Anna Chen (陈安娜), Swedish translator of three works by Mo Yan as well as a host of other contemporary Chinese novelists including Yu Hua, Su Tong, Hong Ying and Wei Hui, is interviewed by 南方人物周刊 (Southern People Daily):
陈安娜：好像所有汉语作品，不光他的，其他人的也是，翻译时最大的困难就是把作家自己的声音找出来，译成瑞典语。很多中国人以为最大困难就是要懂中文，实 际上每个字你都可以翻译出来，这不太难，因为看懂比自己表达要简单很多，而且我可以查字典，可以问我丈夫，如果真的不懂我们可以问作者。但你要找出作家自 己的声音，他那个故事的气氛，要让瑞典读者有同样的感觉，这不容易。
例如莫言写农民在乡下用的语言，很自然，不是很知识分子式的那种，你就要找到瑞典语同样的语言，这不太容易。像翻译《天堂蒜苔之歌》，那里面有很多歌，你 读中文觉得很好听，但很难翻译，因为译诗歌很难，既要把意思译出来，又要把韵律译出来。说实话，还有一些骂人的话我也觉得很难，中国的语言很丰富，而且骂 人方式跟我们非常不一样，可能是我不太会骂人。反正我觉得莫言的特点不是语言特别难翻译，有的作家很会玩语言，每个字都精雕细琢，但莫言写得很快，他的强项就是他的故事。
As Geomagic CEO Ping Fu is finding out, just because you got your pass to leave the Middle Kingdom doesn’t mean you can engage in free speech now, i.e., actually talk about about what you experienced there. According to Katie Baker at The Daily Beast (Online Chinese Attack), Ping Fu and her new memoir Bend, Not Break, “have become the targets of a virulent attack by China’s Internet vigilantes, who have slammed her account of the country’s Mao-era troubles and lampooned the book on Amazon with a flood of one-star reviews.” Writes Baker:
. . .many of Ping’s critics seem to take offense at the book’s airing of China’s dirty laundry—namely, of the traumas of the Cultural Revolution—to non-Chinese readers. Others seem to resent Ping for having escaped China to resettle into a successful life in the United States. As one blogger wrote, “I think the most important point that outrages Chinese is that Ping … lived a better-than-average life.”
Of her critics, Ping says, “I sympathize in some way, because we are in a generation where most of us, whether a ‘black element’ or Red Guard, we have all gone through a period where I feel we all have been victims in life. I’m lucky that I came to the United States and made a better life, and many people over there did not. And they may be angry.”
Still, she notes, “there are so many people in the world, there are so many women in developing countries [who] have no voice,” she adds. “Like that little girl who was lonely and scared, they have no voice. But I have a voice now, today. And I need to talk about it and write what happened.”
徐穆实 [Bruce Humes]：首先要明白一个事实：书名一般由出版方来定，译者甚至原作家的想法只是建议罢了。要知道，外文版权是外国出版社拥有的，当然是他们说了算。
我的建议本来是直译：The Right Bank of the Argun。这书名不仅忠实原作，也方便引起西方读者的好奇心。因为用“右岸”表达河流的方位有点莫名其妙，西方读者习惯用东南西北来表达。就算西方读者 不知道这条河是几百年以来中俄边境的界线，单凭这种奇特的表达方式，也会引起他们的好奇心。
但英格兰的出版人被早些出版的《额尔古纳河右岸》意大利译文的书名 Ultimo quarto di luna 所吸引，就把它译成英文的The Last Quarter of the Moon。
Here’s my interview with Cindy Carter, Chinese-to-English translator of Dream of Ding Village:
Bruce Humes (Ethnic ChinaLit): You studied Japanese and lived in Japan for several years before moving to Beijing. Has your knowledge of Japanese, the people and/or the language been useful to you in mastering Chinese? What made you willing to leave Japan to pursue your writing career in China?
Cindy Carter: Japan was the path that led me to China. These days, it probably makes better sense to do one’s studies the other way around, but back in the 1980s, Japan was the economic powerhouse, the modern miracle, and China was just an afterthought, the slow cousin, an object of fascination for classicists and linguists. . .certainly not the most obvious starting point for anyone wanting to understand the rubric of 20th century geopolitics or economic development in Asia. For every nascent Sinologist, there seemed to be a dozen budding specialists in Korean or Japanese contemporary history, politics or economics, and I was one of the latter. I did consider adding Chinese to a minor in Japanese and majors in Economics and Political Science, but decided it was more than I could handle and still manage to graduate in 4 years. I’ve been kicking myself in the arse for that lack of foresight ever since.
So, after studying Japanese for 7 years, I showed up in Beijing with a visual lexicon of about 4,000 characters, a few well-worn Chinese textbook phrases (courtesy of a 10-week Mandarin course in Osaka, in which I was the only non-Japanese student, and the dimmest bulb by far), and about 40,000 RMB ($5000, at the time) saved up from 3 years of working in Japan. Within a week of my arrival in Beijing, I had sorted out an Internet connection, a student visa, a shared dorm room and enrolment at a small satellite campus of Capital Normal University (where 90% of my classmates were Japanese or Korean), and had explored five different districts of the city by bus, just by navigating the signs. My grammar sucked, my tones were abysmal, but boy oh boy, was I crushing those simplified characters. Two semesters and nine months later, I’d spent all my cash, was living in an outer fourth-ring road squat with a rocker from Shandong, and was reading Wang Shuo’s fiction, Gu Cheng’s poetry and Cui Jian’s lyrics with reasonable confidence. After a glorious yaogun summer and a 14-month stint working at the Los Angeles office of the Export-Import Bank of Japan, I returned to Beijing in late 1998 to pursue writing and translation full-time.
