Chinese Writers Association’s Literary Translators’ Symposium

I stumbled across this page while looking for Chinese writers to pitch. The symposium (in its 3rd year) was held this summer in Beijing and featured a lot of amazing literary translators. I recognized a few names, Nicky Harman among them. The esteemed and experienced translators talked about the challenges in translating Chinese novels into other languages. One thing that struck me was how there were no native Chinese translators present, is it because publishers assume the translator has to be native in the target language to be good? This is something that will hopefully change, not just because there are great translators out there whose native language is not English, such as Ken Liu [personal site], and Yunqin Yang [Amazon link]. Even though native speakers for the target language are obviously talented in their native language, their comprehension of the source text could be more limited than native speakers of the source language. Ultimately, there is space for translators of all language advantages, in an ideal world, there should be a translator team for every book. Anyway, the translators gave great speeches about their experiences and lessons, which are transcribed in Chinese on the site. I particularly liked Mark Leenhouts’ speech, he’s a Chinese to Dutch translator who recently completed the Chinese masterpiece, Fortress Besieged 【围城】, by the legendary Chinese writer Qian Zhongshu. He emphasized how difficult it is to get across historical and cultural context, the challenge with idioms and proverbs, and narrative differences. He said more translation is required to make translated fiction seem more familiar to readers, less alien, and hopefully attract them into a new world of reading.


A Translator’s New Year’s Resolutions

Network more, both online and off. Join LinkedIn groups, maybe professional organizations too.

Translate more, even if it’s not for a job, but not for free! Say no to shady projects/dubious “translation tests”! 

Get out of the house more, try to work in libraries or cafes, maybe even parks, esp when the weather becomes warmer.

Back-up/organize work better, so translation samples of any type can be found quickly and less time is wasted finding stuff to send to potential agencies/clients.


Reading and Learning

I’m struck by how readable this translation is. Yan Lianke from Serve the People!

The translator, Julia Lovell, is a native English speaker I presume. I believe she avoided the too literal trap and just focused on making the story readable in English rather than trying to match the Chinese text word for word. If I could find the original story and study the translation side by side, it’d be great.