Translating Feminism in China:
Gender, Sexuality and Censorship

By Zhongli Yu

Reviewed by Douglas Robinson
MCLC Resource Center Publication (Copyright July, 2015)

Yu Zhongli, Translating Feminism in China: Gender, Sexuality and Censorship. London and Singapore: Routledge, 2015. 202 pp. ISBN: 978-1-13-880431-9 (cloth).

Yu Zhongli, Translating Feminism in China: Gender, Sexuality and Censorship. London and Singapore: Routledge, 2015. 202 pp. ISBN: 978-1-13-880431-9 (cloth).

This is an extremely promising book. I would go further: the promise held out by this book is extremely exciting. It looks to offer a major practical contribution to the feminist study of translation, while also shedding considerable cultural light on feminism and censorship in Mainland China. And Yu’s first three chapters and last two chapters seem to make good on that promise: the detailed, well-researched history of feminist thought in the West and China in chapter 1; the useful history of translation studies in the West and China in chapter 2; the meticulous production history of Simone de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex and Eve Ensler’s The Vagina Monologues (hereafter, TVM) in chapter 3; the useful introduction to censorship, sexuality, and translation in the PRC in chapter 7; and the concluding remarks in chapter 8. The chapter 3 histories of de Beauvoir’s and Ensler’s works—the former in its French original, several editions of Howard Parshley’s 1953 English translation, and a series of Chinese translations, the latter as it moved from Ensler’s original one-woman show in 1996 to publication and the founding of the V-Day movement in 1998 to the worldwide phenomenon that it has become, including several Chinese translations—set the stage for what we might call the “Vagina Workshops” of the problematic middle three chapters, which deal closely with translations of specific passages.

True, even in the mostly excellent early and late chapters there are some lapses. Yu says TVM was first published in 1998, but doesn’t tell us that it was first performed in 1996; she claims the V-Day movement was launched in 2001, three years after the actual launch. Indeed, she says very little about that movement: the fact that all ticket proceeds from TVM productions go to local groups working to end violence toward women; the fact that the productions are mostly amateur productions on college campuses, with the all-female roles played by local students and faculty; and the fact that audiences of all ages and genders regularly attend these productions, not just the young female students Yu mentions.

In her paragraph on criticisms of TVM and V-Day (p. 69) she also says nothing about criticism of its physiological inaccuracies, pointed out in 2003 by Harriet Lerner: many of the references to the “vagina” in the monologues are actually to the vulva, including the labia and clitoris. Vaginas don’t have hair, and so can’t be shaved; vaginas don’t have clitorises, etc. The standard Chinese translation of TVM as 陰道独白 yindao dubai—the vagina in Chinese is morphologically a “hidden path,” making vagina monologues “hidden path monologues”— repeats this physiological error through semantic fidelity to Ensler’s error: the hairy pleasure organ about which Ensler writes is not a hidden path. It’s quite visible. The vaginal hidden path is one hidden part of that visible organ (the clitoris is another). The whole vulva, of course, even when physically visible, has been ideologically-becoming-psychologically hidden by shame (another misnomer that has been used historically in various European languages for the whole organ); but as Lerner points out, incorrectly calling the vulva the vagina, as Ensler does, isn’t much different from that shaming. It’s true that in the monologues the people saying “He made me shave my vagina” (quoted in Yu p. 119) and “I just slid into my vagina” (p. 144) and so on are characters based on real women, not Ensler herself. Arguably, the various misidentifications of vulval parts as “the vagina”—in the first passage of the area around the labia, in the second passage of the vulva—are perpetrated not by the playwright but by her interviewees. But Ensler did edit the interviews into monologues, and could easily have edited them for physiological accuracy as well. And Yu perpetuates the misidentifications, saying that “it is the vagina that feels ‘the way a beard must feel,’” and “it is the vagina that has been insulted, humiliated and hurt by the husband’s insistence that its pubic hair be shaved off” (p. 121). Vaginas don’t grow pubic hair. Yu also calls TVM “a work consisting of vagina stories” (p. 106)—even though just a few pages later she also tells us that “‘cunt’, as taboo and slang, refers to a woman’s vagina and outer sex organ” (p. 112, emphasis added), and that “Betty Dodson . . . tells Ensler that ‘cunt’ is her favourite word for the female genitals because this old Anglo-Saxon noun includes all the parts” (p. 113, emphasis added). Implicit in both of those two formulations is that “vagina” doesn’t include all the parts—which of course it doesn’t. Nor do many of the other slang words Ensler lists for the “vagina,” such as “pussy,” which also “includes all the parts”—especially, perhaps, the pubic hair, the most cat-like part of female genitalia. A pussy or a cunt contains a vagina, but is not a vagina. “It is the pussy that has been insulted, humiliated and hurt by the husband’s insistence that its pubic hair be shaved off.” The Pussy Monologues. The Cunt Monologues.

