The Wilderness Sings in China, Too

By David Backes
Published in the Summer 2016 LPF Newsletter, page 7

Excerpts from Sigurd’s writings have been published in a variety of languages, including Russian and Arabic, but a Chinese company is the first to publish a complete translation of one of Sigurd’s books. SDX Joint Publishing Co. in Beijing has published a Chinese edition of The Singing Wilderness, and sent me several copies just in time for the Listening Point Foundation annual luncheon in St. Paul on April 9.

It was a long time in the making. I was contacted by the publisher in the summer of 2010, and there were several exchanges of emails but communication was difficult and spotty. Once they published it, they were supposed to send me copies for the LPF, the Sigurd Olson Environmental Institute, and the Olson family. I never heard from them after 2010, and wondered if they ever finished it.

That fall of 2010, at my annual conference of the North American Association for Environmental Education, I met and became friends with a young Chinese woman, Yan Zhu, who was starting a doctoral program in Florida. She happened to have spent some time at Wolf Ridge, and so she knew of Sigurd Olson and had read The Singing Wilderness. She was excited to learn that a Chinese publisher was interested in making available a translation.

After years of no communication from China, we both wondered what had happened. This past December Jo Jo (as friends call her) finished her PhD and moved back to China. Soon after arriving, she discovered that the book had been published in 2012! Jo Jo set about learning who to contact, and making sure they lived up to the agreement to send those books. The surprise package from China arrived at my house on April 2.

The translator is Cheng Hong, a professor in the foreign languages department at Capital University of Economics and Business, in Beijing. She has taught English there for more than 30 years, and during a period in the mid-1990s as a visiting scholar at Brown University in Rhode Island she developed an interest in nature writing and eco-criticism. She has one book of her own about British and American nature writers, called Tranquility is Beyond Price, and has published several translations, including Sigurd Olson’s The Singing Wilderness, John Burroughs’ Wake-Robin, Henry Beston’s The Outermost House, and Terry Tempest Williams’ Refuge: An Unnatural History of Family and Place.

Her husband, by the way, is Li Kequiang. Li just happens to be Premier of the People’s Republic of China—the head of China’s government.  He took that office in March 2013.

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