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Translation in distraction: On Eileen Chang's "Chinese Translation: A Vehicle of Cultural Influence".

Miss Eileen Chang [...] is a Chinese who, in contrast to most of her
countrymen, does not simply take China for granted. It is her deep
curiosity about her own people which enables her to interpret the
Chinese to the foreigner.
                           --Klaus Mehnert, The XXth Century, 1943 (2)


Translation played a central role in the literary career of Eileen Chang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] As one of the most iconic figures in twentieth-century Chinese letters, Chang wrote extensively in English throughout her career. She worked as a freelance translator and writer for the United States Information Service after she left Shanghai for Hong Kong in 1952. In 1955, she moved to the United States, where she sought to establish a career as an English-language writer. She was largely unsuccessful in this regard and, by the late 1960s, she had mostly abandoned these efforts even though she continued to pursue translation projects until she earned enough royalties from her earlier writings to enjoy a measure of financial stability. As Te-hsing Shan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]- has suggested, translation offered an "opportunity as well as channel to develop her linguistic abilities" by working in between Chinese and English. Through translation, Chang "never stopped revising her literary works, as part of her attempt to embark on the road to recognition in the international world of letters" (Shan 2010, 6; my translation). Nevertheless, the widespread belief that her translations are secondary to her "original" literary works reflects the ethno-cultural assumptions inherent in her characterization as a Chinese writer, with its emphasis on her linguistic identity as well as her placement in a national literature. By contrast, translation challenges the presumed coherence of ethno-national literatures by revealing how such categories are constituted through sustained and transformative interactions with other cultures. Moreover, it opens up the fraught relationship between Chang's personal biography after her departure from the Mainland and her literary subjectivity.

Afer Chang passed away in 1995, her literary estate became the responsibility of the prominent translator and critic Stephen Soong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] who, along with his wife Mae [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], had befriended her during her brief sojourn in Hong Kong. Afer Chang emigrated to the United States, they corresponded frequently and Soong continued to assist her in publishing her works and managing her literary affairs. After Soong passed away in 1996, his son Roland [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] eventually became the executor of Chang's literary estate. (3) In 1997, an exhibition of some of her manuscripts was mounted at the University of Southern California (USC) and the contents were subsequently donated to the University's East Asian Library where they now comprise the "Ailing Zhang Papers" (Wang 2007, xviii). The collection includes an assortment of typed and photocopied manuscripts mostly from her American period, including the full manuscript of her translation of The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] by Han Bangqing [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] The collection also includes extensive correspondence, especially with C.T. Hsia [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], the critic and scholar whose inclusion of Chang in his seminal A History of Modern Chinese Fiction (1961) was instrumental to the revival of her post-war career.

Tis essay focuses on a previously obscure and only recently republished English text held at USC that offers an unparalleled window into Chang's engagement with translation. The untitled manuscript, typed with handwritten additions and corrections, is contained in a folder marked "Untitled article or speech" and appears to be the script of an oral presentation in which Chang surveys the development of translation in China from the late-Qing period, through the 1911 revolution, the May Fourth period, the war with Japan, the 1949 revolution and the Cultural Revolution. Her speech emphasizes how translation functioned as an index to China's fraught relationship with the outside world, particularly the West (including Japan and Russia); to that end, the text engages with historical movements such as imperialism, modernization, and the ideological polarization of the Cold War, resulting in an account that belies her reputation as an apolitical figure. While the rediscovery of a text by Eileen Chang is certainly a matter of anecdotal interest, the purpose of this essay is not only to reconstruct its history but also to consider how it illuminates her lifelong relationship to translation through which, I will argue, she tried to unsettle the geopolitical categories that Chih-ming Wang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2012) has identified as foundational to modern Chinese literary culture. In what follows, I start by providing an overview of the text based on archival and other sources and provide a summary of its contents. Turning to Shuang Shen's [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2012) discussion of translation as impersonation, I consider how the oral address, a rare textual form in the oeuvre of a notoriously reclusive writer, involves navigating the roles of reader, author, and translator. Through this genre, Chang hints at the possibility of distancing herself from the geopolitics of translation even as the ultimate failure to do so reveals the constraints of her diasporic condition.

Rediscovering a Forgotten Text

In 1960, Chang became a naturalized citizen of the United States. During this period, her life was shadowed by considerable economic insecurity even as her reputation was starting to revive among Chinese-language readers outside the Mainland. Seeking to support herself and her husband, Ferdinand Reyher, she took up a series of short-term appointments and residencies while constantly exploring new publishing opportunities. For example, she tried to pitch a Hollywood screenplay based on Chinese themes, but eventually abandoned these efforts after her agent thought that the characters were too complicated. (4) She continued to accept Chinese language assignments such as screenplays and translations and made a trip to Taiwan and Hong Kong from October 1961 to March 1962 to explore more opportunities. (5) Upon her return, Chang and Reyher moved to Washington, D.C. and in September 1966, she took up a writing residency at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio. (6) According to her curriculum vitae, Chang delivered a talk to the English department at Miami University that November on the history of Chinese translation (Zhang 2004, 191), the first time that such an entry appears on her record.

