Transcultural narrative of gender, power and the urban space: Chinese rural migrant women in literary translation

Main Article Content

Yijia Dong


As a significant embodiment of Chinese subalternity, the subject formation of rural migrant women presents the multiple power dynamics in the course of modernisation, industrialisation and urbanisation in contemporary China. The individual and collective experience of rural migrant women has been narrated in contemporary Chinese literature, demonstrating their lives and struggles that are intertwined with class, gender and geography disparities. In women’s writing, the subject constitution of this marginalised group is usually characterised by resistant forces and new configurations of female agency that defy and redraw the mecha­nisms of power. A few novels depicting Chinese subaltern women in the urban space have been imported into Anglophone countries through translation, such as Sheng Keyi’s Northern Girls and Wang Anyi’s Fu Ping. They present vivid records of how these women negotiate their rural and female identities in major cities in contemporary China, and how their labour plays a part in the condensed process of Chinese modernity. Across linguistic and socio-cultural boundaries, the English translation of these literary works takes place within different discursive paradigms from the original ones, which are generated by the ideological and poetic orienta­tions that constitute the images of Chinese subalternity in the West. 

This paper probes into the transcultural reproduction of novels depicting Chinese female subalternity, illustrating how the literary representation of rural migrant women and the power dynamics constructing the modernised urban space are reconfigured in the English translation. Through analysis of textual, paratextual and contextual elements, I will examine how the paratextual framings of the English versions present the image of the gendered subaltern in China, and how the translators approach the original texts, in order to demonstrate how the female agency, power relations and cultural politics in the subaltern narration of the Other are rewritten in a hegemonic language, within the Western discursive paradigms.

Published: Nov 14, 2022

Article Details

Next Gen