Writing Chinese

Category: Writing Chinese

The ‘Writing Chinese’ Symposium

01_seal_yang_png 1Grave-robbing, censorship, surrealism, running a small press, the problems of editing, why translators really don’t agree about footnotes… These were just some of the topics touched upon (and at times, debated vociferously) at our symposium on 2-4 July in Leeds.

The symposium was the culmination of the first year of the Writing Chinese project, and an opportunity to gather together writers, translators, publishers, academics and others working in other aspects of contemporary Chinese fiction, to discuss some of the key issues and recent changes in the field. Rather than a typical academic-style conference, with panels of 20-minute papers, we wanted something more informal and conducive to dialogue, so we decided on a series of roundtables, loosely based on the journey of a story, from creation, through translation or adaptation, publication, and beyond. Each roundtable was set off by brief presentations by those working in that particular aspect of the field, and then opened up for discussion. (You can find the full schedule and list of participants here).

The two days of discussions provided a fascinating insight into the writing and publishing world. This was in fact one of the key aims of the project – an attempt to get away from a purely academic focus on literature in the university, and instead broaden our view by finding out more from those actually working in the field. So it was great to hear from our authors – Dorothy Tse, Murong Xuecun, James Shea and Jeremy Tiang – about the process of writing, and to hear about their different experiences, in Hong Kong, on the mainland, and elsewhere. And in the following panels we learnt more about different aspects of translation, as well as issues surrounding internet fiction (zombies and grave-robbing were introduced with great enthusiasm by Heather Inwood), children’s fiction (Helen Wang‘s championing of Chinese children’s fiction in translation sent many of us to Blackwells’ bookstall to pick up her recommended titles), and censorship (Michel Hockx was on hand to share his extensive knowledge).


Bertrand Mialaret, of mychinesebooks.com, editor of Pathlight Magazine Dave Haysom, and translator Nicky Harman, who’s one of the driving forces behind Paper Republic, discussed the role of literary magazines, websites, and some of the wonderful projects which are bringing Chinese fiction to a wider audience. And Katherine Carruthers, director of the IOE Confucius Institute for Schools, shared her thoughts on Chinese fiction and the curriculum.

On the business side of things, Marysia Juszczakiewicz, the founder and owner of Hong Kong-based Peony Literary Agency, discussed the role of a literary agent, and shared her own experiences. We were also lucky enough to have the managing director of Penguin China, Jo Lusby, here to talk about the difficulties and rewards of her job, as well as MakeDo Publishing‘s Harvey Thomlinson to discuss the experience of a small press publisher.

It wasn’t all about fiction, however. We also got to hear from Jeremy Tiang about his work as a playwright – both writing his own work and adapting Chinese fiction for the stage – as well as from Li Ruru, Valerie Pellatt and Steve Ansell about some of the fantastic work they’ve done with the translation and performance of Chinese drama – most recently Wan Fang’s play Murder. (If you’re interested in finding out more about Chinese drama, you might want to take a look at their project Staging China).


The symposium finished up with a wine reception and conference dinner, kicked off by a reading by the wonderful poet Helen Mort, who is currently a cultural fellow at the university, and will be helping us with some of our more poetic plans next year… (More on this to come!)

But although the roundtables were finished, we still had one last chance to hear from our writers and translators (and eat some more delicious food…). On Saturday July 4th we moved to the delightful surroundings of Northern Ballet, where we held our public reading with Murong, Jeremy Tiang and James Shea, as well as the UK launch of the Read Paper Republic project, with Dave Haysom, Nicky Harman, and Dorothy Tse, who discussed ‘The Story of a Story’, looking closely at Nicky’s translation of one of Dorothy’s short stories. This part of the event was in held in association with Paper Republic and the Free Word Centre in London. You can read the short story,‘January: Bridges’, on Read Paper Republic, and watch the video of the discussion here. Nicky also has a great blog post on the Free Word Centre website, where she talks us through her translation.

So we’d just like to say a huge thank you to all of our symposium participants, many of whom have also made huge contributions to the smooth running of the project so far. We’re looking forward to what’s coming next!

We’d also like to thank Halima Chen, for all her work as the WREAC administrative officer; Michelle Deeter and Zhang Dan for their excellent interpretation; Blackwells Books, for all their support; Northern Ballet, for providing a great venue for our public event; Leeds Media Services, for filming the event, and Crown Buffet, for their delicious dim sum!

