As readers outside China become increasingly curious about what’s happening on the Chinese literature scene, a growing number of literary magazines focused on promoting Chinese voices are becoming known in and outside China.
Dandu and Pathlight are two of these publications that are working hard to promote new and emerging writers. Last weekend, Guanghwa Bookshop welcomed Dandu’s Chief Editor WU Qi (吴琦), and David Haysom, Pathlight’s Managing Editor, for an enlightening panel discussion that touched upon creativity and uniqueness in a globalised world. This is what we learned.
Founded by author Xu Zhiyuan and his friends in 2011, Dandu is not only dedicated to publishing the works of young Chinese writers, but also promoting reading for pleasure to young Chinese. Their three bookstores in Beijing also play a part in this, and a recent advertising campaign they ran in the Beijing subway featuring quotes from famous writers was offered to Dandu at a discount. With 300,000 followers on WeChat, there’s certainly a lot of public support for what is arguably China’s most influential literary magazine today. Wu Qi explained that Dandu aims to be more ‘trendy’ than ‘traditional’ – to engage with young people by doing something new.
Routes into Chinese literature
Pathlight magazine, publishing Chinese literature in translation, is focused on reaching a wider audience. One of their key challenges is to make the magazine more widely available, and releasing an e-book edition is on the team’s radar. David Haysom remarked how the huge interest in the politics and economics of China could be used as a springboard to promote Chinese fiction, however literature used as a ‘travel guide’ somewhat undermines what the authors are trying to do. The ultimate aim is to keep promoting Chinese literature to the world, however, so it shouldn’t matter too much what the initial motivation was.
Translating unique voices
David said that while finding strategies for translating names and idioms can be a straightforward process, finding the right voice for the author is much more of a challenge. He has enjoyed the process of finding a voice for author Feng Tang who offers a mix of high-brow allusions and lower-brow innuendo that poses a unique challenge to him as a translator.
He said that a translation can never be a perfect replica, nor offer the reader the exact same experience, but it can do its best to convey what makes the original author special. Wu Qi said agreed that some things are of course lost in translation, but what’s important are the things that remain – the real beauty of literature is what is beyond the language on the page.
Creativity and globalisation
Can uniqueness be lost in cosmopolitanism? Wu Qi and David discussed established writers writing for a global audience and the risk of them simplifying their language, being conscious of what will and won’t translate well. In China, this can be the case with writers of a certain standing. If they put less care into their work, nobody will tell them when something is not all that good. It goes then that younger, newer voices will offer more creativity in their work.
Popular topics in contemporary Chinese writing
Do certain writers, or perhaps their publishers, tend to focus on topics such as the China’s Cultural Revolution above others? Ever since Wild Swans, this has been an easy hook to sell books. When established Chinese writers get carried away with those kinds of topics, they might lose their own unique voice along the way. Books that have been banned in China are also easier to sell. Foreign audiences also have an expectation that all Chinese writers engage in the history and politics of China, while western writers are not expected to. It’s easy to forget that there is indeed a huge array of diverse voices in China – and they are not quite as easily packaged for foreign readers.
Thank you to Wu Qi and David Haysom for sharing your thoughts with us!
Pathlight is a quarterly literary journal featuring translations of the best contemporary Chinese poetry and prose. Founded in 2011, Pathlight is a collaboration between Paper Republic and People’s Literature magazine (人民文学杂志).