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Sailing in the literary world with pen and bridging the cultural gap with translation - In honor of the translator of Polish literature, Professor Yi Lijun

(People's Daily Online)    15:55, May 27, 2019

Poland, the first and only love in her life

In December 1934, Yi Lijun was born into a family of intellectuals in Huanggang city in Hubei province. Her father is a middle school teacher and her grandfather is an overseas student returning from Japan. Growing up in an open-minded family, she was educated liberally and never forced to learn what she didn’t like to. As early as in high school, she began to write poetry and "whatever is fashionable", which confirmed her as a member of China’s “literary youth” at that time. After graduating from high school, Yi Lijun was admitted to the Department of Chinese Language at Wuhan University.

In the early 1950s, China was just a battered country and thus was in desperate need of talents in all fields to participate in the post-war reconstruction. Due to the blockade of Western countries, the Soviet Union and Eastern European countries became the main destinations for Chinese students to study abroad. In 1954, being academically outstanding, Yi Lijun was selected to study at the Department of Polish Language and Literature at Warsaw University, where she started to study for the next six years and began to tightly bounded up to Poland for nearly sixty years.

For foreign students, as soon as they arrive in Poland the biggest challenge to be faced is surely to communicate with local people in Polish. Everyone had to start from scratch without even a Polish-Chinese dictionary, and to be taught by the Polish teachers with no experience on teaching Chinese students. Besides, Polish is a tough language to learn, the grammar of which is so complicated that foreign students often view it as a dreadful monster. Despite all these difficulties, everyone was always eager to study on one hand. On the other hand, the Polish teachers also taught them assiduously and attentively, and often provided them with field trips and showed them around local museums and cultural relics. In their spare time, Chinese students even participated in the post-war reconstruction in Warsaw. By their hard work, they were soon notching up remarkable grades in their language learning.

During her stay in Poland, Yi Lijun being tired all the time, had been hospitalized due to anemia. Once, she was badly in need of blood transfusion. It was precisely because of her Chinese international student identity that the Polish hospital attached great importance to her health, and tried every means to find out a well-educated healthy young person with a matching blood type to help her. Through over half a century, Yi Lijun still feels greatly appreciated whenever thinking of this. During her stay in the hospital, a Polish middle school teacher volunteered to offer daily language tutoring to her. Furthermore, he expressed his willingness to legally be her guardian and helped her solving problems in life, he just treated her as his family members.

It is worth mentioning that Yi Lijun also met her lifelong companion -- Mr. Yuan Hanrong -- on this land. Mr. Yuan Hanrong was also a student sponsored by Chinese government as well as Yi Lijun, studying atomic physics in Poland. From youth to old age, from friend to lover, and from couple to colleagues, Mr. Yuan Hanrong and Yi Lijun are not only life companion, but also working partners, they continued to translate Polish literature together after retirement. In December 2011, Polish president Bronisław Komorowski awarded Yuan and Yi the “Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland” for outstanding contributions they have made in the Sino-Poland relationship and their unremitting effort to translate Polish literature for Chinese readers. There is no doubt that it is Poland that makes them feel connected in life, and they also become attached to Poland throughout their lives.

Translation is a long and difficult journey to go

The drama Forefathers’ Eve is the first translated long poem of Yi Lijun. This drama triggered a series of political events in Poland in 1968 which had attracted worldwide attention. Once at a foreign affairs meeting, Chinese premier Zhou Enlai asked the diplomats around that who had read this poem. They responded with just silence because no one can answer. Then Premier Zhou said: "The widely accepted excellent literary works like this should be translated into Chinese." Soon, the People's Literature Publishing House found Yi Lijun and asked if she could translate the Forefathers’ Eve. Actually, since she was studying Polish literature at Warsaw University, Yi Lijun has been deeply attracted to Mickiewicz’s poetry, especially the national epic poem Pan Tadeusz which is his highest achievement and the poetic drama Forefathers’ Eve which is full of patriotic enthusiasm. Consequently, Yi Lijun would never miss the opportunity to translate this classic masterpiece.

After years of hard work, the Chinese version of Forefathers’ Eve came out in 1976, and immediately caused a sensation. Reading foreign literary masterpieces has become popular since then and many people rushed to buy those books. Yi’s translation was highly praised by Mr. Qifang He, who was the director of the Institute of Literature of Chinese Academy of Social Sciences at that time, by saying “Well written, well translated, and well published. This is really a ’spring messenger like a swallow’!”

After the successful translation of Forefathers’ Eve, Yi Lijun got more and more achievements for her translation career. Since the early 1980s, she has published a large number of Polish translations in mainstream literary journals. Among them, Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz's prose Fragaria was not only reprinted by dozens of newspapers and periodicals, broadcasted on radio, but was also included in the teaching reference books of middle school, and even once appeared on the national college entrance examination. Later, Yi Lijun cooperated with others in the translation of the novel Glory and Vainglory written by one of the famous contemporary Polish writers Jarosław Iwaszkiewicz, which was published in 1986. The 1.1 million-word translation of this masterpiece made a great success once published.

