Wu Zhaoguang: I Translated for Soviet Expert

Wu Zhaoguang: I Translated for Soviet Expert

Source: Metro Express 2 November Page 12    Press Time: 2015-11-03 08:44

The 90-year-old Wu Zhaoguang is a retiree of the previous Tianjin Art Material Factory, and devoted most of his life to fine arts. Extroverted and versatile, he is fond of painting and music, and often plays the accordion in his home for the aged. According to him, he used to roller skate when he was in his sixties. The thin old man seems to be similar with most senior citizens, however, few people would know his remarkable experience back at school.

As one of the first students enrolled in the Russian Department in Nankai University after the establishment of the PRC, he once became the Russian translator for Soviet experts who helped train the PLA cavalry in 1950. Looking back at the military time and witnessing the PLA armored troops’ development, Wu Zhaoguang regarded those as his best times.

Mr. Wu learned French in junior high school and English at senior high, while in college, he chose Russian. Over half a century, he still remembers loads of foreign vocabulary and can occasionally say a few English and French phrases. He is even able to recite part of Selected Works of Chairman Mao in French.

Wu Zhaoguang entered Nankai University with outstanding grades in 1949, and he decided to major in the popular subject at that time – Russian. Universities enrolled relatively fewer students than today, and Wu Zhaoguang had merely five classmates. “We only had at most two or three courses one day, sometimes we even had a free day. And we only had mid-term and end-term exams,” he said. But even with this slack schedule, students still spontaneously worked hard in studying.

“We didn’t have modern learning tools like tape recorders, so we just had to take down teacher’s pronunciation and practice after class.” Wu Zhaoguang learned well and cherished his college life, as it was not easy to enter Nankai University at that time.

Wu Zhaoguang’s father was a senior white-collar worker at Tianjin Texaco Incorporated before the PRC was established, but with a high salary, it was still difficult to support all eight children’s education. Due to the household financial condition, Wu Zhaoguang dropped out of school twice, which made him enter Nankai University at the age of 24.

These education setbacks motivated Wu Zhaoguang to apply every second to studying. He performed the best in foreign languages among all the subjects: “When I was learning French in junior high school, we spent the first year in alphabet and vocabulary, grammar in the second year, and then our physics, chemistry and biology were taught in French. Thus it was important to learn a new language quickly in order to catch up with the teacher. Later, in my senior high, I had to learn English in Nankai High School. Without any knowledge in English, I had to learn by myself, but the result turned out surprisingly good, and I chose Russian in university. To be honest, Russian is more difficult than English and French in vocabulary and grammar, but I managed to handle it, using my previous knowledge.”

Due to the urgent need, even with only one year of Russian studying, Wu Zhaoguang and his classmates were assigned by the army to translate for some Soviet instructors of PLA cavalries, as the Russian students in China were too few.

“As sophomore students, we were too young to be translators, but five students, including me, eventually began our Beijing trip with a Russian-Chinese dictionary.” After arrival, the translators were allocated to different instructors, who had expertise in tank driving, maintenance and shooting.

“One part was chemical defense, and the vocabulary was too challenging for my classmates to complete the translation. Thus I had to accept the task.” Wu Zhaoguang served a military instructor named Medvedev, whose name was the same as the current Russian prime minister at that time. It was at that time that Wu Zhaoguang was given the name Peter in order to communicate better. Each day, Medvedev would write down the content he was going to cover, and Wu Zhaoguang had to scan, check and translate the content to teach the Chinese soldiers. “We didn’t have clear deadlines, and when he gave me the written content, I would have to work all night to look up and recite the technological terms, and complete the translation. Our classmates’ daily schedules were almost the same.”

Wu Zhaoguang remembered that it was always him to give the lessons to Chinese soldiers, even including the donning and removing of gas masks, while the Soviet would also be present. During the three-month military life, he had some interesting experiences apart from the tense work.

At that time, Wu Zhaoguang and his classmates were given cotton uniforms different from those of ordinary soldiers (without belt), a situation unknown to some Soviet soldiers. Once, when Wu Zhaoguang went to the camp of Soviet instructors, he was given a salute with guns from a Soviet guard. It turned out that the guard mistook him for an officer, not a translator. Afterwards, Wu Zhaoguang started to salute the Soviet guards as well.

The troops also organized them to witness the tank target practices. Wu Zhaoguang remembered that they had to get up at 2 a.m., driving to the practicing venue in the extreme chill. But when they reached the site, watching the loading of cannons and firing were so shocking that they could never forget the scene for the rest of their lives.

During their translating period, these students were not allowed to go out the barracks, but Wu Zhaoguang would always wear a Nankai University badge when he went outside, for he believed the glory of contributing to the national army belonged not only to himself, but also to Nankai University.

(Reporting by Xiao Mingshu Editing by Nie Jici)

Nankai University

No.38 Tongyan Road, Jinnan District, Tianjin , P.R. China 300350

No.94 Weijin Road,  Nankai District, Tianjin, P.R.China  300071