In 2014, we organised the Marco Polo Festival of Digital Literature. This post, written four years after the event, aims to celebrate this key milestone in the development of Marco Polo Project, describe the key features of the event, and acknowledge those who supported us. For a stereo view, you can read through this post by co-director Hugh Davies.IMG_0499

Marco Polo Festival – the story

The Marco Polo Festival was born of a question: how has the Internet affected the way that people read, write and translate, in China and Australia? From the rise of digital literature to the emergence of collaborative translation platforms, and from the engagement of global audiences connected through social media to the rise of new linguistic and cultural norms in digitally mediated communities, this festival engaged with questions at the cutting edge of creative efforts, technological development and the new forms of collective experience.

The Festival was initially sparked as two distinct project: a mainly digital, distributed event, with panels in Beijing from Marco Polo Project – and a project to bring cutting-edge Chinese writers to Melbourne from LaTrobe University. Both projects aligned from the start and received funding from the Australia China Council – and eventually merged into one festival event, with two co-directors, Julien Leyre and Hugh Davies.

Marco Polo Festival – the event

Marco Polo Festival events

Engaging with new materials and a new medium called for an original approach to the design of the Festival. As such, we chose to run the Festival over one year, with a more intensive period of engagement over one week in Melbourne.

Prequel – early 2014

We lay the conceptual ground for the ideas discussed at the Festival in two public interventions:

  • a talk between Julien Leyre and Jiamin Zhao, founder of collaborative translation platform Yeeyan, as part of the 2014 Digital Writers Festival
  • a talk by Julien Leyre on ‘A Journey Through Digital China’ at Sydney Ideas.

We then kicked off community engagement by hosting a parallel translation event between Melbourne and Nanjing.

Translation tour – June 2014

As a way to engage a global audience, we took our ‘All-you-can-translate’ collaborative translation show on the road, and organised a Tour in June 2014, that took us to London, Leeds, Manchester, Shanghai, Suzhou, Nanjing, Chengdu, and Beijing.

We invited bilingual groups to translate texts related to our topic, English to Chinese and Chinese to English – poems from Yisha’s Anthology ‘Poems for the New Century’, essays on digital literature by cultural analyst Zhang Tianpan, twitter poems by Kate Larsen and essays on Australian culture by Mel Campbell.

Melbourne Festival – August 2014

The core of the Festival took the form of six coordinated events taking place over one week in Melbourne:

  • Two panels with Melbourne Writers Festival: City-to-City Beijing, with Julien Leyre and Zhang Tianpan, facilitated by Nic Low, interpreted by Charles Qin; and ‘The Third Culture’, reflecting on digital China, with Julien Leyre and Jiamin Zhao.
  • A translation event with Chinese and Australian guests at Richmond West Primary School.
  • An afternoon event on digital writing in China at LaTrobe University.
  • A panel on ‘Writing online and shaping culture‘, with Rick Chen, Mel Campbell, Zhang Tianpan and Jiamin Zhao, chaired by Esther Anatolitis, interpreted by Chelsea Zhou.
  • An afternoon of reflections on ‘the Creative in Translation’, with panels on video game culture, visual arts and magazine publishing in Australia and China.
  • A workshop at Writers Victoria, offering a Journey through the Chinese Internet.

Sequel – Late 2014

We finished the year with four events:

  • A Beijing panel on Digital Literature in China and Australia, with Kate Larsen and poet YiSha, facilitated by Zhang Tianpan, hosted by the Beijing Bookworm.
  • A boutique poetry-translation event followed by a reading as part of ‘Poetry Cafe‘ at Montsalvat, Melbourne
  • Marco Polo Marathon – a day of engagement with Chinese culture at Melbourne Knowledge Week
  • A collaborative translation event at Singapore Writers Festival, in partnership with Books Actually, bringing together poets writing in English and Chinese.

Marathon pic_1024


Marco Polo Festival – time for gratitude

The main learning was the importance of gratitude, and this post will also serve to thank some of our key partners.

