Cultural re-presentation and translation : Chinese and English anthologies of Tang poetry

  • Chi Man, Cecilia CHAN

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


Due to its unique prestige, classical Chinese poetry written during the Tang dynasty is often anthologised. These anthologies serve various purposes (e.g. recreational, educational, or both), but they are generally expected to feature works high in aesthetic value, and represent the culture wherein they are produced. While the functions of anthologies are seldom contested, representations of Tang poetry in anthologies have many different manifestations.

Using China’s most famous anthology, Tangshi sanbaishou 唐詩三百首, as an opening case study, research shows that within its home culture, the anthologising of Tang poetry has a long history by itself, and anthologists negotiate between ideological agendas, aesthetic judgments, and cultural norms to form representations which suit their purposes best. Complex as the anthologising behaviour in the source culture is, the considerations involved in anthologising translated Tang poetry in the Anglo-American culture are even more complicated, since target-cultural concerns/demands (such as translatability, aesthetic predilection of the target readership, social norms, etc.) are introduced. This study attempts to delineate the differences in various source and target cultural representations of Tang poetry, and explicate the contributing causes engendering such differences. A survey of anthologies of translated classical Chinese literature/poetry reveals that key factors governing anthologising decisions include: the target cultural condition, the intended service to a mostly uninformed, non-native readership, the anthologist-translators’ personal preferences and missions, among others. The canonical landscape of Tang poetry changes often in the West even though the principle of representativeness demands a degree of conformity to the source tradition. The complexity of anthologising is further amplified when the activity of translation takes place. Translation may enhance or discount the aesthetic appeal of poets and poems, thus implicating their claim for canonicity. Besides, questions of form and prosody also shape the target-culture product, and hence the readership’s perception. The representations of Tang poetry and Chinese culture in anthologies are often taken for granted due to the sense of authority attached to anthologies. It is therefore important to take note of and examine how anthologist-translators have shaped literary perceptions by negotiating between source and target cultures.
Date of Award2017
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Translation
SupervisorYim Tze Charles KWONG (Supervisor) & Ting Yan Isaac HUI (Supervisor)

Cite this