June 30, 2023 – Posted in: Last King of Shang – Tags:

We’ve been working on a new series of graded readers based on 封神榜 , commonly known as Investiture of the Gods. We just released the first of six volumes. One of our biggest challenges has been to find a high quality English translation to work from.

Our writing process for 封神榜  and 西游记 (Journey to the West) has been for me (Jeff) to write the English version first, adapting the story to make sure that the vocabulary and writing style is fun to read but simple enough to be understood by people learning to read Chinese. Since I’m not fluent in Chinese, I generally work from existing English translations of the book, referring to the original text afterwards to check on meaning, add color, and so on. When I’m finished, Xiao Hui translates my manuscript into Chinese, and we go back and forth with the two versions until we’re both satisfied with the result.

When we wrote the 西游记 series, we were very fortunate to have a terrific unabridged English translation by Dr. Joseph Yu. But with 封神榜  it’s been a far different story. The only reasonably complete English version of 封神榜  that I’ve been able to find is Creation of the Gods I, II, III and IV by Xu Zhonglin, translated by Gu Zhizhong. Unfortuately this is not a very good translation. The English is awkward and clearly not written by someone who’s fluent in the language. Nearly all the poetry has been stripped out. And much of the colorful language is missing. As a result, the text reads more like a poorly written newspaper account instead of a gripping novel. We have been able to work around this to some degree, by referring back to the original Chinese novel, but it’s been a slow and difficult process.

There is also a highly abridged version of 封神榜 called Investiture of the Gods Feng Shen Yanyi, author and publisher unknown. This is very short, roughly 1/10 the length of the original novel. So it’s useful as an outline of the general plot, but does not serve as a useful translation. And it doesn’t have anything that’s not already in the Gu Zhizhong version. In fact, I suspect that whoever wrote this was working from the Gu Zhizhong version instead of the original Chinese.

Recently I discovered another English version that’s actually quite good but is still in development. It’s a podcast called, not surprisingly, the Investiture of the Gods Podcast, written and narrated by John Zhu. It’s written in a breezy, contemporary style and is clearly made by someone who is fluent in English as well as Chinese. As of right now Mr. Zhu has only finished about 1/3 of the novel, but he seems to be publishing a new chapter every couple of weeks, so I hope he finishes the project within the next year!

Honestly I’m surprised that there are no high quality complete translations of this book, considering its importance in Chinese culture. Dr. Yu, where are you when we need you?

If anyone can find a translation that’s not listed here, please leave a comment and let us know!


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