A contest to translate contemporary Chinese literature has been launched amid concerns that language and cultural disparities have crippled China’s literature from going overseas.
Translated versions of Chinese literature remain in small supply around the world, while many works popular with Chinese audiences have yet to be translated into foreign languages.
“Muslim Funeral,” written by Chinese female author Huo Da, chronicles the family history of three generations of Muslim jade carvers in Beijing.
The book — winner of the Mao Dun Literature Prize, one of China’s most prestigious literary honors awarded every four years — has sold 2.2 million copies over the past 26 years since it was first published.
“There has been no fully translated copy that could show the breadth of the original version until now,” Huo was quoted by the Beijing Daily as saying.
“The pace of Chinese literature going overseas has lagged far behind that of foreign literature being introduced into China due to a lack of Chinese to foreign language translators,” said Guo Xiaoyong, executive deputy head of the China Foreign Languages Publishing Administration.
There are only about 150 to 120 translators capable of fluently translating Chinese modern classic works into foreign languages around the world, said Zhang Wei, president of the Shandong provincial writers association, quoted by the Beijing Daily.
“Translators with both language proficiency and professional knowledge of Muslim history and culture are much-needed to translate these works,” said Li Jingze, a writer with the Chinese Writers’ Association.
Cultural differences were cited as another obstacle for Chinese works to spread beyond China.
“Ordinary World,” a popular novel written by Lu Yao, has sold 5 million copies since its publication 25 years ago, but no foreign publishers have shown interest in its translation.
Lu’s writing reflects closely his own life and experience, focusing on young people from his birthplace on a revolutionary base who are striving to change their lives.
“Because of different writing styles, it is difficult to fully express some Chinese words in English, which will limit Chinese literature to a Chinese audience only,” Li added.
“Most Chinese presses are not familiar with the requirements of foreign publishers, and government departments have failed to make concentrated efforts to cooperate with major overseas publishers,” said Zhang Hongbo, deputy managing director of the China Written Works Copyright Society.
“The government should allocate more funds to attracting foreign translators to engage in the translation of Chinese works,” said Zhao, adding that digital copyrights should also be promoted in order to provide overseas Chinese learners with adequate e-books.
A total of 30 award-winning contemporary Chinese short stories from renowned writers such as Jia Pingwa, Wang Anyi and Nobel prize winner Mo Yan have been selected for translation by contest participants.
Translators will be required to choose one of 30 stories to translate into English, French, Russian, Spanish, or Arabic and to submit their works before Feb. 28, 2014. They will compete for a top prize in each language of up to 5,000 U.S. dollars.