The ironies multiply here. Yu writes of two male translators of TVM into Chinese, Chen Cangduo and Yu Rongjun, who insist on using technical terms for clitoris in their translations:

Their faithful translations can be regarded as achieving Ensler’s purpose to demystify the female body and female sexuality, because an effective technique for demystifying something is to call a spade a spade. Repression of female sexuality in all its forms means that women are kept, by and large, ignorant of their own anatomy and physiology, as well as the related matter of their own sexuality. Such ignorance would naturally bring about ignorance of the names for female genitalia. Liberation from such ignorance and repression would, therefore, include teaching women not simply where that organ is to be found but also giving it its proper name—that is, to be proud of it by proclaiming to the world that it is called “clitoris.” (pp. 143-44)

If demystifying the female body by calling a spade a spade is Ensler’s purpose, it’s hard to see how writing of “shaved vaginas” and describing the finding of the clitoris as “sliding a finger into a vagina” serves that purpose.

There is also a rather tricky use of “perversion” in the book: Yu describes the husband who gets excited by his wife’s shaved pussy as having an “idiosyncratic perversion” (p. 121), apparently implying that he is a sick deviant who is to be morally condemned; and then in the chapter on translating lesbianism she tells us that “homosexuality is regarded as abnormal and unacceptable by most Chinese people, and is typically represented in the Chinese media as an ‘abnormality’ or a ‘perversion’” (p. 132). Maybe I’m misreading Yu here, but it seems to me that she is using “perversion” in the exact same moralistic and condemnatory sense in both of these sentences—but in the former case she is the one doing the moralistic condemning, and in the latter she is taking critical distance from the moralism, and refusing to condemn. Does this mean that she has simply drawn the line between “normality” and “perverse” “abnormality” or “deviancy,” accepting homosexuality as “normal” but condemning the fetishization of shaved pussies as a “perversion”?

But these problems, though disturbing, are relatively minor. As I say, the first three and last two chapters stand their ground quite nicely. The same cannot be said, however, of the middle of the book, chapters 4-6, which offer a kind of old-fashioned equivalence-based linguistic trial of the various translations, designed to show which ones are accurate, and therefore faithful not only to the semantics and syntax of the source texts but to the feminist cause, and which ones deviate microtextually from the source texts and so also betray feminism. A pattern emerges, circumspectly, diffidently, but quite unmistakably: according to Yu, the female translators of de Beauvoir and Ensler by and large translate accurately, because they understand women’s experience from the inside, and the male translators subtly seek to restore the normative male gaze, and so to disempower women.

This is an interesting and useful project. I assume that’s why Routledge decided to publish the book, which seems very much a core Routledge kind of project. Unfortunately, I also think that Yu’s building-block linguistics is not the right methodology with which to pursue that project. There is a radical disconnect between her ends and her means, and that leads to considerable wheel-spinning. Her method is:

[1] First she isolates a series of examples from the text under scrutiny, typically one or two lines long, and cites for each the source text (ST) and three or four or five Chinese translations.
[2] Next she underlines the words that are problematically translated, and offers stable dictionary definitions of those words.
[3] Then she imposes an authorial intention on each word, grounded in the feminist effort to liberate women from patriarchal oppression and repression.
[4] Then she scrutinizes the counterparts of those underlined words in each of the translations, showing how each either captures the meaning of the ST word accurately or deviates from it.
[5] Then she generalizes about the tendency of the female translators to get the women’s experience right and of the male translators to get it wrong.
[6] Then, finally, at the end of each chapter, she lists the translation strategies she has discovered in it.

