Burns’ work translated by Chinese scholar

As Burns Night is celebrated around the world, the work of Scotland’s national poet is being brought to a new audience

January 25, 2015

Li Zhengshuan, a professor of English literature at Hebei Normal University in China, has embarked on a project to translate the poems of Robert Burns into contemporary Chinese.

He has already tackled well-known Burns works such as My Luve is like a Red Red Rose and has now based himself for six months at the University of Stirling’s new Centre for Translation, Interpreting and Intercultural Studies.

During this period, he plans to complete translations of 100 Burns poems – covering topics including love, patriotism, freedom and satire.

Professor Li said he learned many of Burns’ poems by heart in his youth when, like the poet, he worked as a labourer.

“Dozens of Burns’ poems have been translated into Chinese, some by poets who used them as an inspiration to write their own poems,” he said. “In some versions, Burns became a Chinese poet speaking the words only the ancient Chinese could understand.

“I thought Burns’ English was modern so I tried my hand at translating a few of his poems. It’s far from easy and the main problem is the understanding of the dialects.”

Professor Li will give a traditional toast at a Burns’ Supper being hosted in Stirling on 25 January, ahead of a conference on international translation.

Toasts will also be given by Russian researchers who say that Burns’ work is very popular in their country. However, they have never attended a traditional supper before.

Kirstie Blair, chair of English studies at Stirling, said the interest in Burns from around the world “never ceases to amaze”.

Professor Li added: “Burns is not as well-known as Shakespeare in China, but he is popular where English literature is studied. Poetry is taught less and less in China now, but it will always be well-known in my university.”


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