Volume 13, No. 3 
July 2009


Wang Baorong


Front Page

Select one of the previous 48 issues.


Index 1997-2009

TJ Interactive: Translation Journal Blog

  Translator Profiles
Success through Lifetime Learning
by Gerardo Konig

  The Profession
The Bottom Line
by Fire Ant & Worker Bee
  In Memoriam
In Memoriam—Ben Teague, 1945 - 2009
by Gabe Bokor

  Translation Nuts and Bolts
What's Cooking: Translating Food

by Brett Jocelyn Epstein
  Medical Translation
Physician Extenders—Who are they? Are they measuring up?
by Rafael A. Rivera, M.D., FACP
Translation of Medical Terms
by Katrin Herget, Teresa Alegre

  Cultural Aspects of Translation
Cultural Untranslatability
by Kanji Kitamura

  Translation History
The Issue of Direction of Translation in China: A Historical Overview
by Wang Baorong

  The Translator & the Computer
Automatic Translation in Multilingual Electronic Meetings
by Milam Aiken, Mina Park, Lakisha Simmons, and Tobin Lindblom

  Arts & Entertainment
On the Dubbing of Humor: Tidying Up the Room
Juan José Martínez-Sierra, Ph.D.
Doblaje audiovisual y publicidad—Reflexiones en torno al concepto de manipulación
Isabel Cómitre Narváez

  Literary Translation
Chosen Aspects of the Polish Translation of J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone by Andrzej Polkowski: Translating Proper Names
by Anna Standowicz
A Key Word in Gabriel García Márquez's One Hundred Years of Solitude
by Dr. James McCutcheon

  Translator Education
Communication Strategies Do Work! A study on the usage of communication strategies in translation by Iranian students of translation
by Sahar Farrahi Avval
The Applications of Keywords and Collocations to Translation-Studies and Teaching—A Tentative Research on the Parallel Corpus of the 17th NCCPC Report
by Dai Guangrong

  Translators' Tools
The Google Translation Center That Was to Be
by Jost Zetzsche
Thirteen Days in June—Adventures with SDL/Trados
by Danilo Nogueira and Kelli Semolini
Translators’ Emporium

  Caught in the Web
Web Surfing for Fun and Profit
by Cathy Flick, Ph.D.
Translators’ On-Line Resources
by Gabe Bokor
Translators’ Best Websites
by Gabe Bokor

Call for Papers and Editorial Policies
  Translation Journal

St. Jerome

The Issue of Direction of Translation in China:

A Historical Overview

by Wang Baorong
The University of Hong Kong, Pokfulam Road, Hong Kong


This is the first comprehensive survey of the issue of direction of translation in China, covering the period between the second century and the present time. Translation into the non-mother tongue or inverse translation is a time-honored practice in China, but there has been a lack of attention to the issue of directionality. Before the turn of the 20th century, the issue was simply overlooked since translation was not considered important and major translation activities depended on foreign translators. At the turn of the 20th century, when direct translation by native translators became the norm, it was axiomatic that one should translate into one's native language, but the issue was still not dealt with directly and seriously. However, ever since then, the tenet that only translation into the mother tongue can provide good quality has held sway in the Chinese culture and still prevails today. The issue of directionality attracted academic attention in the early 1980s and a heated debate has emerged in recent years over the direction of translation and "outward" translation. However, the issue is still under-researched. This article calls upon Chinese translation scholars to conduct in-depth research on this significant issue.

1. Introduction

irection of translation in translation studies refers to whether translators are working from a foreign language into their mother tongue or the other way around (Beeby 1998:63-64). Interesting as it is, this issue has not attracted attention among Western or Chinese translation scholars until quite recently.

Unlike the general situation in the West, translation into the non-mother tongue, i.e. inverse translation, is a time-honored practice in China.
Unlike the general situation in the West, translation into the non-mother tongue, i.e. inverse translation, is a time-honored practice in China. This is marked by China's traditional reliance on foreign assistance in culturally important translation work before the turn of the twentieth century, the sustained efforts that the Chinese Communist government has made since 1949 to encourage "outward" translation in hopes of introducing China to the outside world, and the recourse to inverse translation in the fields of economics, trade, science, technology, education, etc. after the advent of China's economic reform program in the late 1970s. However, quite like in the West, the issue of direction of translation has been largely disregarded by Chinese translation theorists and practitioners, as well as by the general public. It did not attract academic attention until in the early 1980s when China relied heavily on inverse translation for the first time in its history. In recent years some Chinese scholars have felt an urgent need to "send out" the essence of Chinese culture to the rest of the world by means of translation. This has touched off growing attention to the issue of directionality and a heated debate over "outward" translation solely by Chinese translators. Nevertheless, the issue remains largely under-researched, which is a deplorable situation when one considers the fact that inverse translation has been commonly used throughout Chinese translation history. The present paper is the first comprehensive survey of this interesting issue in China, covering the period between the second century and the present time.

