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Translators’ Agency in the Translation Network of Chinese

Liu Honghua
(Hunan University of Technology)

Translators’ agency is defined in this paper as the willingness and ability to act after active negotiations
with various actors (humans and non-humans alike), highlighting the translator’s power over other
actors involved in each translation activity,namely, his or her intentional acceptance or refusal of the
influence from external constraints. What is being investigated, is not what influence the translator’s
agency exerts, but the extent to which its influence (or ‘weight’) is exerted upon the final product. We
bear these two questions in mind: (1) Does the translator’s agency influence all stages of the
translation process1? (2) If it does not, in which stages does it exert influence and to what extent?
Which stages does it not exert influence and what other agencies exert their influences at these stages?
Drawing on available studies and archival primary sources and adopting Latour’s Actor-Network
Theory to make sense of the findings, this article tries to assess the different extents to which a
translator could exercise their agency, by determining the interplay between translators and other
actors in the translation network of Chinese Literature. The findings of this report are that translators
can exercise no agency in the selection, editing and revision stages, because they can’t participate in
these. It is in the translation stage, that translators can participate and have the chance to negotiate
with other actors. Translators can often exercise their agency to the largest extent, here, regardless of
how powerful other actors might be.

Key Words
translators’ agency; Chinese Literature; Actor-Network Theory

The translation process is divided into four stages in this paper; the selection stage (the stage in which the original texts are selected),
the editing stage (the stage in which the original texts are edited), the translation stage (the stage in which the original texts are
translated) and the revision stage (the stage in which the translated texts are revised).


With more attention paid to the roles of agents like translators, interpreters and other cultural
mediators, agency has gained wider currency in contemporary translation studies. Because ‘agency’
has been conceptualized in numerous ways (for an overview, see Barnes 2000), what agency is has
drawn increasing public and academic interest, of late. In order to improve understanding of what
translators’ agency is, a symposium named ‘Translators’ Agency’ took place at the University of
Tampere in February 2008, and the product of the symposium, Translators’ Agency edited by
Kinnunen and Koskinen, was published in 2010. The varied approaches adopted and different sets of
data collected by the contributors of the collection allow us to consider the notion of agency from many
different standpoints. Another valuable contribution to the understanding og translators’ agency was a
collection of papers from the 2013 CETRA Summer Research School, Translators Have Their Say?
Translation and the Power of Agency, edited by Khalifa and published in 2014. As Khalifa (2014:15)
points out, the eight papers in this volume address the concept of translators’ agency from different
viewpoints, examine the (extra) textual factors that have an impact on translation decisions and
outcomes, and provides insights into the chain of power relationships shaped by the agency endowed
to various translation agents.

Both of the aforementioned volumes contribute a lot to our understanding of the complex nature of
agency in terms of its relation to agents of translation, the role of agents and the way they exercise
their agency in translation, and the influence of their agency on the various stages, and hence the final
translation product. However, for a deeper socio-cultural understanding of the dynamics of agency,
which would be helpful in projecting how agency is exercised or agents’ choices are made and reflected
in the final translation product, further studies on translators’ agency should be undertaken, applying
different sociological concepts and models. This is what this paper attempts.

According to Koskinen and Kinnunen (2010:7-8), agency has been studied in its social context—its
structure, and they are mutually and dynamically independent. The dynamic and independent
relationship of agency and structure is strikingly similar to that of a network and its actors described in
Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (ANT). A network, in ANT, is not complete and stable, but developing
and dynamic (Latour 1996), and the roles and identities of actors in it are defined according to
inevitable interactions. In this regard, it is justified to study agency based on ANT. The problem here is
how to adopt ANT in the study of translators’ agency in such a way as to form a theoretical structure.

