Pro-active Guide for Foreign Scribes: How to Deal with Censorship of Your Writing in Xi Dada’s China

Foreign authors entering China Zone: To ensure "faithful" translation, best hire a bilingual third-party to vet your China publisher's "rendition"

Foreign authors entering China Zone: To ensure full and faithful translation, best hire a bilingual third-party to vet your China publisher’s “rendition” before publication

In a global world where the printed book resembles a species under threat, China’s publishing industry is a striking exception. Total revenues exceeded US$16 billion in 2012, and annual growth averages 10 percent. And in that same year, Chinese publishers acquired 16,115 foreign titles.

Authors worldwide naturally want to break into this potentially lucrative market. There’s just one catch: the book you wrote may not be the same one they publish in China. The culprit: your China publisher’s in-house editor-cum-censor.

“Books that deal directly and heavily with politically sensitive topics such as the Tiananmen Square Massacre, Tibet and Taiwan are almost inevitably censored, but works of poetry, fiction, memoir and even self-help texts are not safe from the editor’s scalpel in China,” advises Pen America’s newly released Censorship and Conscience: Foreign Authors and the Challenge of Chinese Censorship.

I’ve actually been documenting censorship in China for over 5 years now on this blog. Some of the most popular posts:

  • China even censors foreign book reviews of novels written by its own writers. See a review of Yu Hua’s Brothers for an easy-to-follow, real life example.
  • More predictably — and at least as fun — is what happens to brazen foreign news reports about the unspeakable in China. See Just Say “No” to Orgasms.
  •  我是马拉拉 (I Am Malala) appeared one year earlier in Taiwan than mainland China. Guess why?

But back to the free report from Pen America, which makes great reading for several reasons. For one thing, it opens the lid widely on what is, for most people outside the Middle Kingdom, the black box of Chinese censorship. Foreign authors, agents and publishers who coyly claim “But I didn’t know!” henceforth have no such excuse. And the 25-page report is well researched, citing a host of Chinese and overseas publishers, agents and writers. Most are identified in full, but unfortunately, several of the Chinese authors seem to have requested anonymity.

And best of all, the report closes with Recommendations, a series of practical, bulleted steps to ensure that you negotiate the best deal possible for your “published-in-China” book, including the ultimate weapon of conscience — simply refusing to publish it in censored format.

A few highlights of the report: [Read more…]

BookExpo America (May 27-31 event): Off-site Events Featuring Authors from China

Here are several BookExpo America events featuring writers from China, including films based on their writing — or even directed by them. For a fuller list of off-site China-related events, see here.

China-America Literary Symposium 2015: Reading Contemporary China with Liu Zhenyun, Bi Feiyu, Feng Tang, Xu Zechen, Lan Lan, Cao Wenxuan, He Jianming, and Zhao Lihong
Wednesday, May 27 from 5:30-8:30pm
SUNY Global Center
116 East 55th Street
New York NY

Decoded with Mai Jia
Wednesday, 5/27 at 7pm
Barnes and Noble — Upper West Side
82nd & Broadway
2289 Broadway
New York, NY 10024

New Films from China: A Screening of Fly with the Crane
Followed by a Q&A with author/co-producer Su Tong
Wednesday, May 27 7-9PM
Brooklyn Public Library
Central Branch
10 Grand Army Plaza
Brooklyn, NY 11238

[Read more…]

Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: Human Rights Lawyer Pu Zhiqiang Uses Taboo “C” Word about Xinjiang

“If you say Xinjiang belongs to China, then don’t treat it as a colony,” Mr. Pu wrote in May 2014. “Don’t act as conquerors and plunderers, striking out against any and all before and after, turning them into the enemy.”

