The ‘Writing Chinese’ Symposium
Grave-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!