Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Lin Shu, Inc.: Translation and the Making of Modern Chinese Culture

Magazine article Chinese Literature Today

Lin Shu, Inc.: Translation and the Making of Modern Chinese Culture

Article excerpt

Michael Gibbs Hill. Lin Shu, Inc.: Translation and the Making of Modern Chinese Culture. Nonfiction. Oxford. Oxford University Press. 2012. xiii+294 pages. $65.00 ISBN 9780199892884

The whimsical three-letter addition to the title of Michael Hill's book signals that what the reader will find in the pages to follow is by no means simply a biographically oriented work on Lin Shu, one of the figures whose importance in the making of modern Chinese culture within a global framework cannot be overestimated. By appending "Inc." to the name "Lin Shu," Hill not only puns elegantly on a famous work by Jacques Derrida. He also promises a multi-faceted treatment of a phenomenon that challenges common assumptions about Chinese modernity and basic tenets of translation theory alike.

Converting the individual Lin Shu into an enterprise underlines two key factors involved in the making of this Chinese literatus buffeted by the lure of cultural modernity with a Western face and the attraction of traditional Chinese culture, who is best known as the translator (or indeed cotranslator) of an impressive number of Western texts into Chinese. The first factor is that collaboration played a central role in producing the translations sold under the brand name "Lin Shu"-the work was the outcome of a circle of intellectuals, rather than the individual accomplishment of a "translator" who famously did not know any of the languages he translated from so prolifically. The second factor is that intellectual labor and cultural production at the time were inextricably linked to economic interests and overdetermined by strategies of marketing.

Consequently, Lin Shu, Inc. strikes an interesting, if at times precarious balance between Lin Shu the individual and Lin Shu the brand name (Lin Shu's collaborators, for instance, mostly inhabit the admittedly helpful appendix). The book's narrative arc traces Lin Shu's career chronologically, from his first translational successes to the increasing commercialization of his work and, finally, the decline of his reputation, his name become a moniker of cultural conservatism under the attack of proponents of the New Culture Movement. And yet, each of the six chapters, framed by an introduction and a conclusion, does more than just chronicle a segment of Lin Shu's career. Minimally, each chapter carefully contextualizes an aspect of the multi-faceted phenomenon that was Lin Shu, be it as writer, translator, media star, or archconservative symbol, and places it in a broader context of literary and extra-literary practices, combining snapAs shots of intellectual history and cultural studies. When the book is at its best, in such chapters as "The Name Is Changed, but the Tale Is Told of You" (chapter 2) and "Double Exposure" (chapter 3), Lin Shu, Inc. moves from close textual analyses of the translations to insightful conceptual reflections on questions of translatability and intercultural (in)commensurability.

Rather than outlining each of the individual chapters (see the "Chapter Outline" in the introduction to the book, pages 20-24), I would like to comment on the book's contributions to the two fields in which it posits itself: the study of modern Chinese culture on the one hand and translation studies with its intercultural and comparative impetus on the other. …

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