In the past few weeks we’ve brought you book covers from the Chinese translations of Jack Kerouac and Allen Ginsberg. While many were shocked to see how popular Kerouac has become in the notoriously censorious communist nation, few were surprised that Ginsberg’s work is harder to find – particularly in translation. Burroughs lies somewhere between the two – not nearly as popular as Kerouac, but a little more so than Ginsberg. This perhaps demonstrates that the barrier Ginsberg’s work may have faced in reaching a Chinese readership may not be due to homosexuality, drug use, or even profanity. As we can see below, Burroughs’ novels Naked Lunch and Queer have both been translated into Chinese, and are available on the Chinese version of Amazon. I believe Ginsberg’s politics were more likely the issue.
It seems Burroughs was first translated into Chinese in the early nineties. I managed to find a poor quality picture of the cover of a 1992 translation of Naked Lunch (which appears to be quite rare, but is selling for around $12). I found it interesting that the title is different from later translations. Although it still effectively says “naked lunch,” it uses a different word for “naked.” There are also multiple transliterations of Burroughs’ name used in China, but, oddly, these are different to what is used in Taiwan. Burroughs’ work grew in popularity about fifteen years after the first translation, and the re-release of Naked Lunch in 2013 was quickly followed by Junky, Queer, and Cities of the Red Night. One wonders if his more challenging cut-up novels will, or even could, be translated into Chinese… Certainly, as we’ve seen with Kerouac’s books, there is a growing appetite for Beat literature in the Middle Kingdom and so further translations are a possibility.
2009 Taiwanese edition, courtesy of Jason Kennedy:
Burroughs is featured in (and appears on the cover) Conversations with American Writers:
He is the subject of this 2008 book, On Resistance of Control and Expansion of Consciousness in William S. Burroughs’ Textual Practice, by Xiaoli Sa:
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