th Century French Literature in China Huang Hong Rose May France

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					  A Critical Survey of Translation and Reception of the 20th Century

                               French Literature in China

                                         Huang Hong

Abstract: The translation and reception of the 20th century foreign literatures in China reflect the

cultural movements and literary trends in China. In particular, the translation and reception of

contemporary French literature in China illustrate the dynamics of cultural exchange between the

East and the West. Through the analysis of the change of cultural policies, the development of

literary studies, the dialogue and cooperation between Chinese and French writers, authors,

translators and publishers, this paper points out that the translation and reception of the 20th

century French literature in China have made great achievements while there are new challenges

in a multi-cultural context.

Keywords: 20th century French literature; Translation and Reception

     In China’s book stock of “translated literature”, French literary works take up an

important position. In 1898, the publication of Alexandre Dumas fils’s The Lady of

the Camellias, translated by Lin Zhu and Wang Shouchang together, was the

beginning of the translation and reception of French literature in China. In the past

century, while the Chinese researchers and translators of French literature worked on

translation and research of French literature, they also paid close attention to the
development and trend of 20th century French literature. Since the opening-up and

reform in the 1980s, translation of modern and contemporary French literature in

China has become more popular than ever.

    There are three phases through the one hundred years’ translation of French

literature in China. The first one is the beginning period of May Fourth new literature

movement. During this period, translation of French literature by Chinese writers and

scholars bore distinguishing characteristic of the time and was a voluntary choice of

the double enlightenment of ideology and literature. It is represented by the

translation of enlightening ideologists Voltaire and Rousseau, and is supplemented by

Victor Hugo’ novels which disclose Western social reality and Romain Rolland’s

“great courage doctrine of daring to challenge the Gods”. The second one is the

development period of Chinese modern and contemporary literature in 1920s and

1930s. The most significant characteristic of this period is the interpenetration of

foreign literature translation and new literature movement. China’s new literature

actively draws lessons from French literature, and adopts its theory and creative

model of Critical Realism, Realism, Naturalism and Symbolism, “to make it work for

us” from the standpoint of localization. This literature phenomenon of “writer affects

writer”, “genre creates genre”, translation and creation “depend on each other” is

prominently reflected on Luxun, Maodun, Bajin, Li Jieren, Luling, Liang Zongdai, Li

Jinfa and other literary masters. The third one is the revival period of Chinese modern

literature. With the thawing in the fields of ideology and economy, and the policy of

opening-up and reform, translation of foreign literature and local literature on
Mainland China again revive and develop vigorously. This period’s focus is French

contemporary works, while translation and publication mechanism and forms of

cultural exchange develop in a mode of plurality and co-existence.

   First: barely warm but still cold: minor upsurge from 1950s to early 1960s

    Since the foundation of People’s Republic of China, the world’s eyesight has

focused on the socialist construction under the leadership of Chinese Communist

Party, and the western progressive intellectuals (“fellow travelers”) were full of hope

for a “socialist China”. While opening doors to a few progressive westerners, China,

guided by the general policy of “making the foreign things serve China, making the

past serve the present”, directed its attention to western civilization, introduced

foreign literary works in an organized, planned and selective way, aiming at classical

writers and their representative works. Therefore French literature received relatively

systematic translation and interpretation. Besides the two choices of ideology and

literature, politics was another standard, thus translation of French literature in 19th

century focused on Realist and Naturalist writers: Balzac, Zola, Maupassant. At the

same time major works of 20th century progressive writers such as Romain Rolland,

Henri Barbusse, Aragon, Paul Eluard were energetically introduced, while there were

few translation of other contemporary French writers.

   During this period, China’s choices of translation of French literature fully met the

cultural policy of special context of that age: using Mao Zedong’s literary theory as
the guiding principle, using Yan’an literature as guidelines, emphasizing the social

political function of literature. To a certain extent, political standpoint determines the

existence and value of literary works, and translation circles’ attitude also rose and

fell according to it. For example, today Chinese scholars’ final judgment for Sartre is

“He has major differences from traditional ideology in face of world and human

existence, and has significant values for China’s ideological reformation and attention

of individual existence discourse in the later half of 20th century. As for ideological

depth and width, Sartre certainly influenced a whole generation.” But in the early

1950s, Sartre was considered a representative figure of bourgeois ideology, and his

ideology and works met criticism and rejection as a “reactionary” and “Survivalism”.

