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Misinterpreting Jane Austen? A Feminist Perspective on the Chinese Versions of Pride and Prejudice

Pride and Prejudice, a well-known novel for Chinese readers, is generally regarded as the most popular work on the Chinese mainland among all the novels by Jane Austen.  Since the publication of the first complete Chinese version of Pride and Prejudice in 1935, a total of over forty complete Chinese versions have appeared.  Most of them were produced after 1949, the year in which the People’s Republic of China was founded, and particularly after the 1980s, when the policies of reform and opening up were implemented on the Chinese mainland and as China embarked on development and prosperity in every field. 

This essay will discuss the following four complete Chinese versions of Pride and Prejudice:  Wang Keyi’s version, published in 1954; Sun Zhili’s version, published in 1990; Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang’s version, published in 1993; and Zhang Jinghao’s version, published in 2005.  All of them are entitled 傲慢与偏见, or Aoman yu pianjian (Pride and Prejudice). 

These four versions, particularly Wang Keyi’s 1954 version and Sun Zhili’s 1990 version, have often been studied in the academic world.  The former, the first among the four and very reputable, has been heaped with praise for several decades, mainly from the early 1980s onwards; the latter has also won high praise.  Both have been republished over the past years.  In fact, over the past three decades on the Chinese mainland, these two versions have been compared and analyzed more than other Chinese versions in many academic papers on translation studies, translation course books, and M.A. theses.  As Chang Nam Fung states, these two are the most influential among all the Chinese versions of the novel on the Chinese mainland (207); Zhang Helong also regards Wang Keyi’s version as “one of the most influential” and Sun Zhili’s version as “influential” on the Chinese mainland (107, 110).  Next to these two renderings are Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang’s version (1993), published by the well-known People’s Literature Publishing House in Beijing, and Zhang Jinghao’s version (2005), presenting a distinctive style quite different from the earlier three versions. 

A very recent survey of the Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index (CSSCI) on the China National Knowledge Internet (CNKI) from 1998 to 2017, retrieved about 71 papers on Pride and Prejudice, most of which represent literary criticism of the novel, including 4 discussions of its Chinese translations.1  Among all these literary analyses, 3 argue from the perspective of feminine consciousness, 4 from a feminist perspective, and the majority of the rest center on the subjects of love and marriage or the technique of irony in the novel.  Obviously, at 4 out of 71, feminism is not the dominant theoretical perspective.  Of the 4 translation papers, one studies Wang Keyi’s 1954 version; a second talks about Wang Keyi’s version, Sun Zhili’s 1990 version, and Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang’s 1993 version; a third discusses Wang Keyi’s version and Sun Zhili’s version, together with an online translated version; the remaining one compares Wang Keyi’s version, Sun Zhili’s version, Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang’s version, and Zhang Jinghao’s 2005 version, the same versions selected for this essay.  These Chinese versions are the usual research subjects in the field of translation studies on Pride and Prejudice; however, none of the four essays is concerned with feminism. 

For the period from 1949 to 1997, a total of 52 papers on Pride and Prejudice have been retrieved, but none includes words such as “feminism,” “feminist awareness,” or “feminine consciousness” in the title, though one paper on Jane Austen and British women’s literature published in 1996 is concerned with the rebellion of the female protagonists in Austen’s novels, including Elizabeth Bennet.  Most of the rest discuss technique, characterization, or the Chinese versions of the novel.  Three papers focus on the Chinese versions, 2 of those discussing Wang Keyi’s version and the other comparing Sun Zhili’s version with another rendering.  These papers do not talk about feminism either. 

In short, with regard to the academic attention to Pride and Prejudice on the Chinese mainland, among critical studies of the novel, feminism or feminine consciousness does not dominate; as to studies of the Chinese versions of the novel, none argues from a feminist perspective. 

