(Self-)censorship and the translator-author relationship: The case of full translation, partial translation and non-translation in the Chinese context

Zaixi Tan*

*Corresponding author for this work

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This paper studies the translator-author relationship against the backdrop of governmental and non-governmental (publishing, editorial and the translator’s own) censorship in present-day China. I distinguish three types of translator-author relationship affected by censorship and/or self-censorship, resulting in three categories of translations, i.e. full translations, partial translations and non-translations. The several relationships described will adhere to the traditional concepts of translatorial “faithfulness”, “partial faithfulness” or “unfaithfulness”. Full translatorial “faithfulness” results when the translator is fully committed to his/her author and represents the author as faithfully as s/he possibly can. In this case, the work being translated falls entirely within the category of “translatable/importable” foreign literature, defined in turn as being “harmonious” in relation to existing Chinese constitutional laws. (This category includes translations of all major Western classics from ancient to modern times.) The second type of relationship culminates in “partial translations”, whereby omissions, shifts of meaning or the modulation of overall author-tone necessarily change the intentions of the author, so as to avoid potential conflict with government censors. Typical examples in this second category include the partly censored PRC versions of Hillary Clinton’s Living History and Henry Kissinger’s On China. The final category of translator-author relationship involves prolepsis, i.e. the translator’s anticipatory relationship with a work that has not been – and may not be – translated under existing conditions. Whether or not, in fact, such a “non-/zero translator-author” relationship eventually can emerge, thus converting non-translations into translations or partial translations, is worthy of further research. On this basis, the paper offers a theoretical framework for discussions about how various types of (self-)censorship impact the translator-author relationship and the activity of translation within the context of the PRC.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)192-209
Number of pages18
JournalAsia Pacific Translation and Intercultural Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2 Sept 2014

User-Defined Keywords

  • (self-)censorship
  • translator-author relationship
  • full translation
  • partial translation
  • non-translation
  • PRC context


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