top of page
Search

Regina Kanyu Wang and Emily Jin on Science Fiction in Translation

In this episode we discuss the new generation of Chinese science fiction with two of the genres most brilliant translators, editors, writers and researchers. They’ve just published The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, an anthology of science fiction written by Chinese women and non-binary writers that aims to overwrite stereotypes about who Chinese sf writers are and what they write about. Regina is a SF writer who works for the Co-Futures project at the University of Oslo and Emily is a writer and translator doing a PhD at Yale in East Asian Languages and Literature. I hope you enjoy the show.


Emily Xueni Jin (she/her) is a science fiction and fantasy translator, translating both from Chinese to English and the other way around. She graduated from Wellesley College in 2017, and she is currently pursuing a PhD in East Asian Languages and Literature at Yale University. As one of the core members of the Clarkesworld-Storycom collaborative project on publishing English translations of Chinese science fiction, she has worked with various prominent Chinese SFF writers. Her most recent Chinese to English translations can be found in AI2041: Ten Visions For Our Future (2021), a collection of science fiction and essays co-written by Dr. Kaifu Lee and Chen Qiufan, and The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories (2022), a Chinese science fiction and fantasy anthology written, edited and translated by women and nonbinary creators. Her most recent English-to-Chinese translation, The Search for Philip K. Dick, the first biography of PKD in Chinese, was published in July, 2020 by Eight Light Minutes.


Regina Kanyu Wang is a writer, researcher, and editor, currently pursuing her PhD as part of the CoFUTURES project at the University of Oslo. Her research focuses on Chinese science fiction, with emphasis on issues of gender and environmental perspectives. She writes science fiction, nonfiction, and academic essays in both Chinese and English. She has published two story collections in Chinese, a short novel in Italian, and a forthcoming collection in German, as well as short stories and critical essays on various platforms. She coedited the Chinese SF special issue of Vector, a journal of the British Science Fiction Association, and is a coeditor of The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, an all-women-and-non-binary anthology of Chinese speculative fiction. She is, or has served as, co-secretary-in-general and standing council member of the World Chinese Science Fiction Association, board member of the Plurality University Network, and cofounder of SF AppleCore and Asia Science Fiction Association.

KERRY MCINERNEY:

Hi! I’m Dr Kerry McInerney. Dr Eleanor Drage and I are the hosts of The Good Robot podcast. Join us as we ask the experts: what is good technology? Is it even possible? And how can feminism help us work towards it? If you want to learn more about today's topic, head over to our website, www.thegoodrobot.co.uk, where we've got a full transcript of the episode and a specially curated reading list by every guest. We love hearing from listeners, so feel free to tweet or email us, and we’d also so appreciate you leaving us a review on the podcast app. But until then, sit back, relax, and enjoy the episode!


ELEANOR DRAGE:

In this episode we discuss the new generation of Chinese science fiction with two of the genres most brilliant translators, editors, writers and researchers. They’ve just published The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, an anthology of science fiction written by Chinese women and non-binary writers that aims to overwrite stereotypes about who Chinese sf writers are and what they write about. Regina is a SF writer who works for the Co-Futures project at the University of Oslo and Emily is a writer and translator doing a PhD at Yale in East Asian Languages and Literature. I hope you enjoy the show.


KERRY MCINERNEY:

Fantastic. Thank you both so much for joining us here today. So just to kick us off, could you both tell us a bit about who you are, what you do, and what's brought you to thinking about science fiction and technology?


REGINA KANYU WANG:

Yeah, hi, everyone. I'm Regina Kanyu Wang. I'm a writer, editor and also a researcher. I write science fiction, and also nonfiction, both in Chinese and English. I'm currently working on my PhD project with the CoFUTURES Project at the University of Oslo. And my research interest is in Chinese Science Fiction, especially from gender and environmental perspectives. And in recent years, I've just started to take on editing work, and have co-edited a few books, including The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, which we are going to talk more about today.