浦志强在 2014 年 5 月时曾写道,“说新疆是中国的,就别把它当殖民地说新疆是中国的,别当征服者和掠夺者,先发制人后发制人都为制人,都是把对方当敌人。”

(Tweet by Pu Zhiqiang (浦志强), a human rights lawyer now facing charges of “incitement to racial hatred,” and “picking quarrels and stirring up trouble.” Cited in NYT article on May 15, 2015, Chinese Rights Lawyer Detained in 2014 Will Stand Trial)


Vietnamese Translator-Authors Make Killing by Adding Value to Chinese “Slushy Fiction”

Thanks to translation software and some creative editing, suppliers of China’s spiritual pollution products have reportedly found an eager new readership south of the border. Writes Denis Abrams in Sexed up Chinese Pulp Invading Vietnam:

The translated titles of “several slushy Chinese books” that are “currently all the rage” include Do You Like America?, Moonlight Doesn’t Understand How I Feel, Let Me Look Toward You, Forever Together, and the ever popular I’m Just Like Radiant Sunlight.

The writer of the article notes that a growth in “online translators” (who apparently “have a fragmentary command or none at all of the Chinese language”) has added to the “bountiful” inventory of these books. The “translators” use software to translate the Chinese versions into “awkward Vietnamese stories” before “clumsily ‘editing’ them into finished ‘works.’”

For full text, click here.

Mo Yan’s “Frog” Reviewed: Call for Diversity among Chinese-to-English Translators

Frog by Mo YanIn Literary Prowess Lost, we have one of the first coherent — and highly critical — reviews of a modern novel translated from the Chinese in which the reviewer knows the source language and doesn’t shirk from calling out the translator on several points:

Without multiple translations of the same work, it’s impossible to adequately evaluate the author. To what extent Mo Yan writes in clichés or to what extent it’s a tic of the translator is not a judgment call that the average reader can make. This means that placing him alongside authors such as Gabriel Garcia Marquez, Kundera, and Haruki Murakami is difficult. Although all of the authors are themselves presented to an Anglophone audience in translation, there are at least multiple translations available. In the case of Kundera, the imprecision of translation drove him to such despair that he spent years correcting the translations of his own work into the four languages he can read.

Both Mo Yan and Marquez have received the Nobel Prize for literature, while Kundera and Murakami are regularly tapped as potential winners (Murakami was odds on favorite to win the 2014 prize according to the British bookmaker Ladbrokes). What is important to note is that unlike the other denizens of magical realism, we only ever see Mo Yan’s work through the prism of Howard Goldblatt. In that case, it seems unfair to make a comparison and to evaluate his oeuvre. As Goldblatt himself noted in an interview with The LA Review of Books, “What the reader has in her hands is a facsimile of the original work.” We should therefore see multiple facsimiles, and then we can decide on Mo Yan’s true place within literature.

Literature is important in providing nuanced and divergent interpretations of a country so often rendered in stark black and white terms. Translating a country as vast and diverse as China to a wider audience may be Sisyphean, or it may be 精卫填海 (Jiangweitianhai) or like a bird trying to fill the ocean with pebbles. Perhaps the most important thing we can learn from the plurality of voices emerging from China today is not what separates our cultures, but how ontologically similar they are. For every Sisyphus and his bolder, there is a 精卫 and his pebbles.

It’s thus a sad systemic irony that many great novels from contemporary China, which are so crucial in providing a sounding board for the diversity of the Chinese experience, suffer from being the sole preserve of one translator. Until the field opens dramatically, much of what is being said will be lost in translation.

Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: Chi Zijian on Confusing Blood with Paint

有读者写信告诉我,他们读这个故事 [额尔古纳河右岸] 之前,压根儿没听说过这个民族。最初小说发表后,有评论说我虚构了一个不可能存在的部落,我的内心有说不出的痛楚。有时我们生活得太贫血了,所以当真正的鲜血喷溅时,竟以为那是油漆。


(Chi Zijian, author of Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸), in a recent interview, 作品是需要长点皱纹的)

On the National People’s Congress Agenda: Hùkǒu Management for Future Dalai Lama

In Who Will Control Tibetan Reincarnation?, Evan Osnos at The New Yorker writes:

In Beijing this week, delegates to the National People’s Congress took a moment away from debating annual targets for consumer price inflation (3 per cent), unemployment (4.5 per cent), and cuts to carbon intensity (3.1 per cent), to reiterate their policy position on the migration of the soul.  Not any soul, to be precise: the soul of the Dalai Lama, the Tibetan leader in exile, and those of other high-ranking Tibetan Buddhist lamas.