The following year, she moved to Cambridge, Massachusetts in order to take up a fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study, where she would remain for two years before moving to California. The Radcliffe Institute was founded in 1961 as a "postgraduate study center for woman scholars and artists that provided time, financial support, membership in a vital community of women" ("History of the Program" 2016). According to an article about the Institute that appeared in The Harvard Crimson in March 1969, nineteen to twenty-five women were chosen every year from over 200 applications and "awarded fellowships of up to $3,000 per year to work on independent projects on a part-time basis" (Love 1969). The maximum length of a fellowship was two years; fellows were provided with an office and invited to present their research at a weekly public colloquium. Known then as Eileen Chang Reyher, her biography in a Radcliffe notice states:
Mrs. Reyher's training at the University of Hong Kong was interrupted
by the fall of that city in 1941. Since that time she has been a writer
and translator. In addition to two volumes of collected stories and one
of collected essays in Chinese, Mrs. Reyher has published numerous
stories in Chinese and English and two novels, Naked Earth and The
Rice-Sprout Song, both in 1955. (7) She is engaged in translating a
late nineteenth century novel Hai Shang Hua (Flower on the Sea), by Han
Pan-Ching. (Radcliffe Institute 1969) (8)

As her biography suggests, Chang's fellowship was awarded on the basis of her work as a translator, even though her translation of Hai Shang Hua was not published until after her death as The Sing-song Girls of Shanghai.

According to records of the Radcliffe Institute currently kept at the Arthur and Elizabeth Schlesinger Library at Harvard University, Chang presented a talk on 1 April 1969 titled "Chinese Translation: A Vehicle of Cultural Exchange." (9) Further information about this speech has been discovered by Roland Soong in correspondence between Chang and his father, Stephen Soong. The same day of her Radcliffe talk, Chang sent an aerogramme to Stephen Soong in which she reports that her speech had been received positively. Although she promised to send a copy to Soong, it is unclear if she ever did so. Chang also mentions that she felt unsuited for teaching as it took too much effort to write down each word until she found the speech acceptable. She adds that it had already been delivered eight or nine times in the Midwest. In an earlier letter dated 6 March 1969, Chang mentions that she had just given a talk the previous day on translation and East-West relations at the State University of New York, Albany at the invitation of writer Yu Lihua [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. (10) In her April 1st letter, Chang includes the names of several of the figures mentioned in her talk and quotes some brief passages. These details match the contents of the typed manuscript at USC, which can therefore be identified as a version of "Chinese Translation: A Vehicle of Cultural Exchange."

"Chinese Translation" begins with an anecdote about an early nineteenth century scholar, Mao Qingzhen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], who advocated banning The Dream of the Red Chamber [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] due to its ostensibly pornographic content. What amuses Chang is his proposal to send all copies of the novel abroad as a form of revenge against the West's imposition of opium on China. Mao Qingzhen's suggestion was naive, she explains, because it lacked any awareness of translation and the complexities of reading across cultural borders. For Chang (2015), this naivete reflected the fact that "China had been isolated for so long" (490). The story of Mao Qingzhen raises themes that would recur throughout the speech, including the relationship between translation and cultural exchange, as well as the relationship between literature and global geopolitics. As the Qing Dynasty unraveled, reformers looked to translations of Western thought for inspiration. At the same time, a more popular strand of translation brought works by authors such as Rider Haggard to the attention of Chinese language readers. The growth of popular translation, "seen against the traumatic national experience" of the period, "was a reaching out as well as an escape" (491). Haggard's novels were translated by Lin Shu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], who famously took multiple liberties in his wildly popular translations of foreign literature into classical Chinese. This was, she tells her audience, the "Golden Age" of translation from a commercial point of view, but the texts that circulated were notoriously inaccurate: Chang recalls an unnamed text in which the classical aphorism "flicked his sleeve and left" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] was used to convey a character's anger, leading a confused critic to inquire if the character "was wearing the academic gown of the students at Oxford" (491).