EMILY JIN:

And I'm Emily Jin. I'm currently a PhD candidate at Yale University in New Haven, specialising in East Asian Languages and Literature. I'm also a science fiction and fantasy translator, and I'm slowly moving into translating things that are beyond just genre fiction. But this is kind of where I am right now. I translate from both Chinese into English and English into Chinese. And I am also one of the main translators on the project of The Way Spring Arrives. And in terms of my research subject, and as we're going to talk more about that today, I'm really interested in studying Chinese science fiction in general, the history of science and technology. And I'm also interested a lot in how, for example, the development in artificial intelligence, how that interacts with what's going to happen to our field of translation, how that's going to impact our cognitive take on the act of creation in general. So my interest is basically in the focus of looking at science fiction, and its intersection with technology, and also with cognitive sciences.

ELEANOR DRAGE:

Amazing. So now, billion dollar questions, what is good technology is it even possible? And how can the kinds of work that you do help us get there?


EMILY JIN:

So I feel like upon seeing the name of the podcast, obviously, The Good Robot, I've been wondering, so what does good mean in this case, because there's definitely a huge distinction between something that is good, and then something that is, in a way, kind of all encompassing or objective. So the definition of good is what caught my eye in the first place. And since I literally just talked about what might even happen if, for example, in my discipline, when translation begins to intersect so much with the development of technology - is it possible for us to make something good out of that? And I think like instead of answering, like, what is good technology, I think I'd rather just turn this question around a little bit and think about how is it possible for humans, essentially, to interact with technology in the sense that we're not antagonising it, we're also not kind of worshipping and just kind of dedicating ourselves entirely to it, and to really find a way to kind of coexist on this planet with technology. And of course, because we're coming from such a human-centric perspective, it's hard to really remove yourself from perspective, as a translator. To me, I guess the technology is what would help me kind of refine my translations better in terms of efficiency, in terms helping me and working with me together to hit this higher kind of way of reproducing this text in different languages to preserve its literary beauty. So that's kind of my little take on the idea of good and then subsequently, what is The Good Robot.

REGINA KANYU WANG:

Wow, that's amazing. Thank you so much, Emily, for your, like, perspective from the translator. And like other thinking about, like, my immediate thoughts of good technology is that it should be non biassed inclusive, but not forcible. But after a second sort I'm thinking of in order to be non biassed and inclusive, you kind of have to be biassed because you need to consider the unique needs of groups that need extra care like women, children, the disabled or elderly. And when we talk about technology, it is quite often that we try to abstract each human being as a figure instead of a concrete person which has their unique needs. And also we often say that those who cannot adapt to the new technology will be abandoned by our time by our era. But in reality, not everyone can or should adapt to ever advancing new technologies. I guess good technology should work towards the benefit of all, not only socially, but also ecologically and consider all the results and the risks.


KERRY MCINERNEY:

Fantastic. And I think they're just beautiful answers. And they complement each other really well, like how do we kind of socially and ecologically learn to coexist with technology. And I think that's something that fiction is so helpful for, for helping us to imagine these different ways of living and being with technology. And that's certainly how I came to your phenomenal work through your work on your new anthology, The Way Spring Arrives, which Regina you mentioned earlier, a collection of Chinese science fiction and fantasy and translation from a fantastic team of female and non binary creators. So could you tell us a little bit about what inspired you to create and participate in this really wonderful collection?

