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Unique Features of the Chinese Short-Short Story
Stories can catapult us to the heights of wonder and disbelief. They endear us to the ineluctable yet predictable ordinariness of daily life, its foibles, surprises and manifold manifestations. In the typical Chinese short-short story, events unfold, go through from beginning to middle and finish in an arc that may offer neat resolutions, untold pathos or joyful discoveries, which are comparable to those of the well-known literary pieces such as O. Henry’s “The Gift of the Magi.”
In the trilogy, A New Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories, selected and translated by Harry J. Huang (2019), the short-short story form introduces us to a genre that dates back from ancient Chinese civilization to the futuristic science fiction stories now trending in print, broadcast, film and cyberspace.
Vastly different from the novel, novella or short story, the Chinese short-short story (fiction of 500 to 1500 Chinese characters which run to approximately 1100 words when translated into English) comes from a tradition but has matured gradually and has assumed a form entirely its own.
As literary scholar Long Ganghua (2019) explains in “Chinese Short-Short Stories Written Inside and Outside of China,” the Chinese short-short story has existed since ancient times and can be traced from its forebears: ancient Chinese fairy tales and literary sketches. Over the past forty years, it has become vastly popular and is fast gaining adherents inside and outside China.
Today, the form is being written by close to 10,000 writers across China.The more-than-a-hundred writers included in the trilogy therefore represent the best among the best from this literary pool of diverse backgrounds.
Huang divides the 294 stories (culled from 25,000 submissions) comprising the trilogy anthology into themes in various sections. The themes range from “Officials at Work,” to the complexities and pains and joys of “Human Compassion,” to the difficulties of finding meaning in human frailty (“Wrongdoings & Punishment”) and the will to survive (“Forget & Forgive”).
In one story, “A Letter from Home,” in this anthology writer Wang Peijing begins his narration with an aphorism: “Concern is a string of emotions; missing is a net of feelings.”
The intriguing introduction immediately pulls the reader in. It tells the story from the point of view of a young man who joined the Tibet-Support Team to build the highway in Xixigeli. He meets Uncle Ma Dashan, a co-worker also known as Ma Daha or Scatterbrain, who doesn’t know how to read and write. The old man requests the young man to write him a letter to his wife. As the story develops, we are drawn more and more into the life of the illiterate man and his family.
It is in the unravelling of snippets and glimpses of life in the short-short form that makes the stories in the collection a treasure trove of the ordinary and the uncommon among people living in a country as vast and as diverse as mainland China, including those living in Hong Kong and Macao.
Each story offers a taste of the scents, sounds and flavors that make each village or town or city or region distinct: from workers to farmers to local officials to city dwellers making do with their assigned tasks, filial and societal duties and expectations to the day-to-day expressions and rituals of living.
With precision and concision, translator Huang captures images, sounds and gestures as if he was present in the act of writing itself, transforming words into visions that bear each writer’s meaning, style and purpose. Thus, his translation conveys what it means to be human, how it feels to be really there in that part of the world. Each story rendered asks of the readers to feel with their eyes and to think with their hearts.
A look at some of the titles shows the breadth, scope and depth of the stories in store for the keen reader, some of which are so poignant, so vivid and so enthralling they can easily be turned into a movie:
“A Wish,” by Xu Guojiang
“The Best Magician in the World,” by Cai Zhongfeng
“Long Hair,” by Tomaz Ho Wai Wong
“Phoenix Wings,” Xu Shewen
“Altering Prescriptions,” by Gao Jun
“A Bunch of Bitter Mustard Greens,” by Lin Xiaopeng
“Heaven’s Arrangement,” by Chen Zhenchang
“My Wife, My Elder Sister,” by Bai Wenling
“A Fake Wedding Ring,” by Shi Lei
“My Earliest Memories,” by Chen Zhenchang
“A Paper A Day,” by Xing Qingjie
“Seventeen Scarves,” by Li Yue
“Python Under the Quilt,” by Xiu Shi
“Mr. Zhou’s Date,” by Lin Tingguang
