Appetite for fantasy, sci-fi
Ahead of this year's London Book Fair in March, media reported a rise in interest in translated works among British readers, with a special mention of the wider acceptance of translated Chinese titles last year. For translator Anna Holmwood, this signals the arrival of a new era.
"This is a big moment for Chinese fiction abroad," says Holmwood, who has translated Chinese literature for almost a decade.
Her translation work, Legends of the Condor Heroes: A Hero Born, a fantasy novel written by Jin Yong (Louis Cha Leung-yung), and Liu Cixin's science-fiction book, The Three Body Problem, are shown in a Nielsen report as examples of two of the most popular Chinese fiction works in Britain in 2018. The Guardian adds the two novels "sold strongly".
"Languages in growing demand include Chinese and Arabic, alongside Icelandic and Polish," according to the Nielsen report that cites trends from 2014 to 2018.
The research by Nielsen Bookscan found that, against the commonly seen "not more than 3-percent rule" of translated literature's presence in the English-language book markets, the number for 2018 was 5.63 percent in Britain. And the total annual sales of translated fiction was worth 20.7 million pounds (27.1 million U.S. dollars).
Charlotte Collins, translator and co-chair of the British Translators Association, says: "As we can see, this proportion has almost doubled in recent years ... This is really exciting news, and welcome confirmation that publishers have responded to the proven popularity and marketability of translated literature."
The Guardian says embracing European fiction might have been triggered by the looming Brexit, and quotes Fiammetta Rocco, administrator of the Man Booker International Prize, as saying: "Reading fiction is one of the best ways we have of putting ourselves in other people's shoes. The rise in sales of translated fiction shows how hungry British readers are for terrific writing from other countries."
Holmwood adds that foreign literature is no longer "just Scandinavian crime novels" for British readers. Among the different strands that have contributed to such changes, one is that "fantasy, epic historical romances as well as science fiction are easier genres" to introduce ideas from another culture.
"People are looking for something new, and Chinese sci-fi and wuxia (martial arts) fantasy are stepping into this void," she says.
Gigi Chang, a freelance translator in Shanghai, released Condor Heroes's second book, A Bond Undone, in January. The Daily Mail in Britain calls it "a glorious, involving, kinetic epic".
Chang says besides the changing market, where translated works are becoming more prominent, the quality of Jin Yong's writing, as well as the series' experienced publisher, MacLehose Press, are factors that have led to its popularity in Britain.
"It's the mix of all these factors-timing, situation, people, most of which are beyond our control-that allows a broader readership, who might not have expressed interest in China or translated works to discover this story," she says.
"China's development over the past decades has also contributed to an increase in interest in the cultural output from this side of the world."
Having worked in the arts since the mid-2000s, Chang says she has seen the interest in Chinese culture broaden and deepen, "developing from perhaps the more direct visual aspects like contemporary art to embracing areas that require more investment of time and emotional involvement-books, films, TV, theater, games".
And publishers, literary agents, translators and scholars who took an interest in Chinese content over the past decades have paved the new way, she adds.
Other than fantasy and sci-fi, British readers are looking at established Chinese writers, as well as popular online authors, as was showcased at the 2019 London Book Fair held from March 12 to 14.
Writer Liang Hong spoke of her novel, The Light of Liang Guangzheng, during a literary chat of the fair with British translator Nicky Harman at the Guanghwa bookshop in London. A Don Quixotic figure, Liang Guangzheng is from Liangzhuang village, a place in China that Liang has studied and featured in previous works. Liang Guangzheng seeks "light" his whole life, but actually is a source of trouble for his children and fellow villagers.
"Liangzhuang is a typical contemporary Chinese rural space and my hometown. But it's not irrelevant to you here. With my stories about it, you can also take it as the center of the world, where people's fates in contemporary civilization are condensed and shared," media reported Liang as telling her London audience.
Liang's A Fortune-teller in a Modern Metropolis, translated by Michael Day, was launched online for free, leading the start of a new English-language series focusing on creative nonfiction from China, says Harman, who works for Paper Republic, an organization that promotes English translations of Chinese literature.
During the recent Bookworm Literary Festival in Beijing, Harman spoke of her latest translation, Broken Wings, written by literary master Jia Pingwa. Published by Alain Charles Asia Publishing in March, the novel tells the story of an abducted girl and her escape and her final return to the place where the crime happened, simply for lack of choice.
The plot may not be to everybody's liking, but it addresses a significant topic-crimes exist-and Jia's writing is multilayered and reveals the complications under the surface, she says.
For younger readers' delight, Web Novel, an affiliate of China Literature Group, arranged two seminars during the London fair, discussing their approach of generating quality online novels and turning them into more products, such as video games, TV series, movies and animations.
Web Novel has more than 16,000 international authors, who create 23,000 original novels in English, as well as 200 translators to present 300 serial novels translated from hit Chinese works.
At the London fair, the platform presented an original story by a college student from the United States, entitled Reborn: Evolving from Nothing. The series written in English is in progress and had 9 million "hits" by mid-March. It is written with references to Chinese culture and traditional tales.
Jacks Thomas, director of the London book fair, told Xinhua that China's participation in the book fair is also essential to Britain's publishing market.
"The number of Chinese exhibitors is always in the top 10, and it has been that way in the past three years. We are absolutely delighted with that," Thomas says, adding that some of her colleagues are picking up Mandarin to enhance communication with Chinese publishers.
Other notable titles released at the LBF 2019 included the first batch of four books of Key Concepts in Chinese Thought and Culture in English by China's Foreign Language Teaching and Research Press and Palgrave Macmillan. The Core Values of Chinese Civilization, written by Chen Lai, dean of the Academy of Chinese Learning at Tsinghua University, has been printed by SDX Joint Publishing and Springer Nature.
Sara Crowley-Vigneau, an editor with Palgrave Macmillan, says: "At a time when the understanding of different histories, languages and cultures globally is at a premium, these series provide a valuable roadmap to the concepts which underpin 21st-century Chinese society."
Holmwood may feel the same. After spending a decade specializing in selling rights and translating across cultures, she decided to step forward and start a publishing company herself, aiming to publish topquality Chinese works in the UK and the rest of Europe.
"I can see the audience is out there," Holmwood says.