REGINA KANYU WANG:

Yes, definitely. I remember that. It was in 2019, in Spring. Emily, and I were going to New York for an event. And we met editors from Tor and Tor.com, who are Lindsey, and the Roshi. And we sat together for lunch and admired each other's works and decided to do something together. And the idea came to us that Oh, what about an all women and non-binary anthology of Chinese speculative fiction? So basically, every one of us was so excited about this idea. So we went back and brought this up with our companies, to our bosses, and got the support we needed, and started to work on that. And so I think this is kind of an era where gender discussion is taking place a lot in China, including the Chinese Science Fiction community. Previously, we never had all women or all men anthologies. But if you look at the previous anthologies of Chinese Science Fiction, 90% of the stories were actually written by male authors. Of course, they are good writers. But we also think, okay, it's the right moment in time to showcase all those women and non-binary authors as well. Especially to the English readers, because we've read loads of seeing and Trento fan. And we've also got housing following and the Sajha. So like they are equally good. And we just want to explore and showcase the diverse voices from those amazing authors that we admire.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

It's so important, and it's kind of never ending work, because a lot of people see all these male writers and think that, you know, quite rightly, science fiction can look really male really white, really Western. But actually, there's so many fantastic women, queer, non binary writers, people of colour, people from around the world who are redefining what science fiction is by integrating it with different genres, with different mythologies, and different ways of imagining the future. So we were talking before to Stanley Chen, who went to live with the shamans in China, and he was talking about ways that they bring the future forwards and how he was inspired by that. And I love that. And in my PhD, I did it on women, science fiction writers that discuss issues of gender and race, so also writers that people had never heard of, and they were like, Oh, they must have been really difficult to find. And you're like, Well, no, they're actually really major writers in their areas. And they have huge followings. And the spaces like Tor.com, which for those of you who don't know, is a kind of media platform for science fiction writers that has been so crucial for people that couldn't get published with traditional publication houses, so really e-writing has been phenomenal for them. Anyway, I’ll shut up because I really want to ask you how contemporary Chinese Science Fiction and the communities that you write with are revolutionising what's currently understood as the central canon or key tropes of science fiction as a genre.

EMILY JIN:

I think there's actually many layers to this question that I would be happy to break down. And I think for one is that even just tracing back to what we were talking about, regarding what is good in technology and what is bad and all of that, I think definitely is one thing that's happening, and we're seeing this trend happening, like increasingly so in the most recent kind of creations is that the whole kind of trope of having to put robots and humans or aliens and humans on the two sides of the spectrum to always create this kind of like, Oh, if we don't watch out, the robot overlords are going to take over, I think that stuff had been dying down a bit. And of course, that's not unique to Chinese science fiction, but kind of in general, that people all around the world, like Regina said, are thinking about ways in which we can just really coexist with robots. And to treat them as - I wouldn't go as far as to say equal beings, since that's also just a very science fictiony thing to say. But um, that's kind of my secret hope, that the way that science fiction is being written, you see these writers having attempts to like co-write with robots, and to kind of publish the work and examine what it's really like to be acceptable for robots to change your own cognitive dimensions, and to not always treat them as kind of secondary beings. So that's definitely one thing that's happening in the creation of science fiction in general is that even the way we scale out on a menace level, the way that science fiction is being written is already being revolutionised that is not just about a human writer doing all the work for a human translator doing all the work, but it's really more and more so becoming you and a machine writing together or travelling together a story about machines. So that's already interesting on its own. But second of all, if we turn back to the more traditional concepts of Chinese Science Fiction and genre and just fiction in general, first of all, I think there's definitely a big change for the recent kind of batch of writers, especially writers, like Regina who grew up with this multilingual multicultural context is that the one thing that I think is fundamentally being revolutionised through writing science fiction, like Regina is in English and Chinese and also in my work in translating all of these, like really wonderful fiction into English from Chinese is that I think with this new acquired awareness that their works can reach an audience that's much broader than the domestic audience. I think the current generation of Chinese science fiction writers aren't really equipped with the knowledge that they do not really have to represent themselves in this way of this essentialised sense of Chineseness. That's either kind of self-Orientalizing, or to fit into this Anglophone stereotype of what science fiction is, like, especially science fiction, written by Chinese people. So I think having this ready access to kind of English language and having us translators working in between us mediators, that is also helping the way that Chinese writers are fundamentally shifting the way they write, that they're now a lot more open to exploring alternatives of is it possible if I actually just write as more of this cosmopolitan inviter who engages with all these kinds of cultural influences, and we haven't mentioned, even the fact that science fiction itself, and China has a history of being this very translated genre in itself, that it first came in, during the late Sing with some of the most prominent writers and thinkers and politicians at the time, actively translating science fiction to be like, Oh, hey, guys, look, this genre is really cool. This genre actually has the potential of helping us think better about what is the future? How can we really engage with this whole notion that was very kind of foreign to China at that moment, this idea of modern science. So science fiction came in carrying the purpose of both kind of entertaining but also hugely educational. And I think this tradition of science fiction being this translated genre in its own, definitely carried onwards for the next century, up until now into contemporary Chinese science fiction. And even the reason we're talking about this, the reason why The Way Spring Arrives has won so much attention is because of Chinese science fiction's both how it is influenced by translation, and its inherent kind of translatedness. So I think that already poses it in a place where it has this kind of immense genre fluidity. And not to mention that, you know, in our anthology, the ones that we're aiming at, is to not really restrain what it means to write science fiction, that our authors are writing from the margins, in many perspectives. So 1), they're all women and non binary creators, which is already like Regina said, a breakthrough from the past kind of representation offered by the typical Golden Age kind of hard science, like Gnosis in style science fiction, second of all, of course, as Chinese writers being translated, and because Chinese writing isn't as represented yet kind of in the global literary market, we're also writing from this cultural margin. And third of all the stories that we chose to put in an anthology it's not just it's kind of like science fiction, as defined in its very kind of Orthodox form, but there's also a lot of just fantasy or mythology or traditional elements fused into this kind of speculative writing. And I think all of these efforts are put together in this revolutionising way to redefine science fiction. So that was a long answer.

