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Learn Chinese from a famous essay – 背影 (The Sight of Father’s Back)

Posted by Grace Feng on September 17, 2012

Today, let’s read, listen to and watch a famous Chinese essay 背 影, written by 朱 自 清. It’s a touching article that depicts the subtle love between father and son.

At the very beginning, you can click the following mp3 that reciting the whole essay by a female voice. Below the essay, you can watch the essay being recited with music and background story. That video might help you to understand the writer’s true feeling while writing the essay.

Special thanks to Joseph Alessandro Mati for helping me collect the source materials for this post!

http://dl.dropbox.com/u/14932001/_E8_83_8C_E5_BD_B1-_E6_9C_B1_E8_87_AA_E6_B8_85.mp3

bèi yĭng
背 影

Zhū Zì qīng
朱 自 清

 

wŏ yú fù qīn bù xiāng jiàn yĭ èr nián yú le wŏ zuì bù néng wàng jì de
我 与 父 亲 不 相 见 已 二 年 余 了 , 我 最 不 能 忘 记 的

shì tā de bèi yĭng nà nián dōng tiān zŭ mŭ sĭ le fù qīn de chāi
是 他 的 背 影 。 那 年 冬 天 , 祖 母 死 了 , 父 亲 的 差

shĭ yĕ jiāo xiè le zhèng shì huò bù dān xíng de rì zi wŏ cōng Bĕi jīng
使 也 交 卸 了 , 正 是 祸 不 单 行 的 日 子 , 我 从 北 京

dào Xú zhōu dă suàn gēn zhe fù qīn bēn sāng huí jiā dào Xú zhōu jiàn zhāo
到 徐 州 , 打 算 跟 着 父 亲 奔 丧 回 家 。 到 徐 州 见 着

fù qīn kàn jiàn măn yuàn láng jí de dōng xī yòu xiăng qĭ zŭ mŭ bù
父 亲 , 看 见 满 院 狼 藉 的 东 西 , 又 想 起 祖 母 , 不

jīn sù sù dì liú xià yăn lèi fù qīn shuō shì yĭ rú cĭ bù
禁 簌 簌 地 流 下 眼 泪 。 父 亲 说 , “ 事 已 如 此 , 不

bì nán guò hăo zài tiān wú jué rén zhī lù 
必 难 过 , 好 在 天 无 绝 人 之 路 ! ”    

 

huí jiā biàn mài diăn zhì fù qīn hái le kuī kōng yòu jiè qián bàn le sāng shì zhè xiē
回 家 变 卖 典 质 , 父 亲 还 了 亏 空 ; 又 借 钱 办 了 丧 事 。 这 些

rì zi jiā zhōng guāng jĭng hĕn shì căn dàn yī bàn wèi le sāng shì yī
日 子 , 家 中 光 景 很 是 惨 淡 , 一 半 为 了 丧 事 , 一

bàn wèi le fù qīn fù xián sāng shì wán bì fù qīn yāo dào Nán jīng móu
半 为 了 父 亲 赋 闲 。 丧 事 完 毕 , 父 亲 要 到 南 京 谋

shì wŏ yĕ yāo huí Bĕi jīng niàn shū wŏ men biàn tóng háng
事 , 我 也 要 回 北 京 念 书 , 我 们 便 同 行 。

 

dào Nán jīng shí yŏu péng you yāo qù yŏu guàng gōu liú le yī rì
到 南 京 时 , 有 朋 友 约 去 游 逛 , 勾 留 了 一 日 ;

dì èr rì shàng wŭ biàn xū dù jiāng dào Pŭ kŏu xià wŭ shàng chē bĕi qù
第 二 日 上 午 便 须 渡 江 到 浦 口 , 下 午 上 车 北 去 。

fù qīn yīn wèi shì máng bĕn yĭ shuō dìng bù sòng wŏ jiào lǚ guăn lĭ yī
父 亲 因 为 事 忙 , 本 已 说 定 不 送 我 , 叫 旅 馆 里 一

gè shú shi de chá fang péi wŏ tóng qù tā zài sān zhŭ fù chá fang shén
个 熟 识 的 茶 房 陪 我 同 去 。 他 再 三 嘱 咐 茶 房 , 甚