This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

Why you should enter our translation competition…

The inaugural Bai Meigui Translation Competition is open…. and here’s why you should enter:


– You’ll get to read a brilliant story by one of Hong Kong’s most exciting new writers….

…who writes about disappearing apartments and women turning into fish…

…and who will be speaking at our symposium in Leeds in July.

– Your translation will read by our judging panel of some of the most prominent translators in the field.

– Entry is free, and open to anyone, in any country. All you need is an interest in translation.

– And did we mention our prizes….?

– The winner will get to see their story published in the brilliant literary magazine Structo.


– They will also will also be eligible for a full bursary to attend the July 2015 summer school in translation in London, Translate in the City

…where they’ll be tutored by Nicky Harman and have the opportunity to meet other experts in the literary translation field.

What are you waiting for?? Find our competition text here, in both traditional and simplified characters, where you’ll also find out more about Dorothy Tse and her writing, as well as details about entry and conditions.


We’d like to thank Nicky Harman and Helen Wang for kindly agreeing to judge the competition, and to Structo for their enthusiastic participation. We’re also extremely grateful to the Higher Education Funding Council for England (HEFCE) and the White Rose East Asia Centre (WREAC) for their generous grant, which has allowed us to offer the summer school bursary.




This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

On the road, ‘Imagining Asia’

Imagining Asia - group photo

Having met some fantastic writers, translators, and academics at the ‘Imagining Asia‘ symposium at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, and eaten far too much excellent food, Writing Chinese is now back in Leeds, a little jet-lagged, but full of ideas for the new year!

A group of us from the School of Languages, Cultures and Societies, the School of English, and the School of History at Leeds made the trip to Singapore (though unfortunately not all of our luggage did the same), and we started the week off with visits to a number of schools, where we received unfailingly warm welcomes, and were delighted by the enthusiasm of all the students and staff. It was really interesting to hear from the students about their experience of literature and translation, and to have the opportunity to introduce the project to a new audience, hopefully building our network even further.

After finishing our school visits, it was time to head to NTU for the Imagining Asia conference. The conference was held as part of a collaboration between the College of Humanities, Arts and Social Sciences at NTU and the University of Leeds, and aimed to explore the intercultural links and connections surrounding the idea of ‘Asia’.

One of the delights of an interdisciplinary conference like this is hearing papers and talks on unfamiliar subjects, so it was great to get a glimpse of chinoiserie in eighteenth century America, an unexpected blast of Korean pop music, archive photographs of early European travellers on the silk road, a showcase of street photography of the Occupy Central movement, and many other things, all in the space of a few days.

And as we concentrate so closely on writing in Chinese for this project, it was also interesting to hear about other aspects of East Asian and South East Asian writing. So I particularly enjoyed the panel on Asian diasporic identities, with papers by NTU students Kuah Ting Ting, Yao Xiaoling, Eric Tinsay Valles and Leah Jolene Tan, who discussed the writers Amitav Ghosh, Yan Geling, Jose Garcia Villa, and Tan Twang Eng.

For my own paper, I talked about some of the writers we’ve featured or are planning to feature in this project, and the ways in which their work deals with the uncanny and strange. I discussed the influence both of traditional Chinese tales of the strange, and of broader intercultural traditions of the fantastic and weird.

Author Can Xue and NTU conference organiser Professor Shirley Chew,

Author Can Xue and NTU conference organiser Professor Shirley Chew,

In fact, one of the Chinese writers whose influence can be seen on contemporary authors just happened to be one of the keynote speakers at the conference. Can Xue‘s (残雪) strange and grotesque tales are fascinating, disturbing, and very possibly unlike anything you’ve read before… She read from one of the stories in her collection Vertical Motion, which involved ‘little critters who live in the black earth beneath the desert’ and possibly an existential crisis… You can read the full story here in The White Review.

It wasn’t only the work of established authors we heard, however. The NTU creative writing students, taught by Professor Neil Murphy, held a poetry reading for the launch of their anthology Kepulauan (meaning ‘archipelago’ in Malay). Several of the readers read poems mixing together English and Malay or Chinese, showcasing Singapore’s rich linguistic hybridity, as well as suggesting that we may well be hearing more from some of them in the future, as they join Singapore’s flourishing poetry scene.

NTU students at the launch of their book 'Kepulauan'.

NTU students at the launch of their book ‘Kepulauan’.

