Translational migration of martial arts fiction East and West

Olivia Mok

This paper explores the translational phenomenon of why so little of martial arts fiction has been translated into Western languages, compared to the copious amount into other Asian languages. Investigation into the translational migration of martial arts fiction demonstrates that the “normal” position assumed by translated literature tends to be a peripheral one. However, different patterns of behaviour can be observed, depending on the hegemonic relations between source and target cultures. In the West, martial arts fiction in English translation is being relegated to an extremely peripheral position. But martial arts fiction is able to make inroads into Asian countries, to the extent of stimulating a new literary form or (re)writing martial arts fiction in some indigenous languages.

Table of contents

Robert Chard, who pioneered the translation of martial arts fiction by introducing Huanzhulouzhu’s Blades from the Willows to the West in 1991, seems to be puzzled by the question of why this literary form, which depicts “exploits of chivalrous fighters [which] have captured the popular imagination for more than two thousand years, and are celebrated in ancient historical works and poetry”, has been neglected for so long. Chard points out that “the wide appeal of the genre is evident in the extraordinary proliferation of novels, comic books, films, and television serials throughout the Chinese speaking world, but it has seldom been taken seriously as a form of literature”, lamenting that “Chinese intellectuals condemn it as being worthless or even harmful (though many of them read it in private); scholars of modern Chinese literature in the West have largely ignored it”. Chard accuses those who consider themselves scholars of China who “turn a blind eye to such a widespread cultural phenomenon [ p. 82 ]because it is not good ‘literature’ of being narrow-minded” (all quotations from Chard 1991: 7).

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