Writing Chinese

Category: authors

Special Issue of Stand Magazine on ‘Chinese Journeys’ Coming Soon!

We’re delighted to announce that our guest edited edition of Stand magazine, on the theme of ‘Chinese Journeys’ will be appearing soon, in print and online.

Stand has been a fixture on the British and world literary scene since 1952, when the first issue appeared in London. It moved to Leeds in 1960, then to Newcastle, and it is now edited from the School of English at the University of Leeds in collaboration with Virginia Commonwealth University in the USA.

We’ll be publishing fiction, poetry and non-fiction by some of the writers, translators, publishers and academics who we’ve worked with already on the Writing Chinese project, as well as other writers from the mainland, Hong Kong, and Taiwan. We’re also delighted to be publishing the winners of our latest translation competitions. Our judges were very impressed with the quality of work submitted, so we’re looking forward to sharing it very soon!

Here’s the blurb for the issue:

A special issue from the Writing Chinese project on new Chinese writing and its English translation. Poems, short stories, reportage and critical commentary all exploring ‘journeys’ from the Chinese-speaking world to the West, and back again – with contributions from writers based in the UK with China connections (including TS Eliot prize winner Sarah Howe), writers hailing from the People’s Republic of China (including the controversial novelist and critic Murong Xuecun and the novelist and short story writer Yan Ge), from Singapore (the  writer, director and translator Jeremy Tiang), Hong Kong (the surrealist writer and editor Dorothy Tse and poet and translator Tammy Ho) and Taiwan (the up-and-coming essayist and writer Wu I-Wei). Other highlights include the winning entries from the Writing Chinese translation competitions, on poetry and reportage, and a response by Helen Mort to the poems of celebrated PRC poet Wang Xiaoni. Interspersed with the creative pieces are extensive interviews with translators, critics, publishers and other key players in the varied and often circuitous journeys of new writing between Greater China and the English-speaking world.

We’ll be keeping you up to date with the publication, and a special launch event to be held in Leeds.

This entry was posted in authors, Talking Translation.

Diao Dou and Comma Press in Leeds

Points of origin_COVER_final_PRINT.inddLast Thursday we were lucky enough to welcome author Diao Dou 刁斗 to Leeds, along with Sam Clark and Ra Page from Comma Press. Comma are a Manchester-based publisher, and loyal champions both of the short story form and of literature in translation. They have just published the first English translation (by Brendan O’Kane) of Diao Dou’s short fiction – the fantastic Points of Origin. In this collection, a town is overrun with cockroaches, which prove more than a match for the local officials; a widower and his cat move into the city, but the cat is not all that she seems; and in the story we’ve chosen for our October book club, a law is passed that only lets people walk the streets at night if they maintain a squatting position at all times…

diao dou

Diao Dou read an excerpt of one of the stories ,’Vivisection’. This story presented something which is often dealt with in contemporary Chinese fiction – the Cultural Revolution – in a slightly off-kilter way, providing a good example of how his stories mix the realistic and the surreal.

We were then given a fascinating insight into the translation process through a video with translator Brendan O’Kane, who talked about some of the challenges of translating these stories, and of how to convey some of the trickier points of Chinese idiom and shared knowledge (preferably without using footnotes – an issue which has come up in several of our discussions throughout this project!).

You can watch the full video here;

Following on from Brendan’s video was a Q&A between Diao Dou and Comma Press’s Sam Clark, covering issues such as genre, symbolism, and surrealism. (The stories in Points of Origin span realism, surrealism, historical fiction, and fantasy.)

We’d like to thank Comma for their support, and thank you as well to our interpreter John Long.

This entry was posted in authors.

The Bai Meigui Translation Competition

structo14This month, we’re delighted that the two winning entries in our Bai Meigui translation competition have been published in issue 14 of Structo magazine. As editor Euan Monaghan told us in an interview earlier in the year, the magazine has become increasingly interested, since its founding in 2008, in publishing translations, and often publishes poems in both the original language and in English translation. This is the first time, however, that they’ve published two different translations of the same story…!