shì zĭ xì dàn tā zhōng yú bù fàng xīn pà chá fang bù tuŏ tiē pō
是 仔 细 。 但 他 终 于 不 放 心 , 怕 茶 房 不 妥 帖 ; 颇

chóu chú le yī huì qí shí wŏ nà nián yĭ èr shí suì Bĕi jīng yĭ lái
踌 躇 了 一 会 。 其 实 我 那 年 已 二 十 岁 , 北 京 已 来

wăng guò liăng sān cì shì méi yŏu shén me yào jĭn de le tā chóu chú le
往 过 两 三 次 , 是 没 有 甚 么 要 紧 的 了 。 他 踌 躇 了

yī huì zhōng yú jué dìng hái shì zì jĭ sòng wŏ qù wŏ liăng sān huí quàn
一 会 , 终 于 决 定 还 是 自 己 送 我 去 。 我 两 三 回 劝

tā bù bì qù tā zhĭ shuō bŭ yào jĭn tā men qù bù hăo
他 不 必 去 ; 他 只 说 , “ 不 要 紧 , 他 们 去 不 好 !”

 

wŏ men guò le jiāng jìn le chē zhàn wŏ măi piào tā máng
我 们 过 了 江 , 进 了 车 站 。 我 买 票 , 他 忙

zhe zhào kàn xíng li xíng li tài duō le dé xiàng jiăo fū xíng xiē xiăo fèi
着 照 看 行 李 。 行 李 太 多 了 , 得 向 脚 夫 行 些 小 费

cái kĕ guò qu tā biàn yòu máng zhe hé tā men jiăng jià qián wŏ nà
, 才 可 过 去 。 他 便 又 忙 着 和 他 们 讲 价 钱 。 我 那

shí zhēn shì cōng ming guò fèn zŏng jiào tā shuō huà bù dà piào liang fēi zì
时 真 是 聪 明 过 分 , 总 觉 他 说 话 不 大 漂 亮 , 非 自

jĭ chā zuĭ bù kĕ dàn tā zhōng yú jiăng dìng le jià qian jiù sòng wŏ shàng
己 插 嘴 不 可 。 但 他 终 于 讲 定 了 价 钱 ; 就 送 我 上

chē tā gĕi wŏ jiăn dìng le kào chē mén de yī zhāng yĭ zi wŏ jiāng tā
车 。 他 给 我 拣 定 了 靠 车 门 的 一 张 椅 子 ; 我 将 他

gĕi wŏ zuò de zĭ máo dà yī pū hăo zuò wèi tā zhŭ wŏ lù shang xiăo xīn
给 我 做 的 紫 毛 大 衣 铺 好 坐 位 。 他 嘱 我 路 上 小 心

yè lĭ jĭng xĭng xiē bŭ yào shòu liáng yòu zhŭ tuō chá fang hăo hăo zhào
, 夜 里 警 醒 些 , 不 要 受 凉 。 又 嘱 托 茶 房 好 好 照

yìng wŏ wŏ xīn li àn xiào tā de yū tā men zhĭ rèn de qián tuō
应 我 。 我 心 里 暗 笑 他 的 迂 ; 他 们 只 认 得 钱 , 托

tā men zhí shì bái tuō ér qiĕ wŏ zhè yàng dà nián jì de rén nán dào
他 们 直 是 白 托 ! 而 且 我 这 样 大 年 纪 的 人 , 难 道

hái bù néng liào lĭ zì jĭ me āi wŏ xiàn zài xiăng xiang nà shí zhēn
还 不 能 料 理 自 己 么 ? 唉 , 我 现 在 想 想 , 那 时 真

shì tài cōng ming le
是 太 聪 明 了 !

 

wŏ shuō dào bà ba nĭ zŏu bā tā wàng chē wài kàn le kàn
我 说 道 , “ 爸 爸 , 你 走 吧 。 ” 他 望 车 外 看 了 看

shuō wŏ măi jĭ ge jú zi qù nĭ jiù zài cĭ dì bŭ yào
, 说 , “ 我 买 几 个 橘 子 去 。 你 就 在 此 地 , 不 要

zŏu dòng wŏ kàn nà bian yuè tái de zhà lán wài yŏu jĭ ge mài dōng xī
走 动 。 ” 我 看 那 边 月 台 的 栅 栏 外 有 几 个 卖 东 西