Our co-director extraordinaire, Hugh Davies.

Our financial supporters: the Australia China Council, The Victorian Multicultural Commission, the City of Melbourne.

Our event and outreach partners: LaTrobe University, Melbourne Writers Festival, Digital Writers Festival, Writers Victoria, Sydney Ideas, Leeds University, SOAS, Manchester University, the BookWorm network (Beijing, Suzhou, Chengdu), BanPoCun Cafe, XiaoHu Cafe, Melbourne Knowledge Week, Books Actually, Singapore Writers Festival, Peril Magazine, Danwei Media, Wheeler Centre for Books and Culture, Language Connection, Australia-China Youth Association, Richmond West Primary, Pozible, Chin Communications, Asialink.

The people who believed in our work, and opened their agenda and their address book to support our work, as panelists or special advisors: Esther Anatolitis, Mel Campbell, Rick Chen, Lisa Dempster, Julia Fraser, Peter Goff, Jeremy Goldkorn, Michel Hockx, Mei Hu, Nikki Lam, Kate Larsen, Harry Lee, Lian Low, Nic Low, Lucy Qianqian Lv, Alvin Pang, Alice Pung, Ouyang Yu, Charles Qin, Kate Ritchie, Zhang Tianpan, YiSha, Jiamin Zhao, Chelsea Zhou, Michael Zuo.

The people who worked behind the scene, making fliers, sending emails, hosting workshops, taking pictures, bringing people to the party, or helping us find a place to rest our heads on the road: Samuele Dumas, Philip Thiel, Ron Killeen, Karen Pickering, John Paul Grima, Zoe Hatten, Hugh Douglas, Sichao Zhou, Tracy Wang, Jingzi Li, Hayley Ward, Britte Marsh, Julian Waters-Lynch, Jodie Kinnersley, Ross Ensbey, Raphael Trantoul, Dan Ednie-Lockett, Samuel Taylor, Anthony Verdi, Notty, Lysha Von Adlerberg, Andrea Carlon, Ben Redden, Aaron Zhang, Heather Inwood, Wing Yi, Lan Yang, Kingsley Edney, Zhi Fu, Su Yingxie, Di Yuan, Gordon Douglas.

And to finish, a photo-montage commemorating the event.

Marco Polo Festival_1024

On July 28, our Singapore lead Ting Wei Tai organised a first translation event with Raffles Institution.


Raffles is one of Singapore’s leading High Schools, and we convened eight students from section 3 and 4 of their ‘bicultural program’ to translate contemporary Singaporean and classical Chinese poetry. Discover new voices from the South East Asian metropolis with these four poems: Left, Medical history, Legacy, Waking up at night.


Singapore’s unique mix of languages and cultures – in particular, the strong presence of Mandarin and English – make it a particularly fitting place for our activities, and we look forward to more involvement with local writers, schools and bilinguals!

Today, we ran our first translation event in partnership with the Australia China Youth Association (ACYA) at Monash University. There were sixteen of us in an amphitheatre, and we translated over 2000 words in an hour.


Key learnings? Translation is the pathway to diplomacy. Some people write unnecessarily poetic prose. Translation can be fun.

If you’d like to know more about ACYA Monash, check out their facebook page.

If you’d like to work with us on organising event, send us a line at

On Sunday, June 7, we held our second event with Beijing Foreign Language University – organised by our Beijing super-champ John Paul Grima.


The event brought together 20 emerging translators – and because Marco Polo Project is ever improving, this time, we incorporated a projector and screen as part of the event!


This year’s keyword for Marco Polo Project is engagement, and we’re looking to grow the number of our events. If you’d like to partner with us or run a translation event in your community, please contact!

Translating online is great – translating offline with buddies is even better! That’s what we figured – and so, in line with this insight, we decided to launch a regular Marco Polo Project Melbourne Meetup!