Out of the 88 entries we received for the competition, our judges Nicky Harman, Jeremy Tiang and Helen Wang, chose Natascha Bruce and Michael Day as the joint winners, deciding that their different approaches and choices both deserved the accolade. The text – Dorothy Tse’s (谢晓虹) ‘Chickens’ (鸡) – is part of a longer series of linked stories, some of which have been translated by Nicky as  ‘Monthly Matters’ in Dorothy’s collection Snow and Shadow. The story, with its surreal imagery and ambiguous language, poses a fascinating translation challenge, and the judges were hugely impressed with the overall quality of the entries.

They also chose four runners-up – Karen Curtis, Seth Griffin, Kristen Robinson and Andrew Wormald – whose translations you can read on our competition page. And you can read Dorothy’s story in its original Chinese on our book club page, where she was our featured author for February.

Here’s what the judges had to say about the winning entries:


“It was great to see so many different, strong approaches amongst the entries and we much enjoyed discussing their merits and choosing the ones we thought worked best.  We particularly liked it when it felt as though the translator had got inside the story and was telling it him or herself, when the English language was sharp and alive, and when there was a consistent style throughout the piece. We agreed that the ultimate criteria had to be both accuracy and skill at rendering the author’s style in English, in such a way that would honour the author’s intentions and serve the general reader best.

Both winning entries successfully captured the unease shimmering just beneath the surface, and reflected the sensuousness of the story. Their translations had zest and carried conviction – we felt that the translators approached their task with relish.

As regards the other entries, they had much to recommend them and we were very impressed by the overall quality. The surrealism posed particular challenges, and we sensed that when translators had trouble with some of the more obscure bits, they resolved it by sticking close to the original. In some of the translations, we felt the register was a little too high: after all, the narrator was a young boy, and ‘yet’ and ‘merely’ seemed inappropriate. On the other hand, in most entries, the snippets of dialogue were rendered with real flair, in natural-sounding, colloquial English.

Our congratulations to the two winners, who fulfilled all our criteria and yet produced two very different versions, and to the four runners-up. We are delighted that both winners will be offered a place at the Translate in the City summer school and that their translations will both be published in Structo magazine.”

– Nicky, Jeremy and Helen


We’d like to say a huge thank you to everyone who entered the competition. We were really pleased with the number of entries, and hope that everyone enjoyed the experience! Thank you also to our wonderful judges, Nicky, Jeremy and Helen, and to the Translate in the City summer school at City University in London for the bursaries for our two winners. And finally, thank you to Structo magazine, and we hope everyone will go and check out the fantastic issue 14!

This entry was posted in authors, Talking Translation.

Muse Publishing and Dorothy Tse; Frank Proctor Interview

Snow_And_ShadowOne of Hong Kong’s most exciting young writers – Dorothy Tse – will be joining us in Leeds this week for our Writing Chinese symposium. In advance of Dorothy’s visit, we’re very happy that her publisher Frank Proctor, of the innovative Muse Publishing, has agreed to answer our questions about Muse and share his thoughts about Snow and Shadow, Dorothy’s first collection of short stories in English, translated by Nicky Harman.

If you’d like the opportunity to hear Dorothy read and discuss her work in Leeds on Saturday July 4th, please see our events page for how to register.


Can you tell us a bit about Muse; how did you get started? 

I founded Muse in 2005. Before that, I had been a senior executive for Newsweek magazine, based in Hong Kong. My vision was to capitalize on Hong Kong’s unique position at the crossroads of Chinese and Western traditions to creatively blend the two, starting with the launch of Muse magazine, which I envisioned as “Hong Kong’s New Yorker” — bilingual, with a blend of cultural reviews, narrative journalism, and literature. We published the monthly magazine until December 2010.

What was behind the decision to move from publishing a magazine to publishing books? 

Our original business plan was highly print-focused, and the digital transformation of media made it increasingly difficult to sustain a business model that would support a monthly magazine. At the same time, I felt that the digital era was opening up incredible new possibilities for book publishing, both digital and print. The internet has removed distribution bottlenecks, has made it possible for writers to tell stories in new ways, and has made global literature accessible to new audiences.

What are some of the challenges, and the rewards?

