Bridging cultures: Monash scholars unveil Zhu Dake’s Chinese mystique to English readers

By Our Reporter
Ballarat, known for its rich Chinese cultural heritage dating back to the Chinese migrants of the 1850s gold rush era

Monash University’s linguistics experts have embarked on a pioneering journey to translate the influential works of Chinese scholar Zhu Dake into English for the first time. With support from the Xin Jin Shan Library in Ballarat, the largest of its kind in the southern hemisphere, this project represents a significant stride in making Dake’s culturally rich texts accessible to a broader audience, particularly benefiting Australians of Chinese descent who face language barriers.

Zhu Dake, a renowned cultural critic and scholar in China, has a substantial following thanks to his insightful exploration of Chinese culture and mythology. However, the complexity of his texts, filled with cultural references and metaphors unique to the Chinese language, has previously made his work less accessible to non-Mandarin speakers. This translation initiative, spearheaded by Dr. Marc Xu, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics at Monash University, aims to bridge this gap by fostering intergenerational connections within the Chinese communities in Ballarat and the greater Melbourne area.

Ballarat, known for its rich Chinese cultural heritage dating back to the Chinese migrants of the 1850s gold rush era, serves as the perfect backdrop for this project. Dr. Xu highlighted the project’s potential to enhance social cohesion and cultural understanding, not only within Ballarat’s significant Chinese-speaking population but also across multicultural Australia. The translation of Zhu Dake’s works, specifically “The Burning Maze” and “Big Barrel,” will offer new insights into Chinese cultural criticism and mythology, respectively. The latter, a mythological narrative set amidst the Central American rainforest and listed among Asia Weekly’s Top 10 Novels of 2022, showcases Dake’s ability to weave complex cultural tales that resonate on a global scale.

Assistant Lecturer in Chinese Studies, Hailan Paulsen, also emphasized the uniqueness of ‘Zhuspeak,’ a distinctive literary genre named after Zhu Dake. The project team’s direct engagement with Dake himself has provided them with unparalleled access to the author’s creative process and the nuances of his language use, which are crucial for the accurate translation and interpretation of his works.

The initiative has garnered significant support, notably from Mr. Haoliang Sun, Chairperson of the Xin Jin Shan Library, who initiated the project, and from Monash University’s Faculty of Arts, which provided a SEED grant to develop this undertaking. Beyond the translation of Zhu Dake’s texts, the project aims to establish a bilingual Chinese-English website and corpus, and to explore methodological issues surrounding the translation of his works, including the use of artificial intelligence.

This ambitious project not only highlights the depth of Chinese mythology and cultural exploration in Zhu Dake’s works but also promises to enrich the cultural fabric of Australia and the Asia-Pacific region. By translating these texts, Monash University’s linguists are not merely converting words from one language to another; they are opening a window to a world where the rich tapestry of Chinese literature can be appreciated and understood by a wider, more diverse audience.

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