New poetry and old Cathay : translational sinography in the early twentieth-century English literary world

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


This thesis looks into the culture of reading, translating, and publishing classical Chinese poetry in the English literary world between the 1890s and the 1920s. It explores the mediating and constructive roles of translation (broadly construed) in the formation of knowledge about Chinese literature by focusing on an unconventional segment of the field – poet-translators who integrate Chinese poetry with the pursuit of literary modernism, whose avid experimentalism and lack of sinological credentials run counter to the fidelity principle of translation. I try to foreground the dynamism of this literary contact zone by correlating three dimensions of networks: the transtextual modes in which translation and rewriting are performed – sinological translation, indirect (re)translation, collaborative translation, literary chinoiserie, aesthetic translation, imitative translation, and pseudotranslation; discursive networks in the intertextual field; and sociological networks of agents and institutions in the field of cultural production – publishers, reviewers, editors, patrons, professional societies, and literary circles.

This triangulation approach accentuates the complexities of transcultural interchange and serves the larger goal of transcending the binarism of East/West and the sometimes reductive analytic model of text-versus-context. Examining peripheral modes of translation like indirect (re)translation, imitative translation, and pseudotranslation, I hope to broaden the historical landscape of translating Chinese literature and query normative categorizations in our critical vocabulary, and furthermore contribute to theoretical enquiries about the “translational” by probing into liminal cases.

I consider translations as intertexts in discursive formations. Special attention is given to how intertexts from the archive of writing China in the West and from contemporaneous discursive formations are reconfigured in literary modernism’s transcultural imaginary. More specifically, I conceptualise translation and other kindred modes of rewriting as “sinographies” – forms of writing and discursive strategies that articulate the diverse meanings of China. For the poet-translators and sinographers discussed in this thesis, reading and translating China become an extended thought experiment through which larger cultural questions are thought over; they engage with the hypothetical Chinese poem in multiple, creative ways, inscribing different layers of meaning on the Chinese palimpsest. Their practices evince a heuristics of Chineseness, whereby knowledge about the self and the other becomes mutually constitutive and translation manifests its transformative power.

Date of Award2 Nov 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Lingnan University
SupervisorTak Hung Leo CHAN (Supervisor) & Yifeng SUN (Supervisor)


  • classical Chinese poetry
  • Chinese literature
  • poet-translators
  • literary modernism
  • translational sinography

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