Interview | Yang Xianyi: I am not a translator, but a translator.

2020-07-03 | By Historian | Filed in: World.

Yang Xianyi is known as “translating the whole of China”.He worked successively in the National Compilation and Translation Museum and the Foreign Languages Bureau. He translated “Records of the Historian”, “A Dream of Red Mansions” and “Selected Works of Lu Xun” in English, and translated “Odyssey”, “Pastoral” and “Song of Roland” in Chinese, contributing to the cultural exchange between East and West.


This year coincides with the 10th anniversary of Yang Xianyi’s death. For the first time, Wen Jing compiled and published Yang Xianyi’s Chinese Translation Works Collection. On the summer solstice night, he invited AARON Li, Zhao Heng and Dai Weina to share Mr. Yang’s translation achievements and recall the elegant demeanour of famous artists. Mr. Yang Xianyi and his wife Gladys Dai appreciate and support each other’s faithful love and the twoThe intellectual and aesthetic life they have lived.The character and responsibility possessed by the older generation of intellectuals are especially valuable in today’s impetuous world.


■ Click on the video to learn about Yang Xianyi’s life.


The Beginning of Translation Career: Because of Love

Dai Weina: The volume and breadth of this set of books, Yang Xianyi’s Collection of Chinese Translation Works, are very surprising. From the ancient Greek epic drama originated from western literature and art to new literary themes, such as science fiction and modern poetry, Yang Xianyi has widely translated and dabbled in. In the current translation, it is very difficult for us to see such a person who has learned Chinese and Western knowledge. Both of them are people who know Mr. Yang Xianyi very well. Can you tell us the story of Mr. Yang?


Zhao HengI am here today because of an invitation in spring. Over the years, I will not refuse interviews and activities about my uncle. I feel that I should be present. After all, I have this feeling. I really don’t deserve to be a guest here today, because I am only a relative of the younger generation. I have not made any achievements in what’s translation research of Yang Xianyi, but only a relative of the younger generation who accompanied him in the last ten years.

■ Zhao Heng

My uncle has too many stories to tell in his life. As far as I understand it, his initial wish should be to become a scholar of Greek and Roman classical literature, which can be seen from many of his articles. His marriage to Gladys changed his life. My aunt likes translation very much, and she is both suitable and fond of translation.So I think it was out of love that he accompanied his wife to translate all his life.When my aunt left, he stopped translating.

■ Yang Xianyi and Dai Naidi


Dai Weina: Mr. Yang and Mrs. Yang have achieved and appreciated each other. It is very touching. I have seen an interview with Mr. Yang Xianyi in his later years. The reporter asked him,After Mr. Dai left, did you commemorate her in what?He answered three words, only three words, but it was full of all the deep feelings-forget her.Sometimes the combination of wonderful fate and genius will create an academic legend. Mr. Li, you are also very familiar with Mr. Yang. Let’s share your story with you.


AARON LiYang Xianyi and I met when we went to the dormitory of the Foreign Languages Bureau around 1983. After meeting Mr. Yang, my contacts with him became deeper and deeper. Yang Xianyi smoked and drank as a teenager and never went to a hospital at the age of 90. Around 2001, I invited Yang Xianyi to Zhengzhou to give an academic lecture on Chinese and foreign limericks. Yang Xianyi basically does not drink water or tea. He drinks and what drinks. When we were in Zhengzhou, he drank first. When he spoke, he said you would pour me some more bars. After that, I accompanied him to Kaifeng. He said, I should sell my house in Beijing and live here, which is where we fought in Yang Jiajiang. He is a very humorous person!

■ From left: AARON Li, Zhao Heng, Dai Weina


Mr Yang often smokes. Every time I go to his place, he smokes. At the end of March 2009, I went to Shichahai to see him. He was still smoking. The last photo I took for him was the photo of him smoking.


Young people dare not forget to worry about their country.


Dai Weina: Thank you, Mr. AARON Li. Teacher Yang Xianyi’s story tells us a secret of being 100 years old. How can we be 100 years old? Smoking, drinking, not exercising, kidding!


In fact, Mr. Yang has a very unruly and free demeanor. People who entered Oxford in his time often have the bohemian arrogance and the spirit of research. He first went to London in 1934. After arriving in London, he spent half a year studying Latin and ancient Greek, and then he went to Oxford University for an interview. During the interview, the examiner asked him, how long have you studied Greek? He said that in half a year. The examiners did not believe it, saying that you must be lucky to do well in the exam. But it is actually because Mr Yang is smart. He was the first Chinese to study ancient Greek literature at Oxford University. He was also proficient in English, French, Latin and ancient Greek. He was a real language genius. Can you share with us Mr. Yang’s language learning?

