Yang Xianyi

Yang Xianyi's English translation of the Chinese classic Dream of the Red Chamber is a monumental work still found in libraries and bookstores around the world. What makes his endeavor more remarkable was that it was completed during the 1966-76 Cultural Revolution, when scholars were targeted for their interest in Chinese tradition and foreign learning. Yang, who died Nov. 23 at 94, spent four years in prison at the height of the upheaval, as did his wife Gladys, whom he met while studying at Oxford in the late 1930s.

The couple were devoted to scholarship, not politics. In the early 1950s,...

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