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Bridging the Political and the Personal

Literary Translation in Contemporary China

Xiu Lu Wang

This book examines literary translation in contemporary China from two perspectives. The first is related to the social and political dimension of translation, which is concerned with the general context of translation, translation practices, literary norms as well as the structures that support them. The second perspective focuses on the more personal dimension, which is influenced by personalities and dispositions of the individuals involved in translation. Moving along the spectrum with the political on one end and the personal on the other, this book asserts that these two are two sharply different yet intimately intertwined domains of translation. It further argues that the dialectical relationship between lived personal experience and structural power relations in translation will provide a base to recognize the centrality of human agency and the possibility of resistance through translation, to understand translation as a site of power struggle and potential change, and finally, to strive for translation research and practice that is both socially relevant and personally meaningful.
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2. A Historical Review

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2.   A Historical Review

Recent work in Translation Studies has made it clear that translation does not exist in a vacuum, and it is impossible to understand translation without taking into consideration its social and cultural setting (Lefevere, 1992: 14; Bassnett and Trivedi, 1999: 2). This chapter places literary translation in the contemporary Chinese context, and conducts a systemic examination of the various social mechanisms and influencing factors behind translation norms and practices at different times in contemporary China. The historical review presented in this chapter describes some overall tendencies or general patterns of translation behaviour in the contemporary Chinese context. It also provides useful background and perspective for the case studies in the following chapters.

The development of Descriptive Translation Studies in the past few decades has constructed various frameworks for understanding the social dimension of translation. Itamar Even-Zohar’s polysystem theory (1978, 1990), for example, offers valuable insight into how the cultural and literary fields are structured and how they change over time. Gideon Toury’s norm-based approach (1980, 1995, and 1998) benefits translation research with a more deliberate scrutiny into the cultural assumptions and social expectations that guide the production of translation. Following and expanding upon Even-Zohar and Toury, André Lefevere (1992a, 1992) continues to work on a systemic approach to translation, and argues that translation needs to be seen as a form of ‘re-writing’, embedded in and conditioned by larger cultural and socio-economical structures.

In this chapter, we...

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