Controversial Chinese Tagore translation taken off from shelves

Stray Birds
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BEIJING– A Chinese translation of “Stray Birds”, a collection of poems by Indian Nobel Laureate Rabindranath Tagore, has been withdrawn after it spawned huge controversy, the media reported on Monday.

Stray Birds
Stray Birds

Tagore’s “Stray Birds” has long been deemed as a work of elegance and wisdom by its Chinese fans. But the new translation by famous Chinese writer Feng Tang has shocked readers with racy translations and sexual innuendos that are often misinterpreted, Xinhua news agency reported.

Feng Tang, 44, is an author most known for a series of provocative novels about life in Beijing in the 1990s.

In one sharply criticised case, Feng translated Tagore’s original line “The world puts off its mask of vastness to its lover” into Chinese that read “The world unzipped his pants in front of his lover.”

Considering the huge controversy sparked by Feng’s translation, Zhejiang Wenyi Publishing House, the publisher of the translation, announced on Monday that it would pull the books off shelves and websites, and recall the sold ones.

Users on Chinese microblog Sina Weibo chastised the translation as “a blasphemy against a classic”.

In a widely circulated article, children’s author Zhang Hong called Feng’s translation a cultural terrorist attack against young readers.

As “Stray Birds” has always been recommended to Chinese students, Zhang feared the new translation would poison teenagers and called for the withdrawal of the book.

But the public is divided regarding the publisher’s decision to remove Feng’s translation from the market.

Weibo user “Chengshuliang” wrote “well done! I don’t understand how this translation got published in the first place. Such a willful translation is a huge disrespect to Tagore.”

Another user “Miaoyemiao”, however, believed there was no need to pull the book off the shelves. “Like it or not, buy it or not, readers can make their own choice,” the user wrote.

The withdrawal of the book also prompted some people to seize the last chance and rush to bookstores to buy a copy before it disappeared from the market.

Responding to the withdrawal of the book, Feng told Chinese media that history and the history of literature would judge and he would let time decide.

He said he intentionally added his personal style into the translation instead of mechanically representing the original work.



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