The above four complete versions of Pride and Prejudice are indeed the most frequently studied in the field of translation studies.  Over 40 complete Chinese versions of the novel were published in the 1990s and 2000s, but most are more or less similar to Wang Keyi’s version or/and Sun Zhili’s version, so the features embodied in the four selected Chinese versions can basically represent the overall appearance of the novel on the Chinese mainland. 

Although Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, as a matter of fact, embodies feminist thinking, including safeguarding, praising, and encouraging women to be independent people of initiative, on the Chinese mainland the novel has widely been taken merely as a comedy of marriage that, for some Chinese readers, even propagandizes for the dependence of women on men by marrying them to wealthy gentlemen.  This understanding, however, contradicts what Jane Austen argues for women in the novel. 

In what follows, the prefaces or introductions to these four translations and selected elements of the four Chinese versions themselves will be discussed from a feminist perspective. 

The Prefaces to the Four Chinese versions

A preface or an introduction can generally give its readers preconceived ideas about the work to be read, so in translation studies the role of a preface or an introduction must not be underestimated. 

Among the four prefaces, the one to Wang Keyi’s 1954 version is the longest.  It briefly covers Jane Austen’s biography and her features as a realistic classic writer, then moves to how the novel reflects the social status of women through marriage, highly praising the rebellion and independence of Elizabeth as well as her striving for equal rights—overall, with strong feminist awareness, forming an impassioned defense for women.  Although Wan Keyi’s translation has been republished many times since the 1990s, in 2001 the preface was replaced by one written by Zhu Hong, a Chinese scholar of foreign literature.  The new preface incorporates contemporary academic perspectives, from relevant interpretations to formal aspects of the novel.  For instance, it discusses the nature of the capitalist marriage system and the requirements of marriage from an economic perspective, and it also analyzes and evaluates characters’ behavior and conversation.  In addition, it expounds on the key role of irony in portraying characters and constructing plot, focusing on the protagonist, Elizabeth.  The whole preface, with its vivid and professional diction, helps Chinese readers understand much about the work before reading it.  However, except that the intelligence, independence, and bravery of Elizabeth are mentioned when character is being discussed, this preface does not give any prominence to the other rich feminist ideas embodied in the novel. 

The preface to Sun Zhili’s 1990 version first defines the tone of the novel as a comedy of love, then explains the norms of morals and conduct through the accounts of four marriages, and finally comments on Austen’s artistic achievements.  Although it contains a brief, sympathetic description of Charlotte’s marriage to Mr. Collins and another of Elizabeth’s one conversation with Darcy that might imply Elizabeth’s rebellion (3, 6), Chinese readers may not notice these in relation to the length of the complete preface.  Upon reading this preface, readers expect to find love stories with happy endings for women who set getting married as their life goal; thus Chinese readers would probably pay scant attention to the two above-mentioned descriptions. 

For Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang’s 1993 version, the preface consists of Austen’s biography, the nature of the contents of the novel—that is, its “thorough understanding of human nature” (3)—and representative artistic features, namely, “the carefully selected language” and “the wit and humor” of the novel (4).  Among these arguments, “the wakening of feminine awareness” (3) and the unusual efforts of Elizabeth’s fighting for her happy marriage and bright future are mentioned (4).  Again, considering the length of the preface, which highlights the writing skills of Jane Austen, these few lines in praise of Elizabeth in fact do not stand out. 

There is no preface or introduction to Zhang Jinghao’s 2005 version, so readers may understand the novel according to their own comprehension. 

Broadly speaking, most Chinese readers, who tend to get a general idea of foreign novels through the prefaces or introductions to the translated versions, are likely to be influenced by these prefaces.  As has been suggested, in the first preface to Wang Keyi’s version and the one to Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang’s version, there are some sentences or paragraphs that can be interpreted from a feminist perspective.  In these prefaces, however, the word “feminism” doesn’t appear, so Chinese readers probably would not recognize that Pride and Prejudice expresses a distinctly feminist standpoint.  The preface by Zhu Hong emphasizes academic studies of Austen but not those from a feminist perspective.  What dominates the preface to Sun Zhili’s version is the notion of the novel as a comedy of love and morals in marriage.  Therefore, these prefaces (and the absent preface) fail to fully direct the readers’ attention to the feminist ideas in the novel.

