Annual Fund: Xinjiang Spending to Inspire Translation, Writing in non-Han Languages

In 新疆双翻工程 (Xinjiang Two-way Translation Project), Kyrgyz female translator Saina Yiersibaike (赛娜·伊尔斯拜克) introduces a well-funded project based in multi-ethnic Xinjiang. A few factoids from the article:

  • 2011: Project founded by the Xinjiang government to stimulate mother-tongue writing in languages spoken in Xinjiang other than Mandarin + translation between those languages and Mandarin.
  • US$1.63m: Annual budget.
  • 2013: Project widened to facilitate “cross-fertilization” among different ethnicities, i.e., translation of writing between non-Han languages of Xinjiang.
  • 2014: 173 works published to date (100 original works, 73 translations)

Cultivating Uyghur Writers and Translators

Uyghur editionAs I’ve reported before (Sessions), the editors at China’s very official Nationalities Literature Magazine (民族文学), which appears in 5 languages plus Mandarin, are heading up a nationwide series of “rewriting/editing training courses” (改稿班). The latest took place in Urumqi in late September, and brought together more than 30 Uyghur writers and their translators, along with editors of the Uyghur edition of the magazine.

Among the participating writers and translators were:

As I tried to research these writers and translators online, I was struck by [Read more…]

New Guidelines for China Literary Awards: You Don’t Need a Weatherman

In Art and Literature Awards to Evaluate ‘Social Benefits’ of Works, Nectar Gan reports that in the wake of Xi Jinping’s speech on the arts last week, the Ministry of Culture:

. . . will now develop a set of criteria for the evaluation for arts and literature according to the demands of Xi and party [said Zhu Di, head of the art department of the ministry].

The guidelines will focus on social benefits, artistic standards, aesthetic taste and popular acclaim instead of solely relying on commercial success, critical acclaim and online popularity.

“I Am Malala” and China’s Nobel Prize Complex

Readers in Taiwan were reading I am Malala a year ago — in Chinese (我是马拉拉), if they wished.

So why is it that people living in China still can’t get their hands on a version published in simplified Chinese?

As usual, you aren’t going to find out via the mainstream media in China. Several items have appeared lionizing the Sichuan People’s Press for我是马拉拉 its “timely” purchase of the rights to publish it in China, and its damn near herculean efforts to get it out to consumers by . . . the end of this month (我是马拉拉 “四川造”).

Given that the China version is based on the Taiwan one — same translator, 翁雅如 — translation time was obviously not a major factor in the year-long discrepancy in publication times. [Read more…]

Ethnic ChinaLit Quote of the Week (Oct 13 2014): Lyrics Inspiring Occupy Central HK

It’s true we have no democracy /

One day we’ll choose leaders /

But we can say anything we like /

Our free speech has freed us!

(From a 2007 song by Hong Kong band Wokstarz, as cited by Nury Vittachi in Hong Kong’s Pop Culture of Protest)

China Censorship Update: GAPP’s Latest Publication Ban and Watch-list

I have learned that works by Yu Ying-shih (余英时, historian), Leung Man-tao (梁文道, social commentator), Xu Zhiyuan (许志远, newspaper columnist), Ye Fu (野夫), Chen Ziming (陈子鸣, democracy activist), Mao Yushi (茅于轼, economist), Zhang Qianfan (张千帆, legal expert at Beijing U) and Xu Xiao (许 徐晓) can no longer be published in China, according to a publishing professional who attended the October 11 meeting where this was announced by GAPP (广电局), which wields the nation’s censorship taser.

It appears one reason behind this is that some of these personalities have come out in support of Hong Kong’s ongoing Occupy Central campaign [Read more…]

Trend: Chinese Fiction Writers Opting to Publish First Outside the Mainland

Death FugueJoining popular contemporary fiction authors such as Feng Tang (不二), Yan Lianke (四书) and Murong Xuecun (various essays), female writer Sheng Keyi has chosen to publish one of her latest works first in Hong Kong and Taiwan. Death Fugue (死亡赋格) has also been translated by Shelly Bryant and published in English in Australia.

In Chinese Writer, Tackling Tiananmen, Aims for Work with “Power to Offend” (Oct 10 NY Times), Jane Perlez reports:

Publishers in China, including Penguin, which released an earlier novel by Ms. Sheng, “Northern Girls” [北妹] about the sexual exploits of young women who migrate to the cities, passed on “Death Fugue.” Chinese editors decided the story line was too controversial. Penguin, she said, failed to give her a response. The novel has appeared in Hong Kong and Taiwan in Chinese, and last month, it made its English-translation debut with a small Australian literary imprint, Giramondo.

The Fine Art of Selective News Translation

In Lost in Translation, veteran journalist Nailene Chou Wiest comments on how airbrushing foreign news articles in the name of China boosterism prevents serious discussion of real issues:

Translators in China are not neutral message conveyors but active censor-oriented rewriting hacks. Their job requires the sensitivity of knowing the parameter. Foreign news is not used as a means of national self-reflection, but an adjunct to domestic propaganda. Veteran translators are infuriated by the accusation that they are accomplices to an authoritarian regime. They point out that the core issue is not how to translate, but how to translate and get published. Publish or perish is the rub.