“Hypnosis at the Dinner Party,” by Ji Hongping
“Wicked Girl,” by Wan Qian
“Encountering the Chief,” by Mo Bai
“Besotted Lover,” by An Shiliu
“Prison Guards,” by Sun Fangyou
“Rob . . . Robbery,” by Huang Cheng
“The Hero’s Secret,” by Dai Xi
“It Was They,” by Zhao Zhiguang
“Horror in the ‘Dogs-Don’t-Care’ Buns Restaurant,” by An Shiliu
“On My Way Home,” by Cheng Siliang
“There Came a Pig,” by Zhang Chaoshan
“Plucking Feathers from a Goose,” by Liu Jushang
“Magic Stilyard,” by Xing Qingjie
“My Fountain Pen,” by Huang Keting
“The Well in Our Yard,” by Wu Wanfu
“His Blood Is Clean,” by Shao Huoyan
And more in the other two anthologies I have reviewed:
“A Doctor’s Benevolence,” by Ling Dingnian
“Philosophy Inside the Coffin,” by Lin Yueqi
“Turning Stone into Gold,” by Xu Dong
“Lao Luan’s Potted Flower,” by Wang Xinghai
“Chatting About the Ant’s Language,” by Luo Binlu
“Why They Wouldn’t Sign It,” by He Peng
“Altering Test Results,” by Zhu Shiyuan
“The Light Turns Green,” by Zhao Fengmin
“Biographical Notes of Two Brothers,” by Yuan Bingfa
“Tree-Root Carvings,” by He Baiyuan
“A Robotic Doctor,” by Sun Shuyuan
“Can’t Live Without Love” by He Baiyuan tells the story of a loveless wife, Zhuang Liyi, and Mr. Zhang, the medical practitioner of the state-owned farm.
In “Going to Town” by Zhang Ke, the narrator goes to a town to interview a 120-year-old woman but finds out that she has died. What follows in the narrator’s journey back to town will surprise readers.
Sister Xia’s steadfastness and loyalty in “A Soldier’s Wife” by Liu Wanli, is a study of wifely devotion and boundless love.
Stories like Sun Fangyou’s “A Woman Hostage” and Lin Ruqiu’s “Marrying the Guangxi Woman” in Huang’s first anthology of his trilogy are equally brilliant though I am unable to list all of them here due to limited space.
A rich blending of the old and the new in beautifully-translated storytelling, A New Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories, offers a fascinating and engaging glimpse into the lives and characters of a people who comprise a fifth of the human family. It is a book for both the scholar and the common reader.
Patria Rivera is a well-known Canadian poet, writer, and editor who lives in Toronto.
The Maturing Short-Short Story in China
The short-short story used to be an insignificant type of fiction in China. Back in the 1980s it was basically neglected by the literary circle and the Chinese society as a whole that would instead devote much attention to the national literary awards for the best novella and best short story, and the Mao Dun Literary Award for the best novel. Nonetheless, the thriving literary writing that started in the 1980s also promoted short-short story writing in earnest.
The Chinese short-short writers have become the largest and most powerful and competent group among all the literary writers’ groups in China. Records show that more than 150 short-short story writers have become members in the most prestigious Writers’ Association of China, more than 1,000 are members in the provincial writers’ associations, and if internet writers are also included, there should be more than 10,000 short-short story writers in total. Well-known writers including Wang Meng, Jia Ping’ao and many others, who used to write novels, novellas and short stories mostly, have also joined the short-short story writers, publishing short-short pieces from time to time. Short-short story writing theories and other studies on the short-short have also been published in large numbers, many of which are monographs. Mr. Lao She’s article “Write More Short-Short Stories” published in the combined second and third issues of the magazine Xin Gang, or New Harbor, on March 1, 1958, may count as the beginning of literary criticism for the short-short story in China. It is from his article that the Chinese name “xiao xiao shuo” (short-short story) has come into use.
Starting from the literary “new era” in mainland China, namely, from the mid-1980s until the early 1990s, studies on the short-short story have been published one after another. Besides essays written by prominent literary critics, a significant number of monographs have also been also released, as listed below:
Xiao Xiao Shuo Chuang Zuo Ji Qiao (Short-Short Story Creative Writing Techniques) by Lü Kuiwen and Zheng Jiande, 1988.
Xiao Xiao Shuo Shi San Jiang (Thirteen Lectures on the Short-Short Story) by Yang Guicai, 1988.
Wei Xing Xiao Shuo Xie Zuo Ji Qiao (Short-Short Story Writing Techniques) by Yuan Changwen, 1988.
Wei Xing Xiao Shuo Xie Zuo (Short-Short Story Writing) by Liang Duoliang, 1989.