2. The issue of direction of translation in the West

Before we look at the issue of direction of translation in China, it is quite necessary to outline the situation in the West, since China has been influenced greatly by Western translation theories and practices.

Despite the current predominance of direct translation in the Western culture, the direction of translation was not generally held to be of any importance before the eighteenth century (Shuttleworth and Cowie 1997:41). Luther is probably the first person to assume that one translates satisfactorily only into one's own language (Kelly 1979:110). He is reported to have said in 1532 that "[a] real translation is the application of sayings in a foreign language to one's own language" (see Schwarz 1963:18). Herder, the 18th-century German philosopher, assumed that translation away from one's own language was not worth discussing; and after his time "it has been axiomatic that one will work towards one's own language" (Kelly 1979:111).

The traditional assumption that only direct translation can provide good-quality translation is frequently echoed by Western translation theorists and practitioners. Waley (1963:193), for instance, claims that "it is almost always better for the translator to be writing in his own language" since "it is in the highest degree improbable that a writer will command all the resources of a foreign language, even as regards vocabulary, and when it comes to rhythm he is almost certain to be completely floored." Newmark (1988:3) also maintains that translating into one's language of habitual use is "the only way you can translate naturally, accurately and with maximum effectiveness."

International organizations expect translators to work into their mother tongue as the standard direction. According to the Translator's Charter of the International Federation of Translators (FIT), "The translator shall possess a sound knowledge of the language from which he translates and should, in particular, be a master of that into which he translates" (see Osers 1989:239).1 The Nairobi Declaration adopted by UNESCO in 1976 also states that "a translator should, as far as possible, translate into his or her own mother tongue or into a language of which he or she has a mastery equal to that of his or her mother tongue (see Osers 1989:245). Thelen (2005:242) notes that since the time they were formulated, these guidelines have become known as the "mother tongue principle" for translating, and their validity has remained undisputed.

The conviction that direct translation is the only viable professional option is particularly dominant in Anglophone countries. The UK-based Institute of Translation and Interpreting (ITI) states in its Code of Professional Conduct that "members shall translate into a language which is either (i) their mother tongue or language of habitual use, or (ii) one in which they have satisfied the Institute that they have equal competence."2 The fundamental reason for the current predominance of direct translation in Anglophone countries is that today the use of inverse translation in these countries is limited, as the relatively small volume of translation from English can easily be handled by native speakers of the relevant TL (Shuttleworth and Cowie 1997:90).

Many people, however, recognize the necessity of inverse translation, especially in non-English-speaking countries. Newmark (1988:3, 52), for example, admits that the practice of inverse translation (what he terms as "service translation") is necessary in most countries and most translators do translate out of their own language. Shuttleworth and Cowie (1997:90) note that with the emergence of English as an international language in the twentieth century, translators in other parts of the world turn to inverse translation with even greater frequency to cope with the huge amount of translation into English which needs to be performed. Beeby (1998:66) points out that since the volume of translations into English far exceeds the number of native English translators available, "most Chinese to English translations in China (guide books, business correspondence, instruction manuals, etc.) are inverse translations which are revised by an English native speaker."

In recent years, there has been growing attention to the issue of directionality. Beeby (1996:5-6), for example, laments the fact that inverse translation has been the "Cinderella of translating" among Western translation theorists and that very few authors have written about inverse translation. Beeby (1998:67) thus proposes that "translation theorists would do well to recognize this fact and build up a body of documentation which would help the inverse translator." Meanwhile, some Western scholars have begun to question the validity of the "mother tongue principle." Realizing that the rigid application of this principle is often related to the widespread assumption that translators should be perfect bilinguals, Campbell (1998:57) proposes that "it is probably wise to assume at the outset that perfectly balanced bilinguals are so rarely found that virtually all human translation activity falls into one of the two categories—into or from the second language." Rogers (2005:256-258) challenges the conviction that direct translation is a guarantee of quality, arguing that while inverse translators may produce "the worst translationese," people often ignore the fact that direct translation "may also produce work of an unacceptable standard."

The most vehement challenge, however, has come from Nike K. Pokorn, a Slovene translation scholar. Pokorn (2000:61-72) concludes that Western translation theorists generally ignore inverse translation and accept the assumption that inverse translation is almost always inferior to direction translation. He claims that if the conviction persists in Western translation theory, it will continue to "ethnocentrically defend the superiority of post-Romantic West-European concepts concerning translation and translational practice, and consequently the a priori superiority of the translators and translational practice of major language communities." In his 2005 monograph, Pokorn goes even further in challenging the Eurocentric prejudice against inverse translation. His study demonstrates that "the quality of the translation, its fluency and acceptability in the target language environment depend primarily on the yet undetermined individual abilities of a particular translator, on his/her translation strategy, on his/her knowledge of the source and target cultures, and not on his/her mother tongue and the direction into which s/he is translating" (2005: xii).

