J Michael Isom and Dr. Gary Williams, Asian and Near Eastern Languages
Prior to the European Renaissance, China continually led the world in virtually every conceivable field of thought and technology. Although they have temporarily fallen behind most of the industrialized world due to the lingering effects of several poor political and economic policies from the 19th and early 20th centuries, in many ways this sleeping giant is awaking once again. In fact, experts believe that, if current trends continue, China will even surpass the United States in economic and military prowess by the year 2025.
Despite China’s past and present accomplishments, few Westerners have cared to divert their glance from themselves in order to notice, quite possibly to their own detriment. As a result, knowledge regarding Chinese history as well as its rich collection of literary works has remained somewhat stagnant and in some cases has actually decreased within Western culture. I felt steps needed to be taken to help breathe more life into the precious literary works of this great nation.
During the course of my studies, I naturally turned to the Internet as a tool for academic research. It was with much dismay that I realized that of the many significant written works of China, few were available on the Internet, and of those that were available for reference, none had an English translation to accompany the Chinese text. Upon this discovery, my main task became to take several significant Chinese literary works and make them available for both casual and professional educational purposes on the Internet with the intent of converting these works into a digital format that is searchable online so that students and lovers of literature alike can use and peruse this resource for years to come.
While the works I chose cannot portray the whole of Chinese history and culture any more than Shakespeare or War and Peace can convey the entire history of Western civilization. The two works I chose however have been compared to both of these western works and are themselves, extremely highly regarded in their own culture. I choose “Dream of Red Mansions” (also know as “Dream of the Red Chamber” or Hongloumeng) written by Cao Xueqin with translation by W.F. Jenner and “Journey to the West”, written by Wu Chengen and translated by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang. My reason for choosing “Dream of Red Mansions” was that it is generally regarded as a pinnacle of ideological content and artistic attainments within Chinese literature. It gives an amazingly accurate representation of the Chinese imperial civil service examination system, marriage system, social estate system and moral concepts of feudal society in the 18th century. The picture “Journey to the West” paints, however, is much different. Journey is much older and represents a brilliant fusion of historical fiction and literary genius. A mythical rendition of the introduction of Buddhism into China, “Journey” leads readers through the adventures of the legendary monk, Sanzang, in his epic adventures to secure copies of Buddhist scripture from India for the Chinese people. Not surprisingly, it still plays a significant role in Asian culture and tradition.
After selecting the books to be used, I began identifying quality English translations of the aforementioned texts yo be used for such a project. After numerous inquiries, a publisher, China Books and Periodicals, agreed to let me use their texts for educational purposes without having to pay licensing fees. With this initial obstacle overcome, I began the process of converting the texts to an editable, electronic format. I began by having the bindings cut and then having each page scanned into a computer and saved as an individual picture file. These pictures were organized into the chapters of each of the respective books. Afterwards, I used a software program with Optical Character Recognition (OCR) capabilities to analyze and convert each picture (of a page of text) into actual, editable text.
Since OCR technology is at best only 96 percent accurate, this meant that four percent of the text had been converted with errors and needed to be corrected. In this task I sought the he lp of others in order to help expedite the process. For “Journey to the West”, I recruited and paid individuals familiar with editing to help with the task of correcting its 100 chapters. As funding depleted and the time for completion of the project grew shorter, I sought the help of Professor Linda Adams, who teaches several classes in professional editing at Brigham Young University. Recognizing that such a project would provide practical experience for her students, Professor Adams agreed to have her students help by editing “Dream of Red Mansions”.
After both of the texts had been edited, the task of converting them into a format that could be published to the web was at hand. In addition to converting the Word documents into the common hypertext markup language (HTML), that virtually all webpages use, I also converted the documents into Adobe PDF documents which offer the advantage of greater searching and collaboration capability compared to the HTML format. With the choice of the two widely-used formats, all visitors to the website should be able to view the texts.
Overall, this project has proved to be an invaluable experience in several ways. First, I have gained a greater appreciation for two of China’s great literary works, “Journey to the West” and “Dream of Red Mansions”. Second, I have discovered a deeper appreciation for the amount of planning and coordination required in the editing and publishing of a book, especially in a digital format. Finally, I felt this project has been worthwhile because of the good it has done and will continue to do by bringing a significant piece of a distant culture a little closer to our hearts.