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Editor's Note

Part of the fascination of this project lies in the fact that it is never finished. There will always be new translations, and new discoveries of old translations. I have been collecting data since spring 2002 when Dr Eva Hung, the former director of the Research Centre for Translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, asked me what had been done in the field of Chinese literature in Dutch translation. The list of titles has grown steadily ever since, and the wealth of material available is amazing.

Background

My initial aim in compiling the list was to identify the works that had been translated to date, and to chart the development of this body of material. It has been interesting to study connections of the practice of (literary) translation with Chinese Studies in the Netherlands and Flanders, and with preferences of Dutch and Flemish readers. These, however, are but general observations. The data can inform research on a range of subjects, such as the development of direct and relay translations, genre preferences, patterns and strategies of selection, translation and publication, etc.

The idea for setting up the database came from Maghiel van Crevel, professor of Chinese language & literature at Leiden University, when he visited our Centre in January 2003. He explained to me his long-standing wish of making data on Chinese literature in Dutch translation available online, to offer an impression of the state of the art and facilitate actual access to the texts for all those interested, from readers, translators and publishers to students, researchers and school teachers. In 2004, an agreement was signed between the Department of Chinese Studies at Leiden University and the Research Centre for Translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong, securing much-needed and deeply appreciated support from both Universities.

Progress

My first visit under the agreement took place in February 2005. Comfortably seated in the closed stacks area of the Leiden Sinological Library, I had free access to the titles needed, with ample assistance from librarian Hanno Lecher and his staff. During this visit Hanno and I created templates to facilitate data conversion and export. Regular meetings with Maghiel were essential for decisions on the contents of the database in order to make it sophisticated and user-friendly.

My second visit took place in August 2006. Hanno and I had a meeting with the IT expert who wrote the programme for the database. We discussed requirements such as input and searchability of variant names of individual authors, online input of new entries by translators, the use of both traditional and simplified characters, and the searchability of titles in Hanyu pinyin alphabetic transcription, both in aggregated and disaggregated forms.

An important issue I discussed with Maghiel and Hanno was the list of subject categories. We settled on philosophy & religion, history, poetry, fiction, drama, essays, reportage and (auto)biography. Poetry, fiction and drama are further sub-categorized into classical and modern, "classical" including not just works in the high-literary written language (wenyan), but also works in varieties of the premodern vernacular (baihua). Modern poetry and fiction are geographically sub-sub-categorized into Mainland China, Taiwan and Hong Kong. Notions such as women's literature, diaspora literature and same-sex literature were under consideration, but we decided against using them as subject categories, to keep the organization of the material relatively simple and surveyable at a glance. At the same time, we have of course wanted to make the material searchable from a gender perspective, and hence marked individual authors and translators in the database as female or male.

The name of this database, VerreTaal, means at least two things. It can be read as a contraction of Dutch verre taal 'faraway language' – no exoticism, but the observation that the linguistic distance from Chinese to Dutch is considerable – or as a stretched rendition of vertaal 'translate'. This database is, of course, about translations from a faraway language.

The first phase of uploading book titles has now been completed. In addition to regular updating, we hope to add journal publications in the next phase, and possibly some biogaphical detail on the authors whose works appear in the database.

Acknowledgements

I am indebted to a number of people for their help and encouragement, most of all to Eva Hung, Maghiel van Crevel, Hanno Lecher and Zheng Qi. Special thanks to the staff of the Leiden Sinological Institute (the Department of Chinese Studies and the Sinological Library), including Anne Sytske Keijser, Barend ter Haar, Koos Kuiper, Remy Cristini, Ans van Broekhuizen-de Rooij and Yves Menheere. I am also grateful for the support of my colleagues in Hong Kong, at the Research Centre for Translation, especially Professor Bonnie McDougall for getting me involved in related projects at this end. Pooling our experience in Hong Kong and Leiden will be beneficial to both communities. I thank all those who have contacted me with questions, additions and comments. I hope to continue receiving such useful feedback in future. Finally, I gratefully acknowledge the provision of indispensable resources (work time and other types of funding and facilitation) by the Chinese University of Hong Kong Institute of Chinese Studies and the Leiden University Faculty of Arts.

(Hong Kong, March 2008)

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Designed & Developed by Qi Zheng, 2008