Analyzing the translations of Pride and Prejudice

Jane Austen clearly expresses her feminist ideas in the early and representative Pride and Prejudice.  The novel praises the wit, independence, rebellion, rationality, and knowledge of women, challenges the ideas that women are inferior, and asserts equality between women and men.  The heroine Elizabeth Bennet is witty, humorous, naughty, independent, strongly rebellious, and rational. 

The translations of five passages show the relative levels of failure or success of these different versions in expressing the feminist ideas of the novel:  Elizabeth’s request to Mr. Collins to consider her a “rational creature”; her joke about the picturesque at the expense of Mr. Darcy and the Bingley sisters; and the opposing views of marriage as suggested in the novel’s opening sentence, Charlotte’s advice about Jane, and Mrs. Bennet’s satisfaction in her daughters’ marriages.

“Rational” Elizabeth

When his proposal is refused by Elizabeth, Mr. Collins announces that her response is merely the habitual refusal of a man’s first proposal.  Elizabeth then can’t help saying:  “‘Do not consider me now as an elegant female intending to plague you, but as a rational creature speaking the truth from her heart’” (122).  The phrase “rational creature” here has an origin.  According to Alison Sulloway, “Such clauses as ‘Women are Rational Creatures,’ ‘God made women Rational Creatures in his Image,’ ‘Women are not Brutes, but Rational Creatures,’ ‘God gave Women Minds with which to seek him, as any Rational Creature must,’ echo throughout Astell’s Serious Proposal [to the Ladies for the Advancement of their True and Greatest Interest], as well as the essays of Macaulay, Wollstonecraft, Hays, and those of their moderate feminist successors” (57).  Therefore, the novel at this point, through Elizabeth’s cry, speaks the same views as those feminist perspectives Sulloway defines, the cry of women to have their rationality acknowledged. 

The four Chinese versions translate “rational creature” very differently: 

Wang Keyi:  平凡人  (ordinary, common people) 

Sun Zhili:  明白事理的人  (people of sense) 

Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang:  通情达理的人  (those who do things sensibly and do not pester others) 

Zhang Jinghao:  有理性的人  (rational people) 

The word “rational” in the English original means “able to think clearly and make decisions based on reason rather than emotions” (Oxford Advanced Learner’s English-Chinese Dictionary), so with the exception of Wang Keyi’s translation, these versions, particularly Zhang Jinghao’s, are close to the meaning of “rational creature,” in highlighting “rationality.”  Because little background of British social contexts has been presented, however, what is a rebellious cry of “rational creature” in Austen’s times appears common and usual in the four translated versions, scarcely noticeable to Chinese readers. 

In contrast, the Penguin Classics edition of Pride and Prejudice provides a note to this phrase: 

rational creature:  Cf. Mary Wollstonecraft in Vindication of the Rights of Woman (1792):  “My own sex, I hope, will excuse me, if I treat them like rational creatures, instead of flattering their fascinating grace, and viewing them as if they were in a state of perpetual childhood, unable to stand alone” (ed. Miriam Brody, Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1996, p.81).  (Jones 426–27)

In a new Chinese edition, “rational creature” should be translated as “有理性的人” (rational people), and a footnote should be provided to introduce the remarks by seventeenth- and eighteenth-century British feminists so that Chinese readers might see the context of Elizabeth’s words and thus realize Austen’s purpose.  In this explanation, the original words related to “rational creature” in the works of the early feminists should be quoted to show the connections between the novel and previous women’s writing.  Further, the supposed purpose of Jane Austen should be explicitly stated:  to advocate, through Elizabeth’s remarks, the opinion that women are rational. 

