State-sponsored translation in China, 1952-2003

The Art and Politics in East Asia Workshop

Special Presentation:

State-sponsored translation in China, 1952-2003:

Practices, consequences, and implications for translation studies

Bonnie McDougall

Emeritus Professor of Chinese, The University of Edinburgh

April 3, 3:30pm
Social Science 224 (John Hope Franklin Room)


Translation Studies (TS) tends to take for granted certain generalized notions of transactions between authors and translators, with publishers variously active or passive in commissioning or accepting manuscripts. The Foreign Languages Press in Beijing in the period 1952-2003 operated on a significantly different model, casting doubt on the validity of basic TS concepts such as source-oriented v. reader-oriented translation. Translation by FLP staff was mostly into non-native languages; editorial staff had little or no knowledge of foreign cultures; little or no feedback from readers was sought or entertained; accuracy was prized but creativity was not. TS theories need to be adjusted to account for this and other examples of non-commercial transactions. In this talk I will focus on literary translation at the FLP in Beijing in the 1980s, based on personal experiences and observations; it describes an episode in Chinese literary history that poses challenges to contemporary translation theory.

Bonnie S. McDougall

Bonnie S. McDougall is Advisory Editor of Renditions, Research Centre for Translation, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. Born in Sydney, she first studied Chinese at Peking University (1958-59). Academic appointments include teaching and research at Sydney, SOAS, Harvard, Oslo and Edinburgh.

While a full-time translator at the Foreign Languages Press in the 1980s, she also translated poetry, fiction and film-scripts by new writers emerging through the chaos of the Cultural Revolution, among them Bei Dao, Ah Cheng, Chen Kaige, Gu Cheng, Qiu Xiaolong and Wang Anyi. Her other translations include poetry, fiction, drama and essays by Mao Zedong, Guo Moruo, He Qifang, Ye Shengtao, Yu Dafu, Ding Xilin and Zhu Guangqian, and Hong Kong fiction and poetry by Xi Xi, Dung Kai Cheung, Leung Ping-kwan and Ng Mei-kwan. She has taught literary translation at the College of Foreign Affairs in Beijing as well as in the UK and Hong Kong.

Recent books include Love-letters and Privacy in Modern China: The Intimate Lives of Lu Xun and Xu Guangping (Oxford, 2002) and Fictional Authors, Imaginary Audiences: Modern Chinese Literature in the Twentieth Century (Hong Kong, 2003). Further details are available here).

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From Daoist Immortality to Revolutionary Morality

The Art and Politics in East Asia Workshop Presents:

From Daoist Immortality to Revolutionary Morality:
Transforming the Immortal Hirsute Maiden into
the White Haired Girl

Max Bohnenkamp

Ph.D. Candidate , Department of East Asian Languages and Civilizations

With a response offered by Kwok-wai Hui, Ph.D student, History

Friday, February 27

4-6 p.m.

Judd 313

The White Haired Girl (Bai mao nü) has stood out over the years as one of the most successful creations of Chinese
revolutionary aesthetics since its inception as a musical theater piece in the Communist headquarters of Yan'an 
during the 1940s. While the story of the White Haired Girl is often claimed to originate from a folktale discovered 
by wartime culture workers in Hebei province, the details of its provenance have always remained vague. This 
paper examines the previously undiscovered relationship between the White Haired Girl and a tale from traditional 
folklore- the "Immortal Hairy Maiden" (Maonü xiangu). First mentioned in the 3rd century Biographies of Immortals 
(Liexian zhuan), the story tells how a female retainer of the Qin court escaped the fate of burial alongside the First 
Emperor by fleeing to the mountains, where she survived on sparse flora, learned the secrets of Daoist immortality, 
and uncannily sprouted fur all over her body. 
This paper explores the significance the Immortal Hairy Maiden and the White Haired Girl's similar straddling of the 
divide between human and non-human worlds, asking how the values of the traditional tale were commuted by the 
revolutionary one. Complicating recent interpretations of the latter as representing a sacrifice of gender subjectivity 
to revolutionary class-consciousness, I trace the figure's transformation from a traditional folk symbol of supernatural 
female metamorphosis and knowledge of immortality to a national icon of revolutionary subjectivity, domestic renewal, 
and the dispelling of superstition.  
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Competing Nationalisms: Links to poems, videos and essays of further interest

The New York Times this week carries an update on the situation between Tibet and China.

You can view a video-version of a poem called “To the West: What Do You Want Us to Do After All? A modest tribute to part of world history over the past 150 years”, By a Quiet, Quiet Chinese here. The poem, circulated widely in mid-April, seems to have first appeared in French and then in Chinese and then in English.

This is a video showing images of the protests in Lhasa and protests accompanying the voyage of the Olympic flame.The images are accompanied by a hip-hop song calling on Chinese people not to accept such tactics. The last part of the video switches to a melancholy song about Lhasa, and mourns the victims of the unrest. The video was created by Chenzi in Paris, and appeared as a user-generated piece on in the mid-April, and was quickly circulated on youtube as well.

Wang Lixiong recently published a 3-part article that we recommend. The first part can be found here, and here are the second and third. (In Chinese)

Here is an article from April 2008 by Brendon O’Neill, British journalist and Editor of Spiked Online, about the stereotypes of Chinese people used by the Free Tibet movement in Britain.

Another article on the debates in China over boycotting western companies in April and May 2008. The article, by Jeffrey Wasserstrom, was published in Nation, April 28, 2008.

A item of interest is an essay on “Orientalism, Autonomy of Ethnic Regions, and the Politics of Dignity” by the historian and public intellectual Wang Hui, published in the journal Tianya (Frontier) 2008, no. 4 (July-August).

You can find here a letter to the editors of the South China Morning Post by anthropologist Barry Sautman, Hong Kong University of Science and Technology.

The internet writer Yang Hengjun has also posted an article entitled “Why CNN is patriotic.”

A long series of posts by various authors on the blog The China Beat can be read here.

Wang Chaohua has also recommended an article by Wang Lixiong and an independent Tibetan blog written by his wife, where in fact his writings on Tibet often appear, which can be found here.