A devoted family man, Charles Darwin allowed his children to provide the artwork on his original draft of “On the Origin of Species.”
A little more than 150 years after its initial publication, a kid-friendly illustrated Mandarin translation for other interested youngsters is selling out all over China.
This children’s publication first crawled onto the shelves as a result of a lecture by Desui Miao on Charles Darwin at Beijing’s National Zoological Museum. A 10-year-old boy raised his hand to ask a question.
He’d enjoyed the author’s talk about his academic translation of “On the Origin of Species,” the boy said, but had not understood everything. Could Miao write another book, this one for Chinese kids?
“I cavalierly said, ‘Sure.’ I didn’t know what this all entailed. But how can you say ‘no’ to a kid?” said Miao, the collections manager at Kansas University’s Biodiversity Institute. But the point of his China tour was to promote his more conventional, academic translation.
Then the question came up again after the session, this time from an attending journalist, who promised to find a publisher. That turned out to be Jieli Publishing House, one of the leading producers of children’s books in China.
The first printing of the illustrated kids’ version sold out in less than four months, the same for a reprinting. All told more than 20,000 copies have been sold since January.
With about 14 million 10-year-olds in China, probably a few more royalties are out there.
“Not just kids, but parents also like the book, because it is easier for the lay person to understand,” said Miao.
Call it an adaptation of a earlier creation — that being Miao’s first academic translation in 2009 of the first edition of “Origin,” which has sold 16,000 copies.
Previous translations in China were taken from the sixth edition, a problematic version, according to Miao.
“By the sixth edition, Darwin had to give in to criticism. He backpedaled. The original edition is seen as the most revolutionary.”
While Darwin’s theories are considered contentious by some religious conservatives in the United States, no such controversy exists in China.
When initially asked for the kids’ version, Miao balked. “I felt the process would be too time-consuming,” he said.
But Huang Ying, editor at Yilin Press, didn’t give up on enlisting the bilingual paleontologist as the translator. “Ying’s persistence paid off,” he said.
The translation took Miao nearly two years. The 19th-century English zoologist’s long, convoluted sentences proved difficult to translate.
“My translation is easier to read and is overall a more accurate translation. I cannot say there are no mistakes, but I think there are fewer mistakes than in others.”
Miao spoke highly of his experience in adapting Darwin’s seminal work, considered by many to be the foundation for evolutionary biology, and was especially excited about the illustrated edition.
“Taking complex ideas and making them simple was a great challenge. The children’s book is very fun, and the main concepts still remain.”
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