Lost chapters from renowned author Lao She to be revealed

By Zhang Yuchen Source:Global Times Published: 2016/11/24 18:53:40

A scene from the stage version of <em>Four Generations under One Roof</em>  Photo: IC

A scene from the stage version of Four Generations under One Roof Photo: IC

Chinese literary circles have been celebrating these past two days.

The cause of their celebration is the restoration of the lost ending to renowned Chinese writer Lao She's epic novel Four Generations under One Roof.

After having lost for decades, an English translation of the ending was discovered and translated into Chinese by Zhao Wuping, deputy director of the Shanghai Translation Publishing House, and will be published in China's prestigious Harvest magazine in January, People's Daily Online reported on Monday. 

Closer to the original

Lao She, the pen name of Shu Qingchun, is one of the most significant figures in 20th century Chinese literature and is best known for his novel Rickshaw Boy and play Teahouse, both of which make vivid use of the Beijing dialect. 

Four Generations under One Roof delves into the lives of Beijing residents during the Japanese occupation of the city during World War II and is divided into three parts: Bewilderment, Ignominy and Famine.

According to the report from People's Daily Online, the first two parts were published in installments at the end of 1945. Afterward, Lao She moved to the US, where he began working on the third part.

At first, chapters from this third part were serialized in a Chinese literary magazine in 1950, but for some reason Lao She ceased publication after releasing 20 chapters, leaving the story unfinished.

Lao She committed suicide in 1966, shortly after the Cultural Revolution (1966-76) began and he was humiliated by radical Red Guards. His original Chinese manuscripts of the novel were later lost.

In 1981, however, The Yellow Storm, an English version of Four Generations Under One Roof translated by US translator Ida Prutti, was published in the US containing 13 additional chapters. Prutti said that he had worked with Lao She on the translation while the latter was in the US and so had access to unpublished material.

In 1982, The People's Literature Publishing House translated these 13 chapters into Chinese and published a new supplementary version of the novel.

In 2014, however, Zhao accidently discovered Prutti's original drafts of his translation while conducting research on Lao She in the US.

Comparing these drafts to the 1981 English version of the book, he found that the drafts had been highly altered by the US publishing house.

For the 1981 English version, two chapters had been cut entirely and two chapters had been combined into one. Additionally, some of the characters' names and parts of the plots had been changed, while all the chapter names were different as well.

 Zhao realized that this meant that these drafts must be far closer to the original Chinese manuscript written by Lao She.

"At present, the new translations of [the English versions of ] Lao She's work reaches 103 chapters. While this may not fit with his original plans and may still not cover everything he possibly wrote, I really hope this will allow new generations to become closer to Lao She's original work," Zhao told chinanews.com on Tuesday.

Copyright battle

Although the new chapters will be published by Harvest and Zhao has given the copyright to this material to the Beijing-based Moveable Type Studios Inc, all of Lao She's other works are on the brink of seeing a new publishing craze.

The impetus for this movement is that this year marks the 50th anniversary of the author's death, which also means his works will no longer be under the protection of copyright laws as of January 1, 2017.

"We are sure to see a new boom when it comes to the publishing of Lao She's works next year," Zhang Hongbo, director general of the China Written Copyright Society, told the Global Times in an interview on Wednesday.

Zhang explained that after the copyright ends at the beginning of next year, Lao She's works will be able to be used by anyone in any field such as film or TV. 

"However, on a spiritual level, we still should respect his family's wishes," Zhang said.

The rights to Lao She's works have been a very valuable commodity in China.

Shu Ji, Lao She's daughter, was once in charge of publishing all of her father's collected works at the People's Literature Publishing House. This made the publishing house a dominant figure when it came to Lao She's works.

Now, however, the People's Literature Publishing House is set to lose this advantage in 2017 when copyright protections of Lao She's works come to an end.

Fortunately for the publishing house, some of Lao She's material is still under copyright protection: the newly translated chapters.

"Before December 31, anyone that wants to publish these new chapters must ask for both Lao She's family [the copyright holders of Lao She's works] and translator Zhao Wuping's permission, but from January 1 of next year, they need only ask Zhao for permission," Zhang told the Global Times.

And it seems that the People's Literature Publishing House is not ready to give up without a fight.

According to a report by Publishers Weekly newspaper on Wednesday, the director of the People's Literature Publishing House's Planning Department are in talks with Moveable Type Studios Inc.

Most likely the publishing house is seeking to use these new chapters and its copyrighted status to maintain its dominate position.

Newspaper headline: New discoveries


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