de dĕng zhāo gù kè zŏu dào nà bian yuè tái xū chuān guò tiĕ dào xū
的 等 着 顾 客 。 走 到 那 边 月 台 , 须 穿 过 铁 道 , 须

tiào xià qu yòu pá shàng qù fù qīn shì yī gè pàng zi zŏu guò qù zì
跳 下 去 又 爬 上 去 。 父 亲 是 一 个 胖 子 , 走 过 去 自

rán yāo fèi shì xiē wŏ bĕn lái yāo qù de tā bù kĕn zhĭ hăo ràng
然 要 费 事 些 。 我 本 来 要 去 的 , 他 不 肯 , 只 好 让

tā qù wŏ kàn jiàn tā dài zhāo hēi bù xiăo mào chuān zhuó hēi bù Dà Mă
他 去 。 我 看 见 他 戴 着 黑 布 小 帽 , 穿 着 黑 布 大 马

guà shēn qīng bù mián páo pán shān dì zŏu dào tiĕ dào biān màn màn tàn
褂 , 深 青 布 棉 袍 , 蹒 跚 地 走 到 铁 道 边 , 慢 慢 探

shēn xià qu shàng bù dà nán kĕ shì tā chuān guò tiĕ dào yāo pá shàng
身 下 去 , 尚 不 大 难 。 可 是 他 穿 过 铁 道 , 要 爬 上

nà bian yuè tái jiù bù róng yì le tā yòng liăng shŏu pān zhāo shàng mian
那 边 月 台 , 就 不 容 易 了 。 他 用 两 手 攀 着 上 面 ,

liăng jiăo zài xiàng shàng suō tā féi pàng de shēn zi xiàng zuŏ wēi qīng xiăn chū
两 脚 再 向 上 缩 ; 他 肥 胖 的 身 子 向 左 微 倾 , 显 出

nŭ lì de yàng zi zhè shí wŏ kàn jiàn tā de bèi yĭng wŏ de lèi hĕn
努 力 的 样 子 。 这 时 我 看 见 他 的 背 影 , 我 的 泪 很

kuài dì liú xià lai le wŏ găn jĭn shì gān le lèi pà tā kàn jiàn
快 地 流 下 来 了 。 我 赶 紧 拭 干 了 泪 , 怕 他 看 见 ,

yĕ pà bié rén kàn jiàn wŏ zài xiàng wài kàn shí tā yĭ bào le zhū hóng
也 怕 别 人 看 见 。 我 再 向 外 看 时 , 他 已 抱 了 朱 红

de jú zi wàng huí zŏu le guò tiĕ dào shí tā xiān jiāng jú zi săn fàng
的 橘 子 望 回 走 了 。 过 铁 道 时 , 他 先 将 橘 子 散 放

zài dì shang zì jĭ màn màn pá xià zài bào qĭ jú zi zŏu dào zhè
在 地 上 , 自 己 慢 慢 爬 下 , 再 抱 起 橘 子 走 。 到 这

biān shí wŏ găn jĭn qù chān tā tā hé wŏ zŏu dào chē shàng jiāng jú
边 时 , 我 赶 紧 去 搀 他 。 他 和 我 走 到 车 上 , 将 橘

zi yī gŭ năo r fàng zài wŏ de pí dà yī shàng yú shì pū pū yī shàng
子 一 股 脑 儿 放 在 我 的 皮 大 衣 上 。 于 是 扑 扑 衣 上

de ní tŭ xīn li hĕn qīng sōng sì de guò yī huì shuō wŏ zŏu
的 泥 土 , 心 里 很 轻 松 似 的 , 过 一 会 说 , “ 我 走

le dào nà bian lái xìn wŏ wàng zhāo tā zŏu chū qù tā zŏu le
了 ; 到 那 边 来 信 ! ” 我 望 着 他 走 出 去 。 他 走 了

jī bù huí guò tóu kàn jiàn wŏ shuō jìn qù bā lĭ biān méi
几 步 , 回 过 头 看 见 我 , 说 , “ 进 去 吧 , 里 边 没

rén dĕng tā de bèi yĭng hùn rù lái lái wăng wàng de rén lĭ zài zhăo
人 。 ” 等 他 的 背 影 混 入 来 来 往 往 的 人 里 , 再 找

bù zháo le wŏ biàn jìn lái zuò xia wŏ de yăn lèi yòu lái le
不 着 了 , 我 便 进 来 坐 下 , 我 的 眼 泪 又 来 了 。