Sadly, Japanese doesn’t play much of a direct role in my work these days, although it certainly eased my transition into Chinese. When I first began studying Chinese, I didn’t have to learn the written language from scratch, as most western students do, mastering the stroke order and radicals; all I had to do was figure out how the traditional-form characters (used in Taiwan, Hong Kong, Japan, South Korea and elsewhere, to varying degrees) corresponded to the simplified forms used on the Chinese mainland. Read the rest of this entry »
“La tradition millénaire du mandarinat a eu une conséquence imprévue ces dernières années: le développement d’un nouveau genre littéraire: la bureaucratie romanesque,” écrit Bertrand Mialaret à mychinesebooks.com:
Wang Xiaofang [王晓方] va avoir cinquante ans. Pendant deux ans, il fut le secrétaire du vice maire de Shenyang, Ma Xiandong, qui fut condamné et exécuté pour avoir joué trois millions de dollars d’argent public dans les casinos de Macau en 2001. Cet épisode, bien qu’il fut hors de cause, a mis un terme à sa carrière administrative.
Après quatre romans à succès sur les fonctionnaires et la bureaucratie, il est considéré comme le maître du genre. Chacun de ses livres se vend à plusieurs centaines de milliers d’exemplaires et, en 2007, « The chief of the Beijing liaison office » [驻京办主任] a dépassé le million .
Actuellement, avec l’affaire Bo Xilai, la situation est plus difficile; les éditeurs sont prudents. Il a quatre livres en attente de publication et les projets de film sont gelés pour le moment. La corruption est un sujet délicat. . .
Gao Fang (高方), Associate Professor at Nanjing University’s School of Foreign Languages, has just published a marvelous interview (文学在中国太贱) with Bi Feiyu (毕飞宇), award winning author of Three Sisters and Moon Opera. Both were translated from the Chinese by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin.
A few choice quotes about literary translation:
翻译要处理的正是文明与文明的关系。这是翻译责任与义务，也是翻译的价值与意义。误会不可避免。就说《青衣》，在汉语之外，几乎找不到一个和 “青衣”相对应的概念。在汉语里，青衣起码包涵了这样几个隐含的密码：女性，已婚（一般说来），端庄，优雅，悲情，痛感。戴安娜王妃完全符合这几个条件， 可是，戴安娜王妃是青衣么？不可能是。离开了中国和京戏，青衣是没法谈的。青衣是人物，同时也不是人物，它还包涵了服装、旋律、表演程式、腔调。对汉语之 外的世界来说，这是一组神秘莫测的东西，语言学望尘莫及。
On the similarities between betting on a roulette and finding the “right” translator:
我对我的作品在其他语种的命运一点也不担心。我是一个宿命的人，在大的地方，我相信命运。你知道吗，告诉你一个隐私，很不光彩。我在中国从 来不打麻将，可是，我喜欢赌场，尤其喜欢轮盘。轮盘吸引我的是什么呢？你永远不知道那个盘子在什么时候停下来。只有命运才能确定。这个比喻很糟糕，却也能 说明问题，———作品翻译出去了，它在哪个点上“停下来”，当事人永远也作不了主。随它去吧。所以我说，我只对可以掌控的事情负责，写，这个我可以掌控， 翻，我永远也掌控不了。在命运面前，我就想做一个坏孩子：把事情挑起来，然后，自己再也作不了主。我不可能知道命运的咽喉在哪里，知道了我也扼不住它。
On the role of French as a springboard for translation into other “lesser” tongues:
到 目前为止，法国，或者说法语是我的第一站，我的作品都是从法语开始的，然后慢慢地向四周散发，一些小语种因为缺少汉语人才，直接就从法语转译过去了，西班 牙语和土耳其的版本都是这样。波兰和挪威这样的国家选择的是英语转译。到现在为止，我在法国出了六本书，《雨天的棉花糖》、《青衣》、《玉米》、《上海往 事》、《平原》、《推拿》，是最多的，其他的语种多少不一。语种大概有二十来个。
In Book Publishers Scramble for Chinese Readers at the NY Times today, one China publisher in particular—Horizon Media—is featured as particularly savvy in recognizing early on the huge demand of Chinese readers for fiction from the West, and for picking winners that it brought to the market efficiently:
Wang Ling, Horizon’s chief literature editor, cites as a turning point the company’s publishing of “The Da Vinci Code” in 2003, of which two million copies have been printed here, followed by the huge success of “The Kite Runner,” with 800,000 in print — astronomical numbers in a country where, Ms. Wang says, only “super-best sellers” reach half a million copies.
