listen up les mis fandom, let me tell you the story of how the brick was translated into chinese: long story short, love, blood, tears, frustration, and 50 years of pain.

so Yu Fang and Dan Li (I’m just gonna call them Yu and Dan for short) met in university in france studying french lit and violin, respectively. they were first introduced to les mis at a seminar about hugo’s work in ~1921, and literally bonded over their shared love of this book. after getting married and returning to china, they decided to start translating the brick, no big deal, dan finished up to book 3 in 1932 and sent in the preliminary manuscript– only for a military aircraft to bomb shanghai and destroy the press where the manuscript was being held… of course there was no other copy, and years of work were lost in a blaze of flame. so the war came and went and in 1954, when everything was finally sort of okay again, Dan was invited to retranslate the entire thing. so like the trooper he did… up to book 3. 

just as he was almost finished with book 3 again… it’s the year 1966 and boom, cultural revolution. the couple were both locked up for their involvement in now-banned literature and endured years of physical, mental, and emotional toil. they were released in 1977 and went home… only to find that the manuscript they’d kept hidden in an old paper box had been torn to shreds by mice and time. dan was 71 at that point, but still tried to secretly retranslate everything for the third time, and he did, up to book 4- but by then, his health was failing and in 1977 had to be admitted to the hospital. up to the very moment he died in hospital, he was still mulling over his old french dictionary and trying to finish his work, nearly nonsensical near the end but still mumbling translations. when he died, his family found bits of his translation of book 5 under his pillow. there was no satisfying conclusion to his nearly 50 years of work (1929-1977). 

dan’s death took a hard toll on his wife: she couldn’t sleep or eat but felt like she needed to help him finish his work at all costs- she couldn’t leave the story unfinished. all they’d ever wanted was to give cosette the ending she deserved. so 3 months after her husband’s death, the 74-year-old ate nothing but a bowl of porridge a day and managed to finally finish off book 5 after nine months of doing little else. finally, it was published in 1984 and is now an absolutely renowned edition. 

this couple literally had the luck of bossuet and the suffering of valjean, but in the end, however bittersweet the moment, a masterpiece was finally brought alive to an entire nation. 


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