Chen Du and Xisheng Chen on translating Yan An

Chen Du and Xisheng Chen

on translating Yan An

Yan An’s poems are highly experimental, unconventional, and unique according to the standards and traditions of Chinese culture, considering their aesthetic value, contents, philosophical denotations and meanings. As a pioneer in modern Westernized Chinese poetry, Yan An has completely transformed Chinese readers’ concepts and understanding of poetry through his unique views about the universe, life, society, and people. His way of thinking is unusual and unconventional. His poems do not contain any of the Chinese elements traditionally and commonly depicted by other Chinese poets and even if they do, they are addressed from unique perspectives. Therefore, they can transcend the boundaries between nations and cultures, reaching for a wider audience across the world. In each of his poems, behind his boundless imagination, there lies a story and Yan An’s sentiments and understandings of life, people, society, and the universe.

His language is intense and abstract. Just like his other poems, these poems are rich in imagery and literary devices, such as metaphor, personification, and parallelism. These literary devices have well served their purpose in the Chinese versions. Nevertheless, in their English versions, some transcreation techniques have to be exploited to retain the same or similar effect.

For example, the omission and restructuring techniques are combined together in translating the first two lines of the first stanza of the poem “Onlooker.” In particular, “his” is omitted, “wearing a broad-brimmed straw hat” is restructured from the first line to the second line, and “the suspicious odyssey” is restructured from the second line to the third line. Also, the spaces are switched to English conventions to make the translation more elegant. In order to delete some of the spaces, conjunctions are used as in the case of “and” and “who” in the first and second line of the second stanza, respectively.

All in all, we have attempted to bring something new and foreign into English to enrich it, by helping English poets and readers unleash their creativity, imagination, inspiration, and by bridging or integrating American and Chinese culture and ways of thinking. Also, we have endeavored to create some novel transcreation techniques to help with any future translation of Yan An’s poems.

about the author

Yan An is one of the most famous poets in contemporary China, author of fourteen full-length poetry collections including his most famous poetry collection Rock Arrangement, which has won him the sixth Lu Xun Literary Prize, one of China’s top four literary prizes. As the winner of various national awards and prizes, he is also the Vice President of Shaanxi Writers Association, the head and Executive Editor-in-Chief of the literary journal, Yan River, one of the oldest and most famous literary journals in Northwestern China. In addition, he is a member of the Poetry Committee of China Writers Association. His poetry book A Naturalist’s Manor, translated by Chen Du and Xisheng Chen, will be published by Chax Press.

about the translator

Chen Du is a Voting Member of American Translators Association and a member of the Translators Association of China with a Master’s Degree in Biophysics from Roswell Park Cancer Institute, the State University of New York at Buffalo and a Master’s Degree in Radio Physics from the Chinese Academy of Sciences. She revised more than eight chapters of the Chinese translation of the biography of Helen Snow, Helen Foster Snow – An American Woman in Revolutionary China. In the United States, her translations have appeared in Columbia Journal, Lunch Ticket, Pilgrimage, the Los Angeles Review, and elsewhere. Three poems co-translated by her and Xisheng Chen were finalists in the Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation and Multilingual Texts in 2020. She is also the author of the book Successful Personal Statements. Find her online at

Xisheng Chen, a Chinese American, is an ESL grammarian, lexicologist, linguist, translator and educator. His educational background includes: a BA and an MA from Fudan University, Shanghai, China, and a Mandarin Healthcare Interpreter Certificate from the City College of San Francisco. His working history includes: translator for Shanghai TV Station, Evening English News; Lecturer at Jiangnan University, Wuxi, China; Adjunct Professor at the Departments of English and Social Sciences of Trine University (formerly Tri-State University), Angola, Indiana; notary public; and contract high-tech translator for Futurewei Technologies, Inc. in Santa Clara, California. As a translator for over three decades, he has published a lot of translations in various fields in newspapers and journals in China and abroad. Three poems co-translated by him and Chen Du were finalists in the Gabo Prize for Literature in Translation and Multilingual Texts in 2020.