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Chinese writers call for more translations

BEIJING (AP) ― 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 despite the country’s global economic presence.

“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,” about the perseverance of teachers in poverty-stricken rural areas of China.

“Any Chinese home with a bookshelf is likely to have translations of English books, whereas, this would not be the case of Chinese books in homes in the West,” Liu said.

Although China is one of the largest publishers of books, magazines and newspapers in the world, Chinese authors still receive little recognition in literary circles outside of China, which some attribute to a lack of translations.

“Getting the opportunity to win a Nobel Prize now would require one change and that is for their literature committee to consider incorporating Chinese,” said Mao Dun award-winner Liu Zhenyun, author of “A Sentence is Worth Thousands,” about a man’s search for someone to talk to in a society without religion.

“It’s not the quality of work. ... The lack of Chinese works translated into Chinese is one of the reasons our presence is not as strong,” he said.

China disavowed its only literature Nobel Prize winner, Gao Xingjian, who left China for France in the 1980s to escape censorship. He won the prize in 2000.

Some authors said the lack of inspiration or thought-provoking ideas that affect change is one of China’s biggest hurdles to international literary recognition.

“For a story to translate and be able to touch people, we need grand and high-level ideas that provoke thought,” said Mo Yan, another Mao Dun winner and author of “Frog,” the tale of a rural midwife who struggles with an emotional breakdown after a 30-year career of performing forced abortions and sterilizations.

Mo is one China’s most well-known authors, and is one of the rare ones whose work is known in the West. His novel “Red Sorghum,” the story of a young woman working at a distillery for sorghum liquor, was adapted into a film directed by Zhang Yimou.

The Mao Dun award is named after one of the country’s top writers in the last century and was first awarded in 1982.
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