Luedi Kong givesMonkey King epic the German treatment
Swiss-born Eva Luedi Kong appeared with a glass bottle of Chinesewolfberry tea at herbooklaunch at the Frankfurt Book Fair in late October.
The first to render the complete text of Chinese literary classic Journey to the West into German, Luedi Kong has just completed her journey of bringing theMonkeyKingtoawider audience in theWest, in an adventure spanning 16 years.
“The book is a wonderful example and ambassador of Chinese culture,” she says.
“This is because besides tai chi exponents and believers in traditional Chinese medicine, there are not manypeopleintheGerman-speaking world who know anything about the novel.”
Designer Remo Albanesi was one of those who bought a copy of the book shortly after the launch.
Albanesi says he has a relative who is of Chinese descent and so he is interested in learning about Chinese classics.
“Many young people here know about the Dragon Ball, but nothing about this novel,” he says, referring to the Japanese cartoon inspired by Sun Wukong, or theMonkey King.
Before Luedi Kong, there were picture books and selected translations. But her work is based on the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) version of the book, published by the Zhonghua Book Company.
When she started working on the project— and had translated the first 60 chapters of the 100 in the text — she did not have a contract with a publisher.
“It might not have been wise of me to do that, but I think it was finally worth the effort. The book unfolded a grand and profound world to me. It kind of reshaped me, too. And I just wanted to share that splendor with otherGerman readers,” she says.
DieterMeier, editor at her publisher Reclam, says that he did not hesitate when Luedi Kong contacted them.
“I like this book very much and I wasfirst introduced to itwhenwatching the animated film Uproar in Heaven in Stuttgart many years ago. This sparked my interest in classical Chinese novels, and when living in Shanghai for six months in 2000, I read a French translation of Outlaws of the Marsh, which furthered my interest,” saysMeier.
Known for its “universal library” series, Reclam has packaged the Chinese story with a “popularandpicturesque” bookdesignwithSunWukong and Chinese characters on the bright yellow cover.
The book also features illustrations restored by ZhangXiaofeng, a professor of woodcut paintings at theChina Academy of Art inHangzhou, in Zhejiang province.
“I think publishing this translation could be a milestone for classical Chinese fiction in German-speaking countries,” saysMeier, adding that he is contacting translators Chinese books.
Meier says Luedi Kong is an excellent translator and he knows how long and tough the journey was for her to translate typical Chinese thoughts and ideology, blended with Buddhism and Taoism, into a Germancontext.
Born in 1968, Luedi Kong studied Sinology at the University of Zurich. Then, in 1990, she moved to Hangzhou, where she attended the China Academy ofArt.
Later, she was a lecturer at both the academy and Zhejiang University, and a freelance translator.
Her previous bookTypo China, isa poster collection she worked on with the ZurichMuseum of Design.
Before she began to work on her latest book, she got herself a master’s degree in classic Chinese literature from Zhejiang University. “And to refine my German writing, when I was translating, I studied 18th and 19th centuryGermanliterature at the same time, and got great help with my poetic rhetoric from Goethe’s writing,” she says.
“Themostdifficult partcomeswith first theBuddhistreferencesandthen Taoist thoughts. I felt obliged to understand them before I began translating, so I read, researched and for other met relevant experts, and even went to see monks,” she says.
“The notions and concepts have to be clearly explained and translated, not avoided, or worse, deleted or omitted, simplybecausetheyare difficult to understand,” she says.
LuediKongbelieves that a translator should have real interest in the work being translated, because “then it is easier and more fun in overcoming the obstacles”.
She recently returned to Switzerland with family, and gives lecturers on traditional Chinese thinking.
Meanwhile, Meier says that new German versions of Romance of the Three Kingdoms and Outlaws of the Marsh are to be published soon.
Eva Schestag, who was at Luedi Kong’s book launch at Frankfurt, is working on the first complete German version of Three Kingdoms since 2011.
Speaking about her work, Luedi Kong says: “People nowadays are rootless. The Chinese classics offer chances to examine and talk with one’s inner self, which benefited me a lot.
“Thejourney westcanbetakenas a mental pilgrimage, in which things deep down gradually get released, which gives the novel contemporary relevance.”
Eva Luedi Kong has launched her German version of JourneytotheWest. The book also features illustrations restored by Zhang Xiaofeng, a professor of woodcut paintings at the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou.