A Cross-Cultural Encounter: David Roy's Translation of Jin Ping Mei (The Plum in the Golden Vase)

Student thesis: Doctoral Thesis

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Awarding Institution
  • Tze Ki HON (Supervisor)
  • Feng Yang (External person) (External Supervisor)
Award date21 Jul 2021





As one of the Four Great Books of the Ming Dynasty, the Jin Ping Mei has undergone both diachronic and synchronic interpretations. Translation, as the main means of interpretation by the translator, has attracted great attentions. Up to now, there are four translated versions in the Anglophone world, among which the last full translation, namely, David Tod Roy's translation, is chose as the main object of study. This dissertation focuses on the linguistic characteristics of the translation at the micro level and pays special attention to the reception and transmission of the translation in the target language at the macro level. Besides, it intends to elaborate the sociohistorical context of the translator's interpretation and reshapes the cross-cultural encounter between the translator and the Jin Ping Mei.

As early as the 1920s, the abridged translation of the Jin Ping Me had appeared in the New York book market. The subsequent publication of the full translation accelerated the spread of the original text in the Anglophone world. Therefore, by comparing the two full translations in the English-speaking world by means of corpus, this dissertation examines the differences between them at the linguistic and cultural level. Based on this, it continues to explore the factors that result in so many differences, such as translators' subjectivity and different social and cultural contexts.

As a successor of traditional Sinology, Roy has been fully immersed in the academic atmosphere of post-World War II Sinological studies, forming his own unique cultural view of Sinology. This cultural outlook profoundly influenced the translator's translation career for his rest life and set the academic tone for his subsequent translation practice and helped the formation of the translator's unique cultural translation thought. Such cultural translation thought could be represented by the general principle of translating everything, the strategy of foreignization, and the translation mode of researching and translating and the trinity of translation thought, that is, "being faithful to the original text", "deviating from tradition", and "reproducing for the reader".

This study takes Roy's The Plum in the Golden Vase as the object, aiming at exploring its translation features, and the principles and cultural translation thoughts of David Roy's. First of all, based on the comparison between Clement Egerton's version and that of Roy's, it explores the linguistic and cultural characteristics of the latter's and concludes Roy's translation strategies. Second, it elaborates Roy's particular interpretation and understanding of the original text from four dimensions: paratexts, narration, sexual descriptions, and poetry. In terms of paratexts, Roy fully demonstrates his interpretation and representation of the original text by dint of paratextual spaces such as introductions, illustrations, notes, and character lists. As for narrative characteristics, Roy reproduces narrative perspectives, discourse manners, narrative times in the original work in an implicit manner, without evaluating or interfering with the work, so as to duplicate the narrative mode of classical Chinese novel to the maximum. For these controversial sexual depictions, Roy abides by the principle of "being faithful" to the original text. In response to those poetries, the translator generally abandons rhyme and translates poetic style with poetic style, trying to maintain formal equivalence". Meanwhile, the lines are purposely arranged in a defamiliarized way to highlight the difference in style. In so doing, it not only keeps the narrative mode, where the form of verse is interwoven with the prose in the original text, but also stresses the importance of the narrative function of prose in classical Chinese novels. Third, this study examines the aesthetic reception of the book by Western readers from three aspects: academic evaluation, general readers' reactions, and mainstream media's reports, and thus evaluates the successes and losses of Roy's translation.

The dissemination and acceptance of the translated text indicates that, as a product of the full-translation era, Roy's translation is not the optimal choice in the context of cross-cultural communication. Besides, among sinologists and translators, Roy is a belated starter, who received a less warm-hearted welcome than his predecessors. At the same time, the attempt to classicize this edition results in a Roy's version, so disparate from the previous bestselling translations that fail to meet its prospective success. Nonetheless, the significance of Roy's cross-cultural encounter with the Jin Ping Mei lies in that it gives another interpretation of the Jin Ping Mei while constitutes an important part of the Jin Ping Mei's global travel.

    Research areas

  • David Roy, Jin Ping Mei, translation thought, reception