3. The issue of direction of translation in China

Whereas the practice of direct translation and the mother tongue principle have dominated the West for more than two hundred years, they became established in Chinese translation tradition only at the turn of the twentieth century. Prior to that time, translation was never accepted into the mainstream Chinese culture and was generally not considered important; hence the issue of direction of translation was simply overlooked. At the threshold of the twentieth century, when translation began to be recognized as culturally important work and translation into the mother tongue became the norm, it was axiomatic that one should translate into one's native language. But the issue of directionality was not seriously dealt with until in the early 1980s when China relied heavily on native inverse translators for implementation of the economic reform program.

The short history of the predominance of direct translation in Chinese culture is, on the one hand, reflected in the lack of terminology for the concept of directionality. Beeby (1998:64) mentions the unmarked use of "translation" in English to mean "translation into the mother tongue." This, however, is not the case in the Chinese language. The term fanyi 翻译 is generally defined as "the act of expressing the meaning represented in one language in another language (also refers to such an act that occurs between a dialect and the standard language, between two dialects, and between ancient Chinese and modern Chinese).3 Beeby (1998: 64) also points out that directionality is described in Chinese in terms of a translation being "direct" or "inverse," but this is not true, at least not yet. The Chinese language has no equivalents for the English terms "prose translation," "direct translation" and "inverse translation" or "service translation."4 This is probably because the Chinese take inverse translation—a common practice in Chinese history of translation—for granted so much that they tend to overlook the issue of direction of translation.

On the other hand, the relatively short-term prevalence of direct translation is also demonstrated by the fact that the mother tongue principle is not imposed upon professional translators in China. The Charter of Translators Association of China (TAC, China's sole national translators' organization which joined FIT in 1987) contains no stipulations as regards the direction of translation required of its members. Issue No. 5 1996 of Chinese Translators Journal, TAC's official journal, carries a Chinese version of FIT's Translator's Charter. It is a faithful rendering, but attached to it is the Editor's Note, which says, "Although TAC has its own Charter and Chinese translators work under different conditions, much of FIT's Translator's Charter, including the sections concerning the general obligations and rights of the translator, still has some reference value for us." Needless to say, one of the "different conditions" under which Chinese translators work is that they are often required to translate in the inverse direction. This is most probably the reason why professional translators in China are not expected to work only into their mother tongue.

3.1 2nd to 19th century: Disregard for the issue of directionality

In China, major translation activities started with the Buddhist sutra translation movement in the second century AD and, before the turn of the twentieth century, such activities depended heavily on foreign translators. As a matter of fact, translation was never accepted into the mainstream Chinese culture and was generally not held to be of any significance; hence the issue of direction of translation was simply ignored.

Hung (1999) conducts a historical survey of the major translation activities that occurred between the second and the late nineteenth centuries. The "Chinese translation tradition" referred to by Hung involved primarily sustained efforts to introduce foreign knowledge into China and saw three peak periods. They are: the Buddhist sutra translation movement (2nd to mid-9th century), the Jesuit translation activities in the late Ming and early Qing period (16th to 17th century), and the introduction of "Western learning" into China in the latter half of the 19th century.5 Hung (1999: 223-224) concludes that "all three periods were characterized by one prominent feature—the leading role played by non-Chinese translators." The fact that these peak periods all featured activities of foreign missionary translators in China can partly explain why foreign translators played such a crucial role, particularly in the early stages of each period.6 But the fundamental reason is that the ethnocentric Chinese, priding themselves on the superiority of their culture, never bothered to learn about the languages and cultures of other peoples. Consequently, the dynastic governments were perpetually distressed by the paucity of native translators. Small wonder "major translation activities depended heavily on foreign translators for language as well as cultural expertise" (Hung 1999:224-226).

For the purpose of this paper, it must be pointed out that the foreign missionary translators almost invariably translated into Chinese, a non-mother tongue for them.7 Therefore, we could argue that China's translation history in terms of translating into Chinese before the turn of the twentieth century is basically a history of inverse translations done by foreign translators. Pan (2004:42) also points out that Chinese scholars tend to view the translation activities in the late-Ming and early Qing period as direct translation by nature, but they are actually inverse translations by the Jesuits, considering the fact that the foreign translators had the final say on what to translate and their Chinese collaborators knew nothing of the source language. This traditional reliance on foreign translators and their inverse translation attests to the fact that translation was not held to be of any consequence in Chinese culture until thereafter.

