Fostering Chinese-Arabic Literary Links

The guest of honor at this year’s Beijing International Book Fair, set to take place from August 26-30, is the United Arab Emirates:

China-Three-Sichuan-1981This marks the growing ties between, if not contemporary Arabic and Chinese literatures, at least the two literary spheres. According to China’s Global Times, the Emiratis “will stage a series of activities to introduce Chinese readers to Arab history, culture, film and art[.]”

This event comes on the heels of an interview with Chinese-Arabic translator Mai Ashour about what she suggests is the “growing popularity” of Chinese literature in Egypt.

“Chinese literature is becoming more popular in Egypt nowadays,” Ashour told Yibada magazine. She said that Egyptians “are eager to read about Asian literature, especially Chinese literature, because they think China is similar to Egypt.”

Ashour attributed part of the growing populatirty to Mo Yan’s 2012 Nobel Prize. Since the announcement of the Swedish prize, two of the author’s novels have been published in translation in Egypt. When the second novel was released in 2013, the culture ministry’s Refaat Sallam said that more translation of Chinese literary works was “urgently needed for cultural interaction between the Chinese and Arabs.”

Meanwhile, other countries had already been working to forge links.

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 Emirates’ Sheikh Zayed Book Award. In 2012, the Algerian Writers Union agreed to a translational partnership with China, bringing Algerian literature into Chinese and Chinese literature into Arabic.

According to a piece that appeared in the Abu Dhabi-based newspaper 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 [sic] Chinese translations direct from the Arabic started to appear in the 1920s with selections by Gibran appearing in Chinese literary magazines.”

Work by the Syrian poet Adonis has apparently been particularly well-received. He has traveled to China at least five times, and was awarded the Golden Tibetan Antelope Poetry Prize in 2013. Four of his books have been published in Chinese and the first, My Loneliness is a Garden, has sold more than 40,000 copies, according to the China Daily.

Qatar also is throwing out literary tentacles toward China: The new Qatari ‘Katara Prize,’ launched this year, promises not just translation of winning books into English and French, but also Hindi and Chinese.