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Translating Chinese Classics in a Colonial Context

Wang, Hui

Translating Chinese Classics in a Colonial Context

James Legge and His Two Versions of the Zhongyong

Series: Welten Ostasiens / Worlds of East Asia / Mondes de l'Extrême-Orient - Volume 13

Year of Publication: 2008

Bern, Berlin, Bruxelles, Frankfurt am Main, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2008. 224 pp.
ISBN 978-3-03911-631-7 pb.  (Softcover)

Weight: 0.340 kg, 0.750 lbs

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Book synopsis

James Legge’s (1815-1897) translations of the Confucian classics have long been venerated as the peak and standard of sinological translation, with little attention being paid to the traces of missionary and orientalist discourse within these awesome tomes. This book subjects Legge’s Confucian translations to a postcolonial perspective, with a view of uncovering the subtle workings of colonialist ideology in the seemingly innocent act of translation. Combining close textual study with rich contextual information, the author uses the example of Legge’s two versions of the Zhongyong 中庸 to illustrate two distinctive stages of his sinological scholarship: missionary orientalism during his Hong Kong years (1843-1873), culminating in the production of The Chinese Classics, and academic orientalism during his Oxford professorship (1876-1897), as reflected in his Sacred Books of China. Legge grew hermeneutically more open in his life-long encounter with the Confucian texts, yet his translation did not entirely transcend the colonialist discourse of the day. This in-depth case study highlights the importance of taking an ethical stance in cross-cultural translation, and has much to offer to postcolonial translation studies.


Contents: Orientalism, Postcolonialism and Postcolonial translation studies – James Legge and His Confucian Translation – The Zhongyong as a Central Confucian Text – Translation as Missionary Orientalism: Legge’s 1861 Version of the Zhongyong – Translation as Academic Orientalism: Legge’s 1885 Version of the Zhongyong – Beyond Colonialist Translation.

About the author(s)/editor(s)

The Author: Hui Wang is an associate professor of English Language and Literature at the School of Foreign Languages, Shenzhen University, P. R. China. He teaches theory and practice of translation, and his main research interest lies in missionary sinology and the history of Chinese literature in English translation.


«Dr Wang’s book, which tactfully combines broad strokes with fine details, and interweaves contextual study with illuminating textual analysis, provides a good illustration of how postcolonial translation studies can benefit from a closer and more focused study of actual works of translation.» (Martha P. Y. Cheung, Chair Professor and Director, Center for Translation, Hong Kong Baptist University)


Pierre-François Souyri and Nicolas Zufferey Worlds of East Asia. Vol. 13
Edited by Robert H. Gassmann, Eduard Klopfenstein, Andrea Riemenschnitter, Pierre-François Souyri and Nicolas Zufferey