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Rescued into Extinction? The Case of the Naxi Texts in Translation

2016 / 2017 School of Chinese Research Student Seminar


在搶救中消亡? 談納西經文之翻譯
Rescued into Extinction? The Case of the Naxi Texts in Translation


Duncan Poupard


November 18, 2016 (Friday): 5:30-6:45pm
Room 730, Run Run Shaw Tower, Centennial Campus, HKU
Language: English


Translation—when dealing with ethnic minority texts such as those of the Naxi Dongba, from the Lijiang basin in Yunnan—is a form of anthropology, specifically the writing of a culture. Establishing this link between the acts of ethnography and translation means that we are not just asking how texts are translated (into Chinese, into English), but what the process means for the culture in question. China has enshrined Dongba culture and the textual traditions of its 300,000 people as part of its intangible cultural heritage, a heritage which must be “rescued” because it is in danger of going extinct. Can translation go beyond the text and rescue a culture? Perhaps “rescue” presupposes the possibility of a final translation, an accepted version which can be safely passed down. But what if there is no fixed source text and no fixed copy, and the Chinese and Western anthropological translators have failed to hold their translations accountable to this possibility? In other words, “Who will rescue the rescuer?” This talk seeks to answer the question.