World Literature which is a specialized periodical published her translation of Poetry of the Four Countries of Eastern Europe, Poland Volume in 1991. And a year later, Shanghai Translation Publishing House published her "Polish Poetry in 20th Century". By the end of the 1990s, she had translated works written by more than 40 famous Polish writers, all of whom were introduced to our readers for the first time. Besides, she had also finished her monographs Polish Literature and The History of Polish Post-war Literature. After the 1990s, she devoted herself mainly to the translation of long literary classics. For instance, she independently or collaboratively translated Adam Mickiewicz's long epic Pan Tadeusz, Henryk Sienkiewicz's trilogy of historical novels-- "With Fire and Sword " (two volumes), "The Deluge" (three volumes) and "Sir Michael" and the long historical novel "The Knights of the Cross" (two volumes). These translations have won widespread praise in both China and Poland. The newspaper China Reading Weekly once described "Deluge" by saying that Nowadays, world cultural exchange is becoming more and more important, Chinese readers benefit so much from this translation as they can learn about Poland's magnificent history and enjoy the original author's superb narrative skills. But more than excitement, we can not help admire that the translator can show the profound cultural spirit of the Polish nationality with Chinese language with a long-history, which is in itself a successful cultural exchange.

After 2000, despite the advancing age, Yi Lijun and Mr. Yuan Hanrong continued to work hard to collaboratively translate several influential contemporary Polish literary works, such as Witold Gombrowicz's Ferdydurke, Olga Tokarczuk's Primeval and Other Times, House of Day, House of Night and Zbigniew Herbert's Still Life with Bridle.

Tireless in teaching and upright in all her ways

Professor Yi Lijun has been devoted to teaching and education heart and soul for more than half a century. She has cultivated a great number of high-competent talents in fields such as diplomacy, foreign trade, culture, education, science and technology. For decades, she has engaged to the frontline of teaching and science research despite of the loneliness, poverty and frustrations that she had met during her work. Every bit of her effort leads to her great achievements in the field of education and research of less common languages. Meanwhile, her efforts also help her winning the respect and admiration of her peer experts, foreign friends, especially her students.

Professor Yi Lijun has always affected her students with her noble moral sentiment, endeavoring to cultivate her students into useful social talents with rich knowledge, social responsibility as well as patriotic sentiments. She has repeatedly asked students to abide by the principals as “Before to learn to do things, learn to be a man first” and “People should be honest in doing things and work seriously in life”, hoping students developing the spirits of being pragmatic and bravely seeking truth during their university lives.

She often reminds students to try to resist the interference and temptation of the outside world, learn to endure solitude and learn the knowledge in a down-to-earth manner. Instead of smattering of knowledge, students should have the spirit of hard work studying. All these words were perfectly practiced in her daily teaching. Each of her class has been carefully prepared with substantial content and up-to-date information. Students always shave been moved by her detailed yet neat preparing notes. When she was correcting the homework left in the translation class, she was so carefully that even every wrongly-used punctuation will be marked and corrected. Her classes on History of Polish literature were so attractive that students often feel losing themselves in the beauty of polish literature. Words and behaviors of professor Yi Lijun have affected generations of graduates, becoming the guide to their lives. In this way has professor Yi won the deep love from the students as well.

Cultural and friendship ambassador

On the evening of November 10th, 2008, the award ceremony of “Ambassador of polish language and culture” was held at the Academy of Music of Katowice in Poland. The Chairman of the Polish Language Committee presented this prize to professor Yi Lijun personally. Meanwhile, the President of Polish Senate, Mr Bogdan Borusewicz sent a congratulatory message to Professor Yi Lijun, saying that “The translation and teaching work of Professor Yi Lijun has amazed all the Polish people. The Department of Polish language of Beijing Foreign Studies University has made abundant results in teaching and researching under her guidance. Professor Yi has shouldered the mission of spreading Polish language and culture and is worthy of the Ambassador of Polish language and culture.”

Actually, the fruitful achievements of Professor Yi Lijun have been widely circulated among Polish people for a long time. A number of Polish media have interviewed or reported on Professor Yi and the Department of Polish language in BFSU. They highly praised the great contributions that Professor Yi has made to the friendly exchanges between China and Poland. For decades, she has successively won the "Medal of the National Education Commission ", " Meritorious for Polish Culture", " Knight's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland ", " Officer's Cross of the Order of Merit of the Republic of Poland " and other honors issued by the Polish President, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, the Ministry of Education, and the Ministry of Culture. Apart from this, she was awarded honorary doctorate by the University of Gdansk in 2007, the honorary title of “Senior Translator” by the Translators Association of China and the “TAC’s lifetime Achievement Award in translation” from the same association in 2018.

Professor Yi Lijun has been devoted herself to teaching and translation work with perseverance and consistency for decades. With pen and words, she has built a colorful bridge that connects the people between China and Poland, setting an extraordinary example in cultural exchanges between China and foreign countries. 

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Hongyu, Bianji)

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