Penguin China’s Jo Lusby on Chinese-English Translation

In Global Trade Talk by Dennis Abrams

By Dennis Abrams

Jo Lusby

Jo Lusby

Asia Times Online looked at Penguin China’s aggressive new publication program of “modern and classic Chinese works in English for audiences in the Asia-Pacific region and beyond.”

Just last year, Penguin published a translation of Northern Girls by Sheng Keyi, a novelistic look at issues facing China’s migrant factory workers, and has an extensive catalogue of “Chinese classics in translation and promises more titles to come.”

And while the article points out that Penguin China is prohibited by law from publishing for the mainland market itself, it has joined in partnership with local publishers to produce works for the mainland, while praising the company’s efforts to “promote Chinese literature overseas” (which) “undoubtedly earns guanxi (connections),” the currency necessary “for successful business relationships, smoothing the way for its entry into that highly restricted and closely watched media market.”

In an interview with Asia Times Online, Penguin China’s managing editor Jo Lusby acknowledged that the Chinese authorities “continue to seek effective ways to engage with publishers and overseas readers. That said, Penguin’s English language publishing program is a commercial activity, and we will only publish the books that we believe our standards and can successfully find a readership.

Other highlights from the interview:

Northern GirlsAsia Times Online: Why has Penguin chosen to try to carve a niche in Chinese literature in English? Was there a particular success of opportunity that led Penguin to make this decision?

Jo Lusby: Penguin’s approach to its global business is based around local publishing, whether we are operating in India, South Africa, Australia, or China. We are very proud of our commitment to international authors, and we see no reason why our work in Asia should be any different. There is a rich pool of Chinese writers to draw upon, and working to bring them into the English language is a real privilege.

ATol: What are the principal markets (geographically) for these books?

JL: These books are initially published for English-language readers in the Asia Pacific, and will be made available internationally as e-books. We then hope to nurture these writers more widely as their reputations grow.

ATol: Is Penguin also publishing Chinese literature in Chinese? Are foreign companies allowed to publishing Chinese language books in China?

JL: Penguin is not permitted to publish books in China. We do, however, partner with publishing houses on Chinese language books. These are, in the main, works from overseas that are translated into English – a mixture of classics; lifestyle, such as the recently released “30 Minute Meals” by Jamie Oliver; and children’s [including[ Peppa Pig, Angelina Ballerina, Peter Rabbit, and more. One important exception is the autobiography of tennis superstar “Li Na,” which we developed in partnership with CITIC Press and published in 2012. We will be publishing this book in English at the end of this year, as well as releasing the updated version in Chinese.

ATol: What other Chinese classic literature has Penguin published or plan to publish? How do copyright considerations figure into these decisions?

JL: Eileen Chang, Qian Zhongshu, Lu Xun, Shen Fu, Lao Tzu, Li Po and Tu Fu are among some of the writers works published in translation as Penguin Classics and Penguin Modern Classics. China has a rich literary history, and we plan to continue to publish translations of novels, short stories and poems including new translations of “Eighteen Springs” by Eileen Chang and “Journey to the West.” Rights figures in those decisions just as they do in all our publishing. The titles published as Penguin Classics are largely out of copyright, and we acquire all relevant rights to other titles before publishing.

To read the entire interview, as well as an in-depth look at Penguin’s publication of recently rehabilitated author Lao She’s Mr Ma and Son and Cat Country, click here.

About the Author

Dennis Abrams

Dennis Abrams is a contributing editor for Publishing Perspectives, responsible for news, children's publishing and media. He's also a restaurant critic, literary blogger, and the author of "The Play's The Thing," a complete YA guide to the plays of William Shakespeare published by Pentian, as well as more than 30 YA biographies and histories for Chelsea House publishers.