African Writing in Chinese Translation: 2020 Round-up and a Peek at 2021

As Xi Jinping’s maritime Silk Road initiative reaches its tentacles further West into Africa, it’s not just accumulating alarming rates of China-driven debt and sucking up the continent’s mineral exports. Publishers in the People’s Paradise are now showing modest interest in importing what the authorities label  “cultural products.” In this case, contemporary African writing. 

According to the latest statistics from the sole online mini-database in this niche, the bilingual African Writing in Chinese Translation (非洲文学:中文译本), lists 238 translated works by 100 African authors. That shows a healthy 63 percent increase over the 146 titles in early 2018. 

African “diaspora” writer Chimamanda Adichie arguably generates the most buzz in China, and six of her books have been rendered into Chinese since 2013. But the second of Francophone author Alain Mabanckou’s novels also launched in a mainland edition during 2020. Both spend much of their time in the US. 

The publication of My Sister, the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite and Mabanckou’s Memoirs of a Porcupine suggest that China publishers are a tad more willing to experiment with new sources for disturbing psychological thrillers that involve homicide, a genre dominated by American and more recently, Japanese authors. 

Perhaps the most intriguing of the 2020 newbies (December 2019, to be exact) was penned by a Zulu self-styled sangoma or diviner, Vusamazulu Credo Mutwa. His Indaba my Children, African Folk Tales is billed as a “graphic novel.” 

Another 2020 highlight was the appearance of autobiographical works by two much-respected African leaders, The Prison Letters of Nelson Mandela, and Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala’s Fighting Corruption is Dangerous. The latter served as Nigeria’s Minister of Finance and was recently in the running for the top post at the WTO, but in this book she describes the pitfalls, menaces and successes she experienced while battling systemic corruption. 

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Meanwhile, I have learned that the publisher of a series of translated African classics (非洲人文经典译丛) plans to add some 8 titles to the series that already consists of a dozen or so books, mainly fiction, but also non-fiction touching on topics such as racism and colonial rule. A spokesperson for Zhejiang Business University Publishing House (浙江工商大学出版社) says translation is underway for all 8, and the schedule calls for gradual launches within 2021. Highlights:

L’Aventure ambiguë (Ambiguous Adventure) by Cheikh Hamidou Kane (《模棱两可的冒险》)

  • A Senegalese boy goes to study in France but loses touch with his Islamic faith and his roots. Winner of Grand Prix littéraire d’Afrique noire (1962).

 Les Soleils des Independances  (The Suns of Independence) by Ahmadou Kourouma (《独立的太阳》)

  • First novel by the renowned Ivorian author. Winner of Grand Prix littéraire d’Afrique noire (1969).

Anowa by Ama Ata Aidoo(《阿诺瓦》)

  • play based on a traditional Ghanaian tale of a daughter who rejects suitors proposed by her parents. She marries a stranger who is ultimately revealed as the Devil in disguise.

Stories from a Shona Childhood by Charles Mungoshi (《修纳儿童故事集》)

  • A short story collection aimed at primary school children.

The History of the Yorubas by Samuel Johnson (《约鲁巴历史》)

  • Controversial volume that “brings together various oral and recorded accounts of Yoruba history, describing not only political history but also social customs, language and laws. Although recent analysis of the text has revealed some inaccuracies, this volume remains the standard reference for the history of the Yoruba people.” ( blurb) 

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3 thoughts on “African Writing in Chinese Translation: 2020 Round-up and a Peek at 2021

  1. It would be interesting to see how accurate the translations are. Are the Chinese likely to censor African novels? Or will Xi Jinping welcome anti-corruption novels, for instance?


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