Readersforum's Blog

February 7, 2013

Finnegans Wake becomes a hit book in China

Puntastic success ... Stacking shelves at a Beijing bookshop.

Puntastic success … Stacking shelves at a Beijing bookshop.

Following billboard ads, James Joyce’s nigh-incomprehensible book leaps over language barrier to reach surprising readership

By Jonathan Kaiman

After spending eight years translating the first third of James Joyce’s famously opaque novel Finnegans Wake into Chinese, Dai Congrong assumed it was a labour of love rather than money. The book’s language is thick with multilingual puns and brazenly defies grammatical conventions. It begins: “riverrun, past Eve and Adam’s, from swerve of shore to bend of bay, brings us by a commodius vicus of recirculation back to Howth Castle and Environs.”

So the 41-year-old professor at Shanghai’s Fudan University was incredulous when the translation became a surprise bestseller in China after hitting shelves last month. Backed by an elaborate billboard ad campaign, the first volume of “Fennigen de Shouling Ye” sold out its first run of 8,000 copies and reached number two on a prestigious bestseller list in Shanghai, second only to a biography of Deng Xiaoping. Sales of 30,000 are considered “cause for celebration” according to Chinese publisher Gray Tan, so 8,000 in a month has made Joyce a distinctly hot property. Ian McEwan, for instance, is considered pretty buzzy in translation, but the print run of Atonement was only 5,000 copies.

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December 10, 2012

Mo Yan, Nobel Literature Prize Winner, Says Censorship Is Necessary


This year’s Nobel Prize in literature winner, Mo Yan, who has been criticized for his membership in China’s Communist Party and reluctance to speak out against the country’s government, defended censorship Thursday as something as necessary as airport security checks.

He also suggested he won’t join an appeal calling for the release of the jailed 2010 Peace Prize laureate, Liu Xiaobo, a fellow writer and compatriot.

Mo has been criticized by human rights activists for not being a more outspoken defender of freedom of speech and for supporting the Communist Party-backed writers’ association, of which he is vice president.

His comments Thursday, made during a news conference in Stockholm, appear unlikely to soften his critics’ views toward him.

Awarding him the literature prize has also brought criticism from previous winners. Herta Mueller, the 2009 literature laureate, called the jury’s choice of Mo a “catastrophe” in an interview with the Swedish daily Dagens Nyheter last month. She also accused Mo of protecting the Asian country’s censorship laws.

China’s rulers forbid opposition parties and maintain strict control over all media.

Mo said he doesn’t feel that censorship should stand in the way of truth but that any defamation, or rumors, “should be censored.”

“But I also hope that censorship, per se, should have the highest principle,” he said in comments translated by an interpreter from Chinese into English.


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March 19, 2012

Banned novel makes Indie Foreign Fiction Prize longlist

Yan Lianke

| By Katie Allen

A novel banned by the Chinese government has made the longlist for the Independent Foreign Fiction Prize 2012, worth £10,000.

Yan Lianke’s novel Dream of Ding Village, about a blood-selling scandal in contemporary China, was given a “three nos” order—no distribution, no sales, no promotion—in 2005.

Its English translation, published by Corsair, is joined on the 15-strong longlist by titles translated from the Spanish, Hebrew, Norwegian and nine other languages, with Random House imprints taking six of the 15 titles, including Haruki Murakami’s 1Q84: Books 1 and 2.

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November 8, 2011

Pushing China’s Limits on Web, if Not on Paper

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , , , — Bookblurb @ 5:25 am

Word Crimes: Murong Xuecun is a novelist who writes about corruption in China. In the last year, he has emerged as one of the most outspoken critics of censorship.


When the novelist Murong Xuecun showed up at a ceremony here late last year to collect his first literary prize, he clutched a sheet of paper with some of the most incendiary words he had ever written.

It was a meditation on the malaise brought on by censorship. “Chinese writing exhibits symptoms of a mental disorder,” he planned to say. “This is castrated writing. I am a proactive eunuch, I castrate myself even before the surgeon raises his scalpel.”

The ceremony’s organizers forbade him to deliver the speech. On stage, Mr. Murong made a zipping motion across his mouth and left without a word. He then did with the speech what he had done with three of his best-selling novels, all of which had gone through a harsh censorship process: He posted the unexpurgated text on the Internet. Fans flocked to it.

Murong Xuecun (moo-rong shweh-tswen) is the pen name of Hao Qun. At 37, he is among the most famous of a wave of Chinese writers who have become publishing sensations in the past decade because of their canny use of the Internet.

Mr. Murong’s books are racy and violent and nihilistic, with tales of businessmen and officials engaging in bribe-taking, brawling, drinking, gambling and cavorting with prostitutes in China’s booming cities. He is a laureate of corruption, and his friends have introduced him at dinner parties as a writer of pornography.

That his books are published at all in China shows how the industry, once carefully controlled by the state, has become more market-driven.

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September 6, 2011

Beijing 2011: A Day of Deal-Making

Filed under: Book fairs — Tags: , , — Bookblurb @ 5:38 am

By Teri Tan

The International Hall remains busy on day three of the fair. Most participants have now come to accept the logistical issues that accompany the new middle-of-nowhere venue, and are focused on their main goal of making new deals and partners.

For rights executive Emily Gerbner of Bloomsbury Publishing, this first visit to Beijing has been busy and most productive. The company’s extensive list means that there is always something for someone. Its visual arts titles and commercial fiction are doing well here. Berg Publishers list, for instance, are popular with universities with art, design and fashion courses. “I am also pleasantly surprised that two re-issued publications — The Wombles, which is very English, and Gerald Rose’s The Tiger-Skin Rug — have found favor with Chinese publishers. It proves that this market is not cut-and-dried, and you never really know what would work here.”
A few booths away, publisher Jessica Kingsley sees more demand for titles on parenting, children-specific issues and special needs. “Issues such as dealing with anger, as depicted in our picture book, The Red Beast, and titles on music therapy are garnering attention.” Her imprint, Singing Dragon, has already published eight titles with content bought from China. “We have one visitor — whom we later found out to be a reputable author — dropping by our booth with an almost-complete manuscript in English yesterday. It seems like our reputation in publishing authentic Chinese material without injecting Western viewpoints is growing.”

August 30, 2011

Chinese writers call for more book translations, ideas in writing

By Chi-Chi Zhang

BEIJING: More Chinese books need to be translated and more thought-provoking ideas need to be used in novels to elevate China’s literary standing in the world, some of the country’s top writers said Friday.

Speaking to promote China’s top literary award – the Mao Dun Literature Prize – the authors said modern Chinese literature still does not attract many Western readers.

“Chinese people’s knowledge of Western authors still far outweighs Westerners’ knowledge of Chinese authors,” said Liu Xinglong, author of the winning book, “Heavenly Mission.”

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June 13, 2011

Was this the week that China’s rise to world dominance finally became unstoppable?

Filed under: Media — Tags: , , , — Bookblurb @ 7:14 am

Click to buy

By Ian Morris

The Ikea superstore in the port city of Dalian, China, is a blue-and-yellow monument to the global reach of Western commerce, but any shopper stumbling out through the back door would be confronted by a jaw-dropping symbol of rapidly changing times. In the docks behind the store sits a 60,000-ton aircraft carrier.

This huge ship – nearly three times the size of Britain’s sole remaining carrier, HMS Illustrious – was originally built in the Soviet Union.

Still under construction when communism collapsed, it was bought by a Hong Kong company, which claimed it was going to tow the ship to Macau and turn it into a floating hotel and casino.

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