Let me devote the rest of this review to remarks on each of those.

[1] The source text. The Ensler “source text” is a bit problematic, because Ensler has edited TVM over the years, and because in some sense each of the thousands of V-Day productions of the play over nearly two decades might stand as a source text in its own right. Indeed Prof. Ai Xiaoming in Guangzhou used both the 1998 published script and a video of a Harvard production as her source text. But the complexities that arise from this are not particularly knotty, and Yu handles them well.

The de Beauvoir text is a different story. Yu tells us early on that none of the Chinese translations of Le deuxiéme sexe identifies its source text; she decides, based on careful stereoscopic reading, that all of the Chinese translators translated not from de Beauvoir’s French but from Howard Parshley’s English translation, The Second Sex. Thus as she works through a dozen-plus example passages in each chapter, painstakingly comparing the “female” translations with the “male” translations, and showing in almost every case that the “female” translators get de Beauvoir right and the “male” translators get her wrong, her touchstone for de Beauvoir’s “intended meaning” and thus “faithful” vs. “unfaithful” renderings of that meaning into Chinese is whatever she takes to be explicit (or even implicit) in Parshley’s English translation. This is somewhat problematic, obviously; but if she is right that the Chinese translators did use the Parshley translation as their source text, her orientation to her task is defensible.

But in one place that orientation lets her down: reading Parshley’s translation “Many young girls are distressed by these two thick ankles, these too meager or too ample breasts, these slender things, this wart” (p. 94) as the Chinese translators’ sole source text, we remain tellingly unable to determine to what body part “slender things” refers. So this one time, Yu resorts to de Beauvoir’s French source text: “The answers [to the question of what ‘things’ refers to,’ and thus of how accurate the various translations are] can only be found in the French original LDS [Le deuxième sexe]. Parshley’s ‘slender things’ is translated from the French original ‘ces hanches maigres’, meaning ‘skinny or bonny hips’” (p. 95). I assume “bonny” is a typo for “bony,” but never mind that; the interesting question is what this once-off move does to the reliability of her reading strategy in every other example from de Beauvoir. Should we assume that Yu has checked every other passage from Parshley’s English translation against the French original, and is tacitly using the French text, or perhaps a semantic consolidation of the French text and every reliably translated English passage, as the touchstone for her adjudication of the “fidelity” or “infidelity” of specific Chinese renderings? She never says that that is what she has done; indeed, it would seem that it’s not what she’s done. Rather, it seems as if she has taken the Parshley tout court as an accurate representation of the French original, on faith, except in this one case, where the Parshley is too vague to be useful. Rather than taking Parshley to task for mistranslating, however—especially for mistranslating because he was male, as several of that translation’s feminist critics have done—she simply jumps over him to de Beauvoir’s French text and takes that as her touchstone, without noting the obvious methodological wrench this move throws into her works.

