SHOLOM ALEICHEM AND SHANGHAI
Yao Yi-en, Senior Research Fellow
Shanghai Research Institute of Culture & History
First Published in Der Bay April 1994
I. April 21, 1910, Maxim Gorky wrote to a writer:
"My dear colleague,
Your book has been duly received. Having read it, I could not help laughing and crying. What a fantastic book! The translation seems to me to be quite well, and it was done out of love for the author though in some places, the difficulty to convey in Russian the sad and touching humour in the original is felt. I mean it is just felt.
I like this book very much. I would say again that this is a great book. It is full of noble, kind and sincere love for the people, which is so rare in the present day.
Capri, April 21, 1910”
The book mentioned in the letter was Sholom Aleichem’s famous work THE ADVENTURES OF MOTL, CANTOR’S SON whose Chinese version was published in Shanghai in l957.
“The sad and touching humour” is an important feature of Sholom Aleichem’s works. The noble, kind and sincere love for the people.”
As the translator of the Chinese version of THE ADVENTURES OF MOTLE, THE CANTOR’S SON and the researcher of Sholom Aleichem, I would like to brief about Sholom Aleichem first and then go into his influence in Shanghai and China as a whole.
II. Life and Creation of Sholom Aleichem
Sholom Aleichem--that is to say, "Hello There!", which is the pen name of Sholom Nohumovich Rabinovich, means literally 'peace be upon you'. The phrase is used among Jews as a popular greeting. He was born in Ukraine on March 2, 1859 and died in New York on May 13, 1916. He was only 20 when his first book was published in 1879.
During his 35 years of writing, Sholom Aleichem wrote more that 30 volumes of literary works, which include novels, short stories, dramas, poems and commentaries. His works such as TEVYE THE DAIRYMAN, MENACHEM MENDL and THE ADVENTURES OF MOTL, THE CANTOR'S SON were written as a series of short. stories.
These stories were written about people of no importance in humorous language. The force of his humor is that it has enabled those people to despite the evil and surmount hardships, and convinced them that truth would prevail.
Sholom Aleichem, like Dickens, Mark Twain and Chekhov, enjoys great prestige in the world of letters. His works have been translated into many languages and are popular all over the world. He and his works were introduced to Chinese readers. The first writing about Sholom Aleichem was published right in Shanghai 73 years ago.
III. Shanghai—a city where Sholom Aleichem was introduced the earliest and in the great numbers.
In June, 1921, a report on Sholom Aleichem was in the literary supplement CONSCIOUSNESS of Minguo Daily, which reads: ‘’Contemporary Jewish writer Aleichem is called Jewish Mark Twain because his works are much like Mark Twain and their ideas are very similar to each other.” The report was written by Mao Dun, a great Chinese writer under the pseudonym of “P Sheng” when he was only 25. He wrote to me to confirm this in 1979 in his later years.
Mao Dun was the first person; to introduce Sholom Aleichem to China, and the first one to translate his works. His translation of Sholom Aleichem’s, THE MAN FROM BUENOS AIRES appeared in the Fiction Monthly No. l0 of l921 published by Shanghai Commercial Press. Later it was incorporated into Fiction Monthly Series No. 54 THE ANTHOLOGY OF NEW JEWISH FICTIONS (1925), and then into Collection of Mao Dun’s Translation of Short Stories entitled SNOWMAN published by Shanghai Kaiming Publishing House. (First edition appeared in 1928, and by 1931, the book reached its third edition.)
The famous writer and translator Lu Yan made contributions in this field. He began to translate into Chinese, and his translations of CRABCHIK and MIRACLE HASHONO RABO (THE SLOWPOKE EXPRESS) were published in Eastern Miscellany in Shanghai in 1924 and 1925. In 1926, Lu Yan translated THE SELECTED JEWISH STORIES. It was published by Shanghai Kaiming Publishing House. Six pieces of Sholom Aleichem’s works were in the Collection, which made up more than a half of the total.
