Translation and back translation : transcultural reinventions in some Chinese american literary works

Yifeng SUN

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


This paper attempts to examine a few related cases in which Chinese American literature draws on its cultural material from the “native” Chinese culture in combination with American literary tradition, and it can be argued that such literature is, in a broad sense, the outcome of translation – or rather, of cultural translation. The uprooting and adaptation of Chinese culture and its haunting influence on the writing practice designed for the needs of the American reader are juxtaposed and culminate in acculturation and assimilation as part of a creative process. The retelling of Chinese stories, therefore, involves indirect translation and direct rewriting based on fascinating transnational experiments. In many cases, the author, either a Chinese immigrant or descendent, can be seen as a translator as well, and in this light, the meaning and function of primacy of the original are different as compared with conventional translation. In truth, the seemingly non-existent source text(s) is/are not non-existent. Chinese American literary texts transmigrate Chinese into English, often revealing linguistic and cultural traces of the “original” in all its complexity with cultural Chineseness being retained or reproduced in parallel with the construction of and interaction with literary Americanness. The invisible source text(s) is/are embodied notably by a trove of cultural references to play a central role in the functionality of transcoding ethnicity. The travel of the Chinese culture has led to cultural translation that enriches the original host culture, characterized by negotiation, reconciliation and transformation by moving beyond previous cultural confinement. After Chinese raw material is translated into English, it is integrated into American literature. It is interesting to observe that some Chinese American literary texts are translated into Chinese, exhibiting a peculiar linguistic and cultural displacement. Chinese American transnationalism is demonstrably exemplified in such practices of translation and “back translation”, rewriting and re-rewriting. Translation and re-translation foreground not only defamiliarized Chinese culture but also its creative assimilation into American literature.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)107-121
Number of pages15
JournalAsia Pacific Translation and Intercultural Studies
Issue number2
Early online date6 May 2014
Publication statusPublished - 2014


  • cultural translation
  • Chinese American literature
  • transcultural reinventions
  • back translation


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