Chang notes how the use of classical Chinese by Lin and others made translation a "cumbersome practice" since classical Chinese was "a dead language" that belonged to an outdated time that was out-of-sync with the modernity represented not only by foreign languages but by vernacular Chinese as well (491). In Chang's telling, the potent combination of nationalism and Westernization that characterized the May Fourth movement made translation an indispensable means for importing radical ideas about family, gender, and society and revitalizing Chinese literature in general. Chang goes on to describe how the 1920s and early 1930s (which coincided with her own childhood) was an "era of tremendous freshness as though the West was newly discovered [with] a child-like exuberance" (493). Periodicals such as Fiction Monthly [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] introduced readers to an eclectic range of foreign literature. Despite an underlying awareness of imperialism around the world, "there was the general assumption that the West is good at home, fair and decent, progressive" (494). This period was cut short by the Japanese invasion. After the Shanghai Incident of 1932, literature became more "politically slanted" due to "the government's refusal to take a stand and bitterness toward the West and the League of Nations" (494). Chang correlates these developments with the rise of leftist thought around the world during the Depression; in China, these developments resulted in a more restrictive literary culture as overt political considerations increasingly determined what was worth translating and reading. She recalls: "Marx was all right but not Freud. Positive values, not ambiguity or cynicism [...] That ruled out a great deal of modern Western literature and left mainly the Great Russians" (2015, 494).

Chang disdained leftist cultural politics throughout her life and her scepticism would likely have resonated with her audiences in Cold War America. In "Chinese Translation," Chang contrasts the politically correct literary mainstream with texts written by "hacks" who "made a good business of school books with the English and Chinese text on facing pages, often forbidden because they were full of mistakes" (2015, 495) as well as unexpected hits such as Gone with the Wind. As with Lin Shu's translations, these texts were ridden with errors, sometimes with absurd results. For example, the "heroes of '76" in Rip Van Winkle, a reference to the American Revolution, became "the 76 Martyrs," while another translator wrote that "at a banquet, somebody 'raised a piece of toast'" (495). Chang's attention to the comedy of mistranslation is not just an attempt to keep her listeners entertained but an inherent part of her understanding of translation as a process fraught with slippage and absurdity. As she memorably wrote years earlier in her short story "Sealed Off" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]| (1943), "Life was like the Bible, translated from Hebrew to Greek, from Greek to Latin, from Latin to English, from English to Mandarin Chinese. [...] Some things did not come through" (Chang 2007, 241).

Chang (2015) then turns her attention to the post-1949 period, and launches a scathing critique of communism, which she criticizes for heavy censorship and entrenching "a turgid prose modeled on the literal translation favored by the leftists of the 30s" (496). Literary culture in the People's Republic had been taken over by anti-foreign sentiment and even former allies such as the Soviet Union had fallen out of favor. Chang attributes the Sino-Soviet split to Mao Zedong's xenophobia, a reaction not only to the "pressures of Westernization" but also to the "discrimination" he suffered from the "Russians [...] in the 20s and early 30s" (495). As literary interests shifted away from the outside world, writers turn instead to "the peasant masses and their tastes--and Mao's own" (496). Chang offers a decidedly pessimistic account of contemporary developments. On the Mainland, pressure on writers and artists has led to the negation of the modern tradition as major figures suffered persecution. But she also criticizes the situation in Taiwan, where censorship was rampant and numerous modern works were deemed to be leftist. (11) "While Western, particularly American, literature continued to be regularly translated and distributed, literary culture in Taiwan has turned markedly commercial, "escapist [...] vacuous and naive" (496). (12) Chang reports that novels were frequently marketed using tangential references to Hollywood cinema in order to attract readers. In a wry comment made earlier on, she notes that while a shortage of reading material in China and the Soviet Union had the effect of elevating the status of the few works available, in the "outside world" literature enjoys a "dubious immortality" because "we generally wait for the movie" (495).

In both Taiwan and the Mainland, political suppression and censorship was not only detrimental, but ironically indicated a shared rejection of the modern tradition as exemplified by the May Fourth movement. Chang unequivocally states that this disavowal has left literature unmoored: "Without modern Chinese literature as a link, somehow nothing seems to have anything to do with anything else any more, least of all life" (496). Chang's insistence on treating the May Fourth movement as part of a continuous tradition rather than as a break from it recalls comments she made in an essay written around the same time to mark the death of Hu Shi [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (Chang 2000b). There, she remarks that both sides of the Taiwan Straits were downplaying the May Fourth movement, which she likens to a Jungian collective unconscious that continues to operate even when disavowed by later generations. In "Chinese Translation," she draws attention to how Westernization, reinforced by the global hierarchies of the Cold War, has led to the deterioration of literary culture. This critique is registered in what is perhaps the most enigmatic passage in the speech, two sentences at the end of the second to last paragraph that were subsequently crossed out by hand: "The May Fourth has set the tone for a rather sterilized view of the West as mentor, and now Hong Kong and Taiwan have perforce become part of the picture of worldwide Americanization, only more so because of their precarious existence--without the disinterested exploratory enthusiasm of the May Fourth. Imagination needs room, it needs distance and an absence of pressure" (cited in Chang 2015, 498n27). At a time when American troops were still stationed in Taiwan, and Mainland China was considered a dangerous enemy of the United States, Chang puts forth, albeit furtively, apolitical critique that places Americanization in a longer history of coercive Westernization (it is not known whether these lines were ever delivered orally and we have few details about audience reactions to her speech).

