“Last Quarter of the Moon” Long-listed for Banff Mountain Book Competition

Banff Mountain FestivalI’ve just learned that Last Quarter of the Moon, my translation of Chi Zijian’s 《额尔古纳河右岸》, has been nominated for the “Mountain Fiction and Poetry Award.” Winners will be announced November 6, 2014 at The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in Banff, Alberta.

Annoyingly, my name is not listed as translator of the novel, despite the fact that it couldn’t have been nominated if I hadn’t rendered it in English . . .

Narrated in the first person by the aged wife of the last chieftain of an Evenki clan, the Last Quarter of the Moon (or Right Bank of the Argun, as it is dubbed in Chinese)  is a moving tale of the decline of reindeer-herding nomads in the sparsely populated, richly forested Greater Khingan mountains (大兴安岭山脉) that border on Russia.

At the end of the twentieth century an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people. She is a member of the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of northeastern China with their herds of reindeer, living in close sympathy with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.

Over the last three centuries, three waves of outsiders have encroached upon the Evenki’s isolated way of life: the Russians, whose warring and plundering eventually pushed the Evenki down from Siberia across to the southern (“right”) bank of the Argun River, the tributary of the Amur that defines the Sino-Russian border; the Japanese, who forcibly recruit their men into the ranks of the Manchukuo Army; and the Han Chinese of the People’s Republic, who fell the forests that are crucial to the survival of reindeer, outlaw hunting, and eventually coerce the Evenki to leave the mountains for life in a “civilized” permanent settlement.

If you’re interested in how the Evenki christened the peaks, rivers and settlements among which they lived for centuries, check out Evenki Place Names Behind the HànzìFor dozens of marvelous photos of Evenki handicrafts, and the Evenki in the wild herding their deer, hunting and so forth, see Northern Hunting Culture. In her Afterword to the novel— in English here — author Chi Zijian recounts how she grew up near the Argun River and mountains inhabited by the Oroqen, close relatives of the Evenki.

Created 39 years ago, the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival showcases films, books and photographs on mountain subjects – climbing, culture, environment and natural history, exploration and adventure, wildlife, and sport – and attracts personalities in mountaineering, adventure filmmaking, and extreme sports as presenters and speakers. More than 80 films will screen during the nine-day festival, and an international jury will award over $50,000 in prizes.

Crowdsourcing Translation: Disdain Masks Inevitable Trend

In Crowdsourcing Boosts Translation Works, we learn that Yeeyan’s “Project Gutenberg”:

. . . has already translated and published around 200 e-books from different languages [into Chinese], with 300 more titles to go. More than 20 books have also been published in print, and many are scheduled to hit bookstores in the coming months.

Among them are Charles Darwin’s The Voyage of the Beagle (小猎犬号科学考察纪).

Draft translations are completed by various freelance translators, and then edited for publication by a small team of editors.

But literary translators have their doubts:

“Maybe it works for technical translation,” says Liu Wenfei, a famous translator of Russian books into Chinese. “I will never read literary works translated by multiple translators.”

Whatever. Of course, Liu isn’t exactly your typical target reader, nor is he unbiased.

His opinion obscures two simple points:

  • The quality of current literary translation into Chinese is miserable, so any new approach might find favor with a still rather undiscerning readership;
  • Demand for a wide selection of translated writing from the West, from “pure” literature to management know-how, is so great that well edited, crowdsourced translations is an inevitable trend.

In fact, I’d expect crowdsourced translations from the Chinese to become popular soon — including contemporary literature. Personally, I think the concept of the “lone translator” as the only authentic interpreter of a given work of fiction is overrated . . .

Big Breasts and Wide Hips for the Turks

As reported earlier on my blog (Monopoly), the Turks are working feverishly to bring the works of China’s Nobel Laureate, Mo Yan, to Turkey.Iri Memeler ve Geniş Kalçalar

His latest edition to launch in Turkish: İri Memeler ve Geniş Kalçalar (丰乳肥臀 aka Big Breasts and Wide Hips), translated by Erdem Kurtuldu and published by Can Yayınları. Next to appear will reportedly be Frog (蛙) and Life and Death are Wearing Me Out (生死疲劳). Kızıl Darı Tarlaları (Red Sorghum) hit the shelves in 2013.

See table for details on other Chinese novels available in Turkish.

New Chinese Dictionary: Just Another Reason Why Translators Need Google

20140826165308b3619In What’s In a Wordwe learn that the latest update of The Dictionary of Modern Standard Chinese (现代汉语规范辞典) from the Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press has intentionally excluded the following popular vocabulary:

Not admitted to the new edition were such words as diaosi (屌丝), literally “silk penis” but meaning “loser”; shengnü (剩女), or “leftover woman”; shengnan (剩男), “leftover man”; and baifumei (白富美), meaning “white, rich and beautiful.”

Why so?

Li Xingjian, the chief editor of the dictionary, said a team of about 30 language experts worked for more than three years with help from the state-backed National Languages Committee to select the new terms. They took into account three main considerations: whether the term has entered public discourse, whether circulation of the term has stabilized and whether the term meets a minimum level of tastefulness.

“We considered and discussed a huge list,” Mr. Li said in a telephone interview. “A term like diaosi is not very tasteful, and it’s unlikely to endure for much longer. And shengnü, we just thought it wasn’t that significant. It’s used a lot by young people online, but otherwise people don’t really use it.”