ELEANOR DRAGE:

It was a terrific answer. And actually, I might just jump in and ask you about translation, because you've just been talking about it, and how amazing it is that some genres emerge with translation or through translation. Certainly, it was the same in the Italian context with the romance, or the mystery element that science fiction has often had there, just because those genres are indigenous in Italy, whereas science fiction hasn't been. So being a translator is an incredible skill in itself. And there are many ways to translate something, I have suffered through some terrible translations over the years, and also have done a horrible job of doing some translation myself. So I really respect you for doing this kind of work. One of some of the essays in your anthology like the one by R. F. Kuang, author of The Poppy War trilogy and Babel, they look at the process of translating Chinese science fiction into English. And apparently this is really understudied - Chinese to English translation. So can you tell us about that? And then can you also tell us about your essay, ‘Emily’, which actually looks at these challenges of translation in relation to gendered language, and you might have to explain for our listeners, what kind of language is gendered, and what kind of challenges you faced.


EMILY JIN:

I think starting just from Ground Zero, talking about translating Chinese science fiction to English, one big thing that I also mentioned just now is definitely how we define the so-called authenticity of the original versus translation. So I think one example I'd love to give is, I've actually worked with Regina quite a bit on her works in the past. And knowing that she comes from this very multilingual background. And there's also other of her works that are published on Clarkesworld that I've translated / edited for her that she would have to draft it in English, but I would edit that according to the Chinese version to produce this refined English version together. So in a way that kind of blurs the boundaries of what it means to be an author and a translator, because we know that we both are fluent in Chinese and English. So this process becomes not just kind of this linear, very traditional sense of, okay, the originals passed down to you, you translate it, you just pass it on kind of thing. But in this way, me and Regina are able to kind of be engaged in this ever flowing conversation, this dialogue about the story in which we each play a role that's not exactly an author, but also not exactly a translator.


Right now, I think the trend is that because English is in such a powerful and dominant position in this global literary market, as I previously mentioned, it is also just kind of a natural phenomenon that many of our active choice writers know English better than most of their English readers with no Chinese. So that obviously creates a big kind of power dynamic in translation on its own because when I do translating from Chinese into English versus translating English into Chinese, the outcomes can be immensely different. And the way that we're perceived, even just the prestige of translators are viewed very differently.