Translation and Geo-Political Form

Chang's critique of Americanization affirms the primacy of the individual imagination, ideally expressed through aesthetic activity conducted free from coercive pressure. Even though she condemns cultural policies in Taiwan, her broader critique of totalitarianism would have resonated not only with her immediate audiences, but also within the literary circuits in which she participated during the Cold War. As mentioned earlier, Chang was employed by the United States Information Service during her stay in Hong Kong through its extensive program for translating and disseminating American works to Chinese audiences. While her translations appeared through the auspices of an organization that belonged, as Te-hsing Shan (2010) has suggested, to the American project of global containment (5), "Chinese Translation" also reveals her affinity to what Christina Klein has characterized as the Cold War imaginary of global integration. According to Klein (2003), this imaginary "constructed a world in which differences could be bridged and transcended" through the restoration of sentimental bonds between nations and peoples (41). Chang's integrationist outlook comes across as she bemoans how the West's long-standing tendency to exoticize and idealize China renders it unable to grasp and appreciate the nuances of modern Chinese culture. Meanwhile, the xenophobic anti-imperialism of the Cultural Revolution on the Mainland and increasing commercialization in Taiwan further mitigate against translation's ability to serve as a "vehicle of cultural influence."

Chang's references to what contemporary critics would call Orientalism reflect the challenges she faced as a Chinese writer attempting to address an American audience. On the one hand, Chang excoriates the cultural biases that have distorted Western understandings of China. On the other hand, her attempt to correct these misunderstandings appeals to Western desires for knowledge about an unknown China, desires that she tried to harness to her advantage. "Chinese Translation" is a microcosm of a balancing act that she tried to maintain throughout her post-1949 career, from her work for the United States Information Service to her attempts to write China-themed literature for Anglophone audiences to her later position at the University of California, Berkeley as a researcher on and translator of press reports from the Mainland.

In what may initially seem like a tangential detour, she devotes an extended section of her speech to Somerset Maugham's travels to China during the early 1920s. Chang focuses on how Maugham, one of her favorite writers, described his interactions with two Chinese intellectuals in his travelogue On a Chinese Screen (1922). The first figure, Song Chunfang [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], was a well-known theatre scholar who advocated European dramatic conventions such as the well-made play, realism, and the stage curtain. (13) Chang notes how these views offended Maugham, who was attracted to ostensibly traditional art forms such as Peking opera. The second figure was the eccentric scholar Gu Hongming [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], who studied philosophy in Europe but became a conservative cultural nationalist who defended the fallen dynastic social order, making him something of a curiosity in Republican China. Nevertheless, his stubborn traditionalism appealed to Maugham, who repeatedly expressed his desire for China to remain "mysterious and lovely and good, the way the Jesuits found it in the eighteenth century" (Chang 2015, 493). As if to emphasize the ongoing relevance of these tendencies, Chang adds, "Peking being a Forbidden City once again makes it still easier to see it that way" (493).

Maugham's antiquarian views exemplify a temporal logic on the part of the West that relegates Chinese culture and society to a distant if glorious past while paying little attention to its modern complexity. Such biases had serious geopolitical consequences during the Cold War, and they also permeated popular understandings of China. Although Chang does not discuss her own experiences as a writer/translator, similar views obstructed her attempts to interest American editors in her English-language, China-themed writings. In an autobiographical statement written around 1966 and published in 1975, she recalls:
The publishers here seem agreed that the characters [...] are too
unpleasant, even the poor are no better. An editor at Knopf's wrote
that if things were so bad before [the 1949 revolution], then the
Communists would actually be deliverance. Here I came against the
curious literary convention treating the Chinese as a nation of
Confucian philosophers spouting aphorisms, an anomaly in modern
literature. Hence the dualism in current thinking on China, as just
these same philosophers ruled by trained Communists. ("Chang, Eileen"
1975, 297-98)

As Chang (2015) notes in "Chinese Translation," the idealization of the past goes hand-in-hand with a lack of interest in modern Chinese literature, which is reductively read as "social documentary"; "the best works," she observes, "are distinguished by anger and self-disgust, which again does not appeal to the West since the West doesn't see anything wrong with China as [it is or] was" (496). The "dualism" that underscores Western orientalism also operates in China, with Maoist xenophobia being a case in point.

