Representations of the dead and the afterlife in translations of Mudan Ting, a masterpiece in Chinese Kunqu theatre
The aim of this paper is to identify and analyze the strategies used to translate into English death related cultural taboos viz. death, ghost and resurrection represented in the prominent classical Chinese drama Mudan Ting. Particular reference is made to the articulation of these taboos in three seminal English versions of Mudan Ting (as Peony Pavilion) by Cyril Birch, Wang Rongpei and Zhang Guanqian, respectively. Although these translators all follow the source text closely, certain differences in their translation strategies warrant attention. Cyril Birch takes an acculturation approach to the translation of death-related material, whereas Wang Rongpei adheres to the original text and tends to use semantic translation. In contrast, Zhang Guanqian usually translates literally, infusing the English text with a “foreign” flavor. These differences are examined in light of the general propensity among translators to take an avoidance approach to death-related material. The strategies used to translate taboo subjects are found to depend on the translator’s intentions, the target readership, the specific nature of the culturally loaded elements and the availability of equivalent expressions in the target language and culture.
Keywords: underworld, translation strategy, Mudan Ting, cultural taboo, death, ghost
Published online: 10 August 2016
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