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China publisher pulls 'racy' Tagore poems translation

image copyrightFox Photos
image captionTagore is considered one of India's most famous poets

A Chinese publisher has pulled a translation of Indian poet Rabindranath Tagore's poems after it sparked controversy for racy content.

The translation of works from one of India's most famous poets was by Chinese novelist Feng Tang.

His publisher said on Monday that it was removing the work from sale following the "huge debate" in China's literary and translation circles.

Mr Feng has defended his translation, saying a previous version lacked style.

Tagore, known as the Bard of Bengal and seen as a literary god in India, was the first non-European to win the Nobel prize for literature.

'Inelegant and vulgar'

Chinese media picked up on Mr Feng's version of Tagore's Stray Birds poetry collection in recent days, noting that it differed greatly from past Chinese translations.

A review by the Chinese Communist Party's mouthpiece People's Daily savaged the work, saying Mr Feng used "inelegant and vulgar words that makes one look askance".

Much of the criticism appeared to centre on one particular poem, but others in the collection were heavily criticised as too inaccurate, or for using speech that was too informal.

Mr Feng had based his translation on an English version of Tagore's original poems which were written in Bengali.

Tagore's original (English version)

The world puts off its mask of

vastness to its lover.

It becomes small as one song,

as one kiss of the eternal

Feng Tang's translation

The vast world unzips its trousers in front of its lover

Long as a tongue kiss

Slim as a verse

Publisher Zhejiang Arts and Culture Press noted on its microblog that the Stray Birds translation had "elicited a huge debate among our domestic literary and translation scenes".

It said that the books would be pulled off shelves nationwide while a group of experts evaluated the translation.

image copyrightWeibo / Zhejiang Arts and Culture Press
image captionThe publisher announced on Monday that the translation would be pulled

Mr Feng is known for his racy depictions of Beijing youth in the 1990s in his works, reported AFP news agency.

The author defended his work in an interview with the Dongfang Daily newspaper, saying he did not believe he had mistranslated Tagore.

Responding to criticism that his translation style had "gone below the baseline", he said: "There are different understandings of original works and their authors' intentions. Who gets to decide what should be the baseline?"

He added that a previous Chinese translation of the same work, which many had compared his work to, was basically accurate but "lacked childlike, spiritual, animalistic and natural poetic meaning".

The decision to pull the translation off shelves, however, sparked another backlash, as netizens complained that this amounted to censorship.

"Whatever the reason, a published book should not be pulled off the shelves, this is the responsibility of a publisher and is its most basic undertaking," said Weibo user Tuke2012.

Another user, AhRRRQ, said: "I'm not a fan of Feng Tang and especially don't think much of his translation. But I hope this action was borne out of a decision by the publisher, and not because of some cultural agency or leader's 'administrative intervention'."

Related Topics

  • India
  • China
  • Poetry

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