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Allen Ginsberg’s Chinese Translations

Last week, I updated an old post on Chinese translations of Jack Kerouac’s novels. The article proved surprisingly popular, in fact knocking our website out temporarily after seeing 33,000 visitors in just three hours! I will try to keep it up-to-date in future, as it seems every year China gets a new translation of a Kerouac novel.

After the success of that last post, I decided to look into Allen Ginsberg books in China. Indeed, Ginsberg actually worked and taught in China in the mid-1980s, and thereby had a greater connection to the country than Kerouac. Yet in the famously censorious communist nation, where depictions of homosexuality are forbidden on TV and in movies, Ginsberg’s work is always going to difficult to publish. Earlier this early, I had a shipment of Ginsberg books sent from Scotland, but sadly they were confiscated due to references to the Dalai Lama. I’m sure that events surrounding Ginsberg’s old friend, Ai Weiwei, have also impacted the availability of his work in Chinese in recent years.

It was to my great surprise that I found his most famous poem, “Howl,” being taught (uncensored) at my deeply conservative university a few months ago as part of their American Literature course. Yet there is a big difference between what is allowed to be said in English and what is allowed to be said in Chinese… especially when it can be contextualized as part of a foreign culture and not applicable to China. In any case, original American editions of many of his books are easy to purchase online.

 

On the internet, you can readily find translations of Ginsberg’s most well-known poems, and details about his life, but evidently official regulations on what can and can’t be printed have made his work hard to legally translate, and perhaps even harder to sell in the open. The two versions of his Selected Poems below are all I could find of his work in Chinese translation:

Selected Poems

2000 edition

2001 edition:

Books About Ginsberg

Influence and Innovation: The Construction of Allen Ginsberg’s Classical Poetry, by Zhang Zan (June, 2016)

(影响与创新:艾伦金斯伯格诗歌经典建构)

David S. Wills

David S. Wills is the founder and editor of Beatdom literary journal and the author of Scientologist! William S. Burroughs the Weird Cult and World Citizen: Allen Ginsberg as Traveller. His next book, High White Notes: The Rise and Fall of Gonzo Journalism comes out in November, 2021.

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