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


Yang Xianyi: In Tribute | China Heritage Quarterly

Frances Wood 吴芳思
Chinese Section, British Library

Friends have spoken of Xianyi's extraordinary breadth of knowledge, of his work as a translator from Greek, Latin and English into Chinese and from Chinese into English. They have spoken of his steadfastness in the face of danger and tragedy, and of the exceptional partnership with his wife, Gladys. All of these things were true of Xianyi. I wanted simply to add that, knowing him for thirty-five years, one of the things that struck me about him, always a witty and generous host, was that he was a great 'enjoyer'. He took great pleasure from the company of friends and he greatly enjoyed giving them presents. He obviously enjoyed shopping and the opening of the free market outside the Foreign Languages Press enabled him to shop on a daily basis. He observed the arrival of new things: flowers and gardening accessories, fresh water fleas for pet goldfish, a delightful goose that Xianyi took home on a string but couldn't bear to kill.

He found the little newts, 娃娃鱼, with their black backs and pale grey stomachs spotted with red, delightful to look at and bought lots and gave them away. I remember an evening in the Yang's house with Wang Meng, then a deputy Minister of Culture I think and Xianyi pressing him to accept a couple of little newts. There was the evening I visited with Rose Kerr, Head of the Asia Department of the Victoria and Albert Museum and Wang Shixiang, the great furniture and lacquer specialist from the Palace Museum. Xianyi had been to Shaoxing and come back with lots of the black felt, Chico Marx hats. We shared a taxi home. Wang Shixiang sat in the front and Rose and I, proudly wearing our black felt hats, sat in the back. The driver whispered to Wang Shixiang, '她们是不是尼姑?'(Are they nuns?), which delighted Xianyi when we told him.