By Lijuan Gan, Professor, Tianjin Normal University
Xuehua Miao, Associate Professor, Harbin Normal University
Wei Liang, Instructor, Hunan-First Normal University
Edited by Glen Kalem-Habib
In November 2013, I had the pleasure of being invited to attend a three-day Middle Eastern literature conference at Peking University in Beijing, China. In the field of Gibran studies, my visit had historical significance as I was one of the first western scholars of Gibran to have visited China, building a working friendship with Chinese colleagues that has flourished each year since. The last day of the conference was dedicated to talks highlighting the nearly 100-year history of publication and research of Kahlil Gibran within China. Not only was I astonished to learn the depth and appreciation of Gibran’s work in China, but also that he was one of the most read foreign authors all together (possibly the most) and further, he was the ‘first’ Arabic writer to be translated into traditional Chinese. Gibran’s popularity in China had long gone unnoticed in the western world until recent years when more and more academics and researchers from China began to publish their findings.
Director - The Kahlil Gibran Collective
Lebanese poet, Gibran, Kahlil Gibran (1883-1931) was the first Arabic writer who had been introduced into China via translations. Compared with other Arabic language translated literature in China, his works are secondary to One Thousand and One Nights. The dissemination of Gibran’s works in China commenced with the translations and their publication. This spurred a collaboration between Chinese scholars and translators to jointly research and share Gibran’s works online.
There are many Chinese scholars who continue to be actively engaged in the translation and research of Gibran’s works. However, its orientation has been cursory, piecemeal and narrow rather than systematic. Some researchers are tainted by omissions and errors which have permeated academic circles. This has compromised the accuracy, integrity and context of Gibran’s works. For example, most Chinese scholars wrongly believe that the first Chinese translation on Gibran’s work was The Prophet, undertaken by Xin Bing and published by XinYue Bookstore in 1931. This is historically incorrect.
In December 1929, "The Madman" was translated by TingFang Liu (1891-1947) and published by Bei Xin Publishing Company. Tingfang Liu is not only the first person to translate Gibran’s work to China, but also the most prolific translator of Gibran’s works in the 1920s and 1930s. The misreading phenomenon may be attributed to the fact that TingFang Liu was also the main leader of the Chinese Christian community in the 1920s and 1930s. He devoted himself to his administrative work at Yanjing University and Christian activities, which may have overshadowed his literary contribution, and may have been one of the reasons he was not famous as Xin Bing in the Chinese literary world at that time. Secondly, the three poem collections, "The Madman", "The Pioneer" and (Jesus) The Son of Man translated by Ting Fang Liu were all first published in Truth and Life, the most important journal of School of Religion, Yanjing University.
Among the three translations, only "The Madman" was publicly published. "The Pioneer" was published by the translator at his own expense, printed only 100 copies. The limited circulation was only for relatives and friends. However, (Jesus) "The Son of Man" has never been published as a whole. Moreover, all three works are highly religious and are collections of prose poems similar to the biblical style in Gibran's works they were difficult to understand. In addition, his translation was limited by circulation and distribution scope. At that time, the translation and introduction of famous foreign literary works by Chinese translation circles were in a period of vigorous rise. As a result, TingFang Liu's translation of Gibran's works had little impact on general readers or writers. Objectively speaking, Gibran is familiar to Chinese readers, mainly from Xin Bing, a famous modern writer, who translated his masterpiece, "The Prophet".
Lastly, the research on the translation of Gibran's works in academic circles is limited to the mainland of China, but seldom to Taiwan and Hong Kong, hence, this paper can only examine the impact and dissemination of Gibran’s works, translations and ideas on the mainland across these decades.
The spread of Gibran’s works into China's mainland was mainly carried out by the diligent dedication of translators and publishers. This process has been going on for nearly a hundred years since the 1920's, which can be divided into three stages: 1920’s to 1940's; 1970’s to 1980’s; late 1980 until now.
The period from 1920’s to 1940’s marked the initial stage of translation and introduction on Gibran and his works, was also the period of Gibran's spread in modern China. The main translators were Dun Mao, Zemin Shen, Wentian Zhang, Jingshen Zhao, Tingfang Liu and Xin Bing etc.. Each of them was not only active in the literary world, but everyone almost had several jobs at the same time and responsible for several of Gibran’s works as well. For example, Dun Mao once served as editor-in-chief of Novel Monthly. Zemin Shen and Wentian Zhang were litterateurs and revolutionists. Tingfang Liu and Xin Bing were professors and literary translators. Their translation of Gibran's works is out of spontaneous love. The translations of Gibran’s works appeared in famous literary journals such as “The Literature Weekly” and “Truth and Life”, as well as some famous publishing houses such as BeiXin Bookstore and Shanghai Bookstore.
