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Online community mourns death of legendary Chinese litterateur

Well-known Chinese playwright, author and translator Yang Jiang died on Wednesday (Beijing time) at Peking Union Medical College Hospital at the age of 105, according to thepaper.cn.

Yang Jiang Photo: USChina Press

Born Yang Jikang, Yang was the wife of Qian Zhongshu, the renowned Chinese scholar and writer best known for his novel Fortress Besieged published in 1947.

Born on July 17, 1911 in Beijing, Yang earned a Bachelor of Arts degree from Dongwu University, the predecessor of Soochow University, in 1932, and entered Graduate School of Foreign Language and Literature of Tsinghua University in the same year. In 1935, she married Qian and during 1935 and 1938 they studied further in England and France. Their daughter Qian Yuan was born on May 19, 1937 in England.  

A translator, Yang mastered four languages including Chinese, English, Spanish and French. The Chinese version of Don Quixote translated by Yang was known as the most popular one in China. Commissioned by the editorial committee of the foreign classical literary classics series association, Yang began the translation of Don Quixote in 1957, and finalized in 1976 the year the Cultural Revolution ended. The Chinese version of Don Quixote was published in April 1978 by People's Literature Publishing House.

Besides Don Quixote, she also translated several English essays before 1939 in 1948, Spanish novel Lazarillo del Torme and French novel Gil Blas de Santillanne. The translation of Phaedo was completed in December 1999, one year after her husband died in 1998.

Qian Zhongshu (left) and Yang Jiang. Photo taken in July 1935 when they were heading to Enland for further study. Photo: USChina Press

At the age of 93, the memoir and a collection of essays, We Three was published, in which Yang recalled her husband and daughter (1937-1997) who died of cancer one year before her husband’s death.

In 1981, Yang’s memoir and collection of essays named A Cadre School Life Six Chapters (Gan Xiao Liu Ji in Chinese; English version featured in Goodreads) published in Hong Kong. In the book, Yang recorded the difficult times faced by the couple when they were sent to work on farms during the Cultural Revolution which lasted from 1966 to 1976.

At the age of 96, Yang wrote a collection of essays, Reaching the Brink of Life (走到人生边缘), through which she confessed her thinking on fate, life, death, ghosts and gods. In the latter part of the work, Yang also contained several essays from his husband’s renowned work named Marginalia to Life (写在人生边上).

In 1986, Yang began to write the novel, Xizao (also called Baptism sometimes), literally meaning shower in Chinese and virtually meaning brainwashing the early intellectuals after the founding of the Republic of China in 1949. The book was published in Hong Kong in November, 1988, and in Beijing in December 1988, according to Yang’s own narration in her late age quoted by thepaper.cn.

Xizao’s sequel After Xizao was published in 2014, when Yang was 103.

Qian Zhongshu (left) and Yang Jiang in their late ages Photo: USChina Press

In China, Yang was not only praised for her command of language, but also respected for her insightful views on love, marriage and life.

“I really respect Yang Jiang. If you read the Don Quixote that Yang translated, you will be amazed by her literary accomplishment. She was such a master of her mother language,” said Sun Yu, dean of the Faculty of Arts of Renmin University, quoted by thepaper.cn.

“She is the treasure of China. Her knowledge, accomplishment, and behavior are very impressive. Such accomplished people from that generation have almost all gone. But their spirit is worthy of deep thinking and imitation,” said Chinese writer Wang Meng, quoted by thepaper.cn.

Yang Jiang was also called “Xiansheng” in China, a Chinese honorific following the name often referring to women with outstanding accomplishments and huge influence in one specific field such as literature and politics.

Women who had been called “Xiansheng” in modern China include Song Qingling, He Xiangning, and Bing Xin.

Many commented on social media that “Yang might be the last woman in China who could be called Xiansheng”.

Yang Jiang (left), Qian Yuan and Qian Zhongshu. Photo: USChina Press

On Sina Weibo, China’s equivalent of Twitter, users mourned the loss of Chinese literary master under several hashtags such as Yang Jiang passed away, literature translator Yang Jiang passed away, and Yang Jiang Xiansheng passed away.

“Now you don’t have to miss ‘We Three’ all by yourself,” said @sausagelip.

“You had shown us the attitude a woman should have while living in this world,” said @岁月无声_791.

“I am now one hundred years old reaching the brink of life. I’m not sure how far I can go, because the lifespan is compulsive. But at least I know that I’m ‘almost home’, and I need to clean the dirt I have spread in the past 100 years before I go.” said @一念执着军人梦 quoting the Words at the age of One Hundred written by Yang.

“In early spring of 1997, A Yuan left. At the end of 1998, Zhongshu left. We three parted then. We were so easily separated…. Now, it is only me. I can clearly see the dwelling that we used to regard as ‘home’ is nothing but an inn during the journey,” said @崔百万C quoting from We Three.


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