Translation

Small Town

Li Jingrui looks back on her hometown - translated by Helen Wang

This is our final (and longest) piece in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in OWMagazine 单读, translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. To close the mini-season, former journalist Li Jingrui reflects on her roots, and two decades of change in smalltown China. To support more Chinese voices, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page, through which we are already close to brining you a wider range of stories like this one.

You can find the same kind of park in every small town. They’re all identical: a park with a small lake covered in water lilies, a few wooden boats that nobody rows tied to the so-called jetty, bright yellow duck-shaped motorised boats puttering around in the middle of the water. The weeping willows trail their branches as they do in poems, though their leaves are grey with dust, except in late March, when the new growth slowly unfurls, and every living thing seems to come back to life.

Translation

Letter to My Mother

Ou Ning on his career as a poet and filmmaker – translated by Nicky Harman

This is the third piece in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in OWMagazine 单读, translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. In this personal essay, literati Ou Ning remembers his hometown and reflects on his movement away from it into the world of social activism. To support further translation such as this after the series ends, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page.

 

I am in Baan Mae village, Sanpatong County, Chiangmai, Thailand. The sun has just gone down and night is drawing in. Darkness seeps across the rice fields, the bamboo forests, the banana palms and rape flowers, and as my friends light the lanterns, I feel a light breeze. I’m thinking of you, Mum, in the bitter cold of a Beijing winter, and thinking too, of our home. Xialiu, the village in Guangdong, where, just like here, smoke from kitchen fires fills the air. When I was a kid, you’d work all day in the field before rushing home to make dinner. We were all so poor back then, we could barely afford rice. Meals were mostly sweet potatoes stewed to a porridge with a little rice. Lately, I’ve been getting nostalgic for that porridge, so sweet, so perfectly thirst-slaking. I miss my life there and as the years go by, my memories grow more and more melancholy. But that is why I decided to bring you to Beijing.

Translation

The Spices of Life

Memories of a small town, by Yan Ge – translated by Poppy Toland

This piece is the second in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in OWMagazine (单读), translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. To support further translation such as this after the series ends, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page.

Not Carrying Money

Before Pi County New Town was built, the county town, Pitong, used to be so small it was like a yeerba – a sticky-rice bun filled with minced pork and greens – with all the townspeople squashed together snug but not stifled, knowing each other thoroughly, intimately. At that time, successful people were described as in the town as, “Folk who go out onto the street without a single penny on them and walk fast.”

This may sound like a good thing, but you can’t generalise.

Translation

Three Sketches of Peter Hessler

An American writer in China, by Wu Qi – translated by Luisetta Mudie

This piece, exploring the Chinese public’s many visions of Peter Hessler and the China he sees, is the first in a series of four translations of long creative non-fiction essays that first appeared in Chinese in Dandu (单读) Magazine and are translated in collaboration with Read Paper Republic. Subsequent essays from Dandu will run on Fridays over the following weeks. To support further translation such as this after the series ends, give now to our translation drive by donating to our Patreon page.
  1. The Big Meet-and-Greet

Hessler’s here. He has had three books published in China since 2011, and this is his first major meet-and-greet session with his readers here. Some say he’s the voice of the proletariat; the author of a Little Red Book for a new era. Put bluntly, more than just admiring the American author, Chinese people worship Hessler. Carrying English-language editions, traditional- and simplified-character editions – as if bringing different versions of holy scripture – they form a long line, waiting for Hessler to sign them.