The pride in Zhang Hongbo's voice was clear as he talked about his visit to Moscow immediately prior to the Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) that was held in late August 2016.
While visiting a bookshop on the city's famous Novy Arbat Street, he saw 12 Russian versions of famous works of Chinese literature. Among them, eight were the result of the Chinese-Russian inter-translation project that he is involved with.
Zhang is the director-general of the China Written Works Copyright Society and the head of the Chinese team for the inter-translation project established in 2013 by the then China State Administration of Radio, Film and Television (SARFT) and the Federal Agency on Press and Mass Communications (FAPMC) of Russia.
"Novy Arbat Street is one of the most bustling areas in Moscow. The fact that our books are on the bookshelves there means that they have been truly accepted by the mainstream Russian book market," Zhang told the Global Times on Thursday.
First proposed by the Chinese Culture Center in Moscow, the inter-translation project was established to translate no less than 100 works over a period of six years. In 2015, the project's translation goal was raised to 200, the most ambitious goal for Chinese-Russian translation since the 1990s.
"Basically, most Sino-foreign publishing cooperation takes place between two publishing houses, but we work as a hub for several publishing houses we think are good at translating Russian. In this way we are able to take full advantage of the resources in both countries," Zhang explained.
As of 2016's BIBF, 44 works had been translated under the project. Of these, 26 were Russian works translated into Chinese, while the remaining were Chinese works translated into Russian.
"To date, our team has published 39 books. We are progressing far faster than the Russian team," Zhang pointed out.
"Because of the economic sanctions by the European Union and the US, they (the Russian government) reduced the budget for the publishing industry. Additionally, the Russian team is also suffering from a shortage of Russian translators since veterans are not interested in the project and younger translators lack the required experience."
Need for education
Commenting on the impact China's Belt and Road initiative can have on introducing Chinese culture in other countries, Zhang pointed out that the Confucius Institute has a very important role to play since it can help train foreign experts who will help their homelands better understand China .
"Cultivating sinologists is particularly important right now," Zhang said, noting that many countries involved in the B&R initiative lack translators and teachers who truly understand Chinese culture.
According to Zhang, among the countries and regions involved in the B&R initiative, of which many are Russian-speaking, only a few have published localized versions of great works of Chinese literature such as Journey to the West.
With the help of qualified sinologists, the project's translators for example, these works could be translated and shared among countries along the B&R routes.
The importance of sinologists isn't limited to their ability to translate.
"Not only can these experts translate Chinese to Russian, since they have a better understanding of Chinese culture, they can also play an important role in helping Russian-speaking readers who can't read Chinese understand China."
Focus on modern works
The translation of literature between China and Russia has been taking place for more than 300 years. Chinese classical literature was first introduced into Russia at the end of 17th century. While this consisted of only a few translations at first, efforts expanded considerably during the 19th century. Famous Russian writer Leo Tolstoy once wrote several articles discussing ancient Chinese philosophy including the works of Confucius and Laozi's Tao Te Ching, the founding work of philosophical Taoism.
Toward the end of the 19th century, a large amount of Russian literature was brought into China. From the late Qing Dynasty (1644-1911) to the beginning of the May 4th Movement (1919), works from more than 10 Russian writers such as Tolstoy, Alexsandr Pushkin and Mikhail Lermontov had been translated into Chinese.
Cultural exchange between the two nations hit a peak in the 1950s when Sino-Soviet relations entered a "honeymoon period." During this time, translation of literature works from both countries increased sharply until the middle of the 1960s, when Sino-Soviet relations began to cool. For example, the Chinese translation of How the Steel Was Tempered (1933), a novel by Nikolai Ostrovsky (1904-36), was published in 1961 by China Children's Press.
Since previous translations mainly focused on classic literature, the organizers behind the 2013 project decided to focus on contemporary works from both nations.
According to Zhang, the 100 books the project initially set out to translate have already been determined, including Tie Ning's Ben Hua (2006) and Lao She's Cat Country (1932), while the additional quota of 100 books added in 2015 are still being selected.
"According to our plan, 10 percent of these works will be classical Chinese works, while the rest will be modern and contemporary works," Zhang noted.
"Contemporary literature will play a key role in illustrating the current face of China to the world."
Source: Global Times