Chaucer’s Chinese Names

An assortment of Chaucerian materials in Chinese.

Earlier this year, we began a delightful correspondence with Lian Zhang, a graduate student of Dr. Minghan Xiao, professor of English and American literature in Hunan Normal University. Lian’s extensive research on Chaucer’s Chinese reception has opened up many exciting new avenues of interpretation, but for now Lian has agreed to share a tantalizing tidbit: the myriad choices (and dilemmas) facing a translator needing to render Chaucer’s name in Chinese.

We think you will enjoy this small yet fascinating window into the complexities of translating Chaucer’s Middle English text into Chinese.

Confucius says: “If terminology is not corrected, then what is said cannot be followed. If what is said cannot be followed, then work cannot be accomplished” (名不正,则言不顺;言不顺,则事不成). Chinese people attach great importance to their names. A Chinese name suggests both family inheritance and good wishes for the person. The surname is put first to show respect for ancestors, and the given name is after the surname and generally indicates family’s expectations. Take Bai Juyi (白居易) (772-846 AD), a great poet in the Tang Dynasty, for example. “Bai” is his surname, and “Juyi” means living an easy and comfortable life, a simple and sincere hope from his family. What is different from the western tradition is that Chinese rarely name their children after their ancestors or relatives. The given names of the ancestors would always be taboo words for the descendents. Du Fu (杜甫) (712-770 AD), the Poet Sage (诗圣) in the Tang Dynasty, for instance, wrote poetry for over thirty years and never used the word “xian” (闲), meaning free and casual, a very poetic word in Chinese, simply because it is his father’s given name. Du has also been reputed as never mentioning Chinese flowering crabapple (海棠), a plant often praised in classical Chinese poems, as it relates to his mother’s maiden name. In addition to a surname and a given name, Du also had a style name “zi mei” (字“子美”), and an assumed name “Shaoling Farmer” (号“少陵野老”). While a style name is usually given by the family when the person is young and generally indicates family’s good wishes, an assumed name is more often decided by the person himself.

With such a rich history of naming culture behind, Chinese scholars would take translations of Chaucer’s name seriously. The name “Chaucer” has been translated into many versions, either a Chinese full name (with both a Chinese surname and a given name) or just a given name or an assumed name with all good meanings. Chaucer was named as “shao sou” (邵叟), “que sou” (却叟), “chuo sai” (绰塞), “qiao sai” (乔塞), “sao sai” (骚塞), “chao sai” (巢塞), etc, and all of these translations just deal with his surname “Chaucer”. One version including his full name is very auspicious as “qiao sai ji fu lai” (乔塞·极福来), which sounds close to the full name “Geoffrey Chaucer” and means “supreme blessing for Chaucer”. Yet a mistake occurs here, as the given name and the surname are put in the opposite order in the translation. The most commonly used translation for his full name to this day is “jie fu li qiao sou” (杰弗里·乔叟). The above mentioned name “sao sai” (骚塞) is also interesting, as “sao” refers to poets or literary men in classical Chinese, and likely originates from Li Sao (离骚) by Qu Yuan (屈原) (340-278 BC), one of the greatest patriotic poets in ancient China. Thus this name not only has a similar pronunciation but also suggests Chaucer’s literary achievements in history.

In 1913, Sun Yuxiu first introduced Chaucer into China, and translated his name as “xiao su” (孝素), two Chinese words with very good meanings. “Xiao” means filial piety, which is regarded as the most important of all virtues in traditional Chinese culture. “Su” suggests simple, plainness, and quietness. The two Chinese words combined sounds like the surname “Chaucer” in pronunciation, but this combination is more like a Chinese given name, or a style name.

From 1916 to 1925, Lin Shu and Chen Jialin published translations of nine of Chaucer’s Canterbury tales. In the translation for the Wife of Bath’s tale, Chaucer’s name was introduced as “cao xi er” (曹西尔). “Cao” sounds like “Chau-” in Chinese, and is a typical Chinese surname. This surname dates back to the days of the legendary Huangdi Emperor in the third millennium BC, and even today millions of Chinese people still bear this surname. “Xi” means west, an emphasis on Chaucer’s origin, and “er” could be taken as a mood auxiliary word in classical Chinese. Thus Chaucer got a full Chinese name here, with a Chinese surname and a given name indicating the poet’s origin.

