Person performing Shakespeare
Person performing Shakespeare

With the explosion of cultural and economic relationships between China and the West in the past twenty years, one issue that has become of particular significance is that of religion and its growth in contemporary China. The Christian population in China has reached 80 million according to the latest statistics, making it, in the judgment of sociologist Yang Fenggang, an authority in religion in China, the most Christian nation in the world, despite being under a Communist regime.

Therefore, a historical and contemporary study of translation of religious texts into Chinese culture is important, as the impact of the translation of religion, in particular Christianity, has been part and parcel of the country’s opening up to the Western world since the 19th century.

This project will look at Cross-cultural Adaptation, Translation and Interpretation of Shakespeare's Theological Ethics from Page to Stage. The matter of religious translation, historically and today, is of central significance because it is a hugely important question in matters of mutual understanding between the East and the West. There is a naïve assumption in the West, dating back to Herbert Giles’ aphorism on Chinese civilization in his work The Civilization of China, that religion does not exist in China and that Confucius is not a religious phenomenon. This however is a gross over-simplification: and, at a time when many Chinese are seeking religion and Christianity, the importance of religious translation should not be underestimated. 

The openness of China to the West is often evaluated in terms of its freedom of religion, including how religious content is censored, translated or appropriated. In this research, Dr Wong will address the question of translatability of theological ethics. The study represents a first step in understanding the cross-cultural interpretation of theological ethics embedded in English literature, as well as exploring the interaction between the prevalent ideology of the target culture, individual theology and the translated stage performance, and the impact brought about by the misinterpretation and misappropriation to the socio-political arena at large.

I will focus on collecting published translations and performance scripts accessible in national libraries in Mainland China and Hong Kong. In the second year, I, together with the Co-investigator, will plan for the organisation of a 3-day conference on Translating Shakespeare between the East and West to be held at the University of Birmingham.

Dr Jenny Wong - Programme Director for MA in Interpreting with Translation.

In this proposed project, Dr Jenny Wong will first study the degree of adaptations and omissions of theological ethics (e.g. the concept of authority and kingship) made by the literary scholars and missionaries in the published translations of Henry V. How such a concept of authority, rooted in Christian ethics, can be translated to a Confucian framework would be worth discussing. Such literary translations will be compared with the performance scripts of productions in the contemporary period, as theatre directors most often base their translation and interpretation of the theological ethics on earlier published literary translations.