Knowledgeable Elizabeth

During Elizabeth’s stay at Netherfield, she meets Miss Bingley and Mr. Darcy while having a walk with Mrs. Hurst, who then takes the disengaged arm of Mr. Darcy.  Since the path can only accommodate three people, Mr. Darcy, aware of the impoliteness, proposes going into the avenue, but Elizabeth, who does not really want to be with them, says laughingly: 

“No, no; stay where you are.—You are charmingly group’d, and appear to uncommon advantage.  The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth.  Good bye.”  (58)

Elizabeth’s application of picturesque principles also has an origin.  It alludes specifically to William Gilpin’s Observations on the Mountains and Lakes of Cumberland and Westmorland (1786), in which he uses illustrations to explain the principles of “picturesque” through the grouping of cows: 

These two prints are meant to explain the doctrine of grouping larger cattleTwo will hardly combine. . . . But with three, you are almost sure of a good group. . . . Four introduce a new difficulty in grouping. . . . The only way, in which they will group well, is to unite three, . . . and to remove the fourth.  (qtd. in Bradbrook 61–62)

Upon reading these words, readers will feel that Elizabeth applies this allusion appropriately to the occasion and probably will burst into laughter.  This comic remark, with a sense of irony, shows that Elizabeth is fond of reading, knowledgeable, and humorous, greatly contributing to her characterization.

Now let’s turn to the four Chinese translations: 

Wang Keyi:  不用啦,不用啦;你们就在这儿走走吧。你们三个人在一起走非常好看。加上第四个人,画面就给弄毁了。再见。 (“No, no; stay where you are.—You three look great walking together.  The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth.  Good bye.”) 

Sun Zhili:  不用啦,不用啦,你们就在这儿走走吧。你们三个人走在一起很好看,优雅极了。加上第四个人,画面就给破坏了。再见。 (“No, no; stay where you are.—You three look great walking together, and appear extremely elegant.  The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth.  Good bye.”) 

Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang:  不必啦,不必啦。你们还是走那条路吧。你们三个人一起搭配得真美,看起来真是不同寻常。要是再加上第四个人,画面就破坏了。再见。 (“No, no; stay where you are.—You three are charmingly matched, and appear to uncommon advantage.  The picturesque would be spoilt by admitting a fourth.  Good bye.”) 

Zhang Jinghao:  不用,不用,你们还是走这一条。几位在一起相配极了,显得再好也没有。再加上一个就煞风景了。再见。 (“No, no; stay where you are.—You are extremely matched together, and it couldn’t appear better.  It would be spoilt by admitting one more.  Good bye.”)

These four translations all successfully convey the literal meaning of the source text as well as the charm of Elizabeth, but they don’t convey the allusion to Gilpin, so readers have no access to appreciating Elizabeth’s knowledge and intelligence.  There are not many examples of this kind in the source text, so a footnote in the translated version explaining the allusion in Elizabeth’s remarks would help Chinese readers understand a more complex version of Elizabeth’s character as well as the humor of the novel. 

Further, “三个” (three) and “第四个” (a fourth) in the first three translated versions are exactly correspondent to the numbers in Gilpin’s article.  Given a footnote, Chinese readers would instantly get the real meaning of Elizabeth’s joke and thus could experience the intelligence of the heroine.  Therefore, these choices are better than Zhang Jinghao’s “几位” (which literally means “a few, several”; identical to “you” in the source text) and “再加上一个” (one more).  In addition, although the Chinese word “煞风景” in Zhang Jinghao’s version literally means “to spoil scenery,” it is mostly used in an informal way to mean figuratively to spoil something, so it does little to supply readers with the allusion in the original text.  In the other three versions, “画面” (the picturesque) though a formal Chinese expression, is more consistent with the allusion. 

