Jens Karlsson, who is currently senior lecturer of Chinese Studies at our Department and who has translated a novel by Yang Zhipeng into Swedish in 2019 under the title of “Hemligheten i världen” (The Secret in the World), introduced the event with his reflections on the translation process. He pointed out that without translation there would be no world literature. He also mentioned several concrete issues which he was faced with when translating Yang Zhipeng’s novel, such as carrying over a lot of buddhist terminology into Swedish. While the main narrative of the book revolves around a commercial cultural project in the Chinese reform era of the 1990’s, Buddhism runs like a background theme throughout the novel. Many of the Chinese Buddhist terms themselves being loan words, the translator often opted for going ad fontes, i.e. back to the Sanskrit origins, and then introducing the Buddhist terms into Swedish as loan words, for example words like sadhana (“cultivation”).

His introduction was followed by a dialogue between the author and the editor of “Hemligheten i världen”. Editor Chen Maiping compared Yang’s novel to “Rulin Waishi” (Unofficial History of the Literati), a novel written in the mid-18th century that has been described as the first lengthy sustained piece of satire in the fictional mode in China.

In his answers, Yang Zhipeng frequently cited words of Buddhist masters and emphasized that for him, literature is a way to get involved in a spiritual dialogue with his readers. Asked whether he perceives a crisis of belief in today’s China, Yang Zhipeng answered that in his view currently the whole world is affected by a crisis of belief, which leads to constant violation of taboos. In the following dialogue, writer and editor reflected, among other issues, on the topics of inner and outer freedom.

Kim Jarle Wroldsen, PhD student of Chinese Studies at our department, acted as interpreter.

The remarkable event ended with a book-signing of Yang Zhipeng.

Text by Monika Gänssbauer