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Lin Shu's Translation of Shakespeare's Religious Motifs in Twentieth-Century China

  • Jenny Wong (a1)


When Christian values fall into the hands of translators, how are these Christian values represented in a non-religious or areligious target culture? How do the translations reflect the conflicting ideologies of the time and of the individual translators? This article will examine Lin Shu's major translations of The Merchant of Venice in early twentieth-century China, an important period when reform of Confucianism encountered imported Western ideals. Close textual analysis of the translation produced by Lin Shu, a Confucian literatus and a reformist, reveals that religious content in English literary works was manipulated, Christian references often being omitted or adapted. This study illustrates the translator's strategies, picking and choosing what to domesticate in the translated work to suit his ideology, and how a society's expectations and ideologies shape the translation product. The analysis offers some perspectives for understanding how the translator's linguistic and religious roles and ideologies shaped the Chinese Shakespeare, and how the religious values were re-presented in early twentieth-century China.


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1 Chow, Alexander, Theosis, Sino-Christian Theology and the Second Chinese Enlightenment (New York, 2013), 24.

2 Buchanan, Ian, ed., A Dictionary of Critical Theory (Oxford, 2010), 243.

3 Lefevere, André, ed., Translation / History / Culture: A Sourcebook (London and New York, 1992), 14.

4 The manuscript was finished in 1839 but not published until 1843, after the Opium War, when it appeared under the title 海國圖志 (Haiguotuzhi).

5 He was a leading figure in early translation history in China and regarded as on a par with another reputable early translator, Yan Fu, who translated, among other works, Thomas Huxley's Evolution and Ethics.

6 Tak-hung, Leo Chan, ed., Twentieth-Century Chinese Translation Theory: Modes, Issues and Debates (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, PA, 2004), 16.

7 Cited in 林紓、魏易譯 [Lin Shu], 吟邊燕語 [Yinbian Yanyu], transl. Wei Yi (Beijing, 1981), 1–2.

8 Ibid. 3.

9 Lin Shu's Yinbian Yanyu and his translation of other Western literature show evidence of Confucianization, giving the characters in Shakespeare a Confucian twist.

10 Robert Compton, ‘A Study of the Translations of Lin Shu' (PhD thesis, Stanford University, 1971), 99.

11 Tsui, Jean, ‘Rewriting Shakespeare: A Study of Lin Shu's Translation of Tales from Shakespeare’ (MPhil thesis, University of Hong Kong, 2009), 99.

12 Lawrence Venuti sets out two translation approaches, domestication and foreignization: the former refers to adopting a fluent translation to ease readers’ reception, the latter to the retention in the target text of cultural and linguistic references from the original.

13 Compton, ‘The Translations of Lin Shu’, 200. In 1961, Ying had reprinted a collection of translations of Western novels from the late Qing Dynasty: Ying, A. (Cun, Qian Heng), ed., Wan Qing Wen Xue Cong Chao [Translations from Foreign Literature], 4 vols (Shanghai, 1961).

14 Li, Ruru, Shashibiya: Staging Shakespeare in China (Hong Kong, 2003), 16.

15 Tu An [屠岸、方平譯], Xin Shashibiyaquanji [新莎士比亞全集; New Shakespeare's Works], transl. Fang Ping (Taipei, 2000).

16 鄭振秋 [Zheng Zhenqiu], 新劇考證百齣 [Xinju kaozheng bai chu; Textual Criticism on a Hundred Spoken Drama Plays] (Shanghai, 1919), 1–29.

17 Alexander Huang, ‘Shakespeare on the Chinese Stage 1839–2004: A History of Transcultural Performance’ (PhD thesis, Stanford University, 2004), 79.

18 Ruru Li, Shashibiya, 16.

19 Zheng Zhenqiu, Xinju kaozheng bai chu, 1.

20 易紅霞 [Hongxia, Yi], ‘Shakespeare in Guangdong’, in International Conference on Shakespeare in China – Performances and Perspectives: A Collection of Theses (Shanghai, 2007), 197208.

21 See Alexander Huang, C. Y., ‘Lin Shu, Invisible Translation and Politics’, Perspectives: Studies in Translatology 14 (2006), 5565, at 61.

22 Tsui, ‘Rewriting Shakespeare’, 41–8.

23 ‘Conventionalization’ is a term coined by Bartlett, Frederic C. in Remembering: A Study in Experimental and Social Psychology (Cambridge, 1932), 280; he proposed using the term to describe a process of cultural exchange whereby ‘cultural materials coming into a group from outside are gradually worked into a pattern of a relatively stable kind distinctive of that group’. The conventionalization process involves four major principles: assimilation, simplification, retention and social constructiveness.

