Soft Power Strategy: Where Does China Figure in Turkey’s Literary Translation Program?

Turkey's funding for literary translation into other tongues: Bulgarian editions outnumber Chinese 10:1

Turkey’s funding for literary translation into other tongues: Bulgarian editions outnumber Chinese 10:1

Over the last 11 years, Turkey has spent US$4.4m to fund translation and publication of fiction by Turkish authors via its TEDA grant program, according to Turkish Books, an article that appeared in the Hürriyet Daily on February 24, 2016. TEDA’s own chart shows that just 24 titles appeared in Chinese as a result, compared to 258 in German, 147 in Arabic, 100 in Persian, 103 in English, and 65 in French.

Oh, yes, and 251 in . . . Bulgarian, a language with an estimated number of less than 10 million native speakers. Granted, Bulgaria was ruled by the Ottomans, so nostalgia may be a factor here. But still, one has to wonder: Who determines how TEDA’s funds are spent, and what is their soft power strategy?

Chinese readers can be forgiven if the only Turkish author they’ve ever heard of is 奥尔罕·帕慕克 (Orhan Pamuk) as rendered我脑袋里的怪东西 by translator 陈竹冰 (Chen Zhubing). Pamuk’s latest novel, Kafamda Bir Tuhaflı (A Strangeness in My Mind) has just been launched in Chinese by Shanghai People’s Publishing House (我脑袋里的怪东西). After all, at least 10 of his novels have appeared in Chinese and he is very popular in the PRC.

The number of Turkish authors available in Chinese is rather short (see here for a partial list), but the good news is that Turkey’s most famous 20th century work of fiction, Tanpınar’s Saatleri Ayarlama Enstitüsü (The Time Regulation Institute) is being translated and may — according to Istanbul’s Kalem Agency — appear in Chinese within 2017. Elif Şafak is also fairly well known, but her novels normally appear first in Taiwan.

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