Communicating through the ages
[b]Gao Man — translator and promoter of Belarusian literature in China[/b]Our country is soon to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of national Belarusian poet Maxim Tank. A bright and broad-minded person, he travelled widely — with Soviet delegations, and with political and public figures, with fellow writers, and alone. He was invited by the art organisations of other soviet republics and by nations around the world. In his tenth volume of poetry, he mentions dozens of places with which his life was connected. He often referred to China and its writers, having spent 1957 in this distant Eastern country. His Chinese cycle of poetry was inspired by his tour of China, accompanied by young translator and publicist Gao Man.
Our country is soon to celebrate the hundredth anniversary of the birth of national Belarusian poet Maxim Tank. A bright and broad-minded person, he travelled widely — with Soviet delegations, and with political and public figures, with fellow writers, and alone. He was invited by the art organisations of other soviet republics and by nations around the world.
In his tenth volume of poetry, he mentions dozens of places with which his life was connected. He often referred to China and its writers, having spent 1957 in this distant Eastern country. His Chinese cycle of poetry was inspired by his tour of China, accompanied by young translator and publicist Gao Man.
Of course, years pass. In December 1983, Maxim Tank wrote in his diary: ‘K.Sherman, who has just returned from the Moscow Translators’ Council, passed on Gao Man’s regards. I thought that he had died during the Cultural Revolution in China...’ On January 5th, 1987, he wrote: ‘...My old friend Gao Man is to visit. It is such a pity that I can’t meet to thank him for translating my poetry into Chinese and for publishing my book of poems.’ Four days later, on January 9th, he wrote: ‘Ge Baotuan has come. Oh, my illness has come at the wrong time!’ His ‘Selected works’ (Beijing, 1958) were translated into Chinese by Ge Baotuan and Wu Lanhan (the 6th volume of ‘Belarusian Writers’ mistakenly spells his surname as Uhlanhan). However, Wu Lanhan was actually Gao Man’s pseudonym. Tank’s notes of January, 1987, read that Gao Man should arrive soon but he only reached Moscow. It was Ge Baotuan who came to Minsk.
Sadly, after 1957, Tank never again met his translator. However, Gao Man (or Wu Lanhan) was clearly a special person, to be remembered by the Belarusian poet for so many decades. As he was born in 1926, it seemed unlikely that he would still be alive but we asked the Chief Editor of the ‘Russian Literature and Art’ magazine and Doctor of Philosophy Xia Zhongxian to help, in early June, 2011. Professor Zhongxian was on a trip, so didn’t respond immediately but, by the middle of August, we had the address of Gao Man, his phone number, and his daughter’s e-mail. We made contact with the oldest Chinese translator and publicist, an active promoter of Russian and Soviet literature
He gave us his recollections of Maxim Tank from October, 1957. He long ago wrote: ‘It was unexpected that, after so many years had passed, there was a person in Belarus who had read my article about painter Georgiy Poplavskiy. The article was written long ago. I suppose, there are details which need to be corrected...” He had written about the Belarusian painter, artist and craftsman Georgiy for a Chinese newspaper. After translation into Belarusian, the text was published in ‘Literature and Art’.
“I was in Minsk 56 years ago [in 1955 — А. К.],” he tells us. “At that time, the main street was under construction. I don’t remember the details of my trip but I met sculptor Zair Azgur. After many years, I received a collection of my works from him. On the front cover, with a shaking hand, he had written his signature.”
He speaks of Zair Azgur in his letter of August 28th, 2011: ‘At that time, we chatted a lot with Zair Azgur in Minsk. Then, a few years later, influenced by this meeting, I wrote ‘Before meeting Zair Azgur himself in 1955, I saw his works — busts, memorials and high reliefs — dedicated to the heroes of the Great Patriotic War. I was impressed by how the sculptor had welcomed the Chinese delegation to his studio. They hugged. For a long time, and with enthusiasm, he chatted about ancient Chinese culture, praising the new changes in China. In the end he said that he’d certainly visit China, then added that, if he failed to do so, then his son would certainly make the journey. Those words have always stayed in my heart’.
He continues, “In 1956, I met Azgur in Moscow. By that time, the Belarusian artist had finished the Chinese writer Lu Xun’s bust. I thought how amazing his skill was that he could create a sculpture of the great Chinese thinker and writer from such a remote distance. Soon afterwards, the bust was donated to the Chinese Government. I remember that snowy day, when there were so many visitors to Lu Xun’s memorial house. Each spent quite some time looking at the ‘Belarusian’ Lu Xun and, from the sparkle in their eyes, I knew that my countrymen were moved by the artist from that distant land. Our central newspaper ‘Yinzminz Yizbau’ published a photo of Azgur’s sculpture of
He wrote more about the People’s Poet of Belarus: ‘In 1957, Belarusian poet Maxim Tank joined a Soviet art delegation and I accompanied him. We visited many places in our country. Afterwards, he released his poetry collection which includes works about China’.
The third volume of Maxim Tank works (Minsk, ‘Belarusian Science’, 2007), includes poems from 1954 to 1964: ‘The Great Chinese Wall’, ‘Qi Baishi’, ‘Longmen Caves’, ‘Kerchief’, ‘Rice Bowl’, ‘Bridge of Eternal Peace’, ‘White Horse’, ‘Bronze Mirror’, ‘I’ve Waited Half the Day for You’, ‘Drought in Henan Province’, ‘In the Shadow of the Memorial on Lake Dinghu’, ‘Yangzi’, ‘Tray of Coconut’, and ‘Old Tale’.