 Stage Actor Andy Performs Caesar and Cleopatra

Zhao Heng: According to my menstruation, it is not surprising that there will be a Yang Xianyi in 100 years. My uncle’s father is the president of the Bank of China. The first Bank of China in China was opened in Tianjin. He is a rich boy, and his family is worried that he will be kidnapped. For safety, he studied at home until he was 12 years old. The family hired him a Chinese teacher named Mr. Wei, and later an English teacher. It didn’t take long for Mr. Wei to find that the student could not teach because he was too talented. Neither of his sisters can match him to his pair. Before he went to the new college, he had basically read a group of books. And he started reading the original books very early. At that time, there were bookstores in Tianjin that could order books from abroad. He ordered them directly. After reading the books, he ordered them again, so he read all the books in what.


I also want to mention my grandmother. Although my grandmother was an old-fashioned woman born at the turn of the 18th and 19th centuries, she was very far-sighted and ambitious. After Grandpa’s death, she insisted on staying in the Yang family and trying to raise her three children. Moreover, she wanted the children to go to the best schools and receive the best education for both men and women. So my mother and menstruation both went to Tianjin’s very good school, the American-Israeli American Association Chinese and Western Girls’ School.

 Yang’s mother, Xu Yanruo, and her three children


It is said that rich children are easily spoiled, but my uncle is not spoiled. He had ambition from an early age. At first he admired Zhuge Liang very much and thought Zhuge Liang was a very capable person. He felt that one should have the responsibility to do things for the country. When I chatted with him, he felt that the children nowadays lacked ideals and did not like reading. He was a little helpless, but he would not interfere with them too much. Their generation was ambitious from an early age because of the relationship of the times, and so were my menstruation and mother.At the beginning of the 20th century, China stood at a crossroads. How should it go forward?My uncle has been thinking about such big problems since he was very young.


Therefore, before Yang Xianyi arrived at Oxford University at the age of 19, he already had sufficient knowledge reserves and lofty aspirations.

■ Dai Weina


Translate “A Dream of Red Mansions”, but don’t like “A Dream of Red Mansions”


Dai Weina: Mr. Yang once presided over a “Panda Series” to translate Chinese literary works, such as “Liaozhai” and “Journey to the West”, including some works by everyone.In fact, he should be the first cultural scholar to advocate Chinese culture to go out. He is very far-sighted.However, the most famous contribution of Yang Xianyi and Dai Naidie is the translation of a Dream of Red Mansions. Their translation time should be about the same as that of Sinologist Hawkes’s translation of Stone Story, but due to the “Cultural Revolution”, Yang Dai’s full translation of a Dream of Red Mansions was published from 1978 to 1980. Mr. Yang put that sentence“Pages full of fantastic words, penned with bitter tears” is translated as “Pages full of fantastic words, penned with bitter tears.”It is both straightforward and precise. Regarding the translation of a Dream of Red Mansions, do you have any what stories to share with you?

■ Yang’s Translation of a Dream of Red Mansions

Zhao HengAs for my uncle’s translation career, according to his autobiography, it should be traced back to Lisao in 1938, but my uncle always believed that Lisao was not written by Qu Yuan. After graduation, my uncle resolutely returned home. At that time, it was the most difficult period of the Anti-Japanese War and the country was in danger. After returning home, he and his fiancee Dai Naidie moved to Chongqing and were later recommended to the National Compilation and Translation Museum. The National Compilation and Translation Museum should be the official beginning of his translation career.

At that time, the National Compilation and Translation Museum was very short of talents to translate Chinese into English, so he filled in this unexpected and blank. Liang Shiqiu suggested that he turn over “Zi Zhi Tong Jian” first. He started from here and later let him choose his own bibliography.He once mentioned that one of the happiest periods in his life was in the National Compilation and Translation Museum.Later, the National Compilation and Translation Museum moved from Chongqing to Nanjing, and he also went to Nanjing. As far as I know, “A Dream of Red Mansions” was translated 80 times before entering the prison. After returning from the prison, the manuscript was not lost and then turned over 40 times. You were right when it was published. It was at that time.



He talked about “A Dream of Red Mansions” many times,He said that I admit that this is the best one of Chinese classical literature, but I can’t like it at all.My mother also said that she didn’t like a Dream of Red Mansions. I guess they don’t like Baoyu and Daiyu’s attitude towards life.Because my uncle and his family aspired to be responsible for the society since childhood, they may not like the life attitude of these characters in a Dream of Red Mansions.


