100 Chinese translations of foreign publications which had strong influence in China, Thomas Kampen
Between 1840 and 1949, millions of Chinese students, academics and
politicians were influenced by Chinese translations of Western books. But for a long time it was difficult to find details about the publication of these translations and biographical data of the translators.
In 1996, the Chinese scholar 鄒振環 Zou Zhenhuan (Fudan University, Shanghai) published a book introducing one hundred Chinese translations of foreign publications that had strong influence in modern China (影響中國近代社會的一百種譯作 Yingxiang Zhongguo jindai shehui de yibai zhong yizuo, Beijing: Zhongguo duiwai fan yi chuban gongsi, 1996). This book provides important information for studying Western influences in China as well as literary, philosophical and political trends in modern China.
The book includes an impressive selection of novels (Defoe, Dumas, Scott), detective stories (A.C. Doyle), plays (Schiller, Shakespeare), poems (Byron), as well as historical, religious, sociological, philosophical and political studies (Einstein, Huxley, Kropotkin, Marx, Nietzsche, Rousseau). Most of the original worksare from Europe and about Europe; there are about a dozen Japanese books, but most of these are also based on western publications; there is also a small number of Western books about China, including Pearl S. Buck’s Good Earth and Edgar Snow’s Red Star over China.
Zou Zhenhuan provides information about
– the original works and authors,
– the Chinese translations and translators
– the impact of the translations in China.
Getting “The Good Earth”’s Author Right: On Pearl S. Buck, By Charles W. Hayford
... the seven pirated translations of The Good Earth into Chinese sold more copies than any other foreign book had up to that point.
Once denounced, now honored—discovering Pearl S. Buck, BookPage Behind the Book by Anchee Min
I was ordered to denounce Pearl Buck in China, where I lived for 27 years. The year was 1971. I was a teenager attending middle school in Shanghai.
I was raised on the teachings of Mao and the operas of Madam Mao. I became a leader of the Little Red Guards in elementary school. My mother had been a teacher—she taught whatever the Party asked, one semester in Chinese and the next in Russian. My father was an instructor of industrial technique drawing at Shanghai Textile Institute, although his true love was astronomy. My parents both believed in Mao and the Communist Party, just like everybody else in the neighborhood. I became a Mao activist and won contests because I was able to recite the Little Red Book. In school Mao’s books were our texts.
Trying to gain international support to deny Pearl Buck an entry visa (to accompany President Nixon to China), Madam Mao organized a national campaign to criticize Buck as an “American cultural imperialist.”
I followed the order to denounce Pearl Buck and never doubted whether or not Madam Mao was being truthful. I was brainwashed at that time and had learned never to question anything. And yet I do remember having difficulty composing the criticisms. I wished that I had been given a chance to read The Good Earth. We were told that the book was so “toxic” that it was dangerous to even translate. I was told to copy lines from the newspapers: “Pearl Buck insulted Chinese peasants therefore China.” “She hates us therefore is our enemy.” I was proud to be able to defend my country and people.
Pearl Buck’s name didn’t cross my path again until I immigrated to America. It was 1996 and I was giving a reading at a Chicago bookstore for my memoir, Red Azalea. Afterward, a lady came to me and asked if I knew Pearl Buck. Before I could reply, she said—very emotionally and to my surprise—that Pearl Buck had taught her to love the Chinese people. She placed a paperback in my hands and said that it was a gift. It was The Good Earth.
I finished reading The Good Earth on the airplane from Chicago to Los Angeles. I broke down and sobbed. I couldn’t stop myself because I remembered how I had denounced the author. I remembered how Madam Mao had convinced the entire nation to hate Pearl Buck. How wrong we were! I had never encountered any author, including the most respected Chinese authors, who wrote about our peasants with such admiration, affection and humanity.
A Guide to Pearl S. Buck’s The Good Earth | Asia for Educators | Columbia University, A Summary of The Good Earth
The story begins on the day of Wang Lung’s wedding. Wang Lung is a poor young peasant who lives in an earthen brick house with his father, who has arranged for him to marry a slave girl named O-lan from the great family of the House of Hwang. After Wang Lung brings his quiet but diligent new wife home, she works side by side with him in the fields until their first child is born. They are delighted with their son, and at the New Year O-lan dresses him up and proudly takes him to the House of Hwang to show him off. She discovers that due to ostentatious waste and decadence, the Hwang household has squandered their fortune and is now poor enough to be willing to sell off their land. Since Wang Lung, with the help of O-lan who continues to join him in the fields, has had a relatively good year, he determines to extend his prosperity and better his position by buying some land from the House of Hwang. Although they must work harder with more land, Wang Lung and O-lan continue to produce good harvests; they also produce a second son and a daughter.
