Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Translator's Subjectivity in Lin Shu's Translation

Academic journal article Cross - Cultural Communication

Translator's Subjectivity in Lin Shu's Translation

Article excerpt


Lin Shu translated many foreign works for Chinese readers, but he had to cooperate with his oral interpreters in his translation process because he knew nothing about foreign languages. Translators and reviewers often criticized that what Lin Shu did was to utter his own voice and that he was not a translator but a secondhand story teller. A review of existing studies on Lin Shu's translation shows that they are mostly value judgments of correctness or adequacy of the translations using traditional perspective linguistic approach, which emphasizes the 'faithfulness to the original' principle. In the static text-centered studies, translator's subjectivity has been almost completely neglected. This paper tries to analyze translator's subjectivity in Lin's translation from four aspects: selection of the original, translation purpose, and textual form and translation strategies. It comes to the conclusion that it is due to Lin's subjectivity that his translations possessed a wide readership and became a great success in the literary translation history of China.

Key Words: Lin Shu's translation; Translator's subjectivity


Lin Shu was one of the most famous writers and translators in modern China. A man of remarkable talent, who produced in his life a large number of poems, essays, novels, and literary treatises, he made his contribution to modern Chinese literary history mainly by his amazingly extensive translations of foreign novels. Bali chahuanv yishi La dame aia camélias), his first translation (1899), caused a great sensation in China. Lin Shu was inspired by its success and kept translating foreign literary works. His translations let modern Chinese get to know many famous writers. As a pioneer of modern Chinese literary translation, it was him who began China's literary translation and made translation a conscious practice. His translation remains an academic interest in China's translation history.

1970s saw the occurrence of the cultural turn of translation study, which has brought out translator's subjectivity to the foregrounding position. Now, translator's subjectivity has become a hot issue. "The translator's subjectivity shows its influence not only in the process of translator's understanding, interpretation and artistic re-production of the originals, but also in the process of translator's selection of the originals, translator's cultural motivations, translation strategies, and the manipulation of translations' expected functions" (ZHA, 2003). Owing to the overlap in Zha's methodology and the particularity in Lin's case, the paper chooses to study from four aspects: selection of the original, translation purpose, textual form and translation strategies, which can best show how Lin Shu took his subjectivity as a translator.


What role did Lin Shu play in the selection of the original texts? It is widely accepted that Lin Shu did not know any foreign languages so the choice depends on his collaborators. Zheng Zhenduo said, "The collaborators randomly chose a book and narrated it to Lin Shu. Then Lin Shu wrote it down" (ZHENG, 1924, p. 12). Obviously, Zheng thought Lin played an entirely passive role in the selection process.

Zheng's opinion was representative but not reasonable. It is possible that his oral interpreters played a more important role, but Lin Shu was impossible to play an entirely passive role. First of all, Lin Shu could choose to translate or not translate the originals brought to him. Owing to the 'obstinacy' in his personality and his 'prestige' in the society, Lin may put his own consideration and judgment on the first place. His own decision was very likely to be accepted by his oral interpreters because most of them were his students or admirers.

Secondly, according to the prefaces or postscripts written by Lin Shu, it is not difficult to find his initiative in the original text selection. …

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