Xueman Cao is a PhD candidate in Translation and Interpreting in the School of Modern Languages. Her research project explores the translation of sexually explicit language in popular fiction from English into Chinese. Adopting a systematic data-driven approach to the translation of sex, she compiled a corpus of 25 English-to-Chinese translated bestselling fiction novels published between 2008 and 2017 for analysis, paying special attention to the patterns and strategies observed in translating sexually explicit language, as well as the various social, cultural and linguistic factors shaping the translation of sex.
While the emphasis is laid on how sexually explicit references are translated and why they are translated in certain ways, this study finds that sometimes the translation of sex reveals stereotypically gendered notions. Though the majority of the sexual references are translated directly, a small number of references to body parts, in particular parts of the female body, are translated using more sexualised expressions, highlighting the physical attractiveness of women as recognised and enjoyed by men. The translation of body-part vocabulary sometimes accentuates the ideal status of female beauty under the male gaze. For instance, women’s “skin” is sometimes translated by adding the adjective “柔嫩的” [delicate, tender, soft], emphasising the tenderness of the female body, which is presumed to be desirable to men. Furthermore, the translation of sex occasionally stigmatises women’s sexual desire. In some instances, women’s moaning during sex becomes “骚” [slutty] or “浪” [lustful] in translation, which associates female sexual desire with loose sexual morals, suggesting the sexual promiscuity of women. In effect, the translation of sex forces the female body and female sexual desire to conform to the aesthetics of the patriarchal culture in order to exhibit physical sexuality that is desirable to men, to titillate their erotic imagination.
Xueman’s project also pays attention to the translation of references to sexuality. Although the corpus contains very few references to sexuality, it is observed that slang references to sexuality (such as “queer”, “fag” and “gay”) are almost always translated by utilising the term “同性恋” [homosexual, literally same-sex love]. Such a formalising, generalising and devulgarising word choice may have been the result of the lack of established slang terms for sexuality in modern Chinese suitable for written discourse. However, they are also, and probably more importantly, indicative of a more conservative ideology in China regarding discourses of sexuality, which directly leads to considerably less discussions in the public sphere, hence fewer lexical choices available to the translators.