Eric Abrahamsen (1978 – )

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Eric lived in Beijing from late 2001, when he studied Chinese at the Central University for Nationalities, until the end of 2016. He began struggling through Wang Xiaobo at an early date, and kept at it through the intervening years. He is the recipient of a PEN translation grant for Wang Xiaobo's My Spiritual Homeland and a NEA grant for Xu Zechen's Running Through Zhongguancun, later published as Running Through Beijing, which was shortlisted for the National Translation Award.

His short-story translations have appeared in magazines including The New Yorker, Granta, and n+1. He also writes occasional cultural criticism, which has appeared in the New York Times and Foreign Policy, among other venues.

Eric also runs a US-based company called Coal Hill Books which provides rights agency and publishing consulting for Chinese and international publishers seeking to do business with each other. You can reach him there at eric@coalhillbooks.com.

 

Read Now: On Paper Republic

Mister Lover by Wang Xiaobo July 16, 2015

Read Now: Around the Web

Silver Tiger by Lu Yang The New Yorker
The Real Censors of China The New York Times
A Brief History of Time by Xu Zechen N+1
Irony is Good! Foreign Policy Magazine
Broken Words Without Borders

Book Publications

Running Through Beijing cover

Running Through Beijing

Xu Zechen

February 10, 2014

The Civil Servant's Notebook cover

The Civil Servant's Notebook

Wang Xiaofang

June 01, 2012

Original Works

Article (3)

All Translations

Short story (17)

Novel (2)

Essay (2)

The Paper Republic database exists for reference purposes only. We are not the publisher of these works, are not responsible for their contents, and cannot provide digital or paper copies.

Posts

Rank

By Eric Abrahamsen, September 19, '07

Last Tuesday, the 11th, brought the publication of a 'China’s Strongest Writers' ranking, put out jointly by Sina’s book channel and something called the ‘ranking list website’. Specifically it seems to be the handiwork of a guy named Wu Huaiyao: as a related Phoenix TV article puts it, we’re seeing the creation of a “new internet career – the professional ranker.” It was Wu who brought us 'China’s Most Wealthy Writers' last year; that key issue out of the way, we’re now getting around to their actual strength as writers.

Much as the whole thing reeks of media circus, it’s still worth a look. Wu Huaiyao, no dummy, went to ten of China’s most influential literary critics to nominate the 58 writers who formed the basis of the list. Zhu Dake and Xie Youshun (who has a blog post about it) are probably best-known among the critics, and Zhu gets most of the media attention. He warns that strength does not equal influence does not equal earning power, and gets a few digs in at the inanity of last year’s wealthy writers ranking.

The list itself is here (scroll down past the Lord of the Rings splash page; it’s all in Chinese but there are pictures!). The top ten writers are as follows:

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在路上

By Eric Abrahamsen, September 8, '07

It was originally Gordon Fairclough’s article in the online WSJ that got me thinking about road-trip literature in China, and now on top of that, wouldn’t you know, it happens to be the 50th anniversary of Kerouac’s On The Road. On The Road is one of a few discrete chunks of foreign literature (others include the works of Borges and Milan Kundera) that, for various reasons of historical accident, floated across the sea and became trendy here. There are readers who wouldn’t know Hemingway’s beard if it turned up in their soup, but by god they could point out Vesuvio Cafe on a SF street map.

Fairclough’s article mentions a growing road-trip literature in China, and cites “‘Go the Distance Now,’ a book chronicling five years spent traveling around China by car.” One travelogue does not a road-trip literature make, but it started me thinking – Kerouac’s popularity must point to some kind of latent interest in this sort of thing, and really, China is the perfect country for road literature. It’s obscenely large, for one. It sports unbelievable geographical and cultural diversity (anyone who believes in the homogeneity of the Chinese, including the Chinese themselves, needs to take a road trip). It’s traditional culture encourages stasis, and trepidation about venturing away from home. The place is ripe for some maverick to demonstrate the heady joys of having the wind in your hair. Actually, a fair number of younger, middle-class adventurers are discovering that for themselves, but as far as I know they have yet to find their bible.