The reasons publishing attracted me in the first place are just as valid as ever: I am fascinated with the way writers articulate their ideas, and their ability to transform the way we see the world. Coming from magazine publishing, I needed to adapt to the long time horizon required to take a book project from the idea stage, through publication, and out to a wide readership. Yet I have found that the greatest reward is being able to immerse myself totally in working with one author for an extended period of time. I have the chance to get to know them and their ideas very deeply, and to understand their approach to writing. Then, I have the privilege of presenting their works to new audiences around the world.

How did you come across Dorothy’s work, and what made you decide to publish Snow and Shadow?

I first became aware of Dorothy and her writing through her role as a founding editor of Hong Kong Kong’s premier literary magazine, Fleurs des Lettres《字花》. Her writing appeared in its early issues, and she won some of the most prestigious literary awards in Taiwan and Hong Kong.

I was instantly jolted by the emotional intensity of Dorothy’s writing, a feeling that stayed with me as I read and re-read her stories. Her style is intensely direct, kind of an “in your face” surrealism.

Her stories revolve around urgent topics like personal identity, family relationships, and sexual exploitation. She has a keen eye for the ridiculous and bizarre, and she is willing to plunge unflinchingly into the grotesque. But as a reader, I couldn’t look away. The fantasies, dark humor, and shifting narratives that characterize Dorothy’s writing make her stories truly absorbing.

Moreover, Dorothy is part of a compelling “new generation” of Hong Kong writers, who are seeking to define the meaning of individual identity in a society that has slipped its cultural moorings. Hong Kong writing provides a singular window onto Chinese literature, yet surprisingly little of it has found its way to Western readers and reviewers.

We were also very fortunate to be able to pair Dorothy with Nicky Harman, a talented, experienced translator who intuitively understood Dorothy’s writing.

I loved the app for ‘The Apartment Block’; is this something you’re going to be doing more of? How do you think it changes our experience of reading and understanding stories?

I’m glad you like it!

I believe that digital media and the internet will play the central role in the way stories are told, and are already changing the way writers and readers interact. A publisher needs to be a digital pioneer to thrive. So I want to do at least one digital “experiment” with every book project. It is all about using different formats, both print and digital, to get the author’s ideas across and reach new audiences.

Dorothy’s story ‘The Apartment Block‘ really lends itself to this kind of app. The story is a series of short scenes from a single mysterious apartment building, woven together over an uncertain time period. There are multiple possible explanations for how the events and people in the building might fit together; so the app lets users click on the doors of the apartment building in any order, to “create their own narrative.” People really enjoy the app, and it reinforces the strange juxtaposition of time, place, and characters in the story.

What’s next? Do you have any plans for the publication of more Hong Kong fiction in translation?

Our next book is The Kite Family, a collection of short stories by Hon Lai-chu, another award-winning Hong Kong author. It is scheduled for publication this year.

Thank you so much to Frank for answering our questions, and we’re very much looking forward to reading more from Muse!

This entry was posted in authors, The Publisher's View.

Interview: Eric Abrahamsen and Paper Republic

PaperRepublicToday is a particularly good day for Chinese literature in translation, with the launch of Read Paper Republic, a new initiative from the wonderful Paper Republic, a website and publishing consultancy based around a collective of China-based translators. Well-known in Chinese literary circles, Paper Republic aims to connect Chinese and foreign publishers, and throw a spotlight on events in the Chinese literary scene.

Between Thursday 18th June 2015 and 16th June 2016, on the Paper Republic site there will be a complete, free-to-view short story (or essay or poem) by a contemporary Chinese writer every week for the whole year. We can’t wait! In fact, we’re supporting the Read Paper Republic UK launch with a special event on July 4th, as part of our Writing Chinese symposium, and in association with the Free Word Centre and the Leeds Writers Circle. See our events page for more on this.

In the meantime, we’re delighted to be joined by Eric Abrahamsen, literary translator and founder of Paper Republic, to tell us a bit more about his work. Eric has lived in Beijing since late 2001, and worked as a teacher, editor, and freelance journalist. He would like nothing more than to spend his days with a dictionary and a laptop, and his nights out drinking with authors.


Can you tell us a bit about the thinking behind Paper Republic? What were your aims when you set up the site?

