2023 Roll-Call of Chinese Literature in English Translation

By Eric Abrahamsen, published

Part of: Year-End Roll Call

Here it is, the 2023 Roll Call of Chinese literature published in English translation!

First the good news: this is an interesting and varied collection of titles, including classics, left-fielders, big names, and small(er) names. The non-fiction in particular is a wonderful spread of current events, political topics, and essays.

The slightly less wonderful news is that there's simply less of it! After several years of steadily-increasing numbers, the shelf shrank a bit this year. Of course it's impossible to know precisely why, but we will note that so much direct cultural contact between China and English-speaking countries has dried up since the pandemic: book fairs canceled, funding dried up, plane tickets expensive.

There also continues to be a marked gender imbalance: only two female poets in the poetry section; in fiction only 6 women to 16 men.

Regardless, these are great offerings. Special shout-outs to Owlish, which seems to be attracting the genuine love and enthusiasm that we all wish for our books; Jeremy Tiang, who is showing up on so many literary prize lists; and the Sinoist publishing house, which accounts for more than a quarter of the books on the fiction list.

And you're still in time for Christmas shopping!


Winner of the 2023 Lucien Stryk Asian Translation Prize In the Same Light: 200 Poems for Our Century from the Migrants and Exiles of the Tang Dynasty, various writers, translated by Wong May, (Carcanet). This book was also shortlisted for ALTA National Translation Award in Poetry 2023

Shortlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation 2023: Zhang Yueran, Cocoon, translated from Chinese by Jeremy Tiang (World Editions)

Shortlisted for the inaugural Cercador Prize for literary translation: Xu Zechen, Beijing Sprawl, translated from the Chinese by Jeremy Tian and Eric Abrhahamsen (Two Lines Press)

Longlisted for the Warwick Prize for Women in Translation Dorothy Tse, Owlish, translated from Chinese by Natascha Bruce (Fitzcarraldo)

Longlisted for the International Book Prize 2023: Ninth Building, Zou Jingzhi, translator Jeremy Tiang (Honford Star)

Longlisted for ALTA National Translation Award in Prose 2023: The Artisans: A Vanishing Chinese Village, Shen Fuyu, translated by Jeremy Tiang (Astra House)


Beijing Sprawl, review by William McCormack

“The connected stories unfold with a looping circularity that made me feel disoriented and déjà vu at the same time. The same images keep appearing: roasted yams, donkey meat, birds flying overhead. The book’s nine stories riff off one another, and their repetitive form gets at the frustrating contradiction inherent in Xu’s characters’ lives: one of constant motion and social immobility.”

The Sojourn Teashop, review by Ronan Hession

“…Jia Pingwa is meticulous as a miniaturist. Characters are lovingly flawed and human; they seem swept up in a wider ambivalence about the direction Chinese society is headed. The translation by Nicky Harman and Jun Liu is lucid and thoughtful. There is an odd conspicuous note of British English (“blimey” and “there’s plenty needs doing”) but overall the translation is textured and sensitively rendered – “the first burst of sunlight gilds the rooftops”.

Owlish, by Kit Fan in the Guardian

“Owlish wittily captures a recent crisis moment in Hong Kong, exploring a discombobulating state caught between civilisation and its discontents. Tse writes poignantly in the afterword about waking, dreaming and memory. Since 2019, having seen my beloved city on a knife-edge, I often turn to the question posed by Keats in his Ode to a Nightingale: “Was it a vision, or a waking dream?” Owlish may read like a dream but I hope we’ll hold on to it as a vision.”

And by Mandana Chaffa in The Chicago Review of Books

“Dorothy Tse’s remarkable Owlish—translated with beauty, power, and nuance by Natascha Bruce”

[just two of many glowing reviews for Owlish]

Hospital, by Ian Mond in LocusMag

“I read speculative fiction not for the cinematic set pieces and the sense of wonder (though I certainly get a thrill from those) but because, amongst all modes of writing, it’s the one that can radically change how I view the world. Hospital is such a book, which is why I had no hesitation pre-ordering the sequel Exorcism, which will be out later this year.”

And finally, an interesting article in Asymptote about the many decisions to be taken when translating literature from Chinese: "Principle of Decision: Translation from Chinese", by Xiao Yue Shan

The 2023 list










# 1.   

please addd the following: Brian Holton (Trands.) "Aa Cled wi Clouds She Cam: 60 Lyrics Frae the Chinese" (Irish Pages 2022), shortlisted for Scots Book o the Year, 2023 Scots Leid Awards

Brian Holton, December 21, 2023, 3:42p.m.

# 2.   

Done, thank you!

Eric Abrahamsen, December 21, 2023, 9:17p.m.


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