German sinologist presents 1st complete translation of China's crown-jewel classic

Xinhua
German sinologist Eva Schestag presents the first complete German translation of China's crown-jewel ancient literature, Romance of the Three Kingdoms.
Xinhua

"It is as if the Song of the Nibelungs in the form of Tolkien's 'Lord of the Rings' had come upon us; 'Game of thrones' is Kindergarten when compared with it."

It was the introduction of China's crown-jewel ancient literature, Romance of the Three Kingdoms, by German newspaper Die Welt in an article, following the publication of the first complete German translation of the classic by sinologist Eva Schestag.

Prior to this edition, presented by S. Fisher publishing house earlier this year with the name of Die Drei Reiche (meaning Three Kingdoms in English), only 35 of the total 120 chapters had been translated into German by sinologist Franz Kuhn in the mid 20th century.

"It goes without saying that it was an honor and pleasure at the same time to have a chance to dedicate six years to the translation of this book," Schestag told Xinhua in an inclusive interview, adding the importance of this classic as well as the lack of a full-length German translation were motivations behind her work.

"It's a key to understanding the Asian culture," she said. Besides, the novel is so popular in China that the history of Three Kingdoms comes alive even in modern times through an array of media renditions, including movies, TV series, video games, and board games, Schestag wrote in the postface of her book.

Looking back into the translation process, Schestag still recalled what a daunting task it seemed when she first started. "It almost took my breath away, when I opened page 1 of about 2,000 to be translated - as if looking up from the foot of a high and steep mountain up to the peak."

Since 2011 when she was officially commissioned with the translation, she had stayed for a long time at Looren Translators' House, a translators' residence nestled in the pre-alpine mountains in Switzerland, to retreat from almost all obligations other than translating.

The Romance of Three Kingdoms, acclaimed as one of the Four Great Classical Novels of Chinese literature, is set in a tumultuous history across the second and third century A.D. when feudal lords of three states scramble for the rule of China following the decline of Han Dynasty(202 B.C.-220 A.D.).

The novel depicts plots, intrigues, battles, military strategies, lives of feudal lords, and original Han Dynasty poems and prose, and above all, the Confucian values of loyalty and "Yi", a term that generally translates into justice but means a variety of virtues.

Schestag believed the novel can only be paralleled with by Homer's Odyssey in terms of its influence and significance. "These two literary works are comparable on the basis of the complexity of the plot and subplots and, last but not least, their influence on the subsequent literature of their respective cultural areas."

Also like Odyssey, the Romance of Three Kingdoms is embedded with a motif that transcends time and national borders. To Schestag, the motif of this Chinese classic is the clash between tradition, order and values as inherited by the forefathers, and pragmatism, necessary to adapt to the changing requirements of the modern world.

Apart from this motif, the strategies applied to outwit the enemy, opposing values like loyalty and pragmatism, courage and recklessness as discussed in the novel are all elements that make the book "relevant and interesting at all times and for all peoples".

Schestag would not rest on the laurels of translating of this monumental work, but will continue introducing ancient Chinese literature to the German language world, perhaps, with a translation of Shiji, or Records of the Grand Historian, another monumental history book of ancient China compiled about 2,000 years ago, as she planned. 

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