Sidney Shapiro

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Sidney Shapiro
Born(1915-12-23)December 23, 1915
DiedOctober 18, 2014(2014-10-18) (aged 98)
Beijing, China
Other namesChinese: 沙博理
OccupationActor, lawyer, translator, writer
Known forTranslation of Chinese novels of notable Chinese authors such as Ba Jin and Mao Dun into English.
Became citizen of People's Republic of China.

Sidney Shapiro (Chinese: 沙博理; pinyin: Shā Bólǐ) (December 23, 1915 – October 18, 2014) was an American born Chinese lawyer, translator, actor and writer who lived in China from 1947 to 2014. He lived in Beijing for over a half century and was a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Council. He was one of very few naturalized citizens of the PRC.

Early life[edit]

Shapiro was born in Brooklyn, New York City, New York on December 23, 1915.[1] He was of Ashkenazi Jewish descent. He was a graduate of St. John’s University, New York.[citation needed][2]


Shapiro held citizenship of the People's Republic of China from 1963, before the Cultural Revolution, to the end of his life. He was elected in 1983 as a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Council (CPPCC), a governmental assembly of the PRC which ostensibly provides a forum for input from non-Communist political organizations.[3]


In 1941, Shapiro was a 32-year old Brooklyn-born Jewish lawyer and he had enlisted in the U.S. Army.[1] He applied for French Language School but was sent to an Army Chinese-language school in San Francisco, California.[2]

Shapiro was disturbed by perceived inequalities during the Great Depression in the United States.[1] His connections with China began during World War II, when he was serving in the United States armed forces. He was chosen to learn Chinese by the United States Army in preparation for a possible American landing in Japanese-occupied China. After attaining a law degree in the US, he went to China, arriving in Shanghai in 1947. There, he met his future wife, an actress named Fengzi (Phoenix), who was a supporter of the Communist Party of China prior to its ascent to power.[1] Through her influence, Shapiro became a supporter as well.[3] Beginning in the Cultural Revolution, she spent 10 years under house arrest for her opposition to Mao's wife, Jiang Qing.[4] She later became one of the most prominent drama critics in the People's Republic.[citation needed]

In 1958, Shapiro translated The Family a Chinese novel by Ba Jin or Pa Chin. Ba Jin is the pen name of Li Yaotang (aka Feigan) and he is one of the widely read Chinese writers of the 20th century. The translated novel was originally published by Foreign Languages Press (Beijing). Shapiro's translation was based on the 1953 People's Publishing House text, in which the author made corrections. The 1972 New York edition omits the article "the" from the title, which makes Family a more general concept rather than limiting it to this particular family. In her Editor's Note, Lang discusses the history of the text, pointing out that certain passages, the anarchist elements, had been deleted from the 1958 Foreign Languages Press edition. The Anchor edition restored three prefaces by the author, newly translated, as well as some of the omitted passages.[5]

In 1997, after withdrawing the original version from publication for fear of offending Chinese authorities, his memoir I Chose China: The Metamorphosis of a Country & a Man was published.[6][2]

Through his literary translations he has remained at the forefront of helping people overseas learn about China's past and present. His literary translations, which range from the classical to the modern, include the Ming Dynasty masterpiece Outlaws of the Marsh and the well-known 20th century outcries against bigotry and backwardness such as Ba Jin's The Family and Mao Dun's Spring Silkworms.[7]

For nearly 50 years, he was employed by the state-run Foreign Languages Press (FLP) as a translator of works of Chinese literature. He is best known for his highly regarded English version of Outlaws of the Marsh, one of the most important classics of Chinese literature. FLP recently reissued Shapiro's translation as part of a bilingual collection called Library of Chinese Classics.

Shapiro was also an actor in many Chinese movies, typecast as the American villain.[2]


In 1948, Shapiro married Fengzi (aka Phoenix), an actress. She was also a writer and magazine editor. Shapiro had a daughter.[2][8][9] Phoenix died in 1996.[2][1]

On October 18, 2014, Shapiro died in Beijing, China. He was 98.[10][9]


On 26 December 2014 it was announced that the China International Publishing Group was establishing a Sidney Shapiro Research Center in honor of the translator to investigate model criteria for translation between Chinese and English.[11]


  • Shapiro, Sidney (editor & translator[12]). Jews in Old China – Studies by Chinese Scholars, a comprehensive collection of Shapiro's translations of papers by Chinese scholars about the Kaifeng Jews and other Jewish-Chinese interactions. Copyright 1984, paperback edition published 1988 by Hippocrene Books.
  • Shapiro, Sidney. "An American in China: Thirty Years in the People's Republic". Published 1979, New York, Meridian, New American Library.
  • Shapiro, Sidney. I Chose China: The Metamorphosis of a Country & a Man. Published 1997.[6] Hippocrene Books. This book was originally titled From Brooklyn to Peking but was never published under this title.[2]

Translated works (Chinese to English)[edit]

  • Shapiro, Sidney (Translator). 1958. The Family. Beijing: Foreign Language Press.


The following is a list of notable Chinese authors translated by Shapiro.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c d e Hornby, Lucy (2014-10-24). "American who reached Beijing before Mao and never left". The Financial Times. Retrieved 2021-04-09.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g Dec 23, 2014. An American Dies in China...and Why I Mourn Him! "". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  3. ^ a b Pan, Guang (2019), Pan, Guang (ed.), "Jewish Refugees and the Chinese People: Friendship in a Troubled Time", A Study of Jewish Refugees in China (1933–1945): History, Theories and the Chinese Pattern, Singapore: Springer, pp. 63–83, doi:10.1007/978-981-13-9483-6_6, ISBN 978-981-13-9483-6, retrieved 2021-04-09
  4. ^ "Expatriates' Long March Through China's History – Los Angeles Times". 1999-03-30. Retrieved 2012-03-04. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  5. ^ Shapiro, Sidney (translator). Family "". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  6. ^ a b Shapiro, Sidney. I Chose China: The Metamorphosis of a Country & a Man "". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  7. ^ " 90-year-old Shapiro Celebrates His Fruitful Life in China ". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  8. ^ "". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  9. ^ a b Oct 21, 2014. Shanghai Daily. " Sidney Shapiro dies in Beijing". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016. CS1 maint: discouraged parameter (link)
  10. ^ "American-born Chinese author and translator Sha Boli dead at 98". October 20, 2014.
  11. ^ Zhang Yue, "Research center honors late translator, China Daily USA, Dec. 26, 2014.
  12. ^ In the prologue, on page xi of the 1988 paperback edition, Shapiro says: "I have translated into English the treatises of China's leading experts on the Chinese Jews, and edited and compiled them, with my own observations and cross references, into a single volume."

External links[edit]