More translations of Sholom Aleichem’s works appeared in Shanghai and the rest of China. The veteran writer Lou Shiyi translated the short story THREE LITTLE HEADS. The translation was first published in the Sea Wind Weekly of 1929 in Shanghai and then included in Selections from Rising World Literatures entitled THE BRIDGE brought out by Literature Publishing House. At least 3 Chinese versions of THREE LITTLE HEADS have appeared.
Zhou Zuoren's translations of Sholom Aleichem’s two short stories A PITY FOR THE LIVING and PASSOVER IN A VILLAGE appeared in the Fifth Volume of Yushi in 1929, a weekly published under the direction and editorship of Lu Xun.
In the 1930's the famous translator Fu Dughua published his translation in Literature Monthly of Life Publishing House in Shanghai and included it in his Collection entitled OUTLAWED which was published by Shanghai Commercial Press.
In 1947, Shanghai Cultivation Publishing House republished Sholom Aleichem’s short stories under the title of THE HAPPIEST MAN IN ALL KODNY translated by Liu Wugou, the daughter of the famous poet Liu Yazi.
In the 1940’s Jews came to Shanghai as refugees during World War II and published Sholom Aleichem’s works and wrote articles about him in Russian Ianguage. I have two books in my library: THE RAILROAD STORIES, TALES OF A COMMERCIAL TRAVELER Published by Gong Publishing House and JEWISH WRITERS published by Jewish Publishing House in 1942.
After the founding of the People’s Republic of China, the efforts to introduce Sholom Aleichem gained new momentum.
1. In 1959, while the people were marking the centenary of the birth of Sholom Aleichem, solemn meetings were held in Beijing and Shanghai to commemorate this outstanding writer. In Shanghai, I gave a speech on the Iife and creation of Sholom Aleichem. I held an exhibition of Sholom Aleichem’s works from my collection.
Meanshile, newspapers and magazines like People’s Daily (Beijing), The World Literature (Beijing), Guangming Daily (Beijing), the Liberation Daily (Shanghai), Wenhui Daily (Beijing), Children’s Epoch (Shanghai), Academic Journal of Zhongshan Univ. (Guangzhou) carried articles or translated works of Sholom Aleichem.
2. Publication of the Chinese versions of Sholom Aleichem’s major works.
TEVYE THE DAlRYMAN came out in Shanghai in 1964 and the second edition consisting of 42,000 copies was printed in 1983. THE ADVENTURES OF MOTL THE CANTOR'S SON was published by Shanghai Children Publishing House in l957 and republished in 1982 with a circulation of 36,500. The first edition of MENACHEM MENDL with 70,000 copies was brought out by Jiangxi Publishing House in 1980. The autobiographical novel of Sholom Aleichem BACK FROM THE FAIR and the novel WANDERING STARS have also been translated into Chinese in full.
Several collections of Sholom Aleichem‘s short stories have also appeared, such as those entitled SELECTED SHORT STORIES OF Sholom Aleichem, TEVYE BLOWS A SMALL FORTUNE, THE OLD COUNTRY, etc.
3. Introduction of Sholom Aleichem in more varied forms.
Since 1980’s, Sholom Aleichem’s works have been continuously included in various collection; and reference books with a large circulation. For example, TRAPEZA and THE PENKNIFE have been entered in translation series published by Shanghai Publishing House. THE PENKNIFE has also been included in Children’s Library-The World Children's Stories. I AM WELL, I AM ORPHAN has been made an entry in the Dictionary of Foreign Short Stories for Appreciation and was broadcast more than once by Shanghai Broadcasting Station in the Appreciation of Literature Program.
The lexicographical work SEA OF WORDS, a medium sized Chinese dictionary compiled in Shanghai, has a special entry of Sholom Aleichem. The dictionary has a circulation of 20 million and is almost an indispensable reference tool; for families of culture in China. The above work has been mostly carried out in Shanghai and I have also played my humble part.
I was just a young man when I began to study Sholom Aleichem. How time flies! Now, I have already become an old man with grey hair. It is my great pleasure, however, to introduce in my declining years directly to our Jewish friends the initial results in my study of Sholom Aleichem, especially in the memorable year of the 135 anniversary of the birth of the writer.