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Lost in translation: the motif of cannibalism as reconstructed in the English translations of a Chinese classical novel

  • Yunhong WangEmail author


Many studies have been conducted in the investigation of narration in the field of translation, but most of these mainly focus on the agent and the way of narrating. In a different vein, the present paper explores the other side, i.e., the narrated aspect, or what is to be narrated. It centres on the issue of motif reconstruction in the three full English translations of a Chinese classical novel Shuihu ZhuanAll Men Are Brothers (1933) by Pearl S. Buck, Outlaws of the Marsh (1980) by Sidney Shapiro and The Marshes of Mount Liang (1994–2002) by John and Alex Dent-Young. A description of how the motif of cannibalism is presented in each translation will be given based on a parallel corpus of 189 clauses. The discussion of motif belongs to the range of the “narrated,” which is believed to be not only more transposable, but also more translatable than discourse. Despite this translatability, however, the findings reported in the present study reflect that certain motifs of Shuihu Zhuan may be changed or even lost in the translating process. The study of motif reconstruction in translation may very well help to call translation scholars’ attention to the macrostructural level of the text by focusing on “unusualness factors” that are activated and deactivated through mediation of translators.


Motif reconstruction Shuihu Zhuan Translation strategy Cannibalism 



The author acknowledges support from Guangzhou Philosophy and Social Science Planning Foundation (广州市哲学社会科学规划课题) [Grant No. 2017GZYB80] and Guangzhou Yangcheng Young Scholars Project (羊城青年学人资助研究项目) [Grant No. 18QNXR57].


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Copyright information

© Akadémiai Kiadó, Budapest, Hungary 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.College of Foreign StudiesJinan UniversityGuangzhouPeople’s Republic of China

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