 

jìn jĭ nián lái fù qīn hé wŏ dōu shì dōng bēn xī zŏu jiā zhōng guāng jĭng
近 几 年 来 , 父 亲 和 我 都 是 东 奔 西 走 , 家 中 光 景

shì yī rì bù rú yī rì tā shào nián chū wài móu shēng dú lì zhī chí
是 一 日 不 如 一 日 。 他 少 年 出 外 谋 生 , 独 力 支 持

zuò le xŭ duō dà shì nă zhī lăo jìng què rú cĭ tuí táng tā chù
, 做 了 许 多 大 事 。 那 知 老 境 却 如 此 颓 唐 ! 他 触

mù shāng huái zì rán qíng bù néng zì yĭ qíng yù yú zhōng zì rán yāo
目 伤 怀 , 自 然 情 不 能 自 已 。 情 郁 于 中 , 自 然 要

fā zhī yú wài jiā tíng suŏ xiè biàn wăng wăng chù tā zhī nù tā dāi wŏ
发 之 于 外 ; 家 庭 琐 屑 便 往 往 触 他 之 怒 。 他 待 我

jiàn jiàn bù tóng wăng rì dàn zuì jìn liăng nián de bù jiàn tā zhōng yú wàng
渐 渐 不 同 往 日 。 但 最 近 两 年 的 不 见 , 他 终 于 忘

què wŏ de bù hăo zhĭ shì diàn jì zhāo wŏ diàn jì zhāo wŏ de ér zi
却 我 的 不 好 , 只 是 惦 记 着 我 , 惦 记 着 我 的 儿 子

wŏ bĕi lái hòu tā xiĕ le yī xìn gĕi wŏ xìn zhōng shuō dào
。 我 北 来 后 , 他 写 了 一 信 给 我 , 信 中 说 道 , “

wŏ shēn tĭ píng ān wéi băng zi téng tòng lì hài jŭ zhù tí bĭ zhū
我 身 体 平 安 , 惟 膀 子 疼 痛 利 害 , 举 箸 提 笔 , 诸

duō bù biàn dà yuē dà qù zhī qī bù yuăn yĭ wŏ dòu dào cĭ chŭ
多 不 便 , 大 约 大 去 之 期 不 远 矣 。 ” 我 读 到 此 处

zài jīng yíng de lèi guāng zhōng yòu kàn jiàn nà féi pàng de qīng bù mián
, 在 晶 莹 的 泪 光 中 , 又 看 见 那 肥 胖 的 , 青 布 棉

páo hēi bù mă guà de bèi yĭng āi wŏ bù zhī hé shí zài néng yú
袍 , 黑 布 马 褂 的 背 影 。 唉 ! 我 不 知 何 时 再 能 与

tā xiāng jiàn
他 相 见 !

1 9 2 5 nián 10 yuè zài Bĕi jīng
1 9 2 5 年 1 0 月 在 北 京 。

For readers in China, you can view the same video in Youku:

[English Translation – curtsey of http://donotdot.cn/]

The Sight of Father’s Back

原文:朱自清  英译:张培基
It is more than two years since I last saw father, and what I can never forget is the sight of his back. Misfortunes never come singly. In the winter of more than two years ago, grandma died and father lost his job. I left Beijing for Xuzhou to joint father in hastening home to attend grandma’s funeral. When I met father in Xuzhou, the sight of the disorderly mess in his courtyard and the thought of grandma started tears trickling down my cheeks. Father said, ”Now that things’ve come to such a pass, it’s no use crying. Fortunately, Heaven always leaves one a way out.”

After arriving home in Yangzhou, father paid off debts by selling or pawning things. He also borrowed money to meet the funeral expenses. Between grandma’s funeral and father’s unemployment, our family was then in reduced circumstances. After the funeral was over, father was to go to Nanjing to look for a job and I was to return to Beijing to study, so we started out together.

