US writer’s book on Bei­jing ap­pears in Chi­nese 7 decades later

China Daily (Hong Kong) - - BOOKS | LIFE - By CHINA DAILY

Mar­ian Can­non Sch­lesinger, 104, can still re­call what Bei­jing was like in the 1930s, when she vis­ited China to see her sis­ter, Wilma Can­non Fair­bank, and brother-in-law, John King Fair­bank.

“I fear that old Pek­ing and all its won­der­ful at­mos­phere, the hu­tong (al­leys), mud houses, sounds and daily life, as I knew them, have long dis­ap­peared,” Sch­lesinger writes in her in­tro­duc­tion to San Bao and His Ad­ven­tures in Pek­ing.

The book’s Chi­nese trans­la­tion, pub­lished by Bei­jing­based Zhonghua Book Com­pany, was re­leased in Oc­to­ber, 77 years after the orig­i­nal in English was first pub­lished in the United States.

“I think what I caught in my lit­tle book is al­most a his­tor­i­cal record,” she adds.

Sch­lesinger ar­rived in Shang­hai in 1934 after a 17-day ship jour­ney from the US hav­ing com­pleted her col­lege ed­u­ca­tion.

To­gether with the Fair­banks, she trav­eled to Fuzhou, Xi­a­men, Shan­tou and Guangzhou be­fore ar­riv­ing in Bei­jing in 1935. On that trip, she also went to Hong Kong.

In Bei­jing, when then-bud­ding Sinophiles John King Fair­bank worked hard on his Chi­nese lan­guage skills and Wilma Can­non Fair­bank re­searched the restora­tion of Tang Dy­nasty (618-907) rub­bings, Sch­lesinger took Chi­nese paint­ing lessons, and at­tracted cu­ri­ous on­look­ers while she and her sis­ter painted. They also rode lit­tle Mon­go­lian ponies to nearby vil­lages.

“With all this ma­te­rial and a vivid mem­ory of a unique ex­pe­ri­ence, I de­cided to write and il­lus­trate San Bao, the story of a small vil­lage boy who goes to the big city, Pek­ing, and all the ad­ven­tures that be­fall him,” Sch­lesinger con­tin­ues in her in­tro­duc­tion to SanBaoandHisAd­ven­turesinPek­ing, the Chi­nese book.

San Bao, the novel’s pro­tag­o­nist, is a boy from a nearby vil­lage. He comes to Bei­jing on a don­key with his fa­ther to sell food but gets lost half­way. Then he meets Xiao Qing, a boy from the city, and to­gether they en­joy dough fig­urines, watch­ing peo­ple walk­ing on stilts and others danc­ing with swords at a fair. Fi­nally, San Bao finds his fa­ther and re­turns to their vil­lage, with a drag­on­like kite for his friends.

Sch­lesinger made more than 40 il­lus­tra­tions for San Bao and his ad­ven­tures in olden-day Bei­jing.

In the 1940s, she wrote other chil­dren’s books.

Zhao Wup­ing, vice-pres­i­dent of Shang­hai Trans­la­tion Pub­lish­ing House, dis­cov­ered the English-lan­guage book by ac­ci­dent last year when he met Holly Fair­bank, a niece of Sch­lesinger, in New York.

At the time, Holly Fair­bank had men­tioned the book to Zhao, who then trans­lated it into Chi­nese.

“Un­like na­tive Chi­nese, Mar­ian ob­serves lo­cal cul­ture and cus­toms care­fully, which are be­yond her orig­i­nal ex­pe­ri­ence. Her artis­tic paintings and poetic lan­guage make old Bei­jing come to life,” Zhao says of San Bao and His Ad­ven­tures in Pek­ing.

Cui Daiyuan, a writer from the city, de­scribes Sch­lesinger’s de­pic­tion of old Bei­jing as faith­ful and says the il­lus­tra­tions have “great fla­vor”.

Cui has been liv­ing in Bei­jing for more than four decades, and he gets a sense of deja vu when read­ing the book, he says. His grand­fa­ther was born in the same year as Sch­lesinger, and his fa­ther was born one year after the book was first pub­lished.

“The old Bei­jing has left us like the set­ting sun, but I can see the shad­ows of my fa­ther and grand­fa­ther in this book,” Cui says.

Cui thinks the book ex­plores cul­tural ex­changes.

“Sch­lesinger’s view of Bei­jing is dif­fer­ent from that of lo­cal peo­ple who might not find many things un­usual the way she does,” he says. “The value of cul­ture is re­flected in such ex­pe­ri­ences.”

Wu Yue con­trib­uted to the story.


Mar­ian Can­non Sch­lesinger and Zhao Wup­ing, trans­la­tor of her book at Har­vard Uni­ver­sity in Oc­to­ber.

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