Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Constraints in Lin Shu's Literary Translation: A Social-Cultural Perspective

Academic journal article Studies in Literature and Language

Constraints in Lin Shu's Literary Translation: A Social-Cultural Perspective

Article excerpt


Lin Shu was one of the most famous translators in modern China. He was a monolingual who had to rely heavily on his collaborators in his translation. Therefore, translators or critics often find faults with him, criticizing that Lin Shu seemed to have been more concerned about spinning his own yarn than acting as a faithful intermediary between the original writer and his Chinese reader. Most of these studies on Lin's translation were carried out through traditional linguistic approach. The traditional translation study focuses on the analysis of linguistic transformation and puts the principle of "faithfulness to the original" on the first place, ignoring the socialcultural factors. Based on Lefevere's view of constraint, this paper tries to make a detailed analysis of ideological and poetical factors that manipulated Lin Shu. It comes to the conclusion that the ideology and poetics of the target culture are the most important factors that influenced the translator when he selected, understood and reproduced the sour text.

Key words: Lin Shu's literary translation; Ideological constraint; Poetical constraint

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Lin Shu was born on November 8th, 1852, in Fujian China. He was best known for his translations of western novels. After his first translation, Bali chahuanv yishi (La dame aux camélias), was published in 1899, it caused a national sensation among the Chinese readers. Its success inspired Lin Shu's ongoing introduction of foreign literature. For approximately twenty years thereafter, Lin Shu translated more than 180 foreign literary works into Chinese. It was through his translations that modern Chinese came to know many world-renowned writers and their books and realized that western literature was as excellent as Chinese literature. As a pioneer in modern Chinese history of literary translation, he started literary translation in China and made the translation of foreign literature a conscious practice. Therefore, Lin Shu's translation is of great academic interest in the Chinese history of translation and modern Chinese literary history.

In his translation process, Lin Shu fully shows his subjectivity as a translator. He translated foreign literary works in classical Chinese instead of modern Chinese. He preferred free translation to literal translation so translation techniques such as addition, deletion and alteration were not unusual in his translations. However, Lin Shu's freedom was not without restriction. As a matter of fact, he had to be subject to some factors at each stage of translating. This paper will probe into the constraints on translator's subjectivity in Lin's translation from sociocultural perspective. Let's look at Lefevere's view of constraint first, upon which the current study is based.


André Lefevere (1946-1996), a native of Belgium, is one of the most influential scholars in "Translation Studies". In 1990s, Lefevere took an interest in the norms and constraints that govern the translator. His essays clearly showed how translators operate under constraints of ideological beliefs and poetical norms inherent in the target culture or how translation is in ideological and poetical manipulation. In the introduction of his book Translation/History/Culture: A Sourcebook, he made such statement of constraints:

Translation needs to be studied in connection with power and patronage, ideology and poetics, with emphasis on the various attempts to shore up or undermine an existing ideology or an existing poetics.

Contrary to traditional translation theory, Lefevere demonstratively puts language at the bottom of constraint list: "It is my conviction that translations are made under a number of constraints of which language is arguable the least important" (Lefevere, 2004, p. xii). Indeed, most of his later essays and nearly all of his case studies and examples are designed to illustrate the importance of ideology and poetics at the expense of the language factor. …

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