Light Reading for Tibetans: “1984” and “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”

"1984" in Tibetan: But will readers on the Roof of the World recognize this is supposed to be fiction?
“1984” in Tibetan: But will readers on the Roof of the World recognize this is supposed to be fiction?

Orwell’s 1984 — in Tibetan (གཅིག་དགུ་གྱ་བཞི།, at left) — is now available in the PRC, confirms French Tibetologist Françoise Robin in an e-mail today. I assume it has the official stamp of approval, because it is published by the state-run Gansu Nationalities Publishing House, according to a news item in Tibetan (here). It was translated by Dorje Tseten (རྡོ་རྗེ་ཚེ་བརྟན་), who lives in the US. According to the report, he is currently translating Animal Farm.

Also published earlier in the same “Collection of Tibetan Translations of Famous Novels of the World” series was Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s 1962 grim novel of life in the Soviet gulag, A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich (tr. G. yang ‘bum rgyal གཡང་འབུམ་རྒྱལ།).

Regular readers of this blog will have noticed that China’s literary translation policy has indeed been undergoing some major changes of late. Earlier largely uni-directional translation — read from Han Chinese into various other languages of China — has evolved into a markedly more multi-directional approach. That means more fiction by non-Han writers is getting translated into Chinese, and more international writing is appearing in Uyghur, Mongolian, Tibetan, etc.

Other examples of English and French literature recently published in Tibetan:

  • Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone
  • The Ship on the Golden Horn, penultimate chapter of his Istanbul: Memories of the City (Istanbul: Hatıralar ve Şehir).
  • Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea (རྒད་པོ་དང་རྒྱ་མཚོ།was also recently published in a Tibetan translation in exile, by Gendun Rabsel (དགེ་འདུན་རབ་གསལ།), lecturer of Tibetan at Bloomington University. The publisher is Tibet Times New Publishing House in Dharamsala.
  • Antoine de Saint-Exupéry’s Little Prince was recently rendered by Lhamokyab (ལྷ་མོ་སྐྱབས།) and Tashi Kyi (བཀྲ་ཤིས་སྐྱིད།), who both reside in France. It was published in Tibetan under the title རྒྱས་སྲས་ཆུང་ངུ་ by Swiss publisher Favre. Another Tibetan version is due to appear soon at the Beijing Nationalities Press, translated by Yungdrung Tsering from the French.

5 thoughts on “Light Reading for Tibetans: “1984” and “A Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich”

  1. Hello,
    There are already two different Tibetan translations of Orwell’s “Animal Farm”: the first one was published in 2011 by Gansu Nationalities Publishing House; and the other by Tibet People’s Press in 2013 (this edition is bilingual english-tibetan). Both translations are official and officially published. This trend in Tibetan translations of foreign literature in the PRC is not precisely brand new. A comparative analyses of these translations is under process.


    1. Honored to see you’re a visitor, Dr. Maconi. I am certainly no expert in the matter, but I was intrigued to see that translations about Soviet labor camps and Big Brother are finding their way into Tibetan books that can be purchased in the PRC. I have occasionally done informal comparisons of “controversial” (by China’s standards) international writing that has been translated into Chinese, and I’ve found quite a bit of bad translation as well as censored and outright reworked content.

      One of the Tibetan translators I mentioned is living in the US, which — it seems to me — is a big advantage. While translating “Last Quarter of the Moon” by Chi Zijian from my home in Kunming, I found some sites I wanted to visit to learn about the Evenki in Russia, etc., had been fire-walled. Now, almost three years later, even with a VPN it is getting much more difficult to do basic translation-related research online.

      When and if those analyses surface, we’d love to hear about them . . .


      1. All these books which are now translated into Tibetan already existed before in Chinese translations made and published within the PRC, so they were available to Tibetans in Chinese before being translated into Tibetan.
        The location of the translator is not really an issue, it is the location of the publishing house which makes the difference. And those publishing house are in the PRC, and there are huge regional disparities. The publishing house is responsible for its publications, not the translator. Not normally, there can be exceptions of course.


  2. Also interesting enough (regarding Animal Farm): the bilingual English-Tibetan translation published in Lhasa in 2013 is clearly meant for children, starting from the child-style drawings on the covering to the fact that I could find it in the children literature section of Lhasa Xinhua shudian. It’s a fable, and it’s meant to be a support for English learning.
    “All animals are equal but some animals are more equal than others” is there.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s