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The Critical Reception of Herman Melville in China JINCAI YANG Nanjing University, China T he reception of any author in a foreign culture is never onedimensional . The factors that govern this reception, though occasionally fortuitous, are intricately connected to the characteristics of the receiving culture. In this sense, if we want to explain the way Herman Melville’s works have found their place in Chinese culture, it will be necessary to take into account the specific processes of development of Melville studies in China from the 1920s until now. The earliest Chinese encounter with American literature can be traced back to April 22, 1872 when the famous Shanghai-based newspaper Shun Pao, also known as Shanghai Daily, published a Chinese version of Washington Irving’s “Rip Van Winkle,” titled “A Sleep of Seventy Years.” However, few Chinese scholars paid attention to American literature until the late 1920s when the Tsinghua University personnel, including Professor Ye Gongchao who also wrote on the subject, introduced American writers in their Western literature courses. American teachers at missionary schools across China also expounded upon American literature by surveying individual authors such as Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Melville, and Walt Whitman. In 1926, noted scholar Zheng Zhenduo published “American Literature” in Xiaoshuo yuebao (The Short Story Magazine) surveying the early development of American literature. In his critical remarks about American writers, Zheng quoted Moby-Dick and appraised Melville as “one of the rarest symbolic writers” (Zheng 20). About 6 years later, Zhang Yuerui’s book, American Literature, devoted a short paragraph to Melville observing him as one of “the most important satirists in the New York Group to critique both human hypocrisy and the bloody colonial wars in the Western world.” Apart from his passing remarks on Typee, Omoo, Mardi, and White-Jacket, Zhang noticed “the theme of incest in Pierre,” a book that, according to him, “embodies Melville’s deepest pessimism.” He concluded with a sigh that “[Melville’s] Moby-Dick was not even recognized as a great novel until the 1920s,” displaying his sympathy for the ignored American (Zhang, 1932: 54–55). Obviously, Zhang was then quite familiar with American scholarship on Melville. His introductory words c  2012 The Melville Society and Wiley Periodicals, Inc. 54 L E V I A T H A N A J O U R N A L O F M E L V I L L E S T U D I E S M E L V I L L E I N C H I N A ignited a wide interest in Melville, for soon there appeared an abridged version of Typee, translated by Woo Kwang Kien. Despite its adaptations, the book is still noteworthy for its brief introduction in which Woo discusses Melville’s major works, mentioning briefly his volumes of poetry: Timoleon, John Marr and Other Sailors, and Battle-Pieces and Aspects of the War (Woo 3). Woo’s abridgment of Typee with his critical commentary did much to spread the influence of Melville among Chinese literary scholars. Unfortunately, from 1934 to 1944, China was shaken by both Civil War and the Anti-Japanese War. Reading American literature was too much of a luxury for ordinary Chinese people. The whole nation was afflicted by disasters and casualties resulting from the wars. For nearly ten years, the Chinese study of American literature was suspended. The name of Melville disappeared from academic papers and articles before he was again attended to in the 1940s when China became enthusiastic about the re-introduction of American literature. Many Chinese intellectuals believed that it was necessary for them to introduce American literature in China so as to construct a national literature. A case in point is the 1941 project to publish in translation eighteen American literary books from different periods. Many of them were chosen at random mainly out of a translator’s personal interest. One of the earliest undertakings was Feng Yidai’s full translation of John Steinbeck’s Of Mice and Men published in 1941. He also translated Lillian Hellman’s Watch on the Rhine in 1944. Melville’s Moby-Dick was selected for the project, but only a few chapters were translated. Instead of...


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