By Wang Fengjuan
“Chinese books have strong readership in Malaysia,” declared Dato’ Goh Hin San, chairman of Malaysia Translation and Creative Writing Association and chairman of Malaysia Han Culture Centre. “The Malay version of Jack Ma was a bestseller across three editions.” Goh is currently looking for a book on Huawei Technologies because Malaysian readers have shown considerable interest in the development of China’s private enterprises.
Goh has cooperated with 10 Chinese publishers on translation and publication of 50 books with 50 more contracts signed for publication of books on traditional Chinese culture such as calligraphy, painting and Peking Opera, biographies of entrepreneurs such as Jack Ma, literature and health care.
At the 26th Beijing International Book Fair (BIBF) in late August, Goh gained even more ground. On behalf of the Malaysia Han Culture Centre, he signed a contract with Zhejiang University Press to publish the Malay version of Liangzhu Civilization Series and with Guangdong Science and Technology Publishing House to print the Malay version of Amazing China, a series under the 2019 Silk Road Book Translation Program.
Goh’s interest in translating Chinese books into Malay originated from encouragement from Usman Awang, a Malaysian poet, playwright and novelist. Malaysia is a multi-ethnic country, but ethnic Malays do not have much understandingof the ethnic Chinese, who account for a quarter of the total population of the country, or their culture. “Culture is a means of communication between different nations,” remarked Awang to Goh, who majored in Malay. “Works by Malaysian Chinese absolutely should be translated into Malay.” Goh has kept Awang’s advice in mind ever since.
In 1986, Goh and a few friends founded the Malaysia Translation and Creative Writing Association, and he served as the secretarygeneral. The association organized translation of Malaysian Chinese literary works including short stories, poetry and children’s literature into Malay, which would be published by the MalaysianInstitute of Language and Literature (Dewan Bahasa dan Pustaka Malaysia, DBP).
“We didn’t care about remuneration,” insisted Goh. “Sometimes we absorbed the cost of publishing and distributing translated works to readers in mainstream society.” After publication of Malay versions of domestic Chineselanguage works, Malaysian readers started developing better understanding of Malaysian Chinese literature, which boosted Goh’s confidence.
Goh solidified his devotion to the publication of Chinese books after a 1989 icebreaking visit by an official DBP delegation to China invited by the State Press and Publication Administration of China. During the visit, Malaysia and China signed the first memorandum of understanding (MoU) on exchange and cooperation in the six areas of literature, language, translation, publishing, printing and book fairs. “Our delegation was the very first from ASEAN to visit China for the purpose of exchange and cooperation in press and publication,” noted Goh. “I was moved by the historic achievements of the visit.”
From that point on, Goh was convinced that his language skills should play a bigger role in Chinese book publishing, so he committed himself to translating outstanding Chinese literary works into Malay and vice versa.
After the visit, Goh was appointed by DBP as general organizer of cooperation
projects under the MoU. Two years later, Red Roses in a Bottle, the Chinese version of a collection of short stories by 20 contemporary Malaysian female writers, was published by Beiyue Literature & Art Publishing House in Shanxi Province, the first literary workofficially co-published by China and Malaysia.
In 1993, Goh was appointed copy editor of a collection of short novels by 20 well-known modern Chinese female writers including Bing Xin, Ding Ling and Xiao Hong. The book, Sunny Daddy, was translated into Malay and published by DBP as the first ever collection of Chinese literary works translated and published in Malaysia. “I was most drawn to Bing Xin’s works,” Goh opined. “In To Young Readers, I really saw her as a loving mother.” That was the first time he translated works by modern Chinese female writers, which were rarely available in Malaysia at the time.
His work also offered opportunities to interact with famous Chinese writers. In 1995, Goh traveled to China to meet Ba Jin, a widely-read Chinese writer best-known for his novel The Family. Goh was hoping to translate and publish the novel in Malay.
Ba Jin was in poor health at the time, but personally authorized translation and publication of his novel on a slip a paper, which Goh has kept and treasured ever since.
After several successes translating Chinese works into Malay, Goh had built the confidence to translate China’s Four Great Classical Novels.
