Sexist Translation of Tagore’s Poems Stirs Controversy in China

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Beijing: A Chinese writer has kicked up a major controversy by publishing a distorted translation of Rabindranath Tagore’s poems. The translation misinterprets Tagore’s lines to give them pornographic meaning. The writer, Feng Tang, does not know Bengali and has apparently used available Chinese translations of Tagore’s works to give his own interpretation, literary sources said.

“Feng Tang is trying to attract attention to himself, and get some cheap publicity. He knows he won’t be arrested for this, and is taking advantage of the situation,” Tansen Sen, a Chinese scholar and director of the Center of Global Asia in Shanghai told TNN. “I won’t call this a translation. It is a reinterpretation done in a vulgar manner,” he added.

China’s State media published portions of Feng’s controversial translation of Tagore’s collection of poems, ‘Stray Birds’.  In one place, Feng’s translation says that “”The world unzipped its pants in front of his lover.” The Chinese media said that the proper Chinese version of the poem said, “The world puts off its mask of vastness for its lover”.’

The writer has come under heavy criticism over the Chinese Internet and several local newspapers and websites have criticized his rabble rousing book of translation.

In a post on Weibo, China’s Twitter, an internet user complained that Feng has turned the great poems into playful jingles, and the solemnity and tranquility of the original work had disappeared. Another Weibo user said Feng has covered Tagore’s works “full of the smell of hormone”. The book did not draw much attention until it was picked up and splashed across the Chinese Internet.

Feng responded to the criticism said there is no golden standard to judge the merit of a translation. “I believe in my sincerity of translation and my Chinese and English levels. True gold fears no fire.”

Responding to the controversy, Feng told that there should be no golden standard to decide the merit of a translation,” he told news portal, thepaper.cn. He intentionally added his personal style into the translation instead of mechanically representing the original work, Feng said.

Other Chinese writers do not agree saying that a translator should be faithful to the original instead of applying their personal standards. “Faithfulness is the most basic. Translation is translation. It’s not a literary creation,” Ma Ainong, famous for her successful translation of “Harry Potter,” told the Chinese media.

Li Zhaozhong, a literature researcher for the Chinese Academy of Social Sciences, said “poetry translation is the most difficult. Besides a good command of language, it is better for the translator to be a poet too and share a similar style with the original work.” Feng Tang said that the rules of “faithfulness,” “expressiveness” and “elegance” should not be weighed equally for all translation work and each translator can have a different understanding about the original work.

“Such vulgar translation would not affect Tagore’s legacy in China. It is taught is college and widely respected. Besides, everyone knows what to expect from this translator,” Sen said.

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