When comparing Chinese and Western thinking on translation, Lefevere (1998:22) rightly asserts that "the Chinese tradition emphasizes what we would now call teamwork, while the Western tradition has often frowned upon that very concept." The unique mode of collaboration between the foreign translators and their Chinese collaborators undoubtedly had great effects on Chinese translation tradition. In the collaborative undertaking, the Chinese translators, who generally knew no foreign language, acted merely as writers and polishers. Normally, the "writer" took down an oral Chinese version given by the foreign "speaker" and revised it to suit his own conception of how such a text ought to read in the Chinese culture. However, the speaker, who often had a poor knowledge of Chinese, rarely checked the writer's product in cases of scientific translation; in cases of religious translation, he did check it, if not in detail (Hanan 2001:57). Probably because the product was generally a synthesis of inverse translation and direct translation muddled up together, the issue of directionality was never brought forward for serious consideration. Furthermore, since the foreign missionaries often assumed the role of chief translators while the Chinese only served as assistants who presumably did not have much say in the project, there was not a fertile ground for the introduction of the mother tongue principle within pre-modern Chinese translation tradition.8

3.2 Turn of the 20th century to the 1970s: Establishment and general acceptance of the mother tongue principle

The scene, however, changed completely in the last few years of the nineteenth century, which "marked the beginning of modern Chinese translation tradition" (Hung 1999:223-224).9 A series of historical events brought about radical social and political changes in Manchu China, which produced far-reaching effects on the translation activities. One of them was the First Sino-Japanese War which ended in 1895 with complete defeat of the Qing government's Beiyang Army. The other was the failure of the Hundred Days Reform two years later, with the Emperor being placed under house arrest and his assistants being either executed or exiled. The humiliating military defeat led the reformist intellectuals to realize that the best way to national survival and regeneration was to effect social and political reform from within the ruling class, based on Western and Japanese models (Ma et al. 2006 [Vol.1]:389). However, the bloody failure of the 1897 Reform rendered them utterly disillusioned and they turned their attention to society at large.

In order to cultivate the educated class and educate the general population, the reformists put out numerous newspapers and magazines. Since it was generally believed that "Western learning" could be utilized to popularize reformist ideas in China, voluminous Chinese translations appeared in the reformist publications. As Hung (1999:237) notes, two developments in China's translation scene at the turn of the twentieth century are particularly noteworthy: one was the sudden cultural prominence given to translation; the other was the sudden emergence of a large number of native Chinese translators. With a view to transforming the people and saving the nation, "the reformist intellectuals attached great importance to translating Western and Japanese works" (Ma et al. (2006 [Vol.1]:389). Moreover, the years 1902-1910 saw the first largest cohort of young Chinese sent by the Manchu government to study abroad; most of them, about five thousand in 1909, headed for Japan. These young intellectuals, who spoke foreign languages and had specialized knowledge, "played a role that should not be underestimated in introducing Western learning to China" (Ma et al. 2006 [Vol.1]:391).10

The sudden transformation of cultural norms at the turn of the twentieth century pushed translation to the center stage and changed the traditional dependence on foreign translators and most previous translation norms and practices forever. On the one hand, the factors which gave rise to the dominance of non-Chinese translators disappeared almost overnight: now that translation became a focus of a movement for national regeneration, it was apparently "too central a cultural issue to be left in the hands of the nationals of aggressive powers" (Hung 1999:237-238). On the other hand, as more and more native translators joined the field and they almost always worked into Chinese, it became axiomatic that translators should always work into their native language, although the mother tongue principle itself was not explicitly stated, as the following discussion will demonstrate.

Ma Jianzhong (1845-1900), the first Chinese scholar to clearly state translation standards (what he termed as "good translation" [善译shanyi]) comparable to the notion of "equivalence" in modern Western translation theory (Chen 1992:102), attributed the generally poor quality of the translations in his time to the translator's linguistic deficiencies:

Translators today are often made to translate and they can produce only things that disgust the reader before he can finish the book. This is because the translator either has very limited knowledge of a foreign language ... or knows a foreign language well but has very poor Chinese. Alternatively, we have foreigners knowing some Chinese deliver a verbal Chinese translation, and the Chinese auditor takes down what the speaker has said. Where the oral version is incomprehensible, the writer often makes wild guesses based on his own interpretation. ... Small wonder translation work is often unsystematic and the translated books abound in errors and mistakes. (Ma 1896, in Luo 1984:126)