We started off very simply: the site was meant to be a sort of group blog for a community of Chinese-to-English literary translators, mostly living in Beijing at the time. We envisioned it as a place where people could have discussions and arguments about Chinese literature and the work of translation, as well as flagging up authors and fiction we were interested in. In a sense, that’s still the core of the site, though things have expanded from there.

Over time, it became clear that publishers and agents outside of the country were looking at the site to get information about Chinese literature. At the same time, many of us were discovering that, in order to get our translations published, we had to participate in the publishing process to a large degree: convincing publishers to publish books, contacting rights holders, all that. So slowly the site transitioned to be more explicitly aimed at publishing professionals outside of China. I formed a company, and now spend most of my time doing publishing consulting of one sort or another.

What have some of the biggest challenges been?

I guess the usual challenge: making a living! Personally, I’ve transitioned from literary translation to publishing consulting over the past decade, and I haven’t always had a clear sense of how keep Paper Republic vital, both as a company, and in its original identity as a community site. A big problem is that, outside of China, publishers are wary of the commercial potential of Chinese literature, and aren’t very gung-ho about publishing it. Inside of China, meanwhile, publishers are caught between commercial and political imperatives, and often aren’t very professional.

What kind of literary critique or discussion are you seeing in media circles in China at the moment?

Nothing very exciting, I’m afraid. Domestic literary discussion usually centers around which authors are making the most money. There aren’t many substantive discussions going on.

What up-and-coming authors (or under-appreciated authors) are you most excited about at the moment?

I’m most bullish about the generation of writers now in their mid to late thirties. They’re more cosmopolitan-minded and usually more technically adept than the older generations, and vary more in voice and style. They’ve also been somewhat overlooked by domestic media, which means they don’t have much to do but write. That’s a good thing. These are writers including Cao Kou, Yan Ge, Di An, Xu Zechen, A Yi

Finally, if you had unlimited resources (and time, energy, etc), what would be your dream Chinese fiction-related project?

I’m quite convinced that the main obstacle to further international acceptance of Chinese literature is simply an unfamiliarity with what’s out there – editors, agents, and readers alike don’t know where to start. I’m further convinced that the best remedy for this sort of situation is high-volume translation of many short pieces by many writers: that way readers can skim a wide variety of styles and voices in a fairly short period of time, and get a sense of what’s out there.

Paper Republic produces a literary magazine, called Pathlight, in conjunction with People’s Literature Magazine, and theoretically this magazine would do exactly what I’ve described. But we’re hampered a bit by our partners, who aren’t always proposing the most interesting content to be translated, and in large part by the difficulty of promoting and distributing (and getting people to buy) a literary magazine.

I think if I had unlimited resources, I would commission translations of short pieces by all the authors in the Paper Republic database, and make the translations available through the site for free. I would keep that up until each author had the equivalent of a full short story collection online, accessible to all. Then I’d let the rest of the world make of that what they liked.

Well, Read Paper Republic is a big step towards this! The first story, ‘Who’s Speaking Please?‘ is up on the site now, and is by our May author of the month, A Yi, and translated by Michelle Deeter

Thank you to Eric, and to all at Paper Republic for their hard work!

This entry was posted in authors, Talking Translation.

‘A Perfect Crime’: Author A Yi in Leeds

A Yi

For our final author event of this year, A Yi 阿乙 joined us at the university, to discuss his work and his novella A Perfect Crime, translated into English by Anna Holmwood. We’re very grateful to his publishers, Oneworld, for arranging the visit, and to English PEN, who awarded the book a translation grant.

In A Perfect Crime, a young man commits a horrific crime and goes on the run. Narrated by the murderer himself, the book pulls the reader inexorably along through the meticulous planning of the crime, to its bloody climax, and the cat-and-mouse pursuit by the police.

Having served as a police office for five years, A Yi has first hand experience of the processes and problems of the legal system in China. He has also, as he discussed with us, had experience of the kind of loneliness and boredom that plague his protagonist. Whilst avowedly apolitical in his writing, A Yi is nonetheless very much interested in the social and psychological issues facing China today. In his aimless protagonist he paints a portrait of a dislocated, hopeless youth, moving through an empty and uncaring society.


