Full Dutch version of China’s ‘Dream of the Red Chamber’ hits shelves
Translating a classic
Published: Nov 16, 2021 05:48 PM
Above: An illustration of character Qingwen from <em>Dream of the Red Chamber</em>
Chinese versions of <em>Dream of the Red Chamber</em> Photos: VCG

Chinese versions of Dream of the Red Chamber Phots: VCG

Above: An illustration of character Qingwen from <em>Dream of the Red Chamber</em>
Chinese versions of <em>Dream of the Red Chamber</em> Photos: VCG

Above: An illustration of character Qingwen from Dream of the Red Chamber Photo: VCG

The first full Dutch version of Dream of the Red Chamber, a Chinese Romeo-and-Juliet love story masterpiece in the country's classical literature, has recently hit the bookstores in the Netherlands following 13 years of hard work by three Dutch sinologists and translators. 

The 2,160-page, four-volume book, which includes all 120 chapters of the original Chinese epic novel, is the result of a long-lasting partnership between Silvia Marijnissen, Mark Leenhouts and Anne Sytske Keijser.

"It was a longer and more difficult process than we had imagined," Keijser told the Xinhua News Agency.

Dream of the Red Chamber, one of Chinese literature's Four Great Classical Novels, was written by Cao Xueqin in the middle of the 18th century during the Qing Dynasty (1644-1911).

Initially, the three co-translators had planned to complete the work in about eight years.

"But obviously, that wasn't enough. We really wanted to create a translation that would read well in Dutch," Keijser said.

The Dutch sinologist said the translated version is aimed at the general public.

"The strength of this novel is that it can speak to its readers, even across time and place. Even though Dutch readers will be unfamiliar with many aspects of life and society depicted in the novel, we will be able to identify with the main characters on an emotional level," she said.

This novel is "the epitome of Chinese classical literature and culture," she said. 

"We were overjoyed when [publishing house] Athenaeum said it was interested in publishing the novel."

In a favorable and enthusiastic review in the widely read Dutch newspaper De Volkskrant, scholar Henk Propper thanked the translators for their effort. 

"Cao Xueqin's Chinese has become delicious, sparkling Dutch," he wrote.

The Dutch version of the masterpiece, entitled De Droom van de Rode Kamer, is available in bookshops across the Netherlands and in online bookstores.

"We are convinced that historical masterpieces should be made available for today's readers, as these are the stories that had, and still have, a strong influence on today's literature, art and life in general," Sander van Vlerken, publisher of Athenaeum-Polak & Van Gennep, told Xinhua.

"Cao Xueqin is a classical writer that can't be missed," Van Vlerken said.

"It is my strong opinion that the Dutch interest in Chinese culture in many of its forms is quite keen and that one of the appealing aspects of Dream of the Red Chamber for the Dutch reader is the theme of Buddhism/Taoism in contrast with the everyday life of the main characters in their noble lives," he said.

"And isn't that the process we all have to go through: How to make the right choices in life, no matter what the circumstances?" the publisher commented.

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