The retranslation of Chinese political texts: Ideology, norms, and evolution
Feng Pan and Tao Li
Huazhong University of Science and Technology | Shanghai Ocean University
The past three decades have witnessed an increase in research on retranslation. Drawing on Critical Discourse Analysis,
this study examines the retranslation of political texts – specifically Work Reports by the Communist Party of China – as a special genre in
its own right. By concentrating on the retranslation of a recurring set of Chinese political concepts, culture-specific items, and preferred
usages into English from the early 1990s to the late 2010s, this study shows how and why the retranslations have been carried out, as
motivated by the evolving ideologies of the original author – the Communist Party of China. The retranslations are shown to be influenced by
the broader social, economic, and political dynamics within China, rather than by prevailing factors within the receiving culture or
variables associated with the individual translators, as is commonly suggested in the literature. Our findings add to the existing body of
research into retranslation by extending the genres and contexts of retranslation research.
Since 1978, China has launched a series of significant political and economic reforms with the aspiration of better integrating into the global community. Along with increasing international exchanges, China has realized the urgency of introducing itself to the global community and conveying its own voice in order to discursively build a positive self-image internationally. The translation of Chinese political texts has been adopted as an important means to accomplish this goal. Since the early 1990s, an array of prominent political texts has been selected for translation into English and other languages. Aside from their similar textual structures and some overlapping content, a multiplicity of political concepts and culture- and language-specific items are repeated across these texts. Between the early 1990s and the late 2010s, a number of these recurrent items have been retranslated since their initial translations into English. Retranslation is understood here as the “subsequent translations of a text, or part of a text, carried out after the initial translation which had introduced this text to the same target language” (Susam-Sarajeva 2006, 135; emphasis added). Acknowledging that retranslation “occurs at all textual levels” (Brownlie 2006, 152; see also Baker and Jones 2020), the ‘part of a text’ considered in our study are those recurrent items across texts that have political or cultural connotations. The reasons behind these retranslations are of interest since political texts, which carry ideological and political connotations, are not typically included among genres prone to being retranslated (Tahir Gürçağlar 2009, 233). Drawing on Critical Discourse Analysis (CDA), this study aims to investigate how and why the same items in Chinese political texts were retranslated between the early 1990s and late 2010s.
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