Academic journal article Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese

Taking Hope to China: An Example of Late-Qing Translation

Academic journal article Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese

Taking Hope to China: An Example of Late-Qing Translation

Article excerpt

Since its publication in 1894, Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] has been popular with generations of young readers in Britain. In 1912 the novel was translated into Chinese and published in installments in Xiaoshuo yuebao [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (The Short Story Magazine) (1912, nos. 1-8). The short, 140-page novel was translated relatively faithfully and completely by Gan Yonglong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] and Zhu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1) under the title Lugong mishi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Mystery at the Court of Lu). However there were some changes and interferences with the original text and these made of the somewhat light and entertaining English novel a rather different text in Chinese. The novel was not translated because of its intrinsic plot interest or its significance; its plot and characters were borrowed to illustrate to Chinese readers the kind of literature late-Qing reformers were espousing. Thus the translation of Anthony Hope's novel was intimately linked with the hope for a new national literature for China. The present discussion of the translators' interferences with and alterations to the English novel will be at the centre of this article as well as the issue of how we can interpret such interventions into a text. However, it would seem apposite at the outset to introduce very briefly both the context of the translation activity and the plot of the novel since, for many, Anthony Hope's The Prisoner of Zenda may not have been part of their early reading.

Fiction, Journals and Translations

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the genre of fiction was rediscovered in China. China had, of course, always had a tradition of fiction writing, but this was very much subordinated to the genres of poetry and prose. Thus the newly invented xin xiaoshuo [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (new fiction) was to be a socio-political cure-all and play a role in the modernization of the country. 1898 saw the publication of Liang Qichao's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (1873-1929) famous and, since then, much cited assessment of the influence of fiction in Western countries and Japan. He opined that in these countries respected individuals wrote novels in which they presented their political views and that these novels were read and discussed in all social circles and had consequently often led to changes or reforms in the relevant countries. (2) These and other similar statements on the political and social uses of fiction as a modern national literature triggered increased translation of foreign works of fiction in China. (3)

This "discovery" and support for political fiction together with the supposed reformatory force of modern national literatures (at least in those countries considered stronger or more modern than China) did not in fact lead to translators exclusively concentrating on the rendering of so-called political novels into Chinese. The number of such translations is, on the contrary, relatively negligible. Novels such as Disraeli's Sybil or Bulwer-Lytton's Ernest Maltravers, which had earlier been translated into Japanese, were not the most popular items for translation in China. It would seem that neither they nor Liang Qichao's own attempts at the fiction he so espoused could gain readers' interest. (4) The leading items for translation were, on the contrary, contemporary bestsellers, especially those from England. There would appear to be a number of reasons for this trend and these can be linked both to the new theoretical ideas about fiction in China as well as to the growing market for fiction journals in China and in Britain.

One of the most popular types of foreign fiction for Chinese translators and their readership was stories of crime and detection together with stories in which there were mysteries and political intrigues. (5) Such stories provided examples of modern man with modern capabilities and modern knowledge; they showed a Chinese audience considered in need of instruction how problems could be solved or how one took on social responsibility. …

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