Wei Xing Xiao Shuo De Li Lun Yu Ji Qiao (The Chinese Short-Short Story: Theory and Writing Techniques) by Liu Haitao, 1990.
Wei Xing Xiao Shuo Chuang Zuo Lun (Theory of Short-Short Story Writing) by Li Li Fang and Zhao Deli, 1990.
Wei Xing Xiao Shuo Chuang Zuo Ji Qiao (Creative Writing Techniques for the Short-Short Story Writer) by Chen Shunxuan and Wang Jialiang, 1990.
Xiao Xiao Shuo Yi Shu Lun (Artistic Theory of the Short-Short Story) by Li Xingqiao, 1990.
Wei Xing Xiao Shuo Ji Qiao Yu Jian Shang (Appreciating the Short-Short Story and Its Writing Techniques) by Yang Changjiang and Gan Decheng, 1990.
Zen Yang Xie Wei Xing Xiao Shuo (How to Write Short-Short Stories) by Zhu Xiaozheng, 1991.
Xiao Xiao Shuo Zong Heng Tan (Examining the Short-Short Story from Multiple Perspectives) by Yu Shangfu and Xu Tingjun (1991, revised in 2016).
Xiao Xiao Shuo Bai Jia Chuang Zuo Tan (Multiple Views on Short-Short Story Writing) and eleven other monographs of short-short story theories by Wang Baomin, 1992.
Mr. Liu Wenliang published in the sixth issue of Ganzu Social Sciences in 2002 a study entitled “Er Shi Nian Lai Wei Xing Xiao Shuo Li Lun Yan Jiu Ping Shu (A Review of the Short-Short Story Theories Published in the Past Twenty Years).” It was the first study of the kind, a clear critical review of the published theories on the short-short story.
More recently, Ling Dingnian’s Wei Xing Xiao Shuo Chuang Zuo Er Shi Ba Jiang (Twenty-Eight Talks on Short-Short Story Writing) (Guangming Daily Press, 2018) and Xia Yang’s Xiao Xiao Shuo Xie Zuo Yi Shu (The Art of Short-Short Story Writing) (Jincheng Press, 2016) have attracted much attention from the public.
If we can assume that the various studies have contributed to the creation of systematic short-short story theories and the maturity of its writing techniques, seminars have also played a role. In 1990, the national seminar on short-short story theories and writing skills held at Tangquanchi, Xinyang, Henan, undeniably played a positive role not only in the creation of a systematic theory of the short-short story, but also in confirming the literary position of the short-short story in China. In addition, the first world seminar on the short-short story written in Chinese held in Singapore State University in 1994, since which eleven seminars have been held in various places, also contributed greatly to the formation of the short-short story theories and the enhancement of its literary status.
Though, due to its limited volume and other reasons, to my knowledge, so far no short-short stories seem to have the same shocking effect as the novel and novella may have, generally speaking, fine short-short pieces keep coming out one after another and their influence on society increases day after day. That it has entered the classrooms in universities and schools is an indicator of its undeniable literary status. Its recognition is confirmed in various ways. First, short-short story writers have been invited to schools to talk about short-short story writing techniques. Reported records show that Ling Dingnian, a short-short story writer, has given more than fifty lectures and talks to students at different schools. Second, short-short stories have been included in textbooks as narratives and their themes and writing techniques have been analyzed and taught. Statistics show that about 200 pieces have been included in textbooks in China’s universities, high schools and elementary schools. In the recent years, more than 200 short-short stories, at least, have also been translated into foreign languages and been used as teaching materials outside China, the largest number of which are found in Japan. Thirdly, large numbers of them have been used in the “reading comprehension” sections of examinations and as sight passages for analysis in essay writing in China. Incomplete records show that up till 2017 the short-short story had been used thirty-nine times in the municipal and provincial college/university entrance examinations. Fourthly, the short-short has become a primary source of reading materials teachers recommend to students.
Today, the short-short story is irreplaceable in China; it even has become a time and space filler for reading and writing. As the mobile internet is becoming increasingly popular, among the public’s fragmental and “fast-food-type” readings the short-short story has become the most loved form of fiction that enjoys the largest number of clicks in China.
Song Guiyou, PhD (in literature), is a university professor. See “Biographical Sketches” for further details.
