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Ya’ll know the four great classic Chinese novels, right? Romance of the Three Kingdoms, Water Margin, Journey To The West and Dream of the Red Chamber. We’ll discuss translations and swap drunken monk stories another post but one translator of Water Margin— also known as Outlaws of the Marsh— is one Sidney Shapiro (b. 1915), a Brooklyn born and raised resident in China since… 1949?!

On January 31 1949, when the People’s Liberation Army came marching into Beijing – heralding the imminent demise of Chiang Kai-shek’s Guomindang regime in mainland China – Sidney Shapiro, a bespectacled 33-year-old lawyer from Brooklyn, New York, rode his bicycle up to Xizhimen, the city’s north-west gate, to take a look at the soldiers.

There, he remembered years later, he saw a parade of “clean, smartly stepping, smiling young men” being welcomed by cheering crowds, and a line of American-made vehicles that the Communists had captured from Guomindang forces. Shapiro, who had spent the last year and a half in China but had been in Beijing for only a couple of months, was enchanted. “Parents held their kids higher on their shoulders for a better view,” he later wrote. “The streets were gay with flags and bunting.” The Mao era had arrived.

Journalist Michael Donohoe tells the rest of the story “The Expatriate,” published in the United Arab Emirates-based The National. I am, if briefly, flabbergasted.

For further reading, which I strongly encourage, see Kenneth Rexroth’s essays on Dream of The Red Chamber and “The Classic Chinese Novel In Translation: The Art of Magnaminity”.

The Amazon reviews of Sidney Shapiro’s Outlaws Of The Marsh translation are themselves entertaining.

Wu Tang! Wu Tang!

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