Recently, Feng Tang, one of China’s most popular best-selling author, aroused fierce disputes with his translation of Stray Birds, a collection of poems by Tagore. Some critics claim that Feng Tang managed to transform Tagore into GuoJingming* with his appalling translation; and some voices from media condemn that Feng Tang’s version of Stray Birds has stepped out of the boundary of what you can call “translation”.
[Translator’s Note: GuoJingming (1983-) is considered the most profitable and commercialized best-selling author in China. Although he has hundreds of thousands of fans, the circle of serious literature tends to exclude him because of shallowness, money worship and even plagiarism.]
Feng ang, instead of shunning all the criticisms, chooses to collect all articles discussing his translation, and to publish them via his own WeChat subscription. This remark from a Weibo account, as you can read in the picture below, is one of them. Feng Tang says he’s doing that to “bring shame to himself”.
Here the critic says: “Feng Tang’s version of Stray Birds is not less than a terrorist attack in the history of translation.”
The reporter of The Paper (www.thepaper.cn) gets contact with Feng Tang, and invites him to respond to various queries and remarks concerning the “blasphemy” of Tagore, the rhyming issue, and the salacious style, etc.
冯唐。徐晓林澎湃资料 A photo of Feng Tang, by XuXiaolin of The Paper
The Paper: Would you respond to the remarks from the netizens that you managed to transform Tagore into GuoJingming by your translation of Stray Birds? In your point of view, what is the style of Tagore and GuoJingming respectively?
Feng Tang: I don’t actually understand their remarks, whose connotations sound very rich. I’ve read the works of Tagore, and my understanding of Tagore’s style is reflected in the style of my translation. I’ve never read a book of GuoJingming, and have no idea of his style. I do hope that the netizens have read the original texts of Tagore, the translation of my own, and the words of GuoJingming before they make such remarks.
The Paper: What is your comment on ZhengZhenduo’s version of Stray Birds, and those of other older translators?
Feng Tang: Actually I have only read Zhen Zhengduo’s version of Stray Birds, very carefully. In my point of view, the version he completed in his twenties was generally correct, and loyal to the original texts. However, I fail to detect the poetic flavor of child-like, fairy-like, animal-like and flower-like images.
The Paper: An article in The Beijing News condemns thatyour translation style has stepped out of the boundary of what you can call “translation”. And the “boundary” is defined as “try the translator’s best to preserve the style of the original texts, and to mean what the author truly meant”. Do you agree with this “boundary”, and have you actually stepped out of it?
Feng Tang: I don’t think there is a “golden rule” to judge whether the translation is good or not. Likewise, I don’t think the weighing factor of “Faithfulness, Expressiveness and Elegance”is applicable to every translator and their translations. Every translator has a different understanding of “the outlook of the original text” and “what the author truly meant”. Therefore, who have the right to define where the “boundary” is?
The Paper: Talking about rhyming – why are you insisting on that?
Feng Tang: My initial contact with poems was with The Book of Songs, the poems of Tang Dynasty, the lyrics of Song Dynasty, and the verses of Yuan Dynasty. Most of the excellent poems I have read are rhymed.
The Paper: Why do you append Tagore’s original texts on the same page with your translations?
Feng Tang: I intend to encourage the readers with competence of English language to have a deeper understanding of Tagore, and to facilitate the readers who want to improve their language skills to find the original texts.
The Paper: Nowadays readers of poems can basically understand English, so is it still necessary to translate English poems into Chinese?
Feng Tang: You mean readers of poems can basically understand English? Really? Do you have relevant stats to support that? I translate them because I love to translate, and I publish them because I’m willing to publish. After all, I have the freedom to choose what to translate and whether to publish or not.
The Paper: Mr. ZhengZhenduo translated Stray Birds as “The album of flying birds”, in which we fail to detect the sense of “getting lost”. Obviously you are aware of Zheng’s mistake, but why don’t you replace Stray Birds with a brand new name?
Feng Tang: “The album of lost birds” might be more accurate, but “The album of flying birds” is so deeply imbedded in the memories of a generation of readers. So long as it does not contradict the normal usage of Chinese language, why do I object to the image of “flying birds”?
The Paper: Why do you keep showing your readers those articles that criticize your translation? Some argue that it is part of your marketing skill, and how do you respond to them?
Feng Tang: I have firm belief in my sincerity, and my skill of maneuvering between English and Chinese. The tolerance of sharp criticism, for me, is a kind of moral cultivation. As the proverb says: “True blue will never stain”. Those articles of criticism are neither written by me nor organized by me. So I “recommend” them to my fans with a gentle smile – you call that“marketing skill”?
The Paper: Some argue that the philosophical thoughts in the original texts of Stray Birds are lost in your translation. Do you agree with that?
Feng Tang: No.
The Paper: The following remark is actually from a positive stance, and with genuine understanding of your efforts. It says: “In my point of view, Feng Tang, armed with his own understandings, is trying to demonstrate Tagore’s characters that are reduced by traditional moral shackles. Feng Tang is trying to pull off the ‘fig leaf’ of human beings (especially on the sensual level) with his bold, even salacious expressions. We Chinese are so used to the bounds of “Start with love, end with virtue”, and tend to become offended by Feng Tang’s sincere and unpretending sparkles of language. In the past, many “trouble-making” scholars ventured to explore the sensual world of Emily Dickenson. Their writings are attempting to restore the liquid thoughts – revealed or hidden – of every human being.” So are you actually pulling off the “fig leaf” of human beings on the sensual level? Like this one: “The world reveals its penis in front of its lovers.” Or it is only a wishful interpretation of a reader?
Feng Tang: How I translate Stray Birds into Chinese is a reflection of my own Chinese language system. So I put the original texts of Tagore and the Chinese versions of mine on the same page, and it leaves for the readers to praise or to condemn, none of my business. An excellent article might be handed on for thousands of years, while whether it’s good or not depends on very tiny details. I’m possessed with excellent skills, and therefore fear no one – even if they greet me with a cold eye.
One page in Feng Tang’s version of Stray Birds. Tagore’s poem is translated by Feng Tang as “The world reveals its penis in front of its lovers/long as a tongue kiss/delicate as a line of verse”.