The world is perhaps changing when translations from Chinese feature as the first volume in a series of just about anything. Two Lines Press, an independent publisher based in San Francisco, has recently launched the Calico Series of translated literature. “Each Calico is a vibrant snapshot that explores one aspect of the present moment, offering the voices of previously inaccessible, highly innovative writers from around the world.” That We May Live is the first in the series and features seven stories in translation from authors in Hong Kong and China.
Rated R Boy: Growing Up Korean in 1980s Queens is a memoir of one family’s move from South Korea to the United States. Told by its child narrator, it describes life in mid-1970s Korea and compares it to life in America, where he is exposed to things that challenge what he’d held to be sacrosanct.
Rudyard Kipling’s 1888 short story “The Man Who Would Be King” (well-known thanks to the Sean Connery film by the same name) is about two English ex-army ruffians who want to become kings; they do indeed come to rule a kingdom in Afghanistan. Eventually, the two die when their “subjects” turn against them. Rishi Dastidar uses this colonizer’s desire and ambition to be king as material for his Saffron Jack. The resulting long poem is the story of a British citizen who is told he does not belong in Great Britain, and decides to have a nation of his own to rule over.
In Jia Zhangke’s 2018 movie “Ash is Purest White”, the protagonist, Qiao, gets off a Yangtze river ferry near the Three Gorges Dam. She knows nobody in this new city and has no money. Desperate, the ruse she employs is to walk into a restaurant, call a rich looking young man out of a private dining room and tell him he has got her younger sister pregnant. She demands money as compensation. The trick works, the scared man hands over a bunch of red hundred RMB notes. Qiao, a gangster’s girlfriend fresh from jail, has skills that Matthew Evans, the antihero of Tom Carter’s “An American Bum in China”, couldn’t dream off. Evans, like Qiao, finds himself broke and alone in China. Unlike Qiao, he is not a character in a movie where wild schemes succeed.
Among all European countries, Russia’s relations with China are unique in that the two countries—empires for most of their relevant histories—shared a border. Trade between the two was, on the whole, carried out by caravan rather than ship; there were border garrisons a stone’s throw from each other. People and information transited the border along with goods.
When Sophie Cairns’s parents announced they were leaving Hong Kong, where she was born and raised, she vowed to return. A teenager, biracial and fluent in Cantonese, she never felt like she belonged in the UK, and longed for the Hong Kong of her childhood.
Translating the poetic sentiments of imperial China is Xu’s prime concern. Embedded in his works are multiple references to literature, painting, calligraphy and religious art in classical China. By synthesising these ideas with those drawn from his vocabulary of Western shapes, Xu gives energy to traditional Chinese dress.