Our audience was interested to hear his opinions on writing and on crime, and how his own experiences have fuelled his fiction. He spoke of how hard he found writing the scene of the crime itself, and the feeling of oppression it brought. Spending so much time inside the head of such a troubled character was exhausting and difficult, and the book is undoubtedly disturbing for the reader. Yet it is also brilliantly written and translated; a taut page-turner that defies you to look away, and lingers long after the final page.

We’d like to thank our interpreter Michelle Deeter, and Blackwells’ Books, for their contributions to the event.

This entry was posted in authors.

Han Dong and Nicky Harman in Leeds


We were very lucky to have poet, short story writer and novelist Han Dong come and visit us in April, alongside his translator Nicky Harman. The event was organised in conjunction with International Writers at Leeds, a project run through the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies at the University of Leeds, inviting internationally-renowned writers to speak about their work.

Han Dong is perhaps most famous as one of China’s foremost avant-garde poets, so we began the event with a reading and discussion of some of his poems, translated by Nicky and collected in the bilingual volume, A Phonecall from Dalian, published by Zephyr Press. .

This was followed by a reading from a recent novella, 花花传奇, translated by Nicky as A Tabby Cat’s Tale, and published by Frisch and Co. The incontinent, flea-ridden feline of the title lives on the narrator’s roof, and whilst he causes chaos for the family and their neighbours, the more his anti-social behaviour worsens, the greater the family’s affection for him grows. (There’s a lovely review of the novella here).

Han Dong cove

Much of the discussion following the readings focused on Han Dong’s dual writing careers in poetry and prose. When asked how he juggled the two, he explained that he tends to concentrate on either one or the other for an extended period of time – whilst working on a novel or a book of poetry – and then move to the other once he has finished that piece of work.

There were also several questions for both writer and translator on the process of translation, and how well they worked together (very well, according to both!). Nicky discussed some of the decisions she had made when translating the poems, and retaining their down-to-earth feel, as well as the novella, with its comedic, earthy tone. One of the things she mentioned was the name of the eponymous cat – ‘Hua Hua’ (花花), in Chinese, which might perhaps translate along the lines of ‘Spotty’, but which she simply couldn’t resist translating as ‘Tabby’, especially given the alliteration which it would allow in the title.

To find out more about Han Dong, and read some of his poems, you can go to our book club page.







This entry was posted in authors, Talking Translation.

Writing Chinese March Update

dorothyWell, our translation competition is now closed, but we just wanted to say that we’ve been absolutely delighted by the response it’s had! We’ve had entries from all over the world, and don’t envy our panel of judges, who now face the difficult task of choosing a winner… Nicky Harman, Jeremy Tiang, and Helen Wang will announce their choice in April. The winning translation will then be published in the autumn issue of Structo magazine. They’ll also have the chance to attend the Translate in the City summer school, where Nicky Harman will be teaching a course on Chinese-English translation. And of course, Dorothy Tse herself will be visiting Leeds for our symposium this July. Dorothy was our featured author for February, so even if you didn’t enter the competition, you might want to check out her story here. (Though you’ll have to wait for issue 14 of Structo before reading the translation!)

publishing poster-page-001In other news, this March we’re looking more closely at the business of publishing. This Thursday, March 5th, we’re joined in Leeds by publisher and translator Harvey Thomlinson, of Make-Do Publishing, to talk about the UK market for translated Chinese fiction. The event will be held at the University of Leeds, room B10 in the Parkinson Court, from 5.00-6.30 pm. The event is free, and all are welcome! Blackwells’ Books will also be there, so you can further indulge yourselves with some reading matter. Harvey visited Leeds last October, alongside Chen Xiwo and translator Nicky Harman, in order to talk about Chen’s fantastic The Book of Sins, so we’re delighted that he’s joining us again.

Alongside this event, we’ll be featuring a series of articles on our blog, focusing on publishing and translation. Our first guest-post will be by Peter Gordon, editor of the Asian Review of Books. Peter founded Paddyfield, an on-line bookshop, and runs Chameleon Press, an independent publisher specialising in Asian fiction and topical non-fiction. He was also involved in setting up the Man Asian Literary Prize and the Hong Kong International Literary Festival. We’re very grateful that he’s taking time out of his extremely busy schedule to share his thoughts with us.

