Eberlein on Han Dong in English

Xujun Eberlein in LARB looks at Han Dong 韩东 in English and asks, “Is There a Good Way to Translate Chinese Poetry?
Her answer is clearly yes. She asks, “why would I want to read a translation that has departed from the original? Wouldn’t I be better off reading original poetry in the target language, instead of a half-baked translation?”

She looks at Han as presented in two translations, one the recent Phone Call from Dalian with translations by Nicky Harman and Maghiel van Crevel, and the other the anthology Another Kind of Nation. Eberlein writes:

Why do we read translated poetry after all? If specific manners of expression and thinking, different uses of words and images, serve as the carrier of a different culture and reality, the stuff that draws in the translator and reader alike, what can translation accomplish? For poetry, language—the nuance of language—is paramount. We care not only about a poem’s meaning; we care equally, if not more, about how thoughts and observations are expressed in unfamiliar, refreshing ways. Form is part of content in poetry translation.

Click the image above for the full article, and for my own takes, see my reviews of A Phone Call from Dalian and Another Kind of Nation.

Nicky Harman featured in China Daily

Chinese literature's biggest barriers abroad not language itselfChina Daily Europe has a feature on literary translation from Chinese to English, focusing in particular on Nicky Harman, translator of poet Han Dong 韩东 and others.

Harman, who specializes in fiction, nonfiction and poetry, began learning Chinese in 1968 and previously taught translation at Imperial College London.

“At the start, my reasons for learning Chinese were superficial. I was fascinated with the culture and the great geographical region, as well as the people and the language,” she says. “Everything was different from the West.”

Equally challenging are Han’s novels and poetry, she says, as he uses beautiful words so they needed to be translated beautifully.

“As a translator I need to be a chameleon,” she tells Chinese students at the London workshop.

Chinese literature's biggest barriers abroad not language itself

Translators need to be paid, and because the job often requires lots of time, especially turning Chinese works into English, Harman says many have to do part-time jobs.

“They need money to buy food, to pay rent and bring up their children,” she says, explaining that few people can afford to work as translators full time.

Click either image for the full article.

Chinese Poetry at Epiphany

The journal Epiphany, with Nick Admussen as poetry editor, has published a suite of contemporary Chinese pieces, including the following:

  • Chun Sue 春树 (translated by Martin Winter)
  • Mu Cao 墓草 (translated by Scott E. Myers)
  • Liu Waitong 廖偉棠 (translated by Audrey Heijins)
  • Xiao Kaiyu 肖开愚 (translated by Christopher Lupke)
  • Haizi 海子 (translated by Nick Kaldis)
  • Sai Sai (Xi Xi) 西西 (translated by Jennifer Feeley)
  • Hsia Yü 夏宇 (translated by Steve Bradbury)
  • Yao Feng 姚风 (translated by Tam Hio Man and Kit Kelen)
  • Han Dong 韩东 (translated by Nicky Harman)
  • Huang Lihai 黄礼孩 (translated by Song Zijiang)

Click the image above for an online sample, including pieces by Mu Cao and Hsia Yü:

He says the world is very big
We should go outside and look around
That’s how one wards off sadness
We should go to a gay bathhouse in Beijing
And experience group sex with a hundred people
Or go to Dongdan Park, or Sanlihe, or Madian
And know a different kind of lust
If I could visit Yellow Crane Tower
I’d have new inspiration for writing poems
He says all the great artists
Were fine comrades like us

Asian Cha reviews Han Dong & Lan Lan

ImageLu Jin at Cha reviews A Phone Call from Dalian 来自大连的电话, by Han Dong 韩东 as edited and translated by Nicky Harman, and Canyon in the Body 身体里的峡谷, by Lan Lan 蓝蓝 as translated by Fiona Sze-Lorrain.

While Han Dong’s poetry is manly, controlled and ironic, Lan Lan’s work is highly lyrical sensuous, delicate, with a tender sophistication … For both titles, the apt, delicious English translations add new possibilities to the aesthetic life of the poems. Despite a Imagefew missteps, imagery and wit continue to surprise, and the original sensibility is eloquently transmitted.

Click either of the images to link to the review.

Review of Han Dong’s A Phone Call from Dalian

200The Modern Chinese Literature & Culture list has posted my review of A Phone Call from Dalian 来自大连的电话 (Zephyr Press), by Han Dong 韩东, edited by Nicky Harman. Here’s a passage from the middle where I make a point about how having too many anthologies of contemporary Chinese poetry in English has come at the cost of single-author collections, and what that means for how we read and understand the poetry in question:

The situation of Han Dong within a social context is easy enough to assert, but harder to demonstrate in English, which involves an array of political considerations. I count eleven anthologies of contemporary Chinese poetry published in English around the world since 1990, for instance, but not one single-author collection published in English outside of Asia by a poet living in the PRC until 2008 (the single-author collections of Chinese poetry that were published in English were either poets dead by 1990, poets from Taiwan or Hong Kong, or exiles). The overabundance of anthologies would seem like sufficient background within which to place Han Dong, but anthologies necessarily focus on breadth rather than depth, and as a result readers may come away with a sense of motifs common to the poetry as a whole, but not of how individual poets respond either to trends or concerns in poetry or to predicaments in society—which is where style finds definition. In other words, the anthology hides what makes an individual poet individual.

Click on the image above for the whole review.

Nicky Harman Interviews Han Dong

Han Dong – London, April 2009Peony Moon has published an interview with Han Dong 韩东 as conducted by his translator Nicky Harman. Here’s a teaser:

NH: You famously said that, “poetry does not go beyond language” (“诗到语言为止“). Do you still believe that? If not, what do you think are the most important principles of poetry?

HD: When I said that, it was to counter the prevailing view (in China) that “the written word must express a moral view”, and to emphasize the importance of language in poetry. But ultimately this was just another creed and, to that extent, one-sided. I understand poetry in a more rounded way now, not just as in opposition to something else. Poetry is an absolute, or at least an indication of an absolute. Analysing poetry is of limited use. Poetry doesn’t exist in the abstract, only in specific poems, in the writings of a particular poet, and we shouldn’t try to over-explain it. I dream of being able to write poems which need little or no explaining, and can be understood intuitively. Readers don’t need training but poets do, and that training ought to include how to stir people’s hearts.

Click on the image above for the full interview.

WLT Review of Han Dong & Ouyang Jianghe

A Phone Call from Dalian World Literature Today has published Josh Stenberg’s review of Zephyr books A Phone Call from Dalian by Han Dong 韩东, translated by Nicky Harman, and Doubled Shadows by Ouyang Jianghe 欧阳江河, translated by Austin Woerner:

Ouyang Jianghe and Han Dong … both occupy established places in what, for over thirty years, has been known as avant-garde Chinese literature. In poetic approach, they represent divergent tendencies—Ouyang cosmopolitan, clean, and heavily referential; Han craftily offhand, personal, confidently bizarre, not tetchy about grime Doubled Shadowsor sex. Where Ouyang often seems to offer an argument about the cultural currents and skirmishes of today’s China, Han’s work most often reads as a lament for the failure of attempts to bridge the spaces between people

 

To Foreword or Not to Foreword?

SimitIn “To foreword or not to foreword?” Turkish – French translator Canan Marasligil and Chinese – English translator Nicky Harman discuss how the translator does, should, and shouldn’t frame the translation for the reader. Here’s an excerpt from Harman’s contribution:

Let me illustrate with a further question: Why do teachers consider it necessary to explain the role of the fool in Shakespeare’s King Lear? Because the modern meaning of the word doesn’t communicate the dramatic and social importance of the role. Granted, the reader will get some idea by the time they’ve finished the play. But why expect them to run barefoot through King Lear when we could give them a pair of running shoes, by way of an introductory note?  Fundamentally, I think that expecting the reader to appreciate a book without understanding the context in which the writer was writing and, even more importantly, what he or she was trying to do, is to do the writer an injustice. This is especially true when readers are unlikely to know much about a history and a culture far removed from their own experience. For example, in a collection of Hong Kong stories I translated recently, by the writer Dorothy Tse, I felt it was very important to explain her surrealism by quoting her own words: “Contrary to mainland literature that tried to borrow languages from the working class as well as the farmers in the 50s as a way to reach the public, Hong Kong’s literature has a tradition of resistance to the language of daily life. Its highly experimental language is a strategy to distinguish a literary work from an entertaining and commercial one. In Hong Kong, writing itself is an active rejection of utilitarian society and mundane everyday life.”

