Contemporary Chinese Literature in Translation at AWP

Thursday, March 7, 4:30 p.m. to 5:45 p.m.:

R267. Contemporary Chinese Literature in Translation. (Lucas Klein, Xi Chuan, Jonathan Stalling, Eric Abrahamsen, Eleanor Goodman) Panelists will discuss the pleasures and frustrations they encounter translating contemporary Chinese literature, including issues of linguistic differences between Chinese and English, problems of copyright, the rise of web-based literature, and how to identify appropriate projects. Each panelist will read a short excerpt of recent work to illustrate. Xi Chuan will speak as a poet whose work has been translated into English and who has also translated literature into Chinese. (Room 305, Level 3)

Eric Abrahamsen on Chinese Writers Remembering Yan’an

Over at the NYTimes blog Eric Abrahamsen of Paper Republic has, with characteristic sarcasm, written about the recent edition of One Hundred Writers’ and Artists’ Hand-Copied Commemorative Edition of the “Yan’an Talks.” So what were the “Yan’an Talks” 在延安文艺座谈会上的讲话? Eric describes:

The Yan’an Talks on Literature and Art, delivered in 1942 by Mao Zedong, laid out his plan for the role of art in Chinese society. Seven years before the establishment of the People’s Republic, Mao was essentially telling artists that in a future Communist paradise they could expect to work solely in the service of the political aims of the party.

Well! And?

This year is the 70th anniversary of the talks, and there’s nothing unusual about state-owned publishers bringing out commemorative editions of political texts. This one would include facsimiles of several historical publications of the talks, as well as a new version pieced together from hand-copied passages by one hundred contemporary Chinese writers. And it was likely to go nowhere but warehouse shelves, next to thousands of commemorative books like it.

But the hand-copied feature caught the notice of online commentators. Among the hundred calligraphers were most of China’s best-known and respected authors, including Mo Yan, Su Tong, Jia Pingwa and Han Shaogong.

Interestingly, some of the writers who wanted to have nothing to do with this project–I’m thinking of Yan Lianke 阎连科–are the writers I consider most interested in “serving the people” 为人民服务, though perhaps not in the way everyone wants the people to be served. No word on whether Xi Chuan took part in this commemoration.

Read the whole piece here.

ALTA Links Round-up

Over at ALTAlk, the blog for the American Literary Translators Association, Matt Rowe has posted a Links Round-up of some of the news & articles focusing on translation that have been circulating recently. It’s a great compilation of Events, Readings, Reviews, and more, and includes my review of Zhai Yongming’s 翟永明 Changing Room, translated by Andrea Lingenfelter, Paper Republic‘s Eric Abrahamsen on the ups & downs of Chinese translation, a report from the London Book Fair by Publishing Perspectives on The “gatekeepers” of literary translation, and more. Take a look!

Xi Chuan at the London Book Fair

Digital Conference catch up

The London Book Fair opens today, with China as the Guest of Honor. My friend the translator Bruce Humes compiled a list of China-related events, but his blog is down, so I’m re-posting here:

April 16

Modern Chinese Masters: The launch of two new books in translation by Annie Baobei and Li Er, together with their translators and publisher Harvey Thomlinson.

Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2012: Shortlist Spotlight: Chinese novelist and film maker Xiaolu Guo and Director of the Edinburgh International Book Festival Nick Barley as they reflect on judging the scores of books in translation submitted for this year’s award. They will be sharing their insights into literary translation with Literary Editor of The Independent Boyd Tonkin, a long-serving judge of the Prize.

Editing China and Japan: This session will explore the joys and challenges of editing translations from Chinese and Japanese, languages and literary cultures that are unfamiliar to many editors and readers. How can editors make decisions about translation from languages they don’t know; what are the peculiarities and specificities of languages such as Chinese and Japanese; and what is the role of the translator in this process? We will hear from Harvill Secker’s publishing director Elizabeth Foley, Penguin China’s Managing Director Jo Lusby and translators Eric Abrahamsen and Michael Emmerich.

April 17

Bi Feiyu Interviewed by Rosie Goldsmith: Bi Feiyu’s novel The Moon Opera (青衣), translated by Howard Goldblatt was longlisted for the 2008 Independent Foreign Fiction Prize while Three Sisters (玉米 ,玉秀,玉秧), also translated by Goldblatt, won the 2010 Man Asian Literary Prize. In China, his awards include twice winning the Lu Xun Literary Prize, and  the 2011 Mao Dun Prize, the highest national literary award, for Massage.

Ancient Myths in Contemporary Fiction: Alai and Tsering Norbu explore why ancient myths fascinate us until today and how these timeless stories can be brought into the 21st century.

New Perspectives in Chinese and British Literature: Four Chinese writers, Tie Ning, Mo Yan, Alai and Liu Zhenyun as well as their four British counterparts will share ideas on topics such as “maintaining national characteristics in a global context”, “active and diverse literature creation in China (UK), “literature and contemporary life, “literature and social progress and development”, etc.

Chinese Children’s Literature: British readers are all too aware of the British superstars in children’s literature, such as J.K. Rowling, Michael Morpurgo or Julia Donaldson. In an attempt to find out more about the world of Chinese children’s literature, two of China’s most popular authors in this genre—Yang Hongying and  Zheng Yuanjie—join us to discuss their writing.

April 18

Contemporary Chinese Poetry: Contemporary Chinese poetry is constantly evolving, drawing both on the ancient and rich poetic tradition in China as well as on influences from around the world. Xi Chuan and Han Dong, two of China’s most celebrated contemporary poets, read from their work with fellow poet Pascale Petit and reflect on this evocative and though-provoking genre.