Lao MaFinally, our March bookclub stories are going to be short and sweet… Although ‘sweet’ might not be the right word for Lao Ma’s flash fiction; stories which, whilst brief, are often also biting and blackly funny. We’ll be putting up the stories very soon. In the meantime, you can find out more about Lao Ma in an excellent Time Out Shanghai article here.

This entry was posted in authors, Talking Translation.

‘Taking on someone else’s voice’: Yan Ge and Nicky Harman in Leeds

Yan_Ge1Last week we were lucky enough to welcome author Yan Ge and her translator Nicky Harman to Leeds for the second in our series of public events. It was a great opportunity to hear about the ways in which an author and translator work together – there have been no fights yet, they assured us! (Though Yan Ge did point out that they were still in the honeymoon period…)

Yan Ge’s work is funny, incisive, and refreshingly down-to-earth, even when she sneaks in otherworldly elements like the eponymous ‘white horse’ of her recent novella (released as an e-book by Hope Road Publishing). In her novel 我们家, currently being translated by Nicky under the title The Chilli Bean Paste Clan, she shows an incredible ability to get under the skin of her characters – the hapless, unfaithful, but likeable Dad in particular. It’s this psychological depth that really attracted Nicky to her work, we learnt. Yet it has also got her into trouble. When she first published the short story that would become the first chapter of the novel (and which we’re discussing as our book club story this month), Yan Ge’s own dad was less than pleased… (Read the story here to find out more!) It took some time before he could be persuaded of its fictional credentials…

Both Yan Ge and Nicky were very open about the difficulties, as well as the joys, of their work. When you’re actually writing, said Yan Ge, you think, ‘I’m a genius! If I die now, Chinese literature will be safe!’ But then you look at your work the next day and go, ‘What was I thinking???’ Luckily, she has managed to overcome her own doubts, as well as the difficulties posed by a male-dominated literary world, in which comments such as, ‘She’s doing well, for a female writer’, are all too common. ‘I just want to be treated as a writer,’ said Yan Ge.


For Nicky, it is the window that she can provide onto Chinese writing that is one of the most rewarding parts of her job. ‘I have to be a chameleon,’ she said, ‘taking on somebody else’s voice.’ And it was eye-opening to learn just how much the translator does – beyond the challenges of the translation itself, the translator has to be ‘part of the spider’s web’, as Nicky put it – pitching to publishers, getting the author’s name out, and of course, giving up her Saturday to come and talk to us!

We also learnt about how fluency in another language and familiarity with another culture can affect a writer – Yan Ge told us that she uses English to think critically, but Chinese to think creatively. And she is, she said, a fan-girl of French philosophers. Yes, we were dubious, too, but she pointed out that she loves them for the stories they tell; as a writer, she is a ‘multiple agent’ – writing in Chinese, speaking English, reading French philosophers – all of this gives her different perceptions, ‘different getaways’.

So it was a great morning, and we’d like to thank Nicky and Yan Ge, as well as everyone who came to the event! The enjoyment continued in the afternoon, when our guests continued their hard work by leading a translation masterclass. That, however, deserves a blog post all to itself. For now, have a read of ‘Dad’s Not Dead’ (you can find it in both Chinese and English on our book club page), and head over to our forum to leave your comments! And if you weren’t able to make it to Leeds for the talk, you can watch our recording of the event, with Dr Frances Weightman chairing the conversation.

This entry was posted in authors, Talking Translation.

