To facilitate cross-cultural understanding is often considered a distinct aspect of the general purpose and function of translation, as the popular metaphor of translation as a bridge testifies. But is cross-cultural understanding as straight forward and unproblematic as this metaphor implies? In this paper, the question of the nature and limits of cross-cultural understanding will be examined from a specific perspective. It is the perspective of someone engaged in the compilation of an anthology, in English translation, of the views, statements, discussions and records about translation – as an activity and as a cultural practice – in China, from ancient times to the Revolution of 1911. Topics to be reflected on include the rationale for undertaking the anthology project, principles of selection, and the problems encountered in the process of conceptualization and implementation of the project, specifically the problems of representation, mediation and intervention. Tentative ways of dealing with these problems will also be discussed. In so doing, the author hopes to explore, with a measure of self-reflexiveness and as a tentative first step, the nature and limits of the kind of understanding she hopes to facilitate through the compilation of this anthology. Also discussed will be the more general question of what can be done if cross-cultural understanding, especially of the kind brought about by works of translation, is never an innocent matter and is always mediated in nature.
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