An Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation, Volume 1

Martha P.Y. Cheung (ed.) (2006)

St Jerome: Manchester, pp. 340, ISBN 1-900650-92-4(hbk). Price: $45

Reviewed by: Fan Min

This ground-breaking, logically well-structured and brilliant anthology provides a scholarly documentation of one of the greatest cross-cultural transactions in human history: the translation of Buddhist sutras into Chinese. It comprises over 250 passages, most of which are translated into English for the first time. It is edited and commented by Martha P.Y. Cheung, Professor and Head of the Translation Program and Director of the Centre for Translation at Hong Kong Baptist University as well as translator of several important books, including the works of Han Shaogong (Homecoming? And Other Stories, 1992), Liu Sola (Blue Sky Green Sea and Other Stories, 1993), and Hong Kong poets such as Leung Ping Kwan (Foodscape, 1997 and Traveling with a Bitter Melon, 2002, co-editor and co-translator with Jane C.C. Lai of An Oxford Anthology of Contemporary Chinese Drama (1997) and co-translator with Jane C.C. Lai of 100 Excerpts from Zen Buddhist Texts (1997), Editor-in-Chief (Chinese translation) of the Oxford Children's Encyclopedia (9 volumes, 2082 entries, 1998), and Editor-in-Chief (English translation) of An Illustrated Chinese Materia Medica in Hong Kong (506 entries, 2004). The anthology explores Chinese discourses on translation from the earliest period to the twentieth century, “moving translation studies to a new stage of internationalism and opening up a dialogue in English between Chinese and Western thinking about translation and intercultural exchange” as Maria Tymoczko comments in the preface. It contains valuable primary materials and allows readers to access the minds of translators working in a time and space markedly different from ours and in ways foreign or even inconceivable to us.

The title -“An Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation” rather than possible alternatives such as “An Anthology of Chinese Theories on Translation” or “An Anthology of Chinese Thought on Translation”- is well-chosen since it allows for various factors to be taken into consideration, particularly ideological factors such as patronage, poetics or economics in writing and translating. The anthology is divided into two volumes: volume 1, covering a time-frame from roughly the fifth century BCE to the twelfth century CE, deals with what can loosely be called government translation, and with the monumental project—lasting some ten centuries—of Buddhist sutra translation; volume 2 spans from the thirteenth century CE to the Revolution of 1911, which brought an end to feudal China. It includes the main stages of the transmission of Western knowledge to China---a translation venture that changed, quite dramatically, the epistemological horizon and even the mindset of Chinese people. The two volumes together constitute the coherent parts of the whole anthology on the subject of translation in China, including diverse views, reflections and theoretical thinking about translation expressed by Chinese scholars and translators, and also by translators and scholars translating into Chinese down the centuries. The topics discussed are familiar to readers, but instead of a comfortable trip on well-trodden ground, the anthology invites us on an exciting journey of the imagination. Martha Cheung adopts and develops the methodology of “thick translation” (Appiah 2000) as a translation approach to Chinese cultural concepts and technical terms related to translation, making them accessible even for readers who have little knowledge of Chinese cultural traditions.

As Cheung (p.2) argues, the anthology “highlights translation as a form of cultural representation, and not merely as a process of interlingual communication, so as to promote in the target language culture a fuller understanding of and a deeper respect for Chinese culture. “Thick Translation”, according to Kwame Anthony Appiah (2000:3), should be “‘context-dependent’ (that is targeted at specific types of readers), and attentive to the importance of contextualization, which can be achieved through the use of annotations and glosses”. Appiah has not commented on the colloquial meanings of the word “thick”, whereas Cheung (p. 3) points out that “achieving ‘thick translation’ entails four main considerations: (1) how are we to bring out the rich nuances of meaning of key Chinese translation concepts without relying on the conventional means of replacing them with apparently ‘correspondingly’ concepts in the target culture, and thus erasing important differences and distinctness? (2) How are we to ensure that the salient features of Chinese discourse on translation can surface in spite of the linguistic and cultural divide? (3) How are we to convey the cultural tradition, or evoke a sense---some sense---of the cultural tradition in which the key concepts are rooted? (4) How much historical and other background information needs to be provided to facilitate comprehension?” From the whole anthology, we can find that these four considerations are interrelated and complementary.

