Portuguese language and literature on the rise in China

By Wang Qi Source:Global Times Published: 2019/3/6 18:23:41

Screenshot of Chinese edition of The Book of Disquiet

A stone tablet in Cabo da Roca, Portugal, engraved with Luís Vaz de Camões' famous verse 'Here…Where the land ends and the sea begins...' Photo: VCG

"Aqui…Onde a terra termina e o mar começa…" (Here…Where the land ends and the sea begins…)

Many people who travel to Portugal head to the most western end of the European continent, Cabo da Roca, to take photos of the stone tablet engraved with the above verses, but only a few of them know much about the author of these words.

Luís Vaz de Camões is considered to be the greatest poet in Portugal and the Portuguese language. His masterpiece Os Lusíadas (The Lusiads) has had an extremely profound impact on Portugal and Portuguese literature, just like Shakespeare had in the English world.  

Although Portuguese literature is not particularly well known in China, this does not mean that there are no Chinese fans of Portuguese literature. At the same time, there are also many people who are working hard to promote Portuguese literature in China and advance Chinese-Portuguese cultural exchanges.

From Camões to Pessoa 

These efforts have led to more and more Chinese become interested in the culture and literature of Portugal, a country boasting 15 UNESCO World Heritage Sites. Some Chinese readers give The Camões Prize, the most important prize for literature in the Portuguese language, the same attention that Chinese movie fans give to the Oscars. 

"Dalton Trevisan won The Camões Prize! I really want to read his Mistérios de Curitiba," netizen nuanqingyijiu posted in 2012, after news of the prize's winners was released. 

"The first female writer to win The Camões Prize was Sophia Andresen, one of my favorite writers," netizen Dancinglady wrote on Sina Weibo after posting an article about the writer.

When talking about Portuguese literature, 1998 Nobel Prize for Literature winner José Saramago is the first person many Chinese may think about. But another name that cannot be avoided is Fernando Pessoa. The great author is one of the most popular Portuguese writers in China. On Chinese media review site Douban, there are 841 members in the readers group for Pessoa, almost as many as the 1,289 members in Douban's Shakespeare group. 

With more than 6,000 comments and an overall score of 9.0/10, Pessoa's The Book of Disquiet is his most popular work among Chinese readers on the platform. 

"Reading Pessoa is like doing a nerve massage, very comfortable," wrote one user, while another commented: "If you are going to leave home for half a year, you only need to bring this book with you."  

Present difficulties 

Min Xuefei is an associate professor of Peking University who teaches Portuguese language and literature and also works as a translator. According to her, the eight works she has translated, which include the writings of Paulo Coelho and Clarice Lispector, have proven popular among Chinese readers.

However, the potential of Portuguese literature remains untapped in China. For instance, while Min's translation of Alberto Caeiro, a collection of Pessoa's works written under the heteronym "Alberto Caeiro," has a high 8.9/10 on Douban, most Portuguese literature from lesser-known writers have low scores or no reviews at all on Douban. 

"Actually, the spread of Portuguese literature in China has made great progress in recent years. Some classic writers who were not previously translated have entered the sights of Chinese readers," Min told the Global Times. 

However, there are still some problems that remain to be solved. 

"Some works that are important in the history of literature but are not topical are difficult to translate. The publishers probably do not want to publish them because they are not popular and it is too difficult to find capable translators," Min noted.

She also noted that China's mainstream book market is another challenge that must be faced. 

"At present, only works from contemporary British, US and Japanese writers have a chance to sell well in China. Publishers have lack confidence in publishing contemporary Portuguese novels. More cooperation between the two sides is needed. " 

Bright future 

Despite the present challenges, Min remains positive about Portuguese literature's prospects in China, as a teacher, a translator and reader.   

"In recent years, Chinese-Portuguese language and literature teaching has also developed rapidly. The number of universities offering Portuguese language and literature classes has increased, and the quality of teaching has also made great progress."

According to Min, as one of the top universities in China, Peking University requires that students not only learn Portuguese as a language, an understanding of Portugal's literature is also required. 

"Our courses are relatively open, and we also pay attention to links with other disciplines. In fact, this is not just a language course, but a humanities education course that accommodates history, literature and intellectual history." 

As a professional and expert in Portuguese literature, Min also believes that more and more Chinese readers will fall in love with it in the future, just like she fell for Pessoa. 

"I fully understand the attraction of Fernando Pessoa. The crises people are facing today are mainly mental and spiritual, which is similar to Pessoa's time. His works are very suitable for people who feel 'depressed,'" she noted. "Pessoa is actually a great reference point for understanding Western culture. You have to read many other writers and books of various disciplines, like history, politics and religion, to understand him. He meets almost all my spiritual needs," Min said.
Newspaper headline: Gaining ground

blog comments powered by Disqus