Interview with Dr Chris Shei

Dr Chris Shei is an associate professor in Chinese linguistics and Chinese-English translation at Swansea University, where he has worked since 2003.

Chris directs our Masters programme in Chinese-English Translation and Language Teaching and his modules include (amongst many others), Chinese Language Studies, Applied Translation, Chinese-English Translation: Theory and Practice, Classroom Teaching Practice for Chinese students. He also supervises undergraduate dissertations for the English Language BA programme in areas relating to discourse analysis. His broader research interests are in linguistics (discourse analysis), language teaching and translation studies.

I spoke to Chris about his new edited collection, The Routledge Handbook of Chinese Translation (Routledge). Here’s what he had to say:

What is your collection about? 

Well, it is a co-edited collection and I worked closely with Dr Zhaoming Gao, an associate professor working at National Taiwan University who specialises in machine translation, corpus-aided translation and translation technology in general.

So, it is a handbook on the broad topic of Chinese translation (meaning translating into or out of Chinese). So the book includes a wide range of topics which range from discussions on academic aspects of Chinese translation (e.g. translation research and translation programmes) and the linguistic aspects of Chinese translation, to the social context of Chinese translation and the psycholinguistic process of translation and Chinese interpreting.

The handbook also provides review, guidance and the most recent research on Chinese literary translation, as well as specialised Chinese translation (such as media translation, legal translation, for example). It covers the issue of Chinese translation in the context of language technology and importantly the future of Chinese translation.

So, with that in mind, what do you see as some of the key themes or topics in translation?

Issues in translation studies vary with the language pair in question, which is why it is important to study ‘Chinese translation’ individually, especially the most prevalent Chinese-English pair. Key issues with this language pair may include: the dramatic linguistic differences between these two languages at the phonological, morphological, syntactic and discourse levels, the differences in rhetoric styles, culture and customs. Differences at all these levels create non-equivalent effects which make it difficult for translators to translate easily and efficiently.

So, what led you to the project? 

Translation studies is well on the way in the West but research in Chinese translation is relatively scarce and unsystematic, even though the Chinese translation activities are growing astronomically with China’s economic advance. This handbook means to consolidate what has been found so far about Chinese translation and present the findings in systematic and understandable ways to facilitate and inspire further research.

Out of interest, what do you find are some key difficulties in Chinese to English translation, or English to Chinese translation?

Well, in Chinese to English translation, when done by Chinese speakers, normally suffers from grammatical infelicities and a lack of idiomatic aspects in the target language. It is even a problem for some Chinese students to make grammatical English sentences, not to mention fluent English translation! English to Chinese translation, when done by Chinese students, on the other hand, often suffers from incorrect interpretation due to a misunderstanding of their source texts.

Back to the book, now. Aside from your co-editor, who are some of the contributors we might find in the collection?

We recruited contributors of a variety of nationalities from all over the globe, including the UK, USA, Australia, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan and so on. We wanted a wide range of contributors from different institutions and countries, to get as much of a clear picture of the discipline as was possible. For example, Dr Sonya E. Pritzker, an academic and Chinese medicine practitioner, working at the University of Alabama, wrote a chapter on “Translating Chinese medicine: history, theory, practice”. Professor John Minford, from The Australian National University, co-authored a chapter with Dr Fan Shengyu on “The Story of the Stone’s journey to the West: the history of the English translations of Hongloumeng”.

Beyond editing the collection, did you contribute to the book in chapter form? 

Yes. I wrote a chapter in the handbook entitled “Teaching and learning translation: traditional approach and new direction” where I discuss the strategies for teaching Chinese-English translation and analyse translation errors commonly made by Chinese students. I propose a ‘liberal education’ approach to teaching translation to Chinese students through studying translation studies overseas.

Who do you imagine might use this book?

I think the handbook is useful for postgraduate students working in translation studies involving the Chinese language. I would also suggest that the book would be very useful to general theorists in translation studies. It would give them a keen insight into the Chinese perspective on translation and it would give them a grounding in understanding  to what extent Chinese translation theories can contribute to global translation studies.