words, playing with new answers, cutting out and even rewriting the texts and the like, he said. (但目前中国的文学翻译出现了一些问题,那就是强赋新词、自琢新解,甚至有断章取义和扭曲原意的做法。)

Sorry, I couldn't find the somewhat bizarre reference to "normalizing and leveling" in the Chinese original . . .

For the full English news item, see Sinologist calls for improving translation of Chinese literature

For the full Chinese version, see 诺奖评委马悦然:中国文学翻译滞后阻碍中国文化传播


# 1.   

"Normalizing and leveling" is Malmqvist's original. Judging from the Xinhua report, he reused "Fiction in Global Contexts", a 2012 keynote, for his remarks at LSE:

The translator must be keenly aware of his or her double responsibility, to the writer of the original work and to the readers of the translation. Normalizing and leveling are at the very core of the problem of all literary translation. These terms refer to the trimming and smoothing out the text, cutting off its edges and neutralizing its very effects. The author, the creator of the text, may allow himself or herself the freedom to deviate from norms, forging new words, distorting syntax and playing with the multiple senses of words and nuances. The translator, the craftsman, must do his or her utmost to convey such deviations in the translation. The worst cases of leveling are cutting out segments of the text, and adding what is not present in the text.

jdmartinsen, February 10, 2015, 2:42a.m.

# 2.   

Weird, so the media report actually gets his point entirely backwards: the report makes it sound like he's saying that translators are forging new words, distorting syntax, etc, and they shouldn't be.

Whereas his actual point is that writers are doing those things, and that translators should be following them.

Eric Abrahamsen, February 10, 2015, 5a.m.

# 3.   

They got a lot of things wrong, it seems. Malmqvist did not translate 《红楼梦》, he translated 《水浒传》 and 《西游记》.

Anna G Chen, February 13, 2015, 1:59p.m.

# 4.   


Would it be possible to be put in touch with Bruce Humes? I have a couple of questions about translating Shanghai Baby, and I'm not sure they belong on this thread.


Chris Tillam

Chris Tillam, May 15, 2015, 5:43a.m.

# 5.   

I can be reached at:


Just type in your query and send.

Or simply visit my blog at www.bruce-humes.com , where you'll find my e-mail under "Contact 联系"

Bruce, May 15, 2015, 2:05p.m.

# 6.   

wow... unbelievable how globaltimes.cn distorted Goran Malmqvist's viewpoint.

Susan , January 7, 2016, 11:09p.m.

# 7.   

thank you,jdmartinsen, for setting the record straight and post like to the original essay.

Susan , January 7, 2016, 11:14p.m.


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