Bringing Chinese Poetry to the UK: Chinese poetry has a long and honourable history in English translation – it is nearly 100 years since Arthur Waley’s 170 Chinese Poems was first published. Both the Chinese classics and contemporary poetry, which has flourished in the last three decades, provide rich opportunities for Western publishers. In the last twelve months alone, several new volumes – both anthologies and single-poet volumes have been published in the UK and the USA. Nevertheless there are huge challenges: • Few poetry publishers will have in-depth knowledge of the contemporary Chinese poetry scene. Which poets will be represented? In the West, the label ‘dissident’ sells books, but what does it mean in the Chinese poetry context? • Who will do the translations? The panel will look at collaborative translating (translators + poets) as a practical and creative solution. • Promoting the unfamiliarand finding new audiences. How much contextualization is needed when introducing new poetry (whether classical or contemporary) to readers? How important are promotional events or readings, if at all? Panelists Nicky Harman, Bill Herbert, Brian Holton and Yang Lian, will discuss all this and more with chair David Constantine.

Contemporary China on the Page: Chinese society has been undergoing monumental changes and is constantly evolving under the influence of China’s changing status in the world. Chi Zijian, Feng Tang and fellow author Xinran discuss how contemporary literature is reflecting these transformations and the effect they have on the life of Chinese people today.

Rural China: Amidst rapid urbanization, the rural setting in contemporary fiction has acquired new meaning in China. Authors Mo Yan and Li Er debate with literature expert Lu Jiande the role of life outside the city in contemporary fiction, forming the background to explorations of tradition and change.


My friend Eric Abrahamsen, founder of Paper Republic, has a new article on the International Herald Tribune blog about guǎn 管:

Originally meaning “pipe” or “flute” — the feathery bit at the top is the bamboo radical, indicating a section of bamboo culm — guǎn later evolved into a verb meaning “to manage” or “to be in charge of.” If I were given only one word to capture Chinese society, guǎn would be it.

It’s a fun and informative article, and reminded me of the line of Xi Chuan’s I translated, 我管不住我的心, which I translated as “I can’t control my heart.”

China Daily on Path Light

The China Daily has an enthusiastic review by Chitralekha Basu of the recently published Path Light: New Chinese Writing, titled “One for the Ages.” The opening paragraph matches enthusiasm with detailed context:

This is a collector’s item. And not just because of its obvious historical importance. The first edition of Pathlight: New Chinese Writing magazine is a metaphor of the cooperation between Chinese and Western agencies – in this case, the influential People’s Literature magazine, edited by Li Jingze and the Paper Republic team, helmed by Eric Abrahamsen – to showcase Chinese literature to the rest of the world. What an absolute gem this slender 160-page volume is, in terms of the range of voices it covers, some of them translated for the first time. Kudos to the translators for bringing out the varied textures, emotions, cadences and even the visual appeal in some of the lines penned by the featured Chinese writers represent.

The review says less about the poetry: only,

The poetry section features six names, most of them born on the cusp of 1970. These, including the widely translated Xi Chuan, are seasoned, well-honed voices, who have been at their craft for a while, having evolved their own poetic idiom.

I loved the minimalist poems of Yu Xiang, especially the one about making friends with fellow women and then losing them along the way. It’s a very universal theme and quite unsentimentally put across.

I’m also a fan of Yu Xiang 宇向, and of Fiona Sze-Lorrain‘s translations. I have to admit, however, that I feel a bit queasy every time I see a reference to anyone–especially Xi Chuan–in the Chinese press that makes mention of being “widely translated.” Coming from a non-Chinese national such as Basu it’s probably no more than an objective–if relative–fact, or even praise of Xi Chuan’s border-crossing quality. But–and this may seem counter-intuitive to anyone not familiar with the political context of Chinese cultural standards–very often when certain Chinese figures talk about Chinese writers being “widely translated,” it comes with an insinuation that the writer is translated because his or her work is not “Chinese” enough (as if such a thing were quantifiable, or at odds with gaining an international following). Leaving aside the question of whether Xi Chuan is in fact “widely translated,” I’ve encountered situations where people have used this observation to denigrate his work–even when referring to what I think of as his most “Chinese” pieces!

Path Light on Podcast

Over at Popupchinese‘s Sinica series, host Jeremy Goldkorn is joined by Paper Republic‘s Eric Abrahamsen and Alice Liu, managing editor of Path Light: New Chinese Writing, as well as Jo Lusby, general manager of Penguin books in North Asia, for a special podcast on Path Light and the state of contemporary Chinese literature.

Despite the fact that Xi Chuan’s work (in my translation) is joined by that of five other poets–Lei Pingyang 雷平阳, Sun Lei 孙磊, Hou Ma 侯马, Yu Xiang 宇向, and Wong Leung Wo 王良和–the discussion says not a word about Chinese poetry. Still, it’s a worthwhile and informative podcast nonetheless.

Caging a Monster

Xi Chuan discussed the state of publishing in China and read his co-translations of Norwegian poet Olav H. Hauge with Harald Bøckman during Chinese Literature Week at Norway’s Litteraturehuset–with “around 4,000 attendees at 30-some events,” according to Paper Republic‘s Eric Abrahamsen–but what seems to have been the most newsworthy event was the talk by Murong Xuecun 慕容雪村 titled “Caging a Monster” 把野兽关进笼子 (translated by Jane Weizhen Pan & Martin Merz). In light of Xi Chuan’s notion of his poetics as based on contemporary China’s oxymoronism, I cite the following quotation from Murong’s speech:

My country is capable of launching a satellite into space but not of building a safe bridge across a river. My country is capable of building palatial government offices yet condemns children to substandard schoolhouses. My country provides millions of luxury cars to government official yet few safe school buses for children.