These publications gradually expanded from translations of excerpts to translations of Gibran’s whole works through their efforts. "The Madman", "The Pioneers", (Jesus) "The Son of Man" and "The Prophet" etc. were all works with remarkable characteristics of Gibran's prose poems, which could represent the main achievements of the poets in the later period of their creation. Dun Mao was a pioneer in the translation and introduction of Gibran’s works to China. He translated eight poems form "The Forerunner" in 1923. The Prophet translated by Xin Bing became the classic text of Chinese translation of Gibran’s works. Tingfang Liu was the first person to translate Gibran’s works to China. His translation of the Madman pioneered the translation and introduction of Gibran's works in China.
However, when Xin Bing opened the door of Gibran's translation, introduction and research in the early 1930s, a group of people should have followed up. But strangely, since then, there has been a half-century “blank period”, this failed to create any momentum or following. Except that "The Prophet" was reprinted once or twice, almost no new translations have appeared. It should be said that this is a great pity in the field of literary translation and research field. Indeed, the translation and introduction of Gibran’s works in China has been a blank period for more than ten years since the publication of "The Prophet". This, of course, was related to a large number of translations and introductions of famous Western literary works by the translation circles at that time, and to Gibran's disappearance from the American literary arena after his death on April 10, 1931, and his failure to continue publishing remarkable literary works. Of course, more importantly, it was related to the war disasters that China suffered in succession at that time.
In the mid-1950's, mainland Chinese translations of Gibran’s works emanated mostly from Russian translations. With the onset of China’s Cultural Revolution in 1966, the relationship with Russia weakened as did the import of Russian translations. In contrast, the translation of Gibran’s works in Hong Kong and Taiwan progressed. The focus in Gibran’s works in Hong Kong began with the late 1950's when Xiangshan Qiu translated and introduced “The Prophet.” In the mid-1970s, Jian Du concentrated translation and introduction of Gibran's novels. But the single-person translation has not aroused much attention and repercussions. Taiwan, twelve years later than Hong Kong about the 1970's, achieved great success and became the centre of Chinese translation and introduction of Gibran's works in this period.
Subsequent translation and introduction on Gibran’s works began to turn to the works, which had been translated little or not to be translated before, such as The Prophet’s Garden, Sand and Foam, God of the Earth, Tears and Laughs, and The letters of Gibran etc. They all set precedents for the first translation in Chinese mainland or Taiwan. Especially, it is worth mentioning that this period also changed the situation that Gibran's poetry were translated respectively before, and appeared the situation that Gibran’s many works were translated by one person. Jing Wen is a translator with outstanding achievements and distinctive translations in the early 1970’s. He translated independently several prose poetry such as "The Prophet’s Garden",(Garden of The Prophet) "Sand and Foam" (Sand and Foam), "God of the Earth" (The Earth Gods), "Tears and Laughs" (Tears and Laughter) etc..
Of course, Jiazhuo Cen is the most outstanding translator of all Gibran's works. He spent 10 years alone translating almost all Gibran's works, China's first set of Complete Works of Gibran Five volumes published at his own expense with millions of copies in 1980. During this boom period in Hong Kong and Taiwan, translations of Gibran’s works became more comprehensive, although they remained individually driven.
After the 1980’s, the translation and introduction of Gibran in Taiwan gradually cooled down and was almost at a standstill until the whole 1990s. However, with the pace of reform and opening-up, the translation circle in the Chinese mainland has received attention to Arabic literature and comprehensive translation of Gibran's works in the upsurge of translation and introduction of foreign literature. After the mid-1980s, it has entered a period of vigorous development and received remarkable achievements. Professional Arabic translators have begun to emerge in the field of translation. In 1991, the Third Arabic Literature Symposium was hosted by the Chinese Arabic Literature Research Society in Beijing. It focused on the study of Gibran’s literary and artistic works, which spawned further translations and publications of Gibran’s works in China. The proliferation was exponential with the publishing of Gibran’s works such as The Mission of the Prophet.
