Performability and translation : a case study of the production and reception of Ying Ruocheng's translation

  • Yichen YANG

Student thesis: PhD Thesis (Lingnan)


The active scholarly contribution made by practitioners of theatre translation in the past decades has turned the research area into what is now considered a burgeoning field. Despite recent developments, it seems that performability, a long-discussed yet controversial concept in the study of theatre translation, would remain part of the practitioners’ discourse. Based on a historical survey of the production and reception of the translations of Anglo-American plays by Chinese actor-director Ying Ruocheng (1929-2003) in and around the 1980s, this study explores how the performability, or theatrical potential, of a translated playtext is constructed through the negotiation between/among the norms mainly operating on three levels—the textual, the theatrical and the socio-cultural—and the agency of the individuals involved.

This thesis chooses to focus on Ying because he not only was one of the most successful theatre translators in contemporary Mainland China, but also seems to be an “impossible” ideal, considering his accomplishments in translating, acting, directing and as culture diplomat. Acknowledging that performability, which is essentially fluid and constructed, this descriptive-analytical survey will cover a whole range of possible activities involved in the production and reception of a translated playtext, and put the translator’s seemingly ideal status into perspective. The broadening of the scope of investigation is crucial to the outcome of this thesis, and recommendable to future researchers of theatre translation studies.

In this study, translated playtexts and their stage productions are treated as the products of the receiving linguistic, theatrical and socio-cultural systems. The investigation begins with an evaluation of Ying’s practice against his stated translation principles to identify the textual and extra-textual factors that might have governed his work as a translator in reality. The discussion emphasises that performability cannot be realised through the textual medium only, before moving on to the exploration of the performers’ attempts to negotiate with his texts for theatrical enactment. The investigation, which examines the actions taken by the theatrical institution and individual actors in two separate chapters, draws attention to the roles of the translational, theatrical and socio-cultural norms and the power dynamics between the translator and his theatrical collaborators in their efforts to ‘ensure’ or create performability. The discussion is followed by an analysis concentrating on Ying’s role as a mediator within the production process and between the productions and the target environment, which is crucial to the achievement of both the immediate success of the productions and the transfer of repertoire. The study concludes that while a theatre translator and his or her theatrical collaborators are subject to various systemic constraints, the translator can find more power in his or her mediatory role as a bilingualist and biculturalist and promote the performability of the text.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Translation
SupervisorNam Fung CHANG (Supervisor) & Wai Yi Dorothy WONG (Supervisor)

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