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Page 2

The Translator
Studies in Intercultural Communication

Volume 15, Number 2, 2009

Chinese Discourses on Translation
Positions and Perspectives



Special Issue

Guest Editor

Martha P. Y. Cheung
Hong Kong Baptist University

Page 12

Martha P. Y. Cheung 225

to rediscover the roots of Chinese culture. Calls were made, in translation
studies as in other fields, to revitalize/reconstruct a Chinese tradition, to regain
a Chinese voice, and to re-establish a Chinese system of learning and forms
of knowledge. The calls stirred up a controversy. While there were supporters
of such an assertion of Chineseness, the note of stridency which at times rang
in the voice of those seeking to convert ethnicity into academic currency and
authority was taken as a sign of resurgent nationalism that must be checked.

The debate about Chineseness broke out again in the 1990s, when a pre-
vailing sense of cultural introspection resulted in the admission that China’s
growing economic prowess was not matched by a similar growth in cultural
strength or in ‘soft power’ – a term used by scholars of international relations.4
It was a heated debate, involving intellectuals of different ideological orien-
tations, academic training and background. Voices arguing for Chineseness
on the ground that it is the cornerstone of identity did not include just those
trained in the classical tradition of Chinese scholarship but also intellectuals
responsive to the theories of postcolonialism, poststructuralism, postmodern-
ism – referred to on the Chinese mainland under the umbrella term ‘post-ism’
(hou xue ). They also included Chinese scholars who were concerned
about the impact of globalization on the Chinese mainland. To them, the
development of a distinct sense of cultural identity (if not national identity)
was a necessary first step to the promotion of cultural diversity in the world,
which was needed to counter the threat of homogeneity posed by the spread
of global capitalism.

There were also vehement oppositions to such a position. The ‘post’
theories were dismissed or treated with suspicion because on the Chinese
mainland, the emphasis these theories placed on (national) self-determination
and on resistance against Eurocentric thinking and other forms of intellectual
hegemony and cultural imperialism could easily be appropriated. National
self-determination is an ideological position that suited the conservatives,
who would use it to buttress the official line that China should go her own
way and reject all attempts to meddle in her internal affairs – the better to
suppress voices of dissent and other ‘subversive’ activities. In the years after
the ‘Tiananmen Incident’ of 1989, one of the measures taken by the authorities

Western Europe in the nineteenth century, with North America being added later in the
twentieth century” (ibid.:194). Sakai also stresses, and I agree with him, that because of
modernity as a historical development and the process of “developmental teleology”, the
West was supposed “to expand and radiate towards the peripheries of the world”, and the
representation of the world became hierarchically organized into the West and the Rest,
the modern and its others, the white and the colored” (ibid.:202)
4 Soft power, a term much used in international relations, is a concept developed by Joseph
Nye, a professor at Harvard University, in his books Bound to Lead: the Changing Nature
of American Power (1990) and Soft Power: The Means to Success in World Politics (2004).
It refers to the capability to get what one wants through co-option and attraction instead
of coercion and payment.

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Introduction – Chinese Discourses on Translation226

was the mounting of a nationwide patriotic education campaign to inculcate
in the Chinese people a sense of patriotism and national self-determination.5
Even amongst the elite who were generally sympathetic to the call to revitalize
Chinese culture, a sense of ambivalence prevailed. There was concern that as
a result of assertive Chineseness, as seen for example in the enormous popu-
larity of publications such as —

(China Can Say No: Choices in Politics and Sentiments in the Post-cold
War Era, Song et al. 1996a),6 there would be a surge of belligerent and even
extreme nationalistic sentiments. This would be dangerous. Cultural confi-
dence, pride and dignity, it was argued, were to be regained, not by exploiting
identity politics or the mentality of a cultural ghetto,7 but by engaging with
the Other, even if that means meeting the Other on his or her own terms and
using the Other’s language. The emphasis should be on interaction, dialogue,
transformation of the Self, and the similarity and commensurability of cultures
(Zhang 1993:98).

The new century ushered in a new mood on the Chinese mainland. It was,
still is, characterized at once by extraordinary self-confidence (as witnessed
in events such as the awe-inspiring opening ceremony of the 2008 Beijing
Olympics) and extraordinary anxiety (perhaps best expressed as ‘Whither
will China go – after the Olympics?’, and/or ‘What else can China say apart
from No?’). It is hardly surprising that the rise of China as a (super)power is
seen by many inside and outside China as an issue that is likely to haunt and
daunt the 21st century.

5 Zhao Suisheng (1998) has given a detailed analysis of how Chinese nationalism was
promoted in the name of patriotism by the Communist regime in the 1990s. Aware of the
rapid decay of Communist ideology and confronted with the crisis of legitimacy triggered
by the ‘Tiananmen Incident’ of 1989, the CCP mounted a state-led patriotic education cam-
paign. The campaign, which portrayed China as a country besieged by hostile international
forces and needing strong words and firm actions from the Communist leadership, sought
to ameliorate general discontent by using patriotism as a rallying call.
6 When the book was published in 1996, it became a runaway best-seller. With 200,000
copies printed, the book attracted the attention of the world media. It was seen as a sign of
a growing Chinese nationalism. Later that year, a sequel entitled —

(China Can Still Say No: Variables in International Relations
and Our Responses; Song et al 1996b) was published, sold out instantly, and saw a reprint
of 400,000 copies (Des Forges and Xu 2001:486-87). See Des Forges and Xu (ibid.) and
Guan (2009) for more information about these two and other related publications, about
the reactions, discussions and debates which ensued, and for an interview with one of the
authors, Song Qiang, who talks about the force of feeling that drove him to collaborate
with other writers to produce the book.
7 See Zhang (1993:79) for a forceful argument against “the ghettoization of culture”, one
example of which is the preoccupation in the study of Chinese Literature (or of other
disciplines in the humanities) with constructing “an isolated Chinese essence” (ibid.:95)
and the formulation of “the fundamental difference that would distinguish the Orient from
the Occident” (ibid.:87).

Page 24

Martha P. Y. Cheung 237

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