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Letters Reveal Writer's Later Years
The manuscripts of 15 letters written by Xiao Qian (1910-99), a famous Chinese writer and translator, was unveiled in Beijing recently.

Most of the letters dating between 1982-88 were written to Xiao's two friends -- Zhu Dan, a famous calligrapher, and Zhu's student Wang Zhaoming.

Though the friendship of the three lasted for 20 years, Wang, who is now a collector of Chinese paintings and calligraphy, hardly remembered the letters until he happened to find them recently when he was moving.

"I believe these letters are a treasure for those who study and admire Xiao," said Wang.

Xiao had led a fascinating life as a novelist, essayist, editor, journalist and translator.

In his long and productive life, Xiao covered some of the greatest news stories of the 20th century.

Born in a poor Mongolian family in Beijing, Xiao had an impoverished childhood. In 1932, he went to Yenching University to study journalism.

After graduation, he became an editor at Takung Pao in Tianjin. At the same time, he began publishing Chinese fiction reflecting the life of ordinary people.

The Valley of Dreams was one of his representative works of that period.

During World War II, Xiao traveled to Britain and became the only war correspondent for Takung Pao. For six years in a row, he wrote over 1,000 news stories covering the latest events in Europe.

In August 1945, Xiao went to New York and reported on the founding of the United Nations.

The story, published in Takung Pao, which moved to Hong Kong during World War II, was the first report about the United Nations in the country.

Xiao's unique personality reflected a lifetime of travel and exposure to different cultures.

The humorous attitude exhibited by the British towards the war left a deep impression on his character which influenced his writing, some say.

Xiao once said in the old age, one should do something monumental.

In his later years, as if to fulfill his wish of "running until the finish line," Xiao and his wife Wen Jieruo spent four years translating James Joyce's Ulysses, which became an unexpected bestseller in China.

The recently discovered manuscripts offer insight to Xiao's last days.

At 72, Xiao had two surgeries and still remained optimistic and was busy lecturing young journalists around the country.

"He had great expectations for the younger generation in his letters," recalled Wang. "I was moved by his words."

The letters also show he had great concern for the country's opening up and reform since the 1980s.

He also took part in several international events in Singapore, Norway and the United States.

Also found in the letters are insightful personal writings such as moving to a new apartment and using his first telephone.

As the keeper of the manuscripts, Wang is looking for the best place for the letters.

"I hope time will not forget the memory of such a great writer."

(China Daily July 3, 2002)

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