Buzelin’s (2015:41) efforts to analyze the translation trajectory of a classic textbook provided us with
specific methodologies in how to study agency based on ANT. In an attempt to study translators’
agency in a complex translation institution, this paper takes Chinese Literature, an official magazine in
China engaged in English translation of Chinese literary works, as a research subject. Though Chinese
Literature was closed down in 2000, its translation network could still be traced because archives
concerning Chinese Literature’s translation activities are available. Drawing on these archives, this
paper aims to trace Translatorial agency in the translation network of Chinese Literature.

Before we embark on a discussion of translator’s agency, it is essential to bear in mind what agency is.

Section 1 Agency, Actor-Network Theory and translators’ agency

In this chapter, definitions of the concept of agency in translation studies are provided, a brief
introduction to ANT is conducted, focusing on the application of its ethnographic research
methodology to the study of translators’ agency, and finally, translator’s agency is hence defined and
framed from the perspective of ANT, with consideration given to former definitions of agency .

Section 1.1 Overview on definitions of agency

Enigmatic and slippery though the concept of agency is, strenuous efforts in translation studies have
been recently attempted to define and frame it, with remarkable achievements being made. Kaptelinin
and Nardi (2006:33) defined agency as ‘the ability and need to act’, to which Kinnunen and Koskinen’s
(2010:6) definition of agency as the ‘willingness and ability to act’ is similar. Buzelin (2011:7) also
argues that agency is ‘the ability to exert power in an intentional way’. Synonymous terms are adopted
in the four above-mentioned definitions to express the concept of agency. In Kinnunen and Koskinen’s
words (2010:6), ‘Need’, ‘willingness’, ‘an intentional way’ or ‘perception’ describes ‘a particular
internal state and disposition’, and ‘ability’ or ‘decision’ relates ‘the concept of agency to constraints
and issues of power(lessness), highlighting the intrinsic relation between agency and power’. Both a
translator’s habitus and the social context in which he or she is involved are embraced in these

Kinnunen and Koskinen (2010:6) summed up that three aspects of a translator’ agency should be
considered in translation studies; a translator’s individualistic and psychological state by nature, which
influences their willingness to act; the social status of a translator related to their ability to act; and the
temporality of a translator’s agency. Thanks to previous studies on agency, we have a better
understanding of it, which not only arouses interest in, but also facilitates further study of it.
Influenced by the sociology of Bourdieu, the focus has still been on the individual agents’, especially
translators’ habituses and their positions in the social context. However, the extent to which a
translator’s position in the actual working conditions influence his or her agency as a translator
remains somewhat unclear. To solve this problem, Latour’s ANT is a useful choice. Buzelin (2005:215)
argued that Latour’s concepts and vision might be the most useful to translation studies.

Section 1.2 Actor-Network Theory and its application to the study of translator’s agency

Actor-Network Theory (ANT) originated from a new social theory presented by Callon and Latour
(1981) adjusted to science and technology studies, and started in earnest with three documents (Callon
1986a; Law 1986; Latour 1988), later expanded upon by Bruno Latour (1996) and Law (1999). ANT
thinks that society is a collective in which some of the elements are assembled, hence the sociology is
“a tracing of associations”, not just “the science of the living together”. Neither social context nor social
forces could be used to explain an action. “ ‘Social’ is not some glue that could fix everything including
what the other glues cannot fix; it is what is glued together by many other types of connectors” (Latour,

2005:5). The Laws of Prophets of ANT is to record, not filter out, to describe, not discipline. ANT aims
to ‘follow the actors’, records “what the actants2 themselves really do” (Latour 1996:15). Unlike “the
sociology of social” which explains and predicts actors’ actions by use of a specific social context and
social force, ANT lets the actors themselves define their own social context through movement,
enrolment, displacement and transformation.