He was once invited by Chinese government to visit China as a “progressive writer”,

because he publicly declared pro-Communism and pro-Soviet Union after WWII. In

1951 Sartre actively devoted himself into rescuing French communist Henri Martin

who went to jail because he refused to serve in the army as a way to protest against

the war in Indochina. However, indignant at Hungarian Revolution of 1956, Sartre

vigorously attacked French Communist Party and Soviet Communist Party, and

therefore he once again fell from a “progressive writer” to a representative figure of

bourgeois ideology. From late 1950s to early 1960s, translation of Sartre and French

existentialism continued within a restricted area, and some existentialist works were

translated as internal data. However, at these days translation of Sartre and

existentialist writers were not promoted for study, rather they were criticized as

negtive information. Reviewing history, we find these critical data actually reveal
some new atmosphere to the ever integrated Chinese intelligentsia and provided a

chance to get in touch with western contemporary ideology and literature. This is not

only misfortune of contemporary French literature in China, but also the universal fate

of the whole western culture at a special historical time.

 Second: Fractured and Ice-bound: repulsion of French literature in 1960s and


    On April 28, 1956, Mao Zedong, at the enlarged meeting of the Political Bureau

of the CPC Central Committee, proposed a policy of developing science and boosting

literature and art: in the matter of art --“let a hundred flowers blossom”, in the matter

of scholarship-- “let a hundred schools of thought contend”. From late 1950s

(Anti-Rightist Movement in 1957 as the watershed), left deviation in the field of

ideology became more and more serious, and introduction and reception of foreign

culture were all judged by proletariat ideology, absolutely obeying the political need

of “Anti-imperialist and Anti-revisionism”. As a result, introduction of French

literature and foreign literature lost its modern consciousness and spirit of subjectivity

which ran through cultural vein since the May Fourth, the inevitable result of

politicization being simplification of aesthetics. After promotion of literary normal

form of Socialist Realism by Soviet Union’s Zhdanov, censorship of ideology became

overwhelmed; even the previous celebrated works of French Realism and Critical

Realism were ruthlessly liquidated and negated. Jean Christophe translated by Fulei
was a typical example.

    After 1966, foreign literature received more thorough repulsion and criticism, and

in French literature, only The International‘s author Eugène Edine Pottier and poetry

of Paris Commune were to be introduced. Influenced by the domination of acceptance

mode of the political consciousness - “foster the proletarian ideology and eliminate

bourgeois ideology”, Chinese western literature readers who had lost subjectivity and

independent spirit could only be trapped in a dilemma, not knowing whether to refuse

or accept French literature which had numerous genres and encouraged individuality

and independent spirit. When making personal choices, translators, writers and

intellectuals often involuntarily submitted to certain political ideology or political

pragmatism, and therefore declined to a cultural chessman to be selected and


Third: Thawing and Revival: new upsurge of French literature translation since

                                      new era

    After the Great Cultural Revolution, China found itself on an area of literary

remains, all neglected tasks being undertaken. New political atmosphere followed the

dawn of reform and opening-up. The relationship between China and the West again

changed. Changing from its image as a demon-like class enemy, the West once more

entered China as an enlightener who brought new cultural ideology. Since the 1970s,

China has begun another high tide of large-scale translation of western ideology and
culture. In the eyes of many writers and readers of the 1980s, Western modernism was

a concept of wide coverage. It included all kinds literary forms as symbolism,

expressionism, futurism, stream of consciousness, surrealism, existentialism, the new

novel group, the Beat Generation, the theatre of the absurd, black humor, magic

realism and so on. Nevertheless the West had long come into an era of Postmodern

Literature and even post-postmodern literature at that time.

    In regard to one important western cultural exporter - France, Chinese researchers

and translators of French literature on one hand systematically reprinted and

retranslated works from the Renaissance to Critical Realism, on the other hand

introduced a large number of works and literary theories of contemporary writers in

order to make up for the lag caused by the rupture. Starting from literary thoughts and

schools, translators raised a new upsurge of systematically introducing modern and

contemporary French literary writers and their works, which was marked by

emergence of a group of excellent translators and several volumes of art collection

which had far-reaching influence. For example, Liu Mingjiu successively edited three

art collections: “Collection of Essays on Western Literary Thoughts in 20th Century”

(seven volumes), “Series of Research Data of Modern and Contemporary French

Literature” (ten kinds), “Series of 20th Century French Literature” (seventy kinds),

“aiming to provide solid and systematic materials for 20th century literary research

and take a share in social cultural accumulation, commencing from three aspects of

theoretical thoughts, research of writers and their works as well as translation of

works of art.” Inspired by him, China’s three generations of the old, the middle-aged
and the young translators together magnificently translated a bulk of French literature

to Chinese readers.

