CHINA HERITAGE QUARTERLY China Heritage Project, The Australian National University ISSN 1833-8461
No. 25, March 2011


Yang Xianyi: In Tribute | China Heritage Quarterly

Colin Mackerras

I first got to know the Yangs when I was living and teaching in China from 1964 to 1966. I used to go and see them almost weekly for a period, and have dinner with them. I grew very attached both to Xianyi and Gladys and loved them both for themselves and because they knew so much about China and always had an independent view, one that was based on real experience, love of humanity and of China and an unparalleled knowledge both of traditional and contemporary China and especially Chinese culture. I mourned deeply that they were imprisoned during the Cultural Revolution. However, I admired them all the more that they were able to survive this experience undiminished in strength, and continued to see them when I visited and lived in Beijing after that. I have visited China nearly 60 times now and lived there for extended periods over five or six times, and saw them frequently during visits. Xianyi was particularly strong in the way he was able to overcome adversity and was able to take the alcohol much better. It was wonderful that he was able to live in a really nice hutong in the Houhai area towards the end of his life, a really splendid place, traditional yet also with the comforts that modernity has brought. He richly deserved the honours that came to him towards the end of his life. I remember him as extremely learned, passionate, gentle, among the most humane people I have ever known, in short a perfect gentleman. And his and Gladys's contribution to translating Chinese literature, traditional, modern and contemporary, into English is immeasurable.

Both my wife Alyce, who was with me in the 1960s when we first got to know the Yangs, and I send our best wishes for the occasion of the first anniversary of Xianyi's passing.