I’ve written about Paper Republic in the past, praising all the resources they’ve collected to promote Chinese literature. It really is a great site, as I was reminded recently when Nicky Harman drew my attention to their 2015 round up of Chinese literature and the Read Paper Republic feature.
The first page is pretty straight forward, but it’s great to see so many works translated from the Chinese—including fiction, poetry, YA, nonfiction—in one place, along with all the awards Chinese literature in translation won this year. (Such as Can Xue winning the BTBA for The Last Lover.)
Read Paper Republic has been going for a while, but this is the first time we’re writing it up, so I’ll let them explain what it is:
We at Paper Republic are a collective of literary translators, promoting new Chinese fiction in translation. Our new initiative, Read Paper Republic, is for readers who wonder what new Chinese fiction in English translation has to offer and would like to dip a toe in the water.
Between 18th June 2015 and 16th June 2016, we are publishing a complete free-to-view short story (or essay or poem) by a contemporary Chinese writer, one per week for a year, 52 in total. Readers can browse them for free, on their computer, tablet or phone.
So, as of this week, they’re half way done. There’s a whole list of accomplishments on that page, but at its core, the simple process of publishing 26 stories, essays, and poems, is rather amazing. I can’t think of a better source for publishers to identify Chinese authors to publish in translation. And for readers, this is a wonderful way to get a sense of what’s out there. Definitely worth visiting and poking around.
Having just glanced through the twenty-six published pieces, here are two that caught my eye:
Painless, by Yerkex Hurmanbek, translated by Roddy Flagg
I love that name—Yerkex Hurmanbek—and the opening is pretty dramatic:
Nobody in the village noticed that my brother’s six-year-old daughter had chewed off all her fingers. Only her little palms were left, like two tiny shovels. But more mobile and fleshier, with a child’s warmth. She took bowls of food using her palms like pincers. The sight stopped her mother’s heart for an instant; the right ventricle blocked and wouldn’t let the blood through so the breath caught in her throat. It was a bit like when their pasta-maker choked on a lump of dough, or the neighbour’s tractor spluttered to a halt outside.
Regurgitated, by Dorothy (Hiu Hung) Tse, translated by Karen Curtis, also sounds really good:
The news that a son had been eaten came at three thirty-three in the afternoon.
At first the news was no more than a current of air brushing past the old faded clippings on the Democracy Wall and the apolitical colors of the national flag. Everything was scattered by the breeze like blossoms in azalea season. The professor bent down, and then further down, to pick up a broken finger of chalk in the classroom. As the news in his head gradually fragmented into an inverted vision, the classroom door suddenly burst open. From under the floor rose the hypnotic hum of a megaphone; the lily-white legs of the female students hung upside-down from the ceiling. Someone noticed a shudder pass through the professor’s shoulders, like an electric shock.
I think I have a think for cannibalism today . . .
Not sure how I missed the initial announcement of this, but Paper Republic and People’s Literature Magazine (wow, that website is something) have gotten together to put out Pathlight a downloadable magazine featuring “New Chinese Writing.”
Here’s the TOC from Issue 2:
Wang Anyi: ‘Dark Alley’
Jia Pingwa: ‘The Hunter’
Medrol: ‘Contract with the Gods’
Mai Jia: ‘A Voice from the Beyond’
Ge Fei: ‘Mona Lisa’s Smile’
Zhou Daxin: ‘Golden Fields of Wheat’
Fang Fang: ‘Yan Wu’
Anni Baobei: ‘Qizhao: Lonely Island’
Lu Min: ‘Hidden Diseases’
Wei Wei: ‘George’s Book’
Guo Wenbin: ‘Blessings of Good Fortune’
A Yi: ‘Common People’
Yu Jian: ‘Elephant’, ‘Hometown’, ‘Executing Saddam’, ‘Incident: Wind’, ‘The road I chose . . . still led to sunset and the trees’, ‘Terrorists’, ‘Unspeakable Fear and Longing’
Pan Wei: ‘Dingjiaqiao Village’, ‘Moonlight’
Tian He: ‘Going Home’, ‘Wet Nurse’, ‘Brothers Divide the Household’, ‘Tonight’s Moon’, ‘The Setting Sun’, ‘Earthenware’
Wang Xiaoni: ‘Moonlight is Extremely White’, ‘Thinking This, Then Thinking That’, ‘Those I Don’t Know I Don’t Want to Know’, ‘Early Morning’,‘Starting Anew as a Poet’
The February newsletter from the Chinese-literature centric Paper Republic has an interesting write-up of the “Future Masters” contest—a competition organized by People’s Literature magazine, Shanda Literature, and a media company from Chengdu, to identify 20 of the best young Chinese writers.