How the translators hew to the adaptation and rewriting is often an indicator of where the publication stands in the Communist Party-condoned ideological spectrum. Reference News (Cankao Xiaoxi) was founded in 1931 as an internal publication to provide the party leadership with an idea of how the world perceived China. When it turned into a mass circulation paper in 1985, translators were given the mandate of selecting passages from world press and adapting a propaganda agenda. Boasting a daily circulation of 3 million, Reference News is influential and profitable. Global Times, a tabloid subsidiary of the People’s Daily, routinely mangles foreign news articles to bolster its nationalistic stance. But when was launched this summer, hopes ran high that it would set itself apart to attract weary online readers. There is a sense of betrayal that it commits the same sin of translating only the positive while blocking passages critical of China.

I’ve been following Reference News (参考消息) now for five years or so. To see how it repackages foreign news reports to make China look better — and feel better about itself — please visit China Media.

Extract: “Back Quarters at Number 7” by Manchu Writer Ye Guangqin

Pathlight 2014 SpringIn Back Quarters at Number 7, Ye Guangqin recreates what it was like growing up Manchu in a traditional Beijing hutong during the early years of the New China. Once part of a prince’s stately residence, the Big Courtyard now belongs to the masses and serves as a venue for collective activities such as neighborhood meetings, or rehearsals for the Rice-Planting Dance performed on National Day.

Traditionally, at the very rear of a Qing Dynasty prince’s mansion one finds a two-floor structure that functioned to “enshroud and anchor the entire quadrangular compound.” These “back quarters” — “Number 7” in the cold military parlance of post-liberation Beijing in this tale — housed females. They were private and not easily accessible to men, even those of noble lineage, residing within the compound.

Herself a member of a Manchu family related to the infamous Empress Dowager Cixi, Ye Guangqin peppers this semi-autobiographical story with references to Manchu culture: the mysterious Zhen Gege, whose title “gege” means princess in Manchu (格格); jangkulembi (撞客), a sudden and inauspicious encounter with a spirit that can engender illness or bad fortune; and of course, the traditional art of story-telling among the Manchu that expressed itself during the Qing Dynasty both orally and through literature (Manchu Novelists).

Ironically, the fascination of two children with Grandpa Zhao’s tall tales ends in tragedy when the Cultural Revolution arrives, and Red Guards target class enemies — including remnants of the Qing ruling class.

The full text of the extract below has been published in Spring 2014 Pathlight, a quarterly featuring Chinese literature in translation. The original short story is entitled 后罩楼 and was written by Ye Guangqin (叶广芩).

* * * * *

Back Quarters at Number 7

(Original by Ye Guangqin, translated by Bruce Humes)


Grandpa Zhao was a Manchu Bannerman in one of just three elite Banners – there were eight total – personally commanded by the Emperor.

He said one of his ancestors had served in the Emperor’s personal guard at the Hall of Mental Cultivation in the Forbidden City. This relative had seen His Imperial Majesty as He wrote by a window, and watched Him strolling along palace verandas, so he must have been one of His bodyguards. How else could he have witnessed these details in the life of the True Dragon Emperor? [Read more…]

“Last Quarter of the Moon” Long-listed for Banff Mountain Book Competition

Banff Mountain FestivalI’ve just learned that Last Quarter of the Moon, my translation of Chi Zijian’s 《额尔古纳河右岸》, has been nominated for the “Mountain Fiction and Poetry Award.” Winners will be announced November 6, 2014 at The Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival in Banff, Alberta.

Annoyingly, my name is not listed as translator of the novel, despite the fact that it couldn’t have been nominated if I hadn’t rendered it in English . . .

Narrated in the first person by the aged wife of the last chieftain of an Evenki clan, the Last Quarter of the Moon (or Right Bank of the Argun, as it is dubbed in Chinese)  is a moving tale of the decline of reindeer-herding nomads in the sparsely populated, richly forested Greater Khingan mountains (大兴安岭山脉) that border on Russia.

At the end of the twentieth century an old woman sits among the birch trees and thinks back over her life, her loves, and the joys and tragedies that have befallen her family and her people. She is a member of the Evenki tribe who wander the remote forests of northeastern China with their herds of reindeer, living in close sympathy with nature at its most beautiful and cruel.

Over the last three centuries, three waves of outsiders have encroached upon the Evenki’s isolated way of life: the Russians, whose warring and plundering eventually pushed the Evenki down from Siberia across to the southern (“right”) bank of the Argun River, the tributary of the Amur that defines the Sino-Russian border; the Japanese, who forcibly recruit their men into the ranks of the Manchukuo Army; and the Han Chinese of the People’s Republic, who fell the forests that are crucial to the survival of reindeer, outlaw hunting, and eventually coerce the Evenki to leave the mountains for life in a “civilized” permanent settlement.

If you’re interested in how the Evenki christened the peaks, rivers and settlements among which they lived for centuries, check out Evenki Place Names Behind the HànzìFor dozens of marvelous photos of Evenki handicrafts, and the Evenki in the wild herding their deer, hunting and so forth, see Northern Hunting Culture. In her Afterword to the novel— in English here — author Chi Zijian recounts how she grew up near the Argun River and mountains inhabited by the Oroqen, close relatives of the Evenki.

Created 39 years ago, the Banff Mountain Film and Book Festival showcases films, books and photographs on mountain subjects – climbing, culture, environment and natural history, exploration and adventure, wildlife, and sport – and attracts personalities in mountaineering, adventure filmmaking, and extreme sports as presenters and speakers. More than 80 films will screen during the nine-day festival, and an international jury will award over $50,000 in prizes.