Why were some of the most inspiring novels from imperial China never translated?
Translating an ancient text is hard. Really hard.
Novels from imperial China require the reader to be intimately familiar with Chinese history. Moreover, the antiquated storytelling simply will not hold the interest of modern readers. For these reasons, very few translators have been willing spend the effort required to bring Mulan's story into English.
But what if it was possible to read an adaptation which transformed the story into a fast-paced and engaging adventure, providing readers with the necessary backstory to draw them into the action, while remaining true to the original plot?
During the the Qing dynasty, Zhang Shaoxian wrote Fiercely Filial, one of the most popular novels about Mulan. The book opens with these words:
It is said that that at the end of the Jin Dynasty, the land under heaven was in a state of disarray. The south was in a state of turmoil. The northern states united and began attacking the south.
Unless you're a history buff, you probably didn't notice that these sentences contain a critical piece of backstory which will drive Mulan to make her momentous decision. While most translators would provide a footnote explaining why this is significant, I have adapted my translation to transport you back in time in order to help you see these events for yourself:
The land under heaven had been thrown into a state of chaos.
While the mentally challenged Emperor Sima Zhong was busy determining whether he could order frogs to croak, eight princes began an intense conflict over who who would usurp the throne. During this intense conflict, the empire began to crumble.
The barbarians, who had long resented Chinese superiority, siezed this opportunity to unite their forces and strike. In the era that followed, the land was torn by war and fractured into sixteen kingdoms.
China was no more.
A new generation arose that knew nothing but turmoil and conflict. After the barbarians burned the historical archives, all memories of the great Chinese empire were completely erased.
It was the darkest moment the land under heaven had ever witnessed.
I am excited to announce that I have translated four different versions of Mulan's story into English. (Three are from the Qing dynasty and one is from the Ming dynasty.)
But I need your help.
I need to decide which one to release. Should I release the oldest novel? Or, should I release the last one, which incorporates elements from the other three?
Please take some time to look through the plot summaries of these four stories and vote for which one you like best.