Cao Ying: Translator into Chinese of Tolstoy's Works of Fiction


In the summer of 1956, a Soviet novella entitled "The Director of the Machine Tractor Station and the Chief Agronomist" by Galina Nikolayeva became a best seller in China. It was first serialized in "China Youth," a magazine with a circulation of 3 million, and later printed as a book with a total print run of 1.05 million copies. Mr. Hu Yaobang, the then First Secretary of the Central Committee of the Chinese Communist Youth League, called on all members to read the book and follow the example of Nastya, the heroine of the novella, in caring for the health and wellbeing of the working people and opposing bureaucracy. Overnight, Nastya, the upright and brave Russian girl, was held up as paragon in every household of China. The book had been translated from Russian into Chinese by Mr. Cao Ying, a celebrated Chinese translator.

Born into a family of physicians in Zhenhai County of Zhejiang Province on March 24, 1923, Cao Ying always had deep respect for his father, who was president and one of the doctors of a local railway hospital with outstanding medical skills and a good bedside manner. To give his son some insight into the lives of the working class, Cao Ying's father sometimes took him along on his medical rounds of patients who were railway employees, and to visit the poor local farmers to whom he provided free healthcare. The miserable life that Chinese farmers led at that time deeply touched the young Cao Ying's heart.

After the Anti-Japanese War broke out on July 7, 1937, massive donations were sought and obtained throughout China for war refugees and the soldiers bravely resisting the invaders. Cao Ying's father gave him 30 silver dollars (equivalent to some 2000 yuan in current money), saying, "donate them in your name!" Local newspapers then carried a story titled "Schoolboy Donates 30 Silver Dollars!"

His father's teachings and what he had seen for himself made Cao Ying gradually appreciate that all men are born equal and entitled to the same rights, and that everyone should have affection for others and love their country and people. He told his father he would learn agronomy when he grew up to help improve the lives of poor farmers.

To escape the perils of war, Cao Ying and his family had to flee their native home in Zhenhai where they had lived for generations. They went to Shanghai, and finally settled in the British Concession, where to support the family his father opened a clinic.

At that time, Japanese imperialists had occupied more than half of China, performing countless atrocities wherever they went. China was besieged by their frenzied attacks for three months, while the corrupt and incompetent National Party Government failed to organize effective resistance against the invaders.

Although Cao Ying was only 15 years old at the time, he was deeply troubled about China's fate, and tried constantly to think of ways of saving China and its people from their lives of abject misery.

Cao Ying enjoyed reading. His favorite books included the works of Lu Xun, which were very popular in China at that time, and he bought a complete set of Lu Xun's Works. They included the writer's translations from Russian and Japanese literary works, his intention being to encourage the Chinese people to oppose the oppression wrought by feudalism and imperialism. Cao Ying read them many times. The strong themes throughout Lu Xun's works—the desire to change China's poverty and the country's inability to develop, and thus to improve the fate of the Chinese people all struck a strong responsive chord in Cao Ying.

By chance, he read the book "Impressions of the USSR" by Hu Yuzhi, a noted journalist. The energetic new society it described gave Cao Ying new hope. Cao Ying started to learn Russian from a White Russian woman in order to study socialist USSR and Russian literature. However, at that time there was neither a Russian-Chinese dictionary nor any books on Russian grammar. So Cao Ying bought a copy of a Russian-Japanese dictionary, and used the Chinese characters – kanji – in the Japanese section to learn Russian. At a chance meeting, Cao Ying was introduced to Mr. Jiang Chunfang, an underground CPC member fluent in Russian. Jiang took a liking to this clever and diligent boy, and gave him regular lessons to help him improve his Russian. Cao Ying soon made remarkable progress in his Russian studies.

In August 1941, Jiang invited Cao Ying to do some translations for Epoch Weekly magazine, under the sponsorship of the TACC Shanghai Branch and a CPC underground organization. It mainly reported news from the anti-Fascist battlefields in Europe, and was in urgent need of staff to translate telegraph messages from the TACC in Moscow. In the daytime, Cao Ying attended Lester Institute Middle School, and on evenings and weekends, he translated Russian dispatches, battlefield features, and military descriptions into Chinese. Although this work put him at great personal risk, he enjoyed doing it. It brought home to him the cruelty of Fascism and the great significance of the anti-Fascist war. At the same time, the work formed the necessary basis for his later literary life. Subsequently, when asked where he had learned his excellent Russian, he always replied with pride: "I enrolled in the Epoch University!"

In 1942, after the Epoch Periodical Office set up its monthly Russian Literature & Art journal, Cao Ying undertook for its second issue the translation and publication of his first literary work, a short story entitled "The Aged". It was about an old Russian man who had no weapons but who nevertheless bravely opposed Fascist German soldiers to protect his home.

1   2   3   4   5