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

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

By Eric Abrahamsen, June 1, '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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Mo Yan Q&A with Russian Fans of Chinese Lit

By Eric Abrahamsen, February 24, '10

The Chinese writer Mo Yan has kindly agreed to answer questions by Oriental Hemisphere (Vostochnoye Polushariye), Russia's biggest website on the day-to-day life, history and culture of the Far East and South East Asia, in connection with forthcoming publication of Mo Yan's 酒国 (The Republic of Wine) translated into Russian by Igor Yegorov (aka yeguofu). English translation courtesy of Igor Yegorov.

Question: Has your recent visit to Russia left you with new impressions? Has your notion of the country changed, compared to that of the past?

Answer: I visited Russia for the first time in summer of 1996. It was a two-day tour in a small town next to the Chinese frontier city of Manzhouli. My impressions of that day fitted badly with the notion of Russia that I had formed while reading books by Russian authors. It was not until 2007 when I went to Moscow to take part in the Year of China Book Exhibition that I fully appreciated the space and grandeur of the country. The vast Russian expanses which seem to have no boundaries, conceal the boldness and a big way of the country combined with its delicacy and soft beauty.

Q: What do you feel about Russian literature and who is your favorite Russian author?

A: Russian literature was first of all foreign literatures that I got acquainted with. When still a child I read The Tale of the Fisherman and the Fish by Pushkin in my elder brother's school textbook, then I went through The Childhood (My Universities) by Gorky. Of course, like any Chinese youth of those times, I read How the Steel Was Tempered by Nikolai Ostrovsky. My favorite Russian author, Mikhail Sholokhov, and his novel Quiet Flows the Don have added a lot to my formation as a writer.

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2009 Dangdai Literary Prize

By Eric Abrahamsen, February 19, '10

The winner of the 2009 Dangdai Literary Prize was announced a couple of weeks ago (sorry, we've been eating dumplings in the northeast).

The shortlist included:

A Word is Worth a Thousand Words took the prize; Liu Zhenyun was also the winner of the 2007 prize with My Name is Liu Yuejin.

Previously…

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New Creative Writing MFA at City University

By Eric Abrahamsen, February 18, '10

The first of its kind, the new Creative Writing MFA program at City University in Hong Kong is aimed at Asian writing in the English language. From the program description:

Its mission is to provide the best education possible for aspiring creative writers and teachers of creative writing, with a special focus on Asian writing in English as well as literature in English concerned with Asian themes.

The program is "low residency", and classes are taught by an international faculty of writers and teachers. Prospective students (who should already have a certain level of achievement in their chosen genre) should apply by the deadline of April 15.

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Ball Lightning Extract

By Eric Abrahamsen, February 10, '10

Ball Lightning, one of the best Chinese science fiction novels of the past few years, is a fast-paced story of what happens when the beauty of scientific inquiry runs up against a push to harness new discoveries with no consideration of the possible consequences.

Joel Martinsen's sample is not currently available, as the piece is under consideration for publication.

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Northern Girls Extract

By Eric Abrahamsen, February 8, '10

More reading material: a sample translation of the first chapter of Sheng Keyi's Northern Girls. Edit: the English translation of Northern Girls will be published by Penguin in 2012, so I've removed the sample.

From the promotional materials we took to Frankfurt 2009:

"Sheng Keyi's first full-length novel, Northern Girls is drawn from her experiences as a job-seeking migrant in the early 1990s. Its main character, Hong, is no different from the thousands of other country girls who are moving to Shenzhen to seek work, with one exception: she has an extraordinarily full bosom. She finds herself caught up in the chaos of Shenzhen, a city that hardly existed ten years previously, where the mad rush of economic growth has destabilized moral norms and shredded the fabric of society. With hardly a thought in her head but to make her way in the world, she discovers that her body has already opened some doors and closed others, shaping her fate before she's even had a chance to gain her footing.

"After arriving in Shenzhen Hong and her friend drift at the edges of society, working in hair salons, shops, factories and hotels, owning absolutely nothing in the world but their labor and their bodies. As migrant worker girls they are doomed to be scorned by local women and humiliated by local men, but as Hong's companions slowly begin to turn down the path of least resistance, Hong herself sticks to her own idiosyncratic principles, stubbornly insisting on her own brand of integrity, and the bosom that has caused her so much grief becomes a symbol of her irrepressible vital force."

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Impressions of Mo Yan's Newest

By Eric Abrahamsen, February 7, '10

Mo Yan's newest novel, called Frog, is ill-served by its publicity billing: "A novel about the One Child Policy and population control!"