Telling Stories: Yan Ge and HopeRoad Publishing


It’s nearly November, so it’s time for our next Author of the Month, and we’re very excited to be welcoming Yan Ge to the project, and to Leeds! Recently chosen by People’s Literature Magazine as one of ‘China’s Twenty Future Literary Masters’, Yan Ge’s writing is funny, warm, and insightful, turning a sharp eye on families, relationships, and small town life. She’ll be joining us on Saturday November 1st for a public talk, alongside her translator Nicky Harman. This promises to be a fascinating insight into the process of writing and translating. It’s free, and everyone is welcome! In the afternoon, we’ve got our translation masterclass, led by Nicky and Yan Ge, and we’re really looking forward to seeing some of our Writing Chinese network there! At the end of the workshop, we’ll be revealing officially opening our inaugural translation competition, so if you can’t be there on the day, keep your eye on this space for more details…

Yan Ge’s novella White Horse, translated by Nicky Harman, was released last week by HopeRoad Publishing, and we’re delighted that Rosemarie Hudson, from Hope Road, has taken the time to answer a few questions. HopeRoad is an independent publisher, supporting voices that are often neglected by the mainstream publishing world. Here’s what Rosemarie had to say:


Can you tell us a bit about what sets HopeRoad apart from other publishers?

There are so many writers, particular in Africa, Asia and the Caribbean who are writing amazing stories but find it extremely difficult to reach their audience. This is due mainly to the big publishing houses not affording them time and money.  HopeRoad was set up for the purpose of telling the stories of Africa, Asia and the Caribbean.

Why e-books? What are the challenges and advantages of publishing this way? And do you see this as a future trend, particularly for world literature?

The advent of the technology drove me to decide on e-books over print although recently we have dipped our toes into paperbacks. There are more advantages than challenges when publishing e-books. The main advantages of digital publishing are the speed in which the book reaches the market, and the fact that your stock is not tied up in a warehouse. Also, of course, the book has a global reach and the cost is more affordable to those who can’t afford print.  And of course the reader has so many choices of readers on which to download their chosen book.

How do you choose which titles to publish?

When choosing a title there are so many questions one has to ask.  Did I enjoy the read, will the buyer like it, will it sell? First and foremost, I must like the book.

We’re really excited to have Yan Ge and her translator Nicky Harman visiting us in Leeds. Can you tell us a bit about how you first came across ‘White Horse’, and the decision to publish it?

We’ve worked with Nicky Harman before and she kindly introduced us to Yan Ge and her fabulous novel White Horse,  I am so delighted she did.

Thank you to Rosemarie for taking the time to answer our questions! Specially printed postcards with the e-book code for White Horse will be available to buy at our event on November 1st.



This entry was posted in authors, The Publisher's View.

‘Where there’s darkness there’s literature’: Chen Xiwo Q&A and Book Club

Well, we’ve officially launched our project, and we’ve been absolutely delighted by the response, both to our call to join the Writing Chinese network, and to our first event!

chen xiwo talk

Chen Xiwo’s visit to Leeds, along with his translator Nicky Harman and publisher Harvey Thomlinson, provided a fantastic start to Writing Chinese. We were especially pleased that Nicky, who has done a huge amount to help us with getting the project set up, could be here to talk about her work!

The narratives in The Book of Sins involve voyeurism, pain, violence and incest, yet they are also, as Nicky points out, very moral stories, and there is tenderness there, as well as violence. The transgressions they depict are never gratuitous, but charged instead with political and social meaning. They are also shot through with a strain of pitch black humour, something which spilled over into Chen’s entertaining Q&A!

From the very first question, ‘Where does this darkness come from?’, we plunged in to a discussion of censorship, sexuality, politics, writing and knives. When asked about his experiences of living in China, and the censorship his work has undergone, Chen remarked that, ‘Where there’s darkness, there’s literature’. Despite the difficulties, despite the fact that writers have more freedom to write elsewhere, Chen insisted that living in China is vital to his work, and our audience was fascinated to hear about his experiences.

So thank you to everyone who came to the event, and for all your questions! We’d also like to say thank you to our wonderful interpreter Feng Lin, who did an absolutely great job. And if you weren’t able to come in person, you can take a look at a video excerpt from the reading and some of the questions.

We also held our first book club meeting yesterday, in Costa Coffee in Blackwell’s Bookshop, to discuss ‘The Man With the Knife’. Tea was enjoyed, arguments were had (politely, of course), and we very much enjoyed delving in to the disturbing but often very funny depths of the story. And don’t worry if you missed out, because the discussion will in fact be continuing all month on our forum! So please do let us know your thoughts and questions.

But don’t say you weren’t warned…




This entry was posted in authors, Talking Translation, The Publisher's View.

