New Translation of Tagore Poetry Is Deemed Too Racy for China ; Publisher Pulls Tome from Stores as Nation Celebrates Poet's Birth

By Qin, Amy | International New York Times, February 10, 2016 | Go to article overview

New Translation of Tagore Poetry Is Deemed Too Racy for China ; Publisher Pulls Tome from Stores as Nation Celebrates Poet's Birth


Qin, Amy, International New York Times


Publisher pulls tome from stores as nation celebrates poet's birth.

CORRECTION APPENDED

More than 80 years after his death, Rabindranath Tagore, the Bengali poet and Nobel laureate, still has a huge following in Asia. Outside India and Bangladesh, perhaps nowhere is his legacy more alive than in China, where his works have been part of the middle- school curriculum for decades.

This month, to commemorate the 155th anniversary of his birth, the People's Publishing House will release "The Complete Works of Tagore," the first direct translation of his entire output from Bengali into Chinese. The project took a team of translators nearly six years.

But Tagore has also been at the center of a controversy here, after another, more racy new translation of some of his poems by the writer Feng Teng, called "Stray Birds," set off a storm of criticism. The furor was so intense that the Zhejiang Wenyi Publishing House pulled the volume from stores.

"Most Chinese grew up thinking Tagore was mild and romantic, all stars, gardens and flowers," Mr. Feng said in a recent interview in his Beijing studio. "So with my translation, many people felt like their Tagore, the Tagore from their childhood textbooks, had been challenged."

Yu Qing, deputy chief editor of the People's Publishing House, said, "In terms of the top foreign authors, Tagore may just be the most popular and most widely translated foreign writer in China."

"Unlike other popular foreign authors here like Tolstoy or Mark Twain, Tagore actually visited China and spent time with the pioneers of contemporary Chinese literature," Mr. Yu added.

As the first non-Westerner to receive the Nobel Prize in Literature, in 1913, Tagore was also the "lone voice from Asia in an intellectual milieu that was almost entirely dominated by Western institutions and individuals," wrote Pankaj Mishra in his 2012 book, "From the Ruins of Empire." Translations of the poet's work by rising young intellectuals like Mao Dun, Zhang Zhenduo and Chen Duxiu, a co-founder of the Chinese Communist Party, began to appear in Chinese magazines.

The 44-year-old Mr. Feng, a popular novelist, said he had been looking for a translation project and remembered reading the collection of short poems about man and nature in "Stray Birds" when he was young.

But not long after his translation was published last summer, critiques began to appear online and in the Chinese news media, including People's Daily, the Communist Party mouthpiece. …

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