Trans­la­tor re­calls meet­ing Qian Zhong­shu

China Daily (USA) - - LIFE - By XING YI

The late au­thor Qian Zhong­shu is best known for his satirical novel Fortress Be­sieged.

Qian’s scholas­tic works, how­ever, are some­times dif­fi­cult to fol­low be­cause of the clas­si­cal ref­er­ences.

Dun­can Camp­bell, 61, a China scholar from New Zealand, is one per­son who has tried to take Qian to the world over the past 30 years by trans­lat­ing his writ­ings.

In Au­gust, Camp­bell re­ceived the China Book Award for Spe­cial Con­tri­bu­tions, a na­tional honor for for­eign writ­ers, trans­la­tors and pub­lish­ers who have sig­nif­i­cantly helped in pop­u­lar­iz­ing Chi­nese books and pro­mot­ing cul­tural ex­changes be­tween China and the world.

His trans­la­tion of a col­lec­tion of Qian’s lit­er­ary crit­i­cisms, Patch­works: Seven Es­says on Art and Literature, was pub­lished in 2014.

“All trans­la­tion is dif­fi­cult,” Camp­bell writes in the trans­la­tor’s in­tro­duc­tion of the book.

“More fool­hardy an en­ter­prise it is to at­tempt to trans­late the work of a man as eru­dite and broadly read as Qian Zhong­shu.”

Camp­bell started the trans­la­tion pro­ject while he was earn­ing hisPhD in Chi­nese stud­ies in the 1980s with men­tor John Min­ford at Auck­land Univer­sity.

Min­ford has trans­lated many Chi­nese clas­sics, in­clud­ing Dream of the Red Cham­ber, The Art of War and I Ching.

“Once I said to him that I read an in­ter­est­ing ar­ti­cle (ti­tled) Chi­nese Po­etry and Chi­nese Paint­ing by Qian Zhong­shu, and he said ‘Why don’t you trans­late it?’” says Camp­bell dur­ing a re­cent in­ter­view in Beijing.

In 1987, Camp­bell brought some of his early drafts dur­ing his visit to Beijing to meet Qian. The Chi­nese au­thor died in 1998.

Camp­bell re­calls the “un­for­get­table early De­cem­ber af­ter­noon” when Qian re­galed him with tales of the spe­cific lit­er­ary con­texts of a num­ber of his es­says.

“He liked my trans­la­tion,” Camp­bell says ofQian. “WhenIwent­there, I started to speak in Chi­nese at first, but then I re­al­ized he speaks English beau­ti­fully.

“He­wasal­ways laugh­ing. He­wasa manof such learn­ing, but he was just like a kid, very lively.”

The trans­la­tion pro­ject was then laid aside by Camp­bell, be­cause he didn’t think about pub­lish­ing his work back then.

It was in 2014 when Qian’s widow, Yang Jiang, also a well-known Chi­nese au­thor and trans­la­tor, gave the go-ahead for Camp­bell’s trans­la­tion to be pub­lished.

Other than Qian’s es­says, Camp­bell has trans­lated works by Zhang Dai, a Ming Dy­nasty (1368-1644) es­say­ist, and it is ex­pected to be pub­lished next year.

The new book in­cludes Zhang’s trav­el­ogue about West Lake in Hangzhou, and other es­says about pas­times of tra­di­tional Chi­nese schol­ars, such as play­ing mu­si­cal in­stru­ment, Chi­nese chess, cal­lig­ra­phy and Chi­nese paint­ing.

Camp­bell was among the first batch of for­eign ex­change stu­dents who came to China im­me­di­ately af­ter the “cul­tural revo­lu­tion” (196676).

Camp­bell con­sid­ered him­self a Marx­ist when he came to China then. It was two weeks af­ter China’s found­ing father Mao Ze­dong’ s death in 1976 that Camp­bell ar­rived in Beijing.

Camp­bell first stud­ied at the Beijing Lan­guage and Cul­ture Univer­sity and then trans­ferred to the his­tory depart­ment of Nan­jing Univer­sity in East China’s Jiangsu prov­ince, where he stud­ied clas­si­cal Chi­nese and found him­self fas­ci­nated by Chi­nese tra­di­tional li­braries and gar­dens.

Later, he spent years in Pek­ing Univer­sity on re­search un­der the guid­ance of Chi­nese nov­el­ist Wu Zux­i­ang.

Camp­bell now teaches Chi­nese stud­ies at Vic­to­ria Univer­sity ofWelling­ton.

He says there are more stu­dents in­ter­ested in learn­ing the lan­guage, his­tory and cul­ture than when he de­cided to first study Chi­nese.

“Ini­tially when I came, I thought it was a de­tour,” Camp­bell says of his first visit to China.

“Maybe spend two years hav­ing a good time ,... and go back to do some­thing sen­si­ble .”

But he was “cap­tured” by what he sawin the coun­try.

He was al­ways laugh­ing. He was a man of such learn­ing, but he was just like a kid, very lively.” Dun­can Camp­bell, trans­la­tor from New Zealand, says of au­thor Qian Zhong­shu


Dun­can Camp­bell speaks at a fo­rum on China stud­ies in Beijing.

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