Click the image above for the dialogue in full.

Renditions Special Issue: Chinese Science Fiction: Late Qing and the Contemporary

The next issue of Renditions, no. 77/78 (Spring and Autumn of 2012), a special issue on late Qing and contemporary science fiction, is now available for order, guest edited by Mingwei Song 宋明煒. He writes:

As a popular genre, science fiction has energized modern Chinese literature by evoking an array of sensations ranging from the grotesque to the sublime, from the utopian to the apocalyptic, and from the human to the post-human. It mingles nationalism with fantasy, sharpens social criticism with an acute awareness of China’s potential for further reform as well as its limitations, and envelops political consciousness in scientific discourses on the power of technology or the technology of power. Science fiction today both echoes and complicates the late Qing writers’ vision of China’s future and the transformation of human society.

Juxtaposing writings from the first two decades of successive centuries has proven to be a meaningful project. Both epochs are characterized by heightened aspiration for change as well as by deep anxieties about China’s future. A comparative reading of the stories from the late Qing and the contemporary sheds light on their common themes. Yet recapitulations of the earlier age’s literary motifs also lead to self-reflexive variations that point to the latter period’s uniqueness.

The history of Chinese science fiction has never been continuous. Only three short booms can be identified: the last decade of the Qing dynasty (1902-1911); the first four years of the New Era (1978-1982); and the beginning of the twenty-first century. These booms alternated with long dormant periods. This Renditions special issue showcases representative works of Chinese science fiction from its first and latest booms, focusing on the late Qing and the contemporary. An earlier anthology Science Fiction from China (New York: Praeger, 1989), edited by Wu Dingbo and Patrick D. Murphy, introduced English readers to the second generation of Chinese science fiction writers.

The works selected have all been translated into English for the first time. This special issue is also the first English-language collection of Chinese science fiction since the publication of Wu and Murphy’s anthology in 1989. The thirteen pieces included are divided into two groups: the first four are stories and novel excerpts from the first decade of Chinese science fiction’s development; the other nine pieces are recent works by contemporary authors. I will welcome any comments and criticism.

Here’s the Table of Contents:

Preface: Mingwei Song

Part One: The Early Twentieth Century

Xu Nianci, “New Tales of Mr. Braggadocio” (Translated by Nathaniel Isaacson) 徐念慈: 新法螺先生譚

Wu Jianren, New Story of the Stone: excerpts (Translated by Sterling Swallow) 吳趼人:新石頭記(節選)

Louise Strong, “The Art of Creating Humanity” (Translated by Suozi [Lu Xun]; Re-translated by Carlos Rojas) 索子[魯迅]: 造人朮

Xu Zhuodai, “The Secret Room” (Translated by Christopher Rea) 徐卓呆: 秘密室

Part Two: The Early Twenty First Century

Liu Cixin, “The Poetry Cloud” (Translated by Chi-yin Ip and Cheuk Wong) 劉慈欣: 詩雲

Liu Cixin, “The Village Schoolteacher” (Translated by Christopher Elford and Jiang Chenxin) 劉慈欣: 鄉村教師

Han Song, “The Passengers and the Creator” (Translated by Nathaniel Isaacson) 韓松: 乘客與創造者

Wang Jinkang, “The Reincarnated Giant” (Translated by Carlos Rojas) 王晉康:轉生的巨人

La La, “The Radio Waves That Never Die” (Translated by Petula Parris-Huang) 拉拉: 永不消逝的電波

Zhao Haihong, “1923-a Fantasy” (Translated by Nicky Narman and Pang Zhaoxia) 趙海虹: 一九二三年科幻故事

Chi Hui, “The Rainforest” (Translated by Jie Li) 遲卉: 雨林

Fei Dao, “The Demon’s Head” (Translated by David Hull) 飛氘: 魔鬼的頭顱

Xia Jia, “The Demon-Enslaving Flask” (Translated by Linda Rui Feng) 夏笳: 関妖精的瓶子