Insult A Nation’s Literature, Win its Prize

One good reason to learn German is to read the many books that have been translated into German, but not into English. While American publishing houses release fewer and fewer works translated from other languages into English, translation from various languages into German continues apace. The Czech Library, 33 volumes of Czech literature translated into German, was recently completed (G). It’s a successor to the Polish library, a large translation project headed by the Polish-German translator Karl Dedecius. It’s subsidies that make this possible, although nobody is getting rich from it. Many translators into German work for a pittance, or for free. But work they do.

The German sinologist, poet, and translator Wolfgang Kubin is the latest to be recognized. Today, he was awarded the Chinese State Prize (G) in Beijing for his many translations of works of Chinese literature into German. Which is pretty stunning. Although Kubin is fascinated by Chinese literature and culture in general, he recently declared in an interview that most contemporary Chinese literature is "crap," because its authors never address controversial themes. Kubin’s view is that a modern society "needs critics, because without critics it is doomed to death." He calls many contemporary Chinese authors "cowards." In the link just above, he notes that many Chinese authors come to Germany for literary "vacations" and are content to be thought of as dissidents. But when they go back to China, they collaborate with the authorities. They permit portions of their works to be censored so that their books can appear in their native countries. Powerful politicians and writers in China, he says, "somehow, for various reasons, actually completely work together, and I don’t really have a complete picture of how that operates."

Nevertheless, he won the prize, awarded directly by the Chinese government. Perhaps it’s a sign of tolerance, he says, but he’s not completely sure…

One thought on “Insult A Nation’s Literature, Win its Prize

  1. That’s a great story. Must be that nobody’s feverishly translating German into Chinese, at least not the works or sayings of Herr Kubin.


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