ANT is a useful theoretical framework, and we can not explain, here, all of the concepts and ideas it
includes. But key terms like “network”, “actors” and “translation” will be interpreted here for further
(1) Actor: “a semiotic definition – an actant – that is something that acts or to which activity is
granted by another…an actant can literally be anything provided it is granted to be the source of
action” (Latour 1996:7; see also Callon & Latour 1981:286). ANT “does not limit itself to human
individual actors but extends the word actor -or actant- to non-human, non individual entities (Latour
1996:2)”. More importantly, ANT thinks that all actors play equally important roles in the construction
of actor-networks (Callon and Latour 1981). In this way, actors in translation practice include the
source texts, target texts, authors, translators, readers, the source language and culture, the target
language and culture, etc., whose roles in the production of translation should be considered equal.
What’s more, in Callon’s opinion (1997:2), ANT assumes the radical indeterminacy of the actor, for
example neither the actor’s significance, nor its psychological make-up, nor the motivations behind its
actions are predetermined. Though both actors and agents refer to those who act, the latter term only
refers only to humans. The former could be both human and non-human. In this way, the bias to
consider agency from a rather individualistic and human perspective could be avoided (Buzelin
2005:215). Translation studies based on ANT tend to attach equal importance to texts and agents
involved hence avoiding text-centred or agent-centred prejudices.
(2) Network: In Latour’s (1987) words, network “indicates that resources are concentrated in a few
places-the knots and the nodes-which are connected with one another-the links and the mesh: these
connections transform the scattered resources into a net that may seem to extend everywhere.” A
network in ANT is not stable, but developing and dynamic, not only technical but also social, not
inside/out but all boundary (Latour, 1996). That’s why it is also called a “sociotechnical network” or a
“heterogeneous network”. A network is not primarily concerned with “mapping interactions between
individuals” but concerned to “map the way in which they [actors] define and distribute roles, and
mobilize or invent others to play these roles” (Law & Callon 1988:285).
(3) Translation3: a process during which the identity of actors, the possibility of interaction and the
margins of manoeuvre are negotiated and delimited (Callon 1986b:202). Specifically, translation “is a
definition of roles, a distribution of roles and the delineation of a scenario” (Callon, 1986a:26).
Translation in the ANT sense refers to “the methods by which an actor enrolls others” (Callon et al.
1986b:xvii), it is a specific mode of manoeuvre, a way in which actors in the network interact with each
other. Callon divides translation into four stages: (a) problematisation, in which the core actor defines
other actors’ problems and relates these problems to the “obligatory passage point”; (b) interessement,
in which the core actor seeks to lock the other actors into the roles that have been proposed for them in
problematisation; (c) enrolment, in which the core actor seeks to define and interrelate the various
roles he or she have allocated to others; (d) mobilisation, in which the core actor maintains his or her

The word ‘actant’ is used by Latour to refer to human and non-human actors, but in this paper, ‘actor’ is adopted to refer to human
agents and non-human entities, because the latter term is more familiar to translation scholars.
Different from translation in TS sense, so we italicize it as translation for differentiation.

crucial position in the network.

In this regard, ANT ‘favours the study of science in the making, which can be done, primarily, through
ethnographic analysis of research labs’ (Buzelin 2005:194). Dynamic and processing, agency also calls
on the study of translation in the making. Though, we could not ‘follow the actors’ involved in a
historic act of translation, its process could be more-or-less inferred through analysis of memoirs,
autobiographies and other documents. It is a common belief that agency is the product of agents and
contexts. ‘Network’ and ‘actor’ in question are very similar to ‘context’ and ‘agent’ in translation
studies, hence ANT’s great value to agency studies. Before attempting to draw on ANT, it is sensible to
elaborate the connection of ‘context’ with ‘network’ and that of ‘agent’ with ‘actor’ separately.

