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Bulgarian translator Han Pei's a Dream of Red Mansions

 Han Pei (1972 -- 2022), Bulgarian Sinologist and translator, is the author of a Dream of Red Mansions, Seven Heroes and Five Heroes, Thirty-six Plans, Night Talk around the Stove, My Country and My People, Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out and many other Chinese classics and masterpieces. He was awarded the Youth Achievement Award of the 11th Special Contribution Award for Chinese Books. His translation of a Dream of Red Mansions won the 2015 Bulgarian Christog Danov Literary Prize.

Before I left Guangdong Shimen Experimental School, I made a new attempt that changed my life completely. It all started with A Dream of Red Mansions, which I began working on translating from Chinese into Bulgarian.

In late fall of 2011, I reconnected with my college professor, Sophia Katlova, who had taught me Classical Chinese and translation courses. With her help, I began a massive collection of classic Chinese novels and other works, laying a solid foundation for my translation work in the next decade. More importantly, with the support and encouragement of my teacher, I made up my mind to embark on a great project -- translating Cao Xueqin's A Dream of Red Mansions.

But let's go back in time and talk about how I became attached to a Dream of Red Mansions.

I first came across this work in 1987 in the literary yearbook Book World, which featured a short paragraph about a Dream of Red Mansions as a masterpiece that "Chinese people know so well and recite so many times." I also learned that a Dream of Red Mansions is the only work in China and even the world where the study of it can be turned into a specialized discipline, namely redology. Moreover, China has also set up a research institute of Redology, which aims to conduct systematic research on the characters, family pedigrees and their influence on Chinese literature.

The Bulgarian title of a Dream of Red Mansions made me love Cao Xueqin's novel. In this way, I became a loyal fan of a Dream of Red Mansions.

When I opened the first chapter, I was overwhelmed by its insuperable oratory -- every Chinese character seemed so finely honed that I couldn't put it down.

As early as 1992, when I was just a sophomore studying Chinese, I told my Chinese teacher, Professor Liu Guanghui, that my dream was to translate a Dream of Red Mansions into Bulgarian. Twenty years later, my dream has finally come true. However, I would not have expected to complete such a huge project had it not been for the encouragement of my teacher katlova, who once said to me: "I believe you. If there is anyone in Bulgaria capable of translating a Dream of Red Mansions, it is you."

In 2015, my Bulgarian translation of the first volume of a Dream of Red Mansions was published. In 2017 and 2018, I completed the translation work of The second and third volumes of A Dream of Red Mansions. Without the support of my publisher and my teachers, and without the enthusiasm of the Bulgarian literary community and its readers, the idea of translating a Dream of Red Mansions would have been a distant and unattainable dream of my childhood. Since its publication, my translation of a Dream of Red Mansions has been widely recognized and welcomed by readers and literary figures in China and Bulgaria.

No sooner had I finished translating a Dream of Red Mansions than I could not wait to go on translating the Book of Songs and the Four Books. In addition, I also started two dictionary compilation, is commonly used in ancient Chinese "han bao dictionary, another is based on" modern Chinese dictionary ", and added some of my translation examples and other annotation of han bao dictionary, I think the two dictionaries for the Bulgarian learning Chinese is going to be a very important role.

Translation art is like crossing a river, and the banks on both sides of the river respectively represent two different cultures.

I was asked: What is Bulgarian? Can it accurately interpret the magnificent language and precious culture used by Cao Xueqin in a Dream of Red Mansions?

Bulgarian is a very proficient language in terms of flexibility, syntactic structure and style. It is highly malleable and can reproduce popular Chinese novels or vernacular novels with ease, expressing nature and authenticity. I find it much more natural to translate Chinese into Bulgarian than into English. Bulgarian is better than English or Russian to capture the essence of Chinese speech, which is always smooth and sonorous.

My mother tongue is the language of Bulgarian towns and villages. It is rich and vivid, natural and passionate, with a love of life -- perhaps it is these features that make Bulgarian so similar to Chinese.

Having said that, the Bulgarian language has encountered great difficulties in translating the "aristocratic" content described in a Dream of Red Mansions. Soon after the end of the imperial era of "Bulgaria with Great Telnovo as its capital," Bulgaria lost its nobility, its literati, and its language. That is to say, the greatest difficulty I encountered in translating a Dream of Red Mansions was that the Bulgarian language had lost its medieval stamp, the dignity, poetry, nobility and charm of that period. After Bulgaria fell under Ottoman rule, the literary Bulgarian language disappeared. Later, from the Bulgarian Renaissance until today, our language was influenced by Turkish, Greek, Russian and various languages from the West, resulting in the loss of more literary and cultural traditions.

Every time I try to translate the classical language of "A Dream of Red Mansions" into Bulgarian, I turn to the treasure trove of Ancient Bulgarian prose. The precious language of Ecclesiastical Slavic (the liturgical language of the church) retains much of the grandeur of classical culture. The classical style of a Dream of Red Mansions can only be expressed in the ancient Bulgarian language.

On August 22, 2016, the "2016 International Expert Symposium on Chinese and Foreign Literature Publishing and Translation" was held in Beijing. I was honored to be invited to share my views on the importance of China-Brunei cultural relations:

... The original disseminators of the cultures of the two countries are the literati of the two countries. Thanks to their painstaking efforts and the efforts of several generations, we have finally established a spiritual bond between the two countries and passed on the artistic treasures of each country with its own characteristics.

The cultural exchanges between Bulgaria and China did not start early, but this will in no way affect its valuable value in the exchanges between the two countries. I think the relationship between our two countries is a little bit complicated because we have always had to rely on other media: the first Bulgarian literature translated into Chinese was not from Bulgarian, but from an interlanguage: Russian, English, German... Lu Xun was the first Chinese to translate and publish Bulgarian classics. In 1927, he translated from Esperanto into Chinese a short story by Ivan Vazov, the father of Bulgarian literature. Similarly, as early as the 1940s, the excellent Bulgarian translator Nevyana Loseva had translated Lin Yutang's "Clouds of Smoke in Beijing" from English into Bulgarian. A decade later, it was translated from Russian into Bulgarian. Lenin Dimitrov, known as Bulgaria's first Sinologist, was the first writer to translate the Tao Te Ching into Bulgarian and wrote the Book History of Ancient Chinese Culture.

The time between the two countries is still short, and the cooperation in some fields has just begun. It is an arduous task to trace the history of cultural and literary exchanges between China and Bulgaria. Almost all Chinese literary works introduced into Bulgaria are translated from other languages, that is to say, they are the result of secondary translations. Mo yan's first Bulgarian translation, for example, came from French.

... Bulgarian publishers prefer to import works that appeal to the masses, but these are problematic in many ways: they are not accurate translations, they are not true interpretations of Chinese culture, they are not accurate references or rigorous studies. The common problem is that they all ignore the most pure Chinese culture. They were translated by people who knew very little, if not nothing, about Chinese culture. Chinese literature embraces all aspects of culture and thus best reflects the cultural essence of the country, but it occupies a pitifully small market in Bulgaria, especially Chinese classical literature, and ancient poetry is very rare. The greatness of China got the best present in the culture, in a sense, culture is the Chinese for years against the historical vicissitude and foreign influence and had then - its important role in doubt: "classic literature of language and culture, as a pair with open arms, able to carry a national across any time into the sky."


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