Getting a foot in

Quality translations and targeted marketing alone can help break the lingering stereotype in overseas markets of modern Chinese fiction as propaganda, literary experts say. Yang Guang reports

While world literature has found its way into China, Chinese literature is still fumbling to find its feet in the world, writer Liu Zhenyun says. He made this somber observation at a recent Chinese literature translation symposium. It gathered more than 30 Sinologists, translators and writers from 13 countries to share their experiences, problems and suggestions.

Michael Berry, American translator and associate professor with the University of California at Santa Barbara, agrees with Liu, saying: “A literary work has no footing among world literature without a translation, however excellent it is.”

According to Wu Wei, director of the China Book International (CBI) Promotion and Planning Office, 348 translated titles were published in the United States last year, of which only seven were from China although more than 15,000 works are published in the country every year.

Julia Lovell, British translator and lecturer in Chinese history at the University of London, believes this situation has a lot to do with publishing and teaching trends in the Anglophone world since the 1950s.

She points to the response to Japanese and Chinese literature during the Cold War, to explain why substantial numbers of British readers are familiar with names like Yasunari Kawabata and Haruki Murakami from Japan, but barely have a clue about the Chinese authors Shen Congwen (1902-88) and Qian Zhongshu (1910-98).

According to Lovell, American publisher Knopf carefully marketed selected works of modern Japanese fiction in keeping with the broader US project of reinventing Japan as a regional ally.

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