Liu Jung-en

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The Independent Online

Liu Jung-en, poet and translator: born Hangchow, China 14 November 1908; married 1940 Cheng Yin (one daughter); died London 6 May 2001.

Liu Jung-en was a quiet, artistic Chinese scholar of the old school, who lived his last 53 years in England.

Born in Hangchow in 1908, he studied at Yenching University, Beijing, and in the early 1930s was invited to teach English Literature and Language at Nankai University, Tianjin (then Tientsin). Shortly afterwards he published a small volume of verse in Mandarin.

After the Japanese attacked China in 1937, and occupied all their buildings, Liu moved inland with the university; but in 1940 he returned to Tientsin when his future wife, Cheng Yin, became ill, and taught at a Jesuit foundation, marrying her later that year. He also became Literary Editor of the Tientsin Ta Kung Pao, the principal Chinese newspaper of the time, whose title was translated as the "Great Impartial".

It was a time of hardship under the Japanese occupation, when Chinese citizens were subject not only to food shortage and arbitrary arrest (Liu was once held for several days for no reason) but also to constant incursions by occupying troops coming unannounced into their home. It was typical however that when their daughter was born in 1941, the Lius called her Tao-tao, a word meaning "natural and happy", from a line written by the Sung dynasty poet Su Shih, roughly translatable as "Happily, happily enjoy what nature has given you".

After the Second World War, new life began but under Mao's new regime was not always palatable. When Nankai University returned to Tientsin, Liu resumed his appointment, now as associate professor. In 1948 he was awarded a two-year British Council scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford ­ a time which he enjoyed to the full, with the care and friendship of the Master, A.D. Lindsay. Liu's only regret was for his wife and daughter still in Tientsin, until they followed him to England in 1949, when he was able to transfer the last few months of his scholarship to the Institute of Education, London University.

Thereafter he set out to make his living in London by translation, which he continued until retirement. In 1972 Penguin Classics published his fine version of Six Yuan Plays. Liu wrote poetry in English and in 1992 the Pen International journal published two poems, "The Hammer" and "Action!" He loved classical Western music, and was a skilled watercolourist: he brought a touch of China to a charming rendering of the view of five Oxford spires and towers seen across Christ Church meadows from my study at St Hilda's. Liu's gentle courtesy, sense of humour, interest in others, and scholarly and cultural values will be remembered with gratitude.

Although his wife and daughter (who became an Oxford don) revisited China, Liu never did, preferring to keep his memories unchanged.

Joanna Cullen Brown