The satisfaction of the first two considerations is dependent on those of the last ones being met. This means that “in order to interpret, describe, represent, and re-present the Chinese translation concepts and the salient features of Chinese discourse on translation adequately (in order to, as it were, translate ‘thickly’), ways must be found to bring the Chinese cultural tradition to life, and sufficient background has to be provided” (ibid). For example, entry 13 (p. 34) runs as follows:

The Man of True Virtue (Attributed to) Kongzi(Confucius)(traditionally 551-479 BCE), from “Wenyanzhuan qianjiusan” 文言传•乾九三(Sayings on Patterning 25 [with reference to] the Third Line of Hexagram 1, Qian or Heaven), Zhouyi 周易 ( Zhou Changes) The Master said, “The man of true virtue [junzi 君子]”seeks improvement and builds up his accomplishments. His heart does not weaver and he is trustworthy [xin 信]; that is how he seeks improvement. He attends to his words and establishes his sincerity; that is how he can build up his accomplishments. He knows how far he can go, and goes as he can; hence he is in tune with the minutest signs of things. He knows the time to stop, and he stops in time; hence can maintain his righteousness. Therefore he is not proud when in a high position, nor worried when in a low one. In this way he can be active and in strong spirit all day long, and can remain vigilant and prudent as the time requires; even though he may encounter danger, he will suffer no misfortune. ”26 (Text prepared and translated by Martha Cheung) Commentary In the period covered by the two volumes of this anthology (that is from ancient times until 1911), Konzi’s idea of the junzi ( the man of true virtue) exerted a profound influence on the moral and cultural consciousness of all Chinese, especially the educated. Hence trustworthy (xin 信), which often goes together with sincerity (cheng诚,sometimes also used to translate xin 信) to form one of the essential qualities of a man of true virtue, is a quality much stress in Chinese discourse on translation. 25 “Sayings on Patterning” is another of the appendices of the Zhou Changes. “Patterning”, used here to translate wen 文, is one of the meanings of this character, the others being attentive to form and beauty (entry 6), literary patterning (entry 4) and refined studies (entry 4).

In this excerpt, Kongzi is presented as giving an explanation of the meaning of the third line of the qian 乾 hexagram, which reads, “The prince [junzi 君子] is active and in strong spirit all day long, and remains vigilant and prudent even at night; he may encounter danger, but he will suffer no misfortune.” 26 It should be noted that while “prince” is used to translate juni 君子in footnote 25( which gives the text of the third line of the qian 乾 hexagram), here in the translation proper, which contains Kongzi’s commentary on that line of the qian 乾 hexagram, junzi is rendered as “the man of true virtue”. The difference in rendering is deliberate, and to be explained by the gradual broadening of the meaning of the term junzi. Literally the son (zi 子) of a ruler (jun 君), the term junzi, during the Western Zhou Dynasty (c. eleventh century---771 BCE) referred to “princes” and hence it is translated as “prince” in footnote 25, which has a context that situates the term junzi in a historical period attributable to that of the Zhou era(entry 12n.21). Besides, as Arther Waley has noted, in the Western Zhou and in earlier periods, “[t]here was no conception of a human morality, of abstract virtues incumbent upon all men irrespective of their social standing, but only an insistence that people of a certain class should fulfill certain rites and maintain certain attitudes”. For this reason, the main duty of a junzi was “to be dignified and so inspire respect in the common people” (Waley 1937: 293). Kongzi, however, was committed to the ideal of education for all and emphasized the importance of moral self-cultivation for everyone and not just the kings and princes of a state. He therefore invested the term with new and additional meanings. Instead of simply “a man of noble birth”, Kongzi used the term junzi to refer also to members of the ruling class, and, more importantly, as a term of praise for the man of true virtue, that is someone with nobility of character and accomplishments. In this sense, a man of true virtue is a junzi, whether he was actually born a prince or not. Since junzi represented Kongzi’s ideal of what an individual should aspire to be and was a central tenet of his teaching, it is hoped that by translating their semantic relation in this footnote, the change in meaning may be brought across. For a useful summary of the gradual change in meaning of the term junzi, see Rutt 1996: 9.