     In the meantime, the study of French literature underwent considerable progress;

on the one hand, academic journals like Foreign Literature Review, Foreign

Literature Studies, Foreign Literature, Contemporary Foreign Literature, World

Literature, Translation, Translations, Transcultural Dialogue, China Comparative

Literature, World Literature Recent Developments, French Studies, became a platform

for communication and debate in national literature studies, comparative literature

studies, as well as the research in world literature studies; on the other hand,

significant results and latest research on the French literary trends, French literature

context, creative writing and text generation have been quickly introduced to China

by books like Collection Que sais-je? (What do I know? Series) by the Commercial

Press, French Thoughts and Culture Series by SDX Joint Publishing and Sino-French

cultural relations Research Center of Beijing University, Comment and Introduction to

20th-Century French Thinkers by Beijing University Press, and works of influential

French literary theorists like Gaston Bachelard, Gérard Genette, Robbe-Grillet,

Maurice Blanchot, Roland Barthes and Todorov have also been translated and

introduced. Among these efforts, French University 128 Series by Tianjin People's

Publishing House since 2003 focuses on the construction of foundational and

cutting-edge discipline of literature, widens the horizons of Chinese scholars, and in

the methodology level, effectively stimulating the twentieth-century French literature

study in China. At the same time, domestic French literature scholars published a
series of important works on literature history and theory, in the formation of an

academic dialogue and resonance. If, during the May Fourth Movement the most

prominent feature of foreign literature introduction is the common prosperity of

translation and creation (when many translators are also writers), then the new period

is the common prosperity of translation and research (nowadays many scholars are

also translators).

     Since the new period, although most translators focus on the realm of translation

and research, and few join the practice of pure literary creation, "Translation

Literature" is still in a very long time a profound impact on Chinese literature. From

Obscure Poetry to “Breaking”, from “Root-Seeking Literature” to Avant-Garde novel,

from “Literature of the Wounded” to New Realistic novel, contemporary writers have

each transformation and breakthrough with "Western Learning", with the selected,

received, absorbed, and eventually transformed foreign gene. After the rejection of the

grand narrative of revolutionary literature, literature first returns to life and human life

ontology (reality) in the content, and then returns to art and aesthetic pursuit in the

form. The dual awakening of text awareness and humanism awareness soon let

Chinese writers, in the face of the typical cultural landscapes of post-industrial era

like individual, absurdness, loneliness, anxiety, (de) politicize, nihilism, have the

empathy and understanding with their foreign counterparts. Chinese contemporary

literature is also polished into its own style and discourse, becoming an integral part

of world literature.

     Translation and introduction of foreign literature have profound impact on the
cultural construction of a country and a nation; what to introduce, what to translate is

not simply an individual act of the translator on language conversion level, but also

about the cultural learning and absorbing of the country of the target language.

Owning to the cultural exchange between countries, nations and individuals,

contemporary foreign literature translation and introduction has become widespread

and direct, and the integration and interaction of foreign and local culture more

prominent. In the context of world culture, cultural differences and coexistence

provide many new topics for literature studies; French literature studies since the early

1990s have attached special attention to the Sino-French literary relations, therefore

topics like China in French writers’ works, the translation and reception of French

writers in China, French writers and Chinese culture, the dialogue of Chinese and

French writers, the Chinese writers in France and the Diaspora Literature,

contemporary French women writers and their impact on Chinese female writings all

fall to the research scope of Sino-French comparative literature.

   Fourth: Worries in Prosperity: the translation and introduction of French

              contemporary literature in the context of globalization

     In the new era, many translators of French literature are also the researchers in

the field, so the translator's subjectivity is newly demonstrated as translation and

research begin to promote each other; translators, in involving in book selections,

writing translation prologues or translation postscripts to analyze works, to guide
readers’ aesthetic orientation, and even participate in or take responsibility of editing

work. “Book Hunter” and “Copyright agent”, as an emerging industry after China's

accession to the International Copyright Convention Organization in October 1992,

has played a positive role of bridge to help publishers introduce and select books.

