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Zhang Guruo: Lit. popularizer

Author  :  Meng Mu     Source  :    Chinese Social Sciences Today     2015-08-28

Zhang Guruo (1903-94), formerly named Zhang Enyu, was a professor at Peking University. Zhang won a reputation for accurate and delicate translations and thorough annotations. 

Zhang Guruo's translated works have been held up as an example for the teaching, studies and practice of foreign language translation. His translation of Hardy’s Tess of the d’Urbervilles was highly popular among Chinese readers.

In 1926, Zhang enrolled in the English Department at Peking University. When he was a senior student, he was heavily influenced by courses on British literary critic I.A. Richards’ literary criticism and novels. During this period, he became interested in British novelist Thomas Hardy’s works. In 1929, he started to translate Hardy’s The Return of the Native.

After graduation in 1930, Zhang taught English at the Girls’ High School Affiliated to Beijing Normal University. While he was teaching, he continued translating Hardy’s works. Later under the assistance of Hu Shih (1891-1962), Zhang began translating Hardy’s novel Tess of the d’Urbervilles.

His translations of The Return of the Native and Tess of the d’Urbervilles were published by the Commercial Press in 1935 and 1936, respectively, cementing his place in academia. These two books were reprinted several times, and Zhang became known as the foremost expert on Hardy.

Zhang proposed that translations between two languages “should emphasize the meaning and form of original language as well as those of target language.” Emphasizing linguistic form is a distinguishing characteristic of Zhang’s translations. He was capable of contemplating the gains and losses in translations from the reader’s point of view, and continuously polished, modified and added annotations to them, which is the fundamental reason why Zhang’s works were so popular among readers.

Zhang’s influence lies in his works. The History of Tom Jones, a Foundling, David Copperfield and Tess of the d’Urbervilles are all English literature classics. When we need to read these books, Zhang’s translations are always our best choice.

Zhang constantly strived for perfect translations and established a benchmark for later translators, and many universities and colleges have used his translations as teaching materials.

On account of his tremendous contributions to the field of translation, Zhang became one of the first Chinese translators who caught the attention of countries of the original works. Through exchanges and meetings with British and American scholars and experts, Zhang has helped his foreign counterparts increase their recognition of Chinese literature, culture and translation by virtue of his profound knowledge. James Gibson, a founding member and vice-president of the Thomas Hardy Association in Britain, dubbed Zhang “Hardy’s confidant in the East” and an “envoy of literary exchanges.”

Editor: Yu Hui

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