This is one of the first extant Chinese manuscripts that criticized the translator's linguistic deficiencies and the co-translations done by foreign translators and their Chinese collaborators. It is certainly no coincidence that Ma's article, originally a memorial presented to the Emperor, was written in 1896 when native Chinese translators were emerging as chief players on the national translation scene. In order to alleviate the problem, Ma proposed that an official translator training school be set up to turn out translators mastering two languages. He also recommended that the school take on "four or five individuals excelling at classic Chinese as Chinese teachers, whose primary job will be to polish translations" (Ma 1896, in Luo 1984:127-128). The message Ma was trying to convey here, though covertly, was very clear: translation should only be done into Chinese, the translator's mother tongue. While Ma's article is recognized as contributing greatly to Chinese translation theory (Chen 1992:101; Xie 1999:65), it is arguably also a milestone in China's translation history because it signifies that the mother tongue principle was already in the making within modern Chinese translation tradition.

Yan Fu (1854-1921) is the first Chinese translation theorist to suggest that the translator should only work into the mother tongue. In the preface to his translation Tianyan Lun (On Evolution) published in 1898, he laid down the three desiderata for translating, namely "faithfulness," "communicability," and "elegance." Elegance (ya), which derived from classical Chinese as the medium of translation and was the right choice for his time since Yan had to win over the educated class who revered antiquity, obviously reveals Yan's assumption about the direction of translation. Yan's desiderata, intended to serve as general guidelines, have left the deepest mark on translation studies in China and are still held up by many Chinese translation scholars as "golden rules" (Hung and Pollard 1998:376).

The mother tongue principle as Ma and Yan assumed at the turn of the twentieth century was generally accepted by succeeding generations of intellectuals. It recurs frequently in modern and contemporary Chinese writings on translation, although there were no attempts to delve into the issue of directionality well before the early 1980s. This is demonstrated by the following quotations from the writings of some eminent Chinese scholars-cum-translators.

One of the prerequisites for producing 'ideal' translations is that the translator should have a mastery of his native language. (Guo 1923, in Luo 1984:331)

What the art of translation depends on is, ... Secondly, the translator has a fairly good command of his own language, capable of writing clear and fluent Chinese. The problem of smoothness in translation is basically the problem of rendering Western thoughts into one's own language. (Lin 1932, in Luo 1984:417,427)

To do good translating, ... the translator must have a through understanding of the original text and a perfect command of his native language. (Lü 1951, in Luo 1984:526)

The translator must have a deep understanding of the original text and after digesting it fully in his stomach, so to speak, convey it to his countrymen in his native language. (Feng 1959, in Luo 1984:646)

In theory, the mastery of one's native language and the representation of the original style are the two inseparable aspects of literary translation. The very nature of literary translation requires that we convey the original style in our native language. (Bian et al. 1959, in Luo 1984:657-658)

The translator should possess a grasp of the original, a literary capacity in his own language, and experience plus imagination. (Lin 1974, in Luo 1984:757)

We write or translate not for the 'litterati', but for the general population; for this purpose, we must write and translate in modern Chinese as is comprehensible to the people, not in the language of antiquity. (Fan 1978, in Luo 1984:780)

The above quotations suffice to show how deep-rooted the mother tongue principle was in Chinese translation tradition during the large part of the twentieth century. However, it would be presumptuous to assume that these authors uncritically accepted Yan's assumption about the direction of translation. The fact that direct translation was the mainstream procedure in China well before the late 1970s should not be overlooked.11 Since translation was almost always done into the mother tongue, translation theorists and practitioners simply accepted direct translation as the fact of translation. In fact, even those inverse translators rarely touched upon the issue of directionality. Lin Yutang, for example, translated much more from Chinese into English than the other way around. But he never discussed the issue of directionality; instead, as shown in the above quotation, he presumed like everybody else that the translator should work towards his own language.

3.3 Early 1980s to the present: Growing attention to the issue of directionality and debate over "outward" translation

In 1978 the Chinese government started implementing its economic reform program. This created an unprecedentedly great demand for Chinese translators to do inverse translation, especially into English. In those days most of the texts to be translated were non-literary, including business contracts and correspondence, promotional and publicity material, sales literature, guide books, instruction manuals, etc. However, since many native translators did not master English and were often inexperienced, their translations, often not revised by native speakers of English, abounded in translation errors and mistakes. Naturally, people began to consider the suitability of Chinese translators to handle inverse translation and attention to the issue of directionality came to the foreground.