1 Special notes about this anthology (ANSLAM)
A New Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories: Satire, Love and Marriage (ANSLAM) comprises 101 newly translated stories that are divided by theme into seven sections: “Officials at Work,” “Human Compassion,” “Happy Lovers,” “Derailed Relationships,” “Wrongdoings & Punishment,” “Forget & Forgive,” and “Fighters in the Jianghu World.” According to Song (2019), the Chinese short-short story has been maturing. However, the overall quality of this anthology, among other evidence, indicates that it has matured, especially in the aspects of length, plot development, writing techniques, artistic expression and approaches, as well as aesthetic evaluation criteria.
The 101 stories were written by highly acclaimed writers as well as a small number of emerging writers, but regardless of their age or fame, every story is of top quality.
Most noticeably, the number of stories with political intent decreased significantly compared with the submissions received seventeen years ago. On the other hand, the number of stories positively describing various types of human relationships increased significantly. More participating authors seem to be in a pleasant mood compared with seventeen years ago. More exciting still, as pointed out by Patria Rivera in her foreword, many stories are so well written that they can easily be turned into movies. The translator is confident that some of them will survive the test of time and become classics, though only time will tell.
Regarding jianghu stories, though I am saddened by short-short story master Mr. Sun Fangyou’s death in 2013, I am also comforted by the fact that a number of younger writers have been writing good stories of the type he was doing. As it seems, the gap left by Mr. Sun is being narrowed and someday it may hopefully be filled. From the continuously growing army of short-short story writers whose talents can be felt in all the sections of the anthology, I am confidently waiting for more works that can survive the test of time.
ANSLAM also features a supplement of “Biographical Sketches” which lists every participating author’s major literary publications, prizes, and awards, among others. Also included is a short glossary that explains a list of Chinese terms difficult for the reader to understand. A guide to improve the English reader’s pronunciation of the most difficult Chinese names of people and places—“Pronouncing the Most Difficult Pinyin in the Wade System”—is also made available as a supplement, followed by a list of titles and authors’ names in Chinese. The anthology concludes with an English index comprising the titles and the authors’ names.
ANSLAM is not just a book of literature for the general public, but it may also be used as a college and university textbook.
2 General information about the trilogy
2.1 Status of the Chinese short-short story
This is one of the translator’s three anthologies of Chinese short-short stories that comprise 294 short-short stories including the 121 from his previous publication (Huang, 2005). In the broadest sense, the three anthologies are called a trilogy for the primary reason that they form a series, though some thematic sections may appear in more than one anthology.
This trilogy appears to be nearly as old as the history of the contemporary Chinese short-short story. Collecting masterpieces is an ongoing process for the translator, which has not been easy, for a fine short-short story is not much easier to write than a novella and a novel. Though thousands of short-short story writers have been actively writing all over China, the annual total of “classic-type” masterpieces still seems limited. The difficulty in short-short story writing is often underestimated by many who think it is easy to write because it is short. The reality is that a true masterpiece that can survive the test of time requires not only writing techniques and experience, but also wisdom. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that well-written short-short stories appear every year and fine writers also gain due recognition as they deserve it (Song, 2019).
Song (Ibid) reports that, at least, 150 short-short story writers have been admitted into the prestigious Writers’ Association of China, while more than 1,000 have joined provincial writers’ associations. He estimates that when the internet short-short story writers are included, the total number exceeds 10,000. Also, the short-short stories included in textbooks, other reading materials and examination papers used in elementary schools, high schools, colleges, and universities in China, have totaled at least 200 (Ling, 2019, Song, 2019). In addition, hundreds of Chinese short-short stories have been translated into English and Japanese, among other languages, and have also been used in schools, colleges, and universities outside of China. At Seneca College, before retirement this translator alone had used as textbooks in a period of more than fifteen years two anthologies of Chinese short-short stories, which comprise 221 stories translated into the English language. Obviously, when we include the English translations of the Chinese short-shorts used in colleges and universities in Canada, the United States, Japan and other countries, the total number used well exceeds 200.
During the past fifteen years, in particular, the Chinese short-short story not only continued to develop, but it also matured. Most Chinese short-short story writers agree that 1,500 Chinese characters are the optimal number needed for a good short-short story, which has become the norm (Huang, 2019), even though the average length of the short-short stories included in this trilogy is about 1,150 Chinese characters, or approximately 900 words when translated into English. The number of short-short stories published in China has also been increasing steadily and their readership has reached an all-time high. The short-short has become, or is becoming, the most read of the four types of fiction in China (Song, 2019). Professional writers including novelists, literary nonfiction writers, among others, have also been writing short-short stories (Ibid). That is why the short-short story writers’ group outnumbers those of the novel, the novella, and the short story. Most delightful, however, is that great wisdom, creativity, and unique writing techniques are demonstrated through many excellent short-shorts that shock, thrill, enlighten or make the reader laugh or cry. These are also the qualities listed in the translator’s submission calls that resulted in the trilogy (also see Song, 2019).
