Straits Times: Nobel Win Stimulates Interest in Chinese Fiction

By Bruce Humes, published

In Nobel Win, Ho Ai Li of Singapore’s Straits Times notes that Mo Yan’s Nobel Prize—regardless of how his own writing is perceived abroad—is helping to spark interest in translated Chinese fiction. Since most of us won’t be able to get beyond the pay wall, I’ve selected three choice quotes from the article below. But pls resist the temptation to re-tweet Eric’s words on your Weibo account, as we’d hate to see his visa renewal application denied next time round . . .

China hopes to reverse the cultural flow by funding more translations of its works into other languages, but observers say it will take time.

“It’s just a slow business,” said Mr Eric Abrahamsen, a Beijing-based translator and co-founder of Paper Republic, a website on Chinese literature in translation. It can take six months to a year to translate a novel, he told The Straits Times over coffee.

Hindering the overseas dissemination of Chinese writing is the lack of skilful literary translators, say observers.

For a long time, the Chinese believed that only they could do a good job, said Mr Abrahamsen. “But they do a horrible job. Writers’ careers have been ruined by poor translations,” he said.

In China, critics often prize epics such as White Deer Plain by Shaanxi writer Chen Zhongshi and Shandong author Zhang Wei’s 10-volume work, On The Plateau.

“Clearly, Chinese-style novels are difficult to accept for the general public: slow pace, little action, lack of strong characters,” wrote French sinologist Bertrand Mialaret last year.

Interest in Chinese fiction has generally picked up in tandem with China’s rise to be the world’s No. 2 economy.

“After all, does anyone care about the literature of Namibia?” asked Chinese book publisher Wang Xiaodong.


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