Treasure Hunting

By Eric Abrahamsen, published

You readers and lovers of Chinese novels, may we ask your assistance? We're putting together a few lists of books which have not yet been translated into English, but ought to be: from the inexplicably passed-over classics of modern Chinese literature to last year's sleeper hit. What gold has yet to be claimed, either deep-buried, or lying on the sidewalk where anyone could pick it up? We're also counting books that have been translated, but translated poorly, so yes – Fortress Besieged counts.

If you're a translator sitting on the book proposal that's going to make your career, we can sympathize if you keep mum, but we hope the rest of you will cut loose.

I'll start: Jia Pingwa's 废都 (Abandoned Capital). Why the hell is this not in English yet?


# 1.   

Ma Yuan(马原)is a great writer. His works (most of them are written in the 1980s I guess) are worth translating.

Bimuyu, December 12, 2008, 12:01a.m.

# 2.   

I assumed 废都 had been translated. I just put my really rough translation of the opening of it, which I've always really liked, on my blog.

Dylan, December 12, 2008, 1:12p.m.

# 3.   

《公主徹夜未眠》 by Cheng Ying-shu 成英姝 . It's not a classic, but I like it! And Gui a! Shifu《鬼啊!师父》by Guo Zheng. They're both from Taiwan. But in fact there's too much to chose from. Lot's of entertainment fiction (or whatever it's called) should be translated, not because it's greater than anything else, but because it's just as good and slightly different. And childrens' books. Qin Wenjun, for example. Well, maybe you're looking for heavier stuff? Mang jing (Blind shaft) by Liu Qingbang? A bit sentimental towards the end, but still...

Anna GC, December 13, 2008, 5:48a.m.

# 4.   

Shi Tiesheng 史铁生 is probably the most unduly overlooked Chinese writer, also in scholarly circles. His novel Wuxu biji 务虚笔记 (1995), a modern classic in China, is a contemplative, moving set of personal 'notes' - a lucid search for self that should appeal to western readers.

Mark Leenhouts, December 13, 2008, 9:20p.m.

# 5.   

Agreed about 围城 / Fortress Besieged. Also, as far as I know, Qian's collection of novellas 《人·兽·鬼》 hasn't been translated yet. (Or if it has, the Library of Congress has no record of it.)

Brendan, December 14, 2008, 10:49a.m.

# 6.   

Brendan: I think most of the stories in that collection have already been translated, according to MCLC - Cat, Inspiration, and Souvenir.

Liang Xiaosheng is an author who should be translated more. Two novellas and a couple of short stories are all that have made it so far, but 浮城 would be great to see in English some time.

zhwj, December 14, 2008, 1:37p.m.

# 7.   

Aha! So we are doing books that have been translated, but need it again. Hokay.

  1. Four Generations Under One Roof (四世同堂) by Lao She. Translated once in 1955 as The Yellow Storm. The book would require some substantial slashing, but it is a masterpiece of description and character development.

  2. Cold Nights (寒夜) and A Resting Place (憩园), both by Ba Jin. Forget about Family and the Life's Current trilogy, these are the pieces that represent Ba Jin as a mature writer. I could not find any record of a 憩园 translation.

  3. Midnight (子夜) by Mao Dun. The only translation of China's first modern novel and stunning example of detail in description and plot development was done in 1957 and went out of print a very short while after.

A few notes on authors:

  1. There is a lot of stuff by 废名, the essayist, that hasn't been translated yet. The same is true for 朱自清, whose best and most commonly-translated essays, 荷塘月色 and 背影, never seem to come out right.

  2. The major works of the Bian Zhilin and Dai Wangshu have been done once, but what I have read has not done anything close to justice to the originals. Xu Kaiyu, a Hong Kong professor, translated most of the modern Chinese poems we see in print today, and my opinion is that his translations are uninspired to say the least. Bian Zhilin and Dai Wangshu were both pioneers of modernism in Chinese poetry, and their voices have yet to be captured in English.

Canaan Morse, December 14, 2008, 7:36p.m.

# 8.   

憩园 is A Garden of Repose and I have a bilingual copy up at my in-laws' place. But it might need a retranslation.

Chris Waugh, December 15, 2008, 4:15p.m.

# 9.   

Thanks to all for your responses so far!

Does anyone have any advice on Shen Congwen? I have this feeling that he's a bit of an untapped treasure trove, but I don't really know which of his books are most worthwhile. Am I right in thinking he's been undertranslated?

Eric Abrahamsen, December 15, 2008, 6:13p.m.

