Chinese Translator Wins International Award

2015-April-30 08:53 -- Shenzhen Daily

CHINESE translator Chen Maiping recently received the 2015 Swedish Literary Translation Award given by the world-renowned Swedish Academy.

Chen, who is now living in Sweden, is the third Chinese translator to win the award. The other two Chinese translators, Li Zhiyi and Gao Ziying, shared the award in 1984, according to Chinese-language newspapers.

Born in 1952 in Jiangsu Province, Chen is a Chinese writer and poet, known by the pen name Wan Zhi. He started his career in the 1970s as a short story writer and gradually became well-known as a translator after translating literature from English and Swedish into Chinese.

For Chen, the key to his success is his beloved Chinese literature.

“I have always loved writing. My biggest passion in life is writing novels, not translation. Although I have lived in Sweden for about 25 years, I just started translating literature about four years ago,” Chen said.

Chen said that he would not be where he is today without his years of writing in Chinese.

“My previous works helped me build a good foundation for literary translation. For literary translation, good language skills are very important, but not as important as literary skills,” he said.

As a professional author, Chen studied Chinese literature for his bachelor’s and master’s degrees and has taught Chinese language at a Swedish university for many years. “I have never learned Swedish professionally in my life. It’s just that I have lived here for so long, so I managed to speak Swedish,” he said. “For many years, I put my efforts into Chinese and Chinese writing. I never thought about becoming a professional translator. It is impossible to make a living by translating. It’s just something I found interesting.”

Chen has translated important works by many great authors such as Kjell Espmark, chairperson of the Swedish Academy, and two Nobel Prize winners, Tomas Transtromer and Harry Edmund Martinson.

“When I choose a book to translate, I always follow my passion and interests. I will never just translate best-selling books for profit. For example, Sweden is known for its crime novels, and I also like to read them in my spare time. But I would rather translate classic works instead of crime books because I think that these classic works are very helpful regarding Chinese literature. They can inspire Chinese people and Chinese writers,” he said.

Because of Chen’s high standards of translation, it is difficult for him to balance his work and the market. “Unlike many translators, I am not very concerned about the market. The market is something publishing houses concern themselves with, not me. Of course, I don’t want publishing houses to lose money when they publish my books, so I don’t make money from royalties like other authors or translators. The Ministry of Culture in Sweden subsidizes my works. I use the subsidies to help support the publishing houses that print my books,” he said.

When Chen finished translating “Aniara,” written by Martinson, the Swedish Ministry of Culture subsided Chen with about 50,000 Swedish Krona (US$7,010). “I did not keep the money but gave all of it to the publishing house to help them print the books. Later, the book won an award in China, so the publishing house gave me some of the award money. But that was not a royalty,” he said.

For Chen, his greatest difficulties come not from the market or the publishing houses, but the quality of his translations that concern him the most.

“I like to translate important and outstanding works, but these works are very difficult in terms of translation. For example, Martinson has a very unique language style. Therefore, his works are very important and influential in Sweden, but he is hardly known in the rest of the world. As a translator, it is very challenging to keep the author’s style and uniqueness,” he said.

As a bridge connecting Chinese and Swedish literature, Chen hopes that Chinese writers don’t think too highly of the Nobel Prize.

“The Nobel Prize in Literature has always been overemphasized by Chinese literary circles. I think as an author, it is more helpful to treat the prize as an ordinary honor, not something mysterious. The Swedish Academy also asked me to help translate a handbook about the prize that included its members, winners and the process. They hope that this handbook can help the Chinese media gain a proper understanding of the prize,” he said.

Chen is now working on translating another book by Martinson, which he describes as “very difficult and challenging.”

“Translation is like lighting at a theater. It should lighten up the character and the stage. As a translator, I am not the center of the work. Therefore, I don’t want the media to promote this award among the public. It was just a small award,” he said.


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