80. Translator Dong Haiya studies children’s literature at Reading

Dr Dong Haiya 董海雅 of Shanghai International Studies University 上海外国语大学 has recently been in the UK on a Chinese-government funded scholarship to research children’s literature. She generously spared some of her time to meet, and kindly answered some questions about her life and work.

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Dong Haiya at the University of Reading

Please tell us about yourself!

I graduated with a PhD degree in translation studies from Shanghai International Studies University (SISU) in 2007, and have been teaching translation at SISU for 17 years. My research interests have always been audiovisual translation and translation of children’s literature, which derive from my passion for movies and children’s books when I was young. I feel lucky to be involved in these two burgeoning areas of research. Currently I’m doing a research project on the dissemination and translation of Chinese children’s literature in the English-speaking countries. I applied for the scholarship from the China Scholarship Council (CSC) and came to the University of Reading in early 2018 as a visiting fellow.

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Eloise, by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight, translated by Dong Haiya (image source: Jingdong)

More translations by Dong Haiya – Green Ship by Quentin Blake, Say it! by Charlotte Zolotow, Imagine by Norman Messenger (image sources: Jingdong)

During the past decade, I’ve worked with several publishers in China and translated more than 30 children’s books into Chinese in my spare time, including Eloise (by Kay Thompson and Hilary Knight), Green Ship (by Quentin Blake), Say it!/Sleepy Book(by Charlotte Zolotow), Classic Fairy Tales of Charles Perrault, Imagine/The Land of Neverbelieve (by Norman Messenger), Challenger Deep (by Neal Shusterman). I also translated several illustrators’ interviews from the book Show Me a Story!Why Picture Books Matter by Leonard S. Marcus. It is very fulfilling to see the books I translate being published and read by young readers and their parents despite the various challenges I’ve encountered during the translating process. To me, every book offers a good learning opportunity to reflect upon childhood and how to translate for children.

I’m also a mother of a 10-year-old boy. While he brings a lot of joy into my life, I  often struggle to be a patient mom and find a balance between work and family. As a translator-mom, I should also give my son some credit in helping with my translation. When I translate a picture book, I usually read my first draft to him to check whether he understands certain words or how he likes the tone of a sentence. I value his response as a child and make some revisions accordingly.

How did you become interested in children’s books?

In my childhood, I was always fascinated by fairy tales and folklore. So, in 2002 when an editor offered me an opportunity to select a few famous fairy tales from around the world for a book intended for advanced English learners and translate them into Chinese, I accepted it without hesitation. Then, in 2005, I was commissioned by Shanghai Translation Publishing House to translate a book titled Kids’ Letters to Harry Potter. Before I set about translating, I read the Chinese translations of all the Harry Potter books then available in the market within a short period of time to familiarize myself with the storyline and the magic spells. Reading and translating the passionate letters from kids all over the world to Harry Potter, a fictional character, I came to realize how much influence children’s books can have on the minds of children. After my son was born in 2008 my interest in children’s books was further fueled. When he was still a baby, I started to look for good picture books from online stores and fora of young mothers. At that time, there were not many – I remember there were only a few translated picture books from Japan, Germany, America and the UK. But the children’s book market has grown very rapidly since then with numerous titles abroad translated into Chinese. Thanks to the market boom, young parents like me now have wider choices. While reading to my son the fabulous works by world famous writers and illustrators – like John Burningham, Anthony Browne, Julia Donaldson, Kevin Henkes, William Steig – I felt a whole new world was unfolding before me, with amazing creativity and refreshing child-oriented perspectives. With strong curiosity, I keep track of my favorite writers and illustrators and try to collect all their works. The more I read with my son, the more eagerly I want to be involved in the translation of children’s books. Thanks to the recommendation of A Jia 阿甲, a friend and pioneer in promoting early reading for children in China, I’ve gradually had opportunities to translate children’s books for very good publishers. My research in translation of children’s literature has grown out of my own experience of translation. It’s amazing that my childhood interest in children’s literature and the birth of my son could lead me further than I expected on the career path.

What has your experience at Reading been like?

