Christopher Rea

Christopher Rea

Photo by Julie M. Wang


Christopher Rea is a literary and cultural historian whose research focuses on the modern Chinese-speaking world. A native of Berkeley, California, he earned a BA from Dartmouth College and a PhD from Columbia University, and he is currently professor of Asian studies at the University of British Columbia. His books include Chinese Film Classics, 1922-1949 (2021), The Age of Irreverence: A New History of Laughter in China (2015), and Where Research Begins: Choosing a Research Project That Matters to You (and the World) (2022, with Thomas S. Mullaney), which has been translated into several languages. Rea’s Chinese translations include the books China’s Chaplin (2019), The Book of Swindles (2017, with Bruce Rusk), and Humans, Beasts, and Ghosts (2010), and the world’s largest public collection of early Chinese films with English subtitles ( He was awarded UBC’s Killam Research Prize in 2023.

Project Description

To support the translation from the Chinese of the novel The Crossing of the Boars by Taiwanese writer Chang Kuei-hsing. The Crossing of the Boars takes place in a fictional locale in Sarawak near Chang's real-life hometown. The fishing and farming village of a few hundred stilt houses, surrounded by a jungle inhabited by pythons, crocodiles, leeches, and wild boars, is overrun by Japanese troops during a brutal, multiyear occupation. Steeped in magical realism, the novel, which took Chang nearly two decades to research and write, focuses on how war affects one small community, the guerilla resistance of a ragtag militia, and how violence blurs the line between civilization and bestiality.

Translating is a humbling process, and Chinese is a humbling language. That’s what I like about both of them—always challenging, always full of possibilities. To discover those possibilities requires a certain vulnerability, a flexible disposition, a willingness to accommodate reality combined with a will to self-expression. Translators do not have the luxury of selective reading. But in my experience, they do have autonomy that is significant and satisfying. This includes some choice not just in how to translate, but also in what to translate, which for me has included a 17th-century  book of stories about fraud, Shanghai farces of the roaring ’20s, a few dozen black-and-white films, and a 21st-century Taiwanese play called Shamlet. I started learning Chinese in college and now teach the language at university. But like probably every other NEA translator, I translate for love and not just out of professional duty. Though I have previously translated several book-length works, Chang Kuei-hsing’s  The Crossing of the Boars (2018) will likely be my first novel. It’s a long one, and it includes Mandarin, Hokkien, Japanese, Malay, and other languages. I am thus grateful to the National Endowment for the Arts for financial support of what is certain to be a long and arduous translation process. Chang’s language is as dense as the Borneo rainforests where Boars is set, and I hope to replicate in English the sense of a linguistic ecosystem that contains rare species astonishing even to native speakers.

About Chang Kuei-hsing:

Chang Kuei-hsing (b. 1956), who publishes under the name Zhang Guixing, is one of the finest contemporary novelists writing in Chinese, and a leading representative of Mahua (Malaysian-Chinese) Sinophone writing. Born in Sarawak in northern Borneo, he was educated in Chinese language schools and moved to Taiwan in 1976 to attend university.  He published his first novel in 1979 after emigrating to Taiwan, where for several decades he taught high school English. Chang established himself as a distinctive literary voice with Elephant Herd (1998), Monkey Cup (2000), and My South Seas Sleeping Beauty (2001), set mostly on the island of Borneo during the communist insurgency. Seventeen years later, The Crossing of the Boars (Yezhu duhe, 2018) swept the major literary awards in the Chinese-speaking world. The title beast of Chang’s most recent novel, Eyelids of Morning (2023), is the crocodile.