Henry Fielding in China
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Henry Fielding in China

Although there were some translations of Western literary works into Chinese in the late nineteenth century, large scale translations started in the early twentieth century, and Henry Fielding was one of the first English novelists introduced to the Chinese reader. From the earliest translation of his works in the 1920s through the official commemoration of the two-hundredth anniversary of his death in 1954 to the numerous translations of Tom Jones in the reform period late in the century, the reception of Fielding serves as a good representation of the response to English literature in modern China. This article attempts to survey the translations of Fielding’s works into Chinese and to discuss some notable studies by Chinese scholars. At the same time, the article will indicate significant features of the development of the publishing industry in twentieth-century China.

Before any translation of Fielding’s work appeared in China, Chinese intellectuals got to know a bit about him from an article on the classic Chinese novel A Dream of Red Mansions (also known as The Story of the Stone). In 1920, Wu Mi, who first attended the University of Virginia in the fall of 1917 and later graduated from Harvard with an M.A. degree in comparative literature, published an article entitled “A New View on A Dream of Red Mansions,” in which he examines the Chinese novel according to the six characteristics of a great novel specified by G. H. Maynadier in his “Introduction to Tom Jones.” These six characteristics are: serious purpose, large scope, firm plot, plenty of action, reality of scenes, and liveliness of characters.1 Wu’s article ends with paying tribute to Fielding, especially noting the variety of his characterization in Tom Jones. This is the first time that a Chinese scholar refers to Fielding in a critical essay. When Wu Mi returned to China in 1921, he first taught English literature at the Southeastern University and later taught at Tsinghua University, where he played a crucial role in the founding of the Foreign Language and Literature Department. In the 1930s Wu Mi offered a course entitled “Literature and Life,” in which he [End Page 233] made frequent references to Tom Jones and Joseph Andrews, and a number of Wu’s students later became well-known scholars in the study of English literature in China.2

The first translation of Fielding’s works into Chinese was A Journey from This World to the Next done by Lin Shu with the help of Chen Jialin. Lin Shu was a classical scholar and novelist who knew no foreign language, but in the early twentieth century he translated about 180 literary works in collaboration with scholars who did know other languages.3 The translation of A Journey from This World to the Next was published in 1921 by the Commercial Press in Shanghai. In 1926 Wu Guangjian’s translation of Jonathan Wild was published, and two years later came his translation of Joseph Andrews.4 Thus, the 1920s alone witnessed the publication of three works by Henry Fielding, all by the leading Commercial Press. Though Wu’s translation of Joseph Andrews was an abridged version, it introduced Fielding’s “comic epic in prose” to the Chinese reader. Both of Wu’s translations were reissued in 1933.

In 1937 a new translation of A Journey from This World to the Next by Yin Xiong was published by Datong Books in Shanghai. This new translation was done probably for two reasons: Lin Shu’s translation was in classic Chinese, which was not easy to understand for the general reader, and Lin’s translation was rather free, making various omissions and additions based on his own discretion. By the late 1930s, vernacular Chinese had become the accepted literary language and fidelity in literary translation had become the accepted criterion. Yin’s new translation reflected these developments, and A Journey from This World to the Next became the only Fielding book with two Chinese translations before the founding of the People’s Republic in 1949. Another notable point is that all these translations were published in Shanghai, the center of international culture and of...