My host institution at the University of Reading is the Graduate Center for International Research in Childhood: Literature, Culture, Media (CIRCL). Professor Karin Lesnik-Oberstein, the director of CIRCL, is a world-leading scholar in critical theory and childhood studies. She’s been very generous in sharing her expertise with me. As a visiting fellow, I’m allowed to sit in the MA seminars, which involve the study of a wide range of Children’s Literature, such as Nineteenth Century Children’s Literature, Myth and Folktale in Children’s Literature, Twentieth and Twenty-First Century Children’s Literature (focusing on English-language literature, but also addressing international works).

Therefore, I’m able to observe how children’s literature is taught at graduate level here. The teaching is nothing like what I’ve experienced in China before. The teachers here put a great emphasis on developing critical thinking and analytical abilities. They expect the students to have engaged closely with the texts before class, and during contact time ask hard questions and encourage the students to view the given text from a new perspective, reconsidering their own initial readings, rather than taking the widely-held concepts in children’s literature for granted. I found this approach quite challenging, but on the whole I’ve benefited a lot from my one-year visit. Through the seminars, I have come to know more about 19th and early 20th century British children’s authors and their works that I was previously not very familiar with: for instance, Mrs Sherwood, Catherine Sinclair, George Macdonald etc. One thing I particularly love about the University of Reading is its rich collection of children’s books both in the main library and Children’s Collection Section in Special Collections.

You mentioned that since your son was born you’ve bought about 1000 picture books for him! Could you tell us more about this?  (I have so many questions about this… How did you go about this? How did you choose them? Where did you source them?  How did you pay for them? How did you read them with him? Have you kept them all? Did your friends do the same? I’ve read about other young parents creating a home library – how rare/normal is this?)

Probably I was exaggerating a little bit when I said that. But I’m sure it’s over 800 if I count all the children’s books I’ve bought so far, including more than 50 English titles I bought recently in the UK. I don’t earn a lot as a college teacher, but I’ve never hesitated when buying books for me or for my son. There is a community library near my home in Hongkou District, Shanghai, which has a floor of children’s books, and I sometimes borrow books from there. But as the new titles are hard to get, I decided to create a home library for my son.  I usually buy a whole bunch of books online when they are on discount during holidays. I come to know about newly published children’s books from various sources, like browsing the webpage of online booksellers regularly, subscription to several famous publishers via Wechat, talking with my colleagues and friends. Sometimes I also ask my friends abroad to buy children’s books of a particular author or illustrator and bring them to me when they come to Shanghai on business trips. I seldom look at the list of best sellers on the online book stores, and prefer to make my own judgment based on the cover, the author, the illustrator and the overall style. Of course, I need to consider my son’s interests as well. When he was little, he was very much into the books about geography, stories with a tint of humor, and books of the illustrators whose style he’s already familiar with, for example, John Burningham, Quentin Blake, Anthony Browne, Keiko Kasza. So I would feed him a lot of books like that. I remember one evening when he was six, I put all my collection of Anthony Browne’s picture books on the red couch and read them to him again. After listening to the last picture book Willy the Dreamer, he suddenly remarked, “I love Uncle Anthony Browne so much. If I get a chance to see him, I’ll give him the most delicious snack because his illustration is so good.” I was thrilled to find that my son was as big a fan of Anthony Browne as his mom!

I will always remember the sweet moments of holding my son in my arms and reading to him for an hour every evening and at weekends. Most of the time, I read the words exactly as they are in the book – if they are in Chinese, I’ll read in Chinese, and if they’re in English, I’ll read in English – I don’t break the story to check if he is understanding, I just let him enjoy the pictures as much as he could while I read the words.

Not that he’s growing up, his interest in books is changing, and the problem of how to dispose of the old books and buy new ones is a big one for me because we live in a rather small flat in Shanghai and there isn’t so much space to store so many books. I’ve decided to keep my favorite ones and the classic ones indispensible to my research, and give away those that no longer suit his age. From time to time, I give some to friends and colleagues who have little children, and donate some to local public libraries or book charity organizations.

