By Go Bon Juan – Through the materials provided to us by Shi Yang, Philippine Studies instructor at the Foreign Language Institute of Peking University, we were able to trace what could be the first Chinese translation of Jose Rizalâ€™s last poem, â€œMi Ultimo Adios (My Last Farewell),â€ and its translator. The translation was done by Ma Jun Wa and published in the March 1903 issue of the journal Sein Min Choong Bou.
A poet and educator, Ma (1881 to 1940) is acknowledged as the first great Chinese translator of foreign poems. The fortnightly Sein Min Choong Bou was a political journal put up by the famous reformist and scholar Liang Qi Chao in Yokohama, Japan, between 1902 and 1907.
In his article â€œThe Patriot of Philippines,â€ Ma said he came to know about â€œMi Ultimo Adiosâ€ through a freedom-loving Filipino student in Japan. A close friend of his, this Filipino would recite the poem during drinking sessions. In time, Ma became Rizalâ€™s admirer.
He wrote, â€œI am always saddened and worried that in the vast East Asian region in the poor Asian continent, there are no slaves loyal to the king, but no patriotic heroes, until I read the Revolutionary History of the Philippines. I realized that in Asia, we are fortunate to have a patriotic hero. His name is Dr. Jose Rizal.â€
Maâ€™s Chinese translation of â€œMi Ultimo Adiosâ€ was reprinted twice in China, on April 15, 1903 in Womenâ€™s Journal, Vol. 2 No. 2 in Shanghai and in 1904, in Essential Poems in Educating Students, Vol. 3 No. 2, also in Shanghai, although the translator was not identified.
The poemâ€™s appearance in three Chinese publications at the time indicates how highly this Chinese thought of our national hero. Rizal was given such importance that his famous patriotic poem was required reading for students in patriotism education.
From the materials we have gathered so far, there are as many as 21 Chinese versions of â€œMi Ultimo Adiosâ€ translated by writers in China, Hong Kong, Singapore and in the Philippines, including a translation by Maâ€™s mentor, Liang Qi Chao.
Unfortunately, we have only found the third stanza of Liangâ€™s translation, not the full text. We donâ€™t even know when Liang translated it and where he first published it.
But since Liang and Ma were colleagues, both having written for Sein Min Choong Bou, we can assume that if Liang had translated Rizalâ€™s poem earlier than Ma, then Ma would have mentioned it in his article. He did not.
Thus, it might be safe to say that Maâ€™s Chinese translation of â€œMi Ultimo Adiosâ€ is the first Chinese translation of this great poem.