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An identity swap for the Chinese Murakami

Murakami Haruki’s popularity in mainland China is due in no small part to Lin Shaohua (林少华), who has produced 33 volumes of translations into Chinese over the course of two decades, beginning with Norwegian Wood in 1989. With What I Talk About When I Talk About Running (当我谈跑步时,我谈些什么), Lin was passed over in favor of Shi Xiaowei (施小炜), a relative unknown who just last week was revealed to be the translator of Murakami’s latest work, 1Q84 (the mainland edition, that is: a Taiwan edition translated by Lai Mingzhu has been out since November).

The Southern Metropolis Daily‘s Sunday book review section (April 25) included a short article based around a conversation held on Sina’s microblog host when an earlier SMD report announcing the translation’s upcoming release was linked by Tan Shanshan.

Some quotes:

Atage: “I read for a decade before I realized I was reading Lin Haruki, not Murakami Haruki, and that’s the shame of it.”

Tan Shanshan: “Actually, it’s Lin Haruki that lots of people like.”

Lao Yao: “The new translator can’t compare to Lin Shaohua. Changing a decade-long reading habit is killing me.”

Huang Yuning of Shanghai Translation Publishing House: “The scariest thing is that lots of people, including those who don’t read Japanese and those who don’t really read Murakami, join in the talk of who is more ‘faithful’ and who has a better feel for the language. The question of ‘faithfulness,’ of familiarization versus alienation, is something that translation theory has a hard time working out, so why are you so easily convinced? Commercialism is understandable, controversy is understandable. Out of commercial aims, like for Running, to attack the original translator all over the press, that’s just….”

Perhaps Lin identified too much with the author. He has been quoted as saying, “When I’m not translating Murakami, after a few days I feel uncomfortable” and “When Murakami says half a sentence, I know what he’ll say in the second half.”

See also: Tim Parks in The Guardian: Why translators deserve some credit. And a review of Edith Grossman’s Why Translation Matters at Quarterly Conversation which quotes this paragraph:

One of the brightest students in a seminar I taught recently asked whether, in The Autumn of the Patriarch, we were reading Rabassa or Garcia Marquez. My first, unthinking response was “Rabassa, of course,” and then a beat later, I added, “and Garcia Marquez.” The ensuing discussion of how difficult it is to separate the two, and what it meant to us as readers, writers, and critics to make the attempt, was one of the liveliest and most engrossing we had that semester.

Image from Golden Book.


I found this graphic posted on a Sina microblog run by Vista magazine (看天下). I wasn’t able to find the original source — Vista is a digest magazine that lifts the majority of its content from other publications, so the image is most likely from somewhere else.

Commenters got a kick out of the edgy, unharmonious illustration of “hedonism.”

I’ve added English labels to the -isms illustrated:

Lu Jinbo’s submission guidelines

Super-agent Lu Jinbo has the following submission information posted in the sidebar to his blog:

Submission email address:



  1. Scope is restricted to literature. Target audience is ages 11-30.
  2. Submission format: (a) author introduction, 300 characters; (b) synopsis, 500 characters; (c) sample chapters, 3000 characters (must include opening).
  3. If you do not receive a reply within a week, your submission has not been accepted. Please forgive us for not replying to every submission. If we are interested in your synopsis and sample, I will contact you by email or phone to request additional chapters or the entire work.

Not replying with a rejection is a little iffy (did he hate it, or did it end up in his spam folder?), but the one-week turnaround is impressive, particularly for someone with Lu’s visibility and reputation for hefty advances.

Is Lu an agent or a publisher? In the US, agents tend to have far quicker response-times than  publishers, but the distinction between the two is not as clear in China. Lu’s got his own cultural company that has book number deals with a state-owned publisher, so it’s not like he’s going to have to shop around titles once he decides to take them on.

Signing with the Writers’ Association

Liu Cixin (刘慈欣), a science fiction writer who up until recently has been based in Niangziguan, Shanxi Province, recently posted to the SMTH BBS about signing a contract with the province’s Writers’ Association:

On May 12, I became one of nine writers in the province under contract to the Shanxi Writers’ Association. It’s actually a book agreement: they give part of the money upon signing, and after finishing they give another portion. I signed for Three Body II. I wasn’t cheating them: I started writing after I applied, and by the time it was approved, it had already been published for some time, since after all I couldn’t stay idle for the year in between. They apparently aren’t very clear about the publishing schedule of science fiction novels. The other writers under contract are all worried that they won’t be able to finish on time, and only three of the ten writers in the previous group extended their contracts. They’re going to appoint an older writer to give us special instruction. The previous group had four months’ training at the Lu Xun Institute (impossible for me), and took a trip to Egypt. I hope there’s an opportunity to go abroad, even if just to Ethiopia.

Three Body II: The Black Forest (三体II:黑暗森林), the second volume of an alien invasion trilogy, was published in June, 2008, and made a number of best-of lists for the year.

Further down the thread, in response to an observation that the system seems basically like a book-selling arrangement, he writes:

It’s more like government support. The association sees no profit itself, and I don’t know anyone there. It’s an acknowledgement of science fiction, which is pretty admirable to see in the great realist stronghold of Shanxi Literature.

The five fingers of Chinese poetry

In a February blog post, Yao Dunlin compared five well-known contemporary Chinese poets to fingers:

  • Hai Zi (海子), the middle finger: The middle finger is the longest of the five, and Hai Zi was unquestionably the most poetically talented of these five individuals.
  • Yu Jian (于坚), the thumb: The thumb is short and thick, just like Yu Jian. But it is also the most powerful.
  • Yi Sha (伊沙), the little finger:  The little finger is the weakest of the five, just like Yi Sha has the least skilled qualifications of these five people. However, the little finger is often used for disdain, satire, mockery, and defiance. It is the crankiest, most stubborn, most dislikable, and showiest.
  • Xi Chuan (西川), the nameless finger: The nameless finger is the one that wears the ring, and without a doubt it is the most dignified of the five for fitting reasons. Yet the name “nameless” itself involves thought, philosophy, depth, and reason.
  • Bei Dao (北岛), the index finger: The index finger is the hero that “points to the mountains and rivers” and “sets people afire with words.” A hero ought to have a hero’s indomitability. This Bei Dao most certainly possesses. He is a unequivocally a genuine hero.

Via Yi Sha’s blog, which tends to repost anything that mentions his name, however briefly.