As we can see, the annotations provide cultural, historical, textual and contextual information so as to facilitate the reader’s understanding of the passages translated. Generally speaking, if one starts from the texts related to previously existing texts in an alleged relationship, one ends up with intertextuality in general. Therefore, the commentaries at the end of each passage establish intertextual links between entries and provide useful guidance for the readers. The use of annotations and commentaries is particularly useful since “a text is produced by a producer under given (idio-, dia- and para-) cultural and situational conditions intended to convey certain information (in the broadest sense of the word) for an intended, i.e. more or less imaginable and /or possibly even describable, group of recipients, the so-called addressees” (Vermeer 1996:69), while “a text is context-determined. Text reception takes place under ‘complementary’, but equally complex conditions different from the producer’s/sender’s conditions” (ibid). We all know that books, especially academic publications, are not to be judged by the cover. Yet, the cover of the volume, featuring Xuanzang (Hsüan-tsang) (602-664 C.E.), a Buddhist pilgrim on the Silk Road and ambassador of China-India friendship, is more than telling. Xuanzang is famous for his sixteen-year pilgrimage to India and his career as a translator of Buddhist scriptures, so he is one of the most illustrious figures in the history of Chinese scholastic Buddhism. It is through Xuanzang and his chief disciple Kuiji (K'uei-chi) (632-682) that the Faxiang (Fa-hsiang or Yogacara) School was initiated in China. In order to honor the famous Buddhist scholar, the Tang Emperor Gaozong (Gao-tsung) cancelled all audiences for three days after Xuanzang's death.

The picture in the book cover offers readers a journey of the imagination and helps readers memorize the exciting experience of reading. In addition, the color of the book cover is scarlet, which symbolizes warmness, gravity, high position and noble status, is very appropriate and consistent to the content of this anthology. The anthology contains illustrations such as the map of “lands of the Silk Road: eastern aspect at the beginning of the 21st and century” and diagrams such as “Chronology of Chinese Dynasties” and “Conversion Table--- Pinyin to Wade-Giles”, which make the whole volume vivid and clear. The reference section also contains “Biographies of Persons Mentioned in the Text” and “Works Cited”, while indexes are subdivided into a “Title Index”, a “Name Index” and a “General Index”, making the anthology easy to follow. Being, as the title indicates, a collection of Chinese discourse on translation from the earliest period to the twentieth century, there are several entries on similar themes; these, however, are not cross-referenced within the book. For instance, entry 6 “Substance And Attention To Form And Beauty”, entry 9 “Get your meaning Across” and entry 14 “Literary Patterning Gives Fore to Language” provide us with some understanding of Kongzi’s view on language and how language should be used, but the editor does not explicitly cross-reference them, although she mentions the connection between the three entries in the commentary of entry 14. Moreover, given space and time restrictions, the editor does not provide a detailed analysis of contextual factors of “thick translation” in her introduction, although she mentions that “contextualization is the key to achieving thick translation”.

This anthology as a whole is nevertheless a valuable contribution to the area of translation studies and of cross-cultural communication studies. As John Minford comments in the preface, it demonstrates “more effectively than any history or theoretical treatise the utter falseness of the view that medieval China was a closed cultural universe”, and it is really informative, instructive and enlightening for translators, researchers, teachers and other readers with an interest in translation studies, cultural studies and literary studies.

* This review is sponsored by China Education Ministry Research Program “ Computer-aided Translation (CAT) Teaching: Theory and Practice(09YJA740072)”.


Appiah, Kwame Anthony (2000) “Thick Translation”, in Venuti, Lawrence (ed.) The Translation Studies Reader, London; New York: Routledge, 417-429.

Vermeer, Hans J. (1996) A Skopos Theory of Translation (Some arguments for and against), Heidelberg: Reihe Wissenschaft.

©inTRAlinea & Fan Min (2010).
[Review] "An Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation, Volume 1", inTRAlinea Vol. 12
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