So what have we got? Journey to the West aside, Ma Jian’s Red Dust is probably the closest thing there is to a road-side portrait of China. But it’s an awfully political book, and I wonder how many people actually read it inside the country. Xu Xing’s You Can Have Whatever’s Left, a picaresque about a couple of rogues wandering the country, definitely qualifies. I suppose even Gao Xingjian’s Soul Mountain counts, although that struck me less as road literature and more as one man’s tiresome journey through his own angst-ridden impotence (ahem).

How about it? What am I missing?

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Lantern Bearers

By Eric Abrahamsen, August 23, '07

Cindy and I are currently working together on a subtitle translation project, for the short documentary films coming out of Ai Weiwei’s Fairytale project. Among the 1,001 Chinese people that Ai Weiwei shipped to Kassel, Germany, fifteen or sixteen filmmakers were included, and they’ve produced a series of small films about certain of the ‘artists’.

My first short film centered around Gouzi and Zhang Chi, which was a pleasant surprise as I’ve only known them, Gouzi in particular, by their writing. Gouzi is mostly famous for being drunk, it seems, and in fact the whole hour-long spot is sodden (the first shot is Zhang Chi blarging in someone’s bathroom). Most of it takes place at group dinners in various restaurants and living rooms around Beijing. The subjects represent a certain slice of Beijing’s literary community – 35 to 50, once hot young bloods, all devastated in one way or the other by the events of June 4th, 1989.

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Forget Particle Physics…

By Eric Abrahamsen, August 21, '07

I'm re-reading George Steiner's After Babel, one of the great theoretical texts on translation, and this passage made me laugh:

Thus any light I may be able to throw on the nature and poetics of translation between tongues has concomitant bearing on the study of language as a whole. The subject is difficult and ill-defined. Regarding the possible transfer into English of Chinese philosophic concepts, I. A. Richards remarks: 'We have here indeed what may very probably be the most complex type of event yet produced in the evolution of the cosmos.'

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The Poster Boy of Chinese Literature

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 29, '07

Yan Lianke is quite the interview subject! Australian paper The Age just ran a very long piece on Yan, which gives a wider window on his early development and attitudes towards writing than previous articles. He also mentions his current work in progress, possibly to be published next year:

The work in progress is an unflattering fable, "funny and ridiculous", about China's contemporary intellectuals, who Yan believes have been co-opted by the Government. "They lack the courage to face up to the real situation," he says. Asked what the real situation is, he replies promptly: "Chaos. China is in chaos, politically, economically, medically, morally and some people are the beneficiaries of this chaos, including intellectuals. Those at the grassroots, the masses, are the ones suffering, but in facing this kind of situation Chinese intellectuals can't see clearly." In the past, Yan says, there were great pressures on writers and it was understandable to some degree that people didn't dare speak out. But now, he says, there is no excuse. "Now it is a self-imposed censorship, so the situation is more tragic."

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Golden Age: First Chapters - Eric

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 28, '07

Before we get started here, a disclaimer: we didn’t start this site to snipe at existing translations, or hint haughtily that we could have done better ourselves, had only the gods of publishing smiled on us, rather than some other. Sour grapes have we none. And yet, the pain of seeing a favorite book or author to which justice has not been done… O, how the fingers itch to make amends! And so some of us have put together our own versions of the first chapter of Wang Xiaobo’s 黄金时代, not because Wang in Love and Bondage was so terrible, or our translations so much superior – think of them rather as fond tangents sprung from a work we found adept enough for inspiration, but not satisfaction. We offer them in the spirit of giving. They are also short, so as not to bore.

That spring, the team leader said I’d blinded his dog’s left eye, and now she looked at you cock-headed, like a ballet dancer. Since then he’d been making life difficult for me.

This download has been removed.

