Open Access Te Herenga Waka-Victoria University of Wellington
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Agencies in English Translations of Contemporary Chinese Women Writers: A Contextual, Paratextual and Textual Study

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posted on 2021-12-08, 09:12 authored by Jiang, Mengying

The concept of agency has been frequently applied in translation studies (TS), especially in sociology of translation, but is still ill-defined, with no agreement on what it is precisely. This research discusses agency within a combined sociological and gendered framework, seeking to offer a systematic investigation of what agency entails in TS in order to better understand the intercultural communication of female voices from a non-hegemonic culture. In doing so, it questions a simplified understanding of agency as intermediary and argues that agency, as a theoretical tool with sociological implications, is always structural, relational and dynamic.  Drawing upon ideas from Pierre Bourdieu’s field theory, I first construct a field of translating contemporary Chinese women writers into English from the 1980s to the 2010s, outline the general structure that governs such translation activities and provide a diachronic analysis of how translation agents operate within different translation discourses to promote women writers. Then I refer to Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory to identify two specific agencies: 1) a feminist agency that promotes the works of Zhang Jie (1937-) in the 1980s, when there was a juxtaposition of political and feminist translation discourses; and 2) a commercial agency enacted by the male director Zhang Yimou’s film adaptation The Flowers of War (2011) operating on the translation of Yan Geling’s Thirteen Hairpins of Nanjing (Jinling shisan chai 金陵十三钗), first published in 2005. In these two case studies, I trace two translation networks and investigate how their different agencies have either strengthened or weakened the female voices inscribed in the original texts. While contextualizing how agents operate in the translation process, I examine their agency through both paratextual and textual analysis, ultimately providing what I believe is a more comprehensive understanding of agency which can enhance the analytical and explanatory power of this theoretical concept in TS.  The original contribution of this research to the academic discourse is three-fold. Theoretically and methodologically, it constructs an integrative framework that combines not only sociological approaches of TS, but also feminist translation studies and feminist translation criticism. Not only does it provide a field-oriented study of how women’s writing is translated and presented through different agencies, but it also uncovers strengthened feminist voices and recovers lost female voices in different translation discourses. Moreover, as a response to the ongoing intersectional and transnational turn in the study of women and translation, it goes beyond the gender-centric framework of the traditional feminist translation studies. By exploring other social and cultural specificities for Chinese women writers who enter the Anglo- American context, this research highlights the influences of political and commercial translation discourses, exposing the dilemma of translating women writers from non-hegemonic languages into English, whereby the translator or the writer either emphasizes a woman-centric perspective in the paratext or deletes references to women’s concerns in order to improve readability for a Western readership. Last but not least, this research fills a gap in existing scholarship on translating women writers into English, or what is called “the outward translation studies” currently prevalent in the Chinese academia, yielding insights into the global circulation and reception of contemporary Chinese literature.


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Date of Award



Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Author Retains Copyright

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Degree Grantor

Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington

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Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy

ANZSRC Type Of Activity code

970120 Expanding Knowledge in Languages, Communication and Culture

Victoria University of Wellington Item Type

Awarded Doctoral Thesis



Victoria University of Wellington School

School of Languages and Cultures


Sonzogni, Marco; Bernardi, Claudia; Bai, Limin