However, since the late 1990s, French literature in Chinese cultural territory has been

shrinking, according to a survey published in China Book Business Report: In 2003,

there were 6287 kinds of topic selection for foreign books, among which American

books accounted for 76.3%, British books 6.2%, Germany books 3.1%, Russian

books 2.2%, and even South Korea have accounted for 3%, while French books was

only part of the “rest” 1.2%. In comparison, according to Japanese scholar

TARUMOTO Teruo, China published 2,567 kinds of foreign books around May

Fourth, 1919, including 331 French books, accounting for 12.9%. Why is there such a

huge contrast? Can we reach a conclusion that: French (including literary) books, like

movies, because of their artistry, niche, and avant-courier, their translation and

introduction are receding to low ebb?

     October 1992 was a turning point, as China officially became a member of

international copyright conventions, a big step forward that the publishing industry in

China is geared to international standards. Nevertheless, to those who haven’t

prepared, it’s been undoubtedly a heavy blow. Previously Chinese publishing houses

had always followed the “Tak-ism” in publishing foreign books, translating and

publishing the new and the good ones, never thinking of applying for the copyright

and pay the royalty. As a result, once the publishing work of foreign contemporary
books was in stagnation, and publishing houses specialized in translation works lay

hands on those foreign books with public copyright, especially the piece of “free

bread”—foreign classic literature; there was a time when the market was rampant

with translation works of foreign classic literary works, for many, an original copy

with multiple translation versions, even the abominable plagiarizing and scrambling

of translation works.

     After the copyright turmoil, publishing houses gradually accepted the copyright

rules of the market; Shanghai Translation Publishing House took the lead, purchased

the copyright and published Contemporary French Literature Series, followed by

Yilin Press’s French Contemporary Literature Series, Experimental Art Series by

Hunan Fine Arts Publishing House, Midnight Collections by Hunan Literature and Art

Publishing House, Recent Award-Winning French Novels by Baihua Literature and

Art Publishing House, French detective novels: Police Station Award Winners Series

by Henan People's Publishing House, French Series by Guangxi Normal University

Press, Contemporary Famous French Writers’ Novels Translation Series by Flower

City Publishing House, and so on. The translation of contemporary French literature

has boomed again in China, to get the copyrights of works that won the Nobel Prize,

Goncourt Prize, Femina, Renaudot and other important awards, publishers even had

heated copyright battles. However, especially after the “New Fiction”, a majority of

French contemporary writers have virtually no market in China. Many

super-best-sellers in France, after introduced to China, has a rather low reception,

comparing with the enthusiastic response from British and American or Japanese and
South Korean best-sellers.

     What follows the problem of “what to translate” is “who to translate”. Looking

back at the history, the translation of French literary works was praised for its quality,

and played a leading role in the field of translation; successful translation works done

by Fu Lei, Li Jianwu, Wang Daoqian, Luo Xinzhang, Guo Hong’an, Xu Yuanchong

and other renowned translators have been regarded as classics and gone into the

category of “Translation Literature”. At present, China does not lack a dynamic team

of excellent French translators, but most of the older translators are no longer able to

take heavy load of translation works, while almost all excellent young translators have

their own hands full. In research institutions and universities, translation is not

regarded as research, and the payment publishing houses provide to translators is far

from enough. All these result in the passive loss of translators. In 1954, Mao Dun, at

the National Working Conference on Literary Translation, suggested a unified

translation plan to be drafted by literature translators of the country, “publishers and

magazine pressed, based on the present as well as potential strengths, systematically

organize translation, revision and publication works in accordance with the priority,

manpower and translators’ expertise.” But as the market economy replaced planned

economy, problems like dispersion, impetuousness of the translation works recur, the

separation between translators and insulation between publishing houses, a great

waste of manpower, material and financial recourses caused by repeated translations,

the substantial decline in quality because of the haste translation driven by the need to

take the initiative in the market, all of these problems have seriously harmed the
reputation of French books in China. Publishers seeking to maximize economic

benefits thus have doubts on French books. They fix their eyes only on a few

literature awards, and further affect the book selection, thus forming a vicious cycle.

     But imagine if translation of French literature in the translation and publishing

market is unattainable, if no timely and orderly supply of translations of French

contemporary literature is on the reading list of Chinese intellectuals, where will the

French literature studies go? If the situation of emphasizing research and neglecting

translation in academic field does not change, the heavy load and low payment of

translation works in publishing filed does not improve, not only the quality of

translation of excellent French contemporary literature can not be guaranteed, but, I’m

afraid, good translators will soon fall to extinction.

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