Behind the Bamboo Curtain: At Last the World Is Paying Attention to How Foreign Works Are Translated into Chinese

Feng Tang's controversial rendition of Tagore's "Stray Birds" has ignited controversy both in Chinese and Indian literary circles

Feng Tang’s controversial rendition of Tagore’s “Stray Birds” has ignited controversy in both Chinese and Indian literary circles

Jan 12 Update: Indiatoday’s Interview with Feng Tang

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January 7 Post

Feng Tang, a well known Chinese author — and occasional translator — will reportedly not be among a group of Chinese writers attending the World Book Fair in New Delhi next week (Jan 9-17). He had previously been scheduled to take part. It is not perfectly clear from the report below if he decided to withdraw on his own, or if he was pressured to do so. Reports the online hindustantimes (‘Racy’ Tagore Translation):

Feng Tang, one of China’s most provocative authors, has been pulled out of a delegation of writers slated to participate in a New Delhi book fair next week because of the backlash over his translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems that was deemed vulgar and racy.

The translation of “Stray Birds”, a collection of poems by the Nobel laureate, was published early last year but the controversy erupted last month. One author described it as a “cultural terrorist attack” and the translation was pulled off the shelves by the publisher on December 28.

“It would be unsafe for me in New Delhi, is what my publisher told me in as many words,” Feng told Hindustan Times in Beijing on Wednesday.

He was among nine Chinese authors set to take part in the book fair, and was to speak on Tagore’s contribution to Chinese literature at Jawaharlal Nehru University on January 9.

For bilingual versions of several of Tagore’s poems, and a discussion of the issues raised by Feng Tang’s renditions, see the discussion at Paper Republic: Don’t Touch My Tagore! 

Oh, and I shouldn’t forget an excerpt from one of Feng Tang’s Beijing-based novels that I did several years ago. You can read my rendition here

Comments

  1. Set the unfaithful translation aside, isn’t the cover – in any other case very attractive – quite from another culture as well? I would never associate Tagore’s poetry world (at least the part of it I have read) with origami…

    • Tagore finished his ‘Stray Birds’ while on a tour to Japan & China. Origami gives an impression of Child’s play and flimpsy. It is more fitting than Feng’s other usage of 遮羞布 that caused such an uproar of damnation. He is forever chased outside Tagore’s circle of purgatory to his proper place in Feng’s own construct of futuristic world on Chinese terms. Let’s wish him well.

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