Chaucer’s name was more commonly recognized in China as “qiao sou” (乔叟). “Qiao”, a Chinese surname, sounds like “Chau-” in pronunciation, whileas “sou” sounds like “-cer” and means an old and wise man in Chinese, an image close to Chaucer’s portrait we have nowadays. This name is like an assumed name of the poet, as it suggests his profession or social status. It is through Fang Zhong’s influential translation of Chaucer’s works that this name has been made widely known in China. It is also the commonly used name by Taiwanese scholars.

Another Chinese name for Chaucer worth noting is “zhao sou” (赵叟), used by a couple of contemporary Chinese scholars. “Zhao”, or “Chiu” in Hong Kong, “Chao” or “Chau” in Taiwanese phonetics, sounds like “Chau-” in Chinese, and “sou” seconds what the word in “qiao sou” means. Moreover, “zhao” was the surname of the emperors of the Song Dynasty (960-1279 AD) in China, thus the so-called surname of the state, and the most respectable surname for this period. Even today, “zhao” is among one of the most borne surnames in China. The Chinese emperors in ancient time would grant his loyal servants or brave soldiers the surname of the state, and the one who received this huge and rare honor would abandon his original surname. Chaucer, who also lived in the medieval world, would have found it a wonderful experience if he knew he was granted with the Song emperors’ surname.

Chaucer’s life stretched over sixty years, from the end of the Yuan Dynasty (1271-1368 AD) to the beginning of the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644 AD) in Chinese history. While the Yuan Dynasty was ruled by Mongolia Chinese and it is a little bit difficult to match their long Mongolian surname with Chaucer, I find the Ming emperors’ Han Chinese surname, “Zhu” (朱), or “Chu” in both Hong Kong and Taiwanese phonetics, a more suitable match, and we could only imagine how glad Chaucer would be as he is granted with an emperor’s surname of his living days.



Article: Miller’s Tale and Chinese Culture


Collage of images: English gentleman (early modern printed text), a Confucian scholar (modern drawing), and examples of ancient Chinese seal script. [original image here]

Several blog postings relating to Chaucer in Chinese contexts have appeared on this blog (see here, here, and here), and we are happy to draw attention to another resource:

Xiaolei Sun (孙晓蕾), a doctoral student at Shanghai International Studies University (and currently a visiting scholar at the University of Leeds), recently discovered this blog and kindly informed us of her article “When Fabliau Humour in Chaucer’s The Miller’s Prologue and Tale meets Chinese Translation and Culture,” published in the White Rose College of Arts & Sciences Journal (Universities of Leeds, Sheffield & York, 18 May 2016).

You can read the article online or download it as a PDF.

Polyglot Reading of The Miller’s Tale

10523345_10202678190939844_3058271171990410868_nby Candace Barrington

The Polyglot Reading of Chaucer’s The Miller’s Tale turned out to be my favorite NCS event. Held at the University of Iceland’s Stúdentakjallarinn, it brought together 14 Chaucerians reading in 14 modern languages (plus a bit of Middle English introducing the tale), providing the audience with a lively multilingual interpretation of Chaucer’s tale.  The line numbers, languages, and readers are

  • 3170-3186, Middle English, Candace Barrington
  • 3187-3232, Emily Steiner
  • 3233-3270, Mandarin, Jonathan Hsy
  • 3271-3338, Danish, Ebbe Klitgård
  • 3339-3396, Turkish, Nazmi Ağil
  • 3397-3447, Japanese, Koichi Kano
  • 3448-3500, Russian, Liza Strakhov
  • 3501-3554, Polish & German, Sebastian Sobecki
  • 3555-3610, Spanish, Alberto Lázaro
  • 3611-3670, French, Juliette Dor
  • 3671-3726, Korean, Donghill Lee
  • 3727-3782, Icelandic, Sif Rikhardsdottir
  • 3783-3839, Czech, Alfred Thomas
  • 3840-3854, Italian, David Wallace

To listen to the reading, go to . The audio recorder was not as expert as the readers, so please be patient with the quality!  Also know that you’re missing a real treat by not being able to see the readers in action.

Watch this website for a script of the reading in all 14 languages!

A special thanks to Sif Rikharksdottir for arranging all the logistics.  Without her help and guidance, the reading could not have happened.

