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For translators, Marxist works a lifetime labor of love

Updated:2018-05-04 | By:Xinhua

To mark the 200th birthday of Karl Marx on May 5, the Central Compilation and Translation Bureau (CCTB) published a series of books Thursday about the life and theory of the German philosopher.

The series, consisting of 18 books, was compiled over the past six months based on Marxist classics translated by the bureau. During the past three decades, the bureau has been tasked with translating and compiling the second edition of the 70-volume "Complete Works by Marx and Engels." So far, 28 volumes have been published.

The collection of translations is primarily based on the Marx-Engels-Gesamtausgabe (MEGA), the complete and largest collection of the works of Marx and Engels, which is edited by the Internationale Marx-Engels-Stiftung in Amsterdam.

Marxism is the fundamental ideology of the Communist Party of China (CPC). The CCTB, established in 1953, has been focusing on translating and compiling classics by Karl Marx, Friedrich Engels, Lenin and other Communist thinkers. It has also translated the works of Chinese leaders into different languages.

"The classics are carriers of Marxist theories. Our task as translators and compilers is to introduce people to the original writings of the philosophers," said Chai Fangguo, deputy head of the CCTB.

Three years, one book

"We are speakers for the great men. We should treat each and every word with the utmost prudence," said Gu Jinping, former deputy head of the CCTB.

"For example, to finish a book of 600,000 Chinese characters, it would require about 20 people for two to three years," he said, holding a volume of the second edition of the "Complete Works by Marx and Engels."

"All the words were written over 100 years ago, and translators have to gain a thorough understanding of the society and culture at that time so that they can accurately understand what the writers said," Chai said.

The first edition of the "Complete Works by Marx and Engels" was translated and compiled from the 1950s to the 1970s, when there was a lack of German speakers, and most of the works were translated from Russian.

The second edition, however, is translated directly from the original languages, according to Chai.

"About 60 percent of the works of Marx and Engels are written in German, 30 percent in English, and the others in French, Danish, Czech and Italian," translator Li Chaohui said, adding that the variety of languages added to their work load.

"Hard as it is to translate, the second edition will help people gain a deeper and more comprehensive understanding of Marxist theories," she said. The second edition is intended to include all work published by Marx and Engels during their lifetimes as well as numerous published manuscripts and letters.

It is estimated that it will take at least another 20 years for the completion of the second edition of the "Complete Works by Marx and Engels."

Generations of dedication

Six decades ago, 18-year-old Gu Jinping became a translator for the CCTB, and his first mission was to translate the Soviet Union's "A Dictionary of Philosophy."

He recalled that as a young man who was not so good at Russian and knew little about Marxism, he had to work day and night.

"Everybody was so dedicated and passionate. The office building was often brightly lit at night," Gu said.

Today, all others who worked with him translating the dictionary have passed away. But the 85-year-old Gu is still working full time as a translator of Marxist classics.

"As long as my brain works, I would like to do as much as I can," he said.

Gu's colleague, 72-year-old Wei Jianhua, has also yet to retire.

"The best choice I have ever made in my life was to choose a carreer that I really love," he said, adding that his firm belief in Marxism has been a powerful driving force for his work.

At the turn of the 1980s and 1990s, criticism of Marxism was rampant worldwide as drastic changes took place in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.

"Many cast a doubtful eye on China's system at that time," Wei said. "But the great achievements our country has made during the past four decades demonstrated the strong vitality of Marxism."

Nowadays, more and more people are realizing the value of Marxism, and have been looking for inspiration in Marxist theories, especially when facing financial crisis and ecological degradation, he said.

Hu Xiaochen, 29, came to the CCTB in 2013. As a German major, he read "The Communist Manifesto" and "The German Ideology" in college and fostered a deep admiration for Marxist philosophers.

"It has been a fulfilling experience for me to be able to get close to the great thinkers through translating their thoughts," said Hu.

As part of a recent think-tank project, Hu conducted research exploring a better way to spread Marxist theory among young people through new media.

"Hopefully, more young people will find nourishment from Marxist wisdom," he said.