Of Patronage and Paratexts: Chinese Translation in Conference
As with London buses, don’t worry if you miss an academic conference; another will be along shortly. Last December, I attended an academic conference on the history of Chinese translation at the Chinese University of Hong Kong. On the first morning, walking through the beautiful campus, I wondered what stories or perspectives I would meet related to the topic of the conference – patronage – since the term itself seems to be interwoven with multiple levels of paratexts. Despite my expectation that the presentations would be rather abstract, drawing heavily on Lefevere’s theory of patronage, most lectures I sat in presented various interesting stories of certain periods of time in translating Chinese works. Two examples will be given in what follows.
One speaker discussed the history of translating Russian literature in Taiwan, which differs from that in mainland China in a variety of ways, from the selection of source texts to the publication of particular translated versions. Take Russian author Boris Savinkov’s The Pale Horse as an example. Its Chinese translation by well-known translator Zheng Zhenduo (郑振铎) was very popular in mainland China in the 1930s and 1940s, as its spirit of revolution was consistent with the ideology of the CPC (Communist Party of China) and also with the attitude of Chinese society during a harsh period of external invasions and internal conflicts. But the original novel and its Chinese version were not introduced to Taiwan until the end of the 20th century, because its theme and background did not sit well with the Taiwanese authorities after the establishment of that state in 1949. Political stance and ideology play a role in the introduction and translation of Russian literature.
Another interesting lecture reported on the various 20th-century English translations of Jin Ping Mei (金瓶梅). Since the first English version of the novel in the 1920s, Jin Ping Mei has been adapted and translated into English a dozen times, with the high points of its English dissemination coinciding with the two sexual revolutions of the 20th century. According to the speaker’s research, Latin has a history of being used in English translations of erotic literary works, but the process of producing and incorporating the Latin into the English target texts has so far remained largely unexplored.
Based on the publisher’s archival materials, the researcher explored the roles of and relationships between the English translator, Latin translator, publisher, printer and copyeditor relating to the use of Latin in Clement Egerton’s 1939 English translation of Jin Ping Mei, retitled The Golden Lotus . The original novel was officially banned in mainland China several times due to its lengthy sexually explicit passages. In the English translation, Latin is used to render these sexual descriptions. The researcher argues that pre-publication censorship was influenced by sophisticated hierarchical and horizontal networks of agents. The use of Latin in The Golden Lotus is both reflective of the social context of the 1930s and representative of the complexity of the agential network in translation.
Apart from the above cases and the translation of Chinese classic literature, some less trodden topics in translation studies were also discussed during the conference, including the translation history of science fiction and French drama. In contrast to most academic events I have attended before, it really was a very enjoyable experience to learn about what is happening in the field of translation history at the moment, especially with all these topics being narrated and disseminated in a more attractive way to the general public. It was also very refreshing to learn about the progress being made in those “taboo” research fields which are politically or ideologically censored in certain contexts. Research is supposed to get closer to the public, not only between researcher and general reader but also between researchers in different fields – which is precisely what HTTP seeks to encourage.
Feature image: ‘Chinese University of Hong Kong as viewed from New Asia College’, by Tsui Sing Yan Eric, provided under Creative Commons licence CC BY-SA 2.5.
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