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Title:【中国文化-英文】Controversy over vulgar Tagore translation

Topic Poster
editor 15-12-24 15:45
File photo of Feng Tang and a page of his translation of Stray Birds.

File photo of Feng Tang and a page of his translation of 'Stray Birds.'

A renowned Chinese writer has been the target of criticism after his new translation of a widely popular collection of poetry was accused of obscenity.

Feng Tang, 44, is an author most known for a series of provocative novels about life in Beijing in the 1990s popular with young readers. His works are dubbed by some as 'xiao huang shu' (little pornographic books) for their racy tone and erotic content.

His translation of 'Stray Birds,' a collection of poems by Indian Nobel laureate Rabindranath Tagore (1861-1941), from English to Chinese adopts similar sordid language.

In one instance, Feng translated the original lines 'The world puts off its mask of vastness to its lover' into Chinese that read 'The world unzipped his pants in front of his lover.' In translating the word 'hospitable' in the line 'The great earth makes herself hospitable with the help of the grass,' Feng uses the Chinese word 'sao,' which is closer to the English word 'flirtatious.'

His work, published in July, did not garner much attention until earlier this month, when the odd translations were brought to light on social media. Users on microblog Sina Weibo chastised it as 'full of the smell of hormone' and 'a blasphemy against the great poet.'

User 'Will-wrong-23' wrote that Feng turned the great poems into playful jingles, and the solemnity and tranquility of the original work had disappeared.

Others approved of his translation.

'I don't think there is anything wrong with the translation. Literature should not be measured against yardsticks,' Weibo user 'gugugugugux' wrote.

Responding to the controversy, Feng told news portal that there should be no golden standard to decide the merit of a translation.

'I believe in my sincerity of translation and my Chinese and English levels,' he said.'True gold fears no fire.'

He said he intentionally added his personal style into the translation instead of mechanically representing the original work.

First introduced to China in the 1920s by prominent writer Zheng Zhenduo, 'Stray Birds' has been translated several times and is widely popular among Chinese readers. Zheng's version has always been regarded as the most authoritative, faithfully presenting Tagore's style.

Feng's translation has also triggered a discussion over the rules of translation. For decades, the three principles 'faithfulness,' 'expressiveness,' and 'elegance,' proposed at the beginning of the 20th century by famous translator Yan Fu, have been widely held as the golden rules among Chinese translators.

Ma Ainong, famous for her successful translation of 'Harry Potter,' said a good translation should be faithful to the original work, both in terms of language and style.

'Faithfulness is the most basic,' she said, 'Translation is translation. It's not a literary creation.'

Li Zhaozhong, a literature researcher for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said 'poetry translation is the most difficult. Besides a good command of language, it is better for the translator to be a poet too and share a similar style with the original work.'

Feng Tang said that the rules of 'faithfulness,' 'expressiveness' and 'elegance' should not be weighed equally for all translation work and each translator can have a different understanding about the original work.