All in one place, for the first time

Outtakes from 'Wang Lun'
When The Three Leaps of Wang Lun was published as a book in 1916, several passages from the MS had been cut. Four of these ‘outtakes’ appeared during the 1920s, scattered in newspapers or obscure journals and without reference to the novel. In translating Wang Lun, I decided to restore the longest outtake, as the Prologue. Now all four are presented here, together for the first time.
The fact that Outtakes 1 to 3 all touch on high Imperial politics provides a clue as to why they were cut. As he was writing the novel, Döblin sought advice from Martin Buber on source materials about China, especially “sectarianism, Taoism… all kinds of Chinese stuff that will guarantee accuracy of milieu: customs, things from daily life, prose, esp. 18th century – I can’t have enough of these. Do you know anything of Qianlong’s biography?” (letters dated 18 August and 13 October 1912). It was probably Buber who advised that highlighting the specific historical episode of the Dzungar genocide detracted from the timeless theme of power and powerlessness. Nevertheless, the stimulus given to Döblin’s imagination by this historical episode of imperial brutality underlies the central theme of Wang Lun.

Outtake 1: Prologue – ‘The Attack on Zhao Laoxu’

This was published as a short story in the magazine Genius in 1921, and included in the 1977 collection Erzählungen aus fünf Jahrzehnten (Stories from Five Decades).

While I was translating Wang Lun, I realised that the missing Prologue was in fact important to the structure of the novel. So I decided to restore it. It has never been restored in any German edition, or as far as I know in any other translation.

I was encouraged in this bold step by the account Döblin gave of his conception of Wang Lun in his 1929 essay ‘The construction of the epic work’:

I have it in mind, for example, to depict a revolutionary ferment in a population, and as a start a harshly-lit scene urges itself on me, an attack on a high official, a night scene.  This is then felt entirely as an introduction, a kind of muffled drumroll, a single sharp report, then silence. Each individual point is worked out from this violent, eerie prelude. … I began a Chinese novel with just such a drumbeat and just such a muffled roll of subterranean revolution.

The reader of the German Wang Lun, lacking the Prologue, can only be perplexed by this!

I was given no chance to amend the text of the 2015 edition of my translation of Wang Lun, so the version of the Prologue published here is corrected and slightly revised. I’ve used the modern Pinyin transcription, instead of the 19th century Wade-Giles I used in the book version.

I describe in another post  the fun that publisher’s readers had with my draft translation of the Prologue.

 Outtake 2: ‘Conversation in the Palace of Qianlong’ 

This outtake was published in a daily newspaper, the Berliner Börsen-Courier, on 16 April 1922, and was included in the 1977 collection Erzählungen aus fünf Jahrzehnten (Stories from Five Decades).

The translation (the first into English, and maybe into any language) appeared in the February 2015 print edition of The Brooklyn Rail, to coincide with the new edition of The Three Leaps of Wang Lun, at It’s reposted here with the friendly encouragement of Jen Zoble and Donald Breckenridge at the Rail.

This outtake is less central to the novel, but still worth preserving for the density of the evoked atmosphere and a remarkable example of synaesthesia.

A small amount of overlap with the text of the novel shows that it was originally intended for early in Book 3 of Wang Lun.

Outtake 3: ‘The Emperor and the Dzungars

Two short outtakes were published in Das Kunstblatt (‘The Art Journal’), IX/5 (1925), pages 135-37, accompanied by an appreciation of Döblin’s work to date by Rudolf Kayser – historian of literature, publisher’s reader and editor, and incidentally Albert Einstein’s step-son-in-law.

Like Outtakes 1 and 2, this outtake concerns the high politics of the Chinese Empire which, just before the time of the novel, saw the extermination by the Qing Dynasty of the last great steppe empire – the Dzungars. General Zhao Hui played a leading role in the campaign.

The campaigns ordered by Qian Long were commemorated in 16 huge paintings commissioned by the Emperor and made by a collaboration of Chinese court painters and Jesuit monks from Europe, including Giuseppe Castiglione and Jean-Denis Atteret. The Emperor also ordered several hundred commemorative portraits of his successful officers, among them Zhao Hui.


Outtake 4: ‘The Prince’s daughter’

This little scene belongs amid the vignettes in Book Two of Wang Lun, describing how individuals from many walks of life are attracted to the growing band of the Truly Powerless. In my view it adds little value, and its absence does no harm to the novel.