Even as Chang is careful to point out such shortcomings, her approach to the topic of literary translation reflects a deeper logic stemming from global structures of colonialism and imperialism. In his essay "Geopolitics of Literature," Chih-ming Wang argues that concepts of modern Chinese literature emerged starting in the nineteenth century as a metonymic expression of a coherent ethnonational entity. Chinese literature was conceptually inseparable from a mutually constituting other, namely Foreign (usually Western) literature, and their relationship reveals how "discrepant colonial relations are coded in knowledge forms" (Wang 2012, 746). In short, "the modern notion of Literature, when adopted in early twentieth century China in vernacular writing, already bore the burden of representing the nation in the world republic of letters; foreign literature or 'world literature' was not its oppositional counterpart, but rather its very condition of existence" (744). Whether in the form of May Fourth iconoclasm or in reaction to its claims, many intellectuals in the first half of the twentieth century embraced developmental conceptions of culture as a linear march towards universal civilization. Lhese assumptions became sedimented in what Wang characterizes as the humanist and comparativist underpinnings of modern Chinese literary thought. Lhe humanist underpinnings of literary thought are reflected in the constant striving to join a "republic of civilizations" (750) in which Chinese culture would be transmitted to, and recognized by, the rest of the world as equal to the highest standards of civilization. Lhese assumptions in turn produced a "compulsive comparativism" (755), a constant, irresistible urge to compare oneself with a(n) (more powerful) other. Lhe need to compare, Wang points out, is driven by the desire to overcome one's colonized status by achieving the status of the universal, thereby gaining "[admission] to [a] cosmopolitan, humanist international that is critical of modernity andits colonial imperialist underpinnings" (755). Nevertheless, the very terms of comparison could not but reinforce the geopolitical epistemology of imperialism, thereby failing to dislodge the power relations that operate therein.

In "Chinese Translation," Chang's integrationist framework rearticulates the humanist impulse to elevate Chinese literature to world attention within the context of ideological polarization. Chang is acutely aware that such a project unfolds in an unequal terrain in which Chinese literature cannot overcome its marginalization on its own. In a telling comment near the end of the speech, she states, "Even without the political situation [of the Cold War] the West is in a better position to break that impasse [of mutual misunderstanding], like Tang China, when China was self-confident enough to take a lot from India and Central Asia without any fear of losing its identity" (Chang 2015, 496-97). Chang looks back to a golden age in Chinese history in order to make a statement about the comparative strength of the West while critiquing its blindspots. The comparative impulse comes to the forefront as she contrasts China's status as an ancient civilization with its more recent history as a belated modern nation-state. In regards to literature, Chang says:
Western literature was to help shape [an] immature new literature. Why
[does] a country with a heritage it could be proud of abandon it and
start from scratch? Because things deteriorate. Like a period of art
once it has passed its peak [...] We need a literature that's more
relevant to our lives. The old things are there, as good as ever, but
like old cloths, no longer fit. (492)

These words, which appear duringher discussion of the May Fourth movement, seem to replicate its iconoclasm, (14) but as Wang (2012) points out, even intellectuals who distanced themselves from the movement's more radical claims made similar arguments by appealing to a double project: "not simply to import Western literature and knowledge as compradors do, but to become cultural ambassadors that represent China at its best" (751). What made this task precarious (and perhaps impossible) was its demand that literary culture "must serve both China and the West" within a global system marked by the latter's material and cultural domination (751). In this sense, Chang's aspirations for Chinese literature extrapolate on a grander scale her own ambitions as a writer, but by placing literature at the cross-roads of irreconcilable allegiances, she also conveys the inability of her integrationist imaginary to overcome these divisions.

Impersonation and the Distracted Reader

In light of the fact that Chang was unable to establish a successful career as an English language writer, many critics have remarked on the stylistic limitations of her English. Leo Ou-fan Lee [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2012), for example, suggests that Chang's posthumously published semi-autobiographical English novels "[show] traces of a conscious attempt to find English equivalents to the Chinese modes of expression in order to explain her Chinese world to Western readers of her time (presumably in middle-class America)" (244-45). Her failure to find publishers in the United States reflects how "her 'Chineseness' stood in the way" of achieving "stylistic mastery" so that even in her more eloquent passages, "her English is still occasionally awkward and reads like a translation" (245; emphasis added). Observations such as these highlight the aesthetic value of her Chinese writings while relegating her English ones to the intersection of translation and ethnography, instrumental ends that reflect her status as a native informant. The subordination of translation and ethnography thereby reinforces their supposedly derivative status, while Chinese language, culture, and society retain their status as valued originals that can only be partially conveyed to foreign audiences. (15)

The subordination of translation to the literary reflects a conventional understanding of the former as the transfer of meaning across languages and cultures. By contrast, in her re-examination of Chang's bilingual writings, Shuang Shen (2012) reframes translation in terms of impersonation in order to draw attention to the "linguistic, personal, and bodily performances" that operate in "translingual and cross-border contexts" (98). Translation-as-impersonation becomes especially fraught when it involves historically overdetermined identities, when one knowingly assumes and "perform[s] into existence a public identity that has already been used to label you" (Tina Chen quoted in Shen 2012, 108). As Shen (2012) writes, "To think of self-translation as impersonation allows us to see that translation is more than a linguistic act; it is an intellectual performance as well as a bodily performance [... that] pushes against the cognitive and bodily limits against which 'Chineseness' is defined" (102).