# 10.   

Thank you, Chris. Who's the publisher and when was it done? I couldn't find it in either the Renditions nor the MSU archives. A bilingual edition sounds likely to be 北京外语出版社.

Shen Congwen has been narrowly translated. A couple of his stories, like Xiaoxiao, have been translated over and over again, but there is a reserve, particularly of essays, that has not seen much daylight. When I get back to my books this evening I'll take a closer look.

Canaan Morse, December 15, 2008, 9:11p.m.

# 11.   

Shen Congwen: there is a 550 page short story collection (with some non-fiction): Imperfect paradise, Hawaii UP 1995, ed. by Jeffrey Kinkley. And Border Town is forthcoming with HarperCollins (tr. by Howard Goldblatt).

Mark Leenhouts, December 16, 2008, 4:13p.m.

# 12.   

Dang Howard. He always takes the good ones.

Canaan Morse, December 16, 2008, 10:11p.m.

# 13.   

Crap, Border Town is the one I was thinking of.

Eric Abrahamsen, December 17, 2008, 9:25a.m.

# 14.   

Canaan, sorry, but my copy is up at my in-laws' place, and I can't remember any of the details. If I remember, I'll have a look when we're up there for New Year.

Chris Waugh, December 17, 2008, 2:16p.m.

# 15.   

Sorry guys, it's all part of HarperCollins' new China Initiative. In 2006 they announced "the first three books HarperCollins will publish in English as part of an agreement with The People’s Literature Publishing House. They are Ships of Old by Zhang Wei, Border Town by Shen Congwen, and Rickshaw Boy by Lao She. Howard Goldblatt, the foremost translator of modern and contemporary Chinese literature in the West, will work with HarperCollins on the translations." Zhang Wei's The Ancient Ship came out this fall.

Mark Leenhouts, December 17, 2008, 2:56p.m.

# 16.   

Arrrrg and I was going to suggest Rickshaw Boy as another masterpiece deserving of re-translation. Well, I no of no one better to translate it than him, to be honest.

Canaan Morse, December 18, 2008, 7:38a.m.

# 17.   

Ba Jin's Garden of Repose was published by 北京外语出版社 in parallel text with the translation done by Jock Hoe...I don't have my copy with me, either, so I can't say when it was translated.

Jonathan Henshaw, December 18, 2008, 1:18p.m.

# 18.   

Published in '01. Just found it online.

Canaan Morse, December 18, 2008, 7:52p.m.

# 19.   

Also worth serious consideration is Cao Yu's play Thunderstorm 《雷雨》, for which I have only found one single 1978 translation.

Canaan Morse, December 20, 2008, 9:42a.m.

# 20.   

I believe the 1978 Thunderstorm is a reissue of a 1958 edition. I haven't read it myself, but it turns up as the subject of a number translation papers in academic databases.

Have any novels by 朱少麟 been translated? 地底三万尺 was excellent (although I don't know if the mainland version is any different than the original Taiwan edition).

zhwj, December 20, 2008, 1:01p.m.

# 21.   

I have always been curious about translating works that seem to make up the canon in modern Chinese literature. Are they considered state property in any way, so that one would need permission from the government to do a translation of Lu Xun (for example), are they old enough that one doesn't need any kind of permission to translate them, or is there someone associated with Lu Xun's estate that one would need to get permission from? Much of the stuff from pre-49 seems to have been translated at the government's behest and in most cases the translations are barely readable, with lots of extratextual political viewpoints sprinkled in.

Matt, December 21, 2008, 4:42a.m.

# 22.   

Not sure of the author or title, but there was a young migrant woman in Dongguan who won a prize for poetry last year (need to do some searching, but I know it was mentioned in Shenzhen Daily). Any idea of the writer's name or if it has been translated? I'd certainly like to read it.

tctype, December 22, 2008, 10:07a.m.

# 23.   

I've seen an English language production of Thunderstorm, which must have been using that dusty old translation. Definitely needs going over. The production I saw was horrible studenty stuff, but the play seemed rubbish as well, which I assume it's not. Perhaps making the language bit more florid would give it some bite.

Phil, December 28, 2008, 9:41p.m.

# 24.   

Parts two and three of Ba Jin's Family trilogy. Family is a classic but the second and third books (Spring and Autumn) have not been translated. There are also 20 or so by Lao She I'd like to see translated, along with some Mao Dun novels. I also don't think there is yet a "perfect" translation of Dream of the red Chamber, but maybe I am dreaming....

barry schles, September 3, 2009, 3:36a.m.


Your email will not be published
Raw HTML will be removed
Try using Markdown:
[link text](
End line with two spaces for a single line break.