Probably the first Chinese translator to discuss the issue, Cheng (1980:1-2) argues that whether it is translation into or from Chinese, the procedure involves the same two stages: comprehension of the original and representation in the target language. However, comprehension generally requires a passive knowledge of words while representation requires our active use of words, and according to Quirk (1971:160), "our 'passive' knowledge of words is always so much greater than our 'active' use of words"; this is why "translators throughout the world generally work into their native languages." To support his argument, Cheng quotes Finlay (1974:5-6) as follows: "... it is the general consensus of opinion amongst professional translators in this country that translators should, unless bilinguals (bearing in mind all that this implies), translate solely into their mother tongue or ...." In another paper, Cheng (1992:38) revisits the issue by arguing that in most cases translators should only translate into their mother tongue because "with rare exceptions people almost always have a better command of their mother tongue than of a foreign language." Nevertheless, he emphasizes that although inverse translation is more difficult for Chinese translators than direct translation, "we need do a huge amount of translation into English in order to introduce China to the outside world and engage in international exchange."

Zhu (1997:132-133) also touches on the issue of directionality by discussing the respective strengths and weaknesses of Chinese and non-Chinese translators. She points out that foreigners who have not lived in China for a sufficiently long time often have great difficulty in grasping the nuances of contemporary Chinese terms, particularly those reflecting the country's political life. However, when it comes to rendering the original into "real English," "it seems that some foreign translators enjoy an advantage, for English is their mother tongue and they use it every day." Therefore, Zhu suggests that collaboration between native and foreign translators is the most desirable approach to introducing Chinese writings to the outside world. This is echoed by Liu (1999:26) who opines that "teamwork involving more than two translators is the ideal arrangement."

With the emergence of China as a more powerful country and a more important player in international affairs in the new millennium, some Chinese scholars have felt an urgent need to "send out" the essence of Chinese culture to the rest of the world. Ji Xianlin (see Wang 2000:300), a noted Chinese cultural historian, even coins the term songqu zhuyi ("send-out-ism"). He argues that in the greater part of the twentieth century, China has "taken in" (nalai) much that originated from the West, so now it is China's turn to give something back. Building on Ji's argument, Wang (2000:303) suggests that Chinese literature and culture be massively exported to readdress the imbalance in East-West cultural interchange.

As a direct response to this, some translation scholars who approve of "send-out-ism" have called on native translators to render Chinese classics into foreign languages, rather than let foreigners do it. Hu (2003), for example, claims that whereas we should encourage those "liberal" Western translators to introduce Chinese culture to the West, "it should be emphasized that we must do the bulk of the job." This is because we can never count on Westerners to spend huge amounts of money for that purpose. Hu argues that Chinese translators can do an equally good job in this culturally important undertaking; "who is stronger, who is weaker, it all depends on the translator's individual abilities," not on his/her mother tongue.

Pan Wenguo is one of the first Chinese scholars to openly challenge the validity of the mother tongue principle which prevails in the West. In his rather polemical article, which refutes A. C. Graham's assertion about the direction of translation, Pan (2004:41-43) raises three arguments to prove that Graham is wrong.12 First, individual cases of poor translations by Chinese translators do not mean that the Chinese are not well-suited for the job. In fact, English translators may also produce unsatisfactory translations.13Second, native English translators might have a "linguistic advantage" over non-natives, but they are often baffled when it comes to the comprehension of the original. "It is hardly imaginable that a translator who masters his mother tongue but understands the original text badly can produce a successful translation." Third, since Chinese classics and Chinese characters constitute special difficulties for the foreign learner, there are few exceptions to the rule that English translators, however well-versed they are in Chinese, frequently make errors—often serious errors—when translating Chinese classics into English. Therefore, "the collaboration of Chinese scholars should be sought if an English translator wishes to produce a quality translation." Pan concludes that the translation of Chinese classics is not "the privilege of foreign translators" and "Chinese scholars and translators should undertake the task with full justification and confidence."

Cui (2007:43-46) warns that earlier Western Sinologists and missionaries "had created a distorted image of Oriental nations by writing about China and translating Chinese classics into European languages." The author argues that since such "improper" translations have not only distorted the image of Chinese culture, but also have subjected the Chinese nation to Euro-American cultural hegemony, the Chinese should translate Chinese classics themselves, trying to preserve the original features of Chinese culture and reflect the artistic level of the original texts in the translations.

Pan and Cui, however, are not the first Chinese scholars to criticize English translations of Chinese classics done by Western Sinologists. Twenty years earlier, Wu (1986:13) had already pointed out that some foreign translators, without basic knowledge of the Chinese language and culture, "have not merely not done justice to the original authors, but also have distorted the image of ancient Chinese poems." Wu (1986:6-7) thus suggested that "we Chinese, especially those of us who are intimately familiar with Chinese culture and master a foreign language, should translate classical Chinese poetry ourselves." Unfortunately, correct as his observation might be, China has often lacked native translators who have both the talent and the interest to do inverse translation.

