Paper Republic: Chinese Literature Matters

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.

 

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Translations

Novels (2)

Essays (2)

Short stories (17)

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Posts

Meanwhile…

By Eric Abrahamsen, September 19, '10

Gah, sorry, this is happening 3pm on Tuesday, not 7pm! Sorry about the confusion…

Our apologies if the lights have seemed to dim around here recently; rest assured it is not due to mere sloth on our part—on the contrary! Well, maybe there was a little sloth this summer, but since then it has been go, go, go, mostly organizing literary events for the Get It Louder art festival. Get It Louder's been going for a few years, but up until now it's mostly focused on art, design, film, and other frivolous art forms—only in 2010 have they seen the light, and added a literary dimension. The festival goes from September 18th to early October in Beijing, then mid-October to early November in Shanghai. (A third station in Guangzhou was cancelled because the Asian Games will be held there this December; it seems city officials cannot walk and chew gum at the same time.)

I'll give heads-ups here as events approach. The first one takes place next Tuesday evening (the 21st) at 3pm, at the Sanlitun SOHO in Beijing (the pavilion in the plaza). The title is "Exposure Anxiety", and features Li Jingze (head editor of People's Literature magazine) and writer Han Dong discussing the project of Chinese culture and literature "Going Out", and the general air of anxiety that is creating within China.

The "anxiety" might end up more literal than I'd intended. Li Jingze is an über-representative of the literary establishment—over the past several decades he has found and promoted many writers who enjoy a reputation today—while Han Dong has gone from being very vehemently anti-establishment (he was a member of the "rupture" movement), to being uneasily taken under its wing, and I don't think it sits well with him. They're both pretty relaxed guys, but there is a lot of tension between artists and the establishment when it comes to "Going Out" (ironic double entendre there!) and there's a potential for snappishness. Could be fun!

All events are going to be filmed and will eventually make their way online, for those of you who aren't in town. One good thing about this whole festival-running thing, otherwise a nightmare for the organizationally-challenged, is that it's been a great excuse to get in touch with a bunch of new authors…

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A Pause for Nerdery

By Eric Abrahamsen, September 16, '10

The pause that refreshes! Just a couple of days ago I got a new Kindle 3 thanks to some intrepid cross-Pacific muling (thanks Canaan!), and while I have refrained from actually drooling on my shirtfront in public, I am, to say the least, enthused. To spare the unimpressed, screen shot etc is after the jump.

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Romancing the Office Chair

By Eric Abrahamsen, August 13, '10

I planned to write a bit about whatever translation-related issues of interest cropped up in the midst of Notes of Civil Servant, and as it happened I barely got through the preface before I reached the first hard-to-crack nut. So here is Imponderable Number One: the word 官场 (guānchǎng), guan indicating government officials or officialdom, chang here meaning "field" or "arena". I suspect that this term is a derivation of 战场 (zhànchǎng), "battlefield", which gave birth elsewhere to 职场 (zhíchǎng), "professional arena" or, as we prosaic Westerners might call it, the employment market.

It's precisely the touch of martial romance inherent in the term that is significant. Your typical North American or Western European civil servant is anything but romantic. Dull of eye and stunted of fancy, clad in the sober weeds of duty, they do one thing and they do it, if not well, at least doggedly. They are cogs in the machine, possessing perhaps even less moral agency in their day-to-day decisions than your average voter/taxpayer.

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Yingelish

By Eric Abrahamsen, August 2, '10

Here comes a rather impressive dispatch from the far reaches of linguistic brain-bendery: Johnathan Stalling's Yingelish, a poem written in Chinese characters, which can be read aloud (in Chinese) to create a completely different story in Chinese-sounding English. As if that weren't impressive enough, the whole thing was rendered last week as a "Sinophonic English Opera" at the University of Yunnan, where the text was sung, acted out, and accompanied by a dizzying array of musical instruments. Download the flyer for the event, or see a few pictures here (Chinese only).

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Cha: Call for Submissions

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 17, '10

Cha: An Asian Literary Journal (http://asiancha.com/) iis now accepting submissions for "The China Issue", an edition of the journal devoted exclusively to work from and about contemporary China. The issue, which will be published in June 2011, will feature poetry, fiction, creative non-fiction, scholarly works and visual art exploring the modern Middle Kingdom. We are looking for submissions from a wide range of Chinese and international voices on the social, political and cultural forces which are shaping the country. If you have something interesting, opinionated or fresh to say about China today, we would like to hear from you. Please note that we can only accept submissions in English. More information here: http://asiancha.blogspot.com/2010/07/call-for-submissions-china-issue.html

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University of Iowa: Life of Discovery

By Eric Abrahamsen, July 16, '10

The University of Iowa's "Life of Discovery" program concluded recently: this was the second annual installation of a joint program between Iowa's International Writing Program and the China Writers Association, bringing American and Chinese writers together for a little road-trip bonding. Besides the official webpage above, you can peruse their blog, where the writers (Americans only?) posted photos and blogged their bewilderment. The event consisted of two parts: a week in Iowa last May, and a couple of weeks in China, mostly Kunming, which ended July 9.

This year's participants, on the Chinese side:

  1. Liu Zhenyun 刘震云
  2. Peng Xueming 彭学明
  3. Fan Jizu 范继祖
  4. He Xiaomei 和晓梅
  5. Lu Qin 禄琴
  6. Yang Guoqing 杨国庆
  7. Zhang Gencui 张根粹

Interestingly, nearly all the Chinese participants were ethnic minorities, mostly poets. The Americans:

  1. Christopher Merrill
  2. Vu Tran
  3. Matt Hart
  4. Kiki Petrosino
  5. Amanda Nadelberg
  6. Kyle Dargan

Great to see these kinds of events going on!