Here’s a link to the Paper Republic news item, and listed below you’ll find the list of the 20 authors along with links to any info about them available on Paper Republic.
Over at Paper Republic, Lucas Klein just posted an interesting piece about the recent translation snafu that marred Hillary Clinton’s recent visit to the Congo.
For anyone who hasn’t heard about this, during a Q&A session an interpreter supposedly “misinterpreted” a question from the audience and instead of asking Clinton what Obama would think of Chinese finance contracts with the Congo, asked Clinton what her husband would think. Naturally, she was a bit pissed: “You want me to tell you what my husband thinks? My husband is not the secretary of state, I am. You ask my opinion. I will tell you my opinion; I’m not going to channel my husband.” (See CNN report.)
Lucas questions this a bit, jumping to the defense of translators everywhere:
But did anyone in the news ever think to check the record? I admit that on the clip I’ve seen I can’t hear the person asking the question, only the voice of the translator. But it just goes to show, as they say, how ready we are to blame the translator: according to several witnesses, the student may have “misspoken,” but he was not “misquoted” or “mistranslated”: he asked the Secretary of State to be a mouthpiece for her husband.
The first time I can remember feeling that a translator was getting a raw deal was when my then step-father, whom I had given Umberto Eco’s The Island of the Day Before as a gift, told me that he couldn’t make it through the book because, as he said, there must be something wrong with the translation. I quickly surmised that it wasn’t a problem with William Weaver (Eco’s translator), but rather with Peter Gombrich (said former step-father), and his inability to admit that Eco might be too much a challenge for someone used to reading John Grisham, as he was.
Inside the China – Clinton cluster, you may also recall how much Bill Clinton’s translator was criticized in China following the president’s visit there in the late ’90s. But when I spoke with the man in charge of Chinese instruction for American Foreign-Service Officers, one of the best American-born speakers of Chinese I’ve met (including so-called “heritage-learners,” which he was not), he told me that the fault was mostly Bill Clinton’s: he had not given the translator a draft of the speech until the night before, leaving him little time to prepare, and then made last-minute changes even as he was reading. It always seems easier to blame the translator than to fault a sitting president, or to acknowledge one’s own shortcomings. [. . .]
But what about the rights of, and our respect for, people who are mouthpieces? I mean here the translators, who, like women and other disempowered figures around the world, are blamed when they err—or are even perceived to err—and ignored when they succeed? While we have follow-up quotes from the State Department, the Congolese student who asked the question, and from media commentators across the land, did anyone ever think to ask Clinton’s translator—who in her own way must be an expert on negotiating the cultural differences between Francophone Africa and the American political realm? Just because she refuses the space to comment when she’s on the stage doesn’t mean we should refuse her that space afterward.
Thanks—in a somewhat roundabout way—to Arts Council England funding, I had the chance to meet with Eric Abrahamsen and Nikki Harman from Paper Republic at the London Book Fair. Paper Republic is one of the best online sources for information about Chinese literature, especially thanks to resources such as their lists of books to (re)translated.
A relatively new feature, the site now offers three short lists: Five Books in Need of Retranslation,, Five Best Untranslated Books of the Past Five Years, and Five Best Untranslated Books of the Past Fifty Years.
They’re still in the process of adding information about each of these fifteen books and authors, and, in some cases, even making sample translations available. You can visit the links above to see the complete lists, but here are a couple titles that caught my eye:
Paper Republic has a directory of Chinese translators for you.
Thanks to Literary Saloon for bringing this to our attention. Over at Paper Republic there’s an ongoing discussion of the recent New York Times review by Jess Row of Yu Hua’s Brothers.
It all starts when Bruce Humes raises a few questions about the review:
—-Does Jess Row know Chinese? This is never clarified, yet it is implied throughout that he does. (“reading Brothers in English can be a daunting, sometimes vexing and deeply confusing experience. Partly this has to do with the difficulty of finding an English equivalent for Yu Hua’s extremely direct and graphic Chinese.”) I would certainly like to know, because the ability to compare the two versions would offer a deeper understanding of the book, and empower the critic to offer an informed opinion about the quality of the translation. [. . .]
—-“Does this mean Brothers is untranslatable?” asks Row. It strikes me that there are an awful lot of weird or cutting-edge books out there that have been translated from the French or the Russian, etc. Why is it that when the book in question is Chinese, the first question that pops to mind is whether it can be meaningfully rendered in a European language? Just how “mysterious” is 21st century China to the West, and who is creating, or even manipulating, this perception? If the translation of Chinese literature were carried out by the superb translators and editors who brought Tolstoy and Proust and Kawabata into our lives, would China still seem so “mysterious”?