Two poets I was particularly happy to meet were Chee Lay Tan, and his translator Teng Qian Xi, who’s also an award-winning poet herself. Both have previously been shortlisted for the Singapore Literature Prize, and we’re happy to report that they’ll be visiting us on the Writing Chinese blog later this year, to talk about their work together. For now, you can read Qian Xi’s great essay on translating Chee Lay’s poetry here.

We ended the conference in impressive style with ‘Dinner in Paradise’, right by Singapore’s beautiful Botanic Gardens. And three days of lively discussion is certainly enough to work up an appetite for some delicious food, not to mention yet more lively discussion, whilst soaking up a warm January evening…

So thank you to Professor Shirley Chew, Seeto Wei Peng, and the staff and students at COHASS for an incredibly enjoyable and rewarding few days. And we’re looking forward to seeing you in Leeds!

Thanks as well to the brilliant Jeremy Tiang for introducing me to what’s going on in the Singapore literary scene.

And last but not least, thanks are also due to Hwa Chong Institution, United World College of South East Asia, the Anglo-Chinese Junior College, and Tanglin Trust School, for their warm welcomes.


This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

Writing Chinese January Update

It’s a new year, the new semester is just beginning, so we thought it was time for an update on what we’ve been up to, and what’s coming up!


First of all, our featured author this month is up-and-coming Shandong author Sun Yisheng 孙一圣 who, along with his translator Nicky Harman, has very kindly given us permission to reprint his surreal short story ‘The Stone Ox the Grazed’ 牛得草. Sun and Nicky have also provided audio recordings of the story in Chinese and English. We’ll be discussing the story all month on our forum, so please drop by and leave us your thoughts! (Email us if you have problems logging in). We’d love to hear what you think. (And of course the great thing about surrealist work is that we’ll allowed to keep guessing…!)

On a related note, ‘The Stone Ox that Grazed’ was first published by the wonderful Asymptote journal, which is a great champion of literary translation and world literature. Sadly, one of their major sponsors has pulled out, and they currently have a fund-raising appeal which will close at midnight on 29 January, the results of which will determine their future. If you’d like to read more about it or contribute, you can find their campaign page here. They have been an enthusiastic supporter of our project and others like it, so we’re crossing our fingers for them!

Snow_And_ShadowOn the theme of translation, our Bai Meigui translation competition is open and the deadline is 28 February and submissions are starting to come in. It’s a short piece by Dorothy Tse, and the competition is open to anyone so why not take up the challenge? We have an exciting prize which we’ll be announcing soon!

And if that’s given you a taste for translation, a translation summer school at City University in London, which will be featuring a class taught by the fantastic Nicky Harman, is now open for registration.


Nicky’s translation of our October author Chen Xiwo’s The Book of Sins (which created quite a stir in our network) has just been nominated for the Typographicalera translation award. You can see the full list of nominees and cast your vote hereVoting closes on 31 January 2015.

And Writing Chinese has been on the road! Along with a group from the University of Leeds, I’ve been at the Imagining Asia conference, held at Nanyang Technological University in Singapore, as well as taking part in school visits. A full blog post on the conference will follow soon!

Finally, we have a busy programme of exciting events lined up in the next few months. Specific dates will be announced soon, but just to give you a taste of what’s to come…

February:  We’ll be holding a talk and discussion with invited guests on ‘Contemporary Chinese Fiction in a UK market: the publisher’s view’.

March: In collaboration with our sister project at Leeds, Staging China,there’ll be an opportunity to watch a new Chinese drama in English – Murder on the Lalian River, by Wan Fang, and attend a Q&A.

April:  We’ll be joined in Leeds by author and poet Han Dong 韩东 and his translator Nicky Harman, for a reading and Q&A.

May: Author A Yi 阿乙 will be visiting us for a reading and Q&A.

July: We’ll be finishing off the academic year with the Writing Chinese symposium – more news on this to follow soon!

This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

On Translation and Chilli Bean Paste

photo (1)

On Saturday November 1st, 35 keen translators – ranging from undergrads to postgrads, and from those simply with an interest in translation to professional translators – gathered together at the University of Leeds under the watchful eyes of translator Nicky Harman and author Yan Ge. Our task – to put together a translation of an excerpt from Yan Ge’s novel 我们家.

