French Ambassador to China Sylvie Bermann presents the translation award which is considered a top literary prize in the Chinese-speaking world.

In the symbolic setting of the former Sino-French University, the French embassy recently awarded what it calls the most important literary prize in the Chinese-speaking world, the Fu Lei Translation and Publishing Award.

Under the name of the Chinese master translator and writer, this prize has been awarded since the French Nobel Price Laureate in Literature J.M.G. Le Clzio presented the inaugural award in 2009. Each year, it honors two most outstanding translation works from French to Chinese, one on social science and the other on literature.

This year’s winners are translations of historian Daniel Roche’s multifaceted and cross-disciplinary observation of the Enlightenment, La France des Lumires, and award-winning fiction Dans le cafe de la jeunesse perdue by French novelist Patrick Modinao.

Both have filled some academic blanks in China, according to the judges, including an equal number of Chinese and French bilingual experts on different subjects. The former is said to be the first comprehensive guide to the Enlightenment in Chinese, while the latter is seen to have brought a new perspective for Chinese literary writing. The awards also reflect the level of difficulty in translation.

Because La France des Lumires is hard to understand and requires both time and professional knowledge to translate, Wang Yan from East China Normal University Press said it took her a depressing half-year to find a willing translator. In the end, it took 18 months of cooperative work by three devoted women translators, Yang Yaping, Zhao Jingli and Yin Wei, to finish the translation.

The three college teachers agree that the most challenging part was the lack of ready-made materials for reference. Even though they borrowed and read a pile of related books before they started the translation, they were still frequently stumped by obscure terms on uncommon subjects such as astronomy. Very often, to understand a single word they had to spend two or three days scouring “uncountable materials”.

Though it took the other translator Jin Longge only half a year to finish his work, the veteran translator and columnist said it was equally challenging to translate a novel. Because the author didn’t clarify the specific time period of the story. Jin had to search for all useful clues in it, and said it was like playing hide-and-seek with the author to help the audience make sense of the background.

The real challenge was that the story requires close familiarity with life in Paris. But while his fellows had to approach their task with an array of research material, Jin had a stroke of luck. He was given a scholarship by the French cultural department to stay in Paris for months so that he could translate while actually experiencing the city.

This is part of what Jin calls France’s “active cultural communication policies”. In addition to this translation award, the French embassy’s Fu Lei program has actively supported its unofficial cultural ambassadors over the past two decades, including sponsoring Chinese publication houses on the copyright royalties of French books, providing training to young Chinese translators, and sponsoring translators to temporarily live in Paris for translation.

Jin said these policies boost opportunities for local readers to see the excellence of French culture – and how an admirable reading and literature tradition is preserved and energized in a country.

At the Nov 26 ceremony at what is now a cultural base for Sino-French art exchanges, award-winning French writer Olivier Rolin emphasized that translation can not only bring a culture to an overseas audience, it can also make the target language more powerful.

“A greatness of a language depends not only on how many people are speaking it, but also how many literary works of other languages have been translated into it,” said Rolin, who served as the Fu Lei award presenter.

In this regard, he calls Chinese “the greatest invention of human intelligence”. “Chinese is like a flying flag in the air, and everybody sees in it their own dreams,” he said.

Source: China Daily