Yang Xianyi

Yang Xianyi (simplified Chinese: 杨宪益; traditional Chinese: 楊憲益; pinyin: Yáng Xiànyì; Wade–Giles: Yang Hsien-i; January 10, 1915 – November 23, 2009)[1] was a Chinese literary translator, known for rendering many ancient and a few modern Chinese classics into English, including Dream of the Red Chamber.

Yang Xianyi
Yang Xianyi and wife Gladys in 1941
Born(1915-01-10)January 10, 1915
DiedNovember 23, 2009(2009-11-23) (aged 94)
Other namesYang Hsien-i
Spouse(s)Gladys Yang

Born into a wealthy banking family in Tianjin, he was sent to Merton College, Oxford to study Classics in 1936.[2] There he married Gladys Tayler. They had two daughters and a son (who committed suicide in 1979).

Yang and his wife returned to China in 1940, and began their decades long co-operation of introducing Chinese classics to the English-speaking world. Working for the Foreign Languages Press in Beijing, a government-funded publisher, the husband and wife team produced a number of quality translations. The works translated include classical Chinese poetry; such classic works as Dream of the Red Chamber, The Unofficial History of the Scholars, Liu E's Mr. Decadent: Notes Taken in an Outing (老殘遊記), also known as The Travels of Lao Can, and some of Lu Xun's stories.

Yang was also the first one to render the Odyssey into Chinese (prose) from the ancient Greek original. He also translated Aristophanes's Ornithes, Virgil's Georgics, La chanson de Roland and Bernard Shaw's Pygmalion into Chinese.

He narrowly escaped being labeled a "rightist" in 1957-58 for his frank speaking.[3] However, Yang and his wife Gladys were imprisoned for four years as "class enemies" in 1968 during the Cultural Revolution.[4] Gladys died in 1999.

He was also noted for writing doggerel. His autobiography, White Tiger, was published in 2003.


  1. "[Translator Yang Xianyi passes away at 94, translator of Dream of the Red Chamber to English]" (in Chinese). Xinhua News Agency. 24 Nov 2009.
  2. Levens, R.G.C., ed. (1964). Merton College Register 1900-1964. Oxford: Basil Blackwell. p. 279.
  3. Yang, Xiangyi, ed. (2003). White Tiger - An Autobiography of Yang Xiangyi. Hong Kong: The Chinese University Press. p. 220-70.
  4. "Obituary: Yang Xianyi". The Telegraph (UK). 10 Dec 2009.
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