Unappealing as that sounds, Mo Yan is too accomplished a writer to simply dress up an historical tract as a novel, and Frog is in many ways a good read. The first thing I noticed was that he had abandoned the baroquely florid storytelling style of Life and Death are Wearing Me Out for a more traditional Chinese narrative, a descendent of the "gather 'round and I'll tell you a story" style more often associated with Su Tong. In this case, the book is narrated by a Communist Party member whose aunt – once known in their rural county as a miracle midwife – is one of the first implementers of the new planned-reproduction policies of the late 70s and early 80s.

The aunt is the heart of the story – her determination to carry out what she sees as a vital new policy, her demonization by rural families hell-bent on raising sons, her eventual reconsideration and regret. Mo Yan is still a master of the scene, of the dramatic moment, and there are many throughout the book: starving children discovering, with shuddering wonder, that coal is good to eat; the death of a pregnant woman who has plunged into a turbulent river rather than let the planned-reproduction team drag her back for a forced abortion; the same team demolishing the houses of neighbors of an anti-abortion holdout, in order to turn the whole community against the law-breakers.

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Grayhawk Agency: Call for Mai Jia Translation Submissions

By Eric Abrahamsen, January 28, '10

The Grayhawk Agency in Taiwan is calling for translation sample submissions for Mai Jia's book Decoded. Any translators interested in submitting a sample for this book, please email a query to submissions@paper-republic.org, and we'll send you two novel extracts to choose from, as well as more background information on the book and author. Please send your inquiries within the next two weeks.

The Grayhawk Agency will be accepting samples through the first week of March, following which two translations will be chosen (one for each of the two extracts) to be used with the promotional package, and recommended to publishers. Translators whose samples are chosen will be paid $300.

The Grayhawk Agency's most recent sale is Zhang Ling's Gold Mountain Blues.

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Exploring

By Eric Abrahamsen, January 15, '10

Another good bit from Han Han's blog (we should just start a Han Han channel here). Minutes after I read this blog post I got a dirty message from Wang Xiaoshan, "in support of Han Han".

Lastly, I saw a news report that said that any cell phones used to send dirty messages or pornographic content will have their SMS capabilities turned off, and you'll have to go to the police station and give them a written pledge before they'll turn it back on again. The government's just like this: it always gives you a verb and a noun, and then it never explains the noun. For instance, you can't be counter-revolutionary, but they never tell you what counter-revolutionary means. You can't commit hooliganism, but what is hooliganism? Now you can't send dirty messages, but they won't tell you what a dirty message is. I used to go along with the government and accept their standards, but friends kept straying unwittingly into mine fields – even some fifty-cent Party members who mean to kiss ass end up not passing inspection, and look stupid. My recommendation is that these mine fields be written out clearly: "over here is a mine field, enter at your own risk". But not only do they make no clear statements, they keeping piling mines on the sidewalk – who's fault is that if we step on them? So it's nearly the New Year, everyone will be sending text messages around: in order to avoid the tragedy of friends getting their phones shut off and having to go to the police station to give a written pledge on the first of the new year, I've decided to sacrifice myself. For the next few days I will continually send dirty messages from my phone until it is shut off. Then I'll come back here to tell everyone exactly what constitutes a dirty message or pornographic content. So if you get a dirty or pornographic message from me, please don't get me wrong: I'm not in heat and I'm not flirting with you, I'm just exploring.

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Talking to the Banyan Tree

By Eric Abrahamsen, January 14, '10

Following up on the announcement a few weeks ago of the re-opening of the Banyan Tree, China's first influential literary website, this is a short Q&A with Wang Xiaoshan and Yang Yong, Editor in Chief and Managing Editor, respectively, of the new Banyan Tree, the most recent acquisition of Shanda Literature Limited, which is in turn a part of Shanda Interactive Entertainment Limited, an online gaming, literature and music empire that has an eye on most of the prime digital real estate in China. The Banyan Tree, which first opened in 1997, has languished over the past four or five years, but Shanda is intent on breathing new life into the old brand.

Why did Shanda buy the Banyan Tree, instead of just starting a new literary website?

Wang Xiaoshan: I think they were looking at the Banyan Tree's brand. That site started 12… 13 years ago now, Christmas of 1997. Back then it was a personal website, but as it grew it fostered a lot of great authors and scriptwriters. So even though it's traded hands several times in the past few years, it's brand and its image is still there. This way, it's big news from the very beginning.

Yang Yong: A lot of literary youth still have an emotional attachment to the site, as well.

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