Arabic Literature in Chinese

Chinese fiction is hhhhot, the magazine BusinessWeek unsurprisingly reports. 

Sorry, google image search for Chinese-Arabic translations didn’t turn up any secular literature.

The Chinese reportedly worked hard to get “their” literature Nobel, which is, more specifically, Mo Yan’s 2012 Nobel. This makes it a banner year for China’s “soft literary power,” as the nation was also (controversially) the market focus at this year’s London Book Fair. Slowly or quickly, readers in other countries are opening their eyes to Chinese literature.

For Arab readers, too, more Chinese literature is coming. It was 2011 when Chinese professor Chung Jikon — head of the Chinese Society for Arabic Literature Studies — was named Cultural Personality of the Year by the Sheikh Zayed Book Award. And lately, according to Youm7, the Algerian Writers Union has agreed to a translational partnership with China, bringing Algerian literature into Chinese and Chinese literature into Arabic. (What sorts of books will be translated, and approved by whom, I don’t know.)

Apparently, according to a piece that appeared in The National in 2011, “China’s first efforts to translate Arabic go back to the mid-18th century, when Chinese Muslim scholars translated selected verses of the Quran. But the first Arabic title to hit the mainland, in the early 1900s, was the Thousand and One Nights, though in a translation derived from secondary sources such as English and Japanese texts.”

“Authentic Chinese translations direct from the Arabic started to appear in the 1920s with selections by Gibran appearing in Chinese literary magazines.”

Jurji Zaidan’s novels have been translated into Uyghur, a language spoken by a minority-Muslim group in China. Perhaps other Arabic works have been translated into Uyghur as well?

Anyhow, The National doesn’t mention how many contemporary titles have been translated into Chinese or other languages spoken in China, or what sort of particular difficulties are faced by Arabic-Chinese translators. But it’s fun to speculate about, anyhow.


  1. There’s a great resource run by UNESCO to search for book translations: They show 27 books that have been translated from Chinese to Arabic and 149 books that have been translated from Arabic into Chinese. (Interesting that so many more go one way than the other.) I don’t know either Arabic or Chinese though, so I can’t tell much about what has been translated, other than recognizing a few authors’ names. It looks like several of Mahfouz’s novels have been translated into Chinese.

    1. Oh, yes, I’ve looked there before, thanks! It’s definitely interesting, although not comprehensive….translations into Arabic aren’t well-tracked (some don’t have ISBNs, etc.) so many aren’t known about. But still, I’d think it reasonable that more might go into Chinese, it’s a bigger readership and the cultural machinery has so much more grease.

      But…still not much. Lots of separate listings of translations of 1,001 Nights. Then yep, Mahfouz. Mai Ziade. Khalil Gibran. Kalila w Dimna. …

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