Translation of Chinese web novels have been gaining steam in recent years, as evidenced by the growth of our very own community, and the Chinese media are starting to take note of it! I was approached by Southern Weekly (南方周末) earlier this month for an article about this phenomenon, and some of the readers are featured in it as well. The journalist told me that when he posted the article on Weibo (Chinese equivalent of Twitter, but massively popular like Facebook), it broke 100K views in two hours, and has now broken 300K views a day later. Whew! He also did a feature on 18 readers and their love for web novels as well.
Ren (RWX) over at WW has translated the entire article and I’ve yoinked some snippets of it below to share with everyone. If it sparks your fancy, head over over to WW for a fascinating read of the whole thing!
Chinese Webnovels Help Young American Kick Drug Habit
After American ‘Kevin Cazade’ spent half a year reading Chinese webnovels, he successfully got over his drug addiction.
In 2014, Kevin broke up with his girlfriend. He was extremely depressed and was unwilling to leave the house to meet with friends. He stayed cooped up at his home, using drugs to numb the pain. After doing this for a period of time, he started to suffer chest pains. He went to the hospital and had multiple xrays done, but the doctors were unable to find anything out of the ordinary. Kevin still felt nervous, and he felt as though the specter of death was closing in on him.
Kevin liked to read manga. One day, as he was reading some manga online, he saw a chatbox flickering nonstop at the corner of the screen. Kevin rarely got involved in these chats, but this particular conversation seemed to much more lively than the usual ones. Finally, Kevin could no longer hold back and turned his attention to it, and his fellow manga readers began to excited talk to him. “Have you read CD before?” “You’ve gotta read CD!” Kevin was so confused. “The hell is CD?”
There are now more and more readers overseas whose minds are filled with the stories in Chinese webnovels. In March of 2017, our Southern Weekly reporter asked etvolare, the owner of the third largest Chinese webnovel translation platform in the United States, to help send out a post requesting people come in for interviews. “Within six hours, we received more than a hundred emails,” etvolare told our reporter.
When our reporter discussed these readers with etvolare, etvolare was reminded of a novel [Transmigration and Reverse Transmigration]. The female main character in this novel lives in the modern world, but deeply desired to be taken back in time to ancient times. Thus, she read many ‘time travel’ novels and began to learn sword-arts, ancient poems, and palace rites so that she would be prepared if she was ever sent back in time. This novel is actually going to be translated into English as well.
During the translation process, etvolare discovered many interesting things. In China, men usually tend towards fantasy, sci-fi, wuxia, and other similar novels. This is what we call the ‘male webnovels’. Females, by contrast, prefer to read about life in school, life in the city, time travel back to ancient palaces. This is what we call the ‘female webnovels’. However, once these novels are translated into the English world, things change.
Volarenovels has translated multiple ‘female webnovels’ into English, and readers will often discuss the novels in length with the translators. Etvolare took a look at her back-end analytics and found to her great surprise that actually…many of her readers were male.
“Female writers often write about battles of wits and various schemes people employ against each other. The male readers of the English world also enjoy reading about them.” Etvolare’s analysis is that the English world hasn’t really distinguished between ‘male webnovels’ and ‘female webnovels’ yet, resulting in them not being so clearly separated [as they are in China].
How would you translate 色即是空?
Etvolare is Taiwanese. After graduating from high school, she came to the United States. When she was young, she loved reading Jinyong novels and watching wuxia TV series. High school was the first time she encountered Chinese literature.
Prior to 2015, etvolare as a ‘gold-collar worker’ on Wall Street, responsible for investment financing and advice. At the end of 2015, etvolare started to translate her very first Chinese cultivation novel.
Before translating webnovels, etvolare had worked part time to translate Chinese business documents, music educational material, computer games, and various documents. She realized that although China had some decent webnovels and games, very few of them had ever been translated into English. As for the Chinese tv series she loved to watch when she was young, the English subtitles were often gibberish and completely terrible.
In 2015, she stumbled across Chinese webnovel [Sovereign of the Three Realms]. The story starts with the main character being beaten to death because he let out a fart in the imperial palace, resulting in someone being reincarnated into his body. This ridiculous start tickled etvolare, and she decided to first translate this novel.
In the beginning, etvolare spent 2-3 hours translating each of the 3500-character chapters.
The editors on these translation websites don’t understand Chinese, but they have high levels of English language skill. When they encountered difficult-to-understand parts, they would ask the translators to better explain the original text in detail and then modify it.
Buddhist concepts often come up in Wuxia and Xianxia novels. “For example, 色即是空. Good God! How am I supposed to translate that?” Etvolare sighed as she discussed this with our reporter. Sometimes, four simple words would completely stymie her. She would have to write a lengthy summary explaining the religious meaning and implications behind those four words before she could then explain those words themselves.
The above is part of an article first published on 03/16/2017 by the Southern Weekly, a weekly newspaper based in Guangzhou and the sister publication to the Southern Daily. English as translated by RWX from Wuxiaworld.
So if you felt that was interesting, head over over to WW for more in depth discussion from the readers and the founder of Yuewen, the parent company of Qidian of which many of the current most popular translated novels are from!