The fight metaphor in translation: From patriotism to pragmatism. A corpus-based critical analysis of metaphor in China’s political discourse


The fight metaphors discussed in this article are linguistic expressions of physical conflict, a revolutionary legacy that still lingers in contemporary Chinese political discourse. This article takes a critical cognitive-linguistic approach to fight metaphors in translation, analysing a dataset comprising the Chinese governmental and Communist Party of China’s congressional reports and their official English-language translations from 2004 to 2020. The discussion highlights conceptual metaphor’s representational role and its ideological potential in discourse, and operationalises the English-based metaphor identification procedure (Steen et al. 2010) for Mandarin texts. Drawing on corpus-based evidence, the article argues that fight metaphors in the source texts (STs) legitimise and consolidate Beijing’s dominance of domestic power by generating positive representations and reproducing patriotic ideology. The translations of those metaphors transform Beijing’s image, assertive in the STs, into a non-aggressive one for the international readership. The target texts (TTs) also reproduce favourable representations from the STs to justify China’s unique political system and to satisfy a pragmatic need – that of constructing positive images for the Chinese authority and China internationally.

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Table of contents

Political discourse studies often centre on “how the world is presented to the public through particular forms of linguistic representation” (Wilson 2015, 776). One important aspect of the linguistically refracted world is the role played by political elites, who usually portray themselves positively to advance their interests and to justify as well as strengthen their grip on power. Since its opening-up to the outside world in 1978, the Chinese authority, the Communist Party of China (CPC), has been keen to represent itself on the global stage through its international publicity, a substantial component of which is produced through state-sanctioned translation and interpreting. A number of Translation and Interpreting Studies (TIS) scholars have demonstrated how Beijing constructs and transforms its image by examining its translation of appraisal resources (Li and Pan 2021) and agency (Yu and Wu 2018), as well as its interpreting of present-perfect constructions (Gu 2018) and institutional self-referential items (Gu 2019; Gu and Tipton 2020). However, as a more prevalent representational device, metaphor is under-explored in the TIS research on China’s political discourse.

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