In the 21st century, enthusiasm for Chinese translations of Gibran’s works has not abated. In 2001, Hebei Education Publishing House published Qingguo Xue’s translation of Gibran’s "Love Letters", which included Gibran’s 209 letters to Mary Haskell and Maya Zia (Ziadeh). Every year since then, new translations have been published. Weizhong Li, an expert in Arabic language and literature, single-handedly translated the "Complete Works of Gibran". His milestone achievements are comparable to the Taiwanese translator Jiazhuo Cen.
New professional translators continue to emerge and disseminate Gibran’s works in China. This new generation of translators have adopted a different style to their predecessors. They have proliferated with China’s appetite for literary classics in the new market economy. Gibran’s philosophy and poetry on diverse human issues such as love, marriage and children resonate with the new Chinese yearning for truth.
Apart from the cultural revolution, Gibran’s works have permeated academic circles. His thinking has influenced Chinese thought and research. Gibran’s works have attracted two schools of academic research. The first school consists of scholars in Arabic and English language and literature, which is ideal for Gibran’s bilingual works. They are engaged in teaching at national research institutions and universities. As professional translators, they review Gibran’s works as torch-bearers and pioneers in the study of Gibran in China. The second school consists of scholars on the teaching of Chinese language and literature in colleges and universities. As recipients of translations, they interpret Gibran’s literature from the perspectives of cultural communication and conduct in-depth analysis on a theoretical level. While China has made monumental achievements in the translation and study of Gibran, it lacks systematic and theoretical research. Most research has focused on the collection and compilation of data.
The academic interest in Gibran’s work has been an impetus for a rise in student enrollments and an expansion of themes such as imagology, communication study and translation study. The sources of publication had also diversified. Articles on Gibran were published in professional journals such as The Chinese Translation, The world of Arab and The Foreign Literature etc. Articles are now appearing in university publications and teachers’ colleges, as well as publications for lay people for sheer enjoyment. While this marked significant breadth and depth into Gibran’s works in China, the progress with commentary and research had not matched that with translations.
Work on "The Prophet" illustrates this imbalance. After the translation by Xin Bin in 1931, there were over 20 new translations. There were nearly 30 further translations in Taiwan in the 1960’s and 1970’s as well as translations by Xiangshan Qiu in Hong Kong. Yet there have been only 30 articles published on "The Prophet" since 1990 and only a few of them were academic as many were published for poetry appreciation.
The central question of this paper pertains to redressing this imbalance and optimising the full potential for academic research on Gibran’s works. There needs to be both translation of Gibran’s languages and interpretation of Gibran’s multicultural background to bridge the shrinking gap between China and this body of work. Translation of Gibran’s works should not be an end within itself, but a means to a much richer end. The gap can be bridged by two factors: consolidation of the diverse translations and interpretation of Gibran’s biography.
At present, Gibran's works have been translated and introduced to China. There are currently at least five Chinese translations for each of Gibran’s works such as "The Pioneer", "The Madman", (Jesus) "The Son of Man", "The Wanderer" and "Broken Wings". Among Gibran’s poetry, the most translated and published is "The Prophet". In addition, there are a variety of Gibran’s Complete Works of Prose Poetry, five sets of Gibran's Complete Works, Gibran's Complete Works of Love Letters and Gibran's Letters.
These translations have been translated from English and Arabic. However, due to a large number of translators and their different linguistic-cultural backgrounds and times, the translators themselves have different cultural knowledge and literary accomplishments, so their understanding and interpretation to Gibran's works are also different.
There are a plethora of publications purporting to be the Complete Works of Gibran, either his prose, poetry or love letters. Moreover, these translations are a combination of indirect translations (from Russia) and direct translations from English and Arabic. Inevitably, the idiosyncratic linguistics, literature and cultural backgrounds of the individual translators would tint their interpretation of Gibran’s works. This inconsistency is exacerbated by adopting different translation methods. For example, both transliteration (of sound) and translation (of meaning) have been used to name people and places.
For example, British metaphysicist Brown was mistranslated into Bruno of Italy, German poet Goethe was mistranslated into the English poet Gautier and Arabic philosopher Ansari was mistranslated into Gazzali etc.. These examples illustrate the confusion engendered by inconsistent translation methods which in turn creates a daunting disincentive to potential interest.
