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汪曾祺 尾巴 translation: Tail, by Wang Zengqi (小说三篇)

This is a translation of the short story 尾巴 (‘Tail’) by the Chinese author 汪曾祺 (Wang Zengqi). The story can be found in the anthology 小说三篇 (‘Three Novels’).

This story was one of three texts on my final year Chinese → English translation exam at university. By luck I happened to have translated it for practice some time before the exam, so I was already half-familiar with it. This is my rough translation of the story - please share any suggestions in the comments at the end of the page.


小说三篇 Three Novels

尾巴 Tail

人事顾问老黄是个很有意思的人。 Personnel Advisor Old Huang is a very interesting person.

工厂里本来没有“人事顾问”这种奇怪的职务,只是因为他曾经做过多年人事工作,肚子里有一部活档案; At first the factory didn't have this strange "Personnel Advisor" position - it was just because he'd done many years of personnel work, and he had a mental record of it all;

近二年岁数大了,身体也不太好,时常闹一点腰酸腿疼,血压偏高,就自己要求当了顾问,所顾的也还多半是人事方面的问题,因此大家叫他人事顾问。 He's got older in the last two years, and his health isn't very good - he often gets pain in his lower back and legs, and his blood pressure is quite high; he requested to be made an Advisor himself, and more than half of what he advises on are Personnel matters, so everyone calls him the Personnel Advisor.

这本是个外号,但是听起来倒像是个正式职称似的。 Originally it was just a nickname, but it sounded like it was actually the name of an official position.

有关人事工作的会议,只要他能来,他是都来的。 He would always come to meetings about personnel matters if he could.

来了,有时也发言,有时不发言。 When he came, sometimes he would speak and sometimes he wouldn't.

他的发言有人爱听,有人不爱听。 Some people loved to listen to him speak, and some people didn't.

他看的杂书很多,爱讲故事。 He read a great variety of books, and loved to tell stories.

在很严肃的会上有时也讲故事。 Even at very serious meetings he would still tell stories.

下面就是他讲的故事之一。 Below is one of the stories he told.

厂里准备把一个姓林的工程师提升为总工程师,领导层意见不一,有赞成的,有反对的,已经开了多次会,定不下来。 The factory was preparing to promote an engineer surnamed Lin to the position of Chief Engineer, but the managers had a difference of opinion; some supported it, some opposed it, and there had already been many meetings without any decision.

赞成的意见不必说了,反对的意见,归纳起来,有以下几条: Those who supported it need not be described here; as for those who opposed it, their views could be summarised into the following:

一、他家庭出身不好,是资本家; One, his family background wasn't good - it was a capitalist family;

二、社会关系复杂,有海外关系;有个堂兄还在台湾; Two, his social connections were complicated - he had overseas connections and a cousin in Taiwan;

三、反右时有右派言论; Three, during the Anti-Rightist Movement he'd made rightist remarks;

四、群众关系不太好,说话有时很尖刻…… Four, his public relations weren't very good - he was often quite vitriolic when he spoke...

其中反对最力的是一个姓董的人事科长,此人爱激动,他又说不出什么理由,只是每次都是满脸通红地说: Of them, the person who opposed it most forcefully was a Personnel Section Chief surnamed Dong, who loved to get riled up; he wouldn't give any reasons, but every time his face would redden and he'd say:

“知识分子!哼!知识分子!” "An intellectual! Ugh! An intellectual!"

翻来复去,只是这一句话。 Over and over, it was always that one sentence.

人事顾问听了几次会,没有表态。 The Personnel Advisor listened to a few meetings without expressing an opinion.

党委书记说:“老黄,你也说两句!” The Part Committee Secretary said: "Old Huang, why don't you say a word or two?"

老黄慢条斯理地说:“我讲一个故事吧——“ Old Huang said slowly and deliberately: "I'll tell a story..."

从前,有一个人,叫做艾子。 _Once upon a time, there was a person, called Ai Zi._

艾子有一回坐船,船停在江边。 _Once, Ai Zi was on a boat, and moored the boat by the riverside._

半夜里,艾子听见江底下一片哭声。 _In the middle of the night, Ai Zi heard the sound of crying from under the water._

仔细一听,是一群水族在哭。 _He listened carefully - it was a group of water animals crying._

艾子问:‘你们哭什么?’ _Ai Zi asked: "Why are you crying?"_

水族们说:‘龙王有令,水族中凡是有尾巴的都要杀掉,我们都是有尾巴的,所以在这里哭。’ _The water animals said: "The Dragon King has given an order - all water animals with a tail are to be killed; we all have tails, so we're crying here."_

艾子听了,深表同情。 _Ai Zi listened, and expressed his deepest sympathies._

艾子看看,有一只蛤蟆也在哭,艾子很奇怪,问这蛤蟆: _Ai Zi looked, and there was a frog crying as well; Ai Zi thought that was strange, so he asked the frog:_

‘你哭什么呢?你又没有尾巴!’ _"Why are you crying? You don't have a tail!"_

蛤蟆说:‘我怕龙王要追查起我当蝌蝌时候的事儿呀!’” _The frog said: "I'm afraid that the Dragon King will investigate and find that when I was a tadpole, I had a tail!"_

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