Metamorphosis of a diplomatic interpreting event in ancient China

Rachel LUNG*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Journal PublicationsJournal Article (refereed)peer-review


This article discusses how the earliest known interpreting event in Sinitic China was chronicled and recapped in political and literary writings across different dynasties, in an intertextual process comparable with metamorphosis. This event has continued to shapeshift in writings because of its symbolic importance in promoting Sinocentric sentiments and Confucian ideals. This interpreting record was, unusually, from a comparative perspective, elevated to embody ideological functions largely detached from inter-lingual communication. For millennia, this interpreting “legend” has been intertextually alluded to in numerous writings to connote auspiciousness, to extol Sinitic governance and civilisation, and to champion specific cultural values or political philosophies. This article aims at identifying and examining the symbolic and ideological significances of the conceptual link between the alpha interpreting record and complimentary Sinitic governance and virtues, so consciously drawn in theses of some archival texts. It is significant in two regards. First, it initiates an analysis of a classical reference to interpreting, which has escaped research attention in humanities. Second, it explores an unorthodox angle by analysing the discourse of interpreting in ancient China. The results of this analysis could serve as reference points for cross-cultural comparison of conceptualisations of “interpreting.”
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)111-125
Number of pages15
JournalInterpreting and Society
Issue number2
Early online date8 Sept 2023
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2023

Bibliographical note

I am grateful to the reviewers for their constructive and inspiring comments. My gratitude also goes to Professor Darryl Sterk, Dr. Deng Ke, and Professor Benjamin Sloan for their kind feedback on an earlier draft of this article.
Declaration of conflicting interests

This study was supported by HKSAR General Research Fund, under project no. 13600315, 15–16.


  • Chinese interpreting tradition
  • conceptualisation of interpreting
  • epitext
  • history of interpreting
  • metamorphosis


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