The Chinese translation and introduction of African literature in the journal of World Literature (1953-1966)
The Chinese bimonthly journal World Literature (shijie wenxue,《世界文学》) was founded in 1953, run by the Chinese Writers’ Association. It was the only journal for translated literature in China before the 1970s. The journal was initially titled Translation (yiwen,《译 文》) [Fig.2] and was changed to World Literature in 1959. It is still being published today after the suspension during the Cultural Revolution between 1966 and 1977.
As part of the cultural engagements for Afro-Asian solidarity in the bipolar world of Cold War, writers from Africa and Asia conducted the movement of literature translation in the fifties and sixties of last century. Between the late 1950s and the mid-1960s before the Chinese Cultural Revolution, the translation of African literature in China experienced a prosperous period with unprecedented scale of a wide range of African writers. However, since the 1980s until recent years, African literature translation and studies in China mainly focused on several internationally renowned writers such as Chinua Achebe and the Nobelists J.M. Coetzee and Wole Soyinka. Moreover, the history of African literature translation during that period is often absent in the current narratives about Sino-foreign literary relations or the history of translated literature in China. What is behind the shift? What is the inspiration for today’s African literature studies in China? What can we learn from the literary movement, which was motivated by the histories and realities of the Third World, in regard to the increased Africa-China engagements and the discussions of the global south currently? To lay out the ground upon which these questions may be answered, it is necessary to revisit and unfold the history.
Based on the first-hand archival material of the World Literature journal published from 1953 to 1966, this paper provides a detailed analysis of the translation and introduction of African literature in China. As the only officially recognised and issued journal for translated literature in China, World Literature published around one hundred pieces of literary works by African writers and fifteen pieces of literary reviews by writers from China and other countries. The later world-renown writers such as Chinua Achebe and Sembene Ousmane were introduced to Chinese readers in as early as the beginning of 1960s. World Literature also published several special collections of African poems and special issues of Afro-Asian literature. Tracing the route of African literature in World Literature journal, this paper unpacks its relations with China’s domestic literature mechanism and the Afro-Asian literature movements during that period. This paper also argues that, the entry of African literature to China is significant to Chinese writers’ reimagination and reconstruction of the “world literature” beyond the socialist-realist paradigm of the Soviet Union’s camp. A revisit to this history of literature translation, besides its significance to our understanding of the Afro-Asian solidarity during that period through the lens of literature, would hopefully contribute to exploring the connections and tensions within the global south today.
Lifang Zhang finished her Master’s degree in 2017 at the Department of Asian and African Languages & Literatures at Peking University and her Master’s degree in Art History at the Fine Art Department at Rhodes University in 2019. She is currently a PhD student in Art History at Rhodes University and a fellow at the Arts […]
Mingqing Yuan is a PhD candidate at Bayreuth International Graduate School of African Studies, University of Bayreuth, Germany. Her dissertation focuses on the literary interactions and exchanges between Kenya and China since the decolonizing era. Her interests include cultural exchanges during the Cold War, decolonial, anti-colonial and postcolonial studies, translation, world literature, and China-Africa studies. […]