Panel 5

Call for Papers

When the British first established trading posts in China in 18th Century, they faced insurmountable problems in communicating with the Chinese. Translation and interpretation were undertaken by the so-called linguists, who were linguistically incompetent and ethically unworthy. Moreover, these linguists were in fact part of the so-called Canton System set up by the Qing authorities to put the Westerners, who were in their eyes uncivilized barbarians, under control. They were held responsible for the conduct, and in particular the misconduct of the barbarians. To them, the interests of the British were of the lowest priority. But this does not mean that they were valued by the Chinese authorities. On the contrary, Chinese linguists were viewed with great scepticism for their link with the foreigners. During the Opium War, some of them were even taken as traitors.

On the other hand, the British gradually built up their team of translators, under Robert Morrison, the first Protestant missionary in China, who set up classes to teach Chinese to the officers of the East India Company. Many of them ultimately worked under the British Superintendent of Trade, when the trade monopoly of the Company ceased. During the Opium War, they served in the British armies and upheld national interests to the most.

Another aspect of these translators of the British camp should not be neglected, that many of them were originally missionaries with a wish to preach the greatest population on Earth. The interests of the church should always be taken care of.

The panel aims to study the different roles played by translators in the early stage of contacts between China and Britain in 18-19th century. Serving different interests with various agenda, the translators were by no means innocent mediators.

Possible topics:

  • Analysis of the cultural and socio-political background against which the translators worked
  • Analysis of different translator groups serving different interests
  • Case study of individual translators


This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. is Professor of Humanities at the Department of Translation, The Chinese University of Hong Kong. He is also the director of Research Centre of Translation and director of Hong Kong Cultural Studies Centre. He is Executive Editor of the Chinese-English translation journal Renditions, and Chief Editor of Journal of Translation History. He has single-authored ten books and about 100 articles on modern Chinese literature, Chinese translation history and Hong Kong literature and history.

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