Opposing views of marriage: The opening sentence

Austen satirizes and condemns the conventional idea of women as property in marriage.  One obvious example is the novel’s opening sentence:  “It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must be in want of a wife” (3).  According to Howard Babb (13), this general statement sets up a stylistic reverberation in the novel:

a generalization is formula, presumably dependable because it applies to more than one case.  More than that, its reliability is confirmed by the impersonal phrasing. . . . Thus, a generalization . . . apparently brings to bear universal wisdom. . . . And the form itself becomes a kind of guarantee because it automatically resurrects the sense of a trustworthy public community of views.  (13)

This statement, then, due to its form, is applicable to a wide range of cases.

The “truth” at the beginning of this sentence refers to high ideals.  Modified by “universally acknowledged,” it is raised to an even higher level and endowed with a strong philosophical sense.  Readers may assume what they are reading is a matter of significance, but actually not so.  In the subsequent clause, “in possession of a good fortune” and “in want of a wife” form a parallel, presenting “a good fortune” and “a wife” as objects of the same kind.  In other words, “wife” is equated or ranked with “fortune.”  The whole clause, therefore, expresses the degrading of “wife,” who is considered as property rather than as an independent individual.  Such a ridiculous view, however, is regarded as “a truth universally acknowledged”—that is, it is generally acknowledged by people in the world, who consider “wife” as object and marriage as material matter.  Such a beginning and an ending of the sentence produces a bathetic contrast, falling from the solemn and sublime to the ridiculous and amusing. 

The sentence indicates that “wife” belongs to man like property, actually being man’s possession, and that the public supports such an attitude.  In addition, that the sentence is in the form of a general statement further stresses that it is an acknowledged stand.  It is indeed, however, patriarchal and antifeminist and exactly what Austen mocks and opposes.  This opening sentence in fact lays the feminist foundation for the whole novel and, through its bathos, casts doubt on the world’s well-recognized view.  What the sentence actually implies is that “wife” is not an object, does not belong to man like some thing or like money.  The writer mocks the degrading of women by the world through a humor that is in fact not funny, arousing readers’ reflections. 

The translations, however, fail to reproduce the irony, due to the loss of bathos: 

Wang Keyi:  凡是有钱的单身汉,总想娶位太太,这已经成了一条举世公认的真理。 (A single man in possession of a good fortune, must want to marry a wife, which has become a truth universally acknowledged.) 

Sun Zhili:  有钱的单身汉总要娶位太太,这是一条举世公认的真理。 (A single man in possession of a good fortune, must want to marry a wife, which is a truth universally acknowledged.) 

Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang:  饶有家资的单身男子必定想要娶妻室,这是举世公认的真情实理。 (A single man in possession of a good fortune, must want to marry a wife, which is a true circumstance universally acknowledged.) 

Zhang Jinghao:  有钱的单身汉必定想娶亲,这条真理无人不晓。 (A single man in possession of a good fortune, must want to get married, which is a well-known truth.) 

The four Chinese versions, whose beginning and ending parts are all in opposite order to the source text, do not reproduce bathos, so the humor is lessened, failing to attract readers’ attention.  The beginnings of the four versions (“娶位太太,” “娶妻室,” and “娶亲”) all state positive ideas of getting married, neither reproducing the satire of regarding “wife” as an object expressed by “in want of a wife” nor forming a contrast by their connection to “有钱的单身汉” and “饶有家资的单身男子” (both of which mean “a single man in possession of a good fortune”); they do not achieve the effect of comparing “wife” to “fortune” and thus of degrading “wife” to an object.  In this way, even if the beginning parts of the Chinese sentences are taken as “truth universally acknowledged,” the contrast thus formed between the beginning and the ending parts of the four versions is by no means intense, and the satire and exaggeration are lessened.  The result is that although the irony of the original English sentence criticizes the status quo, all the Chinese versions are positive general statements, impressing Chinese readers that this truth comes into being naturally and that there is nothing inappropriate in its meaning. 

