“Het laatste kwartier van de maan”: Launching August 20

Het Laatste Kwartier van de MaanLaunch Date: August 20, 2013

If you don’t know Chinese and prefer not to read Chi Zijian’s classic <额尔古纳河右岸> about the twilight of the Evenki in later this year you can enjoy it in Dutch—Het laatste kwartier van de maan. It will be available from The House of Books beginning the latter part of August. But please note: the Dutch is based on . . . my English translation.

You might like to compare this Dutch cover with that of the Italian edition and the English. The eyes (above) look distinctly Chinese to me, which is a bit odd; the Evenki are a Siberian people more closely related to the Manchu than the Han.

Click here for full background on Last Quarter of the Moon, including book reviews, all foreign language editions and research about the Evenki.

Chutzpah!: Latest Issue Devoted to Writers of non-Han Descent

Good news from the bimonthly Chinese literary magazine Chutzpah! (天南): the latest edition (Issue 14) is devoted entirely to writing by authors of non-Han descent. Several languages are involved here—most are published in Chinese, but some were written in other tongues and then translated into Chinese, while one has been rendered in English.

The latter deserves a special mention because . . . I translated it. It’s a marvelous short story by Uyghur writer Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木), entitled Sidik Golden MobOff (《斯迪克金子关机》). If you want to read it in full, you’ll have to purchase the magazine in hard copy form, but here’s an excerpt. But for more information on the author, see China’s Bilingual Writers: Narrative with a Difference.  And if you can read Chinese, check out this very informative interview with the author, 地域化、全球化和双语写作. [Read more…]

Au Tibet, les conflits sanglants entre Christ et Bouddha

Une_terre_de_lait2Dans Au Tibet, les conflits sanglants entre Christ et BouddhaBertrand Mialaret nous signale un roman et un événement actuels qui traitent sur l’histoire des religions au tibet du XIXe siècle:

Un livre et une exposition sont centrés sur les conflits sanglants entre le Christ et Bouddha à la frontière du Yunnan chinois et du Tibet. Deux événements simultanés mais sans lien entre eux.

Il s’agit de la publication en avril d’un roman de Fan Wen [范稳], « Une Terre de lait et de miel », et une exposition en cours, « Missions du toit du monde », aux Missions étrangères à Paris. Lire la suite . . .

For the English version of this article, click here.

Caixin’s “Day in the Life of a Beijing Black Guard”: Straight out of “Champa the Driver”

In January 2013, Beijing-based Chan Koonchung’s novel The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver (《裸Caixin's story on Black Guards命》, 陈冠中) was published in Chinese in Hong Kong. The closing chapter recounts how a young, naïve Tibetan chauffeur from Lhasa proudly takes his first job in the capital, working in what he refers to as “Preserving Stability Hotel” (维稳宾馆).

His job: to ensure that the hotel guests remain under lock and key until they can be “escorted” back to their hometowns. It takes a while for Champa to realize that he is just a tool, charged with carrying out a form of extraordinary (domestic) rendition with Chinese characteristics.

On April 2—more than 2 months after Chan Koonchung’s novel was published— CaixinOnline published its own investigative journalism piece documenting a “strange industry” in which “temporary workers” are hired as interceptors to kidnap and imprison would-be petitioners, thus ensuring their grievances do not come to the attention of the central authorities:

Over the past year, Wang [a native of Henan] was stationed near the Guangdong provincial government’s Beijing bureau near the capital’s western Third Ring Road. His job was to help Guangdong officials detain people who had come from the southern province to Beijing to file petitions and then escort them home. There were 20 or 30 others doing the same job he was working under the same supervisor, and there were more than four supervisors providing the service to officials from all over Guangdong stationed in Beijing.

He referred to his profession as “helping the government handle affairs.” The more popular job title is “black guard,” a unique profession that comes in tandem with China’s petition system.

Read more about these “black jails” (extralegal detention centers) in English (A Day in the Life) at CaixinOnline, or check out the novel, The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver. 

“Turkish Culture Year in China”: But Where Are the Books?