And these are all the things I have to kind of really take in consideration when I'm translating Chinese into English because, as I also mentioned, just now, kind of the threat of Orientalisation. And of course, I'm sure that a lot of you and your audiences have seen on news etc, that it's very easy to kind of fall into kind of the dark pit of tying sign Chinese Science Fiction together and translating whatever it is from Chinese into English with this whole sense of like, oh how is this wedded to the Chinese state, how is this politically relevant, etc. And our goal is to really represent our authors in such a truthful way that these misconceptions which again, stems a lot from Orientalism, this sense of like, either fetishization or antagonistic feeling does not overwhelm what the text is actually saying. So this is a very real kind of power struggle, of course, the results of these past kind of imperialist projections, that is still continuing to influence the way that we transmit and produce literature. So that's one kind of a really real thing that I'm still grappling with. But then, on the other hand, I think when I talk about this kind of fetishization, this might be a good way to actually cut into how we talk about how these traditional mythological Chinese elements are deployed in the creation of a lot of the stories in the anthology. And that's also just kind of all related to how we'll be talking about my gender essay next. For instance, as we're translating all these stories that contain so much of kind of Chinese history and traditional elements, of course, there's going to be consideration of what kind of translations can we actually use to stop the text from being once again, kind of overly Orientalist. And because a lot of the translations for mythology for even just the names kind of Dragon and Phoenix and etc, a lot of that came from very old white sinologist perspectives. And translators have their own take on what they can do to the text to make it - to kind of decolonize it actively. So that's definitely one attempt that's been happening throughout this anthology. And then turning to kind of the way I specifically was translating gendered items. And that I think, that leads, that leads us into another question of how these multiple kinds of social dimensions overlap. And what I'm trying to balance. So for instance, when you translate from English into Chinese, there actually isn't this kind of pronoun that's readily available to represent kind of non-binary, and another one of our authors, Elian talked about kind of translated this non binary character in her essay. Then this is kind of one type of the struggle that we're translating. And on the other hand, as I mentioned in my essay, I think there are also just these subtle nuances in the way that the Chinese characters compose, that cannot really, we cannot really find this readily put down equivalence in English to direct those adjectives over. So for instance, I primarily talked about translating this idea of this feminine quietness in my essay. And in Chinese, it's also just really obvious, because the way the character is putting down, you already know that this kind of quietness is very kind of gendered it is directed towards talking about like a female traditionally recognised figure, because of the way that the Chinese is composed, you have this female radical that is there to indicate what kind of context this is used. But the same kind of contextual information is lacking when you translate English, because it would just all end up as oh, this person is simply being quiet. But quiet, as we know, in English can be used in these very neutral contexts, it can be referring to all kinds of genders and even just kind of not human. So how to really carry over that and build context into these Chinese characters, these connotations into English without losing that nuance. But on the other hand, is it really a thing we have to do? Do we have to really transmit that context precisely, even if we know that such a kind of a gendered context might actually be sexist, for example, or biassed in its own way? So coming from our contemporary perspective, what are the kind of more sexist things that also exists in the way that some older texts are being written? Do we just want to render that with, like 100%, like honesty, so these are all kind of like borderline moral decisions we're making as translators in the sense, and it's actually quite a complicated phenomenon to put together. But all I can say is that to bring this back as a translator, I think what matters most is that first of all, you respect your author's choices. And you really deliver to your audience by being the person who's representing your author and your story with your pen and your tongue, the most kind of genuine gist that they're getting at. And to do that, it's okay to make choices and sacrifices on the way.


