Organized Panel Session
Between 1945 and 1965, the translator Fu Lei rendered a dozen of Balzac’s novels and novellas into Chinese, among them beloved classics like Le père Goriot, Eugénie Grandet, and Illusions perdues. Spanning the cataclysmic mid-century period, Fu’s translations not only negotiate a shifting terrain of cosmopolitan visions; they also engage the crucial question of literary realism. The sustained encounter with the Comédie Humaine provided modern Chinese literature with a double exposure to worldliness: A dialogue with the world beyond China’s borders, with the European literary tradition at a time when the West was slipping away behind the veil of the iron curtain; but also a sustained interrogation of the very terms of relating to reality, to the world itself. The search for literary realism has been a site of contention and confrontation in Chinese literary discourse throughout the twentieth century, and never more so than in the early Cold War years. From the Yan’an Talks to Socialist Realism to the renewed debates on revolutionary realism and revolutionary romanticism in the 1960s, realism remained a category in flux. Fu Lei’s Balzac translations, then, offer a considered counterpoint to the ongoing contestation over literary realism. This paper reads three of Fu’s translations against contemporary Chinese novels and places them into the context of literary debates from the 1940s to the 1960s. It argues that Fu Lei’s Balzac translations cross borders of three kinds—geographical, ideological, and temporal—and constitute provocations that intervene in the most crucial literary debates in Cold War China.