The masterpieces included in this trilogy evidence that the Chinese short-short story is neither a “sparrow,” as it used to be called—perhaps by mistake or prematurely, nor a “little brother,” as rejected by Xu (2005). Indeed, it is an equally important, independent genre of fiction in China that cannot be neglected or denied. Instead, it deserves recognition and careful study. This translator hopes that its literary charm and beauty, among its other merit and features, will be fully discovered, accepted and appreciated outside of China as well, and that its literary status, duly recognized in world literature.
2.2 Open calls for submissions
This anthology trilogy is a result of two open calls for submission of masterpieces of Chinese short-short stories. The first call was published on the internet and elsewhere in 2002 and submissions were accepted until early 2004. The second one was issued in 2017 and ran until February 2018, and submissions were accepted until early 2019. The first submission call solicited contemporary masterpieces written up until the call was issued. The second call invited submission of masterpieces written and, or published from 2005 until 2017 (which was then extended as mentioned above) including works reprinted and republished during this period. Previous masterpieces that were not submitted for consideration of translation between 2002 and 2004 were also considered on a case-by-case basis in 2017. Both calls were also circulated among members of China’s writers’ associations or societies at the national, provincial, and city levels, especially the short-short story writers’ society of China and those of the provinces, and within the literary networks of the coordinating authors in Hong Kong and Macao. Some participating authors voluntarily forwarded the calls to short-short story writers in Taiwan, for the translator had little direct contact with any literary organizations there.
The submission calls were also sent to short-short story periodicals which then published them in their magazines and, or websites. The second call in particular was mostly circulated on the internet, which is obviously the fastest and most convenient way of communication. Individual writers also informed each other of the submission calls through the social media, among other means. Due to unexpected reasons, both submission deadlines were extended for writers in cities where the calls had failed to reach.
Lengthwise, writers were initially asked to submit stories of approximately 1,300 Chinese characters long, with 1,000 being the preferred length, but not long after the second call was issued it became clear that many of the submissions were much longer than expected, and there might not be enough stories for a first-class anthology, if the length was not extended. Accordingly, the original length limit was abandoned, which was then increased to 1,500 characters instead. Thus, the problem was solved. It is reminded that some longer stories were also accepted, as long as the overall quality justified the length. Most interestingly, however, a final word count of the new submissions and the trilogy respectively indicates that the average story is indeed about 1150 Chinese characters long, meeting the length requirement initially specified in the calls for submission, especially in the second one.
Every effort was made to ensure the trilogy would include the best of the best short-short stories. That is why, even after the last submission deadline had passed, the translator still continued to search through the internet for stories that met the criteria but had not been submitted. If one was found, a special invitation for submission would be sent to the author. Though it might seem unfair in a way that late submissions were considered, the translator deemed it the only way to secure the best submissions for a possible best trilogy. As a result, about ten more fine stories published in 2018 were also selected and included in the trilogy.
2.3 A pool of about 25,000 stories received
As mentioned above, the first submission call resulted in a collection of 121 stories, while the second call, brought about 173. These 294 Chinese short-short stories have thus been translated into English and divided into three anthologies now called a trilogy. However, it is reminded that due to the many themes of the stories, the subtitle of each anthology is unable to reflect all the stories included. This is within expectation, because the submission calls did not specify subject or theme areas for authors to match. Neither had the translator issued the full titles of his anthologies before calling for submissions. The translator never intended to do so, in fear it might restrain certain writers from submitting what they thought was a masterpiece that had no theme to match. Despite this challenge, each anthology has been given a subtitle with its theme sections as carefully organized as humanly possible to make the trilogy user-friendly for scholars, students, and all other readers.
Regarding the number of submissions, between 2002 and 2004 about 20,000 stories were received. This rather large number made the final selection afterward extremely time-consuming. Different from the 2002–2004 call, the 2017 call published a much more specific submission guideline with the intention to reduce the time needed in the selection process afterward. By the end of January 2018, the translator had received from writers responding to the call more than 2,000 stories and thirty individual anthologies submitted for consideration of translation and publication. Finally, the number of stories increased to approximately 5,000.