In 2001, the Malaysia Translation and Creative Writing Association organized
the translation of Outlaws of the Marsh into Malay. The translated book was officially published by DBP, causing a sensation in Malaysia. Eleven years later in 2012, Romance of the Three Kingdoms was successfully translated and published. Muhyiddin Yassin, then-deputy prime minister of Malaysia, attended the book launch. A clip of “Oath of the Peach Garden” (Liu Bei, Guan Yu and Zhang Fei became sworn brothers in the Peach Garden, which is often referenced as symbol of fraternal loyalty) was performed at the ceremony. The audience was mesmerized by the essence of loyalty in traditional Chinese culture.
Silk Road Book Program
In 2013, Chinese President Xi Jinping first proposed the Belt and Road Initiative (BRI). Within the framework, China’s State Administration of Press, Publication, Radio, Film and Television launched the “Silk Road Book Publication Program.” Goh immediately realized that the BRI focused on connectivity, especially mutual understanding and amity between the people of China and other countries and predicted a new day for China’s outbound cultural exchange.
Bookstores and cooperatives affiliated with DBP have made room for special sections for the “Silk Road Book Publication Program.” Other Malaysian bookstores have also seized opportunities created by the program.
With support from the Chinese Embassy in Malaysia, Malaysia Han Culture Centre cooperated with Zhejiang Publishing United Group and Zhejiang Ancient Books Publishing House to publish the Malay version of Journey to the West. Thanks to the tremendous support of the Chinese side, it took the translators only three years to complete the translation.
In 2019, the Malay version of Dream of the Red Chamber was published. “This novel involves a lot of traditional Chinese culture with rich connotations,” commented Goh. “This is why we chose it as the last of the four classics. We translated the novel as best as we could and hope that future editions will continuously improve.” Alongside development of Malaysia-China translation and publishing cooperation, Goh’s team of translators has evolved from a part-time amateur team in 1985 to a full-time professional team today.
Thanks in large part to the implementation of the BRI, cooperation between Malaysia and China in various fields is becoming ever closer. Goh has noticed that books on China’s reform and opening-up and economic innovation are gaining popularity in Malaysia. “Malaysian readers are not only interested in Chinese culture,” Goh noted. “They are also interested in China’s experience in reform and opening-up and the country’s constantly-evolving society.”
Melting in Peace and Harmony
Translation and publication of Chinese books in Malaysia is not the end of the process. The ultimate goal is delivering Chinese stories into the hearts of Malaysian readers.
“To help Malaysian readers understand and process everything they read, Chinese stories have to be told in the Malaysian way, and I refer to this as ‘the culture of peace and harmony’,” said Goh. “The Conference on Dialogue of Asian Civilizations [held in May] advocated mutual learning and sharing. Chinese culture values inclusiveness
and openness. Not only does it smoothly coexist with Malay culture, but it also blends with Malay culture into a community of shared interests.”
Led by Goh, the Malaysia Han Culture Centre is working to adapt China’s Four Great Classical Novels into a Malay drama tour “to blend them into Malaysian society.” Their first attempt was a Malay drama version of Journey to the West, with Malay elements added to the mythical novel. For example, the Monkey King was dressed in the traditional Malay costume batik and Tu Di Gong (Land Deity) was replaced by Na Tuk Kong, the Malaysian guardian spirit. “In Chinese TV serials, when Monkey King knocks on the door of the Tu Di Gong Temple, the deity opens the door for him. In the Malay drama, it is shaky Na Tuk Kong, rather than the deity, who opens the door,” Goh explained. “The audience cheers when he appears.”
In November 2016, Liu Xiao Ling Tong (stage name of Zhang Jinlai), known for portraying the Monkey King in TV serials of Journey to the West, visited the Malaysia Han Culture Centre. “He was quite impressed with the Malay drama of Journey to the West as staged by local students,” recalled Goh. “He was pleasantly surprised to see that traditional Chinese culture is taking root on foreign soil.”
Goh is now preparing Malaysian students to stage Romance of the Three Kingdoms with local elements such as kuda kepang (traditional Javanese dance depicting horsemen). The Malaysia Han Culture Centre and DBP have organized a training program for teachers at local schools who are staging the drama.
Goh’s efforts are supported by his wife and daughter. “My daughter is now working out the details of the Malay version of the drama,” revealed Goh. “Young people are more innovative in their methods of inheriting and carrying forward the traditional culture.” Goh is brimming with confidence for cultural exchange between Malaysia and China.