Network in ANT designates flows of translations and it could be replaced by ‘worknet’ or ‘action net’
which could refer to the associations of a specific action or activity. It is the combination of society and
nature. Similarly, translation context is both cognitive and social, and it is politically, culturally,
socially and aesthetically dynamic, with no definite boundaries. (Baker 2006:332)

ANT assumes the radical indeterminacy of the actor, for example, neither the actor’s size, its
psychological make-up, nor the motivations behind its actions are predetermined (Callon 1997:2). It is
very much in tune with Giddens’ (1979:55) argument about agency that it ‘does not refer to a series of
discrete acts combined together but to a continuous flow of conduct’. (italics in original)

ANT is an interdisciplinary approach to the social sciences and technology studies, which describes the
progressive constitution of a network of both human and non-human actors whose identities and
qualities are defined according to prevailing strategies of interaction (Wolf 2007:23). It is not
primarily concerned with ‘mapping interactions between individuals but concerned to map the way in
which actors define and distribute roles, and mobilize or invent others to play these roles’ (Law and
Callon 1988:285). Actors’ roles and positions meanwhile help to shape the network. A translator’s
agency is somewhat affected by his or her roles distributed and positions defined in different networks.
Thus translators’ agency should be interpreted in the specific translation network with various actors
involved in.

Section 1.3 Translators’ agency: Definition

In the ANT sense, an agency is a way to make actors do things and there are different agencies involved
in one action. The weight of each agency on the action depends mainly on its specific role and position
in the relevant network. An actor’s agency is unpredictable and influenced by other actors’ agencies.
But different from actors, who are intermediaries in the critical sociology sense, actors in the ANT
sense are mediators. The former transmit meaning and force without transformation and defining
their inputs is enough to define their outputs. However, the latter transform, translate, distort, and
modify the meaning or the elements they carry. Translators are mediators who transform the political
power, the norms, rules, etc. imposed upon them. Therefore, however powerful these social forces may
be, a translator could choose to transform them, if they have the ability and willingness to do so. So,
the translator’s agency is formed after his or her transformation of what is initially “out there”. As for

those definitions of agency mentioned above, we prefer ‘the willingness and ability to act’, but have a
different interpretation of the word ‘ability’, which, in our opinion, not only highlights the relation
between agency and power, but also underlines the position, role, function of a translator, the
interaction between human and non-human actors in different translation contexts, in Latour’s words,
heterogeneous translation networks. It seems reasonable to define translators’ agency in this paper as
a translator’s willingness and ability to act after active negotiations with the various other actors
involved (humans and non-humans alike).

A translator’s agency is what allows the translator to translate. It is abstract and constrained by the
agencies of numerous actors. It is constrained by their disposition, abilities, etc., as well as external
factors such as mainstream ideologies, patronages, publishers, etc. To figure out the weight these
constraints put on a translator’s agency, two questions should be borne in mind: (1) Is a translator’s
agency exercised upon all the stages of the translation process; (2) how much is a translator’s agency is
influenced by other actors (external factors) involved. To answer these two questions, “actors” in
Latour’s sense is used here, to refer to all external constraints, including human actors like Chinese
editors, etc. as well as nonhuman actors like translation rules, etc. Historical documents are collected
to trace the translation process and other evidence like comparative text analyses are conducted to
verify this assumption. ANT’s another concept: “network” is also adopted here to map the roles and
positions of related actors.

Section 2 Analytic Methods

we will attempt to construct the translation network of Chinese Literature and identify the roles and
positions of all the actors involved, by reading archives. These archives include some autobiographies
written by Chinese Literature’s translators such as My China: The Metamorphosis of a Country and a
Man written by Shapiro and White Tiger by Yang Xianyi; memoirs like the series memorizing the past
50 years (1949-1999) of the Chinese Foreign Languages Bureau, which is in charge of Chinese
Literature, including Fifty Years of the Chinese Foreign Languages Bureau: Memorabilia edited by
Dai Yannian and Chen Rinong, Fifty Years of the Chinese Foreign Languages Bureau: Selected
Archives and Documents edited by Zhou Dongyuan, Fifty Years of the Chinese Foreign Languages
Bureau: Memoirs and Fifty Years of the Chinese Foreign Languages Bureau: Theories and Practice
of Propaganda.

