The role of translation in the Nobel Prize in literature : a case study of Howard Goldblatt's translations of Mo Yan's works

Student thesis: MPhil Thesis (Lingnan)


The purpose of this thesis is to explore the role of the translator and translation in the Nobel Prize in Literature through an illustration of the case of Howard Goldblatt’s translations of Mo Yan’s works.

As the most significant international literary prize, the Nobel Prize in Literature is well discussed in media. However, insufficiently detailed attention has been given to the role of translation in the Prize. In many cases, the works that the Nobel judges evaluate are in fact translations, not the prize winner’s own words. Despite the importance of translation in the selection process, no research has ever examined the role played by translation or the translator in an author’s win of the Nobel Prize. The thesis will trace the history of the Nobel Prize in Literature with regard to translation, showing the growing importance of this linguistic act since the start of the prize.

This thesis aims to show that a good translator was one of the most important factors behind Mo Yan’s win of the Nobel Prize in 2012. Without his excellent translators, including American translator Howard Goldblatt, Mo Yan may never have been able to present his works to the Western world, not to mention win the Nobel Prize and enjoy worldwide appreciation. A thorough analysis of this case will reveal the translator’s influence as well as how translation may affect the decision of who receives the Nobel Prize.

Furthermore, examining the relationship between translation and the Nobel Prize in Literature can shed light on the role of translation in cultural exchange and world literature. With imbalanced cultural exchange between the West and the East, the role of Goldblatt is worth researching, as he successfully introduced Chinese literature to the world and served as a mediator linking up the two cultures.

The research will be conducted using a descriptive approach by information gathering, statistical analysis and text comparison. By comparing the source text and translation of Mo Yan’s works from ideological and literary perspectives, the thesis will explain how Goldblatt’s translations might have affected the Nobel Prize panel’s impression of Mo Yan’s works, based on the criteria for the choice. Paratextual influences will also be analysed, such as the literary reputation of the translator. With the illustration of the case of Mo Yan, this research hopes to open up a new perspective on the studies of the Nobel Prize as well as translation.
Date of Award2016
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Department of Translation
SupervisorYifeng SUN (Supervisor) & Roberta Ann RAINE (Supervisor)

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