KERRY MCINERNEY:

That's so fascinating. And as someone who you know, has never done translation work before it's opening up to you know, just such an amazing, interesting world of yourself is not only a linguistic and communicative arbiter but also as this moral decision maker having to decide how do I convey you know, these particular agenda nuances and as you explore the essay, should I even kind of do that or does that like reify like certain ideas of gender? I wanted to come back to this point around mythology that you raised and specifically, this tension between self and outside Orientalisation, and wanting to kind of incorporate these kinds of really interesting and different mythological tropes and patterns and stories into science fiction writing. So I want to ask you a little bit about how the science fiction writers in your anthology weave together the mythological to the technological, and in doing so how they illuminate different colours, trends and traditions as approaches to science and technology. But also finally, I want to kind of add on to that. How do you think the authors in your anthology kind of negotiate that tension between wanting to incorporate these different traditions thinking about technology without kind of falling into this trap of sort of being fetishized? Again?

REGINA KANYU WANG:

Yeah, I'm thinking about our title story, ‘The Way Spring Arrives actually can be a perfect example of the relationship between technology and mythology. Because in this story, the author kind of retells many of the Chinese mythologies, and adds a modern science and technology explanation to the supernatural phenomenon or natural phenomenon in the story. And actually, the author herself, when she writes most of her stories, it’s regarded as hard science fiction. But this story and the other story included in our anthology, is not the most famous of her stories in Chinese. So we can actually think about there are also different layers of the question like so one aspect is the aesthetics of Chinese Science Fiction readers exception towards those mythological science fiction stories. And the other one is how female authors kind of use other ways around to approach the readers. Because like, I know, like, the author herself was kind of proud that she could write stories that are ‘hard’ enough and to win the cis-male readers favour. But in the meantime, she can also write those stories with more lightness, and with more possibilities outside of the traditional Western modernization technologies. So I've been thinking about a term called mythorigin that was coined by Bodhisattva Chadapodie that refers to this tendency to continually rework the history of science, through the use of the mythic, or to use the music as a source of alternative or unknown, or advanced science, or to use the mythic as a hinge to elaborate a difference between one kind of science fiction and another is what he called mythologin and, and I think like this term actually can explain a lot of things and that we see not only in Chinese science fiction, not only in this anthology, but also in the global science fiction and the futurism. Because we will see like, of course, in Chinese Science Fiction, we are trying to bring about our ancient mythologies, folktales and historical elements, but also, for example, bring African science fiction, indigenous science fiction, and Latin American science fiction, everyone, many of the authors are trying to do the same, and the while returning to their own past, they weave these elements into their imaginations of the future, and try to break out the traditional construction of what is science, what is modernization, what is a technology, what is future, and by doing this, they co-create a space that is open for all, and not only possible for one single and single neat future, but also like for the co-futures, which is co-eval, complex and the composable. So I think that is one thing really fascinating to me.


EMILY JIN:

And just adding on really briefly, I think Regina was extremely like inspiring, the sense that I think essentially what we're doing with this anthology, and with a whole effort of translating all these Chinese science fiction to English, it's really just a process of science fiction being this such like a genre tainted with this kind of imperialistic undertone That's so kind of old white men dominated. I think the way that we're all working at it, not just in Chinese science fiction, but like Regina said, from these co-futures around the world is that we're no longer kind of going towards science fiction trying to fit ourselves into the genre. But instead we're turning that around and letting the genre come to us that were changing what it means to write science fiction by translating by writing, by tapping into all these different kinds of traditional indigenous groups.


KERRY MCINERNEY:

Fantastic. Thank you so much. And can I just say it's been such a delight to have you on the podcast and also I'm just so in awe of both of you. You wear so many hats and do it with such grace and style. And for all our readers, please check out this anthology. And also a lot of Regina’s other science fiction work at Emily's essays and translated work because it is really, really fantastic. But for now, we just both want to say a huge thank you. We've really enjoyed having the chance to chat to you both.


EMILY JIN:

Thank you so much for having us. It's such a pleasure.


ELEANOR DRAGE:

This episode was made possible thanks to our previous funder, Christina Gaw, and our current funder Mercator Stiftung, a private and independent foundation promoting science, education and international understanding. It was written and produced by Dr Eleanor Drage and Dr Kerry Mackereth, and edited by Laura Samulionyte.


54 views0 comments

Comments


bottom of page