The translator originally planned to translate a new selection of about sixty new stories, but somehow the number went up to 173. Working in a group, the translator and his assistants initially selected a total of 164 from the submissions by February 2018, but after a second review, a few stories were dropped, and one was withdrawn by the author. In the end, including the late invited submissions, it totaled 173.
Should anyone wonder if the second pool of 5,000 short-short stories, in comparison with the previous 20,000, might have by any chance compromised the quality of the stories selected, the answer is no. As mentioned above, clearer criteria and conditions had been listed in the second submission call and each author was limited to three stories, which would allow them to submit their masterpieces without a problem, and additional stories including those submitted even after the deadline were also considered. The size of the pool is a nonissue: the submissions were of the highest quality that represented the best of the Chinese short-short stories published up till the end of 2018.
The late short-short story master Sun Fangyou and some other writers have a bigger number of stories included in the trilogy. In particular, any author responding to the second submission call who has more than three stories included had received special invitations from the translator for additional submissions. It is also reminded that five of the stories—one by Gao Weixi, one by Lin Ruqiu, one by Xu Junquan, and two by Zhang Chaoshan—that did not appear in the translator’s first anthology (Huang, 2005) but were published in An Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories in Chinese & English (Huang, 2008) have also been counted as new submissions. Also counted is “A Villager’s Revenge,” a story written by this translator in the 1980s. It was one of the stories included in the 2005 anthology submitted for publication but subsequently taken out by the publisher due to inappropriate content at that time. This story also failed to appear in the 2008 bilingual edition. It has been included in this Canadian-published anthology.
2.4 Rule for selection of submissions
Every story was selected based on its merit, but the reader is reminded that not every prominent writer has responded to either or both submission calls and thus some may have been left out, though the reason is unknown. It is quite possible that perhaps due to lack of access to the internet where the calls were mostly circulated, or their unwillingness to participate, whatever the reason may be, certain writers did not respond to either or both calls. Needless to say, whether to participate or not was every writer’s personal decision, which was equally respected, but the entire process is deemed open and fair.
Ensuring the highest quality of the anthology series remained the number one criterion throughout the selection process. Even though the merit-based selection rule is self-apparent, it is reminded that an emerging writer whose stories met the selection criteria may have been included in the trilogy and that if a well-known writer submitted a few stories that were not their masterpieces and, or that did not meet the criteria for any reason, they might have been excluded, especially if they declined a resubmission invitation from the translator, or if their resubmissions still did not meet the selection criteria.
The reader is also reminded that the number of a writer’s stories included in the anthologies does not necessarily indicate his or her literary achievement or recognition in China or elsewhere. In other words, some authors who have only one story included may have published more and are more famous than a writer who has two or three stories included. Every story selected for inclusion just means it met the selection criteria listed in the submission calls. Though blemishes may unavoidably exist in the anthologies, as commonly agreed among the Chinese short-short story writers and critics, this trilogy represents the highest level of artistry of the Chinese short-short story.
2.5 Authors’ nationality and professional backgrounds
To qualify, writers must be or must have been residents of mainland China, Hong Kong, Macao, and Taiwan at the time of the publication or creation of their Chinese stories. It is not necessarily a political issue, but more of a linguistic one. The condition was imposed to ensure, or assume, the participants’ Chinese competency, though it may seem arbitrary. As a result, this trilogy primarily includes writers from the places listed above. This translator, who had written his first book of Chinese short-short stories while residing in one of the places listed above but moved to Canada in the late 1980s, also has three of his stories included. The great majority of the writers, however, are from mainland China with a smaller number from Hong Kong and Macao, and one from Taiwan.
The contributors of the trilogy have a diversity of backgrounds. Many are professional writers, literary editors, TV and newspaper reporters. Others are schoolteachers, professors, government officials and employees, healthcare workers, and police officers, among others. The rich variety of the writers’ background and experience contributes greatly to the uniqueness of the trilogy, which makes every story a pleasure to read.
Besides a rich variety of professions, the living authors of the trilogy belong to various ages—from their thirties to eighties. By the same token, their ages mean different knowledge and life experiences that seem to enable each group to excel in writing topics they know well or are best at.
