[REVIEW] “Message from Translators of ๐ฟ๐‘–๐‘ก๐‘ก๐‘™๐‘’ ๐‘…๐‘’๐‘ข๐‘›๐‘–๐‘œ๐‘›๐‘ ” by Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz

{Written by Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz, this rejoinder is part of Issue 42 (January 2019) of Cha.} {Return to Cha Review of Books and Films.}

Editors’ note:
Read Susan Blumberg-Kason’s review of Eileen Chang’s Little Reunions here
and her response to Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz’s rejoinder here.

Little Reunions

Dear Editors,

We are grateful to your journal for the attention given to our translation of Eileen Changโ€™s novel Little Reunions. We wish to address a few points raised in the book review written by Susan Blumberg-Kason.

The reviewer writes โ€œLittle reunions are smaller gatheringsโ€”perhaps just between mother and daughter. Little Reunions is a family saga centering around Julie Sheng and Rachel Pien…โ€

This is true at one level. We as translators are in no position to instruct readers how to read a book but we believe saying the novel is โ€œperhaps just between mother and daughterโ€ oversimplifies the complexity of the novel with a narrative that โ€œfocuses as much on the details of everyday life as it does on the larger political arena.โ€[1] As the literary scholar Xiao Jiwei puts it, โ€œHistory, in Little Reunions, is represented through an intensified female consciousness.โ€[2]

Between waves and ripples of side stories and flashbacks in the novel, as translators we can hear a long literary sigh over the pitifulness of human relations of many kinds, not just small gatherings between mother and daughter.

The reviewer writes:

I wondered if the translators took liberty and used the English word โ€˜rapeโ€™ in 2018 when Chang may have used a lesser Chinese word in the original from the mid-1970s. So I obtained a copy of the original Chinese and searched for what had been translated into English as, โ€œIt was clear she was referring obliquely to rape.โ€ In the original, I find Change (sic) writes โ€˜ๅผทๅฅธ,โ€™ which means rape in Chinese.โ€

Here are the relevant Chinese text and English translation in Chapter 4:


I was on bad terms with Brother Hsuฬˆ at the time, and often stayed late at the office, flirting with Jory. But then I became scared . . .โ€ Her smile disappeared and her voice lowered to a muffle as she faded out.

 It was clear she was referring obliquely to rape.

We appreciate the reviewerโ€™s diligence and eventual acknowledgement that, after her investigation, the translation is correct. The phrase ๅผทๅงฆ really does mean โ€œrape.โ€

The reviewer also writes that she found a discrepancy in the translation:

Unlike the translators, Chang doesnโ€™t write anything about it being inevitable, only that he says he perhaps used force. Adding this phrase about inevitability shows that Chih-yung was trying to excuse his actions, whereas in the original he doesnโ€™t justify them.

Again, relevant segments in both Chinese and English:

็†Ÿไบบ็š„ๆถˆๆฏ่ฌ›ๅพ—ๅ‘Šไธ€ๆฎต่ฝ็š„ๆ™‚ๅ€™๏ผŒๅฅนๅพฎ็ฌ‘่‘—ๅ•ไบ†่ฒ โ€œไฝ ่ทŸๅฐๅบทๅฐๅงๆœ‰ๆฒ’ๆœ‰็™ผ็”Ÿ้—œไฟ‚๏ผŸโ€

โ€œๅ—ฏ๏ผŒๅฐฑๆ˜ฏ่‡จ่ตฐ็š„ๆ™‚ๅ€™ใ€‚ใ€ไป–่ฒ้ŸณไฝŽไบ†ไธ‹ไพ†ใ€‚โ€œๅคงๆฆ‚ๆœ€ๅพŒ้ƒฝๆ˜ฏ่ฆ็”จๅผท็š„ใ€‚โ”€โ”€็•ถ็„ถไฝ ไธๆ˜ฏ้€™ๆจฃใ€‚โ€


After dispensing with news about mutual acquaintances, Julie gave a faint smile and asked, โ€œWere you ever intimate with that Miss Kโ€™ang?โ€

โ€œUm,โ€ he acknowledged, โ€œonly once, when I was about to leave.โ€ His voice lowered. โ€œIn the end I forced myself upon her . . . perhaps that is always inevitableโ€”but of course you were different.โ€

Julie said nothing.

