Yan Lianke’s Dream of Ding Village (丁庄梦) has made the shortlist for the 2013 Man Booker International Prize .
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 »