2.6 Division by theme
The trilogy consists of the following titles:
- A New Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories: Ancient and Contemporary Romance, Social Ills, Twists and Turns in Life,
- A New Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories: Satire, Love and Marriage, and
- A New Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories: Surprises, Wisdom and Philosophy.
As pointed out in the special notes in the beginning of this introduction, each anthology is divided into sections by theme, including those indicated by the key words in the subtitle. Readers, of course, could read from the beginning of each anthology, or simply start with their favorite section.
There are a few stories in every anthology that were quite difficult to place into any particular section, and as their numbers were too small to form their own sections, they may have just been placed in a section to which they seemed most closely related. The ultimate purpose is to improve the readability of each anthology. The translator hopes that the reader likes the division of the stories.
2.7 Exclusive English translation right
To prevent plagiarism, and for other reasons, all the contemporary writers in this trilogy have granted the translator the exclusive right to translate their stories into the English language, which means, no one else may retranslate any of these stories into English without prior written permission from the translator. Any individual translator (no groups) who thinks he or she can translate the anthologies better than the translator has done is welcome to email him to request a challenge, in which case the challenger will be given an opportunity to translate a randomly selected literary work written in Chinese that may contain a poem or couplet. Their challenge translation will go through a fair assessment process. Basically, it will be done under the supervision of a university professor or another professional to be appointed by Harry J. Huang. Then, it will be assessed by reputable peers, and if they find there is merit in it and recommend it, it will be posted on the internet against Harry J. Huang’s translation for public evaluation. If the results of the peer assessment and public evaluation support the challenger’s claim, Harry J. Huang would be happy to permit the challenger to retranslate the anthology series, provided consent is also granted by the original writers. Any challenger and translation critic must reveal their real identity including their full name and address to be taken seriously. This translator may be contacted through email at email@example.com.
2.8 Rules of translation
Throughout the translation of the trilogy, this translator followed the same rules of translation originally stated in his 2005 publication, heeding the advice of the English readers including college students, 56% of whom prefer clarity, 13% stress the importance of content, and 31% list stylistics as a priority (Huang, 2005). The translator tried to be as faithful to the source text as he humanly could by translating the meaning of every meaningful and translatable word, but he also combined words that repeated each other and left out words that were not needed in the target language. While doing the “painful and thankless” (Eugene A. Nida’s words) job of translating, this translator always kept in mind the Chinese writer and the English reader who were both his bosses. He tried to polish every single story until it read like original English writing. He provided notes for whatever words or expressions deemed difficult for the average English reader. In situations where he had to choose between the reader and others, the former was always his priority and remained the center of his work. Harry Huang’s favorite saying is: “When you [the reader] are happy I am happy; when you smile I smile.”
Here is an additional point to mention, related or unrelated: Harry J. Huang is an independent translator who has never received for this translation projects a single penny of grant or any other type of subsidy from any government, organization, or individual throughout the past forty years or so, even when he was translating fulltime.
2.9 Additional features
As mentioned in the special notes above, each of the three anthologies has a supplement—“Biographical Sketches”—that provides brief biographies of the participating authors including information about their literary publications, prizes, and awards, followed by a short glossary of Chinese terms, which includes some of the words that may have been footnoted more than once. Though words deemed difficult for the reader are footnoted, it is reminded that predicting every reader’s difficult words is a challenge and, due to limited space, the footnotes provided and the words listed in the glossary may appear to be limited, especially the latter, and thus may only solve some of the reader’s problems. Also included in the glossary is a list of Chinese-English titles ending in “-rector.” The translator proposes the list for future use in order to simplify the confusing translations of the names of the Chinese government officials that frequently appear in literary writings and elsewhere. Listed in its following supplement, “How to Pronounce the Most Difficult Pinyin in the Wade System,” are five pinyin “vowel letters” and the most difficult pinyin consonants, which are all illustrated with example words. It is intended to effectively reduce the English reader’s difficulty in pronouncing the names of people and places in the Chinese stories, as previously stated.
It is also reminded that most of the Chinese names in the stories are directly translated into pinyin and they remain in the same Chinese order with the last name (surname) appearing first and first (given) name, last. The Chinese authors’ names also appear with their family names in the front, which are boldfaced. On the other hand, most of the characters’ names that are preceded by “Lao (老)” or “Xiao (小)” which approximately mean old and young (or little, or small) are treated as a special group.