What ensues in the comments section is exactly what should occur more often in our culture. The responses—which you should really read, it’s a fascinating discussion of translation, how to review a translation, etc.—include a post from Eileen Chow (one of the translators of Brothers) and a reaction from Jess Row himself.
Expanding from an editorial decision to replace a reference to Lin Daiyu with the phrase “a sentimental heroine” the discussion broadens to cover how Chinese literature is presented and what readers/editors expect from a novel. According to Jess Row:
You write, “Are most readers looking for the familiar, or an affirmation of the reality they know, when they read a novel? And have we come to expect authors to “acknowledge” us when they spin a yarn about their own society?” That is exactly my point: I think, unfortunately, that Anglophone readers and editors do look for the familiar and avoid the unfamiliar or seemingly “obscure” (like, say, “Lin Daiyu”?), and that’s what limits the accessibility of this novel, no matter how well it’s translated.
I have to agree that editors and reviewers tend to underestimate readers. Changes like this are perplexing to me. I mean, we all know how to use the internet to get any minute piece of information we want. It took me all of 3 seconds to find the Wiki page explaining “Lin Daiyu”’ for anyone who isn’t familiar with the character. Maybe there are people out there who quit reading when they encounter a word/event/character they’re not already familiar with, but I’d like to think that number is declining. One of the pleasures of reading is encountering new ideas/words/historical contexts, which you can often figure out by the context, or a two second internet search on your iPhone.
Another late post by us—I think we’ll be catching up for the next month—but congratulations to Paper Republic:
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.
If you don’t subscribe to their feed, I suggest you do so forthwith.
We’re planning to post a review of Zhu Wen’s short story collection I Love Dollars (first published by Columbia University Press and now available in paperback from Penguin) in the very near future, but in the meantime, Paper Republic has an excerpt from his first novel. I’ll let translator Cindy Carter set the scene:
In the following excerpt, from the first chapter of What is Love and What is Garbage, we meet protagonist Xiao Ding on what well may be the worst day of his life: the weather outside is sweltering, he is drinking alone in a darkened bar at noon, the knife scar on his belly is starting to itch, and he desperately needs to take a shit.
Pretty funny excerpt . . . hopefully this novel will be coming out in English in the near future.
After all the ACE info of the past few weeks, it was interesting to find out that it is responsible for this fascinating series on the “State of Internet Literature in China” available at Paper Republic.
If you’re not familiar with Paper Republic, it’s the best website out there covering Chinese literature, featuring reviews, samples, and news (such as the aforementioned internet literature project).
In terms of the project on Chinese internet literature, I feel like I should read more of these posts before making any comments or generalizations. That said, what jumps out at me is how different/vital/necessary internet publishing is in China. This interview with Zhao Song—one of the main people in charge of the Helian literary website—makes that clear:
Heilan first came into being in 1996, as a traditional paper literary magazine. It was started by Chen Wei (the other site administrator) in Nanjing, and only put out one issue before being closed down. “You know that period of time,” says Zhao, “the authorities were very anxious then. It was an unofficial publication, and even though there was no sensitive content, the fact that it was unlicensed was enough to get it shut down.”
Helian now consists of a few main components—a monthly magazine, digital publications, and a literary prize—and is looking to expand its traditional publishing arm over the next few years.
There are two other bits of this that I found really interesting—the first about the state of Chinese literature:
“The Chinese literary scene is suffering,” says Zhao. “The political upheavals of the past decades have broken our link with the past. We’re like orphans, in some regard. In the west there’s a very strong line of continuity in the development of literature, but in China we’ve lost our footing.” He characterizes the two decades of 1980-2000 as a period of recovery and restoration. “But now that we’re ready to move forward, where do we go? It’s time to reconnect to our past and our traditions, but reconnect how?” The May Fourth literary movement (begun in 1919) represented a renaissance, but it was ended before it really came to fruition. The 1980s saw a frenzy for foreign literature, but in Zhao’s opinion that was mostly just an expression of excitement at being allowed to read again. “People didn’t understand what it was they were reading – the context or background.”
And this section on the challenges of finding good writers for the website:
“It’s just really hard to find good writers. We go out actively looking for writers, and trying to lure them in to the site. We do most of our looking online, at other literary websites – we spent some time looking in traditional paper literary magazines, but were almost universally disappointed in the quality we found there. They almost all belong to the Writers Association, and that influence is visible in all of them.”
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