In order to develop these points, Shen turns to Chang's 1943 Chinese essay "Peking Opera through Foreign Eyes" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]. [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], a rewritten version of an English essay "Still Alive," published earlier the same year. While Chang frequently translated and rewrote her English writings into Chinese and vice versa, she rarely acknowledged this process, choosing instead to present each text as an original. In other words, she chose to mask her role as a translator while disclosing herself as an author. In "Peking Opera Through Foreign Eyes," however, Chang makes the labor of translation explicit. She explains to her Chinese readers why she chose to write about a native art form from a non-Chinese perspective, and suggests that "adopting the perspective of a foreigner watching Peking Opera should produce not just a better understanding, but a greater love for Chinese culture" (Shen 2012, 101). Her gambit--that the distancing act of adopting a foreign perspective on one's own culture can ultimately be resolved through a more earnest gesture of return--highlights the range of subject positions that a translator might occupy in relation to her subject matter as well as her audience:
Self-translation starts from the role-switching of the author from a
supposedly "authentic" Chinese informant addressing a foreign audience
to a Chinese person adopting the perspective of a foreigner while
addressing a Chinese readership. In the process of role-switching, the
Chinese person is delinked from Chinese culture, as is a foreigner from
a foreign perspective. (Shen 2012, 101-02)

To be sure, impersonation seems less relevant to "Chinese Translation," where questions of ethnic identity are, in comparison with other examples of Chang's self-translation, relatively straightforward. The goal of the speech, after all, is to persuade her audience of the value and necessity of translation. In order to do so, Chang presents herself as an expert on Chinese literary/cultural history and deploys English as the linguistic vehicle for conveying this information and connecting with her audience. The intertwining of translation and ethnography is the raison d'etre of "Chinese Translation," not a secondary dimension that usurps its aesthetic qualities. Nevertheless, approaching this text through impersonation highlights how binary divisions such as Chinese vs. Western culture, or Chinese vs. English language, map uneasily onto roles such as author, translator, reader, and audience. For anyone already familiar with Chang's career, what is immediately noticeable about "Chinese Translation" is its complete lack of references to her experiences as a translator and/or author. These omissions are especially puzzling since she delivered this speech during residencies and fellowships awarded on the basis of her translation work. In light of these gaps, a consideration of impersonation alerts us to how Chang navigates among various literary subject positions by masking roles such as translator and author while disclosing herself as a literary historian as well as a cosmopolitan reader.

Throughout "Chinese Translation," Chang speaks primarily as an expert in order to provide an ostensibly objective overview of her topic through discussions of texts, literary movements, and socio-historical contexts. Yet what arguably makes her speech more compelling are the moments when she turns to a more personal idiom and shares her own experiences as a reader. For example, during her discussion of Rider Haggard, she remarks: "I don't know if you have heard of him. I myself came across the name Rider Haggard without realizing that he is none other than the great [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Ha Ge'de], master of Western fiction. I've never seen the movie She, based on his best known fantasy, but I've read one of his lesser works in Chinese under the title The Chronicle of the Melancholy City of Haze and Water" (Chang 2015, 491). These comments are followed by a summary of the plot of Melancholy City (Haggard's 1887 novel Allan Quartermain as translated in 1905 by Lin Shu). In passages such as these, Chang departs from her more authoritative, but also more distant, scholarly voice. Her turn to personal experience not only reveals her enthusiasm for plot details, but also reinforces her authority as a first hand participant in modern Chinese literary culture. But her anecdote also conveys how translation engenders experiences in which cultural and linguistic barriers are crossed with only partial success. Her surprise at discovering the true identity of Ha Ge'de suggests that the everyday consumption of translated literature often leaves the distinction between the original and the translation murky. As with other sections in which Chang employs irony and humor to convey the comedy of mistranslation, this passage features a more colloquial and relaxed voice that markedly departs from the stiff or formal tone that critics have repeatedly identified in her English writings as a symptom of her inescapable status as an outsider to the language.

