When I post in ShortStops, it’s usually about short stories that the folk at Paper Republic have translated and posted online. But this month, we’ve branched out into non-fiction, and we’ve found a stunning piece of reportage. “Searching for Bodies” by Ma Jinyu, translated by Kate Costello, explores the art of corpse preservation. Here’s just a taster: ‘I first saw old man Liang’s ads pasted under the “gonorrea, syphilis” and “cure impotence” ads at the mine. “Corpse preservation.” Followed by old man Liang’s telephone number….The most difficult bodies were the ones that needed to be stitched back together. The leg bone needed to be sewn back into the muscle, or the organs needed to be put back in place and the stomach skin stitched back over them. Old man Liang said that after death your skin becomes very hard, and a normal needle couldn’t pierce through it. He made the big needle that he used himself, grinding down the spoke of a bicycle wheel into a point. ….Old man Liang said that when he was young and working in the mine, there would be flies and coal dust in his lunch. His two companions might be chatting one moment, but when he turned to look they’d been crushed to death by falling coal. He couldn’t see the blood in the dark, and he lay by their sides for an afternoon nap, thinking to himself, “They are also having a rest.” ‘
Set in and around the coal mines, Ma’s essay speaks of resilience and courage, stoicism and humanity. Truth really is stranger than fiction.
“Searching for Bodies” is the second instalment in our Read Paper Republic: China Dispatches series. Our three-way collaboration between Paper Republic, One-Way Street Magazine (单读) and the Los Angeles Review of Books’ China Channel focuses on the best non-fiction coming from China right now. Check back next month for the next essay.
Are you within reach of London and interested in contemporary Chinese fiction? Come to “Autumn Chronicles: Book Clubbing with Britain’s Most Loved Translators” at the Guanghwa Bookshop, 112 Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 5EJ, on Tuesday, 5 September 2017 from 19:30 to 21:00 (BST). Join us for face-to-face discussions with four award-winning Chinese literature translators: Nicky Harman, Natascha Bruce, Emily Jones and Helen Wang. Themed “Autumn Chronicles”, our forthcoming speed-bookclub will present four tales in which four women are coming to the end of their lives. Liu Ting’s Autumn Harvest Chronicles, a woman reflects on a grim past as she harvests the family’s buckwheat; in Ho Sok Fong’s The Wall, a giant wall drives an old woman to search obsessively for a cat; In Fan Xiaoqing’s Ying Yang Alley, a surprise visit from a stranger brightens an old lady’s afternoon; in Jia Pingwa’s elegiac Back-flow River, a childless woman makes the bravest decision of her life. These elegantly-written stories, by both male and female authors, are both sad and funny but always readable. There will be plenty to discuss! Book here: https://www.eventbrite.co.uk/e/autumn-chronicles-book-clubb…
Following the first year of Read Paper Republic weekly stories, we present a new mini-series of six stories, “Afterlives”, in which death is merely the beginning of the story.
On 27.10.16, we posted Dragon Boat, about ghost sex! The protagonist, Yuye, wanders around coastal areas of Hong Kong at Dragon Boat Festival, encounters a ghostly girl, and meets an unfortunate end when he sleeps with her.
On 3.11.16, the story was Dragonworld, in which video games addict Zhaishao finds his town has been infested with concrete-guzzling dragons – but is unsure whether they actually exist, or are figments of digitally-stimulated imagination.
Next Thursday, 10.11.16, our story will be Where Did I Lose You? Wang You reflects on how that ubiquitous item of social intercourse, the name card, can take on a weird life of its own. He is contacted by an old lady who says that her deceased husband often talked about him. Wang has no memory of him whatsoever, but he invents some stories to satisfy her….Go online to read what happens next.
We at Paper Republic are a collective of literary translators, promoting new Chinese fiction in translation. Read Paper Republic is a free online publication initiative for readers who wonder what new Chinese fiction in English translation has to offer and would like to dip a toe in the water. The first run of 53 stories, posted June 2015 to June 2016, are still available to read. You can download a full table of contents as a PDF here.
From June 2015 to June 2016, the Read Paper Republic team published a short story(or essay or poem) translated from Chinese, one a week for a year. For last year’s #WITmonth we published four pieces written by women and translated by women (nos 7-10). The rest of the time, we didn’t pay too much attention to the gender of the writer. So it’s cheering to see that over the entire year, of the 53 pieces we published, 22 were written by women. They are all available online – free to view here: https://paper-republic.org/pubs/read/. We’d like to thank all our authors and translators, and hope that you, the readers, enjoy the stories.
Also, in May 2016, we drew up a list for The Literary Hub, of 10 CHINESE WOMEN WHOSE WRITING SHOULD BE TRANSLATED: WRITING FROM MAINLAND CHINA, HONG KONG, AND TAIWAN. Read it here: http://lithub.com/10-chinese-women-whose-writing-should-be-translated/.