Patronage is an important social and literary phenomenon widely discussed in various fields of the humanities and the social sciences. Lefevere considers patronage as ‘something like powers (persons, institutions) that can further or hinder the reading, writing, and rewriting of literature’ and points out that it is important to understand power in the Foucaultian sense. According to Foucault, power is ‘much more than a negative instance whose function is repression’, but in Lefevere’s discussion we may find the words ‘hinder’, ‘discouraging’, ‘censoring’ and ‘destroying’, which could give a negative impression of a patron. Through the analysis of a patron translator relationship in twentieth-century China, this article reveals the prior function of a patron, i.e. to support instead of hindering the work of a translator, and demonstrates that a patron translator relationship can be a harmonious collaboration, especially when the translator and his/her patron share some common principles and purposes. Like Foucault’s power, patronage ‘traverses and produces things’, ‘induces pleasures, forms knowledge, produces discourse’; thus, ‘it needs to be considered as a productive network’. In the field of translation studies, patronage thus could be understood positively as the action of persons or organizations that offer financial support or use their influence to advance a translation activity.