Further, while the parallel structure and the collocation of “in want of” and “wife” in the source text endow the word “wife” with the connotation of a lesser woman, Wang Keyi and Sun Zhili both translate it as “太太,” a respectable address for wife in Chinese; Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang translate it as “娶妻室” (“妻室” is a formal address for wife in Chinese, and “娶妻室” means to take a wife ), a positive and also elegant expression; Zhang Jinghao translates it as “娶亲” (to take a wife), although a commonly used Chinese word, still affirmative.  Therefore, if “wife” were translated as “老婆” (an informal term for wife in Chinese) to show the belittling of women, it would be possible to have Chinese readers come to see the discrimination of women by the world expressed by the opening sentence. 

Further, the translation of “universally acknowledged” in Zhang Jinghao’s version and that of “truth” in Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang’s version are not entirely identical to the source texts.  To be specific, in Zhang Jinghao’s version “universally acknowledged” is translated as “无人不晓,” which means being known, thus differing from the English source text.  The correspondent “举世公认” in the other three translated versions expresses being recognized by all the people in the world (even though not necessarily correctly), so that translation accords with Austen’s language.  Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang’s version translates “truth” as “真情实理,” which refers to true circumstances and theories, including common and usual things, greatly weakening the contrast between the two parts of this Chinese version.  A better way to represent the exaggeration in the source text would be to translate “truth” as “真理” (truth). 

Above all, the loss of the bathos Austen creates in the four Chinese versions causes real difference between the general statement in the source text and the translated versions, eliminating the satire of the patriarchy.  Here is my suggested Chinese translation of the sentence: 

有这么一条举世公认的真理:有财产的单身汉必定需要置个老婆。 (It is a truth universally acknowledged, that a single man in possession of a good fortune, must need to “purchase” a wife.) 

The use of the Chinese words “置” (literally meaning “to purchase something; to buy something” but a bit more indirect than the Chinese word 买 [to buy]”) and “老婆” (an informal term for wife) together with the collocation of these words seems to better reproduce the notion of regarding women as property in the source text; further, the second part of the Chinese sentence after the colon, “有财产的单身汉必定需要置个老婆” (a single man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of a wife), also forms a contrast with “举世公认的真理” (truth universally acknowledged) in the beginning, achieving the bathos to show the satire. 

Opposing views of marriage: Charlotte’s advice

In chapter 6 of the first volume of Pride and Prejudice, Elizabeth tells Charlotte that she is happy that Jane’s affection for Bingley is concealed and thus won’t be perceptible to the world.  Charlotte thinks differently.  She moves from the affection between Jane and Bingley to the goal of marriage: 

“If a woman conceals her affection with the same skill from the object of it, she may lose the opportunity of fixing him.”  (23–24) 

“Fix” in this sentence merits our attention.  K. C. Phillipps argues that this verb indicates that Austen does not endorse “the pragmatist, matrimonial views” of Charlotte:  “The word ‘fix’ seems already to be too blunt for the more acceptable characters to use” in such a context (76).  Because the word is usually used with an object, when connected with a person, there is the sense of not regarding him or her as a human being but rather as something to be dealt with.  Therefore, this sentence suggests that love for an individual seems to be irrelevant to marriage. 

Although Charlotte’s remarks are not completely discredited—she turns out to be partially correct about Jane—the implication of “fix” here is supposed to be conveyed.  See the four Chinese versions of “fixing him”: 

Wang Keyi:  博得他的欢心  (to try to flatter or please him) 

Sun Zhili:  博得他的欢心  (to try to flatter or please him) 

Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang:  抓住他  (grasping him) 

Zhang Jinghao:  (痛失良机,) 抓(不)住对方  ([not] grasping the man) 

In Wang Keyi’s and Sun Zhili’s versions above, “博得他的欢心” (to try to flatter or please him) is the action; in the other two versions, “抓住他” (“grasping” him) and “抓(不)住” ([not] “grasping”) indicate the speaker’s strong desire of getting the man.  All these Chinese phrases express trying to “capture” the man, but the derogatory element is not strong enough to convey the meaning of regarding the man almost as an object.  Thus Austen’s criticism of Charlotte’s views through the word “fix” is presented differently in these four Chinese versions. 

