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Reviewed by:
  • Tang shi xi chuan shi lun: Yi Tang shi zai Ying Mei de chuan bo wei zhong xin 唐诗西传史论
  • Fusheng Wu (bio)
Jiang Lan 江岚. Tang shi xi chuan shi lun: Yi Tang shi zai Ying Mei de chuan bo wei zhong xin 唐诗西传史论. Beijing: Xue yuan chu ban she, 2009. 325 pages. Paperback RMB40. ISBN 978-7-5077-3425-6.

This is a thorough account, as well as a study, of the English translation of Tang dynasty poetry from the nineteenth century to late twentieth century. Its fifteen chapters include all major figures and works on the subject during this long historical period. To assist readers and researchers in their reading and study, the author also added two appendixes. One lists chronologically the major publications on the subject, and the other provides the Chinese names of the major translators of Chinese poetry. Curiously, though, the latter seems to have been arranged randomly, which makes it inconvenient to use. The same may be said of the references at the back of the book, for they are not listed according to their alphabetic order as they normally are in scholarly books.

Roy Earl Teele once wrote a brief history of English translation of Chinese poetry, entitled Through a Glass Darkly: A Study of English Translations of Chinese Poetry (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 1949), which Jiang seems not to have come across in her research. Jiang’s book, however, is not only more up-to-date, for obvious reasons, but also less sketchy in her account of the various translators’ careers and in her analysis of their translations. The chapter on Arthur Waley, for example, is twenty-seven pages long. It touches upon Waley’s personal background, his views of Chinese poetry, his major publications, his translations of Bai Juyi and Li Bai, the general characteristics of Waley’s rendering of Tang poetry, and, finally, a critical evaluation of Waley’s translation of Tang poetry. Jiang gives the same treatment to nearly all major figures of her subject; the result is a book that provides not just a detailed historical survey of English translation of Tang poetry, but also a sensitive interpretation of it.

While Jiang must be praised for her overall conscientious analysis and for her apparent passion for the subject, there are places where her Chinese translations of [End Page 76] English works under discussion are inaccurate enough as to cause doubt about her judgments on the issues in question. For example, in her discussion of Waley’s views of Chinese poetry, she states that “韦利认为中国文学是哲理的文学 (philosophic literature)” (p. 116). Waley, in fact, said, “Her [China’s] philosophic literature knows no mean between the traditionalism of Confucius and the nihilism of Chuang-tzu.”1 Here, Waley is recounting one of the prejudices in the West against Chinese philosophical tradition. “Literature” here was used in the sense of “writing” 著作, and Waley was not discussing the “literature” 文学 of China. One the same page, Waley did make a comment on Chinese literature. He says that “the literature of the country should excel in reflection rather than in speculation,” and this, in Jiang’s translation, becomes “中国人认为一个国家的文学应当长于思索 而不是投机取巧” (p. 116). Needless to say, “speculation” here means the act of “theorizing” 推理,思辨 in thinking, not 投机取巧, which refers to behavior in financial dealings. Jiang’s Chinese rendering of a passage of Pound’s “Canto LXXXV” is particularly troubling. The original reads

Our dynasty came in because of a great sensibility. All there by the time of I Yin 伊 All roots by the time of I Yin 尹

Anyone with a basic knowledge of Chinese history will realize that 伊尹 was a minister of the Shang dynasty. Pound often used Chinese characters in his poems for various reasons, but here he was merely repeating in Chinese characters what he wrote in English, or vise versa. In other words, “I Yin” was the romanization of the Chinese minister’s name. But here is what we have in Jiang’s Chinese translation of these three lines:

我们的王朝来自于一种超常敏感 其存在经由我尹时候 其根源经由我尹时候

(p. 211)

One can only wonder whether Jiang has understood this passage.

In recent years, translation studies has gained momentum both in China and the West. Chinese scholars seem increasingly interested in the Western translation of Chinese poetry...