Like just about all the Chinese and Chinese-English dictionaries I’ve seen published in China, this one obviously falls into the “prescriptive” category, i.e., unlike “descriptive” ones which focus on capturing linguistic phenomena — regardless of political correctness — a prescriptive dictionary’s editors perceive their mission as noting only those words which are, well, “fit to print.”

I’ve been back in China from Turkey now for about two weeks, and I’ve spent quite a bit of time ensuring I have a good VPN service that gives me access to Google and other online research tools. The philosophy behind this sort of dictionary is one reason why such access is essential.

Backgrounder: Modern Ningxia Writers

Collection of short stories by Ningxia's Hui author Ma Jinlian

Collection of short stories by Ningxia’s Hui author Ma Jinlian

Hui author Li Jinxiang (李进祥), born in the 1960s, recently introduced Ningxia writers of fiction and poetry in an article entitled 纯净朴诚的宁夏少数民族文学.  I haven’t read most of these authors and hope to write about them in detail in the future, but for now, I’ll just cite some authors and works for reference.

Major Ningxia-based writers since the 1960s to our day include 马知遥 (Ma Zhiyao), 石舒清 (Shi Shuqing), 查舜 (Cha Shun), 郎伟 (Lang Wei), 金瓯 (Jin Ou), 李进祥 (Li Jinxiang), 白草 (Bai Cao), 单永珍 (Shan Yongzhen), 马占祥 (Ma Zhanxiang), 了一容 (Liao Yirong), 马金莲 (Ma Jinlian), 平原 (Ping Yuan), 阿舍 (A She), 曹海英 (Cao Haiying), and 马悦 (Ma Yue).

Almost all write in Chinese. Ethnicities include Dongxiang, Hui, Manchu, Mongolian, Salar, and Uyhgur. Many are Muslim and religious motifs are common. [Read more...]

Translated Chinese Literature: Rise in Deals with Respected Publishers outside China

In Major Deals with Foreign Publishing Houses and Copyright Agents, we learn that Chinese copyright holders are becoming more aggressive about finding respected publishing partners for fiction outside China — a change from the earlier practice of working with Chinese affiliates or 2nd-rate overseas publishers:

People’s Literature Publishing House has reached a deal with New York Review of Books and French publisher Hachette Publishing to publish English and French versions of Invisible Cloak, which won writer Ge Fei the 2014 Lu Xun Literature Prize for best novella. The Chinese-to-English translator Canaan Morse won the Susan Sontag Prize for his translation of the book.

 

 

Reality Check for Chinese-to-English Literary Translators Who Think They Have it Rough

In Hard Life as a Translator, China Daily reports:

The suicide of Sun Zhongxu [孙仲旭], the Chinese translator of JD Salinger’s The Catcher in the Rye and George Orwell’s 1984, has sparked discussions over its causes among his fans . . .

2014 Beijing Book Fair: English-language Guide to Literary Events

August 25 Update: Now Complete & Online — Full Official BIBF Schedule of Literary Events in English (Aug 27-31) Or, if you want it in Chinese, click 活动手册

Sino-Russia Literary Forum (9:00 -17:00, Aug 28, 29)

All day event featuring various Russian and Chinese writers making presentations and engaging in round-table discussions. Russian writers: Irina Barmetova, Ivor Volgin,Sergey Esin, Olga Slavnikova, Igor Egorov, Alexander Girgorenko, Alexander Arhangelski, Valeria Putsovaya,Maxin Amelin, Aleksey Varlamov. Chinese writers: He Jianming, Liang Hongying, Zhaomei, Qiu Huadong, Li Er, Qiao Ye, Zhang Qinghua, Qiao Liang Wang Hongjia. [Read more...]

Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: Wolfgang Kubin Critiques German Readers of Chinese Literature

不少欧洲汉学家把中国当代文学看成社会资料。通过作品他们希望能多了解中国的情况。原来我也是这么一个汉学家。到了2000年前后我的研究方式发生了很大的变化。从那个时候我多写作,开始出版我的文学著作,经常跟作家见面谈谈文学的本身。因此我十年来越来越多地从美学,而少从社会来看中国当代文学的价值。不过,德语国家的读者恐怕他们还是老样子。德国读者大部分是女的。她们想多了解中国妇女的情况。因此所谓的美女作家在德国非常成功。

(German Sinologist Wolfgang Kubin in Aug 2014 interview with 文化广场)

 

 

“Daur Epic Narratives”: New Approach Aims to Capture Original Daur Flavor

达斡尔英雄叙事A few years ago, oral epics of non-Han peoples in China — if ever published — tended to be presented in Chinese (translation). To the uninitiated, this implied that these tales existed just in Chinese.

More recently, bilingual versions have occasionally appeared, i.e., with the original language printed in IPA or a script familiar only to scholars, and a fluent translation provided in Chinese.

Daur Epic Narratives (达斡尔英雄叙事) goes a step further by providing the full tale in Daur (written in Latin letters), a word-by-word literal translation in Chinese characters on the facing page, and then a full, fluent translation of the entire text in modern Chinese. This should allow the reader — be s/he Daur or anyone fluent in written Chinese — to get a better feeling of how the original was told, and how Daur idioms differ from Chinese.

Daur is a Mongolic language. According to Wikipedia (Daur), during the Qing Dynasty, it was written with the Manchu alphabet, but currently “There is no written standard in use, although a Pinyin-based orthography has been devised; instead the Daur make use of Mongolian or Chinese, as most speakers know these languages as well.”