The Incommensurabilities of Translating 醉 as "Drunk"


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


The translation of the Chinese word 醉 as “drunk” while accurate, is no way commensurate, because the Western concept of “drunk” or “dead drunk”, in no way, connotes what the Chinese word 醉 connotes. In the West, the concept of “drunk” or “drunkenness” is disreputable, whereas the Chinese concept of 醉 isn’t. Since the Puritans, being “drunk” and being in a state of “drunkenness” connotes antisocial behavior, a reprehensible loss of control, and an abnegation of individual responsibility. However, the Chinese concept of 醉 connotes inspiration and enlightenment, even wisdom. I cite the cheerful paean to drunkenness, or 醉, by Li Bai, “Bring in the Wine” 飲酒 as well as Tao Yuan-ming’s philosophical comments about wine, as inhibited wisdom. The closest counterpart in Western literature to Tao’s celebration of wine is Baudelaire’s prose–poem from Spleen, which demands the state of drunkenness as a heightened sensibility. But Baudelaire is deplored in the West as a poète maudit, not someone one would admit to polite society. The translation of 沉醉 as “dead drunk” would be disastrous with a poem like that of Li Qingzhao (To the tune of 訴衷情), where 沉醉 is a positive conduit of memory and nostalgia, far from the out-of-control abandon and senselessness of “dead drunk”.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)110-121
Number of pages12
Journal翻譯季刊 = Translation Quarterly
Issue number93
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2019


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