Translation and revolution in twentieth-century China

Authored by: Ning Wang

The Routledge Handbook of Translation and Politics

Print publication date:  April  2018
Online publication date:  April  2018

Print ISBN: 9781138657564
eBook ISBN: 9781315621289
Adobe ISBN:


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In the process of the Chinese revolution, translation has played a very important role, not only in bringing international advanced science and technology and the concept of democracy into China at the turn of the 20th century, but also in enabling China to take a socialist road and finally to be part of the socialist group headed by the former Soviet Union. Even after the founding of the People’s Republic of China, instructed by the late Chairman Mao Zedong (1893–1976) to continue the revolution under the dictatorship of the proletariat, and by the late Deng Xiaoping (1904–1997), the paramount leader in the 1980s and early 1990s, to practise a policy of opening up to the outside world, and of economic reform, translation has continued to function pragmatically and on a large scale. At present, after reform and opening up during the past four decades, China has entered a post-revolutionary or post-socialist era (Wang 2012) in which economic development is highlighted to such an extent that class struggle and large-scale mass movements are not called for in any public media. Stability and a flourishing economy are among the desires of ordinary people (including some elite intellectuals in the humanities who have largely benefited from reform and openness). Through several decades’ construction and development, China has become the second economic power in the world. The country is currently undergoing a sort of ‘depovertizing’ and ‘de-Third-Worldizing’ process, in which Chinese culture and literature are trying to move toward the world in an attempt to make greater contributions to global culture and world literature. In this sense, translation plays an even more important role in exporting Chinese culture and thought to the world. It could therefore be argued that translation is closely related to revolution in twentieth-century China: democratic revolution before 1949, socialist revolution after 1949 and now post-socialist revolution since the beginning of the 1990s, which cannot have been carried out successfully without the contribution of translation. In the present chapter, I divide translation in the long process of the Chinese revolution into four stages, and deal with the different roles that translation has played at these different stages throughout the twentieth century.

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