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Part 1: Tower of Publication

<Chapter 2> Countries and Regions with Many Translations of Japanese Children's Books

Column(China)

China

“Chinese People Who Translated Japanese Children's Literature” Takashi Kawano

When looking back over the history of the translation of Japanese children's books in China, the figure who first springs to mind is Chinese politician and journalist Liang Qichao (1873-1929). He led a political reform movement, together with Kang Youwei, in the late Qing dynasty, but they were defeated by the conservative faction led by Empress Dowager Cixi (The Coup of 1898) and fled to Japan. Living in exile in Yokohama, he published magazines such as “Xinmin congbao” and “Xinxiaoshuo.” From the second issue of the former magazine, he began the serialization of “Shiwu xiaohaojie” (1902-1903), which he had translated himself. This novel was the retranslation of the Japanese translation of the French original “Two Year's Vacation” by Jules Verne. The Japanese version, titled “Jugo shonen” (1895) was translated by Shiken Morita, and is now widely known as “Jugo shonen hyoryuki” or “Ninen-kan no kyuka.”

Liang considered novels as a weapon for changing society for the better. He appealed for the importance of education to reform China and the need to publish magazines and books for children. He seems to have viewed the novel “Two Year's Vacation,” in which a group of 15 schoolboys stranded on a deserted island struggle to live and establish autonomy, through the lens of his “New Chinese Theory,” in which he emphasized the importance of moving toward construction from destruction. Although his translation of this novel represented political enlightenment, its adventure elements attracted many children, prompting the rise of children's literature in China.

In those days, many Japanese translations of the original foreign works were retranslated into Chinese. When studying in Japan, Lu Xun retranslated the Japanese translation of the French original works “From the Earth to the Moon” and “A Journey to the Center of the Earth” by Verne. Such secondhand translation can be attributed to China's geographical proximity to Japan, Japan's modernization after the Meiji Restoration, and the fact that the Japanese language, composed of Chinese characters, is easier for Chinese people to understand. For example, the Japanese term “dowa” (fairy tale) was exported to China.

China's first collection of fairy tales was titled “Tonghua” (fairy tales), which started to be published as a series in 1908 by the Commercial Press (Shanghai). The book was compiled by the editor Su Yuxiu, and subsequently Mao Dun, who later became a renowned representative writer of China, joined its compilation. The book series was very similar to “Sekai otogibanashi” published in Japan by Sazanami Iwaya in terms of its cover and appearance, indicating the significant influences of Japanese children's literature on Chinese children's books.

Such close relationships between China and Japan were cut short due to the unfortunate history of Japan's aggression against China. After 1949, when the People's Republic of China was established, there were no diplomatic ties between the two countries. Through grass-roots exchanges, however, Japanese children's books came to be published in China, such as “Non-chan kumo ni noru” written by Momoko Ishii and “Nagai nagai pengin no hanashi” by Tomiko Inui. The Cultural Revolution that started in 1966 – otherwise known as the 10 Year Chaos – severed even such limited exchanges in the private sector.

In the 1980s, after the end of the Cultural Revolution, a lot of foreign children's literature came to be introduced once more to China. One remarkable translator who played an active role in the children's literature scene was An Weibang (1930-1991). At the time, many Western works were introduced to China by retranslating the Japanese translation of the original, as in the late Qing dynasty. In 1981, An Weibang retranslated the Japanese translation by Kozo Nakamura “Odorobo hottsuenpurottsu” of the original German children's book by Otfried Preussler, as well as the Japanese translation by Shigeo Watanabe “Eruma no boken” of the American children's book by Ruth Stiles Gannett. An Weibang vigorously worked on the translation of many works of Japan's leading children's literature authors, including modern children's authors Hatoju Muku, Taruhi Furuta, Miyoko Matsutani, Naoko Awa, Makoto Oishi, Satoru Sato, and Toshiko Kanzawa.

An Weibang, born in the Chinese province of Shandong, spent his elementary school years in Dalian, which was under Japan's colonial rule at the time. He attended Hinode Elementary School for two years and learned the Japanese language. In 1953, he became an elementary school teacher in Beijing, and aspired to pursue a career in the field of children's literature. In those days, a large quantity of Japanese literature books were on sale at used bookstores, and he read them avidly. In 1979, he became an editor of a publishing company for children's books, where books donated by Japanese publishers were kept idle. He read them, and translated some of them for publication in China. In 1984, he moved to Hebei Juvenile & Children Publishing Company and became the editor in chief. While pursuing his career as a translator of children's books, he proposed the establishment of an organization to promote cultural exchanges between persons engaged in children's literature in China and Japan. In 1989, a center to promote exchange was founded in both Japan and China (Shanghai). At the age of 61, he passed away suddenly; he is now sorely missed.

Peng Yi, a Chinese popular author of children's literature, was touched by the Chinese translations by An Weibang of Naoko Awa's children's books, and went to Japan to study as a personally funded foreign student in 1988. At present, Peng, who has also been working as an editor, is proactively introducing Japanese picture books to China by promoting the publication of Japanese children's fantasy series and the collected works of Naoko Awa and other Japanese authors. He also has an established reputation for translating Japanese children's books into Chinese in a high-quality but easy-to-understand manner.

Sun Youjun – an author of bestselling and long selling children's books, including “Xiaobutou qiyuji” – translated “Iya iya en” written by Rieko Nakagawa into Chinese. Zhu Ziqiang, who is currently a critic and researcher, studied in Japan in around 1988, when Peng Yi was also studying in Japan, as China's first government-sponsored student to study children's literature in a foreign country. While working as a university professor, Zhu has energetically worked on the translation of Japanese children's books, enjoying an established reputation for his ability as a translator.

When we look at Chinese translators of Japanese children's books, such as Liang Qichao who found an asylum in Japan, An Weibang who learned Japanese in Dalian (which was then under Japanese occupation), and those who went to Japan to study children's literature, we can clearly see significant changes in the acceptance of translations of Japanese children's books in China.

Takashi Kawano
Chinese children's literature scholar

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