Finally, MANY THANKS to our readers who stepped out of their comfort zone for the reading.  I hope the audience’s enthusiastic response more than compensated for their bravery!


Chaucer in China (2): Reading Lin Shu

by Candace BarringtonLin_Shu

In this second installment of Chaucer in China, I am interested in the first appearances of any Canterbury tale in Chinese and in the paradoxical circumstances of their composition: The Canterbury Tales was not their immediate source text, and the translator, Lin Shu (林紓), did not know English.  His Sinicized  Chaucers provide an instructive contrast to Fang Chong’s mid-century translations that Jonathan Hsy wrote about in Part 1. Unlike Fang, who had studied English and relied upon Chaucer’s text to complete the first translation of The Canterbury Tales into Mandarin, Lin Shu knew no foreign language and relied upon Charles Cowden Clarke’s bowdlerized Chaucer for his source text.  As a preface to our study of these translations, this post describe their circumstances, for which I rely on my correspondence with Michael Gibbs Hill as well as his fascinating monograph, Lin Shu, Inc: Translation and the Making of Chinese Culture (Oxford UP, 2013). In what follows, I summarize appropriate sections of Hill’s cultural history of Lin Shu’s creative translations, and then I suggest what questions they raise and what they have to tell us about Global Chaucers and larger translation issues.

Lin Shu (1852-1924) was a leading translator and dominant presence in China’s literary culture during the late Qing dynasty (ca. 1895-1911) and the early Republic (1912-1927). Though one of China’s most prolific translators and writers at the turn of the twentieth century—he was responsible for over 180 translations of western literary works into classical Chinese—the early translations credited to him were the result of a collaborative process known as tandem translation (duiyi): with the assistance of an oral interpreter who knew the language of the source text well enough to orally translate, line-by-line,  western works of literature into vernacular Chinese, Lin Shu then further translated the text into the ancient prose style (guwen). Through this factory-like process, he became one of China’s most recognizable and highly compensated literary figures. Because he inherited a set of translation practices that considered fidelity to the source text less valuable than conveying an artistry and morality consistent with traditional Chinese values, Lin Shu’s tandem translations and ancient prose style met his earliest audience’s expectations.  These translations juxtaposed traditional orthodoxy (through their linguistic style) and Western Learning (through their source texts), simultaneously introducing Western concepts in the guise of orthodox form and lending his translations credibility. He used the cultural pulpit created by these translations to advocate the ancient prose style—guwen—for widespread literary use, a controversial position for numerous reasons, including guwen’s association with intellectual, academic work rather than narrative fiction. Lin Shu’s translations also faced suspicions that any translation into Chinese faced.  Because the earliest Chinese translations of European and American texts were the consequence of China’s colonial and imperial relations with the West, any translations tagged as Western were colored by the Chinese ambivalence toward Western Learning, seeing in it both a source of new knowledge and an effort to enforce religious conversion and political subjugation.  In the end, his profitable combination of tandem translations and ancient-prose style undermined his advocacy of guwen for wide-spread literary use. When he eventually lost control of the quality of his translations, he and his classical style became associated with retrograde conservatism and shoddy commercialism.

This trajectory of his reputation, from renowned literary translator to discredited hack, provides an important context of Lin Shu’s Chaucerian translations because they appear at the end of his career, when his translation practices aimed for quantity, not quality, and his reputation had become irreparably tarnished.  His later reputation might explain why the series of individual tale translations (appearing between 1916 and 1925) were ignored by accounts of European medieval literature in China, even though they seem to be the first Chinese translations of Chaucer’s works.  As noted by a short article appearing in 2011 in the Shanghai Review of Books (Shanghai shuping), they predate by a decade the once presumed arrival of European medieval literature in China in the 1920s and 1930s.

