Chinese story collection lifts up new voices in fantasy

Photo courtesy of George N, Wikipedia.

“The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories,” edited by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang, is self-described as “A Collection of Chinese Science Fiction and Fantasy in Translation from a Visionary Team of Female and Nonbinary Creators.”

Seventeen tales were published in English for the first time on March 8, making a selection of Chinese fiction and essays available for a new audience to enjoy. Each story is able to stand on its own with entertaining characters and captivating plots. The nonfiction pieces are thought-provoking and compelling. Altogether, it is a splendid demonstration of what happens when equally brilliant writers, editors and translators work together.

Anyone who enjoys science fiction, fantasy or folktales should pick up this anthology. There are stories inspired by each of these genres, and a few dare to blend all three.

Readers will be hooked from the first page thanks to the opening story written by Xin Xinyu and translated by Judy Yi Zhou, “The Stars We Raised.” The children of a fictional village are as cruel to one another as they are kind to the pet stars they attempt to raise every year. The social hierarchy they uphold is deeply relatable in spite of the story’s fantastical elements.

Gorgeous writing that conveys heavy themes is plentiful in the anthology. “Dragonslaying,” written by Shen Yingying and translated by Emily Xueni Jin, follows protagonist Su Mian on her quest to learn to perform a surgical procedure kept hidden from most of the world. She is one of the few female doctors in Yunhuang, and she believes that a secretive group of surgeons called “dragonslayers” can teach her skills that will enable her to finally earn the respect of her male colleagues.

Su Mian is horrified to witness the dark truth of the procedure. Half-fish beings known as jiaoren are mutilated by the dragonslayers and sold into slavery. Su Mian sees how only the rich benefit from this brutal system, and the prejudices that reinforce it are linked to the hurdles she is constantly forced to jump over as a woman pursuing medicine.

The identifying feature of this anthology is its respect for the source material. The English translations of each title, author and translator are accompanied by the original Chinese characters. Any reader can sense the care that went into assembling the collection, and it is appropriate that one of its strongest pieces is an essay about the complexities of translation.

Emily Xueni Jin was both a contributor and a translator for “The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories.” Her essay, “Is There Such a Thing as Feminine Quietness? A Cognitive Linguistics Perspective,” discusses the linguistic debates that drive her work.

The main subject Jin discusses is a controversy regarding a translation choice made in the subtitles for the 2020 live action remake of “Mulan.” In a scene where a matchmaker describes what virtues a good wife should hold, “quiet” is translated to “xiánjìng,” a word that emphasizes hyper-femininity.

Jin wrote, “in a scene supposed to break down the rigid barriers surrounding the myth of ‘traditional femininity,’ with adjectives that could be gendered or ungendered depending on the context, the Chinese translation overlooks this attempt at duality and renders only the gendered meaning.” The translator’s decision is counterintuitive because the descriptors used in that scene are supposed to later be revealed to also be qualities a skilled male soldier should hold.

Jin elaborated, “the subtitle translator… downplayed the central theme of Mulan, which is precisely about breaking down gender stereotypes.” Her essay explored how translators often fail to recognize how their personal biases can muddle the original texts they are working on.

Her message is powerful and makes readers wonder how this anthology — created by people from marginalized backgrounds that already often cause their voices to be drowned out and ignored in life — might be altered in future translations.


5/5 stars