Book Review: “English” by Wang Gang, or Growing up Han in Fictional Xinjiang

Book review + interview with the translators of “English” (《英格力士》 ) by Wang Gang (王刚)

By Bruce Humes (徐穆实)

 

Among the Emperor Qianlong’s trophies from his conquest of Xinjiang was a girl called Iparhan. She was a beautiful Kashgari whose body was said to give off an intoxicating scent without any help from ointments…the abduction of Iparhan became for the Chinese a symbol of the annexation of the western lands which they had twice before conquered—under the Han and Tang dynasties—but never really controlled.” (“Wild West China”) (1)

Much has ensued since the 18th century Qing emperor snatched this enchantress from Kashgar, located near today’s Kyrgyzstan, and transplanted her to his far-flung harem in Beijing.

The ethnic make-up of Xinjiang, for instance. Once home to an overwhelmingly Muslim, Turkic-speaking population—94 percent of the residents when the PRC was founded in 1949—the “Xinjiang Uygur Autonomous Region” has been mightily diluted by Han Chinese who, by 2007, reportedly accounted for four of ten inhabitants. (2)

But the legendary fascination of Chinese for Things Xinjiang—the music and dancing of the Uyghurs, the cuisine and particularly the women—endures. In its own unique way, the upcoming publication of “English,” a novel by Wang Gang, a Han who grew up in Xinjiang during the Cultural Revolution, brings those fantasies firmly into our era, and embellishes them a bit.

Translated by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan, the novel from Viking Penguin will launch in April 2009 [update: published as English]. My interview with the duo follows this introduction. [Read more…]

Transparent Translator Series: Bruce Humes and his “Shanghai Baby” (上海宝贝)

Banned in China, Shanghai Baby (上海宝贝) captured the interest of publishers in the West, and I was commissioned by Simon & Schuster to translate the novel, which was published in 2001. Perhaps because my version became a best-seller in Hong Kong and Singapore, and the Chinese original was later translated into several languages including French, German, Italian and Japanese, over the years several people have interviewed me about the translation process. What follows below is my favorite among those interviews. This interview originally appeared at a web site run by Johnny Katchoolik, an indie musician whose works can be found here.

However, of late it seems no longer to be online. So I have copied it here (minus just the introduction and my picture, but without any other editing).

Questions by Fang Fang are in bolded italics, followed by my answers (Bruce Humes) in normal typeface.

How long have you been living in China?

I arrived via Taipei in 1978 and have worked in various parts of China since, save five years or so spent intermittently in the States. Have based myself in several cities during that time—Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Taipei—but travel very frequently, particularly in Shandong, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong.  

What brought you to China initially?

Intense interest in two rather different areas: A desire to master classical Chinese so that I could read Daoist writings in the original, and curiosity about socialism in action. [Read more…]

Transparent China Translator Series: Interview with Li Jihong, “Kite Runner” Chinese Translator

Transparent Translator Series

Interview with Li Jihong (李继宏): Mainland Chinese translator of The Kite Runner (《追风筝的人》)

“The Kite Runner” /《追风筝的人》:

An Afghan Childhood Re-packaged for the Middle Kingdom

It was an intriguing sentence alluding to censorship in the translator’s post-script that initially piqued my curiosity:

“There are certain places in the original text [of  Kite Runner] which are incompatible with Chinese sensitivities. Measuring his words ever so carefully, the translator has polished the copy while maintaining the original meaning.” (My translation)

原书个别不合国情的地方译者酌情在措词上加以改动意思仍一概如旧 (1)

Now what could there possibly be in a childhood story of friendship, betrayal and a belated but moving coming-of-age, set in Afghanistan – a country hardly figuring on China’s world map – that would ruffle “Chinese sensitivities,” I wondered? [Read more…]