Then we will take a complete translation process of Chinese Literature as a case study to define the
specific roles and positions of the actors involved in the translation network. The translation process
will be divided into four stages; the choice of the original texts, the editing of the original texts, the
translation of the original texts and the revision of the translated texts.

Finally, translators’ agency in each stage of the translation process will be analysed based on the
translation network built. Human actors like translators, Chinese editors, etc. and non-human actors
like editing plans and translation guidelines could all exercise their agency in the translation network.
During the analysis of translators’ agency of Chinese Literature, we will take two translators who
worked for Chinese Literature for over 20 years as case studies. They are Yang Xianyi (1915-2009), a

well-known Chinese translator and Sidney Shapiro (1915-2014), a famous American Chinese
translator. Both of them were engaged in English translation of Chinese literary works for over 50
years. Yang is famous for Red Mansions, English translation of Hong Lou Meng, Shapiro is famous for
Outlaws of the Marsh, English translation of Shui Hu Zhuan. Hong Lou Meng and Shui Hu Zhuan are
two of four Chinese classic works.

Section 3 Translators’ agency in Chinese Literature

It goes without saying that behind any translation lies a translator, ‘[b]ut not all translation research
takes [the translator] as the primary and explicit focus, the starting point, the central concept of the
research question’ (Chesterman 2009:14). This is what a translation scholar should do to translators in
Chinese Literature where the primary actors were those other than translators.

Section 3.1 The Translation network of Chinese literature

Chinese Literature is the first and so far the only official Chinese magazine that systematically
introduced Chinese literature to English-speaking countries. It was set up in 1951 by the Chinese
government in a particular socio-historic context. At that time, the situation both at home and abroad
for China was challenging. At home, a new China had just been founded and the whole country was far
from being stable. Kuomintang was still trying to take power and the deep-rooted feudal ideology
hadn’t yet dissipated; abroad, because it was the time of the Cold war, Western capitalist countries
headed by America refused to recognise China’s new government, sparing no effort to prevent China’s
economic growth and international cultural exchange. For example, America, taking Hong Kong and
Taiwan as its main cultural “battlefields” to translate and publish many “anti-communist” Chinese
literary works, to inhibit the international influence of new China and Chinese culture. In order to
reduce the negative impact of what capitalist countries had done and were doing, Chinese Literature
was set up to provide a true representation of new China to the world.

The translation network of Chinese Literature is built through four steps of translation, namely
problematization, interessement, enrolment and mobilization. During the problematization step, the
core actor, the chief editor, determines a set of actors, such as the Chinese editors, translators, etc., and
employs qualified editors and translators who want jobs. During the interessement step, the core actor
provides editors, translators with interests such as salary, official identity, etc. During the enrolment
step, the core actor further defines and strengthens the roles and positions of other actors. For
example, Chinese editors were responsible for the choice and editing of the original texts, while
translators were responsible for the translation of the original texts. In the last step, the step of
mobilization, the core actor, further consolidated his or her crucial position in the translation network
by formulating editing plans and translation guidelines to regularize the behavior of Chinese editors
and translators, respectively.

Chinese Literature mainly comprised of an editor-in-chief, an associate editor, some Chinese editors,
and several translators such as Sidney Shapiro, Yang Xianyi, his wife Gladys Yang, and some students

majoring in translation. Let’s take a translation task of Chinese Literature as an example to
demonstrate the roles and positions of actors in the translation network. Generally speaking, a
translation process starts with the selection of works. A Chinese editor chooses a book to be translated
and then edits it under the guidance of the editing plan. But sometimes, the author was asked to edit
his or her own book, according to the same editing plan. After that, the edited source text is to be
revised by the associate or chief editor, who delivers the revised source text to the selected translator.
It is then, that the translator starts the translation stage by following the translation guideline. If the
translator wants to delete something during the translation stage, he or she must turn to the Chinese
editor for guidance and permission. Finally, the translation is sent back to the associate or chief editor
for revision. Thus it can be seen that some documents like the editing plan and translation guideline
are involved in the network as non-human actors. In addition, leaders from Foreign Languages Press
(FLP), China’s Ministry of Culture (CMC) and other official institutions played pivotal roles in guiding
the mainstream ideology for the translational action by formulating some plans and guidelines while
the Chinese Writers Association guided the poetics of translation by way of giving suggestions in the
selection of books to be translated. It is plausible to think that the actors involved in a translation task
of Chinese Literature included by and large leaders from FLP and CMC, the chief or assistant editor, a
Chinese editor, a translator, an author, the editing plan, the translation guideline, the mainstream
ideology and poetics.