For it turns out that the two “female” translations get “de Beauvoir” right, with “too thin hips,” and the one “male” translation that renders this passage gets “de Beauvoir” wrong, with “too thin thighs.” “Hence,” she writes, “the translations by S/N and W/Q [the two ‘female’ translations] reproduce the exact source text meaning and Tao’s [‘male’] translation is a mistranslation, as ‘thighs’ refers to a different part of the body, to be exact, the part of the leg between the hip and the knee” (p. 95). One could quibble with that, of course. It’s not that easy to say where the hip ends and the thigh begins. Hanche “hip” (cognate of “haunch”) is not the hipbone (a specific point) but the unbounded flesh that covers that bone, and that flesh arguably includes the upper thigh. The main thing to note here, however, is that if the Parshley translation is the official source text for Yu’s analysis, all three translators guess at the meaning of “slender things,” and guess more or less wildly, because “slender things” gives them little or no semantic guidance. They could have been skinny arms—or, more “faithfully,” just “skinny things.” It becomes possible to say that the two “female” translations “reproduce the exact source text meaning and Tao’s translation is a mistranslation” only if Parshley, which she has claimed is the only source text to which the various translators had access, is ignored, set aside as irrelevant. If all of the translators had access to the French original, and that is even a potential source of (#3) “de Beauvoir’s intended meaning”—as it seems to be exactly this once—then using Parshley everywhere else is severely flawed; if we accept Parshley as “the source text,” as Yu insists everywhere else, then both “too thin hips” and “too thin thighs” are excessively explicit renditions of a vague source text. She can’t have it both ways. But she seems rather blithely to assume that she can.

[2] Dictionary definitions of underlined key words. I’m not sure why we need these—or rather, who needs them, who Yu’s intended reader is, which is to say, who does not know that “the adjective ‘invisible’ literally means ‘cannot be seen’” (p. 86), or that “the noun ‘display’ means ‘show’ or ‘exhibit’” (p. 87), or that “the verb ‘insert’ means ‘put sth into sth else or between two things’” (p. 97), or that “‘period’ is an informal word for ‘menstruation’” (p. 116), or that “the word ‘rape’ means ‘the crime of forcing sb to have sex with one, especially using violence’” (p. 148). Could Yu be writing for truly ignorant readers? Or for English as a Lingua Franca (ELF) speakers who are not clear on the meanings of key words, like “invisible” and “display” and “insert”? It seems to me that such readers would not be capable of reading her book at all; so why tell the rest of us things we already know?

The only reasonable guess is that Yu thinks this is the way one has to proceed, based on her static, mechanistic methodology—her building-block theory of language. One has to impose a stable semantics on each word from above, with the unshakeable authority of the dictionary, and then track the accuracies and inaccuracies in various attempts to reproduce that authoritarian semantics.

Sometimes her reliance on the dictionary goes astray, too: “The dictionary meaning of ‘fleshly’ is connected with physical and sexual desires (Hornby 2009: 774). This does not fit the context” (p. 90)—the Second Sex context, specifically, in which “her breasts and bottom are a peculiarly fleshly growth” (p. 89). But what, I wonder, is the relevance of a single narrow dictionary definition presented as “the dictionary meaning,” if it doesn’t even fit the context? Presumably because Yu is not a native speaker of English, she feels she has to rely on the dictionary as an authority; but this assumption not only traps her argumentation in that mechanistic conception of language but undermines or suppresses any inclination she might have felt to seek out more complexly nuanced explanations of things. Why does that one dictionary definition not fit the context? Is it perhaps because Parshley used the wrong word—“fleshly” rather than “fleshy”? Is it because, as Ludwig Wittgenstein famously insisted, “the meaning of a word is its use in the language” (Philosophical Investigations #43), so that if “fleshly” is used to mean “fleshy” without sexual desire, it just does mean “fleshy” without sexual desire?

[3] Authorial intention. Yu has a tendency to objectify the semantics of the passages she discusses by moving from dictionary definitions to what the author intended. I was originally trained in literary studies, where avoiding what Wimsatt and Beardsley back in 1954 called “the intentional fallacy”—the fallacy of pretending to know what the author intended and proving interpretations right or wrong based on that pretense—was de rigueur for several decades of the New Criticism, and still hasn’t been entirely dislodged among the poststructuralist, postcolonial, feminist (and so on) successors to the New Critics. I personally believe that an imagined authorial intention is a useful fiction, a strategic essentialism that helps us make difficult decisions about a text—but only if it’s a useful fiction, a perspective brought to bear tentatively, provisionally, on a text. Yu for her part seems to assume that she can actually know what the author intended, and as if there can be only one possible correct authorial intention—even in cases where many such fictions can be easily and plausibly imagined.

