Literary Translation: The Collaborative Approach

Co-translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin

Co-translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin

In the Aug 2014 edition of The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, Chinese-to-literary translators Sylvia Li-chun Lin (native Chinese speaker) and Howard Goldblatt (native English speaker) reveal how they work together:

Sylvia does the first draft, placing emphasis more on conveying the meaning of the original text than on finding the exact words/phrases in the translation. The rough quality of the text, necessitated by speed, is easily compensated for by first-impression impulses that capture meaning beyond the words. Howard takes over then, reading the first draft against the original, marking spots with different interpretations, possible translations, or ambiguities, and checking reference material where necessary.

This is fascinating stuff, and I recommend you read the entire text (see below for the link).

But when both translators are highly fluent in the source language, that doesn’t mean that the first draft is necessarily carried out just by the native speaker of the source text.

For example, here is how Jane Weizhen Pan (native Chinese speaker) and Martin

Co-translated by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan

Co-translated by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan

Merz (native English speaker) translated Wang Gang’s English (see full translator Q & A):

Each of us would translate alternate parts of each chapter and swop our raw drafts. Our raw drafts of these parts would be reviewed, changed (sometimes ruthlessly) by the other party. Every day, before working on a new draft or reviewing Martin’s draft, I would read the revised translation done the day before and then the entire chapter again.

Since I was in Australia and he in Hong Kong, we went back and forth over these changes and

commented on each other’s translation over Skype. We then left it to “brew” while working on the other parts of the chapter. The “revised version” would be reviewed again once we finished translating that entire chapter. We reviewed our translation of the entire book twice before sending to the editor.

The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation is published by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. For the full text of The Collaborative Approach, click here, and look for The Collaborative Approach in the Contents Page.

Infrastructure for China Soft Power Inc.: Newly Established China Academy of Translation

In a move to get the infrastructure on the ground for China’s re-emergence on the international cultural scene, the China Int’l Publishing Group has founded the China Academy of Translation (中国翻译研究院). Read about it here in Chinese, and here in English.

This is definitely a state-run body founded to serve China’s strategic interests, a “translation think tank” focusing on translation out of Chinese, if you will. But there are a few aspects of interest to translators of Chinese in general. The academy will:

  • Periodically release suggested translations — one would assume mainly from Chinese into English — for “culture-loaded” expressions “with Chinese characteristics”
  • Host training programs for domestic and foreign translators
  • Promote translation education for non-European languages, such as certain languages indigenous to Africa and Southeast Asia

There were several but vague references to a “platform” at the inaugural ceremony, which imply that there will be one or more web sites, including a database, run by the academy.  For some info on an existing one listing translators, see New Kid on the Block.

Ideas about how to train up the next generation of Chinese-to-English literary translators have recently been discussed in Open Letter and in The People’s Daily (建立驻地翻译基金). Oh yes, and here’s how to sign up for a training course in China scheduled for September: CELT Rides Again.

徐穆实受访:人民日报海外版转载 “建立驻地翻译基金” 的建议

Humes Proposes Translation-in-Residence Fund莫言获诺贝尔文学奖、麦家小说在海外畅销,外国翻译家功不可没。他们以优美的本国语言、适合西方人阅读的视角进行翻译,将中文图书接引到彼岸并焕发出神秘光彩。

最近,美国中文翻译家徐穆实(Bruce Humes)在个人网站上刊出公开信,就中国有关机构近年来推动的文学外译提出若干具体建议,将中国文学“走出去”的战略落到实处:






Osnos, Vogel and China Censorship Percentage Stats

But when can I get my uncensored Chinese edition?

But when can I get my uncensored Chinese edition?

In what a publicist would judge a savvy approach to pre-launch marketing of one’s book, Evan Osnos recently wrote a much-discussed NY Times Op-ed in which he explained why he won’t be releasing his new Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China in Chinese in the People’s Republic any time soon.

In a word, because Osnos doesn’t want a “special edition” of it — with chunks of the original deleted — customized for Chinese readers. That would, he maintains, “endorse a false image of the past and present.”

In her June 20 piece about the brouhaha, Slippery Slope, Dinah Gardner cites two statistics several times: 10% and 25%. The 10% is a reference to the amount of text that Ezra Vogel claims was deleted from his Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China when published in Chinese. And 25% is an estimate of what one Chinese publishing agent proposed cutting from Osnos’ Age of Ambition.

Based on my knowledge of editing and censorship in China, however, if Vogel actually believes that 90% of his work was faithfully transmitted via the final Chinese text, then he is deluding himself. Or, more charitably, he is much more knowledgeable about Deng Xiaoping than he is about publishing in China. [Read more…]

June Training Sessions: Authors of Five Major non-Han Languages Meet their Translators

During June 5-9, Nationalities Literature Magazine (民族文学) organized an intensive “editing/rewriting training course” (改稿班) that brought together the magazine’s editors with twenty-plus Kazakh writers and their translators. Mandarin and Kazakh aside, the magazine appears in Mongolian, Korean, Tibetan and Uyghur, and training sessions for writers and translators of the latter four languages are also scheduled to take place within June, according to the article (改稿班).