Some scholars, however, have doubted and criticized this call for "outward" translation. Hu (2005:78-81), for example, maintains that since as a rule one will translate only into one's mother tongue, English translation of Chinese writings should only be done by English-speaking translators. In another article, Hu (2006:355-359) challenges the claim that the Chinese should do "outward" translation themselves. She argues that, "in theory, the Chinese can do 'outward' translation," but there is no denying the fact that few Chinese translators can produce fluent and acceptable translations. Hu thus accepts Liu's (1999) idea of teamwork as the best way of handling "outward" translation. She also emphasizes that serious attention must be paid to how a translation is received and the translator should select such a translation strategy as will ensure that the translation is favorably received in the target culture. At this point, Hu criticizes Pan's (2004) proposition that in order to resist Eurocentrism and "effect cultural intervention" through translation, "Sino-English (in English translations by Chinese translators) should be tolerated and even encouraged." Hu opines that in most cases Sino-English is a direct result of poor English written by incompetent Chinese users of English; it is therefore ridiculous to claim that such English can be used to "resist pure English."

Xie (see Wang 2008) points out that despite the PRC government's sustained efforts to encourage "outward" translation by native translators, "the outcome has not been as good as we had expected." He attributes this to the fact that Chinese translators tend to "work behind closed doors," that is, they are intent on producing "good" translations, caring little about how the product is received by target readers. Xie (2007:210) argues that while foreign translators might not match Chinese translators in understanding the original, they often have a better command of the target language which is their mother tongue, and their style of translation is often more readily acceptable to their readers. Therefore, "there is no denying the fact that their translations command a comparative advantage in winning over the general readership in their own countries."14 Nevertheless, Xie (see Wang 2008) believes that the Chinese can do successful "outward" translation if they render the original into an English that is readily acceptable to English readers. He also recommends the practice of team translation to ensure that a translation is well received.

4. Conclusion

Translation into the non-mother tongue or inverse translation is a time-honored practice in China, but there had been a lack of attention to the issue of directionality. The issue was simply overlooked between the second century and the turn of the twentieth century. At that time it was axiomatic that one should translate into one's native language. However, the issue was still not dealt with directly and seriously, although ever since then, the mother tongue principle has held sway in Chinese culture and still prevails today. The issue did not attract academic attention until in the early 1980s when, for the first time in its history, China relied heavily on native inverse translators.

In the 1980s and 1990s, there were discussions of the issue of directionality, which focused primarily on the differences between direct translation and inverse translation, the different demands the two opposite procedures make on the translator's linguistic proficiency, and translation methods and techniques to tackle various problems in inverse translations done by the Chinese. In recent years there has been a heated debate over the feasibility of "outward" translation solely by Chinese translators. The advocates of "outward" translation argue that the direction of translation does not guarantee the linguistic quality of translations, which actually depends on the individual abilities of a particular translator. There is obviously a political agenda behind their argumentation: they either distrust foreigners' good intentions and sincere efforts to introduce Chinese culture to the wider world or intend to resist Eurocentrism through translation. These people, however, are swimming against the tide. And the "tide" still is, as is indicated clearly by their critics, that translation is best done into one's mother tongue. Nevertheless, it is generally accepted that while the Chinese need to translate in the inverse direction, they can do so only with the help of foreign translators, if they wish to produce fluent and acceptable translations.15

Unlike the general situation in the West, inverse translation has been commonly used in China. Yet regrettably, the issue is under-researched in that so far there has been no work dealing exclusively with China's history of inverse translation. We have not even seen a systematic study on the issue like that of Pokorn (2005). This reflects the fact that translation studies research in China is still in its infancy, often "borrowing and copying Western translation theories" (Liu 2008:188). Inverse translation will continue to be carried out in China, with increased effort and expense. And, as Liu asserts (2008:188), Western translation theories, which generally disregard the specificity of the Chinese language, often do not lend themselves well to translation between Chinese and Western languages.16 Therefore, there is a very good reason for Chinese translation scholars to set out conducting in-depth research on the issue of direction of translation and inverse translations by both Chinese and non-Chinese translators. Such research would not only benefit Chinese inverse translators and improve inverse translation in China, but would also contribute to international scholarship on the issue of directionality in translation studies.



1 It should be noted that the Charter, amended in Oslo on July 9, 1994, keeps these words unchanged except for the addition of "she" and a slash after "he." This shows that the predominance of the mother tongue principle has continued well into the 1990s and even today. See http://www.fit-ift.org/en/charter.php.

2 http://www.iti.org.uk/pdfs/newPDF/20FHConductIn_(04-08).pdf

3 A Dictionary of Modern Chinese (revised ed.), Beijing: Commercial Press, 1998, p. 345. Where Chinese sources are quoted, the English translations are all made by the present author.

