The various meanings of freedom are difficult to explain in the discursive language of theory and philosophy. But authors of fiction, poetry, and other narrative forms—using metaphor, parable, and figurative speech—are often at home with what is difficult and too subtle for reason alone.
Residing in countries throughout Asia and North America, the authors in On Freedom help us understand the need for cultural, spiritual, and intellectual freedoms in order to have a life that is fully realized.
New translations of fiction by A Yi and Zhang Yihe (translated by Karen Gernant and Chen Zeping), non-fiction by Woeser (translated by Dechen Pemba), and poetry by Chen Dongdong (translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain), co-edited by Frank Stewart and Sze-Lorrain.
The South China Morning Post has published a review of Wind Says 风在说 (Zephyr Press), by Bai Hua 柏桦 and translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain.
It’s a positive review, but it’s a horribly written one: full of cliches about Chinese essences (“Messages are conveyed in sharp but poignant images, paying homage to Chinese and Western writers of the past, as well as to the philosophical tradition in which Chinese writing is steeped.”), the untranslatability of translated poetry (“one must question how much is lost to the non-Chinese reader in translation”), and literary historical nonsense (“realism is, after all, a defining characteristic of Misty poetry, a reaction against restrictions on art during the Cultural Revolution”). By the time we reach the end line (“In Bai’s poetic voice, one can almost feel the winds of change blowing through the pages”), I feel queasy and am embarrassed to say I like the translations in a book that could inspire such homely homilies.
Oh, and there’s a picture of Chinese mountains enshrouded in mist–you know, because Bai Hua is post-”Misty,” get it?
The weblog Received & Recommended has received–and recommends–Wind Says 风在说 (Zephyr Press), by Bai Hua 柏桦, translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain (click here for their write-up of Fiona’s Water the Moon). Here’s what they say:
Bai Hua’s poetic style, potent and complex, when paired with Fiona Sze-Lorrain’s remarkable talent for translation continues to be a pleasure to read in Wind Says. The English poems in Wind Says appear along side their Chinese originals, so this small collection is perfect for people who read both English and Chinese texts.
Bai Hua 柏桦
translated from Chinese by Fiona Sze-Lorrain
ISBN 978-0-9832970-6-2 (paper) $15
6 x 8
Considered the central literary figure of the post-Obscure (or post-”Misty”) poetry movement during the 1980s, Bai Hua is one of the most influential poets in contemporary China. Born in 1956 in Chongqing, he studied English literature at Guangzhou Foreign Language Institute before graduating with a Master’s degree in Western Literary History from Sichuan University. His first collection of poems, Expression (1988), received immediate critical acclaim. A highly demanding writer, Bai Hua’s poetic output is considerably modest but selective: in the past thirty years he has written only about ninety poems. After a silence of more than a decade, he began writing poetry again in 2007. That same year, his work garnered the prestigious Rougang Poetry Award. A prolific writer of critical prose and hybrid texts, Bai Hua is also a recipient of the Anne Kao Poetry Prize. Currently living in Chengdu, Sichuan, he teaches at the Southwest Jiaotong University.
Manoa’s recent “Sky Lanterns” issue spotlights “new poetry from China, Formosa, and Beyond.” The issue features contemporary poets organized in order of age: “not as a bow to hierarchy,” writes editor Fiona Sze-Lorrain in her prefatory note, “but to trace a possibility sensitive to time.” From a first glance at the cover, we see a juxtaposition of the old and the new in the grandly staged Soul Stealer, photographs by artists Zeng Han and Yang Changhong. In the diptych’s top half is Mulian Opera #11: costumed figures of an ancient theater tradition, including mythic animal avatars such as the monkey king, who populate a green landscape with a seven-story pagoda obscured by mist. Meanwhile, in the bottom half is World Warcraft #11 (dated a year later): costumed figures of neo-contemporary archetypes, including the princesses, warlocks, and demons familiar to role-playing video gamers, who populate a craggy landscape with a line of skyscrapers obscured by what may be polluted smog. The “possibility sensitive to time” in the photographs is appropriate to this volume because the costumed figures above and below reflect the modulations of culture, place, and society over time—and yet exist as avatars of myth and imagination outside of time. The same might also be said of the figures and expressions of poetry.
Even for the well-versed poetry enthusiast, Chinese poetry can begin and end with the short bangs of “The River-Merchant’s Wife.” But we’ve traveled far from Ezra Pound’s translation of that eighth century love letter. The road from Cho-Fu-Sa veers and switchbacks to the White Terror, the Cultural Revolution, Tiananmen Square, sweatshop labor, and Richard Gere’s plea for a free Tibet. Not to mention, the trees dressed according to season and the everyday vicissitudes of light. Edited by Frank Stewart and Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Sky Lanterns: New Poetry from China, Formosa, and Beyond illuminates this complicated terrain with stunning and provocative poems, prose, and photography.
Sky Lanterns brings together innovative work by authors—primarily poets—in mainland China, Taiwan, the United States, and beyond who are engaged in truth-seeking, resistance, and renewal. Appearing in new translations, many of the works are published alongside the original Chinese text. A number of the poets are women, whose work is relatively unknown to English-language readers. Contributors include Amang, Bai Hua, Bei Dao, Chen Yuhong, Duo Yu, Hai Zi, Lan Lan, Karen An-hwei Lee, Li Shangyin, Ling Yu, Pang Pei, Sun Lei, Arthur Sze, Fiona Sze-Lorrain, Wei An, Woeser, Yang Lian, Yang Zi, Yi Lu, Barbara Yien, Yinni, Yu Xiang, and Zhang Zao.
Sky Lanterns also features images from the Simple Song series by photographer Luo Dan. Traveling with a portable darkroom in remote, mountainous regions of southern China’s Yunnan Province, Luo Dan uses the laborious nineteenth-century, wet plate collodion process of exposure and development. In exquisite detail, he captures a rural life that has remained intact for centuries.
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!
It is difficult, if not impossible, to grasp a progressive development of modern Chinese literature since the wake of the 20th century, when the Chinese language became vernacular. That said, this anthology presents an intelligent, personal selection of landmark essays, novel excerpts, poems, manifestos and conversations (many of which are newly commissioned translations) by 41 writers from China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. A seminal work that helps increase a critical understanding of Chinese writing and literary aesthetics free from official ideology, Chinese Writers on Writing invigorates dialogue about the differences and universality of Chinese language — and its consciousness — in reference to our global framework today.