Like me, my sister and most of my close friends buy books very often for their children, although they are not as crazy as me. Their book shelves at home are also stacked with hundreds of children’s books. Probably it’s quite normal in big cities like Shanghai, Beijing and Shenzhen where more and more well-educated parents understand the important roles that excellent picture books play in the early reading of childhood. While being proud of having a large collection of children’s books at home, I sometimes feel it is also a waste to purchase so many books only for one child. One of the solutions, I suppose, would be more financial support from the government for public libraries on different levels.

Has your son become a reader? What are his favourite books now, and what is it that he likes about them?

My son has always loved books, but he didn’t become an independent reader until he was 8 years old – probably because he was so used to my reading aloud to him that he was reluctant to read on his own. His favorite books include Roald Dahl’s story books, Dominic (by William Steig), Journey to the West《西游记》, and the Mi Xiaoquan Goes to School series《米小圈上学记》written by Bei Mao 北猫 . Like his classmates, he was mesmerized by Mi Xiaoquan books when he was in Year-2 (age 8-9 years) and couldn’t wait for the next book to come out. It was the first time that I saw him so engrossed in a set of books that he would read the books again and again, and always chuckling while turning the pages. This aroused my curiosity. I finally understand why these books are popular with Chinese pupils – the stories reflect their own experiences of school life and there are amusing comic pictures going with the words. They can relate to Mi Xiaoquan, a naughty Chinese boy in a public primary school who has similar troubles and happiness to their own. The Mi Xiaoquan books are like The Diary of Wimpy Kid series in many ways – the stories are told in diary from, there is a good combination of words and pictures, they are easy to read and humorous, but the main difference is that the Mi Xiaoquan books truthfully portray the daily life of a Chinese pupil, to which most Chinese children immediately feel a connection. They feel Mi Xiaoquan is one of their classmates.

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The Mi Xiaoquan series, by Bei Mao  (image sourceJ: Jingdong)

Currently my son is in Year-4. He has become a huge fan of Harry Potter since reading the Chinese translations of all the Harry Potter books in late 2018.

What’s your translation plan for 2019?

At the end of 2018, l learned that I’ll have the opportunity to co-translate Anthony Browne’s autobiography with A Jia, to be published in 2019. It’s like a dream coming true. After I return to Shanghai this month, I’ll put my heart into the translation of this book as a tribute to a master who is very good at playing the shape game and who has opened up a different world for me and my family.

 

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79. Asian children’s literature, film and animation (special issue of SARE, 2018)

In December 2018, the Southeast Asian Review of English (SARE vol. 55, no. 2) published a themed-issue on Asian children’s literature, film and animation. The journal is open access and there are some interesting papers relating to China.

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Click on the titles below to access the whole article. I’ve copied the titles, authors, and abstracts, and added links to the authors. I’ve also added a list of some of the authors’ previous publications at the end.

(1) Representing Gender in Chinese Children’s Literature (1920-2010)
Lijun BI (Monash University, Australia)
Xiangshu FANG (Deakin University, Australia)

Abstract: This study investigates the representation of gender roles in Chinese children’s literature from 1920 to 2010, focusing on constructions of masculinity and femininity in different historical contexts. The paper attempts to demonstrate the persistence of, as well as departures from, traditional stereotypes about gender roles in China throughout the last century. Although there is no definite evidence that children’s literature is a deciding factor in the assigning of gender roles to the young in China, the influence of literary works on how gender is perceived and constructed in society cannot be denied. A close reading of these literary texts offers us insights into understanding the changing representation of gender roles in Chinese children’s literature, which reflect changes in society and social attitudes toward gender in mainland China.

