In preparing this translation, our aim was to produce a text that would do justice to the legacy of Lu Xun, but more so, to the language and contents of the PRC adaptation of the story. In his essay accompanying his retranslation of the original short story into German, Hans Peter Hoffmann (2015) makes a convincing argument for the use of slightly outdated terms as markers for what Lu Xun wanted to emphasize as backward in his times. As we translated from an adaptation of Lu Xun’s story in rather blunt PRC language, we measure our translation against that language. We thus aimed at staying close both to the literal meaning of the text and to its spirit – bearing in mind that this is, likely, a story targeting not only adults, but also children; we also aimed at a translation that would not make the text longer than in the original, thus subverting the simplicity, elegance and brevity of lianhuanhua language. While many names in the Chinese language are ‘speaking names’ and thus reveal information about the person or place they relate to, we opted for the more neutral terms derived at by transliterating and not translating the names in order not to unduly exoticize the translation. We also decided against adding explanations for terms into the text. But as the names of the protagonists and places may be confusing for readers unfamiliar with Chinese naming conventions, the following may be helpful.1
Xianglin’s wife 祥林嫂: The protagonist of the story does not have a name of her own; much as she does not have any choice in her life, she is given a name and identity reducing her to being the wife of her first deceased husband which also seals the rest of her fate.
Luzhen 鲁镇: The name of the town – Luzhen – signals that it is a small town. The character for “Lu” in Luzhen is the same character as in Mr. Lu, the name of the uncle who the nameless narrator of the story has to stay with and whom he dislikes for his backwardness. This suggests that the Lu-Family is (and has been for generations) a central authority in town. It likely is not a coincidence that “Lu” both in “Luzhen” and in Mr. Lu is the same as in the penname the author of this story chose for himself: Lu Xun. While this by no means is an argument to declare that the first-person narrator represents or is Lu Xun himself, it is a signal of the text to play with autobiographical suggestions and hints.
Mr. and Mrs. Lu: Throughout the lianhuanhua, different variations are used for these two persons. For reasons of clarity, we are using Mr. and Mrs. Lu throughout. One recurring name is Lu Si Laoye 鲁四老爷 which might be translated as Old Master Lu Si or as Fourth Master Lu, thus emphasizing the reverence that townspeople would approach him with. There are also different terms used to address his wife. However, as her social status and all her comportment are defined by her being the wife of Mr. Lu, she is referred to as Mrs. Lu throughout the translation.
Auntie Liu 柳妈: Her name would have been literally translated as Mother Liu. We settled on Auntie Liu wishing to emphasize that she is a – likely unmarried – poor woman in town helping out with the Lu family. Auntie here does not signal a kinship relationship, but is more used as a form of address.
Old Wei: Likewise, the matchmaker is a – likely unmarried – woman in town.
Hejia Village 贺家墺 (Hejia’ao) and He Laoliu 贺老六: Similar to the Lu family and Luzhen, there is a relationship between Hejia Village and Xianglin’s wife’s second husband: The name of the village could literally be translated as He-Family-Village suggesting that it is predominantly inhabited by the He clan. He Laoliu’s name literally means He Old-Six, likely indicating him to be the sixth son, or, more likely the sixth male offspring in his generation thus taking into the account also his male cousins.
“The New Year’s Sacrifice” 祝福: The title of the story is conventionally translated as “The New Year’s Sacrifice” or “New Year’s Sacrifice”. In the aforementioned essay, Hans Peter Hoffmann makes a convincing argument to translate the title as “The Blessing” (German: “Der Neujahrssegen”), as this captures much more succinctly the contrast between the blessing that the well-to-do families receive and the misery that Xianglin’s wife experiences (2015: 47-52). “The New Year’s Sacrifice” sets the focus on Xianglin’s wife and her being a victim of ‘old feudal society’ which literally sacrifices her life in order to hold on to customs that place dead ancestors above those living and suffering today. The more literal translation “The Blessing”, Hoffmann points out, is both closer to the actual meaning of the word and refocuses and complicates the narrative. It emphasizes that through the ritual those who perform it receive a blessing, or benediction. In that way, it emphasizes old customs prevalent in the town. As a consequence, the individuals in Luzhen, including the nameless narrator, attain more agency and personal responsibility for what is taking place. As this particular adaptation of the story emphasizes – as do the translations of the story which are entitled “The New Year’s Sacrifice” – the sacrificing of Xianglin’s wife, we have decided to opt for this translation as well.
This translation was produced in a joint translation project by students at the Institute of Chinese Studies, University of Freiburg, supervised by Lena Henningsen. We acknowledge the support of the ERC-funded project “The Politics of Reading in the People’s Republic of China” (READCHINA, Grant agreement No. 757365/SH5: 2018-2023). Special thanks go to Eve Y. Lin for her critical reading of the translation and to Matthias Arnold and Hanno Lecher from the Centre for Asian and Transcultural Studies (CATS), Heidelberg University, for providing us with high resolution scans of the comics which are part of the Seifert collection
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