Translating eroticism in traditional Chinese drama: Three English versions of The Peony Pavilion

Tong King Lee, Sing Bik Cindy Ngai

Research output: Journal article publicationReview articleAcademic researchpeer-review

3 Citations (Scopus)


This paper compares and contrasts three English versions of The Peony Pavilion, with a view to exploring the strategies adopted in the three translations in respect to their treatment of erotic passages in the Chinese dramatic masterpiece Mudan Ting. It is found that while all three translators generally respect the integrity of the Chinese source text, they demonstrate different trajectories in terms of their translational dispositions. Specifically, while Zhang Guangqian shows evidence of attenuating sexually sensitive material in his translation, Wang Rongpei demonstrates a tendency to translate in a register that is closer to contemporary English vernacular than to the highly poetic register that characterizes the original Chinese play. Cyril Birch differs from his two Chinese counterparts by faithfully preserving the poetic flavor of the erotic passages, to the extent that a foreign feel is often evident in his translation. The study also locates its findings against the background of previous studies, concluding that the general norm exhibited by the three translators in respect to the treatment of erotic passages in The Peony Pavilion, which is that of retention, departs from the norm of deletion/mitigation found in Chinese translations of English literature with sexual content. The paper hypothesizes that euphemism is not the universal norm adopted by translators in the treatment of sexually sensitive material in literature. Rather, the strategy used in translating eroticism is a function of the assumed acceptability of such material by the target readership.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)73-94
Number of pages22
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 21 Jun 2012


  • Eroticism
  • Euphemism
  • Three English versions of The Peony Pavilion
  • Traditional Chinese drama

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Language and Linguistics
  • Communication
  • Linguistics and Language


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