In line with the feminist ideas of Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, in a new Chinese edition “fixing him” could be translated as “搞到 (or 搞定) 他” (to fix him) because “搞到 (or 搞定)” (to fix somebody) is comparatively more vulgar Chinese than the above Chinese translations, and both can be used with words referring to someone or something.  When used with someone, they connote looking down upon someone or disrespecting someone, implying considering someone as something.  In this way, the suggested version could possibly transmit the novel’s judgment of Charlotte’s remarks. 

Opposing views of marriage: Mrs. Bennet’s happiness

In chapter 19 of the last volume of the novel, Mrs. Bennet’s feelings on marrying off her daughters Jane and Elizabeth are depicted: 

Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters.  (427) 

Austen here uses two highly connotative expressions, “got rid of” and “deserving.”  “Got rid of,” which often governs a problem or an object, implies in this sentence that Mrs. Bennet is eager to marry off her daughters, as if hurrying to dispose of something; “deserving” means “meriting, worthy.”  Therefore, as Lloyd Brown suggests, Austen’s sentence “pinpoints the very narrow selfishness and insensitivity to the worth of others which invariably motivate [Mrs. Bennet].  She is the businesswoman disposing of her two most ‘deserving’ (marketable) commodities in the business of marriage” (39).  Obviously Mrs. Bennet, not understanding the worth of her two daughters, does not feel the loss of their rational and sensible company, does not understand in what way they are deserving.  Austen, therefore, through such implicative diction, satirizes in a comic way the foolishness of Mrs. Bennet and the social phenomenon that women are considered commodities. 

As the sentence begins “Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day,” readers may expect to find what day fills the mother with joy:  it turns out to be that day “on which Mrs. Bennet got rid of her two most deserving daughters,” that is, the day on which she disposes of the two girls.  The satire in the relative clause forms a contrast with the beginning of the main clause, bringing laughter to readers and allowing them to grasp Austen’s ingenious irony.  The four Chinese versions, however, fail to reproduce this irony in the source text: 

Wang Keyi:  班纳特太太两个最值得疼爱的女儿出嫁的那一天,正是她做母亲的生平最高兴的一天。 (The day on which Mrs. Bennet’s two daughters most deserving to be loved dearly got married was happy for all her maternal feelings.) 

Sun Zhili:  贝内特太太把两个最可爱的女儿嫁出的那一天,也是她做母亲的心里最快活的一天。 (The day on which Mrs. Bennet married off her two loveliest daughters was happy for all her maternal feelings.) 

Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang:  本内特太太嫁出去那两个最值得获得幸福的女儿那天,也是她作母亲的心情最愉快的一天。 (The day on which Mrs. Bennet married off her two daughters most deserving happiness was happy for all her maternal feelings.) 

Zhang Jinghao:  贝内特太太两个最可引为得意的女儿出嫁的那天,也是这位母亲最高兴的一天。 (The day on which Mrs. Bennet’s two daughters most possibly to be proud of got married was happy for all her maternal feelings.) 

The four Chinese correspondences for “most deserving daughters”—namely, “最值得疼爱的女儿”, “最值得获得幸福的女儿”, “最可爱的女儿” and “最可引为得意的女儿”—fail to represent the original implication of the source text.  To be specific, “最值得疼爱的女儿” (the daughters most deserving to be loved dearly) expresses the daughters’ worthiness of Mrs. Bennet’s full maternal love; “最值得获得幸福的女儿” (the daughters most deserving happiness) conveys the idea that the girls merit a happy marital life; and “最可爱的女儿” (the loveliest daughters) expresses their value because of their beauty.  These three affirmative Chinese phrases convey the maternal love of Mrs. Bennet towards her two girls, thus turning Mrs. Bennet into a mother with great passion for her daughters rather than a “businesswoman” who takes her daughters as commodities for sale.  The three translated versions, then, are completely different from the source text, which satirizes the phenomenon of regarding women as commodities.  In Zhang Jinghao’s version, “最可引为得意的女儿” (the daughters most possibly to be proud of) conveys taking pride in having such daughters, with a sense of boasting and bragging; it also loses the connotation of regarding the daughters as marketable commodities. 

