NüVoices Podcast #92: The World of Chinese Sci-Fi, Fantasy, and Translation with Emily Xueni Jin

This week, host Megan Cattel speaks to essayist and science fiction translator, Emily Xueni Jin, on the art of translation and the rise of Chinese science fiction.

During the course of this discussion, Emily explains her process of translating work, and the special relationship she develops to writers who are bilingual themselves. The result is often a collaborative process, whereby Emily sometimes rewrites entire passages together with the author to suit audiences outside of China. 

As she explains, “In a way, you basically develop a voice for them in the English language. Which they, in turn, being bilingual themselves, come to inhabit as well.” 

Emily also comments on the translation of Liu Cixin’s Three Body Problem where critics have said that the sexism of the book was removed in translated versions of the book. Emily argues that sometimes the process of translating a work to make it more palatable for another market brings about important discussions between a translator and a writer. Discussions that the writer hopefully can learn from in the future.

Megan and Emily also discuss the essentialization of Chinese science fiction, where writers are often expected to answer questions on Chinese political issues completely unrelated to their work. As Emily points out in the discussion, her community of Chinese science fiction writers are usually just sci-fi nerds, telling universal truths about the human condition.

This is a fascinating conversation about the power of language and the role of a translator, not merely to translate words, but as a mediator between cultures.

About Emily Xueni Jin 

Emily Xueni Jin (she/her) is an essayist and science fiction and fantasy translator, translating both from Chinese to English and the other way around. She graduated from Wellesley College in 2017, and she is currently a PhD candidate in East Asian Languages and Literature at Yale University. She is one of the core members of the Clarkesworld-Storycom collaborative project on publishing English translations of Chinese science fiction. Her most recent Chinese to English translations can be found in The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, the first Chinese speculative fiction anthology in translation produced by female and non-binary creators, and AI2041: Ten Visions for Our Future, a collection of science fiction and essays cowritten by Dr. Kaifu Lee and Chen Qiufan. She’s currently a columnist for Sixth Tone. Her other essays can be found in publications such as Paper Republic’s “Field Guide to Contemporary Chinese Literature” and “Vector”. 

(Friends in the NYC/tri-state area: Emily will be hosting a conversation with novelist Jade Song about her new book Chlorine on Sunday, April 23rd. Get your tickets now, on sale through Accent Society.)

About The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories, edited by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang

The first Chinese speculative fiction anthology in translation produced by female and non-binary creators. A Collection of Chinese Science Fiction and Fantasy in Translation from a Visionary Team of Female and Nonbinary Creators.

About Megan Cattel

Megan Cattel is a freelance multimedia reporter currently based in Tampa, FL. For the past three years, she has reported extensively on Asian American and immigrant communities. Her byline has appeared in Teen Vogue, WBUR, the Center for Public Integrity, The China Project, and the South China Morning Post.

Shownotes and Recommendations:

The Way Spring Arrives and Other Stories edited by Edited by Yu Chen and Regina Kanyu Wang

Emily’s column in Sixth Tone

The Chinese Question by Mae Ngai

The Three-Body Problem by Liu Cixin

Clara Iwasaki @claraiwasaki’s recommendations on Twitter:

Emily recommends weight-lifting and cooking to help with self-care maintenance.

Megan recommends the 3 Minute Miracle Deep Conditioner by Aussie (a life saver for all who have deceptively thick, dry, fluffy hair!)