Translation

Qinghe Prison

A short story by Bei Ling, translated by Scott Savitt

It’s afternoon. I’m being transported in a military jeep. On the road I ask the undercover officer: “Where am I being taken?”

“To a hotel,” the plainclothes officer scoffs.

The jeep is speeding down a newly paved freeway in Beijing’s faceless western outskirts.

The jeep slows down and enters a compound surrounded by a towering wall. An electric fence lines the top of the wall, and armed soldiers man the guard towers.

Next to the iron gate is a sign that says: Qinghe Prison.

I feel like an explosion has gone off in my head.

I am escorted into the detention center’s office. As soon as I get inside, a prison guard snatches my glasses.

Without my glasses I am half-blind. I start to protest, but the guard kicks me and shouts: “Squat down and get your hands behind your head!”

I dodge the brunt of his blow, and start to say: “Please don’t hit me….” when he kicks me again, this time much harder, sending me staggering into the corner of the room.

The plainclothesman that escorted me here says with a laugh: “Did you really think you were going to a hotel? You might be alive when you arrive here, but there is no guarantee that you won’t leave a corpse!”

Translation

Love Tips from a Himalayan Forest

Excerpts from a forgotten Chinese love tract, translated by Jonathan Keir

In his 1940 novella Aiqing zhi Fuyin, Tang Junyi’s lapsed Zoroastrian protagonist, the deracinated “world philosopher” Delas, embodies the author’s disgust for both communism and capitalism, and his search instead for wartime refuge in a “spiritual philosophy.” Instead of explaining love away in Freudian, Darwinian or other ideological terms, Tang sought to persuade readers that “what we need to do is the opposite, namely to explain the lower spheres of human movement in terms of the higher ones.” Love, for Delas, is best understood as a transcendental source of mystery and wonder – not a predictable, Tinderesque outcome, but a triumph of human free will over such bleak determinism. – Jonathan Keir

 

Translation

Arriving in London

An essay by Wu Qi, translated by Allen Young

Ed: Over the last years, partnered with Paper Republic, we have run two seasons of translations from One Way Street Magazine (单读) , a quarterly literary magazine that grew out of the iconic Beijing bookstore of the same name (read more of its history here). To put a cap on it, after various home takes on China, here is a short essay by One Way Street editor Wu Qi on his impressions of London, which first appeared at NeoCha.

The first thing I noticed about London were the chimneys. On the outskirts of town, each and every residential building, large and small, is crowned with a brick-red or pale-yellow stack, darkened to a coal black by years of smoke – a silent relic of the Industrial Revolution. As my train pulled into Liverpool Street Station, the tangle of tracks, taut wires and cellular equipment converged onto a single path, and my ignorance was lulled by a strange physical familiarity: if, on the outside, the station was an airy structure of brick and iron that set the tone for London’s past, on the inside it was just a dark tunnel lying at the end of some quiet country scenery.

Fiction, Translation

Sea Wind on a Bald Head

New fiction by Zhu Yiye – translated by Liuyu Ivy Chen

How does a Chinese millennial female writer respond to the moral dilemmas of contemporary China? Zhu Yiye’s dark stories offer a poignant satire, detailing ordinary citizens who sleepwalk through a society plagued by cruelty and apathy. A strong sense of dread and invisibility shroud the characters, revealing deep psychological scars. Yet Zhu rejects any simplistic statement. As she said in a 2018 interview, “I think writing is a very private thing … I don’t try to make any point in my stories because I’m very confused myself. Those who attempt to summarize a theme, learn a life lesson, or search for meaning or positive energy, will probably be very disappointed.” Despite this ambiguity, ‘Sea Wind on a Bald Head,’ the first of nine stories in her collection The Girl Who Eats Sparrow, is a lucid tale of marriage, midlife crisis, and queer identity. – Liuyu Ivy Chen

When the wind blows in the mourning hall windows, Teacher Liu loses his hearing for a second. He sees clearly his younger brother’s thin hair standing up from out of the photo, revealing a bald head, a little comical. Teacher Liu deftly raises four fingers like a rough comb, to push a few strands of hair back on his own head. In the photo, his younger brother has recovered his simple honest look, mixed with innocence and grievance––his lips parted slightly, carrying a sign of doubt. Teacher Liu sighs, unable to erase his younger brother’s doubt. He can’t even control his own ear valves as they reopen and his sister-in-law’s wailing floods his head. He feels his brain soaking in brine, sagging rapidly. 

“Why are you standing here like a fool? Go make yourself useful!” Teacher Yang shoves Teacher Liu, almost to the ground.  

Translation

The Nursing Home Rightist

A political victim in his winter years, by Yuan Ling – translated by Jack Hargreaves

Ed: This is the second of two storeis by Yuan Ling, originally published in Chinese in One-Way Street Magazine, translated and published in English in partnership with Paper Republic. Read the first here.

I alight at Beigao bus station and cut through the tunnel under the airport expressway. Tractors and tricycle carts trundle past me beneath the low ceiling – entirely another world to the one atop the bridge. 

I cross a trash-strewn area and continue alongside the dry and scorch marked grass verge. I can see the pair of stone lions that guard the nursing home gate. A kiosk sits right inside as a reminder for visitors to buy something.