Relying on Charles Cowden Clarke’s early-nineteenth-century edition designed for children—Tales from Chaucer in Prose—Lin Shu translated nine (of Clark’s ten) Chaucerian tales:

  • “Gaining a Wife from a Duel,” from The Knight’s Tale
  • “The Princess Encounters Hardship,” from The Man of Law’s Tale
  • “The Prodigy of the Forest,” from The Wife of Bath’s Tale
  • “Griselda,” from The Clerk’s Tale
  • Body and Soul,” from The Squire’s Tale
  • “Three Young Men Encounter the God of Death,” from The Pardoner’s Tale
  • “The Mouth of the Dead that Could Sing,” from The Prioress’s Tale
  • “Talk about Chickens/Cocks,” from The Nun’s Priest’s Tale
  • “Gamelin,” from the apocryphal The 2nd Cook’s Tale

The first eight appeared in 1916 and 1917 in Short Story Magazine (Xiaoshua yuabao); the last appeared in 1925 in Story World (Xiaoshuo shijie). Both magazines were profit-seeking ventures of Commercial Press, and they targeted a non-academic, non-intellectual audience by combining a sense of conservative Chinese propriety with progressive Western learning, thereby appealing to middlebrow readers wanting to acquire both via leisure reading.

These Chaucerian tales appear when Lin Shu and his collaborators were flooding the market with translations.  Between 1913 and 1918, they published forty-one new novels, and in the first eight months of 1916, they submitted 572,496 characters of material. This pace resulted in translations riddled with errors.  Facilitating that pace and perhaps further explaining the shoddy translations was Lin Shu’s amended translation practice. By 1911, he seems to have abandoned his previous method of tandem translation for something more closely resembling subcontracting: rather than transpose the oral text into a classically-styled, written form, Lin Shu would have his collaborators prepare a written translation that he would then edit. This new practice is particularly significant for the Chaucerian texts because the collaborator, Chen Jialin, published his own translations of other texts into classical Chinese, making it unclear how much a hand Lin Shu had in the published versions of the Chaucerian tales.  Nevertheless, it was Lin Shu’s name (and not Chen Jialin’s) associated with the published stories. And it was via Lin Shu’s reputation that Commercial Press developed an aggressive campaign using the short works in Short Story Magazine to market his longer works as both entertaining and enlightening in order to sell the deluge of translations they had purchased from him.

So far, Lin Shu’s Chaucerian tales have not been back-translated into English, yet we can surmise some of the translated tales’ important characteristics. For instance, because they are based on Clarke’s translations for children, we can be assured they were sanitized, keeping at a distance the vulgarity conservative Chinese found repulsive in Western literature while also proffering a Victorian purchase on the tales’ morality. His dual strategy of tandem translation and ancient-style prose means Lin Shu avoided many of the problems noted by Mimi Chan (the only translator of Chaucer into Chinese to write about translating from Middle English verse into Chinese verse: “On Translating Chaucer into Chinese,” Renditions 8 [1977]: 39-51). By focusing on plot and character development, Lin Shu did have to be concerned  with re-creating semantic ambiguity, rhetorical devices, meter, form, or the sly Chaucerian persona; any artistry came through the ancient-prose style. And because he translated into prose, he could readily incorporate into the story any explanations of medieval European culture foreign to Chinese readers, such as Christianity and its attendant professions.

Once we begin to study Lin Shu’s translations more full, we will want to address several questions:

  • How much do these translations demonstrate that Lin Shun and Chen Jialin knew about Chaucer, his works, and his cultural context?
  • Who were their imagined audience? Did the translations present themselves as entertainment or works of learning?
  • Do the tales and any accompanying paratexts use Chaucer’s texts to comment on contemporary cultural debates through revisions to the source text, a practice Hill’s study reveals in Lin Shu’s translations of Dicken’s novels and Stowe’s Uncle Tom’s Cabin?
  • Do these translations maintain or adjust or dismiss Clarke’s (embedded) moralities?
  • Do these translations continue Clarke’s efforts to create a sense of chronological distance via archaic vocabulary and syntax?
  • Did the translations introduce neologisms from English or press Chinese terms into new meanings?
  • How well do these translations maintain the guwen style that marked Lin Shu’s earlier translations?