I spent the first day in Nanjing strolling about with some friends at their invitation, and was ferrying across the Yangtse River to Pukou the next morning and thence taking a train for Beijing on the afternoon of the same day. Father said he was too busy to go and see me off at the railway station, but would ask a hotel waiter that he knew to accompany me there instead. He urged the waiter again and again to take good care of me, but still did not quite trust him. He hesitated for quite a while about what to do. As a matter of fact, nothing would matter at all because I was then twenty and had already travelled on the Beijing-Pukou Railway a couple of times. After some wavering, he finally decided that he himself would accompany me to the station. I repeatedly tried to talk him out of it, but he only said, ”Never mind! It won’t do to trust guys like those hotel boys!”

We entered the railway station after crossing the River. While I was at the booking office buying a ticket, father saw to my luggage. There was quite a bit luggage and he had to bargain with the porter over the fee. I was then such a smart aleck that I frowned upon the way father was haggling and was on the verge of chipping in a few words when the bargain was finally clinched. Getting on the train with me, he picked me a seat close to the carriage door. I spread on the seat the brownish fur-lined overcoat he had got tailor made for me. He told me to be watchful on the way and be careful not to catch cold at night. He also asked the train attendants to take good care of me. I sniggered at father for being so impractical, for it was utterly useless to entrust me to those attendants, who cared for nothing but money. Besides, it was certainly no problem for a person of my age to look after himself. Oh, when I come to think of it, I can see how smarty I was in those days.

I said, ”Dad, you might leave now.” But he looked out of the window and said, ”I’m going to buy you some tangerines. You just stay here. Don’t move around.” I caught sight of several vendors waiting for customers outside the railings beyond a platform. But to reach that platform would require crossing the railway track and doing some climbing up and down. That would be a strenuous job for father, who was fat. I wanted to do all that myself, but he stopped me, so I could do nothing but let him go. I watched him hobble towards the railway track in his black skullcap, black cloth mandarin jacket and dark blue cotton-padded cloth long gown. He had little trouble climbing down the railway track, but it was a lot more difficult for him to climb up that platform after crossing the railway track. His hands held onto the upper part of the platform, his legs huddled up and his corpulent body tipped slightly towards the left, obviously making an enormous exertion. While I was watching him from behind, tears gushed from my eyes. I quickly wiped them away lest he or others should catch me crying. The next moment when I looked out of the window again, father was already on the way back, holding bright red tangerines in both hands. In crossing the railway track, he first put the tangerines on the ground, climbed down slowly and then picked them up again. When he came near the train, I hurried out to help him by the hand. After boarding the train with me, he laid all the tangerines on my overcoat, and patting the dirt off his clothes, he looked somewhat relieved and said after a while,” I must be going now. Don’t forget to write me from Beijing!” I gazed after his back retreating out of the carriage. After a few steps, he looked back at me and said, ”Go back to your seat. Don’t leave your things alone.” I, however, did not go back to my seat until his figure was lost among crowds of people hurrying to and fro and no longer visible. My eyes were again wet with tears.

In recent years, both father and I have been living an unsettled life, and the circumstances of our family going from bad to worse. Father left home to seek a livelihood when young and did achieve quite a few things all on his own. To think that he should now be so downcast in old age! The discouraging state of affairs filled him with an uncontrollable feeling of deep sorrow, and his pent-up emotion had to find a vent. That is why even mere domestic trivialities would often make him angry, and meanwhile he became less and less nice with me. However, the separation of the last two years has made him more forgiving towards me. He keeps thinking about me
and my son. After I arrived in Beijing, he wrote me a letter, in which he says, ”I’m all right except for a severe pain in my arm. I even have trouble using chopsticks or writing brushes. Perhaps it won’t be long now before I depart this life.” Through the glistening tears which these had brought to my eyes I again saw the back of father’s corpulent form in the dark blue cotton-padded cloth long gown and the black cloth mandarin jacket. Oh, how I long to see him again.

 

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2 Responses to “Learn Chinese from a famous essay – 背影 (The Sight of Father’s Back)”

  1. nothing

    白睿:

    09-18-2012 12:22 pm

    Ah, a classic piece of writing to be found in all Intermediate-and-above Chinese textbooks for us foreigners! :) 朱自清 wrote some great short pieces like 匆匆、春 and 荷塘月色 all of which are good pieces to read along with 背影。

    Reply

  2. nothing

    Megan:

    09-19-2012 4:14 am

    This is not an easy one for sure. I do like the video though. The recitation there is helpful with the background movie.

    Reply

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