Facing critical health issues such as visual impairment and bipolar disorder, Jin Xiaoyu remained unfazed, translating 22 foreign language works into over 6 million Chinese characters in a decade.
The 50-year-old translator lives with his 86-year-old father Jin Xingyong. Jin’s heartbreaking yet inspiring story, recently published online by the Hangzhou Daily, has touched the hearts of millions of Chinese.
“I felt very alone and was hoping someone would hear our story,” the father said in reaction to the news article that caught the public’s attention, adding that he had recently lost his wife.
The article captured Jin’s emotional story in detail, describing how his parents created a safety net to ensure his good upbringing.
The family has lived since 1988 in a 60 square meter apartment in Hangzhou, capital of Zhejiang province (east China).
Jin’s room is cramped, with books and dictionaries scattered on the shelves. The average-looking man, with black-rimmed glasses and a sparse beard, spends most of his time at the computer, incessantly pounding the keyboard.
Jin’s right eye crystal was damaged in an accident when he was six years old. He later dropped out of high school and was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, a mental illness characterized by extreme mood swings.
His mental health deteriorated to the point that he attempted suicide several times. Almost every year since 1992, Jin had to go to the hospital for treatment.
The loss of an eye severely undermined his childhood confidence and he became reserved, limiting himself to reading books at home. He even refrained from taking the national college entrance exams.
With the advent of adulthood, Jin started working in a factory and worked part-time in bookstores. He avoided talking with people and buried himself in books to learn foreign languages on his own.
In 2017, Jin’s mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and after a long illness, she recently passed away.
TRANSLATION AS A PROFESSION
Bipolar disorder can trigger outbursts of extreme anger in Jin as he would walk around breaking things around the house. Surprisingly, even during those frantic moments, he won’t harm his computer – because he understands its significance.
Earlier this year, while Jin was undergoing treatment at the mental hospital, his father gave him a Chinese version copy of the book “The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin”. He spent two years translating the German book, writing in 530,000 Chinese characters.
Jin taught himself German and Japanese and he thinks the language learning experience is the same. He first read German language textbooks, then professional books related to translation and finally original novels. “I read at least 20 original novels to learn a foreign language,” Jin said.
One of its most visited places is Zhejiang University Library. He read almost all the German and Japanese learning textbooks available at the library.
Jin takes translation seriously. During the work of translating “Andrei Tarkovsky: Elements of Cinema” he watched each director’s film at least twice and repeatedly compared the details of the film mentioned in the book.
He can work about eight hours a day and jump into action immediately after breakfast. To maintain good physical strength, he walks one hour a day as daily exercise.
Complimenting Jin’s work, one of his readers said that these words are “precise and delicate, even better than the original text”. Jin’s father is still the primary reader of his manuscripts. And it has discovered only one error so far.
The 22 books Jin has translated cover various genres, including novels, movies, music, and philosophy, among others.
Translation fees are not high – usually 50 or 60 yuan (about 8 or 9.5 US dollars) for 1,000 words. “If I weren’t sick, I would be wasting my time. I will do the translation job well, so don’t feel sorry for me,” Jin told his father, assuring him that he loved his job.
MOTHER — THE “WHEELBARROW” OF LIFE
“My mother played a big role in my career as a translator,” Jin said, adding that she was the one who first found him a trial translation opportunity.
Jin’s older brother graduated from Fudan University in Shanghai and currently lives in Australia. So, naturally, Jin became his parents’ cause for concern due to his health condition.
Jin said his mother was strict with him and, like most Chinese parents, always watched his studies closely.
Jin’s translated books are stacked on a sewing machine that belonged to his mother in the living room.
Reminiscing about the days gone by, Jin considers the clothes her mother made the most comfortable and compares her stepping on the pedal of the sewing machine to a lullaby.
Neither the sewing machine nor the clothes were touched by Jin when he was “out of control”.
During her mother’s three-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease, Jin never got carried away with her. He brought her food, washed her face and helped her bedridden mother to use the toilet.
“Keep pushing a wheelbarrow until it turns over”, Jin always keeps this Chinese saying in mind and regards his mother as the wheelbarrow of his life.
FATHER — THE DIRECTING FORCE
Jin’s father gave the publisher his own suggestions on the sample of “The Correspondence of Walter Benjamin” – in terms of wording, binding design, and format size.
“My father is a very patient man and played an important role in my life. He helped me contact the publisher at the publishing house and proofread my manuscripts very carefully,” Jin said.
Her father, a former pharmaceutical researcher, is also a bibliophile who loves the works of legendary Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev.
The news article suddenly brought father and son to the public’s attention. A motorcade volunteered to offer free rides to the elderly, but the father declined the offer, expressing his gratitude and saying he used to take the bus.
“I have enough to eat and drink, and I am satisfied. I am not in a difficult state so I will not ask others for help. I feel comfortable that way,” he said.
Jin appreciates his bond with his father. He hopes to complete the translation of “The Arcades Project” by Walter Benjamin before his father reaches the age of 88. Thereafter, he intends to take a break from his work and devote himself to learning Spanish.
“I’m not a genius and I have to work hard,” Jin said, as his father chimed in to say, “Love is the most precious thing.”
Company Name: The Hangzhou Municipal Government Information Office
Contact person: Cai Jingwen
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