Members’ Publications: Nina Borevskaia

Shans 2023, 2 Vols.

Nina Borevskaia, 2023. The translation of Luo Maodeng’s novel The Tale of Zheng He’s Voyage to the Western Ocean (San Bao taijian Xiyang ji, 1597). Moscow, Shans Publishing House. 2 Vols.

The Russian translation of one of the classical Chinese novels Sanbao taijian xia Xiyang tongsu yanyi (Xiyangji, Author Luo Maodeng, 1597) was published in Moscow by Shanse publishing house in May 2023 (slightly abridged version, in two volumes with three appendixes, coloured illustratins and many comments), The translation was made by Nina Borevskaia, EACS member for almost 35 years. The book is in two volumes, each of about 440 pages. It has a welcome address by the famous modern writer Wang Meng and a long Preface in the format of the interview between the translator and the author called “Over the Abyss of Time and Space”. The translation is provided with several thousand comments (references).

English Abstract

Abstract: The translation of Luo Maodeng’s novel
The Tale of Zheng He’s Voyage to the Western Ocean
(San Bao taijian Xiyang ji, 1597)

According to the generally accepted Eurocentric ideas shared by many historians, the era of great geographical discoveries of the 15th — 16th centuries began with the expeditions of Vasco da Gama, Christopher Columbus, and Ferdinand Magellan. However, preceding these voyages by almost a century and greatly outdoing them in scale (considering the number of ships and participants involved) were the extraordinary expeditions conducted by the enormous Chinese armada in the first quarter of the 15th century. Under the command of Admiral Zheng He — a palace eunuch also known as “San Bao” (meaning “Three Treasures” in reference to the three central precepts of Buddhism) — this fleet managed to reach the shores of India, Arabia, and Africa. The seven separate cycles of these epic explorations are depicted as one long sea voyage in this novel, considered one of the most outstanding in medieval Chinese literature.

The genre of “Xiyang ji” may be described as an adventure novel, a fantasy, a thriller, or even what is referred to in modern literature as a travelogue. In this regard, the novel was experimental for its time. The author wove into the geographical, historical, and mythological canvas of the work accurate documentary information derived from the diaries of expedition members as well as from contemporary treatises on various fields of knowledge. An inquisitive reader will find in the novel unique information that is often not found anywhere else. Examples vary from the construction of ships and the deployment of flotillas to the size of anchors and types of military armaments; there are also descriptions of the mores and customs of distant lands and of the Ming Empire itself, as well as a detailed description of the Buddhist Other World and Hell as it was imagined in China at the time. The book is deeply steeped in the philosophy of Buddhism, and it also includes references to the practices and rituals of Taoist sects. At the same time, the narrative is animated by comic and even erotic episodes.

While the present edition is an abridged version of this hundred-chapter epic, the plot and the general content of the novel are implicitly preserved in their entirety by combining all chapters thematically into larger sections and mostly cutting out the numerous descriptions of saints’ lives. Addressed to a wide range of readers, this publication contains translations of the most important and interesting chapters in their entirety, while the rest of the text is presented in the form of large fragments linked together by short, italicized narrative from the translator. The translator (whose doctoral thesis was dedicated to the study of the novel) provided a detailed commentary on the period’s historical and cultural realities, which makes this edition of interest to both foreign scholars of Chinese history and literature as well as a popular audience.

Not counting an English translation of the final fifteen chapters (Laurie Bonner-Nickless: To the Gates of Fengtu, 2017) which in fact describe only the voyage to the Other World, the novel as a full has never been translated into any language before now. Thus, it is fair to say that even in its shortened form — approximately two-thirds of the original length — the Russian edition of this epic can be rightly termed a “world premiere”.
Abstract translated by Leon Pinsky

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