Story of Chinese genius translator and family backing him to struggle with bipolar disorder touches millions of readers
Published: Jan 18, 2022 07:23 PM
Jin Xiaoyu (left)and his father Photo: screenshot of video posted on Sina Weibo

Jin Xiaoyu (left)and his father Photo: screenshot of video posted on Sina Weibo

 Back in 2013, a Chinese publishing house wanted to publish a Chinese-version of Mefisto written by John Banville from Ireland, so they hired Jin Xiaoyu, a one-eyed translator who had read every single book in the large collection of foreign novels at the provincial library of East China's Zhejiang Province.

While the publisher wanted to go with a direct transliteration of the book's original title, Jin advocated for "Youhuozhe" (lit: Tempter) for the Chinese title of the book since in Goethe's Faust Mephisto plays the role of tempter in the play.

The Chinese translation of the book was hailed among readers as soon as it was published.

Including Mefisto, Jin's name graces the covers of 22 translations of foreign books. Despite wrestling with bipolar disorder since high school, the translator, who learned English, Japanese and German on his own, completed these works in less than a decade.

Jin and his family's story have been sweeping through Chinese social media platforms due to a report from Hangzhou Daily that was published on Monday. An interview with Jin's father, the report narrates how the family battled against fate, leading to the Jin's translations once again coming under the spotlight on online bookstores and review platforms.

The 50-year-old Jin lives with his parents in Hangzhou, Zhejiang Province. He lost his left eye at the age of 6 while playing with other children and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder in his 20s.

His struggles with his disorder have been difficult and prevented him from finishing high school. Episodes have caused him to run wild through his home, smashing everything in sight and he has attempted suicide twice. 

In 1993, Jin's father bought a computer for him to try to improve his mental state and the machine quickly became Jin's world. He also began to learn foreign languages by watching foreign movies.

Language learning occupied most of Jin's life. He would often go to the Zhejiang provincial library to borrow foreign novels.

After 10 years, a new opportunity arrived. Some friends of his mother's who worked at Nanjing University Press were looking to translate eight novels from US writer Andrea Barrett. Hearing about his studies in foreign languages, they sent Ship Fever to give him a tryout.

Jin's father said that he translated the novel very quickly and it wasn't long before the publisher sent him more works.

He translated two books a year on average over the next 10 years. Most of these versions have a higher than 8.0/10 rating on Chinese media review platform Douban.

While Jin's career was taking off, things were not as optimistic when it came to his mother's health. Alzheimer's disease impaired her physical health as she began to forget everything and everyone around her.

While struggling with his own demons due to his condition, Jin patiently took care of his mother for three years. 

While translation work and caring for his mother left Jin with barely any time to even think about his mental disorder, his condition did not let him off. 

In November 2021, Jin suffered an episode and was taken to a local hospital for treatment, causing him to miss his last chance to see his mother, who passed away on November 8, 2021.

In an update after the Hangzhou Daily report went viral, Jin's father told the paper that Jin has returned home from the hospital and his latest translated book will be published soon.

"Jin Xiaoyu, I believe you can see my message. Please cheer up. Parents will leave you and misery and happiness will both disappear with the wind, but words can remember you and these books will have your footnotes forever," wrote one netizen among the many who have sent Jin and his family encouragement and best wishes on social media.