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Asia Booker Long List Announced

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 25, '07

A few days ago the Man Asian Literary Prize (aka the Asian Booker) announced the long list for its 2007 prize. Amid a large number of Indian candidates were a few familiar names: Mo Yan’s Life and Death are Wearing Me Out, Xu Xi’s manuscript Habit of a Foreign Sky, Guo Xiaolu’s 20 Fragments of a Ravenous Youth, and Jiang Rong’s Wolf Totem. Fleeting Light by Taiwanese writer Egoyan Zheng is also up there.

Five out of twenty-three: not a terrible showing for China, though clearly we’re not cranking them out like the Indians are (apparently two-thirds of submissions came from South Asia). It’s a happy day for Howard Goldblatt as well – the English versions of Wolf Totem and Life and Death are Wearing Me Out are both his handiwork.

The three-judge panel will select a five-book short list in October, and announce the winner November 10th in Hong Kong.

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Goldblatt Interviewed

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 23, '07

There's a lengthy interview with Howard Goldblatt posted on Full Tilt, a "journal of East-Asian poetry, translation and the arts" put out by the English Department of the National Central University in Taiwan. It's the longest interview with Goldblatt I've seen.

No, the thing that's really killing translation in our field is literalism. Too many translators are afraid of the text, especially when they're first starting out. And I understand that, because I was too. They're all afraid of the text. You need to overcome your fear of the text, put some distance between you and it.

Good advice! (via danwei)

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Almost Famous

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 12, '07

If you live in Beijing, you can catch a radio piece on Paper Republic, featuring Cindy Carter and yours truly, on China Radio International tomorrow. That's Thursday the 12th, both at 8.30am and 4.30pm, on 91.5FM. Or, if you're not local, you ought to be able to find it on their website. Thanks Weiwei!

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Yan Lianke in the Washington Post

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 10, '07

A very interesting article in the Washington Post today brings up the damage censorship does to Chinese art, mostly via the example of Yan Lianke and his novels. The bulk of the article is given over to the mechanisms of censorship, and how Yan waters down his work to make it publishable, though I was excited to read this paragraph:

Yan's little compromise illustrates one of the most tragic aspects of the Communist Party censorship that is imposed on journalism and art in China. In many ways, the country's 1.3 billion people are being deprived of the full bloom of their culture, with thousands of artists like Yan forced to calculate how much they can get away with rather than cutting loose with their talent unfettered.

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Dinner at Feng Tang's

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 3, '07

From left to right: our gracious host, Feng Tang, Lao Xiao of CCTV, and Lao Luo, once a famous English teacher, not sure what he does these days.

And here is Wang Xiaoshan – blogger, long-suffering journalist, and good man in disguise – author Xu Xing, and Ai Dan (?), who everyone assumed I had heard of, though I hadn't.

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The Bane of Our Existence

By Eric Abrahamsen, June 24, '07

Words Without Borders has a new Chinese short story, The Bane of My Existence by Can Xue, translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping. It's good to see more Chinese material coming out, but I can't say it deserves the effusive praise that accompanies it. The "hell cat tortures owner" plot feels like a whopping three parts symbolism to one part story, while the piece ends like this, with a sentence made of pure plywood: "All I knew was that I couldn’t bear to even imagine everything the future would bring." Arggh!

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Editors: what are they good for?

By Eric Abrahamsen, June 2, '07

During a long dinner with Lu Li and her husband a few weeks ago, she further confirmed something that I've suspected for a while: editors at Chinese publishing houses generally don't edit. Proofread – yes; censor – most definitely. But as for actual editing… She said the best she got was typically along the lines of "we like this story", or "this one's boring in the middle". There may be publishers out there who take the time to understand a writer's work, and help bring it closer to its ideal state, but they appear to be in the minority.

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Welcome, and pardon the mess

By Eric Abrahamsen, June 1, '07

Many thanks to Jenny Niven and Time Out Beijing for the article – as you can see we’re still in the process of setting up shop. Things are a little thin at the moment, but please stop by over the next week as we get underway, or better yet subscribe to the RSS feed on the right. Thanks for visiting!

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