From fellow traveller to eco-warrior: the translation and reception of Thoreau in China

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First published in 1854, Walden, by Henry David Thoreau, has been translated into many languages. The last three decades have witnessed a growing number of Chinese versions of Walden, together with an upsurge of interest in this classic American book. Adopting a descriptive and diachronic approach, this article surveys the different Chinese versions of Walden, the studies by Chinese scholars on Thoreau/Walden, as well as eco-writings inspired by Thoreau/Walden in China, with the purpose of investigating the translation and reception of Thoreau in China from three perspectives: those of translators, literary scholars and writers. Thoreau was initially understood by his Chinese translators as a foreign thinker whose work endorses traditional Chinese values such as the celebration of Nature and Tianrenheyi 天人合— (or “harmony between Nature and man”), and Walden was valued mainly for its perceived alignment with a “native” component in Chinese philosophy and a multifaceted figure in China. Later, this writing was regarded as a product of the complex integration of Chinese and American thinking in the eyes of Chinese literary scholars. Most recently, Thoreau has been transformed into a multifaceted figure in China, one who has enjoyed a great influence upon Chinese eco-writers. In some respects, the rising popularity of Thoreau in China mirrors his increasing popularity in the United States; however, the evolving reception of his work by translators, literary scholars and writers in China may diverge in detail from his critical and popular reception in his native country.

Original languageEnglish
Article number70
JournalHumanities and Social Sciences Communications
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2023


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