What is at stake in "Chinese Translation," then, is not so much whether it is factually accurate--while Chang integrates a significant amount of sources and materials, her presentation inevitably reflects idiosyncratic literary tastes and political sympathies, and readers will likely take issue with her specific claims--but rather how it mobilizes contrasting voices to create a performance of cultural translation. Chang's readerly voice is usually masked by her expert one, but the former comes across by breaking through the formal tone, diction, and pacing of the latter. These eruptions take the form of tangential diversions (such as the discussion of Somerset Maugham mentioned earlier), seemingly superfluous plot summaries, isolated quotations (particularly of humorous mistranslations or other memorable anecdotes), and lists of authors and texts offered with little or no explanation. Together, these elements give her speech a sense of improvisation although, given the fact that they were written down, they are not in fact spontaneous. Instead, they disclose at the level of style how the attention of an avid, voracious reader flows and fluctuates depending on contingencies of taste and context, an experience that is akin to that of browsing through a library. Chang's readerly voice resonates with what Michael Wood has theorized as distracted reading. Drawing on Walter Benjamin's famous notion of "reception in distraction," Wood (2009) describes "a mode of alert but relaxed reading" (582) that "contains certain elements of concentration, but not enough to make it respectable" (583). Distraction, in this sense, is "not a mode of concentration but it is not the simple opposite of concentration either"; instead, it is a mode of reception uniquely attenuated to the presence and proliferation of surplus meanings in literature, one that eschews "neat and functional [...] economical" modes of attention that seek to account for some meanings in exhaustive detail while excluding others altogether from consideration (580).

Distraction is a common theme throughout Chang's writings: from her fascination with and participation in mass culture to her use of striking (but sometimes disjointed) sensual details and narrative free association, distraction is a mode of experience that figures prominently in her vision of modernity. The particular relationship between distraction and reading comes across in her 1974 essay "On Reading" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] "On Reading" begins as a discussion of her preference for realism and fact-based fiction, (16) but most of the essay consists of detailed expositions of mostly English-language fiction and non-fiction interspersed with personal anecdotes and musings on topics such as human anthropology, ancient history, colonial exploration, and adventure (translation is not a central topic in this essay). For example, during an extended section on racial anthropology (which will certainly seem outdated to contemporary readers), she focuses on the figure of the dark skinned pygmy across Southeast Asia, Australia, and Africa. She then embarks on descriptions of elves, gremlins, fairies, and other beings that she considers to be European versions of the same character type. Other parts of "On Reading" (as well as a sequel essay that continues where she left off) consist of long and detailed expositions of selected books, often with minimal framing. In such moments, her writing indicates, to recall Wood's characterization, a kind of distracted but still attentive reading practice. Her essay is punctuated by insightful discussions of literary theory, but these sections are largely buried by the essay's meandering and seemingly unwieldy prose.

Although Chang occasionally ties her discussions to Chinese history and culture, "On Reading" is not primarily concerned with maintaining either a Chinese or foreign perspective. Instead, distraction is a means of working through and beyond cultural boundaries, a tactic for navigating the constricting civilizational categories whose relationship reflects the unevenness of global modernity. Towards the end of the essay, Chang (2000a) describes the experience of being overwhelmed by the vivid immediacy of art. Reading, she suggests, can produce a similar experience that overcomes divisions between "ancient and modern, Chinese and foreign" (196-97; my translation). In a telling passage earlier on, she remarks:
Living abroad, I have read many books about archaeology at the library.
Ethnology goes much further back in time than archaeology, and as a
kind of escape [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII], one cannot get further
away. Escape is one of the main functions of reading, "Recalling the
setting sun beyond the mountains" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII],
(17) at least it expands the horizon, broadens the mind. (170-71)

Similarly, even though the logical structure of "Chinese Translation" reiterates some of the foundational assumptions of modern Chinese literary culture, including its humanist aspirations as well as its compulsive comparativism, Chang's rhetorical style turns away from such structures by presenting reading as a kind of distracted attention. Instead of declaring the emergence of a global cosmopolitan culture, what Chang seems to be performing is a distracted relationship to geopolitical divisions, that is, the ability to hold onto ethno-cultural identities, or at least to recognize their inescapability, through frequent moments of escape as well as escapism.

If, as Shen suggests, Chang looked to self-translation early on in her career as a means of arriving at a more "steadfast, reliable love" for her native culture through the adoption of a foreign perspective (quoted in 2012, 101; Shen is quoting from "Yangren kan jingxi ji qita"), the trajectory of "Chinese Translation" does not involve a similar path of return. Although questions and practices of translation inform every aspect of this text, Chang chose not to rewrite this speech for a Chinese language audience. (18) Instead, by truncating the very gesture of self-translation, "Chinese Translation" subjects it to distraction. But insofar as it shows how Chang could not ultimately overcome the geopolitical structures that subtend translation and literary culture, "Chinese Translation" also stands as a suggestive allegory of her own itinerary as an emigre writer, as someone who has been irreversibly displaced from her homeland, but whose psychic attachments to her native culture continue to persist. In this sense, her talk offers a window into a melancholic diasporic condition in which "nothing seems to have anything to do with anything else any more, least of all life."