For example: “In the source text, what is ‘invisible (to others)’ is the girl’s sex organ, which is vital for the chastity of a girl and thus must be carefully protected” (p. 86). In the passage in question, what de Beauvoir seems to me to be concerned with is not protecting chastity but the embarrassing nature of puberty for the pubescent girl: the fact that the breasts grow visibly (and therefore embarrassingly) but “the girl’s sex organ” is invisible, and therefore safe. Maybe I’m wrong—it is of course impossible to know what de Beauvoir intended—but the very fact that I think I’m closer to being right than Yu makes it problematic in the extreme for her to stabilize that passage’s intended semantics in a rigid and exclusive way.

Another example: in discussing “My Mother Slapped Me” from TVM, Yu deduces that while “slap” can be either a violent, potentially traumatizing blow or a light loving tap, in that particular monologue it must be the latter—“the mother is wishing her daughter good luck, because the first menses is usually regarded as an emblem of a girl’s growing up” (115)—and therefore that the Taiwanese male translator of the monologue mistranslates when he uses a Chinese verb meaning a violent blow (掌掴 zhangguai “slap”). But surely “slap” is more polysemous than this? Surely there are hundreds of ways of slapping another person, in hundreds of different interactive contexts, with hundreds of different purposes—not just two opposed ones? And surely we cannot reasonably use how “the first menses is usually regarded” (where?) to stabilize that polysemy in this context artificially? Accusing a translator of mistranslation, based on this failure to align with one scholar’s rather arbitrary and willful interpretation, seems a bit harsh.

One final example: in the “Vagina Workshop,” the speaker who says “I just slid into my vagina” (=vulva) then notes that “it was suddenly easy and I fit” (p. 144). Yu reads this as having nothing to do with the finger fitting the vulva; rather, she says, “I fit” means “I had an orgasm”: “When used informally and as an intransitive verb, ‘fit’ can mean ‘to have a sudden attack or convulsion, such as an epileptic seizure’ ( 2011). Obviously, ‘fit’ is not used in the literal sense here, but to describe the quivering of the woman’s clitoris, a response to her hand touch and an expression of orgasm” (p. 145). Now maybe it’s just me, but I have never heard of “fit” being used as an intransitive verb to mean “I spasm” before—in fact, it seems wildly unEnglish. may or may not have indicated otherwise in 2011; but in 2015, the only two definitions that site gives for “fit” as an intransitive verb are “to be suitable or proper” and “to be of the right size or shape, as a garment for the wearer or any object or part for a thing to which it is applied.” I read that TVM passage as saying first, physiologically, that the speaker’s finger fit nicely into the vulval vestibule, and second, figuratively, that the fit felt good, suitable, harmonious, in sync with self. Yu argues that the “I spasmed” or “I orgasmed” reading of “I fit” “is made explicit in the following sentences: ‘I was all warm and pulsing and ready and young and alive. […] There was a quivering at first, […] Then the quivering became a quake, an eruption” (p. 145). Yes, the rubbing of a clitoris tends to lead eventually to an orgasm—but that doesn’t mean that the intended meaning of “I fit” is “I spasmed.”

Note, though, that I’m not saying that I’m right and Yu is wrong. I’m worrying about her determination to impose a single stable authorial intention on every passage, rigidly, objectivizingly—and then to condemn translations that don’t accord with her objectification as mistranslations.[1] The fact that she is so absolutely certain about every authorial intention, and will brook no deviation from her constructions, would be problematic enough even if every reader always agreed with her; but in cases when she is at once adamant and unbending and apparently wrong, it has the unfortunate effect of undermining her credibility.

What is ironic about this methodological authoritarianism is that for the last four or five decades feminist theorists have been persuasively critiquing it as another form of patriarchal domination, and have sought to develop more collaborative and contingent forms of academic argumentation that leave room for everyone to make significant dialogical contributions, without any need for a single objective Truth.

