Culture and Translation

Home Admissions Course Guide Culture and Translation

This Course Guide has been taken from the most recent presentation of the course. It would be useful for reference purposes but please note that there may be updates for the following presentation.


Culture and Translation

Welcome to TRAN A335 Culture and Translation!


Purpose of this Course Guide

This Course Guide prepares you for studying the course. After this introduction, which gives a general overview of the course and lists its aims and objectives, there are sections on:

  • course materials;
  • course assessment, including information about assignments and examinations; and
  • tutor support.

About the course

TRAN A335 Culture and Translation is a higher-level, ten-credit course. It has been developed especially for students who are studying Metropolitan University's Language and Translation programme. TRAN A251C and TRAN A253C are recommended as preliminary courses for TRAN A335 Culture and Translation.

The course involves practising several skills, including:

  • reading, thinking and writing about the relation between culture and translation, and the translator's important work as an inter-cultural mediator;
  • reading widely, and reflecting on and writing about a range of culturaltexts that will be helpful to you as working translators between Chinese and English;
  • creating bilingual repertories of your own (word-books); these entries will use material taken from Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable and Cihai as well as other sources; and
  • engaging in translation tasks of your own, and in analyses of the translations of others to test your own cultural sensitivity and awareness. These exercises will be in the form of short translations and critiques.

Key course themes

Important themes in the course include:

  • the relation between culture and translation, in both conceptual and historical terms;
  • a non-elitist understanding of 'culture';
  • an exploration of comparative cultural traditions in China and the West (in fields such as religion, philosophy, literature and art, but also in popular media, folklore, food, clothing, etc.), and how these differing traditions affect the process of translation;
  • different cultural translation challenges posed by different sorts of translation tasks (comparative rhetoric);
  • the overriding need for the translator to read and think culturally, critically, creatively and communicatively; and
  • the crucial importance of culturally literate and communicative translation for the broadest possible growth of mutual understanding between China and the West.

Course aims

TRAN A335 Culture and Translation has the following broad aims:

  • to highlight the cultural dimension of the translation process from the perspective of the working translator;
  • to emphasize the need for translators to explore cultural issues and background resonances through extensive reading;
  • to increase your awareness of the translator's role as a mediator between cultures rather than just as a technician of two languages;
  • to enable you to identify and understand culturally specific language in a text;
  • to enable you to deverbalize these elements and to re-express them in the target language, through a process of comparative rhetoric; and
  • to encourage cultural, critical and creative translation, as opposed to word-for-word literalism.

Course learning outcomes

After completing the course, you should be able to:

  1. Identify cultural resonances and culturally specific elements in a text.
  2. Analyse the problems cultural allusions create for the translator.
  3. Read extensively in both Chinese and English to examinecultural resonance.
  4. Discuss various possible strategies for translating culturally specific texts, or elements of texts.
  5. Produce and critically review translated examples of culturally specific texts.
  6. Develop bilingual repertoires of culturally specific expressions in your word-books.

Course organization

The following chart gives a general overview of the course structure.


Units Weeks of workAssignments
1Travelling in the realms of gold — Culture and translation4 
2I believe — Sacred scripture and translation4Assignment 1
3Once upon a time — Myths, stories and translation3 
4I think — Ideas and translation4Assignment 2
5If music be the food of love — Poetry and translation4 
6House and garden, love and illusion — Translating fiction4Assignment 3
7River and lake — Martial arts fiction and translation4 
8Mao-speak — Politics and translation4Assignment 4
9Mandarin duck tea — Translating the taste of Hong Kong4 

There is no single textbook for this course. Instead, you will refer to the course units, some required reference books and a large set of provided readings.


Reference books

In TRAN A335 Culture and Translation, you will be required to frequently use various 'cultural' dictionaries. You should obtain a copy of the following cultural dictionaries:

  • For traditional Chinese culture, the most useful work in Chinese remains:
    Shu Xincheng 舒新城, Shen Yi 沈頤, Xu Yuangao 徐元誥, Zhang Xiang 張相 (eds) (2000) Cihai辭海, Shanghai: Zhonghua shuju.
  • For Western culture, you need a copy of:
    Room, A (ed.) (2009) Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable, 18th edn, London: Cassell.