Lin Shu’s Chaucerian translations also have much to reveal about the unnatural division between original works and translation, and  they contribute to our thinking about translation in at least three ways. First, as Michael Hill persuasively argues, these translations deserve to be studied as translations (and not as debased adaptations) because they were presented and received as translations.  At the same time, they also merit study as original works of literature specific to a volatile time and place.  Finally, they need to be studied as possible fictitious translations, which, as Gideon Toury argues, “try and put the cultural gatekeepers to sleep by presenting a text as if it were translated” (“Enhancing Cultural Changes by Means of Fictitious Translations,” in Translation and Cultural Change: Studies in History, Norms, and Image Projection, ed. Eva Hung [John Benjamin Publishing, 2005]: 3-17). (This third aspect is particularly interesting vis-à-vis Lin Shu because, according to Hill, in the 1910s and 1920s, Lin’s rivals raised more objections to his prose style than to possible inaccuracies in his work.)  It doesn’t require placing much pressure on any of these approaches to reveal their constant overlap and interplay with one another, and Chinese Chaucers look like a good place to start.

Chaucer in China: Reading Fang Chong (Fang Zhong)


Fang and ChaucerAbove: On left, Fang Chong (方重). On right, Chaucer portrait printed in Fang’s 1983 Chinese translation of The Canterbury Tales. (Chaucer image based upon the well-known Bodleian portrait; Fang photo found here)

Candace Barrington and I are very excited to be co-presenting a paper at the upcoming conference in St. Andrews on “The Middle Ages in the Modern World” (see information and abstracts HERE). In addition to introducing people to the rapidly expanding Global Chaucers project, we plan to discuss how one Chaucerian narrative (The Miller’s Tale) gets re-appropriated in a number of different languages.

Candace and I are planning to start posting (and inviting guest postings!) that feature interesting examples of non-Anglophone Chaucer translation or adaptation. In this posting, I’d like to offer some initial thoughts on one of the works we’ll discuss in our presentation: a 1983 Chinese prose translation of Chaucer by Fang Chong (see the Library of Congress citation HERE). In this posting, I provide a glimpse into my research process as a Chaucerian who happens to have some working knowledge of Mandarin Chinese but is not a trained China specialist. I will also discuss some of the challenges currently facing scholars who conduct research (or would like to do more research) on Chinese appropriation of Chaucer. I’ll end—shamelessly!—with a plug for our ongoing Global Chaucers project.

Who is Fang Chong?

Fang Chong (方重), sometimes identified as Fang Zhong (1902-1991), was born in China and studied English literature at Stanford University and the University of California, Berkeley, from 1923-1927; he enjoyed a long career as a respected literary translator and Chaucer scholar upon his return to China.[1] Fang published, among many other things, scholarship on Chinese poetry, Chinese translations of Shakespeare, and Chinese renditions of Chaucer’s works: he first translated Troilus and Criseyde and the dream visions into prose and short lyrics into verse (starting in the 1930’s and 1940’s), and he published a complete prose edition of the Canterbury Tales in 1955 (which were reprinted as part of Chaucer’s collected works in 1979, with a new revision of Canterbury Tales published in 1983). These works were published by the Shanghai Translation Press, and Fang remains an important aspect of the legacy of Shanghai International Studies University. In 2011 (the twentieth anniversary of Fang’s death), SISU established an award for literary translation in Fang’s honor.

The Miller’s Tale: Back-Back-Translation

How did I become interested in the work of Fang Chong? My first inkling of Fang’s existence comes through a little-known piece by Peter G. Beidler and Xiao Anpin called “The Miller’s Tale in China” (first published in the Chaucer Newsletter in 1989, later reprinted in a collection of essays by Beidler).[2] Beidler, visiting as a Fulbright professor at Sichuan University in 1987-1988, collaborated with a Chinese colleague Xiao Anpu, a professor in the Foreign Language Department of Shichuan University in Chengdu, to examine Fang’s translation of Chaucer. Focusing primarily on plot and general themes, they read Fang’s 1983 translation of the tale alongside F. N. Robinson’s The Works of Geoffrey Chaucer (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1957) [fortunately Fang’s preface indicates he used Robinson’s edition, so Beidler and Xiao were on solid ground there]. This enterprise faced a significant challenge due to the respective language capacities and prior experience of the collaborators. Beidler did not know Chinese, and Xiao had never read the Middle English. So Xiao “back-translated” Fang’s Chinese into modern English and shared this translation with Beidler. Beidler and Xiao then compared notes, and they observed curious discrepancies between Chaucer and Fang (some of which I’ll discuss below).