[4] Accurate/feminist vs. inaccurate/anti-feminist translation. Rather oddly, Yu seems to insist on feminist explicitation as the only acceptable translation strategy—but without ever listing explicitation as a translation strategy in #6. For example, Parshley translates a passage from de Beauvoir as: “her grandfather, an old man of seventy, tampered with her genitals, inserting his finger. The child felt severe pain but was afraid to speak of the incident” (p. 97). Reading one male translator’s translation of “tampered with her genitals, inserting his finger” as 用手指插进她的生殖器 (inserted his finger into her sexual organ), Yu comments: “Tao’s translation ‘插’ [insert] seems equivalent to the source text meaning. However, the following sentence has made it clear that the child ‘felt severe pain’. Thus, Tao’s literal translation fails to convey the contextual meaning” (p. 97). By “literal translation” Yu seems to mean a representation of the dictionary definitions in #2, and by “contextual meaning” the authorial intention in #3; over and over in Chapters 4-6 she accuses any translator who captures the former but deviates from the latter of mistranslating. The implication would seem to be not only that Yu’s rather narrow and rigid interpretive construction of meaning in #2 and #3 is the meaning of the text, but, more problematically, that it’s not enough to trust the reader to contextualize and so to actualize meaning him/herself. It’s not enough to trust the reader to notice, or even to feel subliminally, that the insertion of the grandfather’s finger was painful. Rather, she seems to assume that to be “accurate” or “faithful” to the source text the translator must explicitate—which is to say, must foreground the implicit authorial intention that Yu has constructed from the explicit dictionary definitions. Tao’s translation is not so much “literal” as it is non-interventionist: it trusts the reader to figure out the tensions between the apparent neutrality of “insert” and the traumatizing effects of molestation. Yu’s implicit model of “faithful” feminist translation is interventionist.

In another passage, Parshley translates de Beauvoir: “Long before the eventual mutilation, woman is haunted by the horror of growing old” (p. 95). Responding to this, Yu indicates her belief that this negative talk of “mutilation” (referring to menopause) reflects “the male normative gaze and patriarchal standards of bodily acceptability” (p. 96), and that in order to “somewhat remove” that gaze and those standards the word “mutilation” must be translated in a “neutral and descriptive way” (p. 96). In other words, to begin with:

[a] women tend to think of menopause negatively as mutilation
[b] this negativity is a problem
[c] the source of the problem is something like “the male normative gaze and patriarchal standards of bodily acceptability” (women are afraid of growing old because they have been conditioned to fear the loss of attractiveness to men)

So far, as I imagine de Beauvoir’s authorial intention behind this passage, I think she would agree. Where I think de Beauvoir’s diagnosis and action plan would differ from Yu’s is that where for Yu the translator should mitigate the negative effects of (a) by removing (c) from (b)—translating “mutilation” more “neutrally,” thus minimizing the negativity rhetorically—for de Beauvoir the philosopher’s intervention in this unfortunate state of affairs must be to highlight the negativity in (a), and to get readers thinking more openly about the ways in which (c) conditions (b). To put it more simply: whereas de Beauvoir promotes critical engagement, Yu promotes withdrawal and avoidance. For Yu, the fact that the two “female” translations render “mutilation” neutrally as 身体发生变化 (changes of the body) makes them good, and the one male translator who renders it negatively as 身体变得不健全 (her body becoming defective) is bad: the “male” translation “conveys the surface meaning of the source text . . . but contains a negative sense and reflects patriarchal judgment of the female body” (p. 96). For Yu, more negativity about women growing old means more patriarchal judgment of women; for de Beauvoir, drawing attention to that negativity and that patriarchal judgment is the first step toward undoing it.

[5] Male vs. female translators. I don’t think the problem here is that Yu is intent upon praising the female translators as “faithful” to the feminist source texts and lambasting the male translators as producing distortions of those texts that subliminally restore patriarchal normativity. There is some of that throughout the book, but Yu also recognizes that (male translator) Yu Rongjun translates The Vagina Monologues brilliantly, creatively, humorously, enjoyably, and so serves the feminist cause admirably. To the extent that she makes invidious comparisons between the female translators who get the feminist texts and the male translators who don’t, her comparisons seem more empirically than ideologically driven.

