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Brazilian Sinologist Shen Youyou: Why Am I Passionate About Translating Traditional Chinese Works?
Mo Chengxiong, China News Service
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Brazilian Sinologist Shen Youyou: Why Am I Passionate About Translating Traditional Chinese Works?

Over the past decade, the China-Brazil comprehensive strategic partnership has continued to develop, and cooperation in various fields has been fruitful, especially in cultural exchanges between the two countries, and the “craze for the Chinese language” in Brazil has been on the rise. Nowadays, Chinese literature is loved by more and more Brazilians, and it has become trendy to translate and introduce Chinese literature to the Brazilian public. The Brazilian sinologist Shen Youyou has recently accepted an exclusive interview with East Meets West of the Chinese News Service, telling the story of how he fell in love with the Chinese language and his journey of translating traditional Chinese classics.

CNS: How did you first encounter China and develop an interest in Sinology after learning about the Chinese language?

Shen: I was interested in foreign languages and cultures around the world when I was a child, and I have learned various foreign languages, but I encountered the Chinese language and culture relatively late.

In the second half of the twentieth century, Chinese martial arts and kung fu movies were trending in Brazil, which also influenced me. At that time, I purchased some Chinese classics such as The Art of War, Zhuangzi, and The Book of Changes retranslated from a third language, as well as books about modern Chinese history and literature. I was fascinated.

In 2003, I met my first Chinese teacher in Brasilia, Hu Xudong, a visiting scholar from China, who introduced me to classical literature such as Tang poetry. At the same time, my Chinese friends living in Brasilia gave me a glimpse into the lifestyle of the younger generation in China and catalysed my relationship with China.

An exhibition related to kung fu superstar Bruce Lee was in Hong Kong. Photo by Hong Shaokui

In 2005, I came to China and worked at the Brazilian Embassy in China for almost eight years. Since then, I have been working hard on learning the Chinese language and Sinology.


CNS: What Chinese works have you translated and published so far? What are your future plans?

Shen: So far, I have published three translations with detailed explanations, such as The Analects of Confucius – A Portuguese Interpretation, The Heshang Gong Commentaries on the Laozi – General Interpretation in Portuguese, and The Inner Chapters of Zhuangzi – An Analysis in Portuguese. I have published dozens of articles on Confucian classics such as The Great Preface to the Classic of Poetry, and The Book of Rites - The Record of Music, and on essays on music, painting, and calligraphy during the Wei, Jin, and North and South Dynasties, such as The Book of Han - Treatise on Literature, Lantingji Xu, as well as short essays by Gu Kaizhi. I am also engaged in translating and researching Chinese poetics and literary treatises.

Published in 2012, The Analects of Confucius - A Portuguese Interpretation is the first Portuguese version translated directly from the ancient Chinese language, and the only version with explanations in a Western language - readers have called it a “new classic” in the translation of the Analects of Confucius. It has been published in several editions in Brazil and Portugal and has sold over 200,000 copies.

Published in 2016, The Heshang Gong Commentaries on Laozi – General Interpretation in Portuguese is the only Western-language translation of The Heshang Gong Commentaries on Laozi available on the market.

Published in 2022, The Inner Chapters of Zhuangzi - An Analysis in Portuguese is the first complete introduction to the spiritual world of Zhuang Zhou, the Chinese thinker and writer of the Warring States period, for Portuguese readers. The book includes both a translation of the original text and an interpretation in Portuguese. As for the translation, this is the first direct translation of Zhuangzi from the ancient Chinese language into Portuguese.

A selection of traditional Chinese classics translated and published in Portuguese by Shen Youyou. Credit: the interviewee

Next, I plan to translate and publish The Art of War, Lu Xun‘s Call to Arms and classics of modern Chinese literature. And a Portuguese translation of Lu Xun’s Call to Arms is planned to be published in Brazil next year.

I hope to use Call to Arms as a starting point and follow it with masterpieces such as Qian Zhongshu’s Fortress Besieged, Mo Yan's Red Sorghum and Chen Zhonghua‘s White Deer Plain to introduce modern Chinese literature to Portuguese-speaking readers in a systematic way.


CNS: What are your methods for and experiences in learning the ancient Chinese language?

Shen: For my methods and experiences, I remember that in The Literary Mind and the Carving of Dragons, Liu Xie constantly repeats that if one wants to become a writer, one should start by learning (imitating) the good writings of classic writers.

I believe that an important way to learn ancient texts is to read what the ancients considered to be classic chapters and read them the same way as the ancients did. It is also essential to have the self-discipline to read classical works regularly and carefully to avoid the deterioration of your reading skills. I also use online dictionaries and encyclopaedias to facilitate my understanding and digestion.