My uncle is very fair in his work and speech. He says one thing and one thing. He never tells lies but only tells the truth. No matter in the face of high officials or ordinary people,He treats all people equally and will never be arrogant and scold others because of his great knowledge.I have been with my uncle for 10 years, and what I have learned is how he treats people. TheseEvery little bitThings, can see a great human nature.

■ Yang Xianyi


He is such an old man, he will always sit there. I think my cousin is the same. He doesn’t talk much. Their home is very quiet. I think this is a kind of culture. My uncle is always very peaceful to everyone. When everyone goes to his house, he says, “Welcome!” Every time I leave, I will repeat another sentence.“My legs are not good, can’t stand up to send, I’m sorry.

On November 1, 2009, before he left, there was the first heavy snow. He was hospitalized in the Coal General Hospital. We took a picture of the snow to show him.At that time, he was too ill to speak, but he still struggled to smile in response.My uncle’s eyes are very pure, and the pupils in his slender eyes are so black and bright. No wonder they attracted my aunt in those days! He was still like that in the end. I really miss him.


The Wisdom and Noble Life of the Old Generation of Intellectuals


Dai Weina:Mr. Yang and his wife, Mr. Dai, really live a very cultured, aesthetic and intellectual life.We say that style is human and style is human itself.After hearing so many stories about Mr Yang, we can better understand his language style, so fluent, so frank and so clear.


AARON LiAfter Mr. Gladys died, Mr. Yang wrote a poem, which was very good. I recently opened a column in Hong Kong’s Ta Kung Pao called “These Old Predecessors”, which is published every Tuesday. Mr. Yang Xianyi’s title comes from that poem. The original poem is “Never Separated from Double Stars by Silver and Han”. I changed it to “Silver and Han No Longer Separated from Double Stars” as the title. It can be said that. These old-timers have a profound influence on me.

■ AARON Li

Yang Xianyi’s doggerel was very well written, really very well written, and later he also published the poetry anthology “Yinqiao Collection”. Huang Miaozi wrote the preface for him and Huang Yongyu painted the illustration on the back cover. Later, his articles, memories and so on were also compiled into a book. The last time I went to see him, the book happened to come out and was called “More Bitter to Go to Japan”.


Mr. Yang finally left on November 23, 2009, and November will be the 10th anniversary by the end of this year.They have done many unexpected things, experienced many puzzling things and experienced many sufferings.But you can feel that they really love China and love Chinese culture and literature.

■ Zhao Heng and Hu Zhihui (Yang Xianyi’s former colleague and English translator of Zuozhuan) watched the performance.


Dai Weina:It is really very luxurious to hear these stories in such a vulgar era. It is all the nobility revealed by that generation of real intellectuals.Just now, Mr. Li mentioned Mr. Yang Xianyi’s doggerel. Besides poetry, Mr. Yang’s knowledge is also very extensive. In his essays, he will examine the turkey in Chinese classics, and will talk about the changes of different story versions of “Water Margin” and the history of communication between the Roman Empire and the Han Dynasty in China.


Our understanding of Mr Yang mainly comes from his translation. However, such a master translator said that he was not a translator but a translator. Both are also engaged in translation. Miss Li has many translated works. Mr. Zhao comes from a family of translators. Mr. Zhao Ruihong, Mr. Zhao’s father, translated “Red and Black” and her mother, Mr. Yang Yi, was the translator of “Wuthering Heights”. Could you please talk about translation in your eyes, or Mr. Yang’s view of translation in your eyes?

Yang Xianyi’s Collection of Chinese Translation Works and Custom Badge

Zhao HengIndeed, my father was the translator of the first Chinese translation of Red and Black, and my mother translated Wuthering Heights. My father, mother and my uncle, the three of them are of the same faction, stressing “faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance”. I may not understand it very well, but to the effect that,Since translating Western works, one should be faithful to the original works and accurately convey the original flavor and style of that country and nation to the world.If you want to translate creatively, you can also, that is another translation. However, as a translation itself, it should still be faithful to the original work. Old Mr. Xu Yuanchong met me in Kunming and heard that I was Yang Yi’s daughter and was very enthusiastic. He took the initiative to talk about this difference and was very generous. Their generation was all great people. They were academic disputes, but they were very useful and active discussions.

■ Yang Xianyi and Dai Naidi

My uncle and aunt cooperated in the translation. As far as I know, the first was my uncle’s initial translation. My uncle is a genius. He can speak English directly by looking at Chinese. My aunt typed, then proofread and polished it. My aunt did a lot of work in this area. They can translate a famous book in a few months, at a very fast speed. It is a pity that I have not seen the cooperation between the two of them, but I have heard my aunt clicking and typing. I still remember the sound and scene.

This article is reprinted from the public number: Wen Jing


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