Notes on Paper Republic and the Translation Community

By Eric Abrahamsen, published

Some recent discussion about bridge translations – starting with this Asymptote article, and Charles Laughlin’s response to it here on Paper Republic – have led to some discussion on Twitter. As part of that, Yilin Wang has publicly asked Paper Republic for a statement on our position regarding BIPOC translators, and acknowledging white translators’ systemic privilege in the field.

We are absolutely in support of BIPOC translators and their growing prominence as translators of Chinese literature. The translation and publishing industries have been tainted by exoticism and orientalism, as a result of being dominated by white voices. We believe that the single most positive trend in the translation of Chinese literature over the past few decades has been the gradually-growing inclusion of translators with personal roots in the language and culture. From the dominance of academics (primarily white academics), to the rise of (still mostly white) “professional translators”, the past few years have seen a new wave of translators and writers who are either heritage speakers of the language, or are native Chinese speakers who are making their voices heard within English-speaking countries. We look forward to more such translators appearing on the stage.

This process has also helped us realize that Paper Republic’s editorial policy is anything but clear. Our platform allows anyone working in Chinese literature and translation can post about themselves, their projects, and their points of view on related issues. We do not solicit postings, nor do we vet them in advance. The current management team is mostly focused on projects related to education and short translations; the “blog-like” part of the site is open to anyone with an account on the site.

Currently 78 people have accounts on Paper Republic, the vast majority of them translators, and anyone with an account can post. We (the management team) encourage any and all translators to ask for Paper Republic accounts, and to use the site to amplify their voices however they like.

We’re realizing that none of the above is obvious, at all. We’re working on a new version of the site that should make this clearer. In the meantime, we restate our support for all translators, particularly the BIPOC translators we believe are the future, and we hope that Paper Republic can continue to serve as an open forum for all.


# 1.   

Paper Republic (as a UK-based charity with a duty not to allow a hostile environment for anyone with protected characteristics under the Equality Act 2010) must make clear that any racist attacks on any platform aimed at people raising issues linked to Paper Republic and its hosted content are totally unacceptable. These weren't private, personal attacks; they happened as part of a conversation you partly hosted and became part of, and you have a duty not to let them pass uncondemned. If someone posts something that glosses over the racial injustice inherent in practices like "bridge translation" that needs to be challenged, too. The onus should not be on people of colour to make this stuff happen. The fact that you are staffed by volunteers, however busy and excellent, really has nothing to do with it. You are an organization that has gone to considerable trouble to become legally separate from the individuals who run it, and as such that organisation should be accountable to all of the people engaged in promoting Chinese-to-English literary translation, and whose names and personal details appear on its database. We are all valuable to each other, after all, or we should be, and it's important to make sure that we are all on each other's side. Challenging white-centered content and condemning racism should absolutely be a part of that. And it absolutely shouldn't be the job of the recipients of racist abuse to do more work to make things right.

Wishing everyone health, peace and safety in 2021.


Luisetta, January 18, 2021, 10:31p.m.

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