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Western art classic finally translated

By Mei Jia (China Daily)

13:04, July 30, 2013

Nike de Samothrace displayed at the Louvre Museum. (China Daily)

The best-selling classic on Western art history, Janson's History of Art: The Western Tradition, has been translated into simplified Chinese for the first time.

The Chinese language version of the book was published in mid-July.

The book took almost three decades to translate, says the man behind the complex translation, Zhu Qingsheng.

"Years ago, we abandoned the idea of quickly publishing it, and adopted a technique of translation with a team of people, because the book deserves our best work and we hoped to set an academic standard by translating it," Zhu says.

To assemble a number of translators to work as if in a relay for a single work is a method that the American Translators Association applied to translate the Bible. It was also a technique used in the sixth century by Xuanzang, who started to translate the Sanskrit sutra into Chinese, Zhu says.

"It's better and will cause less confusion compared to simply cutting the original text into sections and spread among different translators, the way most academic works are translated," Zhu says.

Over 29 years, 50 translators have been involved in the project. Because of copyright changes and edition updates of the original book, Zhu and his team tried four times to render different editions of the book. The final version is the seventh edition of the book.

"Once I thought it was finally done and was about to be published back in 1998. I planned to start writing a children's history of art for my son, who was a third-grader at the time," Zhu says.

"Now it's finally out, and my son is already a grown-up," Zhu says. "I'm probably leaving my plan of a history of art for children as a gift for my grandchildren."

Zhu started the translation by regulating the proper nouns and terms. For that, he and his team made 11 tabulations, including turning all the miles into meters so the measurements would make more sense to Chinese readers.

The team combines translators who are specializing in English and art studies. When it comes to important terms, they trace the words back to their French, Italian or Latin origins.

"I remember some of our co-workers were very young when they worked with us, and now some of them are principals or professors," Zhu says.

Janson's History of Art covers Western art from the prehistoric ages to the late 20th century. It has been a classic teaching material since it was first published in 1962.

With 1,450 illustrations, the book is known for being complete and precise. Every part ends with a summary that is so concise and insightful that, even for professionals like Zhu, it is helpful in recollecting thoughts on the relevant history.

The book is interesting for both general readers and academics, Zhu says.

Born in 1957, Zhu has a doctorate degree in art history from the University of Heidelberg, and is currently an art professor at Peking University.

He has been widely involved in art exhibitions and art reviews at home or abroad, including a TV project looking at "when the Louvre meets the Forbidden City".

At the Louvre Museum he and the team photographed Nike de Samothrace, an image which later became the cover of the Chinese version of Janson's History of Art.

"Because it's beautiful even when partly broken. It has an inner beauty in the way it's being structured," Zhu says.

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