On July 28, Lu Gusun passed away in Shanghai at the age of 77. A translator, essayist, Shakespearean scholar, professor at Fudan University, and member of CPPCC National Committee, (a political advisory body in China), Lu was best known as a lexicographer.
In China, almost everyone engaged in English translation, English language studies or any other humanities has heard of Lu. Every college graduate or English learner must rely heavily on one, if not all, of Lu’s dictionaries. As editor-in-chief of the widely-circulated A New EnglishChinese Dictionary, The English-chinese Dictionary, The Chinese-english Dictionary (Unabridged), Lu became a lexicographer for A New English-chinese Dictionary as early as 1970, when he was only 30 years old. When he died, Lu was still working on the second and final volume of The Chinese-english Dictionary (Unabridged). It would be no exaggeration to say that Lu spent the vast majority of his days working on compiling dictionaries.
Birth of AnewenglishChinesedictionary
Lu Gusun was born in Shanghai in 1940. His father, Lu Dacheng, worked as a French translator, Lu Gusun followed in his footsteps by enrolling in Fudan University’s College of Foreign Languages and Literatures in 1957. The son ended up choosing the English language as the focal point of his studies and research.
In 1965, Lu began teaching English at Fudan University. In 1970, he was chosen for the editorial team tasked with drafting A New English-chinese Dictionary. Five years later, the dictionary hit bookshelves. Although the reference book was compiled during China’s “cultural revolution” (19661976), young Lu boldly included “new words, new meanings and new usages.” “Many of my views on new words, new meanings and new usages formed during my work on A New English-chinese Dictionary,” Lu recalled in an interview during his later years. “As the ‘outerwear’ of human thinking, language development isn’t fettered by politics. Language has its own laws of change and development. The fundamental task for dictionaries is to showcase language objectively, and dictionaries’ social function is to faithfully record language. So, the drafting group of A New English-chinese Dictionary insisted on adding new words.”
Thanks to their efforts, although the dictionary still had a long way to go and “political English” still could be found in it, the 1975 edition helped the Western world notice China’s changes. The New York Times commented that the dictionary kept up with the times and showed that China was paying close attention to the U. S. In those days, the nearly-2,000-page dictionary served as the only mediumsized bilingual reference book for English learners in China. During China’s craze for going abroad in the 1980s, it was scripture and kept on-hand at all times for many students abroad.
Keeping the Soil Moving
In 1975, the same year A New English-chinese Dictionary was published, Shanghai was awarded the national key scientific research project to compile The English-chinese Dictionary. Lu embarked on a 15-year journey with this dictionary: Preparations began in 1976, he became editor-in-chief in 1986, and the dictionary was finally published in 1991.
“If the soil keeps moving, a mountain will form,” Lu wrote in the forward of The English-chinese Dictionary, quoting renowned Chinese Confucian philosopher Xun Zi (313B.C.- 238B.C.) to celebrate the tireless efforts of the editorial team.
The English-chinese Dictionary is the first comprehensive English-chinese dictionary independently researched, developed, and compiled by China. None of it draws on translations of a foreign dictionary — a common practice in compiling English-chinese dictionaries in the past. After the dictionary was published, it soon became the mostwidely used English-chinese reference book. The dictionary also won an international reputation and served as a standard EnglishChinese reference for translators working at the UN. Western dictionary experts deemed the dictionary one of the best bilingual dictionaries in the world.
In the 1980s, with China’s deepened reform and opening-up, demand for China to compile a new Chinese-english dictionary that could facilitate spontaneous communication with a foreign audience became huge. The English-chinese Dictionary was finally published in 1991, and then ambitious Lu began to work on The ChineseEnglish Dictionary (Unabridged), which was even larger in scale. Over the following years, China witnessed rapid development, and the Chinese language also changed significantly alongside social development. Lu invested his heart and soul in expanding the cultural window language creates and inspiring greater numbers of people to learn about the world.
He and his team creatively proposed the “acculturation” principle when compiling this dictionary. Specifically, this principle emphasizes that a dictionary should not explain too much about a word or phrase. Instead, it should help users understand a certain word via producing different phrases
and building sentences. At the same time, this dictionary included some translations from Hong Kong, Taiwan, Macao, and overseas Chinese communities.
The first volume, with more than 20,000 single-character entries, was first published in 2015 to great acclaim from users and the academic circles alike. In its influential commentary program “Time of Chief Editor,” Phoenix Television used “awesome” to praise the dictionary, and spoke highly of its influence in China and beyond.
Studying Foreign Languages and Chinese
Lu had been looking at the development of linguistic phenomena, emphasizing that studying a foreign language, in a sense, is studying another way of thinking. He asserted that English as lingua franca could help China better understand the world and vice versa. He opposed putting the Chinese language in opposition to English or any other foreign languages. “In learning both Chinese and English languages, the requirements of memorization, comparison, conversion, and idioms are the same. However, when studying a foreign language, we should never forget Chinese. Chinese people must master our mother tongue, keep and pass on our traditional culture, of which our language is the carrier.”
In recent years, many newly-coined words that showcase changing Chinese society have emerged in China, drawing attention from the West. Lu believed that China’s economic development and increased international exchanges are the causes of this phenomenon. For example, the internet buzzword “gelivable” which means “cool,” “awesome” or “exciting,” was reported by The New York Times. And the word “guanxi,” a transliteration of the Chinese word meaning networks or connections, is now widely recognized and even used by the Western world. Although such words face a long road before being adopted into standard English, their existence shows that Chinese culture is understood by more foreigners and is becoming more integrated with other world cultures.
After 2013, realizing each day was even more precious, Lu devoted almost all his time to The Chinese-english Dictionary (Unabridged). Huang Yuning, head of the literature editorial office of Shanghai Translation Publishing House, has known Lu for years. “Many people wear different masks in life. But Mr. Lu had been consistent. His writing has a strong British and American style. If God gave him more time, I would have urged him to translate works from writers such as E.B. White.”