When I first read this piece by Beidler and Xiao, I was quite intrigued—but I also found myself frustrated not knowing exactly how find out more about Fang’s work. The article pointed to relevant passages in Chaucer’s Middle English, but it didn’t provide any actual Chinese-language quotations from Fang’s text—it only cited Xiao’s mediated “back-translation.” And I didn’t even know the Chinese characters for Fang’s name (more on the issue of Fang’s name in just a bit). After some creative experiments in “back-back-translation” from Beidler’s citation of Xiao’s English translation, I was eventually able to identify the correct author name and determine that a copy of Fang’s 1983 translation is in the collection of the Library of Congress. On the first day I arrived in the LOC Asian Reading Room I called up the item, and was told it would take a day to arrive from off-site storage. While I was waiting for the physical book to arrive, I was able to gain remote access to an electronic version of the text (more on this process below) and I began to find and compare the Chinese passages equivalent to the ones mentioned by Beidler and Xiao.

As I viewed the electronic copy of Fang’s text, I found I agreed with Beidler and Xiao that many of the changes that Fang had made to Chaucer’s text were quite minor. For instance, the Middle English “knedyng trogh” or “kymelyn” (3548) is difficult to translate (it’s a container one uses to brew liquor or salt meat)—so Fang’s functional approximation was 澡盆 [bathtub] (69). Other times, more meaningful wordplay got “lost in translation.” Chaucer’s punning Middle English references to Alisoun’s “queynte” (vagina), most noticeably, became references to 她的腰 [her waist] (54). (For for more on the double entendre involved in Chaucer’s use of “queynte,” see this entry in the Middle English Dictionary and this related blog posting.)

Beidler surmises that Fang was “toning down” or sanitizing the bawdy narrative for a new Chinese audience, but I’d say—taking a second look at certain moments in the Chinese text—that Fang actually preserves some of the original tale’s sensibility. For instance, the narrator states that the carpenter John “demed hymself been lik a cokewold” (3226), and Fang renders this as 很怕做乌龟 [he very much feared he’d be a tortoise] (63). This translation might seem utterly baffling—until you learn that “tortoise” is one of many turtle-related Chinese expressions for mocking an old husband with an unfaithful wife.[3] Here Fang finds a functionally equivalent Chinese phrase (animal metaphor) in order to express a Middle English vernacular idea.

Fang 1983 GP Opening
Above: Opening of the General Prologue (partial screenshot taken while accessing the Duxiu Database; taken May 30, 2013). Previously posted on the Global Chaucers Facebook page.

It seems clear to me that a fuller sense of Fang’s strategies of translating the Miller’s Tale can be gained once the tale is put in its wider context, i.e., Fang’s rendition of The Canterbury Tales as a whole. As I see it, Fang’s translation suggests an investment in the idea of Chaucer as a “serious” writer. In addition to transmitting the plot and themes of Chaucer’s narratives (as Beidler and Xiao note), Fang also preserves aspects of the poet’s literary register and style. Above are the opening lines of the General Prologue in Fang’s 1983 prose translation; since I’m still unaccustomed to typing lengthy passages in Chinese, I provide a partial screenshot I took while viewing the text electronically via the Duxiu Database (read more about this unique resource HERE). Fang’s text is not in verse, but it closely follows the clauses of the Chaucer’s opening lines: 当 … 当 … [When… when…] with subsequent references to the young sun and spring, birds, people going on pilgrimage, and (finally) the shrine of Thomas Becket.

Fang sometimes makes some bold choices in order to render the text intelligible to a modern Chinese reader. For instance, Fang clarifies he is translating “Zephyrus” (Classical personification of the West Wind) as 和风 [gentle breeze or wind]—since a more faithful translation of “Zephyrus” as 西风 [West Wind] might strike unacquainted Chinese readers as too obscure. A few lines down, Fang clarifies Chaucer’s allusion to “the Ram” by referring instead to the Aries constellation (白羊宮座). Fang explains these translations of “Zephyrus” and “Ram” with footnotes to the reader. [4] In these opening lines, Fang makes an attempt to smooth out the text for the reader while also preserving some sense of its elevated diction.

Fang 1983 Pilgrims and Contents

Above: Canterbury pilgrim portraits (based on the Ellesmere manuscript) immediately before Fang’s table of contents.

