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Chinese classic gets new English translation

By BO LEUNG | China Daily | Updated: 2018-08-17 07:45
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Martin Palmer has translated the Chinese classic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms. [Photo provided to China Daily]


A new translation of the celebrated historical epic, The Romance of the Three Kingdoms, has been completed.

The novel, written by Luo Guanzhong in the 14th century, is based on real-life historical figures and events. The story dramatizes the lives of feudal lords and their retainers toward the end of the Eastern Han Dynasty (25-220).

Martin Palmer, whose work includes the English adaptations of The Book of Chuang Tzu and The Most Venerable Book, was tasked with translating the Chinese classic.

"The reason why it's such an amazing novel is not so much the descriptions of the battles, but it is the personalities and the way Luo makes these figures come alive," Palmer says. "What I wanted to do was capture the intrigue, the plots and the narrative."

Part historical, part legend and part mythical, the novel comprises more than 800,000 words, more than 1,100 characters and 120 chapters.

For Palmer to translate and abridge one of the greatest classic Chinese novels, filled with complex stories and characters, was an ambitious project.

He had to cut down the hundreds of minor characters as well as sub-plots, repetitions and minor incidents from the original and transform it into one seamless narrative.

"I had to decide what the absolutely central moments in the novel are, as they needed to be translated in full," Palmer says.

He says translating the poetry was also a challenge.

"Almost every chapter has poetry and every so often you come across these amazing poems by great poets," Palmer says. "I relied upon a poet friend of mine, Jay Ramsay, who worked with me to translate them."

Luo's epic novel has also been compared to the works of William Shakespeare, such as Richard III and Henry IV.

Palmer is director of the International Consultancy on Religion, Education and Culture and secretary-general of the Alliance of Regions and Conservation. It took him three years to complete the translation of the book, which he did in his spare time.

Palmer says that, as more people are taking an interest in China, Chinese culture is becoming more popular.

"Chinese novels, such as Legends of the Condor Heroes by Louis Cha (Jin Yong), have sparked interest from people, who are now looking at earlier books," he adds.

Palmer is currently working on a new translation of another Chinese classic, The Water Margin, and hopes to work on Shijing-also known as the Book of Songs-which has a collection of Chinese poetry.

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