Auspicious connotations of interpreting in ancient Chinese texts

Document Type


Source Publication

The 7th Asian Translation Traditions Conference

Publication Date



Monash University; Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia


Textual archival references to interpreters and interpreting are crucial sources for studying the meanings and significance of linguistic mediators and mediation in ancient times. Rare even in the Chinese archives, these earlier texts cast light on the agent and act of interpreting during a time when written records were scarce. This paper presents data culled from classical writings about interpreting in China’s standard histories, political treatises, and literary pieces. An examination of over 200 textual entries pertaining to ‘interpreting’ shows that five passages display an interesting similarity: They all depicted the use of relay interpreters in diplomatic visits as an auspicious sign for China, the host country. In these five texts, relay interpreting is documented not because of its practical communicative function in diplomatic contexts. The documentation has an unmistakably auspicious connotation, which goes beyond its linguistic sense. This elevation of an interpreting act to an ideological plane may be unique to ancient China. This paper aims at identifying the symbolic and ideological significances in this conceptual link, so consciously drawn in the rhetoric of these archives, between linguistic intermediaries and a promising upbeat future for the host country.

This paper is significant in two regards. First, it examines the epistemology and values of classical textual references to ‘interpreters’ and ‘interpreting’. Second, it explores the ideological significance of interpreting in ancient China, which in turn casts light on the characteristics of its interpreting tradition. This can then become a point of reference for comparative studies of the conceptualization of ‘interpreting’ with other cultural traditions.



Recommended Citation

Lung, R. (2016, September). Auspicious connotations of interpreting in ancient Chinese texts. Paper presented at the 7th Asian Translation Traditions Conference, Malaysia. Abstract retrieved from http://future.arts.monash.edu/asiantranslation7/abstracts/

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