Literature transcends national boundaries: Chinese writing in translation

By staff reporter Liu Yi
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail China Today, June 27, 2017
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For writers, cultural differences are a constant source of inspiration. As the world becomes more like a global village, Chinese writers are eager to communicate with foreign readers through their works. This communication, however, is inhibited by the language barrier as well as huge cultural and societal differences between East and West. Literature in translation has become an important way of overcoming obstacles that no other means of communication has managed to deal with.

In 2012 the Nobel Committee for Literature awarded the prize to Chinese writer Mo Yan. Mo Yan's novels have been translated into many languages, making him better known amongst foreign readers than other Chinese novelists. This is widely believed to have been a key factor in his nomination for the prize. At a press conference at the Chinese Embassy in Sweden before the prize ceremony, Mo Yan expressed his gratitude to his translators for their creative work.

Literature in translation has since become a topic of interest in the Chinese media and amongst the Chinese public. There has been much discussion about professional issues such as translation standards and skills.

Red Sorghum by Nobel Literature Laureate Mo Yan. 

One of the most highly debated translations is the English version of Mo Yan's Big Breasts and Wide Hips. The translator, Howard Goldblatt, who is a well-known sinologist, made significant changes and even deleted certain plot points. Many people believed the changes went against the principles of translation and were designed to pander to a market dominated by Western culture and values; while some viewed it a useful approach to enable foreign readers to gain a better understanding of Chinese culture.

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