The other meaningful expression “got rid of” is translated simply in terms of marriage: 

Wang Keyi:  出嫁  (to get married) 

Sun Zhili:  把…嫁出  (to marry off someone) 

Zhang Ling and Zhang Yang:  嫁出去  (to marry off someone) 

Zhang Jinghao:  出嫁  (to get married) 

In the first and the last versions, “出嫁” (to get married) relates a common matter of women getting married, an action on the part of the women, but without foregrounding Mrs. Bennet’s eagerness to marry off her daughters.  In the other two versions, “嫁出去” and “把…嫁出” (both mean “to marry off someone”), pointing out Mrs. Bennet’s role in the girls’ marriages; to some extent this translation reflects her strong desire to marry off her daughters, but, compared to the source text, the irony is much weaker. 

Due to the structure of the Chinese sentences being opposite to the English original and the difference in diction between the Chinese translations and the English original, the contrast and satire achieved by the high tone at the beginning of Austen’s sentence and the irony in its latter part are lost from the Chinese versions.  Here is a suggested rendering: 

本内特太太做母亲心里最高兴的一天,是把两个最有价值的女儿脱手的那天。  (Happy for all her maternal feelings was the day on which Mrs. Bennet disposed of her two most valuable daughters.) 

In this version “最有价值” (the most valuable; of the greatest worth) and “脱手” (to dispose of something; to get rid of something; to sell something) are respectively correspondent to “the most deserving” and “got rid of,” which would reproduce Austen’s satire and criticism of women considered as commodities. 

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To sum up, feminism does help us see clearly certain source texts and their translations from a gender perspective, uncovering new layers of meaning and new perspectives.  While criticism and interpretation should not be limited to a single, feminist perspective, feminism, as in the case of Pride and Prejudice, can indeed lead us to interpret and reflect on translation in ways that provide more space for understanding the significance of the source text as well as the perspectives of the translators.


1The “Chinese Social Sciences Citation Index” (CSSCI) is a citation database, covering over 500 academic journals of humanities and social sciences published on the Chinese mainland.  The selected journals are regarded as representing academic excellence, and most Chinese universities evaluate the performance and promotion of the faculty by their publications in CSSCI journals.  The academic articles retrieved from the database are only among those published from 1998 on, so this essay talks about the CSSCI papers on Pride and Prejudice from 1998 to 2017; for 1949 to 1997 it reviews all the published papers on Pride and Prejudice.  The “China National Knowledge Internet” (CNKI) is the most widely used database of the academic sources published on the Chinese mainland.

2Such a Chinese footnote could be:

英国十七、十八世纪的女性主义者玛丽•阿斯黛尔(Mary Astell)、凯瑟琳•麦考利(Catherine Macaulay)、玛丽•沃尔斯通克拉夫特(Mary Wollstonecraft)、玛丽•海斯(Mary Hays)等的作品中都出现过“女性是理性的人”、“上帝按照自己的形象将女性造成理性的人”、“女性不是粗野的人,而是理性的人”、“上帝赋予了女性思想,使她们像所有理性的人一样用它来寻找他”等语句。十八世纪自由主义女性主义者玛丽•沃尔斯通克拉夫特著名的《为女权辩护》(1792)一书中,“rational creature”(理性的人)、“rational”(理性的)、“rationally”(理性地)、“rationality”(理性)、“reason”(理智、理性)、“reasoning”(推理、理性的观点)等词贯穿全书、不断出现,例如:“我希望与我相同性别的人会谅解我——如果我把她们当作理性的人,而不是故意奉承,说她们优雅令人着迷,或把她们看作永远处于孩提时代、不能独自站立的人。”奥斯丁在此通过伊丽莎白之口倡导一个观点:女性具有理性。

Works Cited
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