1st Edition

The Role of Henri Borel in Chinese Translation History

By Audrey Heijns Copyright 2021
    216 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    216 Pages 9 B/W Illustrations
    by Routledge

    Against the historical background of Chinese translation in the West and the emergence of several prominent European translators of China, this book examines the role of a translator in terms of cross-cultural communication, the image of the foreign culture in the minds of the target audience, and the influence of their translations on the target culture.

    With the focus on the career and output of the Dutch translator Henri Borel (1869–1933), this study investigates different aspects of the role of translator. The investigation is carried out by analysing texts and probing the achievements and contributions of the translator, underpinned by documents from the National Archives and the Literature Museum in the Hague, the Netherlands. Based on the findings derived from this study, advice is offered to those now involved in the promotion and translation of Chinese culture and literature. It will make an important contribution to the burgeoning history of Chinese translation.

    This book will be of interest to anyone with an interest or background in the translation history of China, the history of sinology in the West, and the role of translators.

    List of figures vii

    Acknowledgements ix

    Conventions xi

    Introduction 1

    Biographical note 5

    Biographical timeline 6

    PART I

    Chinese translation history 13

    1 Chinese literature in the west 15

    1.1 Up to 1700 17

    1.2 The eighteenth century 19

    1.3 The nineteenth century 20

    1.4 Conclusion 25

    2 Prominent historical translators in Europe 27

    2.1 Missionaries 28

    2.2 Merchants and diplomats 29

    2.3 Scholars 30

    2.4 Conclusion 34


    The translator as cultural mediator 37

    3 A translator of philosophy 39

    3.1 Educative and inspiring: Confucius and Laozi 40

    3.2 The Chinese way: The Spirit of China 50

    3.3 Undoing old prejudices: the Mencius 59

    3.4 Conclusion 64


    vi Contents

    4 A translator of literature 68

    4.1 Foreignizing Wonders Old and New 69

    4.2 Sinicizing Strange Stories from the Liaozhai 80

    4.3 Conclusion 88


    The translator as creator 93

    5 The travel writer 94

    5.1 Self versus other: Wisdom and Beauty from China 95

    5.2 A poetic vision: Daybreak in the East 99

    5.3 Idealizing China: The Beautiful Island 112

    5.4 Conclusion 117

    6 The writer-translator


    6.1 Negotiating between cultures:

    “Kwan Yin” and “Chinese Hell” 121

    6.2 Rewriting Daoist stories: Of Life and Death 129

    6.3 Conclusion 134


    The translator as communicator 137

    7 The diplomat 138

    7.1 The role of a Chinese interpreter 138

    7.2 Issues of belonging: Wisdom and Beauty from the Indies 151

    7.3 Conclusion 155

    8 The expert 158

    8.1 Expertise and research 158

    8.2 Expertise and poethood 161

    8.3 Expertise and sinology 165

    8.4 Conclusion 170

    Conclusion 173

    Epilogue 179

    Bibliography 183

    Index 201



    Audrey Heijns received her Ph.D. from Leiden University and is currently an Assistant Professor in the School of Foreign Languages, Shenzhen University. Her research interests include the history of early Dutch sinologists and nineteenth-century Chinese bilingual dictionaries. Her articles have been published in academic journals including Perspectives, Translation and Interpreting Studies and International Journal for Lexicography. She also translates Chinese literature into Dutch and English and is the editor of the online database Verretaal Chinese Literature in Dutch Translation.

    In conformity with a major trend in contemporary translation studies, this work is not limited to a discussion of Borel’s (Dutch) renditions of Chinese texts, but also treats his many articles and books that presented his views on Chinese culture to the world at large as well as his role as a cultural intermediary in the colonial society of the Dutch East Indies.

    Wilt L. Idema, Professor Emeritus, Harvard University

    Journal of Chinese History (2022)



    Heijns successfully weaves Borel’s identities (interpreter, translator, writer, diplomat, China expert) together with his publications of different themes to stress his aim of fostering a better understanding of Chinese culture for the Dutch. [...] In a nutshell, The Role of Henri Borel in Chinese Translation History is a great contribution to the field of cross-cultural communication and a valuable source for people who are dedicated to promoting Chinese culture to other countries in the world.

    Shuai Chi, Huazhong University of Science and Technology and Shihezi University;

    and Mingwu Xu, Huazhong University of Science and Technology

    Communications (2022)