Xuanshan Wen (현선문)
Korean translator and sinologist. Lecturer of Department of Chinese Language and Literature in Konkuk University, Kyung Hee University, and Ewha Womans University. Permanent Research Fellow of “Wen-er-Yuan (Literature is Long)”, a humanities research association. She has translated more than twenty Chinese works (including contemporary Chinese literature works, classics and those on humanities), and her most prominent translations include Su Tong’s My Life as Emperor, River Side, Record of Training Son (a collection of novellas) and Madwoman on the Bridge (a collection of short stories), Jia Pingwa’s Qin Qiang, Li Peifu’s A Record of Life, Liu Zhenyun’s I Didn’t Kill My Husband, A Lai’s Epic of King Gesar, Bi Feiyu’s Massage, Feng Tang’s Give Me A Girl at the Age of Eighteen, Di An’s Xijue.
Q1 Please tell us some of your stories with China and when did the tie begin?
It was almost 23 years ago. In the 3rd year in the Department of History of EwhaWomans University in 1995, I entered the double degree program and chose Chinese major. Although I had studied Chinese for more than a year when I was in high school, it was really not easy to study with students who had graduated from foreign language high school. I decided to take a break, going to China to study Chinese at Beijing International Studies University rarely chosen by students in my university with the active recommendation by senior school sisters in the history department.
I stayed in Beijing International Studies University for one year, which is very special for me who is a single woman without men and no brothers and sisters. This period of independent life is the first time that I lived in a foreign country, and I felt fresh every day in terms of learning and daily life.
I was very interested in everything in China at that time, and the scene is still alive in my mind. For example, at the contemporary Chinese class, I watched the televison drama "Over-addict" in class and learned to understand contemporary China; I could buy a bowl of wonton behind the lecture building every morning before class; I took the hard-seat train for the first time in the autumn to Datong, which is a very absurd experience; when I came back to Beijing in the winter to make phone calls with my families after the leisure time of celebrating Chinese Lunar New Year in Yunnan, I found out that there were hundreds of casualties during the devastating earthquake in Yunnan. It’s only a short period of one year, but that experience still hangs in my heart. When I enjoy watching Chinese literature, film and TV animation, I always feel the reality of that time and spatial and temporal conditions in my works. It seems that a small seed sprouted in my heart and slowly became a landscape full of flowers. Therefore, when I study foreign languages and foreign cultures, I attach great importance to the direct personal experience of time and space. To be honest, I had almost no chance to experience China personally if I had stayed in Korea to study for a master degree and doctoral degree instead of coming to Beijing to study Chinese during that year.
I am fortunate to have come to travel around China then, which is 20 years ago seen from now, and got a better understanding of China at that time, which has rarely been seen by modern Chinese people. This is very worth trying.
Q2 How did you make the long-term research of Chinese language and culture as your career?
My first translation works was The Penultimate Girlfriend, and the opportunity came by chance. In the spring of 2004, I was preparing to write a thesis after the doctoral program. At that time, I really needed a job that did not hinder me from writing the thesis at home. Because of the sudden death of my father, I became the head of the family and shouldered responsibility to support the family. The school sister who worked at a publishing house at the time recommended me to translate Chinese novels. I loved to read Chinese novels and I readily agreed to take this job.
At the beginning, I didn't have any special professional awareness of the job as a translator but only understood Chinese language and liked to read novels. However, I have always been willing to become a writer one day since I was a child. I have a certain degree of command of languages, especially Korean as my mother tongue. This has been the most helpful for me in a job of a so-called translator. Of course, the first time to translate a novel was not so smooth. I should express my special thanks to my school sister who guided me to do everything involving translation and publishing which I don't know a bit. She made the greatest contribution to making me a good translator. It is very lucky for a translator to meet a good editor. That school sister will consider a place that the translator has not thought of for a better direction for the book to be published, and understand the accusation of my shortcomings and the inconsistency of translating documents. I also discussed with her in the process of modifying the translation documents to correct myself, and finally became regarded as a person who, after measuring his own strength, could act as a good translator.
At present, I mainly work in three directions in translation works: first, I, with the first reader identity, am introducing Chinese literature that deserves translation to Korean readers. Second, I am analyzing and understanding the cultural psychology of contemporary China through Chinese classical classics and humanistic classics of the same era. Third, I am trying to give Korean readers a new perspective on the true face of China with my understanding of Chinese classical and contemporary culture.
Q3 Concerning the works you translated, what was your way of presenting Chinese culture authentically and objectively?
I have been so far studying in Korea. Apart from studying Chinese in Beijing during the university period, I have had no chance to stay in China for a long time. But I have a certain grasp of Chinese culture as much as any Chinese cultural professional researcher for although I am not in China, my heart has always been in China and I could feel the cultural ambience of China. I can understand the current situation in China through the Chinese film and television news and predict possible changes later on.
I will review the information obtained from the students in China and the students coming to Korea from China to get a panorama view of the theme and the latest research trends of the thesis, which is although not the most direct feeling of China, but helping me to keep a close distance with China spatially and temporally.
In fact, I am also dissatisfied with myself because I can't be with the rapid development of China every minute, but now I regard the famous phrase "I don't know the true face of the mountain" as a small comfort. I hope that one day I will have the opportunity to "only because I am in this mountain".
Q4 As far as your personal research work is concerned, what do you think is the difficulty of your current work?
As a translator, I have been active in Korea for more than ten years (about 14 years). During this period of time, I have experienced various things, and I have heard a lot of information and learned about translation and publishing. For example, the ones that I have translated can't be published at the end. It is very regrettable since those works are always worthy of translation.
I have heard that some translation agencies have squeezed young translators. Some Korean publishing companies, which can't hold their own business, finally give up or close the door. However, translators are not told about the situation. Even after more than ten years of translation experience, I often couldn't ask about the program and the publishing process. There is no clear recognized procedure in translation and its publication in Korea, and the legal system that protects individual translators and their working life is not yet built.
I think the biggest difficulty for the two-language translators in Korea is that the conditions for book publishing in Korea and China are completely different. Specifically, the reasons are mainly as follows: first, the market size of Korea and China is different. Second, Korean readers' understanding of Chinese literature is still shallow, and naturally they do not care much about it.