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Abstract

This essay focuses on a previously obscure and only recently republished English text held at USC that offers an unparalleled window into Chang’s engagement with translation. The untitled manuscript, typed with handwritten additions and corrections, is contained in a folder marked “Untitled article or speech” and appears to be the script of an oral presentation in which Chang surveys the development of translation in China from the late-Qing period, through the 1911 revolution, the May Fourth period, the war with Japan, the 1949 revolution and the Cultural Revolution. Her speech emphasizes how translation functioned as an index to China’s fraught relationship with the outside world, particularly the West (including Japan and Russia); to that end, the text engages with historical movements such as imperialism, modernization, and the ideological polarization of the Cold War, resulting in an account that belies her reputation as an apolitical figure. While the rediscovery of a text by Eileen Chang is certainly a matter of anecdotal interest, the purpose of this essay is not only to reconstruct its history but also to consider how it illuminates her lifelong relationship to translation through which, I will argue, she tried to unsettle the geopolitical categories that Chih-ming Wang 王智明 (2012) has identified as foundational to modern Chinese literary culture. In what follows, I start by providing an overview of the text based on archival and other sources and provide a summary of its contents. Turning to Shuang Shen’s 沈雙 (2012) discussion of translation as impersonation, I consider how the oral address, a rare textual form in the oeuvre of a notoriously reclusive writer, involves navigating the roles of reader, author, and translator. Through this genre, Chang hints at the possibility of distancing herself from the geopolitics of translation even as the ultimate failure to do so reveals the constraints of her diasporic condition.

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