(2) The Highlighted Life: The Humanistic Orientation of War Narration in Chinese Children’s Films of the New Period
Fengxia TAN (Nanjing Normal University, China)
Lu LI (Foshan University, China)

Abstract: Compared with earlier works in the genre, the narration of war in Chinese children’s films of the New Period (post 1978) demonstrates a trend of transformation from political to humanistic orientation, which is closely related to the revival of humanism. Moving away from the traditional hero narrative, the creators of Chinese children’s war films have developed growth narratives that emphasise the complexity of human nature, cruel narratives of reflection, and playful narratives which make use of laughter and irony — all of which can be seen to be modes within the humanistic convention. These narratives re-examine the meaning of war and revolution, reflect deeply on the relationship between war and the fate of children, closely observe human feelings and human nature in war situations, and highlight the individual’s life against the backdrop of the course of history. Involving experimentation and innovation, such narratives of war of the New Period point to a deeper and more diversified development in Chinese children’s films, which though they provide a unique window into lives affected by war also hold up a mirror that reflects a global understanding of war and peace.

(3) “A Girl Worth Fighting For”: Transculturation, Remediation, and Cultural Authenticity in Adaptations of the “Ballad of Mulan”
Joseph V. Guinta (Independent Scholar, New York, USA)

Abstract: Since its first feature-length film, Disney has been (ab)using beloved folktales and legends by revising them to its corporate predilections. Amassing billions of dollars in the process, it has not taken into account the alternate pedagogies and surrogate histories created as a result. Under the guise of “experts” and creators of “timeless classics,” Disney has been able to prosper by drastically altering texts that are culturally significant and prevalent. Focusing on one particular film, Disney’s 1998 feature, Mulan, I will demonstrate how Disney, through its creation of what it would defend as a satiation of global tastes, is instead crafting alternate narratives that no longer convey the original text’s message or meaning. Though the main source text of Disney’s animated feature is Robert San Souci’s Fa Mulan: The Story of a Woman Warrior, both of these texts (film and children’s book) are adaptations of the “Ballad of Mulan”, an ancient poem that traces back to the Chinese Southern and Northern Dynasties. The range of positions adopted by the composers of these two texts (with the Ballad as the original) not only demarcates retelling, adaptation, and remediation, but also bears consideration of outsider authorship and seems to indicate divergent sensibilities and authoritative relationships. The transformations engendered by these contrasting iterations of Mulan (self-interested fairytale princess, warrior woman, filial daughter) compel an investigation into the sociocultural and pedagogical influence of each of these respective mediums (animated film, children’s literature, poetry), while also unmistakably sullying Disney as the iniquitous adapter.

(4) “Rude Tribes and Wild Frontiers”: Treatment of Ethnicity in Chinese Children’s Literature
Xiangshu FANG (Deakin University, Melbourne, Australia)
Lijun Bi (Monash University, Melbourne, Australia)

Abstract: This essay investigates the treatment of ethnicity in Chinese children’s literature, focusing on the portrayal of China’s ethnic minority groups. It considers the construction of minority ethnic identity in various historical contexts, the linguistic implications of such constructions, and also examines these representations in the context of recent economic developments. It argues that representations of ethnicity in Chinese children’s literature reflect an overriding sense of the superiority of Han Chinese culture in terms of the latter’s role in creating national unity and harmony, and also in advancing the notion of the exoticism of minority ethnicities. The essay also attempts to demonstrate the reasons for the persistence of traditional stereotypes in representations of ethnicity in China.

(5) A Theoretical Conception of the Value System of Criticism in Chinese Children’s Literature
Lifang LI (Lanzhou University, China)

Abstract: This paper focuses on the value system of children’s literature criticism in China. This is examined against the backdrop of the current imbalance between the gains made by Chinese children’s literature in terms of composition and publication and the lag in theoretical criticism as well as lack of clear evaluation criteria. In approaching children’s literature criticism as a set of theoretical categories and meaning systems relating to value evaluation, the paper considers the following issues: the value relationship between the critical subject and the critical object, children’s literature values, value standards, and the accompanying critical and theoretical approaches that play a key role in this relationship. While the paper proposes and addresses problems based primarily on the Chinese context, it also touches on value issues in global children’s literature. It therefore seeks to promote cross-cultural dialogue and exploration of universal issues relating to the value dimension of children’s literature.

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A selection of previous publications by these authors

BI Lijun (Monash University, Australia)

BI Lijun and FANG Xiangshu (joint authors)

FANG Xiangshu (Deakin University, Australia)

TAN Fengxia (Nanjing Normal University, China)