Award-winning translator lectures on poetic translation

By Wu Jin
0 Comment(s)Print E-mail, August 22, 2014
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Xu Yuanchong gives a lecture on poetic translation in Beijing on Friday, Aug. 22, 2014. [By Yang Jia/]

The beauty of translation comes from linguistic equivalence and cultural resemblance rather than from literal accuracy, said Xu Yuanchong, professor emeritus of Peking University and the first Chinese winner of the Aurora Borealis Fiction Award issued by the Federation of International Translators (FIT) in 2014.

Xu made his remark today, August 22, at the Chinese International Publishing Group (CIPG), where the Translators Association of China held an award ceremony for Xu, who was unable to attend the 20th FIT World Conference in Berlin on August 2 to receive the award.

"In an international environment in need of effective communication, Professor Xu Yuanchong has devoted his career to building bridges among Chinese-, English- and French-speaking peoples," announced the jury of the Aurora Borealis Award.

Having translated over 100 books, Xu said he has seldom considered that one plus one equals two in literature, but instead, the result of one plus one should be bigger than two, creating a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts.

Xu said that a language as concise as Chinese should be translated for its beauty and profundity. "For instance, there is an ancient poem which describes a beauty as Qingcheng Qingguo (倾城倾国), the prettiest in the country. It can be literally translated as 'her beauty subverts the country and shakes the towns', but for me, I translated it as 'at her first glance, soldiers would lose their towns and kings would lose their crowns," Xu said in his speech. When translating the "Book of Odes," he also translated a verse as "When I left here, willows shed tears. I come back now, snow bends the bough."

Despite the criticism leveled against his methodology, which conveys the fundamental meaning of ancient poetry regardless of literal accuracy, the beauty of his translations' rhyme has always been recognized and appreciated.

"The award conveyed to Mr. Xu is not only a personal honor, but also a proof of the worldwide recognition of Chinese literature," said Zhou Mingwei, director-general of CIPG.

Li Zhaoxing, former foreign minister and spokesman of the National People's Congress (NPC), pointed out his view of Xu's success.

"Native languages are the key factor which decides one's proficiency in foreign languages," said Li, explaining that one must first master his or her mother tongue before being able to make achievements in translation.

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