24 See Tsui, ‘Rewriting Shakespeare’, 41–8.

25 See Shapiro, James S., Shakespeare and the Jews (New York, 1996), for discussion of the complexity of the play.

26 See Lin Shu, Yinbian Yanyu, transl. Wei Yi, 3–4.

27 See 包天笑 [Bao Tianxiao], 女律師, [‘The Lawyeress’], 女學生. [Female Student Periodical], 1911.

28 There are three Hebrew roots that are frequently translated ‘mercy’, which carry the meanings of (1) the kind of love which is mutual and dependable; (2) the ‘womb's love’, i.e. the love of mother for a child; and (3) ‘grace’ or ‘favour’, i.e. a free gift. The New Testament builds on the Old Testament conceptualization, and three Greek roots underlie the English translation of ‘mercy’: mutuality, sympathy and the major weight of the physical feeling of mercy. For fuller discussion of the theology of mercy, see Komonchak, J. A., Collins, M. and Lane, D. A., eds, New Dictionary of Theology (Dublin, 1987), 650–2.

29 See Shapiro, Sidney, Jews in Old China (New York, 1984).

30 錢鍾書 [Qian Zhongshu], 林紓的翻譯 [Lin Shu de Fanyi; Lin Shu's Translations] (Beijing, 1981), 36–7.

31 Ruru Li, Shashibiya, 16.

32 The translations of the quotations of Guo and Cao are taken from Ruru Li, Shashibiya, 16.

33 Lefevere, André, ‘Why waste our Time on Rewrites? The Trouble with Interpretation and the Role of Rewriting in an Alternative Paradigm’, in Hermans, T., ed., The Manipulation of Literature: Studies in Literary Translation (London and Sydney, 1995), 215–43, at 227.

34 Qian Zhongshu, ‘The Translations of Lin Shu’, in Chan, ed. Twentieth-Century Chinese Translation Theory, 112. Lin's efforts at influencing reader response are evident not only in his rendering of religious material but also in the translator's prefaces to various works. According to Martha Cheung Pui-Yiu, Lin exercised ‘knowledge management’ in his translation of Christian content in Uncle Tom's Cabin: Pui-Yiu, Martha Cheung, ‘The Discourse of Occidentalism? Wei Yi and Lin Shu's Treatment of Religious Material in their Translation of Uncle Tom's Cabin’, in Pollard, David, ed., Translation and Creation: Readings of Western Literature in Early Modern China, 1840–1918 (Amsterdam and Philadelphia, PA, 1998), 127–49.

35 Pollard, Translation and Creation, 15.

36 Wong, Lawrence, 重釋 ‘信達雅’: 二十世紀中國翻譯研究 [Chong shi ‘xin da ya’: er shi shi ji Zhongguo fan yi yan jiu; Reinterpreting Fidelity, Communicability and Elegance] (Shanghai, 1999), 222.

37 Cheung, ‘Discourse of Occidentalism?’, 131.

38 Robertson, Roland, The Sociological Interpretation of Religion (New York, 1970), 87.

39 Cheung, ‘Discourse of Occidentalism?’, 140.

40 DeGroot, J. J. M., Is there Religious Liberty in China? (Berlin, 1902), 148–50.

41 黃梓材 [Huang Zicai], 政教分權論 [‘Zhengjiaofenquanlun’; ‘On the Separation of Church and State’], Wanguogongbao 196 (May 1905), 14–15.

42 For attitudes toward Christianity in early twentieth-century China, see Cohen, Paul, China and Christianity (Cambridge, MA, 1963), 44–5; Hunter, Jane, The Gospel of Gentility: American Women Missionaries in Turn-of-the-Century China (New Haven, CT, 1984).

43 Qihong, Zhang, ‘Zai Shijian He Tansuo Zhong De Jidian Tihui: Shitan Weinisi Shangren De Daoayan Chuli [Some Points in the Process of Implementation and Exploration – Discussions on the Directorship of The Merchant of Venice]’, in Yanjiuhui, Shashibiya, ed., ShashibiyaYanjiu [Shakespeare Research] (Hangzhou, 1983), 280–7.

44 Lefevere, “Why waste our Time?’, 237.

45 Lefevere, André, ‘Chinese and Western Thinking on Translation’, in Bassnett, Susan and Lefevere, André, eds, Constructing Cultures: Essays on Literary Translation (Clevedon, 1998), 1224, at 14.

46 See J. Wong, ‘The Translatability of the Religious Dimension in Shakespeare from Page to Stage, from West to East – with Reference to The Merchant of Venice in Mainland China, Hong Kong and Taiwan’ (PhD thesis, University of Glasgow, 2015), for fuller discussion of the translatability of religious works in China from the early twentieth century to the contemporary period.

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Lin Shu's Translation of Shakespeare's Religious Motifs in Twentieth-Century China

  • Jenny Wong (a1)


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