The first of those took place last Wednesday, March 20, at the Melbourne Multicultural Hub, in partnership with Language Connection.

photo (5)

The Marco Polo meetup is a low-key get-together for Mandarin language enthusiasts to practice translation in small teams of three. During this first event, we translated the opening paragraphs to three pieces from China30s: From Harvard to the alpaca business‘, ‘Triathlon changed my view of life‘ and ‘A young man’s magic time machine‘.

photo (1)

We’re planning to run these events on a monthly basis – so, help us spread the word – and come along next time!

On March 13, Marco Polo was invited by Fudan International High School in Shanghai to run its first massive school translation event. We brought together ninety-five students from year 9 to 11 for a first-of-its-kind collaborative translation race.

Big class

Our afternoon started with an address by Tony Li, journalist and founder of China30s. China30s is a Shanghai-based website documenting the changing lives of Chinese innovators from the ‘Sandwich Generation’, born 1975-85 – and provided all material for the day’s translation. The students formed into thirty two groups of three, and translated Chines to English for two hours. In total, the group produced over 25,000 words – with five teams translating over 1500 words each.


The event was run as a race, with a prize for the fastest team, and a prize to the best quality translation. But the most striking element for all involved was the spirit of collaboration across year levels and streams – and seeing students who had never met before make new friends in the course of an afternoon.

Smiling kid

All translations and original texts are available on the Marco Polo Project website under the China30s tab. Some of them still need completing and editing. You’re warmly invited you to complete them, or just peek at already translated passages for insights into the lives and mindset of young Chinese innovators.


A similar event is under preparation at Raffles Institution in Singapore, focusing on the work of local authors writing in Mandarin, and at Beijing Foreign Languages University on Sunday 12 April. In the future, we’re looking forward to developing editing events, gathering language enthusiasts to review existing translations and improve them – so, stay tuned for more information on Marco Polo Project translation events!

We wish to warmly thank Tony Li from China30s and Fudan International High School, more particularly the English teaching team, with special thanks to Ms Britte for believing in us, and making this event possible.


On Wednesday, March 18, we’re running the first Marco Polo – Fudan – China30s massive translation event: an epic translation race with 90+ students of year 9-12 from the International Section of Fudan High School in Shanghai, translating interviews with leading Chinese innovators published on China30s. 

In preparation for this event, we’ve been publishing a wide range of texts from China30s, but won’t be offering a detailed digest this week. Log into our website on Thursday, March 19 to our China30s page to check out the results of the translations – and find out more about the lives of the coolest people in China!

On November 1st, we run our first Marco Polo Marathon. 40+ learners, experts and enthusiasts joined us to discuss, explore and celebrate language and cultures through a range of activities.

Professor Charles Qin, Chief interpreter and Managing director of Chin communications, kick-started the day in style. Charles took us on a reflective journey from early Buddhist translators to recent film titles and song lyrics, framing a Chinese perspective on ‘the art of translation’ as it evolved through history.

Food race

In the morning, participants were invited to reflect on the local presence of China during the ‘Marco Polo Food Race’. Teams scouted nearby shops and markets for products that represent the four corners of the Middle Kingdom, and presented a gastronomic journey across China through local photographs. Later in the morning, our caption competition invited participants to connect words and images in a humorous, unexpected way: the first prize went to the caption ‘the Great Wall of China’ for this image.

sausage wall

After lunch, a panel discussion reflected on ‘the translator in context’, exploring the multiple ways that translators and interpreters interact with existing systems – whether technical, educational, legal, or medical. The panel brought a broad range of experts: Chau Wee was a conference interpreter in the US, New Zealand, Australia and Singapore; Zhiling Hollitt worked as a court and medical interpreter; Michael Zuo both interprets and trains new generations of Chinese interpreters in Australia; and Tiang Chen shared his experience of IT localization work in Europe, and gave us a tech perspective on the art of translation.


Finally, our participants came together for collaborative translation, bringing new Chinese voices to Western readers.


This event was presented as part of Melbourne Knowledge Week. Melbourne Knowledge week is a multidisciplinary, cross-sector festival that showcases innovative projects and the wealth of knowledge and talent in Melbourne – and we were very honoured to share our own experience in cross-cultural engagement, language and China alongside prestigious organisations.

