Nicky Harman

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Nicky Harman lives in the UK. She is co-Chair of the Translators Association (Society of Authors). She taught on the MSc in Translation at Imperial College until 2011 and now translates full-time from Chinese. She focusses on fiction, literary non-fiction, and occasionally poetry, by authors such as Chen Xiwo, Han Dong, Hong Ying, Dorothy Tse, Xinran, Yan Geling and Zhang Ling. When not translating, she spends time promoting contemporary Chinese fiction to the general English-language reader. From June 2015-June 2016, she, along with Eric Abrahamsen, Dave Haysom and Helen Wang, ran READ PAPER REPUBLIC, posting and promoting a free-to-view short story every week for a year, a project which continues to develop.

She writes blogs, give talks and lectures, and runs literary events especially with the London Free Word Centre, Southbank Centre and the Writing Chinese project (Leeds University). She also mentors new translators, teaches summer schools, and judges translation competitions: the Harvill Secker Young Translators Prize 2012, and the Writing Chinese Translation competition, run by the White Rose East Centre, University of Leeds. Also occasionally reviews China books for the UK's Tribune magazine (eg review of Sheng Keyi's Death Fugue, Giramondo, 2014) . She tweets, with Helen Wang, as the China Fiction Bookclub @cfbcuk.

Winner of a Mao Tai Cup People's Literature Chinese-English translation prize 2015. Link here: in Chinese
Winner of first prize in the 2013 China International Translation Contest, Chinese-to-English section, with Jia Pingwa’s "Backflow River", 倒流河

Forthcoming: I Want to be Good (《我要做好孩子》) , Huang Beijia
Wake Me Up at Nine in the Morning, (《早上九点叫醒我》), A Yi, Oneworld
Shaanxi Opera, (《秦腔》), Jia Pingwa, Amazon Crossing

2019 publications:

Broken Wings, By Jia Pingwa, ACA Publishing

2018 publications:

The Chilli Bean Paste Clan, by Yan Ge, Balestier Press (awarded a PEN Translates grant)

Our Story: A Memoir of Love and Life in China, by Rao Pingru, Knopf Doubleday (awarded a PEN Translates grant)

2017 publications:

Jia Pingwa, Happy Dreams, Amazon Crossing, 2017.

Fish Tank Creatures, by Dorothy Tse, short story, translated with Natascha Bruce

2016 publications:

Crystal Wedding, novel by Xu Xiaobin, Balestier Press, 2016 (awarded a PEN Translates grant)

2015 publications:

Paper Tiger, essays by Xu Zhiyuan, co-translated with Michelle Deeter, Head of Zeus, 2015 (awarded a PEN Translates grant).
Sissy Zhong by Yan Ge, published READ PAPER REPUBLIC.
January:Bridges, by Dorothy Tse, published READ PAPER REPUBLIC. The translation and editing of this story is discussed and illustrated here: Free Word Centre.

Also, 2015-2016, READ PAPER REPUBLIC short story series: launching, planning, translating, editing, promotion and publicity.

2014 publications:

The Book of Sins by Chen Xiwo published by FortySix, October 2014.

White Horse, novella by Yan Ge, Hope Road Publishing, October 2014.

A Tabby-cat's Tale by Han Dong, winter 2014.

The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver by Chan Koon-chung, Doubleday, April 2014.

Snow and Shadow, short story collection by Dorothy Tse, East Slope Publishing, March 2014.

A New Development Model and China’s Future, by Deng Yingtao, Routledge, March, 2014.

The Stone Ox that Grazed, short story by Sun Yisheng in Asymptote, April 2014.

A Loud Noise, poems by Han Dong, March 2014.

Other Published Translations in date order:

Urban Control and the Modernist City - essay by Leung Man-Tao, in LA Review of Books, originally appeared in Paper Republic, August 2013.

Woman Fish, by Dorothy Tse, for the Guardian newspaper, March 2013

The Shades who Periscope through Flowers to the Sky, by Sun Yisheng, for Words Without Borders, December 2012, and Dad, Your Name is Bao Tian, by Sun Yisheng, for The World of Chinese, March 2013.

Old Man Xinjiang, by Xue Mo, in China Stories for the Guardian newspaper, April 2012.

The Man with the Knife by Chen Xiwo, for Words Without Borders, November 2012

'Goodbye to Anne', in the novella collection The Road of Others, by Anni Baobei, Makedo Publishing, 2012.

Throwing out the Baby, by Xu Zechen, in Words Without Border, April 2012.

Shi Cheng: Short Stories from Urban China, Comma Press "Tales from Ten Cities" series, the two by Han Dong and Ding Liying, 2012

Flowers of Nanjing by Yan Geling, , published by Chatto and Windus, January 2012

A Phone Call from Dalian: Selected Poems by Han Dong, published by Zephyr Press, April 2012. Multiple reviews including World Literature Today and Peony Moon

The Eye of the Eagle, short story by Bai Hua, published by Hope Road Publishing

Prize-winning novel Gold Mountain Blues/Jin Shan by Zhang Ling, published by Penguin Canada

Short stories for Ou Ning's Shenzhen & Hong Kong Bi-city Biennale of Urbanism/Architecture, 2009, and literary magazine Chutzpah, 2010 and 2011.

