Between the translator and norms: A habitus-mediated case study of a Chinese translation of Looking Backward: 2000–1887

Huarui Guo

The paper explores the tension between the translator and target-cultural norms, using the British missionary, Timothy Richard (1845–1919), and his translation of Looking Backward: 2000–1887 in the late Qing dynasty as a case study. The study integrates a sociological framework as proposed by Pierre Bourdieu into Descriptive Translation Studies as developed by Gideon Toury. The related concepts include ‘norms’, ‘habitus’, ‘field’, and ‘capital’. Given that the translator was a professional missionary and not a professional translator, the dynamics of the translator’s habitus are connected with his professional role as a missionary and his position-taking in the broader social, cultural, and political contexts of the late Qing dynasty. The translator’s translation strategy at both the macro and micro levels are analyzed and interpreted. Interpretations are based on the translator’s habitus reconstructed from his early experiences and his position-taking in the broader context. The case study reveals the tension between the translator’s habitus and target-cultural norms, which in turn sheds some light on the situation in which missionaries found themselves in late Qing society.

Publication history
Table of contents

Norm theory as developed by Gideon Toury (1995) has been an important milestone in the history of Translation Studies, as it drew attention away from the traditional prescriptive paradigm to a modern descriptive paradigm bearing on translating practices. Norm theory shifted the focus of Translation Studies from source-orientedness to target-orientedness, from language-centeredness to culture-centeredness, and from seeking sameness to preserving differences (Chu 2015, 159).

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