In order to vividly and effectively analyse this complex translation network, a figure is drawn here to
illustrate actors’ positions and roles in the translation network of Chinese Literature.

ideology FLP leaders CMC poetics


chief editor

author selection editing translation translator

stage stage stage

editing plan translation

Chinese revision guideline
editor stage

‘T’ represents ‘translation’

Arrows represent direction of influence
Ovals represent human actors
Rectangles represent non-human actors
Rounded rectangles with dotted lines represent translation stages

As illustrated, the translation network of Chinese Literature involves various actors and the translator
could only exercise his or her agency in the translation stage. FLP and CMC leaders manipulated the
translation process from macro-level by guiding the mainstream ideology and poetics. The chief editor

controlled all four stages of translation as a primary actor by defining the positions and roles of any
other actor. He or she played a key role in formulating the editing plan and the translation guideline to
which other human actors must abide by, and the final products of every stage such as the selected
original texts, the edited original texts and the translations that must be revised by them. The
translator could only participate in the translation stage, a stage involving the most actors. The
translator seems to have the least significant position in this network.

Section 3.2 Translators’ agency in the selection, editing and revision of the original texts

Translators weren’t permitted to participate in the selection, editing and revision of the original texts,
so they couldn’t exercise any agency in these three stages.

(1) Translators’ agency in the selection of the original texts

According to Yang Xianyi, a famous translator who worked for Chinese Literature for almost 30 years,
the selection of original texts was made by Chinese editors. Chinese editors usually asked Chinese
Writers Association and other official institutions for suggestions, translators were excluded from the
selection stage.

Unfortunately, since we were in essence employed merely as hired hands and since the
selections were made by young Chinese editors whose knowledge of Chinese literature was
rather limited or because selections had to suit the political tastes of the period, many such
translations done by us were not worth the time spent on them. I only translated classical
Chinese literature, so I was often lucky with my choices. However sometimes even classical
poems were chosen for their ‘ideological’ or political content, and we often argued with the
editors about their choices, reaching a compromise only after lengthy discussion. (Yang

During the selection process, Chinese editors must follow the corresponding editing plans. Editing
plans stipulate the strict proportion of works to be selected: 31% contemporary works, 25% works of
the May Fourth Period, 15% ancient works, 25% literary criticism. (Dai Yannian and Chen Rinong

Therefore, three actors exercised their agency in the selection of the original texts, namely the Chinese
editors, the editing plans and some official institutions like the Chinese Writers Association. The
editing plans strictly controlled the selection process from the macro level, those official institutions
provided some suggestions for the selection, and the Chinese editors made the final selection
according to the editing plans and the suggestions.Translators could exercise little agency in the
selection of the original texts.

(2) Translators’ agency in the editing of the original texts

Before being sent to the translators, the selected books needed to be edited by Chinese editors
according to the editing plans. The editing plans made specific editing rules. Chinese editors or the

authors must delete those details that had no significance to or had a negative effect on China’s new
positive image. Additions and deletions were all for the promotion of China’s positive image. As
recollected by Ba Jin (1987:255), he was asked to delete many sentences, paragraphs and especially
some chapters that depicted China’s darkness and backwardness, such as the description of Chinese
foot binding, Chinese people’s bad habit of spitting on the ground, etc.