We’d been given the text in advance, to give us chance to prepare. So after fortifying ourselves with lunch and lots of coffee (clearly a key part of the translation process), we were split into groups and got down to work. Each group was a mix of nationalities and levels, which meant that no-one felt out of their depth or worried to ask questions. Nicky and Yan Ge were both on hand to provide guidance, and with each group taking a paragraph to work on, we came up with a full translation.

One of the most interesting things was the different ways in which people got around certain tricky problems. What do you call the place in a town where an outdoor cinema screen was set up? What’s a ‘wedding toast’? Is he fondling or groping? What exactly is going on in this brothel? And just how do you make chilli bean paste? (As to the chilli bean paste, we’re still none the wiser – Yan Ge happily informed us that she’s no idea, either – she just made it up, something her translator was somewhat horrified to learn.)

Having both author and translator there to give feedback was fantastic, and highlighted something that Nicky had brought up during the public talk in the morning – even if there are certain words and phrases which you can’t quite get over in the same way (Yan Ge, for example, uses a lot of Sichuan colloquialisms), you can always translate mood, narrative, and affect.

The day finished with an exercise on translated style and ‘translationese’ (and credit goes to translator Katy Derbyshire here, who came up with the exercise, which was then adapted by Nicky). We were given a worksheet with a number of short extracts, and had to work out which ones had been written in English, and which were translated. It was fascinating trying to work this out, and realizing how difficult it is! It certainly gave us all food for thought…

The day finished with our big announcement – the opening of the Bai Meigui Translation Competition. We’ll be writing more about this on the blog shortly, but you can find the details here, and make a start on your translation!

So thank you once more to Yan Ge and Nicky, and to all of our attendees.  And special thanks to Scott and Hannah for giving up their time to help out.

This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

Join the ‘Writing Chinese’ Book Club!


Our first event is just over a week away, and our book club is up and running! Every month, we’ll be choosing a featured author, and we’ll put one of their stories – in Chinese and in English translation – up on our site, as well as audio recordings where possible. We’re going to be having a book club meeting in Leeds every month – held in Costa in Blackwell’s Bookshop, just across the road from the university. Our first meeting will be on Wednesday October 15th, from 3pm to 4.30.

But we also have a ‘virtual’ book club, if you can’t get to Leeds. All you need to do is join our mailing list, and you’ll be signed up to the Writing Chinese network. Our discussions of each month’s story will be held on our forum. See here for more details on how to join.

So head over to our Book Club page to find October’s writer, Chen Xiwo, and his story ‘The Man with the Knife.’

But be warned, it’s not for the faint of heart…

This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

Countdown to our official launch!

It’s getting close… There’s just over a month to go before our official launch event on October 9th, so to accompany the countdown we’re going to be posting interviews and articles to the blog, introducing some of the translators, writers and publishers that we’re going to be working with over the coming months. We’ll also be putting up more details of our coming events, including our translation masterclass and competition, which promises to be extremely exciting!

We certainly can’t wait. Now, let the countdown begin…

This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

What We’re Doing

We have plans. Big plans.

We’re getting ready for our launch event on October 9th, and are excited to be joined by author Chen Xiwo, translator Nicky Harman, and publisher Harvey Thomlinson. Chen’s new book The Book of Sins, has been translated by Nicky, and is published by Make-Do Studios, and we’re looking forward to hearing Chen read his work, followed by what promises to be a lively discussion between all three of our guests!

Chen Xiwo is also the first featured author of our monthly book club. We’re inviting you to join us each month to read and discuss two stories, which will be available in Chinese and in English translation. If you’re in or around Leeds, come and join in the discussion in person! We’ll be holding a book group meeting once a month (details to follow). If you’re not lucky enough to live in Yorkshire, however, then our virtual book club will be open to carry on the discussion online. And we’ll be announcing our line-up of authors very soon…

If reading isn’t enough for you, we also have our translation masterclass and competition. To be run by Nicky Harman and special guest author, the masterclass will be held in November at the University of Leeds. Nicky is one of the most experienced Chinese-English translators in the UK, and was one of the judges for the Harvill Secker Young Translators Prize in 2012, so we’re delighted that she’s coming to Leeds for this.

We’ll be posting again soon with more information on all of these events, and already looking forward to our launch!

This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

Welcome to the ‘Writing Chinese’ Blog

We will update this blog regularly with interviews, links, and information about the project. Check again soon for the first of our blog post interviews with Chinese authors, translators, readers, and others working in the field.

This entry was posted in Writing Chinese.

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