At this point, Fang’s translation does strike me as less interested in the bawdy aspects of the poet and more invested in cultivating a learned register—perhaps to convey the notion of Chaucer as weighty, “sententious” author. But Fang’s translation isn’t entirely serious, as he does seem to exhibit a nuanced (if highly understated) sense of irony. Although the online digital scan of Fang’s 1983 edition didn’t make this aspect of the book readily apparent, I did notice—when physical copy of the text arrived the next day—that the front matter of the book actually includes a few pages of pilgrim portraits (see above); these are modeled after the Ellesmere portraits, with each pilgrim bearing a Chinese caption that corresponds to how he or she is identified in the table of contents.

Fang 1983 Pilgrim as Thopas

Above: Chaucer pilgrim, as he appears in the front matter to Fang’s 1983 translation.

This is all well and good, but something curious happens with the Chaucer portrait (above). This pilgrim is given the caption 托巴斯先生 (Sir Tuōbāsī, i.e., Sir Thopas) – which is a very odd misattribution. What we call in English The Tale of Sir Thopas is not the story told by Sir Thopas, but rather Chaucer’s story about Sir Thopas. So is the protagonist of this tale being conflated with the tale’s pilgrim-narrator? Things become even stranger when we compare these printed images to the illustrations in the Ellesmere manuscript, the visual “source” for these portraits (see all the images reproduced on the Digital Scriptorium). The medieval manuscript actually depicts the Chaucer-pilgrim pointing toward The Tale of Melibee, and not The Tale of Sir Thopas (see fol. 153v). While Fang seems to appreciate Chaucer as a “serious” writer, this front matter—intentionally or not—aligns Chaucer with his own “bad” tale, and not his “serious” one. Is this all a mistake, or an “inside joke” on Fang’s part? (After all, the name 托巴斯先生  does correspond to the tale’s title in Fang’s title of contents.) Perhaps the textual apparatus as a whole—Fang’s own preface, footnotes, and transformations of the Middle English text—suggest a sly, mischievous Chaucerian mode, a wink to those readers “in the know.”

Take Home Messages

I’ll conclude this posting with some “take home messages.” What can be learned from my brief examination of one Chinese translator’s engagement with Chaucer?

Unexpected linguistic challenges. Ideally a scholar working on Chaucer reception in China should have mastery of both Middle English and Chinese; if not, some creative modes of collaboration might be in order (Beidler and Xiao offer one early model). But even for people know both English and Chinese (or people like myself who know the two languages unevenly), there are a number of challenges that could be addressed to better facilitate future work in the field. One difficulty in locating existing texts and scholarship is the variety of ways to transliterate foreign names in Chinese and (conversely) Chinese names the Roman alphabet. It seems standard for Chinese publications to render “Chaucer” as 乔叟 [Qiáosǒu] but the exact characters used for the personal name “Geoffrey” or place name “Canterbury” can differ (e.g., Fang approximates “Geoffrey” through the characters 杰弗雷 [Jiéfúlǐ] but in other Chinese-language contexts use 杰弗里). The Romanization of the name of the Chinese translator I’ve discussed, 方重, isn’t stable either. In Mandarin Chinese, the character 重 can be pronounced chóng or zhòng (depending on context), and for some reason most of the scholarship in Chinese I’ve encountered uses the Romanization of “Chong” (or “Chung”) while scholarship in English uses “Zhong.” To complicate things even more, mainland China uses a set of Simplified characters while other Sinophone areas such as Taiwan employ Traditional ones. So conflicting modes of transliteration (different forms of pronouncing and transcribing proper names), as well as different script systems (written characters within Chinese), all have consequences for how one enters data or inquiries into online search engines or catalogs (whether or not such databases character-based or alphabetic).

Access. The vast majority of Chinese translations of Chaucer are still obscure (to Anglophone scholars working in the US, anyway). Many Chinese-language materials can be viewed through the Duxiu Database, but electronic access is only partial—in more ways that one. First, you can only access the Duxiu Database if you have some sort of institutional access (people here in DC can consult the Chinese e-resources page at the Asian Reading Room at the Library of Congress, but I would imagine libraries and institutions in other places subscribe as well). Second, the entire content of any digitized text cannot be accessed in one sitting. (The Duxiu interface is much like a limited preview in Google Books; only a fixed amount of pages can be viewed. It is possible to make a request to receive a link via email to view up to 50 pages or 20% of a given book, but access to those 50 pages ends expires and even when they are visible pages cannot be downloaded.) Third, digital scans can lack certain “other” aspects of the text, such as illustrations or other front matter. Even if illustrations are scanned as well, they might not show up on a user’s “radar” if one searches a digitized text only by key words/characters.

