Aug 2015 Update: Strategies for Exporting More of China’s Ethnic Fiction

I was invited to the “2015 Sino-foreign Literature Translation & Publishing Workshop” (2015 中外文学翻译研修班) that just ended in Beijing, but didn’t make it. It looks like it was a major happening with more than 50 translation and publishing professionals attending from 30+ countries. Check out the site here. Most of it is in Chinese, but the bios of the participants are in English too. Just click on the pix.

I suggested beforehand to the organizers that they discuss how to increase the overseas profile of China’s non-Han authors, and apparently they did. For a full-length news item on the discussion, read 少数民族文学 “走出去”步伐极须加快.

Since 2013, the China Writers Association has subsidized an ongoing project to enable translation and publication of

Adriana Martínez González, Chinese-to-Spanish translator

Adriana Martínez González, Chinese-to-Spanish translator

fiction by ethnic writers (当代少数民族文学对外翻译工程), according to Li Jingze, Secretary of the China Writers Association, who is cited in the news item. Some 54 “projects” were undertaken in 2013-14, and “almost half have been published.”

The report mentioned just a handful of translators and their works, including translations of various books about Muslim culture and literature in China into Arabic by Egyptian Shaimaa Kamal, and a book by Hui writer Ye Duoduo (叶多多), rendered in Spanish by Adriana Martínez González.

Several suggestions on how to better package ethnic fiction for an international readership were summarized in the news item. This included the need for China to cultivate “externally oriented” editors and publishing and sales managers.

Ironically, this is painfully obvious from the marketing of a collection of short pieces about the Lahu, entitled La vida cotidiana de las mujeres Lahu de Lancang (澜沧拉祜女子日常生活) published by Five Continents Press (五洲传播出版社) in 2015. I should note that it’s not clear from the report whether this particular book was financed via a grant from the China Writers Association.

Intrigued to see how La vida cotidiana de las mujeres Lahu de Lancang is marketed in the West, I searched for her translation at Amazon. Sadly, what I found was this entry: Lancang Lahu woman daily life (Spanish Edition). This is a word-for-word translation of the Chinese title that gives little hint that it is a collection of short reportages. Although the book is in Spanish, the Spanish title is not given; and this listing is on English-language Amazon.com, while the book is not available at Amazon.com.es. There is no graphic of the cover. And to top it off, the brief description of the book’s contents has obviously been penned by a non-native speaker of English:

Lahu Ethnic Group is one of those ethnic group named by Tiger. They also call themselves as Penyapeya, which means the descendant of calabash. According to their legend, the goddess Etha created the sky and the earth, the sun and the moon, and the calabash. The ancestor Zadi y Nadi reproduced the Lahu people from the calabash. Lancang, with the official name as Lancang Lahu Autonomous County, is where gather the majority of Lahu people. This book unveils this mysterious ethical group, who still keeps certain customs of matriarchy. There are merely four elements in the life of most Lahu women: mountain, fireplace, marriage and work. They make the living by haunting, planting tea, raising bees, and habitat in the rudimentary thatched dwelling. Becoming increasingly aware of the significance of education, Lahu people start to send their children, especially the girls to school. Can they break the shackles of poverty and underdevelopment? May time find the answer.

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