Translating Chinese literature – Banished!/Chinesische Literatur übersetzen – Han Dong

Nicky Harman teaches technical translation at Imperial College, London, and translates modern Chinese novels in her spare time.

There is a video interview with her at Jostrans.

See also Paper Republic, a site of resources on Chinese literature for publishers and translators, which I believe she helped seet up.

Last year I read a novel translated by Nicky and published by the University of Hawaii Press, Banished! by Han Dong. Google Books has a bit on it.

I was persuaded to buy it at Arthur Probsthain last year by Mr Probsthain when I was stocking up on translations of classical Chinese novels. Banished! is a partly autobiographical account of banishment to the countryside during the Cultural Revolution. It is not strictly chronological. It starts with the family’s journey to the countryside and ends with what happened some years later, but in between the earlier story of the family is sketched in, and a number of thematically arranged chapters move from the more straightforward elements such as the choice of a village to go to, the journey to the village, and life there, to a variety of difficulties.

On the Google Books page, you can see the Notes on Translation, where Harman explains the use of terms like CultRev for the Cultural Revolution – which I found odd. I also wondered about using an exclamation mark in the title.

The novel gives a very detailed account of what the village was like, how the family planned to survive (the father’s first plan was to Strike Root, to settle the family in the village as that might be the best they could hope, and Strike Root was the meaning of the original Chinese title). It also describes the various ways people had of dealing with the Cultural Revolution and banishment, whatever their position in society. One chapter traces the history of the family’s four dogs, at least three of whom were eaten by the villagers, partly because they were better fed than most dogs. The author does not condemn the characters. He gives a rather descriptive view of life during the Cultural Revolution, through which the suffering gradually appears.

The villagers were consumed with envy at first when they saw the Taos feeding meat to their dog. Then they relaxed. They actually hoped that the Taos would fatten him up even more, into delicious dog meat. Patch was converting the Taos’ meals into food that they could eat. They had already found out that the Taos did not eat dog meat, especially not Patch’s meat (they quite understood this). But dogs were there to be eaten. If he were not, it would be a waste of a nice, fat dog.

Anyway, Google Books now allows you to read the beginning.

I had also read K – The Art of Love by Hong Ying, which I didn’t realize till now that Harman had translated. It was based on Julian Bell’s relationship with a married Chinese woman in the 1930s – see Wikipedia.

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