Book history matters. My initial goal, I thought, was rather simple: I wanted to find the original Chinese text of the 1983 translation of The Miller’s Tale by Fang Chong, and to compare particular Chinese passages to the ones already discussed by Beidler and Xiao. My initial access to an electronic copy of the text helped me start much of this work. But I found that just quick look at the physical book invited many more questions than I could have anticipated. The textual apparatus in this particular edition—including the front matter (i.e. translator preface), footnotes, revisions across editions, and images—is potentially as useful for shaping a full understanding of the work as a complete Chinese-language transcription of the “main text” itself.

Building an online database. My exploration of this rendition of a single tale is just the “tip of the iceberg” when it comes to a wider field of Chaucer translation studies. The Global Chaucers project is indeed ambitious (and utopian), aiming—among other things—to generate a catalog of all the modern non-English translations and adaptations of Chaucer that exist “out there” in the world. We certainly hope this project—which can only succeed through increased collaboration—will continue to grow and expand and go as far as it can to provide knowledge of and access to non-English materials. In assembling an online catalog of Chaucerian translations and adaptations, we hope to provide as much information we can to aid future scholars in their search for resources. So in the case of Chinese, this means somehow accounting for variant spellings of authorial names and providing the necessary Chinese characters for all proper names and titles—and if full access to a Chaucerian translation can’t be provided online, then we can at least start pointing users in the right direction.

THANK YOU to many people for their help so far! I am grateful to Yuwu Song, Chinese Reference Librarian, Asian Division, Library of Congress, for guiding me through some of the major Chinese e-resources accessible at the LOC for showing me how to navigate Duxiu Databse system (see also Song’s helpful e-resources guide as a PDF here). I also thank my colleagues Alexander Huang and Liana Chen for their very helpful general comments on Fang’s translation. Alex directed me to the Bibliography of Asian Studies (which provided information on additional English-language scholarship on Fang Chong). Thanks also to Alex for introducing me and Candace to Michael Gibbs Hill; he has been helping us to locate prose translations by other Chinese writers and to brainstorm other research approaches.

All of this, of course, is work in progress, and any corrections or suggestions are welcome!


CAO Hang (曹航). “Fang Chong and Chaucer.” Comparative Literature in China 88, 3 (2012): 27-38. See abstract in Chinese and in English HERE.

CHAN, Mimi. “On Translating Chaucer into Chinese.” Renditions 8 (1977): 39-51.

FAN, Shouyi. “Translation of English Fiction and Drama in Modern China: Social Context, Literary Trends, and Impact.” Meta: journal des traducteurs / Meta: Translators’ Journal, 44, 1 (1999), 154-177; see HERE.

FANG Zhong (trans.), Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales (Shanghai: Shanghai Yiwen Press, 1983). Chinese Title: 坎特伯雷故事 / 杰弗雷・乔叟 ; 方重译. Transliteration: Kantebolei gu shi / Jiefulei Qiaosou ; Fang Zhong yi. See HERE.

LIU Qin. “A Study of Fang Zhong as a Translator.” Sichuan University (People’s Republic of China), Ph.D. Dissertation, 2008. [I haven’t been able to acquire this dissertation, but I know it exists!] See HERE.

[1] Fang also wrote under the pen name 芦浪 (Lú Làng). For a general sense of Fang’s publications and career, see the online Chinese article on Baidu and a more cursory entry on Chinese-language Wikipedia; for more detailed accounts, see Cao and Liu (listed in bibliography).

[2] Beidler, Peter G., and Xiao Anpu, “The Miller’s Tale in China.” Chaucer Newsletter 11, 2 (1989): 3, 8. Reprinted in Beidler, Chaucer’s Canterbury Comedies: Origins and Originality (Coffeetown Press, 2011), 17-22.

[3] Not quite a scholarly source, but see HERE on the “turtle” as cuckold reference in Chinese.

[4] For “Zephyrus” Fang’s earlier 1955 and 1979 translations used the phrase 东风 (East Wind) for political reasons; see Fan Shouyi (1999), at p. 171, and note 7 on p. 175.