No, the problem is more methodological than ideological. I think it lies in her understanding of what translation is, and what a text is, and what language is. For Yu, as I say, language seems to be a static collection of semantic and syntactic building blocks that can and should be depicted and analyzed rigidly, objectively, mechanistically. A text is a specific arrangement of those building blocks that conveys a specific stable and objective message. And translation is the faithful reproduction of that message in another language, taking the form of a new text in that language, using discrete semantic and syntactic building blocks whose accuracy or fidelity—equivalence—can be tracked block by block. This is more or less the “linguistic” approach to the study of translation that held sway in Translation Studies back in the 1970s, and to a diminishing extent in the 1980s, but was radically overthrown by the Cultural Turn in the early 1990s. Partly as a result of that overthrow, linguists spent the 1990s retooling, retheorizing language and textuality and translation, breaking away from the static, formalistic, mechanistic approaches that had dominated the field for most of the twentieth century and developing new sociolinguistic, psycholinguistic, cognitive-linguistic approaches grounded in power and ideology (Norman Fairclough’s Critical Discourse Analysis [CDA]), the ethnography of communication (from Dell Hymes to Deborah Cameron’s feminist linguistics), and real-world pragmatics (Jacob Mey’s pragmemes). CDA would have lent itself perfectly to Yu’s project: the tracking of discursive power differentials and power relations between men and women in China, in translational interaction with the West. Without it, with just the tired old building-block theory of language, the exciting project Yu envisions collapses by chapter 4 into a humdrum listing of static equivalencies and non-equivalencies.

[6] Translation strategies. As I say, the primary translation strategy that Yu keeps rewarding in the various Chinese translators is explicitation: any translation that escalates the dictionary meanings into overt support for the (feminist) authorial intention is considered “faithful” and therefore good; any translation that fails to escalate in that way, that sticks with the dictionary definition, is dubbed a mistranslation. There is, however, no discussion at all of translation strategies along the way; and explicitation is not mentioned once in the book. Not only is it not listed at the end of chapters 4, 5, or 6, it is never identified as Yu’s translation strategy of choice. But then the translation strategies that she lists at the ends of those chapters are not mentioned in the body of the chapters either; the lists of strategies that bring the three workshop chapters to a close seem to be add-ons that enhance the impression that this is an extremely comprehensive research project, meticulously carried out—but, unfortunately, one that lacks a cohesive agenda. Without a clearly articulated rationale for studying feminist (or anti-feminist) translation strategies, a close engagement with specific strategies in specific analytical contexts, and a broad integrative vision of how these translation strategies work together with the other bits and pieces of Yu’s analytical apparatus to flesh out her overall picture, we tend to be left with just the bits and pieces.

Still, it is important to reiterate that Translating Feminism in China is not its three middle chapters. It is much more than those chapters—and the “much more” is very much worth the price of admission.

Douglas Robinson
Hong Kong Baptist University


[1] In this case, Ai Xiaoming translates “I fit” as 碰到了与我很和谐的那个地方 (my finger suddenly touched the place that is harmonious with me) (p. 144), and Yu declares that this “implies the source text meaning”: because 和谐 (harmony) can imply “marital harmony,” and “marital harmony” can imply “sexual harmony,” and “sexual harmony” can imply orgasm, Ai’s phrasing “can be seen as a roundabout expression of the orgasm the woman achieved” (p. 145). This is pretty roundabout. If we want to go that far afield to make our point, we could just as easily follow 和谐 hexie “harmony, harmonious, harmonize” to the euphemistic use of the verb to mean “to censor.” Whatever is not perceived by the state authority as “harmonious” (in the ancient Confucian sense) is foreclosed. It seems to me that the obvious, most straightforward way to read Ai’s “harmonious with me” is as a figurative extension of “fits with me,” “matches with me,” “is suitable for me.”