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Translating China: Henri Borel (1869-1933)

Audrey Heijns defended her thesis on 28 June 2016

Audrey Heijns
28 June 2016
Leiden Repository

This thesis investigates how Dutch sinologist Henri Jean François Borel (1869–1933) ‘translated’ China, by examining his renditions of Chinese literature and the writings about China that he produced over a period of forty years. Borel studied Hokkien Chinese at Leiden University and in Xiamen toward a career as Chinese Interpreter for the Dutch colonial government in the Dutch East Indies (now Indonesia), from 1894 to 1916.

Although Borel’s prose writing in Dutch on Chinese culture is not translation in the conventional sense, it is just as important as his literary translations, in that both convey aspects of Chinese culture. In his work, Borel-as-translator has a very prominent presence, as the result of his self-proclaimed poethood and his role as a ‘Chinese author’ by internalizing Chinese culture in his own writing. This gives rise to a highly subjective and personalized vision of China. Eventually, together with his over-confident attitude as the China expert, this weakens the impact of his work in the long run.

Still, Borel raised Dutch readers’ interest in China and helped popularize Chinese culture and literature during his lifetime, and it is beyond doubt that his legacy is an important part of the cultural history of the Netherlands, the Dutch East Indies, and China. This research contributes to the understanding of this shared, entangled history.

More about the thesis.

Promotores: Prof. Maghiel van Crevel en Prof. Barend ter Haar

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