4 Sure enough, in the Chinese version of Shuttleworth and Cowie's Dictionary (1997), "direct translation," "inverse translation" and "service translation" are rendered into zhijie fanyi 直接翻译, nixiang fanyi 逆向翻译and fuwu xing fanyi 服务型翻译respectively. But these terms are still very strange to the Chinese, both the specialist and the layman, and they could lead to misinterpretation and misunderstanding. 直接翻译 might be taken as the type of translation in which a TT is produced directly from the original ST, rather than via another intermediate translation in another language; 逆向翻译 might render one at a loss as to what direction of translation 逆向means and what shunxiang 顺向 (which is the opposite of 逆向 in Chinese) actually refers to; 服务型翻译 might be thought of as translation work undertaken purely for money's sake. Finally, "prose translation" is translated inappropriately as sanwen fanyi 散文翻译. Since 散文 in Chinese refers to literary genres other than poetry, drama, and fiction, this novel term will inevitably be taken as referring to literary translation. For a detailed analysis of the term "prose translation," see Beeby (1996:5).

5 Chinese scholars generally agree on the three peak periods in Chinese translation history. Ma et al. (2006 [Vol. 1]:3-4), however, suggest that the third period spans from the Opium War (1840) to the May Fourth Movement (1919).

6 The foreign missionary translators are: The Buddhist monks from the Western Region (including Central Asia and the present-day Xinjiang Province in China) and India in the first peak period, the Jesuits in the second period and Western missionaries in the third.

7 Some Christian missionaries, notably Matteo Ricci (1552-1610) and Nicolas Trigault (1577-1628), did translate Chinese classics into European languages, but the output was rather slim. See Hung and Pollard (1998:369).

8 In this paper the term "chief translator" refers to the person who is credited with a particular translation and is commonly acknowledged as the person responsible for making that text available in another language.

9 Xie (1999:282-284) also argues that instead of the year of the May Fourth Movement (1919), the year 1898 should be taken as the starting point of modern Chinese history of translation. This is because the year witnessed two milestone events: the publication of Yan Fu's translation Tianyan Lun (Evolution and Ethics) with the famous translator's preface which laid down the three desiderata for translation accepted as "golden rules" by later generations, and the publication of Liang Qichao's (the most influential person in late-Qing cultural circles) "Preface to the Translation and Publication of Political Novels," in which Liang called for "a revolution in fiction," leading to the New Fiction Movement which marked the first time in China when literary works became the focus of translation activities.

10 According to Hung (1999:238), another reason for the sudden emergence of a large number of native translators is that the nature of the genre to be translated (mainly popular fiction) and the cultural momentum for educating the population through translated fiction "created unprecedented opportunities for new talent to join the field."

11 In the 1950s and early 1960s there were some government-sponsored inverse translation activities, which dealt primarily with political writings of Chinese Communist leaders and classical and modern works of Chinese literature. Yet such translation work was carried out by a small number of Chinese translators and the output was small.

12 Suggesting that English translations of classical Chinese poems by Chinese translators are often "awkward" and "move towards a kind of Sino-English," Graham (1965:24, 37) claims that "we can hardly leave translation to the Chinese, since there are few exceptions to the rule that translation is best done into, not out of, one's own language." Graham's claim, however, is not uncommon amongst Western Sinologists and translators; it immediately reminds us of a similar claim made by Arthur Waley in 1963 (see the foregoing in this paper).

13 Pan's claim is, incidentally, supported by Goldblatt who criticizes severely T. A. Ross's translation of Chiang Kuei's novel The Whirlwind. Goldblatt (1980:286-288) points out that "the greatest shortcoming in the translation" is that "it has no life; like a deflated balloon"; "the translator has serious problems in the realms of background, ability and attitude."

14 Xie (see Wang 2008) cites the two English translations of Hongloumeng: A Dream of Red Mansions by Yang Xianyi and Gladys Yang, The Story of the Stone by David Hawkes. Comparing the two versions in terms of the frequency of loan and citation, circulation and the number of reprints, he finds that the Yangs' version is far less popular in the United States than Hawkes's.

15 Note that even Pan (2004:41-42) recognizes the comparative advantage of the mother tongue. He admits that "the product is after all expressed in the target language; we can even say that the success of the translation depends on the (translator's mastery of the) target language." He also maintains that "[i]deally, the translator should be a master of the two languages, but unfortunately perfect bilinguals are rare."

16 As noted by Chan (2007:284-288), one limitation of Pokorn's study is that Slovene, an Indo-European language, is not as distant from English as Sino-Tibetan Chinese is, so "using the language pair of Chinese-English may produce very different results in another study." This, however, needs to be substantiated by empirical studies.


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