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Publisher decodes classics for Portuguese readers

Published: 2022-07-14 17:18:05

MACAO-From the Confucianism classic series The Four Books and poems by Li Bai and Tao Yuanming to a collection of painting masterpieces, the Portuguese literati in Macao have dived deep into Chinese culture and are working to present its essence to Portuguese-speaking people.

The translated books have been printed by Livros do Meio, a publishing house in Macao, which is dedicated to introducing literary works about China in the Portuguese language.

Carlos Morais Jose, who was born in Lisbon, Portugal, and first came to Macao in 1990, founded the publishing house. "It took years for the authors to translate Chinese classics into Portuguese," says Jose, who is also the director of Hoje Macau, a local newspaper in Portuguese.

"At first, I decided there should be a special section in the newspaper to promote the dissemination of Chinese culture and the publication of its fundamental texts in order to bring the Portuguese-speaking community closer to them," he says. "We translated the texts bit by bit and then published them in book form."

Jose, who translated The Four Books, the Chinese classic series illustrating the core values and beliefs of Confucianism, says the challenges were huge, particularly in philosophical and literary terms. "It is necessary to make several notes, so that the readers get the context and understand the classics," he says. "Hence, translators need to have a deep knowledge of the original texts."

Having earned a degree in anthropology before moving to Macao over three decades ago, Jose says he was always interested in Chinese culture. "It is vast and deep in so many areas," he emphasizes.

He believes it is good for people in Portuguese-speaking countries to understand the greatness of Chinese history and culture, and have a glimpse of their complexities in areas ranging from economics to literature and fine arts.

Jose says communication currently is not always done in the best way owing to inadequate mutual understanding between the two sides. He suggests that more Chinese literary classics, as well as relevant documentaries, be translated into Portuguese, and that more incentives be offered for such work.

"Translation has been a lonely but exciting job. Personally, I have grown a lot with my work. As a Confucian would say, it has forced me into a serious inner cultivation. But financially, it has been a disaster," he quips.

Jose Manuel Mendes, who works for the publishing house, says their readers are mainly Portuguese-speaking people living in Macao and college students studying Portuguese in Macao or in the Chinese mainland.

Recently, the publishing house decided to donate some books to dedicated institutions in the Chinese mainland, including around 30 universities with Portuguese language majors and the Portuguese divisions of major media organizations.

"We hope to reach more readers, not only in China, but also in Portuguese-speaking countries," Mendes says.

"One of the main challenges is tax, which will make the books very expensive in these countries and hence, barely profitable."

Jose says they will keep trying to attain a wider readership. "We will stick to books about China. The subject is almost infinite," he adds.

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