TO Yang Xianyi and his British wife Gladys, four years' jail during the tumultuous Cultural Revolution is just a small episode in their lives. The couple, who met and married while studying at Oxford University in the late 1930s, returned to China and became some of the first to introduce Chinese literature to the West through their translations. They were jailed separately shortly after the Cultural Revolution began, largely because of their connections with foreigners. Although the couple were suspected of spying for foreign countries, they were never formally charged. The Yangs, who are no longer asking for an official verdict on what they did wrong, looked peaceful and calm when speaking of the turbulent days. ''That was a very small episode in our lives,'' said Professor Yang, who was in the territory to receive a University of Hongkong Doctor of Letters honorary degree. Professor Yang, who was born in 1915, studied English Literature at Merton College from 1936 to 1940, while his wife was at St Anne's studying Chinese. On returning to China, Professor Yang taught English at the National Central University and other institutions. From 1943 to 1949, he was a member of the National Bureau of Compilation and Translation. After the communist takeover, he was appointed vice-secretary general of the Nanjing People's Political Consultative Conference from 1950 to 1952, and a member of the Foreign Languages Bureau. ''During the Cultural Revolution, all Chinese intellectuals who were old enough to have done some work before the communist takeover were considered suspects, or bad people. Ours is not an exceptional case,'' Professor Yang said. Looking back, Professor Yang said he had no regrets on his decision to return to China in 1940. ''As a Chinese, I had to come back to China. I belonged to a different generation. At that time, we just felt it natural for us to come back to China. It is not like nowadays when so many Chinese prefer to stay on longer abroad.'' Commenting on thousands of young Chinese studying overseas who are unwilling to return to China, Professor Yang said if they were making use of the longer stay for study, that would also be useful for the country. ''But if they stay outside just to wait for the Government to change before coming back, I think that is a rather negative attitude. It depends on individuals. But for myself, I should feel rather shameful if I just stayed outside, not doing anything useful for China,'' he added. Professor Yang said during the 1930s and 1940s, he still believed in a lot of things he read about Marxism and Leninism, but after the communists came into power, he gradually became more and more disillusioned. ''I still wish them success in making small changes. I am not against the communists, but I doubt very much whether China's progress can be achieved by the rule of the communists alone.''