'The Voice of Justice'; Victor Hugo in China

By Meiying, Li | UNESCO Courier, November 1985 | Go to article overview

'The Voice of Justice'; Victor Hugo in China


Meiying, Li, UNESCO Courier


"The voice of justice'

VICTOR Hugo was one of the first Western writers to be known and translated in China.

Chinese readers discovered him at the beginning of the century thanks to Su Zigu, a Chinese translator who in 1903 published the first eleven chapters of Les Miserables as a serial in a Shanghai daily newspaper. However inaccurate it may have been this translation helped to make Hugo known to the Chinese and was soon followed by two more in 1906 and 1907. Keen interest was aroused in Hugo and more of his works appeared in Chinese: Bug-Jargal, Le Dernier Jour d'un Condamne, Notre-Dame de Paris, Quatrevingt-Treize, Les Travailleurs de la Mer, and Han d'Islande.

Lu Xun (1881-1936), one of China's greatest writers, translated an extract from Les Miserables, which he published under the title of Fantine.

Zeng Pu (1872-1935), famous for his novel The Flower Emerging from an Ocean of Sins, was the first Chinese who set out to produce a Chinese version of Hugo's complete works. Between 1907 and 1935 he translated Marie Tudor, Quatrevingt-Treize, Ruy Blas, Hernani, L'Homme qui Rit, Cromwell, Marion de Lorme, Le Roi s'Amuse, Les Jumeaux, Angelo, Tyran de Padoue, Le The atre en Liberte, and Notre-Dame de Paris, as well as many other prose texts and three poems.

In the meantime, other works by Hugo were being translated and published in Chinese. They included versions of Pauvres Gens, by the writer and linguist Liu Bannong (1891-1934); La Conscience, by the poet Dai Wangshu (1905-1950); and Saison des Semailles and Le Soir, by the poet Liang Zongdai.

The height of Victor Hugo's fame in China came in 1935, the fiftieth anniversary of his death.

On that occasion, Mao Dun, one of our greatest modern novelists, published studies on Les Miserables and Hernani. Shen Baoji, a specialist in French culture, also brought out a study on Les Miserables and an "Anthology of the Poems of Victor Hugo'. Ma Songrong, who had just paid a long visit to France, wrote "The French Novelist Victor Hugo' and "Victor Hugo as seen by the French Today'.

Hugo was also given wide coverage in the most influential newspapers of the time such as "Beijing Morning' and "Impartiality'.

In 1952, many noted Chinese personalities published newspaper articles on the occasion of the 150th anniversary of Hugo's birth. The poet, playwright and politician Guo Moro (1892-1972), then Vice-President of the permanent committee of the People's National Assembly, paid a vibrant tribute to Hugo's memory in a work entitled "For Peace, Democracy and Progress'. Mao Dun, then Minister of Culture, wrote "Why the Chinese like the Works of Victor Hugo', and proposed that the memory of Victor Hugo should be honoured at the second session of the World Peace Council, in Vienna.

At the same time, the Beijing Library organized an important exhibition on Hugo's life and work, and his works were prominently displayed in the bookshops. New translations appeared of some of his major works, notably Quatrevingt-Treize, L'Homme qui Rit, and Les Miserables. Biographical studies were also published.

Since 1976, texts by Hugo have been appearing at an even faster rate: there have been no less than eight different versions of Les Miserables! Three anthologies of his poetry, translated by Wen Jiasi, Jin Zhiping and Cheng Baoyi, are currently in course of publication.

In 1981 a nationwide symposium on Hugo, held at Changsha, the capital of Hunan province, was attended by hundreds of teachers and researchers specializing in French literature. Almost ninety studies were presented, and some twenty of them have appeared in a collection entitled Commentaries on the Literary Works of Victor Hugo.

Liu Mingjiu is preeminent among Hugo specialists in China. His work, begun in the early 1960s, was interrupted by the ten years of the "Cultural Revolution', but it is nevertheless considerable.

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