The quality of a translation plays a major role in a foreign title’s success in China, so Horizon takes great care to hire someone with an ear for language and a contemporary voice that readers will enjoy. “A good translator is not just fluent in the source language but must also know how to write an eloquent Chinese sentence,” Ms. Wang said.
Impressive stuff. But what Dan Levin’s article doesn’t tell you is how Horizon Media treats those talented translators. Like Li Jihong (李继宏), who rendered The Kite Runner in Chinese (追风筝的人). He earned a one-time payment of just US$2,250 for his efforts, and will collect no royalties for this best seller.
The article continues with a reference to how politically incorrect copy is dealt with:
Sometimes, however, an authentic translation runs afoul of the Chinese government, and then changes must be made. In “The Kite Runner,” references to the Soviets’ disastrous meddling in Afghanistan were removed, as it was deemed to tarnish the Communist brand, as was a glowing mention of the government’s arch-nemesis, the Dalai Lama, in the book “Communion With God.”
Mr. Li loved the “Conversations With God” series [与神对话] so much that he bought the Chinese rights, which also ensured that no editor could change his translation. The first book stayed on the Amazon China top-100 best-seller list for a year after it was first published. It is a constant affirmation to Mr. Li, who thinks these books can benefit Chinese society because they “awaken the conscience of the powerful and bring consolation to the powerless,” he said.
For insights into how The Kite Runner was translated into Chinese—and what was censored by Horizon Media’s minders—see The Kite Runner: An Afghan Childhood Repackaged for the Middle Kingdom, including an interview with translator Li Jihong. Or click here for a video interview (in Chinese) with him speaking about Conversations with God.
As those knowledgeable about Chinese literature in translation may have noted, one occasionally finds European publishers—particularly in France—are willing to translate and publish Chinese fiction long before these “unknown” authors are “discovered” by the English-speaking world. Chinese Books, English Reviews spoke recently with Stéphane Lévêque, who is busy translating Harmonious Land (水乳大地) into French, the first novel—not yet available in English—in a now-complete trilogy by author Fan Wen (范稳) set along the borders of Yunnan and Tibet:
Vous avez été choisi pour traduire «Harmonious Land » (水乳大地) en français, et le roman sera publié par Philippe Picquier. Vous avez déjà traduit pas mal de livres du chinois, par exemple, «Le Chant des regrets éternels » (长恨歌) de Wang Anyi (王安忆), ainsi que quelques livres de Jimmy Liao (几米). Est-ce correct?
Pour être plus précis, j’ai traduit quelques textes de Yu Dafu (郁达夫), y compris « Rivière d’automne », la biographie de Jin Xing (金星), une danseuse transsexuelle anciennement colonel dans l’APL, et deux romans de Wang Anyi, «Amour sur une colline dénudée » (荒山之恋) et « Le Chant des regrets éternels » (co-traduit avec Yvonne André). J’ai aussi traduit quelques livres pour enfants chez Picquier dans la série « Táoqì bāo mǎ xiǎo tiào xìliè » (淘气包马小跳系列) de Yang Hongying (杨红樱), et enfin plusieurs albums de Jimmy Liao que j’adore pour les éditions Bayard. Read the rest of this entry »
Joel Martinsen at Danwei reports that the Lu Xün Literary Prize, awarded every three years by the Chinese Writers’ Association, has announced its latest group of laureates—but none was handed out for translation into Chinese:
For the first time in the history of the prize, the translation category was vacant. According to the Beijing Youth Daily, preliminary judging in September resulted in a list of twenty works from each category. However, out of forty translated titles submitted, just five made it past the first round: “To Axion Esti” by Odysseas Elytis, translated by Liu Ruihong (刘瑞洪); “Gravity’s Rainbow by Thomas Pynchon,” translated by Zhang Wenyu and Huang Xiangrong (张文宇, 黄向荣);”Travels With Herodotus” by Ryszard Kapuscinski, translated by Wu Lan (乌兰); “The Emperor’s Children” by Claire Messud, translated by Liu Shicong (刘士聪); “A Tale of Love and Darkness by Amoz Oz,” translated by Zhong Zhiqing (钟志清).
Intrigued by the unwillingness of the jury to award even one translated work—and we are talking about three years of publishing here—for a tad of insight I contacted Li Jihong (李继宏), translator of The Kite Runner (Khaled Hosseini), The Complete Conversations with God (Neale Donald Walsch), and The Year of Magical Thinking (Joan Didion). Here’s an excerpt from our brief Q & A:
Q: What’s your opinion on why the committee didn’t award any winners?
A: I don’t know why they didn’t select any award winners, but I found the names of the judges and the award shortlist on the web. Of the five shortlisted works, two originals were in English, one in Greek, one in Hebrew and one in Polish. There were a total of eleven judges, of whom only one knows Polish and one knows Hebrew, six know English and one knows Russian; but it appears none knows Greek. From the names of the judges and the works under consideration, the selection process was absurd. Furthermore, based on my own experience, among the six who know English, at least three of them don’t have the qualifications to sit as judges. In today’s China, many things are a joke; the Lu Xün Literary Prize is just one among them. It sullies Lu Xün’s very name.