Michael Smith | Kent State University

Contemporary Chinese Short-Short

Since meeting at the Kent State summer NEH fellowship, What Is Gained in Translation, Aili Mu has graciously allowed me to participate in her ambitious translation and editing project, Contemporary Chinese Short-Short Stories: A Parallel Text. Our approach has been quite simple. Aili provides versions of the stories in English, as well as author biographies and the Chinese originals as they appear on the page. From these materials, we then develop a sense of author and story and attempt to bring over something of the distinctiveness of each in a contemporary English idiom. Aili and I correspond by email and phone often, building a rhythm to our work. About midway through our project, I began to see our strategy as analogous to the way a reader might come to any translated text, an act which requires nothing more than an earnest desire for understanding and a willingness to allow that understanding to remain, at times, elusive. The reader ought to be prepared to encounter the translated text much the way he engages the people to whom he is obligated to give ongoing attention in his life. In 21st century America, The translator’s willingness to act as intermediary and proponent for both author and reader might, in fact, stand as bulwark and buttress against the entitlement of empire. Given the continual paucity of works translated from other languages into English and our current obsession with borders and separateness, the present moment cries out for such an approach. Our project, though designed for students of Chinese with sufficient para-textual elements to that end, also shows the range of possibilities of the short-short as it is currently practiced in China. So our other goal in presenting to English readers these stories is no less important than our pedagogical aims. We hope to facilitate the bringing over into English of these important voices in contemporary Chinese literature, voices shaped by particular aesthetics and informed by distinct micro as well as macro cultures, sure to delight the patient reader.

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