Jelinek in Chinese: a Controversial Austrian Nobel Laureate in the Chinese Book Market

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Abstract

The awarding of the world’s best known literature prize to the controversial Austrian writer Elfriede Jelinek in 2004 triggered off worldwide hype in its reception. So far, Jelinek’s works have been translated into more than 40 languages. Chinese is one of them. Although the author’s first works had already been translated back in the 1990s, on the Chinese mainland all translations of her works were actually published only after the key event of the Nobel Prize. They immediately received immense attention from the Chinese public and unleashed what could even be termed a ‘Jelinek fever’. This paper is devoted to shedding light on the first introduction and the unexpected success of this controversial Austrian Nobel laureate in the Chinese book market. It will give an overview of the Chinese translations of Jelinek’s works and will try to reveal some of the dynamics that led to their actual selection, translation, publication, marketing and status as bestsellers. The challenges of the rapidly transforming Chinese publishing industry and the impact of these challenges on the reception of foreign literature will be discussed. Furthermore, the paper will outline the crucial role of the intermediaries, especially of the powerful literary agency involved, in this process of cultural transfer.

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