In these and other works, Tank tackled diverse themes, speaking enthusiastically about the rich history of China. He was interested in the social change which had arrived with the communist government. He meditates on the role and place of the artist in society, and his relations with people. Sadly, this volume is missing some of his Chinese cycle poems. We hope the omission may be rectified, with all of the poems published in one complete volume.
“Ge Baotuan and I translated them into Chinese and published his poetry collection,” explains Gao Man. “I wrote an afterword, before the Soviet Union collapsed...”
It’s intriguing that he was so interested in Russian and Soviet literature and culture. He explains, “I was born in 1926, in Harbin, living there for over 20 years. At that time, there were many immigrants — especially Russian people. I studied at the Christian Union of Young Men, where most of the teachers and students were Russian. There were also representatives of other nationalities, but we didn’t distinguish between them, as all spoke Russian...”
Harbin is one Chinese city which most Belarusian people are familiar with, as Novogrudok Catholic priest Fabian Abrantovich (1884—1946) was sent there in November, 1928. He was the apostolical executive for Russian Catholics in Manchuria and wrote several articles for Belarusian religious editions. From 1918—1919, he corresponded in a friendly fashion with Yanka Kupala.
In the early 1930s, Yazep Hermanovich (born in 1890 in Galshany) headed St. Nicholas the Miracle Worker lyceum in Harbin. His ‘China — Siberia — Moscow’ was published in Belarusian, Polish, Italian and Russian. It would be wonderful to see it also released in Chinese.
‘From childhood’, wrote Gao Man, ‘I learned Russian and loved this country and its people. Russian literature and art awake sympathy for simple, working people in their fight for liberation. We, Chinese people, the owners of our own country, lived then under pressure from Japan, so Russian literature opened our eyes’. He knows Volkovisk native Vsevolod Ivanov but didn’t meet him in Harbin. He tells us, “I was still a child, so didn’t understand anything and didn’t know about this writer. Many years later, I found his name and works among literary materials and wanted to read his works about China — ‘Typhoon on Yangzi’, ‘Shandong’, and ‘The Way to Diamante Mounting’...”
Speaking again of Maxim Tank, he notes that they knew each other before his visit to China. As soon as he arrived in Beijing, he wanted to meet Qi Baishi but the old artist had already passed away, so they visited his grave.
We know little about Qi Baishi (1860—1957), as his life is a total mystery. In fact, biographers differ in opinion regarding his date of birth: 1864, 1863, 1861 or 1860. It’s known that he was born to a poor family in Hunan Province and, when he was nine, began learning calligraphy and painting. At 28, he became an apprentice of artist Hu Tinyuan, learning Chinese national ‘guo hua’ painting. He moved to Beijing in 1917. At 66, he was invited to become a professor of the Painting Department at Beijing Art University. In 1953, he was chosen to be the first Chairman of the Chinese Artists’ Union and the Chinese Ministry of Culture awarded him the title ‘Great Chinese People’s Artist’. In 1956, he was awarded the International World Premium and died on September 16th, 1957, two weeks before Maxim Tank arrived in Beijing. Even in the Ukrainian town of Zolochiv, there is a monument to the Chinese artist, and his works are held by the State Museum of Oriental Art (Moscow) and by the Hermitage (St. Petersburg).
On August 28th, 2011, Gao Man wrote: ‘After M. Tank returned to his homeland, we communicated but, sadly, his letters disappeared during the dark years of the Cultural Revolution’.
His memory lived on however, on both sides, as did Maxim Tank’s memories of China — through his poetry. One verse reads:
When you visit this paradise,
Believe, that you see it in reality, not in a dream:
Wonderful Beihai Park and Beihai Lake,
Which shines in a golden setting, like nephrite.
China also remembers Maxim Tank. In his book of selected poems, Gao Man refers to Maxim Tank as one of the brightest Belarusian poets, with a wider use of language than Lu Xun, Ai Qing, or other Chinese poetic classics.
One of Gao Man’s recent works translates Maxim Tank’s poem ‘Lao She’ — written in 1988 (only discovered by the Chinese translator recently). He gives an interlinear translation into Chinese.
Some details from Gao Man’s (Wu Lanhan’s) biography are still worth mentioning. He was born in 1926 and now lives in Beijing. For a long time, he was the Chief Editor of ‘World Literature’ magazine, gathering the best translators for the job and actively translating the works of Pushkin, Lermontov, Bunin, Akhmatova, Pasternak and others. He wrote ‘Notes on Russian Visual Art’ and is an Honoured Artiste of Russia, awarded the Russian Order of Friendship.
Gao Man has translated journalistic works by Svetlana Aleksievich — in particular, her documental ‘Zink Boys’. In 2011, he met the Belarusian poet Naum Galperovich, in Beijing, dedicating a poem of his own to his visitor from Minsk. He is also a calligrapher, and has painted portraits of Belarusian writers such as Yakub Kolas, Yanka Kupala, Ales Adamovich, Vasil Bykov, Maxim Tank, Svetlana Aleksievich, and Naum Galperovich. Reproductions of these works have been given to the Belarusian writers.
Interest from the bright and multifaceted personality of Gao Man is testament to the fascinating qualities of Belarusian literature and culture.
By Ales Karlukevich