"... Here’s my translation of the short foreword to the 2010 edition I bought in Yanji which was published by Qunyan Press 群言出版社 in Beijing. The translation (and presumably the foreword) are by Fu Qiang 富强, which is a pseudonym meaning “rich and strong”. I have uploaded the Chinese original here. <<
George Orwell (1903-1950) was a British novelist. Among world novels there are the so-called “dystopian trilogy, consisting of We 我们 by the Soviet Union’s Zamyatin, Brave New World 美丽新世界 by Britain’s Huxley and the present work by Orwell, 1984.
To put it briefly, this book is a political satire. The plot is strange, grotesque, but it seems to obey certain rules of social development. The novel describes the evil development of totalitarianism which has developed to an appalling degree – human nature has been strangled, freedom has been eradicated, thought has been suppressed and life has become extremely monotonous.
Just like this book, the book that made Orwell famous, Animal Farm, is a very accurate – but similarly biased – novel. All the characters are animals, and the plot is strange and original, with a strong comic element, and to this extent it is pervaded by fear. But Nineteen Eighty-four is entirely lacking in comedy and a bone-chilling sense of fear fills the entire work.
The fear isn’t gory and physical however but reflects a hopeless feeling that human nature has been extinguished. For example, the novel describes an official language called Newspeak 新语言 whose use is compulsory and whose purpose is to reduce the number of words in the language to the smallest possible number so that people will not be able to think except in terms of concepts that the state has decided. Furthermore, no Party member can avoid being officially monitored and there is an electronic screen in every room that cannot be turned off, and the screen accurately transmits each sound [that it hears] to the “Thought Police”.
Nineteen Eighty-four is Orwell’s [most] enduring work. Not only do readers love it but it is deeply respected by scholars. Some of the words and phrases invented in the book, such as Big Brother 老大哥，Doublethink 双重思想，Newspeak and Thought Police 思想警察are listed in authoritative English dictionaries and are even in world circulation. Everybody acknowledges that Nineteen Eighty-four is an extremely graphic description of totalitarianism, and is also an extremely fierce retort 反抗 to totalitarianism. The New York Times praised this book: “No other work of this generation has made us desire freedom more earnestly or loathe tyranny with such fullness.” Many people are convinced that “if one more person reads Orwell, there will be one more guarantee of freedom.”
In fact, Nineteen Eighty-four isn’t purely a political novel but is a journey that asks questions about good and evil and beauty and ugliness in human nature and about reality. But while it cares about human nature it does not turn the novel into a dry textbook or manifesto. If that’s all it was it wouldn’t have attracted so many readers from all around the world. Even though what it talks about is politics, what it is really concerned about is human nature. Mixing and human nature together so they are inseparable is Orwell’s most successful achievement.
This is a book which reveals great truths and no matter how many times you read it you will reach a deeper understanding each time. So far as the reader is concerned, this is a challenge to his or her intelligence and is also a rare opportunity to gain wisdom.
It’s worth noting incidentally that the comments about human nature being strangled, freedom eradicated, thought suppressed and life becoming extremely monotonous seem to have been taken straight from Fu Weici.
Recommended Citation: Michael Rank, “Orwell in China: Big Brother in every bookshop,” The Asia-Pacific Journal, Vol. 11, Issue 23, No. 2, June 9, 2014.
Michael Rank is a British journalist and translator. He graduated in Chinese Studies from Downing College, Cambridge in 1972 and was a British Council student in Peking and Shanghai from 1974 to 1976. He was a Reuters correspondent in China from 1980 to 1984, followed by two years in east and southern Africa. He has written about an English school in Tibet in the 1920s for the Bulletin of Tibetology as well as news reports.