China’s Feng Tang: Translating the ‘Beijing, Beijing’ Of His Peers

Image - Feng Tang, provided by AmazonCrossing
Image – Feng Tang, provided by AmazonCrossing

‘Sexuality Is Almost My Trademark’

“Why didn’t you take your stupid Three Gun briefs home?” she asked. “They were clearly dry already, dry as they would ever get, but you didn’t take them back. Why? After looking at them all day, I would go out and dance all night.”

“One truth was equal to one cup of beer.” Cover design by David Drummond

What the author Feng Tang does in Beijing, Beijing is the same thing he says he does in all his work: he tells the truth. And always, always with sex, he stresses. “Sexuality is almost my trademark.” As his lead character Qiu Shui has it:

The kind of truth that you would not say lightly to your mother or to the Party.

That kind of truth has made him a literary star at home in China. The Beijing-born writer — now “42. No, 43. No, wait, I’m 44″ — is exploring a generational experience from the 1990s so widely identifiable for his colleagues that his life is catching up with his fiction. He has Qiu Shui say in his book:

One summer evening in Beijing in 1994, I said, “I want to be a writer. It’s my destiny to write ten novels, ten timeless novels.”

He’s getting there. This soft-spoken, gentle conversationalist sits with me, hunched in concentration as he scans his literary output in his mind: “Six novels, two essay collections, one poem collection, one short story collection. And I’m writing two more novels.” One of his novels is banned by Beijing. For sexual content.

He has been writing for almost 30 years, he tells me. And in his books, he watches his fellows with a sharp eye for their frailties:

His strategy involved eating a lot of food with his fingers, then drinking strong alcohol and using it as a pretext to do inappropriate things. He would attempt to stroke Liu Qing’s thigh with his greasy fingers, saying things like, “I love you, my heart is breaking into a million pieces. I can’t eat, I can’t sleep. I want you so badly.” Every once in a while he came up to me and asked for my professional opinion, as a gynecology student, on his stupid questions about women.

“Someone told me that when you’re looking for a wife, you should do the Coke-can test,” he said. “You get an empty Coke can, and if she can pee into it without making a mess, she’s a gem. It means she definitely has a tight pussy. You’re the expert. Do you think this test is supported by science?”

And did I mention that Feng Tang is a doctor of gynecological oncology?

What you’ll find in Feng’s work is a wry gift for social observation and a self-conscious narrative voice that recalls the best work of Henry Miller.

Feng writes skin-to-skin with the political and economic forces that have shoved and jostled him and his friends for three of the most transformative decades in China’s history.

My personal favorite Feng title: At 36, I Had No Doubts.

AmazonCrossing: ‘Around 150 Books Translated’

Fortunately for those of us who want to read the work of this singularly self-aware artist, Feng is one of the many authors whose work is being translated byAmazonCrossing. This breezy, engaging translation of Beijing, Beijing byMichelle Deeter is Feng’s first novel to be translated into English and was released near the end of March.

Not familiar with AmazonCrossing? It’s one of the 14 imprints of Amazon Publishing. Sometimes referred to as “A-Pub,” Amazon Publishing is the traditional wing of the retailer’s publishing operation, not part of the self-publishing platform and tools for which most people connect Amazon and authors. Amazon Publishing functions as a straight-ahead publishing house.

Sarah Jane Gunter
Sarah Jane Gunter

Among these imprints, AmazonCrossing may be the most successful so far on its own terms. Introduced five years ago, in May 2010, it has become what Stephen Heyman reports in The New York Times is, again this year, the largest producer of translated work in the States. And under the direction of its vivacious, engaged publisher,Sarah Jane Gunter — formerly of Amazon-Luxembourg and Amazon-France — Crossing is crossing a line that will surprise some in publishing: this imprint is winning friends for Amazon.

At London Book Fair in April, Gunter spoke with me about the process her imprint uses to keep expanding its output. “Last year, for example,” she told me, “we published around 50 original-language acquisitions in German. This year we’ll do around 90. And some of those German-language authors, we’re now translating into English.”

To keep that engine running, Gunter has teams in various parts of the world, spotting likely work. And one way the company is able to produce as much as it’s doing is by booking translators far in advance. When a team finds someone whose translation work they like, she says, they’ll look ahead in their production calendars and reserve that translator’s services for 18 months or so at a time. The same in-country team that identifies a good candidate for translation then helps market the book when its translation is released. A book thus is carried, full circle, by its most enthusiastic supporters in the company.

Gunter and I spoke briefly last week at BookExpo America (BEA) but more extensively in London, where she told me, “We have published around 150 books, translated into English since we started in 2010. Fifteen different languages, 18 different countries — everything from literary prize-winners to bestselling genre fiction.”

When Heyman writes at the Times about AmazonCrossing, he’s basing part of his report (as we all do) on the work of the tireless Chad Post at the University of Rochester. Post’s Three Percent is a much-valued hub of interest for people interested in international literature. Gunter calls Post “the score-keeper.” Quite right. It was from his analysis that the rest of us learned that the Dalkey Archive was being surpassed in 2013 by AmazonCrossing for sheer numbers of translated titles into the English-language market.

A new, vigorous No. 1 in the translation field is big and happy news in the community of readers who love translated works: Post’s “Three Percent,” after all, is named for an understanding that “only about 3 percent of all books published in the United States are works in translation.” My guess is that Post adopted that name before digital publishing had exploded the level of output in the US. Today, I’d imagine that far less than even 3 percent of what’s produced in the States is works in translation. AmazonCrossing has arrived not one moment too soon.

And as Post tells Heyman, AmazonCrossing is “doing a lot of things that most translation publishers don’t do: romance, thriller, young adult books, things that are definitely in that chick lit category” — not limiting itself to literary work, as some translation houses do.

Queen of the Trailer ParkThis is an important key. When in April I mentioned some of the “shirtless men kissing beautiful women” romance covers (my phrase, not hers) that I’d seen at times on the AmazonCrossing list, Gunter — a good sport — was quick to say, “Hey, if they’re good stories, we like them.” The subtext there, of course, is that if they’re good stories they’ll also sell, and shirtless men kissing beautiful women do tend to find the legions of buyers that our best literary writers might only dream of attracting. AmazonCrossing is succeeding, in part, because it’s not locked into an idea of one fiction classification or another. Post is right to highlight the fact that it handles both serious work and entertainment genres.

Meanwhile, there are Amazon KDP authors — Kindle Direct Publishing — being approached by AmazonCrossing, too, Gunter told me, for translation to English from their French, Spanish, or German originals. This week’s release of Alice Quinn’s Queen of the Trailer Park is one of these instances, translated from the French by Alexandra Maldwyn-Davies.

What’s more, AmazonCrossing is good news for English-language authors because it’s widening its catalog in “the other direction”: translating US writings into other languages.

Example: the Chicago-based author of Unimaginable, Dina Silver, has just seen her book’s release this week by AmazonCrossing in a German translation by Irena Böttcher, Das Unvorstellbar.

Among some of the key releases ahead in the next few months from AmazonCrossing:

And in London, Gunter and her associate Gracie Doyle told me about a Chinese author, a very good one, who might be at BEA in New York. Feng Tang.

Five releases

Read More

There’s more: Read the full story at Thought Catalog

By Porter Ander­son

Writing on the Ether:   China’s Feng Tang: Translating the ‘Beijing, Beijing’ Of His Peers

Originally published by Thought Catalog at



600 x 200 TEP this one


Banner big

Matera 600 x 200


600 X 200 NINC

Leave a Reply