Monday, 28 February 2022

Everything you always wanted to know about Chinese literature in translation, by Nicky Harman

Full disclosure: I’m devoting my blog this month to a personal project, The Paper Republic Guide To Contemporary Chinese Literature.

Translations from Chinese – from mainland China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and beyond – have proliferated in recent years. With so much choice now available, we at Paper Republic decided to put our heads together and produce a guide for enthusiastic and adventurous readers, to be published on 1st March, 2022.

Paper Republic, as many of you will know, was founded in Beijing in 2007, and is now a UK-registered charity (aka non-profit), with a mission of increasing the quantity, quality, and visibility of Chinese literature in English translation. Formed around a core team of volunteers, of whom I am one, it draws on the expertise of many of the leading literary translators working in the field. Its website provides free-to-read translations of the best of new Chinese stories and poetry, as well as a database of Chinese literature and its translation. 

The Guide begins with six in-depth essays, the first by Xiaolu Guo, the Chinese-born, UK-based novelist and film-maker who was short-listed for the Orange Prize for Fiction in 2007 for A Concise Chinese-English Dictionary For Lovers. Guo highlights the need for a “new lexicon” to understand contemporary Chinese literature in an age of multilingualism, mass migration and transnational identities.

Dylan Levi King then assesses the changing role of the author in Chinese society; US-based academic Zhu Ping discusses women’s writing in Chinese; translator and scholar Andrea Lingenfelter provides an introduction to the rich but often neglected field of Hong Kong literature; while Emily Xueni Jin outlines the increasingly influential field of Chinese science fiction; and Rachel Cheung brings us bang up-to-date with the latest in Chinese internet literature.

The essays are followed by detailed biographical entries covering almost 100 of the most important writers working in the Chinese language today, from Anni Baby to Zhang Yueran, by way of Nobel Prize-winner Mo Yan, providing not only an insight into their lives and work, but selected recommendations for further reading in English translation. There are also special entries for several writers from earlier generations who are among the most significant influences on Chinese writing today—including the satirical essayist and short story writer Lu Xun, and the feminist, and queen of domestic drama, Zhang Ailing (Eileen Chang).

The Guide will be available in the UK, US and Australia in a paper edition. To buy a paperback or e-book copy, please go to the purchase link on Paper Republic:

Finally, we have a free-to-attend roundtable event to launch the Guide on 17th March 2022, organised in collaboration with the Confucius Institute of the University of Aberdeen. (It’s at 6pm GMT so I apologise to those for whom this will be in the early hours of the morning.) The event brings together four contributors to the Guide: Paper Republic co-founder, Eric Abrahamsen, and three essay authors, Xiaolu Guo, Emily Xueni Jin, and Andrea Lingenfelter, who are also authors, translators and specialists in their own right. They will be discussing the length, breadth and depth of contemporary Chinese literature, and sharing sneak peeks into their essays and the Guide’s contents.