(For a supplementary source for Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase and Fable you may like to visit <>. Click on 'Research', then 'Choose', and select the title.)

Other valuable 'cultural dictionaries' that you may want to refer to include:

  • Cirlot, J E, A Dictionary of Symbols, translated from the Spanish by Sage, J (1962) London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Couling, S (1917) Encyclopedia Sinica,Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh.
  • Williams, C A S (1932) Encyclopedia of Chinese Symbolism and Art Motives,Shanghai: Kelly & Walsh.
  • Eberhard, W, translated from the German by Campbell, G L (1988) Dictionary of Chinese Symbols, London: Routledge.
  • Plopper, C (1926) Chinese Religion seen through the Proverb, Shanghai: China Press.

Frequent reference will be made throughout the course to the 18th-century Chinese novel The Story of the Stone紅樓夢 and its translation, as an eloquent example of 'culturally communicative translation'. You should obtain the Chinese and English versions of this work:

  • Cao, X Q and Gao, E (1982) 紅樓夢, 3 volumes, Beijing: Renmin wenxue. (Note that this is only a suggestion. Any modern edition will do.)
  • Cao, X Q and Gao, E, The Story of the Stone, translated by Hawkes, D and Minford, J (1973–1986) 5 volumes, Harmondsworth:Penguin books.

Course readings

Frequent readings will be given to you throughout the course and there will be selected readings for all study units.

Unit 1 will include texts on the general relationship between culture and the translationprocess. A useful text that deals with the relationship between culture and translation theory is Munday, J (2001) Introducing Translation Studies: Theories and Applications, London: Routledge. Copies of this book are available at the reserve desk of the HKMU library. Chapters 7, 8 and 9 are especially useful.

Units 2 to 9 will include readings that relate to more specific cultural knowledge and the translation challenges that different kinds of culturally-loaded texts can pose.


There are four assignments of which the best two out of the first three assignments count towards the final assessment. The final assignment is a required one and must be completed. Each assignment will involve a combination of some or all of the following:

  • the reading and assimilation of specified texts, and the identification of culturally specific expressions, as demonstrated in a short essay;
  • translations of short texts using such expressions; and
  • a discussion of these and other translations in the form of a critique.

The assignments comprise 50% of the total course marks.



At the end of the course there is a three-hour written examination. The examination comprises the other 50% of the course marks.


Tutors will conduct a total of 20 hours of tutorials. Tutors will review the key concepts introduced in each unit with you and conduct group and individual tutorial discussions.  Tutors are expected to be available for answering your questions and offering assistance in completing your assignments when necessary. As well as marking the assignments in accordance with the marking criteria, tutors are expected to provide comprehensive and timely feedback to you.



Ten sessions of two-hour optional tutorials are provided. Tutorial topics will cover a selection of issues and tasks taken from unit contents and objectives.


Day schools

There will be two day schools for TRAN A335 Culture and Translation.

TRAN A335 Culture and Translation is a higher-level, ten-credit course developed especially for students who are studying Metropolitan University's Language and Translation programme.

This course looks at what culture is and why it is important to translators. It explores in detail the relation of culture to language and translation. We also explore why it is absolutely necessary to deal with another culture if you really want to understand another language and translate from it to your own language and culture.

We hope you enjoy the course and are able to apply the knowledge and skills of this course to your professional translation work.

Good luck!


A note about the developer of this course

John Minford 閔福德 is a translator of Chinese literature, who studied Chinese at Oxford University and the Australian National University. He has taught translation and Chinese at various times in China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Australia and New Zealand. He was until 1999 Chair Professor of Translation at the Hong Kong Polytechnic University. With David Hawkes 霍克思, he translated the classic 18th-century novel The Story of the Stone紅樓夢 for Penguin Classics. David Hawkes translated the first three volumes of the novel, or the first 80 chapters (1973–1980); John Minford translated the last two volumes, or the last 40 chapters (1982–1986). His new version of Sunzi's The Art of War孫子兵法 will appear in Penguin Classics in January 2002. He is currently completing the third volume of his translation of Louis Cha's 金庸 martial arts novel The Deer and the Cauldron鹿鼎記 for Oxford University Press, and a collection of Pu Songling's 蒲松齡 Strange Tales聊齋誌異, alsofor Penguin Classics.

Coming soon