Chang, Eileen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] 1943. "Still Alive." In The XXth Century, vol. 4, no. 6, 432-38. Shanghai: XXth Century Publishing.

--. 1963. "A Return to the Frontier." The Reporter 28(7): 38-41.

--. 1968. "Yangren kan jingxi ji qita" [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Peking Opera through Foreign Eyes]. In Liu yan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] [Written on Water], 107-116. Taipei [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]: Huangguan [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII].

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--. 2007. Love in a Fallen City. Translated by Karen Kingsbury. New York: New York Review of Books.

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Christopher Lee

Department of English University of British Columbia

(1) This article draws on material that originally appeared in PMLA 130.2 (March 2015), published by the Modern Language Association of America. It could not have been written without the generous support of Dr. Roland Soong. I would also like to thank Lillian Yang of the University of Southern California East Asian Library, Ellen Shea of Harvard University's Schlesinger Library, Szu Shen, and Mary Chapman for their assistance. Special thanks to Te-hsing Shan for inviting me to present an early version of this essay at a conference on "The Translation of Literature and Culture of Hong Kong, Eaiwan and Mainland China during the Cold War Period" held at Lingnan University in 2015.1 gratefully acknowledge the support of the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada.

(2) This epigraph is taken from the headnote to Eileen Chang's "Still Alive," published in the fourth volume of The XXth Century edited by Klaus Mehnert.

(3) For more information about the decades-long friendship between Chang and the Soongs, see Roland Soong's edited volume Zhang Ailing siyulu [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] (2010).

(4) I am grateful to Dr. Roland Soong for sharing Chang's correspondence with her literary agent.

(5) This trip would be truncated when Reyher fell seriously ill back in the United States and would be Chang's last visit to Asia. For her account of this journey, see Chang (2008; 1963).

(6) According to Karen Kingsbury, Chang was not particularly engaged during the residency in part because of her reclusive personality and in part because Reyher was still very ill. He passed away in October 1967 as she was commencing her fellowship at the Radcliffe Institute. See Kingsbury (2003).

(7) The publication date listed here for Naked Earth is inaccurate. Naked Earth was first published in Chinese in 1954 and then in English in 1956. The publication date for The Rice-Sprout Song is correct.

(8) This biographical information is found in a flyer listing upcoming talks dated 26 March 1969. The memo contains a list of weekly colloquia given by the Radcliffe Institute's members as well as short biographies of each speaker. See Radcliffe Institute 1969.

(9) This information is obtained from the same memo mentioned in note 8.

(10) Yu Lihua recalls the title of her talk as "The Exotic West: From Rider Haggard On" and both titles appear on her CV cited in Zhang. This detail suggests that Chang may have had several versions of the talk, although further manuscript evidence would be needed to trace any revisions. In her recollection of Chang's visit, Yu writes that Chang's English had "accurate diction and sounded smooth, and was extremely authentic" (1996, 148).

(11) Ironically, it was in this context that her Shanghai-period writings, which were deemed apolitical, thrived and found a dedicated readership.

(12) Even though Chang was an active translator for presses and publications sponsored by the US State Department, and thus played a direct if minor role in shaping literary culture in Hong Kong, Taiwan and other Chinese speaking areas, nowhere in this speech does she address these experiences. I will return to this curious omission later.

(13) Song Chunfang was the father of Stephen Soong. Chang mentions the former in her 1969 letter to the latter where she discusses "Chinese Translation."

(14) Chang goes on to refute the well-known concept of zhongti xiyong [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII]--"Chinese studies in substance, Western studies as functions"--by arguing that "the tremendous inertia that comes with the weight of history and the size of the population in a country that's almost a continent in itself--a complacency and sense of superiority so great [that] makes [s] it impossible to absorb anything but the most superficial" (492).

(15) For another discussion of failure and translation in Chang's works, see Tsu (2010).

(16) For a discussion of Chang's arguments regarding realism, see Sang (2012).

(17) Chang's allusion to this famous image is multifaceted here. Her quote from Gong Zizhen [TEXT NOT REPRODUCIBLE IN ASCII] inflects this line with an idiom of failure having to do with the failure of love and the inescapability of the past. Chang's citation bothposits the possibility of escape while undermining it, a tone reinforced by the very image of the setting sun.

(18) A Chinese translation is currently being prepared by Chang's literary estate.
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Author:Lee, Christopher
Publication:Journal of Modern Literature in Chinese
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:9CHIN
Date:Jun 22, 2017
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