“Lao” and “Xiao” are neither surnames nor given names, but they have been translated as the first half of whatever names they precede, in which case the surname that follows them appears in the place of the given name if taken as a standard Chinese name. This is just about as confusing as a Chinese name can be. Despite this confusion, directly translating them into “Lao” and “Xiao” followed by the family name still seems preferable to rendering “Lao” into “Old,” and “Xiao” into “Young,” “Little,” or “Small.” Here is an example that may help explain why. It is undeniable that “Lao Ma” and “Xiao Wang” may not be the most accurate translations, but neither do they cause much noticeable awkwardness in an English translation in most cases; or, rather, they may not be as misleading as “Old Ma” and “Young Wang” or “Little Wang” may be in some cases. I have an eighty-year-old pen friend who keeps calling a seventy-year-old friend “Xiao Wang,” who is a grandfather. To her, Wang may still be considered as a young man, but when all factors are considered, calling him “Young Wang” or “Little Wang” in English just does not sound appropriate, especially in the presence of his own children and grandchildren. On the other hand, two nine-year-old Chinese boys, Liu and Zhang, may call each other “Lao Liu” and “Lao Zhang.” Likewise, calling themselves “Old Liu” and “Old Zhang” in English may sound awkward, especially in the presence of their own parents and grandparents or a senior friend. This habit simply does not exist in the English language, and therefore throughout the three anthologies, “Lao” and “Xiao” are used, followed by the family name.
The translator hopes that the reader will keep this in mind during the course of reading. Meanwhile, it should also be reminded that “Xiao (肖)” that takes the first tone in Chinese is a standard family name. It is a different character which should not confuse the above Xiao (小) that means “young” and that takes the third tone.
In brief, every effort has been made to ensure the anthologies are easy to use for the general public as well as scholars and other researchers. The translator sincerely hopes that the reader likes all the stories he has selected and translated and every one of the anthologies.
I wish to thank each and every one of the writers who submitted their short-short stories to me, including those whose works were not selected for inclusion in this anthology trilogy. I sincerely thank those who have been included in the anthology for granting me the exclusive right to translate their stories into English.
The most important person I wish to thank is Dr. Robert Price, professor of English, who has proofread the entire trilogy for me. He has proofread every one of my books in the last twenty years or so, for which I owe him a heavy debt of gratitude.
Poet, writer, and editor, Patria C. Rivera, proofread all the three anthologies and gave extremely useful advice on copyediting, for which I am truly grateful.
As he did some seventeen years ago, Mr. Ling Dingnian, a Taicang-based writer, Chair of the World’s Association for the Study of the Short-Short Story in Chinese, deserves a thank-you for circulating my 2017 submission call to the writers’ associations in China, especially the short-short writers’ associations and societies at the national and provincial levels and all the extra help he offered to me. It was his timely assistance that enabled me to collect all the great submissions within the shortest possible time. The many coordinating editors and writers in mainland China, Hong Kong and Macao also played an important role in circulating my calls for submission, and I wish to thank them as well.
Bestview Scholars Publishing deserves a thank-you for publishing this trilogy within such a short time. I truly appreciate the support of my family, other relatives and friends. Without their help this timely publication would not have been possible.
Like all the other books and research projects I published in the past, this trilogy is another project of teamwork. It is the collective work and wisdom of all the participating writers, scholars, editors, proofreaders and all other contributors, whose known ages range from thirties to eighties. I would like to thank all of them once more on behalf of myself and the readers.
Harry J. Huang, PhD
Huang, Harry J. (sel. & trans.) (2005). An Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.
Huang, Harry J. (sel. & trans.) (2008). An Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories in Chinese & English. Shanghai: Shanghai Foreign Language Education Press.
Huang, Harry J. (2019). Unifying the English Translation of wei xing xiao shuo and xiao xiao shuo. In Harry J. Huang (sel. & trans.), A New Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories: Surprises, Wisdom and Philosophy. Toronto: Bestview Scholars Publishing.
Ling, Dingnian. (2019). Short-Short Story Writers’ Associations and Periodicals in China. Ibid.
Song, Guiyou. (2019). The Maturing Short-Short Story in China. In Harry J. Huang (sel. & trans.), A New Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories: Satire, Love and Marriage. Toronto: Bestview Scholars Publishing.
Xu, Xijun. (2005). The Short-Short Story Beats the Novella. In Harry J. Huang (sel. & trans.), An Anthology of Chinese Short-Short Stories. Beijing: Foreign Languages Press.