Message from Unknown Chinese Mothers (Author: Xinran), Chatto & Windus, 2010.

China Witness (author: Xinran), oral history Co-translator with Esther Tyldesley and Julia Lovell. Chatto & Windus , 2008.

Banished! (author: Han Dong) (《扎根》 韩东), novel. University of Hawai’i Press, 2009. Won a PEN Translation Fund Award (2006) for this work. Longlisted for Man Asian Literary Prize, 2008.

‘Long Corridor, Short Song’ (author: Zi Ren, in To Pierce the Material Screen: An Anthology of 20th Century HK Literature, to be pub. Renditions, Hong Kong 2008); (《长廊的短调》 梓人) short story.

China Along the Yellow River (author: Prof. Cao Jinqing, pub. Routledge Curzon, December 2004); (《黄河边的中国》 曹锦清) sociology of rural China.

K – The Art of Love (author: Hong Ying, pub. Marion Boyars, 2002); (K 虹影) novel.

Research publications:

Li Hao: Translation of Contemporary Chinese Literature in the English-speaking World: An Interview with Nicky Harman, The AALITRA Review, No 4 (2012)

What's that got to do with anything? Coherence and the translation of relative clauses from Chinese. In Journal of Specialised Translation ( issue 13, January 2010

Foreign Culture, Foreign Style: a Translator’s View of Modern Chinese Fiction. In Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 14(1): 13-31. (2006).

Beyond Paper Dictionaries: Mining the Web for Technical Terminology in Chinese (available from, or on request from NH).

Visiting Fellow at the Research Centre for Translation at Chinese University Hong Kong, April 2006. Visiting Scholar, Fudan University and Beijing University, China, 2008.

Nicky Harman translated for READ PAPER REPUBLIC, week 3, 2 July 2015, and READ PAPER REPUBLIC, week 10, 20 August 2015.


Read Paper Republic

Original Works

Non-fiction (1)


Novellas (1)

Graphic novels (1)

Non-fiction (2)

Excerpts (2)

Essays (3)

Novels (13)

Poems (27)

Short stories (39)

As Editor


Some problems with the Man Asian Literary Prize

By Nicky Harman, November 20, '08

I was interested in a recent article by Richard Lea of the UK's Guardian newspaper, on the 2008 Man Asia Literary Prize, won this year by a Philipino writer, Miguel Syjuco, and last year by Jiang Rong with Wolf Totem. I've pasted in the article below, but first, my own comment:
In all the discussions on the prize, I think two key points have been missed. One is practical and the other 'conceptual': to get an English language version which has not been published (for the books which originate in languages other than English), you need a translator to spend a year of their time translating a book for nothing, in the hopes that a publisher will pop up later - or you need the publisher of the translation and the translator to do a deal whereby the book is submitted for the prize after the translation deal has been done, but before the book is actually published. That immediately disadvantages the non-English language books in the competition for this prize. On a broader level, the prize is awarded on the basis of the translation to the original author. The problem is that the original and the translation are two separate versions, albeit of the same book. We all know that a good translation can 'improve' a book, and a bad translation can ruin a good book. What about Paper Republic readers' views?


Arts Council England grant for Paper Republic

By Nicky Harman, October 22, '08

We are delighted to announce that Paper Republic has received a substantial grant from Arts Council England to develop the website and to fund associated activities. Our aim is to re-design the site to provide more services both to publishers and agents who are considering publishing a particular work in English, and to translators who are looking for guidance in getting a favourite work published. Resources pages will provide useful information for both groups, from translation rights to translation rates.

We also want to expand the books database: if you read Chinese (whether or not you are a translator) and have a favourite book which has not yet been translated, please write and tell us about it. Include name (in Chinese with English translation), author, publisher and date of publication. Then please add a personal comment about the book, and a short paragraph summarising the story. Your contribution can be signed or unsigned, as you choose.

We will also retain the section (which currently exists as a blog) where translators discuss translation issues, as this provides a useful forum bringing together translators who normally work in isolation, and allowing them to exchange ideas.

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New fiction, new translated fiction

By Nicky Harman, August 26, '08

Richard Lea at the Guardian newspaper (UK) has some new "Original Writing" on China in the Books online section.
On 25 August 2008: China reflected: Hari Kunzru kicks off a series of new short stories by Chinese and British writers with the tale of some very partisan pandas. Those of us who attended the Moganshan Literary Translation workshops in March 2008 will find that Hari (who also attended as a visiting writer) has set his lovely and funny story in a place which uncannily resembles Moganshan!

And two weeks earlier, on 11 August, my translated excerpt from Jia Pingwa's new novel Happy (Gaoxing) appeared. Lets hope that features like this attract publishers' attention...

