"Its blooming waves wash away all heroes" : revisiting some problems in translating classical Chinese poetry

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Book chapter

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Comparative literature in the cross-cultural context

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Yilin Press


During the past three decades, scholars with various angles and degrees of interest in translation have been arguing for the importance and autonomy of literary translation as a high-status activity. In the process, they have joined chorus in denigrating what is deemed an old-fashioned notion of the primacy of the source text. Polysystem theorists like Evan-Zohar, for instance, highlight the importance of translation as a shaping force in literary history and the development of national cultures. Feminist perspectives, on the other hand, have objected to “a cultural complicity between the issue of fidelity in translation and in marriage”, casting both in the light of gender subservience. Meanwhile, post-colonial theorists are interested in the dialectical relationship between hegemonic “master” systems and indigenous subversions of them, and the legitimacy of re-creating an autonomous identity through transforming the colonial “original” for the target society. For post-structuralists, translation is a process of textual manipulation and rewriting; Derrida even says that the source text is an unoriginal expansion of a preexistent idea, and thus itself a translation with no priority over translations of it. He and others also found support in earlier voices like Ezra Pound and Walter Benjamin, who see translation as creating an afterlife for a dead author. In Susan Bassnett’s words, the transformative process of translation “enables a text to continue life in another context, and the translated text becomes an original by virtue of its continued existence in that new context.” In sum, recent theories of translation are essentially target-oriented, focusing on pronouncements of self-worth and autonomous identity, while rejecting any hierarchy that privileges the source text and relegates translation to a secondary position.

Additional Information

ISBN of the source publication: 780657607X



Recommended Citation

Kwong, Y. T., & Tai, J. (2003). Its blooming waves wash away all heroes': Revisiting some problems in translating classical Chinese poetry. In A. Cheng, & L. Yang (Eds.), Comparative literature in the cross-cultural context (pp. 240-259). Nanjing: Yilin Press.

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