Welcome to the blog that I launched more than a decade ago, and have hosted since. Granted, it has undergone a number of iterations — Ethnic Chinalit: Writing by & about non-Han Peoples, 非漂 [Fēi Piāo], AfroLit4China, and more recently Altaic Storytelling — but 300+ original posts dating from 2009 to present can still be found here.
After several years of literary translation (see here), my current focus is on the Silk Road. Doubtless President-for-life Xi Jinping would approve, given this dovetails nicely with his One Belt, One Road initiative. In 2021, I was commissioned to bring <我心归处是敦煌> (My Heart Belongs to Dunhuang) to life in English. This is the autobiography of the tenacious female archaeologist, Fan Jinshi (樊锦诗), who grew up in the modern megalopolises of Beijing and Shanghai, but devoted her career — effectively opting to live and work in the remote desert for more than five decades — to the preservation and documentation of the Buddhist-themed Mogao Caves in Dunhuang, Gansu Province. The Chinese original has already sold some 370,000 copies.
In 2020, I translated Professor H.K. Chang’s Silk Road Cultures: 15 Lectures <丝路文明: 15 讲> . Topics included: Zhang Qian Pioneers Exploration of the ‘Western Regions’ (張騫鑿空與漢代的西域), Kumarajiva Supervises Translation of the Buddhist Canon (鳩摩羅什主持譯經), Sogdians on the Silk Road (來自河中地區的粟特人), Paper-making Know-how Migrates West (紙術西傳), Islam’s Debut in the Middle Kingdom (伊斯蘭教入華), Rise of the Turkophone Tujüe (突厥的崛起與西遷), and Maritime and Land-based Communications under the Mongols (蒙元時期的海陸交通) — 15 talks in all.
A bit earlier, I also rendered the professor’s book-length <大中东行纪> in English (The Greater Middle East: Travelogue & Reflections). Of Manchu ancestry — born in Shenyang, raised in Taiwan, educated at Stanford — he has penned this travel diary that offers an unusual look at the 31 states of the “Greater Middle East” as he defines it: The Middle Eastern “core” consisting of Arab societies plus Israel; North Africa’s Maghreb, whose fusion of pre-Islamic Berber roots and deep Muslim faith makes it unique; the four countries in the Horn of Africa where Asia meets Africa, particularly Ethiopia with its Orthodox Christian faith and Jewish Falasha; the Mediterranean’s Greece, Cyprus and Malta; and the hodge-podge of ethnicities and religions that inhabit the southern Caucasus — Armenia, Georgia and Azerbaijan.
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Like to learn more about my published literary translations — including full-length books and magazine articles — as well as synopses and excerpts for marketing use? Click here.
My (serendipitous) Timeline
- Re-launched: My rendition of Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸), Chi Zijian’s account of the tragic 20th-century twilight of the reindeer-herding Evenki in the Greater Khingan Mountains of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang. This time as one of a collection of 8 “eco-fiction” novels from Penguin, Vintage Earth, that includes Ian McEwan’s Solar.
- My tourist visa mercifully extended to the official limit of 180 days, I leave Corona Era Paradise — Taiwan, which has seen just 7 deaths — for Erdoğanistan, oops, Türkiye. At that time in 3Q 2020, to attract tourists neither Corona test results nor quarantine were required upon entry. After a month or so in Istanbul’s Beyoğlu, I move to a tranquil tiny seaside town on the Aegean, and get down to the work that pays the rent: Translating the autobiography of female archaeologist Fan Jinshi (我心归处是敦煌), who devoted 50+ years to the preservation and documentation of the Buddhist-themed Mogao Caves at Dunhuang, and . . . my on-again-off-again Turkish studies.
- Instead of my customary visa run — Tainan-Penang (台南 – 槟郎屿) or Tainan-Kuching (台南 -古晋) — I opt instead to check out Dar es Salaam (坦桑尼亚的达累斯萨拉姆) in East Africa. Very hospitable, the Tanzanians, and I enjoy my brief study of Swahili, a Bantu language that is a national tongue in DRC, Kenya, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. My choice of a tutor from Kenya, however, brings wry smiles to the face of many a Dar es Salaamite, doubtless due to this adage: Swahili was born in Zanzibar, grew up in Tanzania, fell sick in Kenya, died in Uganda and was buried in Congo.
- Since the authorities have made learning Uyghur in its spiritual homeland (Xinjiang’s Kashgar, 喀什) impossible, I study elementary Turkish in Istanbul. Both Turkic tongues, Uyghur and Turkish share similar sentence structure and vocabulary. Useful in translating Uyghur author Alat Asem’s Confessions of a Jade Lord.
- Published: My rendition of Last Quarter of the Moon (额尔古纳河右岸), Chi Zijian’s account of the 20th-century tragic twilight of the reindeer-herding Evenki in the Greater Khingan Mountains of Inner Mongolia and Heilongjiang.
- Host one-day, intensive export management training sessions in as many as 8 cities monthly in China, and eventually train 8,000+ export professionals how to prioritize incoming queries, maximize earnings from existing clients, and exhibit overseas. At times, a blurry string of cookie-cutter airports and business hotels leave me wondering which city I might be in, but I quickly ascertain my approximate location in the People’s Paradise when the first handful of eager attendees pipe up in their dialect-mangled Mandarin.
- Robbed by a knife-wielding thug in Shenzhen, I awake in a hospital hallway — now People’s Hospital Number 2 — where staff advise amputating my right hand. Immediately. I decline, protesting that I intend to keep it for future use. Check out One of the People (遭遇深圳) for the saga.
- Browsing in 季风书店 bookstore at Shanghai’s Shaanxi Subway Station entrance, I buy a copy of 上海宝贝 (Shanghai Baby) featuring cover selfie of Wei Hui’s sultry lips. My rendition becomes a best-seller in Hong Kong and Singapore.
- Supervise English-to-Chinese translation of 世界经人理文摘 (World Executive’s Digest) — now a popular online portal — China’s first monthly management magazine not targeting lobotomized party cadres.
- Arrive in Taipei all hyped up about my China adventure, only to discover that Ilha Formosa ain’t exactly the People’s Republic. But it is under martial law, it is a one-party state, and several famous dissident writers are in prison.
- Mum, who learned Russian and German to earn her PhD in French lit, teaches me elementary Deutsch that summer using 1st-year university textbook. My first reads not long after: Hesse’s Siddhartha and excerpts from Lutherbibel.