As translators, we believe itโ€™s vital to comprehend the context of the story and convey the authorโ€™s message holistically, both spoken and unspoken, rather than simply translating the text on a word-for-word level.

The English translation indeed โ€œshows that Chih-yung was trying to excuse his actions.โ€

No translation is perfect and there is always room to improve. However, in this instance, we believe adding โ€œinevitableโ€ is justifiable, and, in fact, inevitable.

The Chinese text does not semantically contain the expression โ€œinevitable,โ€ and a literal translation of the segment in question is:โ€œProbably in the end always have to use forceโ€ ๅคงๆฆ‚ๆœ€ๅพŒ้ƒฝๆ˜ฏ่ฆ็”จๅผท็š„. This is actually a way of saying โ€œinevitableโ€. The words โ€œๆœ€ๅพŒโ€ [In the end], โ€œ้ƒฝๆ˜ฏโ€ [always, all] and โ€œ่ฆโ€ [required, have to] imply โ€œinevitabilityโ€.

More importantly, the subtle unspoken message of โ€œtrying to excuse his actionsโ€ is consistent with Chih-yungโ€™s โ€œtrack recordโ€ in the rest of the book — he repeatedly looks for excuses to justify his actions and inactions.

For example, he is reluctant to end his previous marriages when pressed by Julie because he โ€œcanโ€™t simply drive her out!โ€ (่ฆ่ถ•ๅฅนๅ‡บๅŽปๆ˜ฏไธ่กŒ็š„๏ผReferring to his second wife).

To justify his relationship with Miss Kโ€™ang, Chih-yung says, โ€œSuch a wonderful girl . . . I simply must help her continue her education,โ€ and โ€œMust nurture herโ€ฆโ€  (โ€œ้‚ฃ้บผๅฅฝ็š„ไบบ๏ผŒไธ€ๅฎš่ฆ็ตฆๅฅนๅ—ๆ•™่‚ฒ๏ผŒโ€ ไป–็ต‚ๆ–ผ่ชชใ€‚โ€่ฆๅฅฝๅฅฝ็š„ๅŸนๆคๅฅนโ€ฆโ€)

To justify his reluctance to end his relationship with Miss Kโ€™ang when confronted by Julie, Chih-yung says, โ€œWhy must a good tooth be extracted? Having to make a choice like this isnโ€™t ideal…โ€ (ๅฅฝ็š„็‰™้ฝ’็‚บไป€้บผ่ฆๆ‹”ๆŽ‰๏ผŸ่ฆ้ธๆ“‡ๅฐฑๆ˜ฏไธๅฅฝโ€ฆ)

We are aware that readers from different cultural and linguistic backgrounds may at times interpret literary texts differently. Nonetheless, we wish to take this opportunity to stress the importance of understanding the historical and linguistic context of a literary work in order to decipher an authorโ€™s message in a holistic manner.

We would appreciate it if the reviewer would reconsider her remarks. If this is not possible, we would be grateful if you could publish our response in the journal or on your website.

Thanks again for providing a platform for the appreciation of literature.


Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz

[1] Carlos Rojas, “Review of Eileen Chang’s Little Reunions,” The Shanghai Literary Review, no. 3 (June 2018): 19.

[2] Jiwei Xiao, “Belated Reunion? Eileen Chang, Late Style and World Literature,” New Left Review, no. 111 (May-June 2018): 102.


Jane Weizhen Pan and Martin Merz.jpg

Jane Weizhen Pan, Eileen Chang and Martin Merz

Jane Weizhen Pan has collaborated with Martin Merz on translations of many works by contemporary Chinese writers. She first encountered Eileen Chang’s work as a high school student in China and has been a devoted reader of her writing since. Pan is based in Melbourne, Australia, where her research focuses on early Chinese translations of English classics.

Martin Merz studied Chinese at Melbourne University and later received an MA in applied translation in Hong Kong. He moved to Asia in 1980 has worked in greater China ever since. In addition to his co-translations with Jane Weizhen Pan, he translated the modern Peking Opera Mulian Rescues His Mother, which was performed at the Hong Kong Fringe in the early 1990s.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s