HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn offers a loving translation of a popular Chinese novel.
Long recognised for her love of China and her fluency in Mandarin, Her Royal Highness Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn recently completed her ninth translation of popular Chinese fiction, “How Long is Forever” by the award-winning author Tie Ning.
The book, whose Thai title is “Talord Kan Na Nan Khae Nhai”, is published by Nanmeebooks and was launched last week in parallel with the exhibition “Hutong: A Remarkable Feature of Beijing”. The Princess presided at the opening at Siam Discovery and talked about the novel and her admiration for its author.
The Princess firmly believes that contemporary literature, particularly novels with an anthropological perspective, reveals a great deal about a country and is thus as important a reference guide as historical documents or books.
“In this book Tie Ning, who is also the chairperson of the Writers Association of China, shines the spotlight on the emotions, lifestyles and traditions of a group of people during the Cultural Revolution,” she said.
“The novel is centred on a woman named Bai Da Xing, who lives in one of Beijing’s hutongs. Tie Ning traces back her life to the time she was 10 years old. A virtuous and kind-hearted girl who always thinks of the happiness of others first, Bai Da Xing suffers for her generosity, allowing everyone to take advantage of her, including the storyteller, who is her cousin. Bai Da Xing, though, doesn’t feel that she’s being exploited.”
Unsurprisingly, Bai Da Xing’s heart is broken again and again. Yet, despite being cheated more times than she can count, she regards love as a noble emotion that requires endless sacrifice.
“How Long is Forever?” paints a clear picture of the conflict between the values and morals of the old world and those of the new, where eternal love no longer has any meaning.
“Bai Da Xing grows into a plain woman and, when she falls in love, the relationship is not as happy as she would have wished. Yet she remains cheerful and continues to make those around her feel good,” Princess Sirindhorn explained.
The exhibition included a miniature model of Hutong One, the fictional cluster of alleys in Beijing where Bai Da Xing lives.
“During the Cultural Revolution, development wiped out several old towns and roads,” the Princess said. “Hutong and small houses were destroyed to make way for grand buildings and wide avenues. Some people were content with the progress, but others were not. Bai Da Xing was satisfied.
“The revolution also brought good and bad, and at one point being rich and well educated would be condemned as disgraceful. Thai people in the old days were like that too. Some Thai children felt compelled to ask their drivers to drop them off some distance from their school so their friends would not see how affluent they were.”
The exhibition, which ended on Sunday, also featured a range of products and food items found in the grocery stores mentioned in the novel. These included xiaodu, which resembles Chinese sausage, red plums, canned products, oil, salt, say sauce, black vinegar, mung-bean cake and assorted candies.
Princess Sirindhorn noted that some hutong have been preserved and are often used as film locations. Most of the products of bygone days are on sale there too and she was able to acquire some for the exhibition “The only thing I couldn’t find was ‘shampoo made of egg’,” she laughed.
Thanks to her own way with words, readers of the translated version of “How Long is Forever?” will not only learn a great deal about Beijing’s original communities and just how far modern society has moved away from traditional values, they will also be engrossed by the beautiful language.
In the text, the Princess gives explanations in parentheses about the meanings of Chinese words and culture, but rather than being distracting as such asides sometimes are, they add a great deal to the reader’s knowledge and enjoyment.
WITHIN THESE WALLS
“How Long is Forever?” translated by HRH Princess Maha Chakri Sirindhorn is available for Bt135 at Wan Kaew Bookstores, Nanmeebook Shops and other bookstores.