We can expect that this will—eventually—lead to fiction written by non-Han authors in their own tongues being published in English. The first step is to get their writing into Mandarin, possibly via Nationalities Literature Magazine, or People’s Literature (人民文学). It will then stand a good chance of appearing in Pathlight, a magazine dedicated to Chinese literature in English translation that is jointly produced by People’s Literature and Paper Republic.

In fact, the Spring 2014 edition of Pathlight will feature writing solely by ethnic writers: fiction by Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木, Uyghur), Ayonga (阿云嘎, Mongolian), Jin Renshun (金仁顺, Korean), Guan Renshan (关仁山, Manchu), Li Jinxiang (李进祥, Hui), Memtimem Hoshur (买买提明·吾守尔, Uyghur),Ye Guangqin (叶广芩, Manchu) and Yerkex Hurmanbek (叶尔克西·胡尔曼别克, Kazakh);  poetry by Artai (Mongolian,阿尔泰), Aydos Amantay (艾多斯·阿曼泰, Kazakh), Jidi Majia (吉狄马加, Yi-Nuosu), Luruodiji (鲁若迪基, Pumi), Ma Huan (马桓, Hui) and Nie Le (聂勒, Wa); and non-fiction by Patigul (帕蒂古丽, Uyghur), Ye Fu (野夫, Tujia), Ye Mei (叶梅, Tujia) and Tenzin (丹增, Tibetan). The full contents aren’t up online yet, but the cover, contents page and link to purchase should be here soon. [Read more…]

建议:建立 ‘驻地翻译基金’,积极征募外国翻译家到中国短期居住

我发表 Open Letter to China Literary Exports, Inc. 之后,《中华读书报》采访了我。欢迎访问:

翻译家徐穆实呼吁:中国文学 “走出去” 的战略要落实到实处

有意思的是,在临时发表之前,下面带 “-” 的文字被编辑删除:



Open Letter to China Literary Exports, Inc.

Ever since Mo Yan received the Nobel Prize for Literature, a lively discussion has ensued among China’s soft power apparatchiks, bodies such as the China Writers Association, and writers, academics and translators—including some who, regrettably, were not born Chinese.

The topic? How to ensure greater success for the “campaign to take Chinese literature global.”

As a translator of Chinese fiction and books about traditional Chinese culture, I’d like to add my two cents worth here. My suggestions for “maximizing exports” of Chinese literature in translation in 2014 and beyond:

  • Recognize that a person’s nationality and mother tongue are not the key determinants of his or her ability to help bring Chinese literature to the rest of the world;

[Read more…]

Shortage of Mongolian-to-Mandarin Literary Translators

In the wake of the recent announcement of the winners of the Duorina Mongolian Literature Prize, Ye Erda (叶尔达), professor of Mongolian language and literature at Beijing’s Central Nationalities University, notes that the current crop of talented Mongolian-to-Mandarin literary translators still far from meets growing demand.

Salhinhee (哈森) took home the top award for her translation of Ayunga’s novel, 满巴扎仓 (Manba Rasang), a thriller set in the late 19th century that revolves around a mysterious Mongolian pharmacopoeia. It was published in the December 2013 issue of Chinese-language People’s Literature magazine (人民文学).

Other Mongolian-to-Chinese translators who rate highly in Ye Erda’s opinion: 马英, 每日寒 and  海泉 .

New Kid on the Block: Chinese-to-English Literary Translator Database

I watch this sort of thing fairly closely, and up until now the only list of international Chinese-to-English literary translators I knew about was at Paper Republic: Translator Directory.

But today by accident I discovered another at a Chinese-language site called 中国文化对外翻译与传播网. It’s a much bigger undertaking, and features 2,003 listings under “English,” with the next biggest category being “Japanese” with 220 names.

I have to admit it was a pleasant surprise to be one of the featured translators on a site where Western faces are few and far between, but includes notable literary translators such as Howard Goldblatt, Goran Malmqvist, Nicky Harman and Eric Abrahamsen. But seriously, this does appear to be a modest breakthrough. I’ve encountered translator databases on the Chinese web before, but only PRC citizens figured in them. Of course, the fact that the web site and most of the info is in Chinese—including translators’ names—means that foreign publishers will find it hard to take advantage of the listings . . .

As I understand it, the web site is run by Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press (外研社) with the “support and guidance” of  GAPP’s Foreign Exchange and Cooperation Department (国家新闻出版总署对外交流与合作司). Its goal is to serve as a platform for public information regarding the current “Chinese cultural products go global” program (“走出去”).  See here for the detailed description in Chinese.

Foreign Authors and the Allure of “Special Editions” of their Books for Chinese Eyes

“Please kindly let me know if it is possible for us to cooperate on a special version of your book for its China publication,” read a Shanghai publisher’s letter to Evan Osnos, formerly The New Yorker’s China correspondent.

Writing in the May 2 edition of the New York Times (China’s Censored World), Osnos gives us an idea of what such “special” renditions can entail.  One agent, writing on behalf of a Beijing-based potential publisher of Osnos’ unpublished manuscript, proposed that the author “agree to revise nearly 1/4 of the contents.”

Nowadays, Western authors and academics don’t always say “No” to China’s censors. [Read more…]