Any translator who wanted to delete the content of the original, even in the translation stage must ask
the Chinese editors for permission, otherwise, they would be reprimanded. Once, when Yang Xianyi
translated a book by quoting Chairman Mao at the end of each chapter in great detail, he thought this
kind of writing ridiculous and unsuitable for foreign readers and had all the sacred edicts cut out.
When the publishing officials discovered this omission during examination, a new bureau chief
criticized Yang in a mass meeting for his editing of the work. The chief said: “Is the translator’s work to
translate? How could he lend a hand into editing” (Yang Xianyi, 2002:201)

Therefore, Chinese editors and the editing plans exercised their agency in the editing stage.
Translators could exercise no agency in editing the original texts.

(3) Translators’ agency in the revision of the translated texts

After the translation stage, the translated texts would be sent to the reviser like the associate editor or
the chief editor for revision. Translators could exercise no agency in the revision stage.

Section 3.3 Translators’ agency in the translation of the original texts

After having been edited by the Chinese editors, the original texts were sent to the translators who
started the translation strictly according to the translation guidelines.

A translation guideline was formulated every year based on the previous one. Because there were
minor differences between each guideline, we use just a typical one as an example in this paper. The
one formulated in 1964 detailed translation strategies and approaches for translators in the following
three areas:

(1)Faithfulness: be faithful to the ideas and policies reflected in the original, to the meaning
and spirit of the original sentences, to the facts, numbers and time, to the tone and the style,
and the original’s meanings and factual knowledge should be transmitted accurately. (2)
Smoothness: target readers could understand TT, especially the political purpose of TT, with
little or no inference. (3) Elegance: TT should be concise, clear, fluent, popular, rich in
vocabulary, and easily understood.(Ni Xiuhua 2014:13-14; my translation).

Looking upon the transmission of Chinese literary works in foreign countries as a political tool, as
indicated in the above quote, the translation guideline put emphasis only on such aspects as the
original’s political content and the target readers’ full understanding of this content. To be specific, the
translators must get a good understanding of the meaning of the original and rewrite it in the target

language without changing the content of the original. To make the translation concise and easily
understood, translators might have to change some sentence structures, remove some loaded terms
and phrases, or ignore the style of the original. The translation guideline in question might have a
great impact on translators’ agency in translation, which could be indicated by what Shapiro
(1999:3078) stated in the translator’s note to Outlaws of the Marsh.

With the final thirty, we have taken minor liberties. The ‘poems’ which introduce each
chapter are little better than doggerel, and ruin the suspense by revealing what is about to
follow. They have been cut. So has some of the redundancy and cumbersome detail.
Other than that, we have tried to be as faithful to the content as possible, even when this
fidelity results in factual inaccuracy.

But Shapiro’s agency was not totally restricted, notwithstanding making some concessions, Shapiro
sometimes expressed his voice in the translation. The translation of the book title of Shui Hu Zhuan is
a typical example. Although encountering stiff resistance from the ‘Gang of Four’, Shapiro still
exercised his agency to its full extent as a translator through negotiations with them. Shapiro thought
the 108 characters in the story “became the leaders of an outlaw army of thousands and fought bold
and resourceful battles against the powerful military forces of the corrupt ministers” (Shapiro
1997:221). What they had done were one hundred percent heroic and they banded together in a marsh-
girt mountain. Therefore, the book title Shui Hu Zhuan was at first translated into Heroes of the
Marsh, but later disapproved of by Jiang Qing, core leader of the “Gang of Four”. Shapiro (1997:209)

The project brought me again into conflict with the Gang of Four. Jiang Qing got wind of my
intention to call the novel Heroes of the Marsh. I thought this more appealing than Marsh
Chronicles, which is what the Chinese title Shui Hu Zhuan literally means. The lady angrily
protested that Song Jiang, leader of the rebels, was a “traitor” because, at the request of the
emperor, he and his forces crushed the Golden Tartars who were attacking China from the
northeast. This episode is in the final chapters of the novel. True heroes would not have
impeded the Tartars, she implied, since they opposed the reactionary imperial court.

