By Agnes Khoo, PhD.
Teaching Fellow, East Asian Studies at the University of Leeds
A unique collective comprising of volunteer writers and translators who work in the English and Chinese languages was born in Leeds in the new year of 2013! Its members come from the United Kingdom, Taiwan, Hong Kong and China. They have all either written and published their own work or translated works of others. The aim of the collective is to be an inter-cultural bridge for people who cannot normally communicate or know one another due to political, socio-cultural and linguistic barriers. They hope to enhance international and inter-cultural understanding through their writing and translation work in both English and Chinese languages. It is a non-profit and non-hierarchical organisation that aims to introduce excellent work of known and unknown writers, particularly women, to readers of the English and Chinese languages.
As its major project, the collective is translating a selection of short stories of the African Writers’ Series, from English into Chinese language. In view of the growing influence and involvement of China in Africa, particularly in economic terms, the collective feels that the lack of a deep understanding and appreciation of the history, politics, cultures and peoples of Africa by Chinese worldwide can become a major problem in the future. The collective would like to use our ‘pen’ to establish international friendships between China, as well as the wider Chinese communities around the world with Africa, through mutual appreciation of our creative work and cultures.
The Chinese women writers and translators of the collective intend to publish their work for and about African women writers, including Bessie Head who was exiled to Bostwana from South Africa at the age of twenty-seven and despite her mental illness continued to write until her death at age forty-nine, and Yvonne Vera who had written numerous renowned work until her untimely death due to meningitis at the young age of forty.
The collective hopes to provide women with the opportunity to write; translate and publish, as writers and translators for women writers and translators in other parts of the world. It will not only inspire its Chinese members to write and translate for world literature, this will also broaden their worldview and horizons beyond the Chinese-speaking world. Through the collective, these women writers and translators will act as the ‘cultural ambassadors of the people between China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Singapore, United Kingdom and the African continent. This is a seed of inter-cultural understanding and global solidarity we can sow between Asia and Africa through the power of our ‘pen’.
Its members hope to publish their translation work as a series of African Women Writers in the Chinese language. The target audience will be the general members of the public, students and teachers of Literature, African Studies and Translation Studies, as well as students and teachers of China Studies who will use these as their Chinese-language textbooks. We also hope that the availability of these books in the Chinese language will attract a following among overseas Chinese in Africa too!
This journey has not been easy and it continues to be challenging, not only because the collective’s work has to be done alongside its members’ full-time studies or jobs but also because these books are not regarded as commercially lucrative in the publishing industry today. There continues to be prejudice and under-valuation of work by women writers and African writers who may or may not be internationally renowned.
The collective adopts a critical approach to our current mainstream understanding of Africa, African cultures and peoples because we believe in international solidarity and internationalism. This envisaged solidarity between Asia and Africa can be traced as far as to the 1955 Bandung Conference in Indonesia, which gave rise to the Non-Aligned Movement at the height of the Cold War. Developing countries in Asia and Africa, which had emerged as newly independent nations after long periods of colonialism, joined this movement to make the stand that they did not want to take sides in the Cold War for the sake of world peace. Some of the movements’ prominent figures were leaders such as Zhou En-Lai of China and Kwame Nkrumah of Ghana. The twenty-nine Asian and African countries, which attended the conference were, Afghanistan, Cambodia, China, Egypt, Ethiopia, Ghana, Iran, Iraq, Japan, Jordan, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Libya, Nepal, the Philippines, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, Syria, Thailand, Turkey, the Vietnam Democratic Republic, South Vietnam (later reunified with the Democratic Republic of Vietnam) and Yemen (Republic of Yemen). The then Indonesian President Sukarno made an opening address entitled, “Let a New Asia and a New Africa be born”. 
By engaging as women, writers and translators in the writings of African women writers, the collective is in its own way, critiquing and challenging the existing racist and sexist structures, norms and values, attitudes and world views of our times. We would like to use our knowledge and skills as writers and translators to forge deeper and better understanding among people and between nations. By introducing creative works of African and African women to the Chinese-speaking world, we hope to transcend territorial borders, ethnic, religious, socio-cultural and political differences. A more equal and just world has to begin from the breaking down of national borders, prejudices and exploitative structures.
Inequality between men and women, between races and ethnic groups and between nation-states is predominantly based on assumed and conventionally-perceived differences that are given differential valuation in terms of inferiority and superiority, desirability and acceptability. Through our creative work, the collective hopes to redefine relations among the ordinary peoples of the world so that they are based on universalism and humanism. By appreciating the cultures, the worldviews, beliefs and lifestyles of people different from what we are familiar with, for instance through literature, we are more likely to find the commonalities that bind us together as a human race. The stories and the emotions these creative writings evoke in readers cannot but be universal.
The collective has decided to focus on the women’s writings of the African Writers’ Series for several reasons. Firstly, the majority of these writers’ works are not commonly known in Asia and in the Chinese-speaking world. Secondly, the collective hopes to forge solidarity with these women and their communities through our appreciation of their work. Thirdly, most of the stories written by these women writers are about the ordinary people of Africa, the working men and women that are not privileged by wealth or power. These short stories are in fact, a literary interpretation of Africa’ social history; about the daily lives and struggles of the ‘ordinary peoples’ that do not get to be mentioned in national or world histories.
For instance, Bessie Head as a writer and a self-exile from South Africa to Botswana had been plagued by racial and gender discrimination, poverty and mental illness all her life, yet it is because of whom she is that her stories come across as human, truthful and universal. Her stories about the people and cultures of Africa seem so simple at first glance, and yet in its simplicity and unpretentiousness, there is wisdom, profundity and a deep sensitivity to humanity and human suffering.
In translating these works, the collective imbibes the spirit, the worldview and the lives of these writers. Therefore, the process of translation between cultures and languages leads to mutual understanding, appreciation and recognition. This is not only about translating words and languages, it is about transferring of knowledge, sharing of lives and transmitting from one place to another; from one language to another; from one community to another; ideas and experiences of worlds that are usually apart. And in so doing, bring them closer together.
 http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/english/doc/2005-04/20/content_435929.htm [accessed 1 January, 2013]