Padma Choling, the chairman of the Standing Committee of the Tibet Autonomous Regional People’s Congress, explained to reporters that the power to determine the future location and durability of the Dalai Lama’s spirit properly resides with the Communist Party in Beijing. “It’s not up to the Dalai Lama,” Padma said. For the current bearer of that soul to suggest anything else is “blasphemy against Tibetan Buddhism,” he added.

To read the full essay, click here.


Great Openers when Interviewing Winners of Nobel Prize for Literature

Orhan Pamuk was recently in Egypt to inaugurate the Cairo Literary Festival. Here’s the tail-end of the opening question to the Turkish Nobel laureate, put to him by Egyptian writer Mona Anis:

It is not that we want any vulgar Sisi-versus-Erdogan quote from you, but perhaps we can discuss your relationship with politics.

Which immediately made me think of an equally audacious open-ended question to pose to China’s new Nobel man, Mo Yan:

It is not that we want any vulgar quote equating literary censorship with an airport security check, but perhaps we can discuss your relationship with politics.

For the full — and very revealing — interview with Pamuk, check out Ottoman Culture in Disguise.


Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week: Wang Meng Waxes Nostalgic about His Xinjiang

Wang Meng (right): Fond memories of Xinjiang when interethnic relations were warmer

Wang Meng (right): Fond memories of Xinjiang when interethnic relations were warmer

“王震在新疆主政时有这么一条政策:进入新疆的干部和战士,学会维吾尔语,通过考试的,行政级别一律提一级。这样的政策,让干部和官员沉下去, 能够和当地老百姓交流沟通,和当地的老百姓打成一片。今天,还有多少干部能够做到这一点?”

(Author Wang Meng (王蒙) questioning why Han cadres in Xinjiang don’t speak the local lingua nowadays as they (and he) did back in the 60s and 70s when he labored in Ili. An excerpt from  《个民族之间需要精神层面的 ‘混泥土’ 》, a promotional piece for a new film about his 16 years in Xinjiang,  《巴彦代》)

Three-body Problem’s Liu Cixin on Translation, Publication Timing and Readership Outside the English-speaking World

Chinese sci-fi writer Liu Cixin is on a high these days, and understandably so. His Three-body Problem (三体, 刘慈欣著) in English translation reportedly sold 20,000 copies within three months of launch, and he has already signed a Chinese movie contract. A few highlights from a Feb 12 interview in Chinese follow (西方读者好懂):

The Dark Forest, sequel to The Three-body Problem, due out in 3Q 2015

The Dark Forest, sequel to The Three-body Problem, due out in 3Q 2015

New gold standard for translator invisibility?

  • “The most commendable aspect is that while [translator] Ken Liu himself is also a sci-fi author, in translating my novel he absolutely did not utilize his own writing style; the style particularly resembles mine.” Unfortunately, the article neglects to mention whether Liu Cixin knows English.

Trilogy release dates: One volume a year?

  • Liu Cixin confirms that the publisher intends to launch the second volume of the trilogy in July this year, and save the last for 2016. The article notes that Ken Liu (刘宇昆) translated two of the three, and does not identify the other translator. Liu Cixin says he has not seen the other volume, but I assume it is The Dark Forest (above) by Beijing-based Joel Martinsen. For a synopsis of The Dark Forest, click here. 

French, German, Japanese and Spanish versions coming soon

  • But for Liu, these are apparently minor tongues. “Readers in these languages are very few in number, so I don’t expect that many copies will be sold.”

Reception in the West

  • “I think that readers in the West actually adapt more easily to dark depictions [of reality] in sci-fi novels than do readers in the East, and may even be more intrigued by them . . . I’ve read a large number of readers’ comments, and I’ve yet to discover one that faulted the tale for being overly dark.”