But soon Wang Lung encounters difficulties. His selfish and unprincipled uncle is jealous, and demands a portion of Wang Lung’s new wealth, while Wang Lung, obsessed with his desire to acquire more land, spends all the family savings; a drought causes a poor harvest and the family suffers from lack of food and from their envious, starving neighbors’ looting of the little dried beans and corn they have left. O-lan has to strangle their fourth child as soon as she is born because otherwise she would die of starvation. Desperately poor and hungry, Wang Lung sells his furniture for a bit of silver to take his family south, though he refuses to sell his land. They ride a firewagon to a southern city, where they live in a makeshift hut on the street. They survive by O-lan, the grandfather, and the children begging for food and Wang Lung pulling a jinrickshaw (or rickshaw) for the rich, or pulling wagonloads of cargo at night.
In the southern city, Wang Lung perceives the extraordinary wealth of westerners and Chinese aristocrats and capitalists, and he is interested in the revolutionaries’ protests of the oppression of the poor. He watches soldiers seize innocent men and force them to carry equipment for their armies. Yet Wang Lung’s overriding concern is to get back to his beloved land. He gets his chance when the enemy invades the city and the rich people flee; Wang Lung and O-lan join the throng of poor people who loot the nearby rich man’s house and get enough gold and jewels to enable them to return north. They repair their house and plough the fields, having bought seeds, an ox, new furniture and farm tools, and finally more land from the bankrupt House of Hwang.
There follow seven years of prosperity, during which the sons grow and begin school; a third son is born with a twin sister, and the harvest is so plentiful that Wang Lung hires laborers and his loyal neighbor, Ching, as a steward. When a flood causes a general famine in the seventh year, Wang Lung is rich enough not to worry about survival yet, while his lands are under water, he becomes restless in his idleness. Bored with his plain and coarse wife, he ventures into a tea shop in town operated by a man from the south where the rich and idle spend their time drinking, gambling, and visiting prostitutes. There he begins an affair with Lotus, a delicately beautiful but manipulatively demanding courtesan whom he desires obsessively. Wang Lung is cruel to his wife and children and spends his fortune on Lotus, finally using up much of his savings to purchase her and build an adjacent courtyard for her to live in as his second wife. Here Lotus indolently lies around in silks, eating expensive delicacies, and gossiping with the deceitful and opportunistic wife of Wang Lung’s uncle.
But discord arises immediately. O-lan is deeply hurt and angry, which makes Wang Lung defensively guilty and cold with her; there are conflicts between O-lan and Lotus’ maid Cuckoo who had mistreated O-lan when she was a concubine of the old master in the House of Hwang. Wang Lung’s old father protests the decadence of catering to a “harlot” in the house. Finally, Lotus is intolerant of Wang Lung’s children, especially his favorite daughter who had become mentally disabled due to malnutrition during the famine. As a result, Wang Lung’s passion for Lotus eventually cools, and when the flood recedes and he returns to his farming work, he is no longer obsessed with love.
In the last third of the book, Wang Lung experiences a succession of joys and sorrows in his family relationships and in his farming. Seasons of good harvests are punctuated by occasional bad years, due to a heavy flood, a severe winter freeze, and a scourge of locusts. Yet on the whole Wang Lung continues to prosper. His wealth, however, also brings a series of discontents. His first son is idle and interested only in women; Wang Lung is furious when he finds the son has visited first a local prostitute and then his own Lotus, so he arranges a marriage for him. Moreover, Wang Lung’s good-for-nothing uncle, with his wife and son, force themselves on the family with their demands for money and their morally corrupting influence; Wang Lung must be kind to them because the uncle is a leader of a band of robbers, from which Wang Lung’s prosperous household is protected for as long as he provides for the uncle. He eventually renders the uncle and his wife harmless by making them addicted to opium.
Family affairs continue to have ups and downs. O-lan’s sickness finally overpowers her, and Wang Lung’s tender solicitousness to her on her deathbed cannot fully compensate for the insults she received when Lotus moved into the house. She is content to die only after her first son’s marriage is consummated, so she can expect a grandson. Wang Lung’s father dies immediately after O-lan, and the faithful steward Ching is buried next. But these losses are accompanied by new joys: the first son produces grandsons and granddaughters, and the second son — a successful grain merchant — and the second daughter are also married and have children.
As Wang Lung ages, he rents out his farm land to tenants. His eldest son persuades him to buy the old estate of the House of Hwang in town, both as a means of moving out from the place where the disgraceful uncle and his wife live, and as a symbol of Wang Lung’s elevated social position. Wang Lung is gratified that now he can take the place of the Old Master of Hwang who once intimidated him so much. But although Wang Lung is head of a three generation extended family who live in luxury with numerous servants, he cannot find peace. The two older brothers and their wives quarrel; the youngest son refuses to become a farmer as Wang Lung had intended and instead joins the army. The uncle’s malicious son causes more trouble when he brings his military regiment to camp for six weeks in Wang Lung’s elegant house. And Wang Lung, long tired of the aging Lotus, finds some comfort in taking the young slave Pear Blossom as his concubine.
Finally, Wang Lung returns to the earthen house of his land to die. Material prosperity has brought him superficial social satisfaction, but only his land can provide peace and security. Even his final days are troubled, when he overhears his two older sons planning to sell the land as soon as he dies.