« Discussion

Will Boom in Chinese Translations Create Unintended Consequences?

By Edward Nawotka, Editor-in-Chief

As discussed in today’s feature story, interest in Chinese literature and publishing is growing in the West — in particular as evidenced by China’s participation in the 2009 Frankfurt Book Fair, where the country was Guest of Honor, and this year’s ongoing London Book Fair, where China remains the Market Focus.

Shao Jiang's quiet protest by the Chinese pavilion was allowed to go ahead and was filmed and photographed by many Chinese publishers until staff erected a wall of banners which prevented him being seen. Jiang was arrested in Tiananmen Square in 1989 and spent 10 years in prison.

Of course, as demand grows for news about China, the demand for books from China will grow. But, notes Abrahamsen, it’s a complicated business, requiring a high degree of knowledge of the culture and, often, context from which the writing originates.

If the potential of the Chinese program in London bears fruit and deals are signed for a hundred or two hundred new titles, will translators and the industry itself be able to meet the demand? And if not, as the publishing cycles slows, will this exacerbate the ongoing lack of first-hand knowledge of the Chinese culture in the West, when it is most urgently needed? And what of censored or dissident works? Will publishers with limited access to available, capable translators prioritize deals made with more traditional, i.e. state run publishers, as a consequence of the long-term business decisions in lieu of dissident originating from outside the country or even works that would have been otherwise censored by the Chinese state?

Let us know what you think in the comments.

This entry was posted in Discussion and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. Both comments and trackbacks are currently closed.


  1. Simon Collinson
    Posted April 17, 2012 at 6:14 am | Permalink

    From a bookseller’s perspective, increased translation can only be a good thing, as there seems to be a significant latent desire for work from China. The wide availability of writing by dissidents such as Gao Xingjian and Liu Xiaobo (and interest in memoirs such as that of Zhao Ziyang) suggests to me that this kind of work will continue to find an audience. If anything, I think the interests of the audience for translated fiction would tend to skew towards subversive work – and publishers will respond to that.

  2. Posted April 22, 2012 at 11:52 pm | Permalink

    Translating a book into another language is a process of re-creation. The re-creation craft can be done by one translator, or it can be done by the joint effort of several people. I once did a publishing project with 5 books translated from Chinese into English. I first have the 5 books translated into English by good Chinese translators. I then sent the translation to a qualified English editor. She worked on the translation by way of almost re-writing. I worked closely with the editor along the way to address whatever problems she met. In the end, the project turned out beautifully. The lack of qualified translators from Chinese into other languages will be long term. The above mentioned way could be a practical solution to the problem.

  • Get Publishing Perspectives in your inbox each day and stay up-to-date on international publishing.