CNS: What is the current situation regarding the translation and dissemination of Chinese literature in Brazil?

Shen: Chinese literary works, especially international bestsellers, are now being translated more and more in Portuguese-speaking countries such as Brazil. However, they are generally retranslated from English and French, which are more commonly used languages, and there are only a few direct translations from Chinese into Portuguese.

At the same time, most of these works are translated and distributed by major publishing houses in response to market demand, as a commercial model. As a result, this model has so far been limited to specific authors or works and has not brought a comprehensive understanding of Chinese literature to Portuguese-speaking readers.

The Fifth International Symposium on Literary Translation by Sinologists was held in Huaxi, Guiyang. The symposium was to promote the translation and introduction of outstanding Chinese literary works and the “going global” of Chinese literature. Photo by He Junyi

In my opinion, apart from commercial models, there are three ways to promote the translation and dissemination of Chinese literature in Brazil. The first is to build a reader base of 'Chinese studies'. These Brazilian readers, who know something about Chinese works, should be given a better understanding of China and Chinese culture.

The second is to translate some modern Chinese works, which are popular and easy to understand, for the general public in Brazil.

Furthermore, we encourage cooperation between Brazilian and Chinese universities to translate, study, and disseminate classic works of Chinese literature that are of great value but not in high demand.


CNS: How do you think we can promote the dissemination of traditional Chinese culture in Brazil and Latin America?

Shen: In addition to the government, we should encourage individuals, schools, publishers, media, and other forces to carry out cultural exchanges on many levels.

At present, the teaching of Chinese is well-popularised in Latin America, and there are only a few universities with Chinese language departments. I fear this problem will be difficult to solve in the next ten or twenty years.

It is gratifying to note that over the past decade, Brazil and China have enjoyed fruitful cooperation in various fields, especially cultural exchanges between the two countries, and that the “craze for the Chinese language” is still on the rise in Brazil. There are currently 11 Confucius Institutes and 5 Confucius Classrooms in Brazil, the most in Latin America. These institutes and classrooms have become an important channel for Brazilian students to learn Chinese, and many have travelled thousands of miles to study in China. Meanwhile, 57 universities in Mainland China and Macau have Portuguese language departments to train bilingual talents in Portuguese and Chinese.

Brazilian people went to see the opening film of the 5th São Paulo Chinese Film Festival at the Cultural Centre in São Paulo, Brazil. Photo by Mo Chengxiong

I think that Latin American countries and China should strengthen their cultural exchanges, and some translation and publishing companies, music and dance schools, film and art clubs, and other institutions can be involved and continue to do so in the long term.


CNS: What can the world learn from the idea of "harmony" in traditional Chinese culture under today's global change?  

Shen: The idea of "harmony" is rich in connotation, emphasising concord and integration, and it also shows me the concept of harmony and coexistence between men and others, men and nature, men and society, and all nations of the world, living together in peace and cooperating for development. It can be said that the solutions that contain Chinese wisdom also enrich the concept of global governance.

Laozi said, “The highest goodness is like water. Water benefits all and does not compete. It stays in the lowly places which others despise. Therefore it is near the Way.” This represents a wise way of living in the world. And this wisdom can provide ideas for all countries to draw on when they are under significant global change.

Shen Youyou (Giorgio Erick Sinedino de Araujo) is a Brazilian sinologist and former diplomat who lives and works in Macau. From 2005 to 2012, he worked as an education officer at the Brazilian

Embassy in China. He was a visiting teacher at the Brazilian Cultural Centre of Peking University and a part-time teacher at the School of Languages and Translation of the Macao Polytechnic University. He received his Master's degree in Philosophy from Peking University in 2012 and his PhD in Philosophy from Renmin University of China in 2020. He is fluent in Portuguese, Chinese, English, Spanish, Japanese, and French. Since 2012, he has translated and published many monographs on China (in Portuguese), including The Analects of Confucius – A Portuguese Interpretation, The Heshang Gong Commentaries on Laozi – General Interpretation in Portuguese, and The Inner Chapters of Zhuangzi – An Analysis in Portuguese, and has published dozens of papers and articles. He is currently planning to publish The Art of War and Lu Xun’s Call to Arms. In 2018, the first Sino-Portuguese Literary Translation Prize was jointly organised by the Macao Foundation and the University of Macao. His translation of The Analects of Confucius – A Portuguese Interpretation was awarded the first prize for Chinese-to-Portuguese translation.


Mo Chengxiong, China News ServiceKailun Sui

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