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 more than 50 years and eventually became a member of the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference. He was one of very few naturalized citizens of the PRC.

Early life[edit]

Shapiro was born in Brooklyn 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 to the end of his life. In 1983, he was appointed as a member of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Council (CPPCC), which ostensibly provides a forum for input from non-Communist political organizations.[3]


Shapiro trained as a lawyer and was disturbed by perceived inequalities during the Great Depression in the United States.[1] In 1941, he enlisted in the U.S. Army.[1] He applied for French language school, but was sent to a Chinese language school in San Francisco instead.[2] His interest in China led to travel in 1947 to Shanghai, where he met his future wife, an actress named Fengzi (Phoenix), who was a supporter of the Chinese Communist Party.[1] Partly through her influence, Shapiro became a supporter too. He settled in China and remained there after the Communists took power in 1949.[3]

For nearly 50 years, Shapiro was employed by the state-run Foreign Languages Press (FLP) as a translator of works of Chinese literature. He is best known for his English version of Outlaws of the Marsh, one of the most important classics of Chinese literature. In 1958, he published a translation of The Family, a novel by Ba Jin or Pa Chin, pen name of Li Yaotang (aka Feigan), one of the most widely read Chinese writers of the 20th century. Certain passages, notably the anarchist elements, were deleted from this edition, but Shapiro later published a full translation.[4]

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

Shapiro wrote a memoir I Chose China: The Metamorphosis of a Country and a Man, but its publication was delayed until 1997 because he feared that it would offend the Chinese authorities.[5][2]


Shapiro married Fengzi in 1948, and they had a daughter.[2][6][7] Fengzi died in 1996.[2][1] Shapiro died in Beijing on October 18, 2014. He was 98.[8][7]


On December 26, 2014, it was announced that the China International Publishing Group was establishing a Sidney Shapiro Research Center to investigate and establish criteria for translation between Chinese and English.[9]


Selected translations from Chinese to English[edit]

  • Ba Jin, The Family, Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1958
  • Shi Nai'an, Outlaws of the Marsh, Beijing: Foreign Languages Press, 1980
  • Ba Jin, Selected Works, Beijing: Foreign Language Press, 1988
  • Mao Dun, The Shop of the Lin Family and Spring Silkworms, Hong Kong: Chinese University Press, 2004.
  • Deng Rong, Deng Xiaoping and the Cultural Revolution: A Daughter Recalls the Critical Years, New York: C. Bertelsmann, 2005

Works compiled and edited[edit]

  • Jews in Old China: Studies by Chinese Scholars, New York: Hippocrene Books, 1984; paperback edition: Hippocrene Books, 1988


  • An American in China: Thirty Years in the People's Republic. New American Library 1979.
  • I Chose China: The Metamorphosis of a Country and a Man,[5] Hippocrene Books 1997.

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 Dec 23, 2014. An American Dies in China ... and Why I Mourn Him! "". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016.
  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. ^ Shapiro, Sidney (translator). Family "". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016.
  5. ^ a b Shapiro, Sidney. I Chose China: The Metamorphosis of a Country and a Man "". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016.
  6. ^ "". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016.
  7. ^ a b Oct 21, 2014. Shanghai Daily. "Sidney Shapiro Dies in Beijing". Retrieved Dec 17, 2016.
  8. ^ "American-Born Chinese Author and Translator Sha Boli Dead at 98". October 20, 2014.
  9. ^ Zhang Yue, "Research Center Honors Late Translator, China Daily USA, Dec. 26, 2014.

External links[edit]