Jiang Qing forced Shapiro to change the title, but he did not agree with Jiang’s view on Song Jiang and
his rebels. In Shapiro’s opinion, “they dared to fight against the more powerful forces that oppressed
the people and they were worthy the title of heroes” (Shapiro 1985: 408). This time, Shapiro neither
gave way to his superiors nor offended them. He agreed to abandon the word “hero” and suggested the
word “outlaw”.

“If you don’t like ‘heroes’, how about ‘outlaws’?” I countered to her emissaries. “People outside
the law? Like bandits?”
“It’s true, bandits are outside the law.”
“Alright, then.”
And so the matter was settled. Fortunately the English of the Gang of Four was as weak as
their comprehension of Song Dynasty history. They didn’t know that “outlaw” is a “good”

word in common English usage, that its main connotation is a folk hero who stands up against
unjust persecution of the ordinary people by the establishment. (Shapiro 1997:209)

Although translators exercise restricted agency in the translation of the original texts, their agency
could also be exercised to a great extent as long as they have any chance to negotiate with other actors
no matter what the result might be.
In Chinese Literature, translators’ agency was influenced by different actors. Some actors participated
directly in the selection, editing and the revision stages, but translators had no right to take part in
these three stages. Therefore, they couldn’t exercise their agency in every stage of the translation
process. But as to those stages in which translators could participate in, however powerful other actors
were, translators could still exercise their will to its full extent although their ability was somewhat

Section 4 Conclusions

Translators’ agency has been widely studied with regard to contemporaneous translators and
translation institutions (Inghilleri 2005; Kinnunen 2010; Abdallah 2010,2012), but translators’ agency
in past translation institutions could still be researched provided sufficient documents that can reveal
translators’ detailed information in their translation activities (Paloposki 2010:88). Drawn on archives
like autobiographies, memoirs, this paper has traced translators’ agency in the translation network of
Chinese Literature and the results indicate that translators’ agency is something defined by the
positions and roles within the translation network. The external factors such as those involving human
and non-human actors does influence the employment of the translator’s agency in the creation of the
finished translation. As Chinese editors, authors, and even the chief editor had been involved in the
editing stage of the original texts and the revision stage of the translation, it was not always clear
whether the deletions and additions of a final translation had been done by the translator or other
actors, or whether certain choices of words of the final translation had been made by the translator or
the chief editor. Only when we find out the edited original texts the translator referred to and the un-
revised translation produced by the translator, can we determine these.

It is worth stressing again that a translator’s agency is defined in this paper as a translator’s
willingness and ability to act after active negotiations with various actors involved. Though a
translator’s ability was defined more or less by their positions and roles in the translation network,
their willingness to negotiate with the vast array of actors could gain greater ability for themself. For
this part, the translator’s agency depended more upon their individual decisions, on whether they had
chosen to accept what was forced upon them passively, or actively resist their superiors, because ‘a
translator may decide to resist socio-cultural causal pressures, or to adapt to them’(Chesterman

Studying translators’ agency of Chinese Literature through network-tracing possesses some theoretical
and practical significance for translation studies: (1) Network-tracing is indispensable for the
investigation of the conditions, working practices and identities of translators and for the study of their
interactions with other actors in the translation process. (2) Manuscripts are vital for translator

studies, because the comparative analysis of the source text and the final text published may not reflect
a translator’s behaviour during the translation process, but that of the edited source text the translator
referred to and the original text created by the translator themself. (3) Network tracing could also help
us to understand more about translation causality, i.e. in explaining why translations look the way they
do, hence avoiding some misinterpretations in the study of translations in a certain period. (4) The
study of translators’ agency of Chinese Literature can also shed light on the roles and positions of
translators in Chinese government translation institutions in the latter half of the 20th century.

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