Questions of caste in The Lord of the Rings and its multiple Chinese translations

— Eric Reinders, Associate Professor and Director of Undergraduate Studies, Emory University

Paper given 4 July 2021 at Tolkien Society Summer Seminar 2021: Sunday session № 2

Question of race in Tolkien’s works include references to Swarthy Men or Easterlings, the values associated with skin-colour and eye-type, and the moral geography of Middle-earth, wherein West and North is good and beautiful; East and South is bad and ugly. The famously blunt director Hayao Miyazaki wrote, if you read the original novels you can also tell that the people being killed are really Asians and Africans.” Here I examine these issues in the context of the multiple translations of Tolkien into Chinese. I consider translations for the China and Taiwan markets by Zhu Xueheng, Deng Jiawan and her collaborators, Wu Gang, and several translators of the Yilin Press editions. How do the translations deal with the clear coding of dark or sallow” skin, slant” eyes, and the general hostility to the East? For example, Swarthy Men” results in a range of options: switching to their proper name, the Haradrim; the use of terms such as yeren (wild people); or literal translation: heifuren (black skinned people). Dealing with slant-eyed” (goblin-soldiers) the Chinese translators chose not to edit out the racist slur which has been applied to East Asians. Two translations go straightforwardly with eyes slanting” (xiediao) while a third has eyes very small” (xixiao). The returning hobbits see some squint-eyed and sallow-faced” men, clearly belonging to a certain physical type or race. The translations again are matter-of-fact, such as hanging slanted eyes, waxy-yellow faces,” diaoxie yan, lahuang lian. In translating Easterlings,” its diminiutive suffix is eliminated, with dongfang de renlei, humans of the East,” and dongfangren, Eastern people.” To what extent do Chinese readers see that coding, and perceive it as anti-Chinese or anti-Asian? How do the translations mediate the implications of these racial categories? How do Tolkien’s terms interact with common Chinese racial and post-Colonial attitudes?

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date recorded 📅2021-08-16
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