Thursday March 21 saw the official launch of “Turkish Culture Year in China” (土耳其文化年) in Beijing.  The road show—destined for 12 cities—includes dance and music performances, fashion shows and a “Turkish Cuisine Week,” but I haven’t found a detailed list or schedule yet. Beijing, Shanghai, Yichang (Hubei), Shenzhen and Hong Kong are confirmed road stops, though.  It comes on the heels of “Chinese Culture Year in Turkey” which ended in February and helped attract 120,000 Chinese visitors to Turkey last year.

Readers who want to get a taste of Turkish literary works in Chinese will find them thin on the ground, however; see my initial list here.  In the PRC, the only widely translated Turkish author is Nobel Laureate Orhan Pamuk. Several of his best-known novels including My Name is Red, Museum of Innocence and Snow are available in Chinese (奥尔罕·帕慕克).  <伊斯坦布尔的幸福> (Mutluluk, or Bliss in English) by Zülfü Livaneli, the writer, musician, singer, journalist and member of parliament, is one of just a handful of novels—Pamuk’s aside, obviously—that have been genuinely well received in China where Turkey still has a rather low profile.


Turkish Literary Works Rendered in Foreign Languages via TEDA Project

(Mid-2012 Statistics)


Target Language

Titles Translated























[Read more…]

Chi Zijian, la mort des shamans et des éleveurs de rennes

Bertrand Mialaret examine la traduction anglaise du roman chinois de Chi Zijian, Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸, 迟子建著), l’histoire de la crépuscule des Evenki dans la dernière partie du XXe siècle (l’article français en entier):

Les Evenki ont de l’amour pour leurs rennes qui sont beaucoup plus qu’un troupeau, presque des partenaires. « In my eyes, white reindeer are clouds fleeting across the face of the earth. I’ve never encountered another animal that possesses the docile temperament and endurance of the reindeer . . . Reindeer were certainly bestowed upon us by the Spirits, for without these creatures we would not be.»

Les hommes et les rennes s’accompagnent mutuellement dans les migrations à la recherche des mousses pour les rennes et de nouveaux terrains de chasse. Ils sont libres avec leurs grelots mais reviennent chaque soir au camp. On ne mange pas leur chair, on boit leur lait et on les utilise pour transporter hommes et campements.

Les rennes sont l’obstacle majeur à une vie plus sédentaire. Comme dit la narratrice: « my reindeer have committed no crime and I don’t want to see them imprisoned either .»

Update: Mialaret has just put this piece up in English: Chi Zijian, the Death of Shamans and Reindeer Herders.

“Turkish Culture Year in China”: Bringing Orhan Pamuk to . . . Tibetan Speakers?

Tibet specialist Françoise Robin has kindly alerted me to the fact that the February 2013 Tibetan edition of National

A dose of hüzün for Tibetan readers?

A dose of hüzün for Tibetan readers?

Literature Magazine (民族文学杂志,藏文版) features two pieces by Turkey’s Nobel Laureate, Orhan Pamuk. If your Tibetan is up to par, read about them here: མི་རིགས་ཀྱི་རྩོམ་རིག.

One is apparently a speech by Pamuk that translates as “Eastern and Western cultures and the Literary Imagination” in English, and the other is a Tibetan version of The Ship on the Golden Horn, the penultimate chapter of his Istanbul: Memories of the City (Istanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir).

Is this part of China’s government-endorsed 2013 “Turkish Culture Year” campaign? Can’t say for sure, though I wouldn’t be surprised. National Literature Magazine (民族文学) is a state-run publication now available in Han Chinese, Uyghur, Kazakh, Korean, Mongolian and Tibetan.

But it would be interesting to know how Tibetan renders that peculiarly Turkish concept—hüzün or (something akin to) melancholy—that runs throughout Pamuk’s work.

“Empresses in the Palace”: Wrong Message for Guileless Western Audience?

Empresses in the PalaceVarious media including The China Daily (Bring Asian Magic to US) have reported the rumor—as yet unconfirmed—that China’s crowd-pleasing 76-part TV series Empresses in the Palace (甄嬛传) may soon be recut and dubbed in English for re-broadcast by a US firm.