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Excerpt from Han Dong's Banished! 《扎根》

By Nicky Harman, August 1, '08

Han Dong's book 《扎根》 (published in 2009 as Banished!, was long-listed for the 2008 Man Asian Literary Prize.
There were a number of things which convinced me I wanted to translate Banished! I liked the fact you can read the novel at different levels. He describes village life carefully, sometimes lovingly, but there is an underlying sense of political tension. There is humor, often scatological, but the depiction towards the end of the book of Tao, the frustrated writer, is bitter and painful. The language is occasionally lyrical but usually appears quite plain; then again, there are parts which are enigmatic to say the least, especially when they come from the unnamed ‘I’ voice. The emotional relationships are understated, but there is real warmth in the adults’ protectiveness of the child, young Tao, and the latter’s feelings for his father. I hope that this excerpt at least gives a flavor of some of these qualities.


Talking about China - Ma Jian and Confucius

By Nicky Harman, June 7, '08

I originally sent this as a comment on Eric's piece about Ma Jian's recent articles, but am now posting it with a few added comments:

On Tuesday 3 June, I attended an English PEN event in London entitled "Chinese whispers... are Chinese writers free to face up to the difficult issues facing their society in the twenty-first century, or are they forced to speak in a whisper?...” [this was one of several suggested topics, but basically the only one discussed in the short time available.] English PEN says it "campaigns to improve the understanding of freedom of expression as a fundamental human right" so you would expect the discussion to be focussed more on politics than on literature, as indeed it was. All the more important, then, that the debate should be balanced and well-informed.

The three Chinese speakers were Ma Jian, Liu Hong Cannon and Diane Wei Liang (the latter two write in English). I was disappointed, not to say frustrated, by the evening's event: it was dominated by a rant from Ma Jian, similar in tone and content to his 30 May Times article. I wrote down the following sentence (Ma Jian said it in Chinese, Flora Drew interpreted): Chinese writers can only do three things in China today - collaborate, remain silent or leave the country. This is a misleading and skewed statement in my judgment, and insulting to many writers in China. Why does it matter? Because Ma Jian is probably the most politicised and most vocal of diaspora Chinese writers. People do listen to what he says. Some of the audience came knowing very little of what life is really like in China - and went away knowing just as little, it seemed to me. (For example, towards the end, someone asked whether the three speakers were able to return to China. Diane and Liu Hong looked at each in some surprise, and said, yes, they go back every year. Even Ma Jian said that he could go back, just not publish there.) With the number and the quality of cultural events on China available this year in the UK, we should surely be able to leave the Cold War behind and talk about China as it really is, in all its complexity. A one-dimensional rant does nothing to increase understanding. (In fairness, please let me emphasise that Diane and Liu Hong expressed completed different views, when they could get a word in edgeways. Also, Ma Jian writes much better than he speaks - it is obviously more difficult to engage in debate where everything needs to be interpreted for you, no matter how good the interpreter.)

Can there ever be a well-informed debate about China when most of the participants are non-specialists? Well, take for example, the discussion which followed Jonathan Spence’s first Reith lecture this week on Confucius, on BBC Radio 4*. Index on Censorship, Amnesty and the church were all represented in the audience, and the basis of the lecture may have been historical, but the ensuing discussion focussed on contemporary moral and political issues. It did not matter that those who asked questions had clearly come prepared to say their piece, no matter how distant the link to Confucianism; the discussion was interesting on many levels, and one hopes it succeeded in opening up the debate about China in people's minds.

*Still available here as a podcast; a half-hour lecture was followed by half an hour of questions.

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Translating Scat

By Nicky Harman, May 9, '08

Translating Scat – how do you choose the ‘right’ register in English?

Is a taste for ‘scat’ humour cultural? (Sorry, no pun intended!) Reading Cindy Carter’s recent piece Studies in Scat: Excerpts from Yu Hua, Zhu Wen and Li Er about the Chinese scatological sense of humour started me thinking.

What to do if your editor doesn’t like all this talk of crap? My translation of Han Dong’s 扎根, which will appear in English as Banished!, is at the copy-editing stage. The copy editor has put a lot of careful work into correcting my ‘infelicities’ (lovely word!) of expression for which I am extremely grateful, but we have one major disagreement. It’s – you’ve guessed it – the language used to translate those ‘toilet functions’!


Translation Course: Dinner!

By Nicky Harman, March 28, '08

It wasn’t all work and no play…

Some of us went to a local restaurant.

The local produce was fantastic. Here’s the menu:

Cold Starters 冷菜

Pickled bamboo shoots (bamboo grows everywhere and gets into everything).
Wild ‘herbs’ 野菜 with chopped beancurd (the herbs were about the size and thickness of chives, and had a slightly astringent flavour).
Warm salad of chicken giblets.
Salad of cucumber slices.
Fried dried fish slivers.

Hot dishes

Soup of chicken and terrapin.
Red-cooked wild boar.
Red-cooked wild rabbit with bacon.
Red-cooked game chicken (野鸡 unspecified, maybe partridge).
Scrambled eggs with fungi of some sort.
Deep-fried fishes (about the size of whitebait) mixed with lots of deep-fried bay leaves and chilli peppers.
Stir-fried greens and various other dishes of stir-fried vegetables, more or less .

Local beer; local tea; local grain spirit (白酒).

Total cost 100 RMB, which including treating our leader, author and helper.


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