While the translation industry has been propelled by commercialization, mass production, technology and instant gratification, quality have been compromised by quantity. The translation profession has not been an open market with licensing, standardization or accreditation. Social media is replete with public debate obscured to some extent so that the general reader's understanding of some of Gibran's philosophical poems or works is only superficial. It also affects the development and excavation of research in breadth and depth.
Two Gibran’s biographies were published before the year 2000 in China.
"This Man from Lebanon": A Study of Kahlil Gibran is a biography written by Gibran’s American admirer and secretary, Barbara Young. It was also the first Gibran biography to be translated in China. The book vividly described the thought and creation of Gibran’s life during his last seven years. It was translated by Zuxin Guo and published in Taiwan in 1972. It was only republished in 1975 and never distributed to the mainland.
The biography of Gibran is another biography written by Nueman (Naimy). It was translated by Jingfen Cheng from Arabic and published in mainland China in 1986. It was never republished. Nueman (Naimy) was a good friend and had worked closely with Gibran for many years often discussing problems and creations in American. Discontent with Barbara Young’s biography, Nueman (Naimy) decided to write a new biography. However, Nueman’s (Naimy) literary narrative did not conform to the conventions of biographies, as it lacked chronology and evidence. It did not progress research on Gibran but gave readers a rich imagination where fiction was blurred with fact. This complication added layers of confusion when the book was translated as historical fact. Both of these ‘biographies’ are difficult to find in the general market. Consequently, these biographies have had a negligible influence on the publication popularity of Gibran in China. The ‘real’ Gibran remained obscure to general readers and this inhibited their appreciation of his literature, art and philosophy.
As far as I know, at least five biographies of Gibran were published from 1970s to 1990s in Lebanon and the United States. They are Kahlil Gibran: Kahlil Gibran: His Life and World; The Messiah: Commentaries by Bhagwan Shree Rajneesh on Kahlil Gibran’s ‘The Prophet’; Kahlil Gibran: A Prophet in the Making; Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet; and The Life and Times of Kahlil Gibran. Among them, Kahlil Gibran：His Life and World, written by relatives of Gibran who emigrated to the United States was translated by Zheng Ma, a Chinese scholar and published by China Social Science Press in 2016. This is the third Gibran biography translated and introduced into China.
Kahlil (George) Gibran, one of the authors was Gibran's cousin. He had a close relationship with the Gibran’s after moving to Boston. The main reason why he and his wife Jean Gibran want to write a new biography for Gibran is that Gibran's public image is mysterious, he is very secretive about his life background and tries to beautify the past, which has long hindered the serious study of Gibran. In this way, of course, the biographers have to use imagination to make up the main events in Gibran's life.
The authors began their study of Gibran in the early 1970s by interviewing Gibran’s relatives. They obtained many anecdotes, memories and materials. They consulted Gibran’s correspondence materials with his friends in the library of the University of North Carolina of Chapel Hill, Harvard University. They also studied the newspapers and magazines of that time, and read some master degree thesis studying Boston art circle in 19th century. They consulted letters from Gibran to American publishers, provided by Knopf (New York ) Publishing House, which has published Gibran's works many times. They have been helped by many enthusiasts in the process of collecting information. It should be said that the biography of Gibran was based on solid data. To some extent, it is a deconstruction of Gibran myth. The translation and publication of the biography will provide Chinese readers, especially researchers, with more specific and authentic background information for Gibran's creation. It will be helpful to further understand the real Gibran and better interpret his works.
At present, many biographies of Gibran written by well-known Eastern and Western researchers have not been translated into China. But the value of Gibran's works is just as what Professor Sushil Bushrui, leader of Gibran research project at the University of Maryland said in his monograph Kahlil Gibran: Man and Poet: “the most notable thing about Gibran is that he can reconcile different cultures. He began accepting Western culture at the age of 12 but did not give up his values. Through the combination of one culture and another, and acceptance in their specific meaning and extension in their respective strength, Gibran can produce the absolute truth between love and harmony in this process.”
Professor Suhiel Bushrui also considered Gibran to be "one of the best writers with environmental consciousness in the early 20th century.” It can be seen that the author of Gibran’s biography interprets Gibran from different perspectives. Therefore, translating their biographies of Gibran into China as much as possible will be surely (be) helpful to the further and broader study of Gibran in China.
Given the situation that the "academic" Gibran's biography in Chinese academic circles is still a blank, strengthening the translation and introduction and writing the new research biography of Gibran with Chinese characteristics have become an urgent need in Gibran's translation and research work.