The Chinese tradition of translation studies

Review, reconstruction and modernisation

Authored by: Chunshen Zhu

The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Translation

Print publication date:  October  2017
Online publication date:  October  2017

Print ISBN: 9781138938267
eBook ISBN: 9781315675725
Adobe ISBN:


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To have a reviewable conception of the Chinese tradition of translation studies, or Chinese TS tradition for short, a question we have to answer first is: What is ‘tradition’? Tradition, first of all, is an idea. It is not an object like a family heirloom that can be physically transmitted from generation to generation, although transmittability is a defining factor of traditions. Benjamin has explained ideas with an analogy: ‘[ideas] are to objects as constellations to stars’, in the sense that an idea does not contain phenomena itself but is actualised by a constellation of objects that signify concepts in which phenomena are gathered and arranged (see Benjamin 1998: 34–5). And objects, inasmuch as they are elements of phenomena, cease to be natural objects but are semiotic artefacts of significance to human beings. In this light, ‘tradition of translation studies’ can be seen as an idea of ‘tradition’ specified by ‘translation studies’ to arrange the phenomena related to translation. In the literature, a ‘tradition of translation studies’ tends to be further specified with reference to a particular geographical region or ethnic nation, or a language, before it is delineated by a series of concepts (views and theories) derived from a variety of texts gathered to configure a genealogy of the knowledge in question. Following Benjamin’s analogy, we can say that a TS tradition is to translation-related texts as a constellation to stars. In other words, texts in this sense are not just printed matters but concept-bearing discursive artefacts that are gathered to form a constellation to sustain the intellectual identity of a perceived tradition.

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