Translating National Identity in Diplomatic Discourse between China and the West from 1793 to 1867

    Par Xinnian Zheng


    The concept of distinguishing between the “civilized” and “barbarians” was a central element in 19th century China’s international relations. Both China and the West defined the civilized or the barbarians according to their standards of civilization. By positioning themselves in contrast to “other”, identities are manifested. We hypothesize that the conflicting ideologies between China’s traditional tribute system and the Western international law impinged on the diplomatic discourse between China and the West. Based on the polysystem theory and the concept of norms, this product-oriented descriptive study aims to examine the translation strategies representing Chinese and Western perceptions toward “self” and “other”, and the role translation has played in reproducing national identity at the textual level. It also intends to explore the norms present in the translation of diplomatic discourse between China and the West to understand the translator’s behaviors and reasons that govern such behaviors. Data were collected from 17 translated diplomatic texts of 136 pages between China and the West from 1793-1867. Following the Vienna school of critical discourse analysis represented by Wodak et al. (2009), we analyze the data with a discourse-analytical framework to study the discursive construction of national identities. Results show that translation constructed and justified China’s national identity by adopting strategies of dissimilation, downplaying/euphemizing, exclusion/singularization, and negative other presentation. As translation has always occupied a peripheral/secondary position in the Chinese cultural system before the 20th century, translation was modelled according to norms conventionally established by the target society. This study builds a corpus different from the previous work dealing with identity, as few translation studies on the diplomatic discourse have investigated the issue of national identity in intercultural clashes between two distinct countries. It enriches the political discourse genre in translation studies and contributes to the corpus-based critical discourse analysis approach to translated diplomatic discourse.



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    Translated diplomatic discourse, national identity, ideology, critical discourse analysis


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