Rewriting to reproduce beauty
: A comparative case study of Hong Lou Meng

  • Binglu Xu

Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


Chinese classical literature is marked by aesthetic features that have often no direct equivalent in Anglophone literature. Delivering the beauty of a Chinese text to English readers is therefore challenging. This thesis uses the Chinese classical fiction Hong Lou Meng and its two translations – The Story of the Stone translated by David Hawkes, and A Dream of Red Mansions translated by Yang Xianyi – to discuss aesthetics in Chinese and Anglophone literature. It asks how we can overcome aesthetic differences in translation between these two languages and cultural systems, and to what extent rewriting might be a feasible strategy when translating Chinese classical literature such as Hong Lou Meng into English. Aesthetic as well as significant cultural differences between Chinese and Anglophone literature impact upon the translation of Chinese classical literature: while Chinese culture seeks harmony, and implicated language and images are used to express emotions, English focuses, in the main, on reason, truthfulness, and logic. To translate Hong Lou Meng, the translator must address these differences. This thesis will show that the two translators of Hong Lou Meng under discussion here use different translation strategies to solve this problem. Where Yang’s translation is mainly literal, Hawkes rewrites. By analysing the two translations, we find that, compared to literal translation, rewriting makes the target text more readable and comprehensive. I suggest that translation through rewriting allows the translator to manipulate words and concepts so to adapt them to the target text culture. By rewriting, translation thus v breaks free from differences on the linguistic level but turns to the levels of meaning and emotions instead. As a consequence, Chinese classical literature may become easier to understand and more acceptable when read in English translation, so that it can begin to find acceptance in the Anglophone literary and cultural system.
Date of AwardJul 2020
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Queen's University Belfast
SupervisorDavid Johnston (Supervisor)

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