Renowned Chinese translator Yang Xianyi dies

AP News
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Posted: Nov 24, 2009 4:34 AM

Renowned Chinese literature translator Yang Xianyi has died, China's official Xinhua News Agency said Tuesday. He was 94.

Together with his British wife, Gladys Taylor, Yang translated classics such as the 18th century "A Dream of Red Mansions" as well as more modern works by 20th century writers such Lu Xun.

Born in the northern port of Tianjin in 1915, Yang was sent by his wealthy family to study classics at Oxford University in 1936, where he met Taylor.

Returning to China in 1940, the two married and embarked on a decades-long career in translation against the backdrop of war, communist revolution and waves of political campaigns.

Their later work, including foreign classics translated into Chinese, was mostly published through Beijing's Foreign Languages Press, becoming standard texts for generations of China scholars.

Although he had secretly aided the communist underground during the 1940s, Yang was later accused of being a British spy and jailed for four years during the 1966-1976 Cultural Revolution, a decade-long rampage of violence and radical communism led by Mao Zedong's youthful Red Guards.

Yang was then expelled from the Communist Party after criticizing the government's bloody June 1989 crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations in Beijing's Tiananmen Square.

He published his autobiography, White Tiger, in 2000, one year after Taylor's death, and moved in with one of his two daughters in Beijing.

Yang died on Monday in Beijing after a long illness, Xinhua said. He had reportedly been hospitalized for several weeks with throat cancer and a lung infection.

American Sidney Rittenberg Sr. said he met the Yangs in Beijing during the mid-1950s at a time when they were surrounded by an aura of political suspicion.

Rittenberg, himself imprisoned for a decade during the Cultural Revolution, said he learned only after his release in 1977 of Yang's work and his refusal to flee to Taiwan with Chiang Kai-shek's Nationalists ahead of the communist advance in 1949.

"The reason he had been under suspicion before the Cultural Revolution was simply that he refused to abandon his integrity and his critical judgment to conform to anyone's instructions on politics or ideology," Rittenberg said.

"His contribution to the interaction of Chinese and Western literature is incomparable," he said.