Translating Contemporary Chinese Literature without Orientalism: Mo Yan’s Red Sorghum Clan (Excerpt)


  • Shanelle Sham simon fraser university


Chinese to English Translation, Topic1, Mo Yan, Chinese


Despite the popularity of translated Asian literature in the West, the window for contemporary Chinese authors’ works reaching an Anglophone audience remains narrow, as English readers have proven their gravitation towards scar literature (stories centringaround the absurdity of the Maoist era). Mo Yan’s character-lite novellas reject both the Western mythicize portrayal of China and the official Chinese account of its history. His recast of historical novels with rich, colourful, imagistic language has made him the very first People's Republic of China residence to receive a Nobel Prize in Literature. Mo Yan's achievement, though, is overshadowed by the Western denunciation of his involvement with the Chinese Communist Party and avoidance of using his international visibility as a soapbox to demand changes from his government.

While Howard Goldblatt's translation of Mo Yan's 1986 novel Red Sorghum Clan is straightforward and faithful, giving readers good access to Mo's magical literary world, he sacrifices the complex layering of Jiu’er’s characterization. My objective for this translation is to faithfully regurgitate the dimensions Mo gave to his female protagonist through a mythomaniacal landscapes depiction while avoiding Orientalized the rustic ‘Chineseness’ intrinsic to Mo Yan's literary image. 

My translator’s note details my stylistic and orthography choices, contextualize my selection, as well as clarifies my philosophy with references to translation theorists such as Umberto Eco, Lawrence Venuti and Susanne de Lotbinière-Harwood’s assertive feminist translation.