The TV adaptation of the historical novel of the same name depicts the intrigue between empresses and consorts during the reign of  the Yongzheng Emperor in the 1720s.  When the concubine Zhen Huan (see photo) first enters the palace, she is innocent and gullible, but she learns to fend for herself and through cunning and deception eventually becomes empress.

Perhaps piqued by the thought of the series giving a less than flattering image of China to overseas audiences, Hou Jianyu (侯健羽) penned a sharply worded critique that has been widely circulated on the Chinese internet, including as a Letter to the Editor at The Financial Times Chinese site (价值观).  Entitled What Sort of Values Will be Exported via “Empresses of the Palace”? , the essay not only disses this low-brow entertainment, it also predicts most Americans won’t be won over:

The popularity of the broadcast of “Empresses in the Palace” is a mere gust of wind in today’s China, and its artistic value falls far short of the classics that have been passed down over the centuries. It cannot represent mainstream Chinese culture.

I predict that, at best, “Empresses” will gain the attention of a generation of Asian immigrants in the US; but as for Americans who are deeply influenced by Western values, they will not be willing to accept the import of this set of backward values. Those values will have no cultural resonance for such viewers, and they have no motivation to master the scheming portrayed in the series.

If China wishes to export its own culture and set of values, then it must first improve its own social system. Chinese must first believe that we can achieve success via hard work, perseverance and integrity, without employing our “art of deceit” [厚黑哲学].

P.S. By this standard, shouldn’t the export—i.e., translation—of Machiavelli’s The Prince have been banned?

Uyghur Authors in China

In 2013, it’s not easy to locate what I’d consider a good overview of Uyghur writing on the Chinese Internet.

Home to perhaps 10 million Uyghurs, the 1.6 million square kilometer Xinjiang Uyghur Autonomous Region accounts for almost one-sixth of China’s territory and borders Russia, Mongolia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and India.  The Chinese government is hyper-sensitive about most anything “Uyghur,” particularly their religion (Islam), and the language, which has Turkic roots unrelated to Han Chinese.

Even so, I’ve found two articles in Chinese which are fairly informative. One by 祖姆拉提 · 克尤木 that focuses strictly on Uyghur literature in Xinjiang during 1949-2005 (新疆维吾尔文学),   and another by 阿扎提·蘇勒坦 that looks at a broader topic, ethnic literature in Xijiang (新疆民族文学五十年) since the founding of the autonomous region in 1955.

Here are some factoids cited from the latter essay—all based on the 1955-2005 period—that offer a glimpse of published literary “output” of the various non-Han peoples in Xinjiang:


Uyghur Kazakh Kyrgyz Mongol Xibe

150 (includes 60 “historical novels”)







(no figure)





Short stories & novellas

(no figure)





See below for my table listing a selection of Uyghur authors and their works. [Read more…]

Translator of Best Sellers “Kite Runner” and “Conversations with God” Incenses Fellow English-to-Chinese Decoders

So much for the invisible translator.  With the launch of his Chinese renditions of classics whose copyrights had expired (新译本), such as The Old Man and the Sea (老人遇害) and The Great Gatsby (了不起的的盖茨比), Li Jihong (李继宏) has managed to infuriate a host of fellow translators, hommes de lettres and even would-be readers.

Partly due to the aggressive advertising campaign accompanying the launch that claims these are “the finest translations to date,” and partly by bringing up the very vulgar, very touchy subject of $ earned for literary translation work.

And the numbers are rather telling: many English-to-Chinese literary translators are paid around 1 US cent per word, while Li Jihong claims to be earning something like 20 US cents per word for his latest much-advertised works. The Shenzhen Shangbao report (报酬标准十几年没变) doesn’t fully explain the discrepancy, but it appears that Li’s figures are based on a fairly generous upfront payment of royalties, while most publishers are not only not offering royalties, they are exploiting translators by paying per official rates set by the copyright authorities . . . back in 1999.