Rhetorical patterns in ancient Chinese texts on interpreting

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Textual archival references to linguistic mediation are crucial sources for studying the cultural meanings and significance of interpreting in ancient times. Rare even in the Chinese archives, these earlier texts cast light on the agents and act of interpreting during a time when written records were scarce. This talk presents data culled from classical writings about interpreting in China’s standard histories and political treatises. An examination of 192 passages pertaining to interpreting shows that eight display an interesting similarity: They all depict ‘diplomatic visits to Sinitic China through relay interpreters’ as an event validating or corroborating an auspicious sign in nature observed years earlier. In these texts, ‘relay interpreting’ is documented not because of its practical communicative function in diplomatic contexts. Instead, the documentation has an unmistakably auspicious connotation, which goes beyond its linguistic purpose. The elevation of an interpreting act to a cultural icon is unique in the Chinese tradition.

This paper aims at identifying the symbolic and ideological significances in this conceptual link, so consciously drawn in the rhetoric of these archives, between diplomatic interpreters and a promising upbeat future for the host country. The present study is significant in three regards. First, it examines the epistemology and values of classical textual references to ‘interpreters’ and ‘interpreting’. Second, it explores the ideological significance of interpreting in ancient China, which in turn casts light on the characteristics of its interpreting tradition. Third, it identifies a rhetorical pattern denoting the link between auspiciousness and interpreting across the eight examples. These results can then be taken as points of reference for comparative studies of the conceptualization of ‘interpreting’ within other cultural traditions.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 9 Mar 2017
Event1st Hong Kong Baptist University International Conference on Interpreting: History of Interpreting - Hong Kong Baptist University, Hong Kong, Hong Kong
Duration: 9 Mar 201710 Mar 2017


Conference1st Hong Kong Baptist University International Conference on Interpreting
Country/TerritoryHong Kong
CityHong Kong
Internet address


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