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Feminism broadens study of diplomatic translation

By YANG MINGXING and CHEN QIAN | 2019-10-31
(Chinese Social Sciences Today)
Zhang Lu became famous after her interpretation of Chinese classic poems for then Premier Wen Jiabao at the Two Sessions went viral online in 2010. Photo: CRI

In recent years, the application of feminism to diplomatic discourse has become a hot topic in translation studies worldwide, but few scholars have systematically studied the theory and practice of diplomatic discourse translation from the perspective of feminism. This article will focus on the development of diplomatic translation from the interdisciplinary and supra-disciplinary perspectives of international relations, translation and feminism.
Feminism in translation
Western feminist translation theory emerged in the 1970s, under the multiple intertextual collisions between the feminist movement and translation theory. Indian literary theorist and feminist critic Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak argued that translation is an important approach to pursuing “the larger feminist agenda of achieving women’s solidarity” and the task of the feminist translator is to “consider language as a clue to the working of gendered agency.” Feminist translation theory overturns traditional translation thought and emphasizes creativity and the promotion of the translator’s status and subjectivity.
As a representative of feminist translation theory, Sherry Simon pointed out that “the hierarchical authority of the original text over the reproduction is linked with masculine and feminine imagery, with the original considered the strong generative male and the translation the weaker derivative female.” The language used to describe translating contains the vocabulary of sexism, drawing on images of dominance and inferiority, fidelity and libertinage.
In this light, Simon proposed that feminist translation theory aims to “identify and critique the tangle of concepts which relegates both women and translation to the bottom of the social and literary ladder.”
In order to counter sexism in translation practice, the Western feminist translation schools put forward corresponding translation strategies. First, the equality of discourse between male and female must be stressed to eliminate the sexist discourse in the translation. Second, it encourages the creative rewriting through supplementing, annotating and hijacking. The third is to redefine the relationship between the original work and the translation reproduction, the author and the translator, to highlight the subjectivity of the translator and the discourse power of the female translators.
In contrast, feminist translation studies in China started late and developed slowly. Not until the end of the 20th century did Chinese scholars begin to introduce Western feminist translation theory into China, greatly impacting the study of translation theory in China. 
In the grip of traditional Chinese history and culture, feminist translation theory in China has taken on Chinese characteristics. China’s harmonious values prompt Chinese feminist translators to adopt moderate and inclusive translation strategies. They seldom boldly steer away from the traditional “faithfulness, expressiveness and elegance,” as proposed by renowned Chinese translator Yan Fu, who is known as “the Father of Modern Chinese Translation.” 
Therefore, there has been no radical feminist movement in Chinese feminist translation thought as in the West. Regardless, with the founding of the People’s Republic of China, especially since the reform and opening up 40 years ago, female translators in the diplomatic translation team have risen rapidly, and the awareness of feminist translation practice has been strengthened.
Increase of female translators
Since 1949, a large number of outstanding female diplomatic interpreters and translators have emerged on the diplomatic stage, and they have played a key role in building the discourse system of major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics. Xu Hui, general-director of the Department of Translation and Interpretation under the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, once said in an interview that female translators and interpreters make up the main force of the translation office, accounting for about 70% of the total staff. 
In fact, due to the diplomatic translation thought of China’s late Premier Zhou Enlai, “translators are diplomats,” China has attached great importance to the training of female diplomats, and many female diplomats have been promoted to senior diplomats or ambassadors stationed abroad. More and more practitioners of public diplomacy are women, given there are many women in the field of press, publication and translation in China today.
The growing number of female diplomats in China has opened up a new chapter to translation practice and theoretical studies. With their dignified appearance, natural affinity and outstanding communication skills, Chinese female diplomatic interpreters have displayed to foreign heads of state and overseas media their confidence, elegance and intelligence, irreplaceable by male translators.
Unique language style
In the translation of diplomatic texts, China always stresses gender equality and avoids using language that discriminates against women, so as to ensure that the correct political principles it always adheres to are followed on gender issues. The feminist thought in the translation of diplomatic texts is also reflected in the pursuit of political fidelity. 
The advantages of female translators in diplomatic translation are mainly manifested in the following aspects. Female translators grasp the political sensitivity of the translation more delicately and accurately; female interpreters tend to adopt soft, euphemistic and implicit discourse forms. The female translator’s translation style is graceful and full of positive emotion. The female interpreters mostly adopt the language forms and narrative ways of modesty, politeness, harmony, seeking of common understanding, and tolerance. The female translator’s discourse style is undoubtedly important for maintaining harmonious and friendly foreign relations.
In addition, the non-textual advantages of female diplomats in diplomatic translation practice should not be underestimated. Their calm demeanor, elegant body language and soft and pure pronunciation easily impress foreign heads of state and media. With solid cultural knowledge, excellent bilingualism and communication skills, Chinese female diplomats have exemplified themselves to the international community as figures who pursue peace and inclusiveness, which has also effectively enhanced women’s international status and ability to participate in global governance.
Enriching translation theory
Drawing on Eugene Nida’s functional equivalence theory and taking into account the analytical perspectives of international relations and diplomacy, we advocate a “Political Equivalence” theory in diplomatic translation. 
That said, diplomatic translation must accurately and faithfully reflect the political thoughts and context of the source language and the speaker, expressing it in the target language such that it is understood by the recipient, so as to make the political information and meaning on both sides equivalent and to make the translation play an identical or similar communicative function with the original text. This translation principle has three characteristics: political, dynamic and balanced.
Feminist translation theory and practice emphasize loyalty, balance and gender equality, which coincides with the basic principles and three characteristics of political equivalence. In view of the strong political sensitivity of diplomatic language, the use of sexist language should be avoided as much as possible in the construction, translation and dissemination of diplomatic discourse. 
Not to mention that the construction of equal and harmonious relations between men and women in terms of the translator’s status and discourse expression is also an important dimension and basic requirement for the realization of political equivalence.
Since the founding of the People’s Republic of China 70 years ago, China’s diplomatic translation practice and team building have shown outstanding feminist features and advantages. Feminism in diplomatic translation is not only reflected in the growing number of female translators, but also reflected in the unique loyal, accurate and delicate discourse power and language style of women in diplomatic translation. The accumulation of feminist thought in China’s diplomatic translation practice fully demonstrates the soft power of major country diplomacy with Chinese characteristics and the new gentle, kind, tolerant and peaceful image of female diplomats in the new era.
Yang Mingxing is from the Academy of Diplomatic Discourse Studies at Zhengzhou University; Chen Qian is from the School of Foreign Languages at Xinyang Normal University.
edited by YANG XUE