- An Anthology of Chinese Discourse on Translation, Volume 1, From Earliest Times to the Buddhist Project
This anthology, most ably edited by Martha Cheung of Hong Kong Baptist University, is built on a long-term collective endeavor involving a large number of outstanding translation scholars and translators from both Hong Kong and mainland China. Although most of the material included is readily available elsewhere in Chinese, this volume presents it to the international translation studies community in English translation, in an intelligent and intelligible editorial format, thereby providing a fascinating mass of material for scholars with no knowledge of the Chinese language. This is Hong Kong scholarship as its very best. It is Hong Kong playing its age-old role of China’s face to the world. It will certainly help to dispel the reputation China has acquired of having always been a monolingual, monolithic, inward-looking culture in which translation has played little part. It will also [End Page 321] provide a healthy addition to the prevailing debate, conducted in centers of translation studies, which mostly operate in English (despite their stated ambitions not to be Eurocentric). Here is a wealth of detailed examples of the eloquent Chinese way of talking about translation, about the Chinese practice and philosophy of the art of translation. As the editor proudly states in her introduction, it will, in a broader sense, contribute to “a fuller understanding of and a deeper respect for Chinese culture” (p. 2).
This practice and philosophy—this way of talking—have for many centuries taken place within the broader Chinese framework of talking about literature and art, and, indeed, about life in general. It is, therefore, only to be expected that the underlying ideology will seem to some non-Chinese observers to be as surprising as a Zen koan, as enigmatic as a line from the Confucian Analects or from the Taoist classic, the Daodejing (both, incidentally, represented in the anthology). This is as it should be. Translation as a human activity can hardly be an exception to the overall rules of cultural discourse. In China, for many hundreds of years, the nature of the process of translation was bound to reflect the perceived nature of the universe, of its transactions, and of all human experience. To put it more starkly, in the words of the Buddhist monk Zan Ning from the twelfth century: “Translation is change.” Change, especially as amplified in that classic of classics, The Book of Change, was part of the common currency, the common ground, of the three shared pillars of Chinese philosophy: Confucianism, Taoism, and Buddhism. This broad consensus informed attitudes toward translation as transformation, as an art, as a tool for understanding, as an aspect of the human condition, and as a dimension of enlightenment. As Marcel Proust understood and stated so unforgettably, the art of translation is at its deepest level the art of life; it is an act whereby the inner life (la vie intérieure) is externalized, transformed, and articulated.
The overwhelming portion of this fine anthology (156 out of a total of 268 pages) is devoted to “the Buddhist project,” from the earliest practitioners such as An Shigao (2nd century c.e.) and Dao An (312/14–385), to the later discourses of the Tang and Song dynasties. While readers may not always agree with the editor’s terminology (I for one see no compelling reason for substituting the unattractive “Ruism” for the well-worn “Confucianism”), there is an overall quality of excellence in the presentation of this wide range of testimonies. The translations themselves are accurate, fluent, and above all intelligent. The contextual descriptions are scholarly without being pedantic.
This Chinese “discourse” (a word carefully chosen by the editor to avoid the awkwardly inappropriate connotations of “theory”) on translation stands in relation to much Western writing on translation, rather as the traditional Chinese “discourse” on literature stands in relation to Western literary criticism. The hundreds...