We look forward to running another Marco Polo Marathon in 2015 – please don’t hesitate to contact us for suggestions or advice on activities you would like!

We would like to acknowledge and thank Language Connection for helping us with the logistics, the Multicultural Hub for hosting us, Chin Communications and Charles Qin for their fantastic keynote address, our panellists for sharing their stories and insights, Ross Ensbey and Lucy Qianqian Lv for their help on the day, Philip Thiel for brainstorming activity ideas, the City of Melbourne for their support, and the whole team at Melbourne Knowledge Week!

Singapore arcade

On November 2, Marco Polo Project ran a fringe event to Singapore Writers Week. In partnership with Books Actually, we brought together young Singaporean poets writing in English and Mandarin for an afternoon of collaborative translation, and a discussion on the pleasures and challenges of living across languages as a writer.



Below is a selection of the poems translated into Chinese during this event.


New Eyes (by Alvin Pang, English original) 

When you look at the world through new eyes,

like a mother on her newborn, or a man

in the pride of his first work,

nothing comes to you without promise;

everything asks: what would you make of me?


The heart learns to speak itself aloud.

Your voice unlearns its meekness,

because the world is waiting for you

to give it a name.


Answer it boldly. Let your eyes

rest on this, the fetal incompleteness

of thins, the deep pull of a world

unfinished. Where you stand, grounded,

is how everything will fall into place.


一双崭新的眼瞳 (冯启明)

















Translation by Ang Lai Sheng


所有的等待 (孤星子)





All our waiting


for lovers, for tests

for the doctor, for the bus

for taxes, for weddings

for success, for banalities
for glory, for vanities

for children, for some to come out

for the microwave’s ding, for the beer in the fridge to chill

for life, for work, for the unforced waking

for the garden of the spirit, for the mortal (un)coil

for such and such and so on

for the vacancy of patience, every chance we get

besides the shuffle towards death,

stalling for incarcerated sunflowers

to smile: please hold.

– lonestar (andy ang)
march 26, 2014

(translation by Alvin Pang)


左边 (贺尔)





















The Left Way (Seow Joo Chuan)
— After Szymborska’s “Possibilities”


I prefer the sound of grinding coffee beans in the morning

I prefer the melody of gentle rain on leaves

I prefer the surprise of meeting friends around the corner

I prefer the expression of people when they open a lunchbox


I prefer looking back

I prefer a window with a view

I prefer back profiles, but I don’t like shadows

I prefer to chat with people older than me, except children

I prefer people’s complexity, but not their deceit

I prefer majority rule, but not when minorities are bullied


I prefer to be in balance

I prefer the left way to the right way

I prefer when people are not sure of answers

I don’t like an answer to be the only answer.


(Translation Jin Yong, Ian Chung and Julien Leyre)


停诗间 (张国强)


































Poet Mortem (Teo Kok Keong) 


The policeman was delivered





The young man’s Ferrari

too fast too fierce

for a poem’s body to dodge


The middle-aged man was delivered





The middle-aged man’s store-room

too small too narrow

to contain

father’s collection


The child was delivered



to breakthrough


The child’s heart

too pragmatic

to accomodate

the body of a poem divorced from exams


Those anxious to get in

tomorrow please note

we’re closing early


(Translation Jin Yong, Ian Chung and Julien Leyre)

On Sunday October 5, Marco Polo Project was featured as part of ‘Poetry Cafe’ at Montsalvat Open Day.


Montsalvat, in Eltham, is Victoria’s oldest artist community, and still offers studio space to painters, sculptors and writers. This event, organised by resident Lella Carridi, brought together poets and translators from China and Australia. The very diverse group spoke Mandarin, Italian, Greek, Dutch, french, and English. Together, we discussed the challenges and thrills of collaborative translation, and read five poems from Yisha’s collection ‘Poems for the new century’, and extracts from Katie Keys’ Beijing poem series.

Poems were translated in partnership with the Monash University Centre for Translation Studies.