Chinese Fiction in Translation: Novels/Novellas with “Ethnic” Theme

Over the last few months a number of reporters have e-mailed to ask about the state of Chinese literature in translation, particularly in light of Mo Yan’s winning the 2012 Nobel Prize for Literature. But most cite just a handful of authors and works in their questions— and Shanghai Baby, translated by yours truly over a decade ago!—is often one of them.

My advice to them is simple: do your homework, please! For starters, check out Paper-Republic.  All sorts of goodies over there, including a list of translated Chinese fiction (and poetry) published in 2012, Chinese fiction published in 2013, and a Translator Directory too.

Here at Altaic Storytelling, we focus on writing by & about non-Han peoples, particularly those which speak an Altaic language, but not exclusively. And it is interesting to note that translated fiction with an “ethnic” twist has been building up steam for a while, pre-dating the Mo Yan craze, in fact.

To my mind, the impetus for the increased profile of Chinese literature in the outside world began when China was named “Guest of Honor” at the 2009 Frankfurt Int’l Book Fair. Chinese authors and publishers socialized with their European counterparts—many for the first time—and important contacts and contracts resulted, with the books born of this schmoozing finally hitting the market 2-3 years later.

In China is Focusing on the Fringes published in March this year, literary translator Nicky Harman presciently pointed out that “independent–minded Chinese writers are becoming seriously interested in the geographical fringes of ‘China proper’, drawing on its people, their traditions and conflicts at work.” And as you can see below, foreign publishers are interested. When you consider that over the last few years just 15 or so Chinese novels have appeared in English each year—ethnic or no—this table looks a bit more impressive.

Indeed. So, to show this more graphically—and perhaps even to save myself a bit of hassle in recreating the wheel for the next journalist who wants to pick my brains—I’ve put together this table. If you know something I should add to it, including current projects that will be published in 2014, please let me know!


Chinese Fiction in Translation:

Novels/Novellas with “Ethnic” Theme

(Published 2009-2014)


Title in Chinese

Title (Other Languages)




Alai (阿来)


The Song of King Gesar

Howard Goldblatt, Sylvia Lin

Tibetan epic as re-told by Alai for Canongate’s myth series.

Launched on Amazon Nov 2013

Chan Koonchung (陈冠中)


The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver

Nicky Harman

Chinese original banned in China. Features torrid interracial sex scenes and touches on Tibetan self-immolations.

Published May 2014.Excerpt from the blurb: . . . a rollicking road novel full of sensuality and danger. Underlying the optimism and humour of its hero is a darker picture of racism and rough justice in modern Bejing.

Chi Zijian(迟子建)


Last Quarter of the Moon/Ultimo quarto di luna/Het laatste kwartier van de maan

Bruce Humes/ Valentina Potì /–

Twilight of the reindeer-herding Evenki as told by wife of clan’s last chieftain.

Published 2013. Dutch version based on English. 译者:因为故事感动了我

Fan Wen (范稳)


Une terre de lait et de miel

Stéphane Lévêque

Tale of a multi-ethnic settlement in gateway to Tibet beset by battles between French missionaries, Han officials, Naxi Dongba Shamanists, and the dominant Tibetans.

French edition, published 2013.


Title in Chinese

Title (Other Languages)




Gao Jianqun (高建群)


Tongwan City

Eric Mu

The reign of Helian Bobo, founder of Xiongnu state of Xia (407-431), the building of his heavily fortified capital, and the spread of Mayahana Buddhism via Kumarajiva (344-413). Target launch date: 4Q 2013

Jiang Rong(姜绒)


Wolf Totem

Howard Goldblatt

A young Han intellectual from the city, “sent down” during the Cultural Revolution, learns lessons about life and ecology from a Mongol elder.

Published 2009

Li Jinxiang (李进祥), Shi Shuqing (石舒清)  《换水》 La rivière des femmes: Nouvelles hui

Françoise Naour

Stories set among the Hui along the banks of Qingshui River in Ningxia.

Published 2012. This collection includes short stories that won China’s most prestigious award for writing by non-Han authors, 2012 Junma Ethnic Literary Awards.

Pema Tseden


Brigitte Duzan (from the Chinese) and Françoise Robin  (from the Tibetan).

Stories set in today’s Tibet as told by a native Tibetan.

Contemporary short story collection translated from Chinese and Tibetan.

China’s Bilingual Authors

Wang Gang (王刚)



Martin Merz, Jane Weizhen Pan

Coming-of-age novel set in Urumqi during the Cultural Revolution.

Published in 2010.

Turkish translation, Ingilizce, launched in 4Q 2013

Growing up Han in Fictional Xinjiang.

Wu He (舞鹤)


Les Survivants

Esther Lin, Emmanuelle Péchenart

Story of the the 1930 “Wushe Incident” (雾社事件) and the subsequent virtually suicidal anti-Japanese uprising of the Seediq aborigines (赛德克族) in the mountains of central Taiwan.

Published in 2011.

The Wushe Incident originally inspired Taiwan’s Chiu Row Long (邱若龙) to draw a graphic novel, Seediq Bale, in the 1990s, and it has recently been rendered in French (Seediq Bale: Les guerriers de l’arc-en-ciel ) (法文版上市) and Japanese

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