Censorship: The First Prohibition, by Chen Xiwo

chen xiwo2

In advance of his visit to Leeds on October 9th, here are Chen Xiwo’s own words on his experiences of writing and censorship.

(This article was originally published as the preface to Make-Do Publishing‘s Modern Chinese Masters volume of his work, and is reprinted with their kind permission).


At about the same time that I learned an English edition was planned, a decision was reached in my case relating to The Book of Sins. From the start I had never believed that this work could pass the China censors, and sure enough the whole case that I had brought against China’s literary authorities was dropped. The reason given was that this was the sixtieth anniversary of the founding of New China.

My pessimism was a result of what had gone before. In 2007 an unabridged version of The Book of Sins was published in Taiwan, but copies sent to me in mainland China were seized, the most important reason for this being that the book contained the banned novella I Love My Mum.

In 2004 on its first publication in a southern literary magazine, this novella had been severely criticized. Beijing got involved and the Propaganda Ministry ordered its local office to take action. The executive editor of the magazine narrowly escaped the sack and had to submit to three weeks of criticism.

To be prohibited is normal for me. Basically, everything I have published has either been banned or else extensively revised. China still has legions of censors willing to act as loyal guard dogs. Their paid work offers them two types of satisfaction: one is money, and the other is the notion that they have convictions. They get paid and they can have convictions: what could be better than that!

Of course, most of these censors are hacks who don’t really believe in what they are safeguarding. Just like everyone else, they love to read banned books, and secretly they curse the government even more than other people. As soon as they put on their censor’s cap though, they are again the embodiment of the government, operating with the authority of the state.

Nowhere is it explicitly stated what is forbidden; the whole system depends on ‘self-censorship’. The editor of one literary journal once told me that he himself didn’t know what he could or couldn’t publish. As a result, most people operate within ever tighter restraints. They say it is “the people” restraining you, but “the people” never asked the government to stop them reading what they wanted.

In 2005, my novel Irritation was banned as soon as it appeared. Simultaneously, the same publishing house’s Serve the People by Yan Lianke was also banned. Irritation was banned because of sexual content, and Serve the People because of politics. The publishing house and its editors came under great pressure. At the time there were those who said that because Serve the People’s problem was politics, there was still hope in that case, because political lines are always subject to reversal, but Irritation’s problem was sex and so it could never be redeemed.

All through the ages, sex has been the first prohibition. But why does sex need this rigorous supervision? In any society, ordinary people, if they are intent on sex, won’t pay any attention to government, while rulers are even more likely to do as they please. But sex is political. Any regime will always put the Marquis de Sade in jail.

Of course, I am writing about public sex. Sex, if you can only keep it in the shadows, can still flourish. In today’s China, many places rely on sex to drive their economic growth. These are known as ‘prostitute economies’. Those raised in a culture of shame don’t believe in the omnipresence of God, only in the scrutiny of others. Twenty years ago, if people wanted to join the Communist Party, others would shun them; today things have changed.

In this world I don’t look for moral virtue, because there is none and there never has been. What moral codes mainly prove is that past generations have never lived up to them.

Of course the existence of these codes represents a challenge to evil. Even if people behave in a despicable way, there can be moments of illumination; even if they don’t change their behaviour, they may realize what they are doing. If this is all, it is already no small thing; the beginnings of human awareness. In I Love My Mum the central character has just this kind of awakening. In this respect he is not only no degenerate, he is even a model for morality in our generation. When he realizes that the object of his desire is his own mother, he shouts it out, wakes his mother up, lifts the covers, acknowledges his crime.

This is my style of writing, although lots of people don’t understand why I want to write this way. It embarrasses them. It makes people unhappy, makes them anxious. People look at me like I am an evil spirit. Well I prefer to be this kind of evil spirit, rather than an angel who sings all day long in praise of some “golden age of China.”

A country which has reached middle-income country level apparently still needs to sacrifice people to economics. Well a country without people at its core is worthless; a writer with no dignity, writing what he is told, accepting of being banned and censored, is a coward, and this writer will only write rubbish.

I am not willing to write rubbish, and I am not willing to be a coward.



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