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Event: Chun Shu talks about her new book

By Eric Abrahamsen, June 23, '10

Next Tuesday (June 29) Chun Shu will be giving a talk at the Trends Lounge in Beijing about her new book, Light Year American Dream, as part of the Trends Lounge's Cosmo Women's Reading Salon series.

Time: June 29 (Tuesday), 7-9pm Venue: Trends Lounge, 2F The Place (世贸天地), Beijing
Phone: 010 6587 1999

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Nicky Harman to translate Jin Shan/Gold Mountain Blues

By Eric Abrahamsen, June 1, '10

A little Monday-morning horn-tootling: Our very own Nicky Harman has been chosen to translate Jin Shan, aka Gold Mountain Blues, by Zhang Ling.

Nicky's situation is a little unusual in that her translation is being commissioned and published by multiple publishing houses in various regions simultaneously, rather than the usual practice of a single commissioning publisher who then sells the rights on. Hopefully this will result in slightly better terms for Nicky.

Gold Mountain Blues will come out with Atlantic in the UK/Commonwealth and Penguin in Canada, and is scheduled to appear in late 2011/early 2012. It has also sold into eight other languages/territories.

Congratulations, Nicky, and we look forward to reading it!

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6/5 Event: Jiang Yitan, Ge Fei, Li Er, Bei Cun, Qiu Huadong

By Eric Abrahamsen, May 31, '10

What looks like a great event at the One Way Bookstore this Saturday, 3-5pm. Jiang Yitan discussing his new book Lu Xun's Beard (鲁迅的胡子), in an event themed "Reading Quiet Fiction in an Unquiet Age". Also speaking are Li Er, one of our favorites, Ge Fei, often considered Li Er's mentor, Bei Cun, and Qiu Huadong, a writer of urban fiction to watch.

The One Way Street Bookstore's website appears to be down, here are the details:

Date/Time: June 5 (Saturday), 3-5pm
Address: Beijing, Solana (蓝色港湾), building 11, number 16
Phone: 010-59056973

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Those who can't do…

By Eric Abrahamsen, May 24, '10

For the past couple months I've spent my Thursdays teaching literary translation classes to translation-studies majors at the Beijing Foreign Languages University. When they first came calling about this program, I suspected that it was of a piece with the government's plan to train an army of domestic Chinese-English translators, thereby liberating Chinese literature from the hands of fickle foreign translators with their imperfect comprehension and questionable loyalties (the final step of this plan is to train an even larger army of domestic readers to consume these domestically-produced English translations, whereupon the whole of Chinese culture will fold up and disappear with a "Foop!", leaving a blank space that can be filled with 喜羊羊 re-runs), and I was leery. They assured me that it was simply a cunning plan to use literary translation to improve the students' English, banking on the old chestnut that there is no more careful reader of a text than its translator, and I agreed.

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Industry News

By Eric Abrahamsen, May 2, '10

For those of you reading via RSS: we've recently added a new Publishing Industry News section to Paper Republic, providing regular updates on… the publishing industry in China! There's a dedicated RSS feed for the news, and you can also write to us at news@paper-republic.org with any news, queries or requests of your own.

Along with the general tweaking we've also added one central page where you can see all the translation samples available for download on PR — read and enjoy!

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Mai Jia vs The Web

By Eric Abrahamsen, April 11, '10

The latest (very small) controversy in the Chinese literary world is author Mai Jia's comments to the effect that "99.9% of online literature in China is garbage", and that if he were given the power he would do away with the internet altogether.

This sparked a lot of huffing and puffing, even attracting notice abroad, and now Mai Jia has posted a clarification on his seldom-updated blog.

The clarification is long-winded and hardly clarifying, but the excerpt he posts from his actual speech makes it pretty clear that he wasn't saying anything all that radical. The line about "exterminating" (消灭) the internet if he had the power (he's been quoted as saying he wants to get rid of all internet writing, but from the speech it seems clear that he means the whole internet) was obviously a throwaway joke (an earlier part of the blog post discusses what a pain the internet has been to him with regards to his thirteen-year-old son).

The second part, about 99.9% of internet literature being garbage and only 0.1% worth reading, is pretty much exactly what he said. But he then goes on to say that the most important and exciting thing about internet literature is that it is a free-for-all, with no artificial barriers to entry or readership, and that the literary greats of China's future are bound to arise online.

So his inflammatory comments, in summary: "There's a lot of crap on the web, but it's still the future."

No argument here.

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Headwind

By Eric Abrahamsen, April 5, '10

On the New Yorker blog Evan Osnos wrote a few days ago about how the Chilling Effects Clearinghouse, a website dedicated to tracking censorship and its deleterious effects, had been represented in the Chinese media as a pro censorship body, effectively reversing the truth in order to give Chinese viewers the impression that Chinese-style censorship is common all over the world. Osnos' question was: "I wonder what this says about the decision-making apparatus. Do some of China’s top technology-policy planners really misunderstand the state of play in the West?"

He invited responses, so this is mine: I think there's no question that this was done deliberately, as a part of a larger campaign to lightly confuse the Chinese people as to just how unnatural their government appears to most non-Chinese observers. Both the government and its people are deeply concerned that China should appear to be a "normal" country (never mind that it be a normal country) and much manipulation of public opinion goes into supporting this illusion. The only thing a little surprising about this case is how baldly the facts were reversed.

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