The Role of the Foreign Translator in the Chinese Translation Tradition, 2nd to 19th Century

Eva Hung
Research Centre for Translation, CUHK

Abstract

This is the first comprehensive study of the crucial role non-Chinese translators played in China's translation history. Drawing from records of three peak periods of translation activities in China, some dating back to as early as the mid-2nd century, the author presents the case of China's traditional reliance on foreign assistance in culturally important translation work, and argues that this was a direct result of the norms within mainstream Chinese culture. The article also explains how China's translation tradition underwent a dramatic change at the turn of the 20th century, and the disruptive effects this has had on translation scholarship.

Table of contents

The time scope covered by this article is the period between the 2nd century and the late 19th century, and it is to the major translation activities which aimed at introducing foreign knowledge into China that the 'Chinese Translation Tradition' refers. In my view, the last few years of the 19th century [ p. 224 ]marked the beginning of the modern Chinese translation tradition, when all the norms related to translation activities—as well as the positioning of such activities within Chinese culture itself—underwent dramatic changes. The foreign translator's significance within the modern tradition in terms of translating into Chinese is minimal, and reference to it will be made only to throw light on how cultural transitions affected translation norms and practices.

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