Theses Doctoral

Translating Revolution in Twentieth-Century China and France

King, Diana

In “Translating Revolution in Twentieth-Century China and France,” I examine how the two countries translated each other’s revolutions during critical moments of political and cultural crisis (the 1911 Revolution, the May Fourth Movement (1919), the Cultural Revolution (1966-76), and May 1968 in France), and subsequently (or simultaneously), how that knowledge was mobilized in practice and shaped the historical contexts in which it was produced. Drawing upon a broad range of discourses including political journals, travel narratives, films and novels in French, English and Chinese, I argue that translation served as a key site of knowledge production, shaping the formulation of various political and cultural projects from constructing a Chinese national identity to articulating women’s rights to thinking about radical emancipation in an era of decolonization.
While there have been isolated studies on the influence of the French Revolution in early twentieth-century China, and the impact of the Chinese Cultural Revolution on the development of French Maoism and French theory in the sixties, there have been few studies that examine the circulation of revolutionary ideas and practices across multiple historical moments and cultural contexts. In addition, the tendency of much current scholarship to focus exclusively on the texts of prominent French or Chinese intellectuals overlooks the vital role played by translation, and by non-elite thinkers, writers, students and migrant workers in the cross-fertilization of revolutionary discourses and practices.
Given that potential solutions to social and political problems associated with modernity were debated through the recurring circulation of translations (and retranslations) of ideas such as “democracy”, “natural rights,” “women’s rights,” and so on, I examine: who was translating whom, and for what purposes? What specific concepts and values are privileged, and why? Taking translation and translingual contact as my point of departure, I illuminate how French and Chinese intermediaries envisioned and attempted to create a just society under fraught historical conditions.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
French and Romance Philology
Thesis Advisors
Diagne, Souleymane Bachir
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
March 2, 2017