Scholars illuminate dissemination of Chinese literature

By ZHA JIANGUO and CHEN LIAN / 03-09-2023 / Chinese Social Sciences Today

A guide introduces famed Chinese writer and translator Lin Yutang at the Lin Yutang Memorial Hall in Zhangzhou, Fujian Province, on Nov. 9, 2022. Photo: CFP 

The diversity and heterogeneity of literature and culture provide multiple possibilities for realizing truly mutual learning among civilizations. In the great historical process of vigorously building Chinese modernization, it is urgent to theoretically and practically consider how to promote the international dissemination of Chinese literature more profoundly, systematically, and accurately. 

Multiple factors 

Cross-cultural communication is an essential ability for literary translators. Chen Lin, director of the Center for Translating China for International Communication at Tongji University, put forward the method of “literary translation and writing,” placing more emphasis on the translator’s writing competence. In so doing, the characteristics of national literature can be expressed in the language of world literature, empowering Chinese elements to go global and reach a larger readership. The process requires the translator to properly balance national and international factors, as well as domestication and foreignization. 

“Chinese literature cannot ‘go out’ without excellent translations and translators. The key rests on developing experts, scholars, and translators who possess the self-consciousness of culture, creation, and translation,” said Zhu Zhenwu, a professor from the School of Humanities at Shanghai Normal University. Meanwhile, it is advisable to enhance cooperation with those from the target language country, as target language levels and ways of thinking considerably determine how far the translation can go. 

Literary and cultural translation is not merely a translation issue. It is highly related to national influence, cultural identity, ways of thinking, and cognitive inertia, Zhu continued. Standing firm on the strategy of national rejuvenation amid global changes of a magnitude not seen in a century, we should make greater endeavors to seize the overall trends, carry forward Chinese literature and culture, facilitate exchanges and mutual learning among civilizations, and advance the process of becoming a leading country in culture. 

Chinese and world literature 

The international transmission of Chinese literature should not be China’s wishful monologue, but the exchange between Chinese and world literature, and the mutual learning between Chinese and world civilizations. A holistic perspective is necessary to understand their relationships. According to Liu Hongtao, a professor from the School of Chinese Language and Literature at Beijing Normal University, the discourse practice of world literature has multiple orientations, one of which is to explain the relationship between Chinese and world literature in an overall vision, driving the global development of Chinese literature and the elevation of its international influence. A new model of world literature regards itself as literature that leaves the original place and enters and circulates in the space of other cultures, or as “globalized” literature or literature “in the world.” 

As an integral part of world literature, Chinese literature involves a complex discourse and question system, including at least three fields, namely literature, translation, and communication. Hu Anjiang, dean of the College of Translation and Interpreting at Sichuan International Studies University, suggested probing from theory, technique, and cognition. In particular, efforts are needed to integrate the basic theoretical context and cutting-edge innovation paths of comparative literature, sinology, translatology, communication studies, folkloristics, and ethnology, while seeking ground for dialogue and cooperation and the fountain of theoretical innovation regarding literary translation, spread, acceptance, and influence among Chinese and foreign academic circles. All these will converge into a joint force of theoretical innovation. 

“As a component of world literature, Chinese literature should pay particular attention to the position of the overseas dissemination of Chinese contemporary literature in contemporary literary studies. This topic has not received due attention,” said Ji Jin, a professor from the School of Chinese Language and Literature at Soochow University. A comprehensive and in-depth study on this subject not only provides a basic situational understanding of overseas research on Chinese contemporary literature, but will also identify the historical consciousness, political tendencies, and narrative ethics held by the Western academic circle, and reveal their stance and thinking when exploring the mirror image of contemporary Chinese society, manifesting the significance of Chinese contemporary literature to the “world.” The “going out” of Chinese contemporary literature is not a smooth process. The cross-contextual communication of literature and culture must confront a wide variety of cultural backgrounds and historical origins. Only by carefully listening to and understanding these voices from outside can Chinese contemporary literature truly go global. 

Promoting in greater precision 

Concerning abundant international communication phenomena of Chinese literature, it is natural to contemplate how to strengthen the construction of communication theory and explore precise, effective, and diversified dissemination channels. Highlighting the cultural function of Chinese literature might be a feasible approach. Zha Mingjian, vice president of Shanghai International Studies University, noted the necessity of advocating for the cultural function of literature and conferring upon the international spread of Chinese literature the significance of cultural communication and mutual learning between Chinese and foreign civilizations. 

In specific methods, it is urgent to further raise the translation quality of Chinese literature and expand transmission channels, while strengthening the interpretation of the world literary and cultural significance of Chinese literature, Zha added. Literary aesthetics enables overseas readers to appreciate the spirit of thousands of years of Chinese culture. Chinese modern and contemporary literature capably provides opportunities to feel the self-improving and innovating cultural ethos of a time-honored nation, and to taste the Chinese people’s ever-widening vision from “China of China” to “China of the World” and their humanistic feeling of “pursuing common good for all,” while witnessing the emergence and growth of a new form of human advancement in contemporary China.