Just finished translating a new semi-autobiographical novella (synopsis), The Embassy’s China Bride (大使先生), by Jiu Dan of Crows fame (乌鸦, 九丹著). This reminded me that at the turn of 21st century, three young Chinese female writers were busy boldly writing about their sexuality, orgasms and all, and being lambasted for it by the critics and Chinese society at large. The trio were Jiu Dan, who chronicled the exploits of “Little Dragon Girls” from China in Singapore; Mian Mian, author of Candy (糖, 棉棉著); and arguably the best known, Wei Hui, who authored the infamous Shanghai Baby (上海宝贝). They were denigrated as “pretty chick-lit authors” (美女作家) who “write with the lower half of their bodies” (下半身写作), as some engagingly put it. This designation conveniently allowed the critics to focus on the writers’ lifestyles rather than the content of their writing.
But that wasn’t the case with Zha Jianying, who holds a Ph D. in Comparative Lit from Columbia. Happily, I have just located my translation of her Analyzing Wei Hui and Mian Mian: Hollywood Ice Cream and Shanghai Lollipop. I don’t recall exactly when it was published, but I think I translated it in 2000.
Given that Jiu Dan — now a forty-something — has just launched The Embassy’s China Bride in Taiwan (potentially controversial in its own right), I thought it might be fun to put my translation of Zha Jianying’s critique up on this blog in order to give readers a taste of how these daring female writers were viewed when they first appeared on China’s literary scene. I should mention that Zha Jianying wrote me and roundly criticized me for a host of errors in my rendition. But since she wasn’t specific, I publish it below, warts and all. For a bilingual version with her original, see 卫慧棉棉.
Writing in the China Daily (The Slim Years), Chitralekha Basu looks at how translated Chinese fiction has fared since 2000:
The last book to have notched up outstanding sales in the English-speaking market is Shanghai Baby [上海宝贝] by Wei Hui (translated by Bruce Humes/Robinson Publishing UK) in 2001. The somewhat morbid tale of a waitress-turned-writer of erotic novels—torn between an artist who overdoes on heroin and a German businessman who she knows is cheating on her—is thought to have sold over 300,000 copies.
Please note—that sales figure wasn’t provided by me! But if you’d like to know a bit more about that translation project, see Bruce Humes and his Shanghai Baby.
Banned in China, Shanghai Baby (上海宝贝) captured the interest of publishers in the West, and I was commissioned by Simon & Schuster to translate the novel, which was published in 2001. Perhaps because my version became a best-seller in Hong Kong and Singapore, and the Chinese original was later translated into several languages including French, German, Italian and Japanese, over the years several people have interviewed me about the translation process. What follows below is my favorite among those interviews. This interview originally appeared at a web site run by Johnny Katchoolik, an indie musician whose works can be found here.
However, of late it seems no longer to be online. So I have copied it here (minus just the introduction and my picture, but without any other editing).
Questions by Fang Fang are in bolded italics, followed by my answers (Bruce Humes) in normal typeface.
How long have you been living in China?
I arrived via Taipei in 1978 and have worked in various parts of China since, save five years or so spent intermittently in the States. Have based myself in several cities during that time—Shanghai, Shenzhen, Hong Kong and Taipei—but travel very frequently, particularly in Shandong, Shanghai, Zhejiang, Fujian and Guangdong.
What brought you to China initially?
Intense interest in two rather different areas: A desire to master classical Chinese so that I could read Daoist writings in the original, and curiosity about socialism in action.