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Transforming Oriental classics into Western canon

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image of Frontiers of Literary Studies in China

As one of the greatest British translators and Sinologists of the 20th century, Arthur Waley (1889−1966) translated many Oriental classics and exerted a deep and profound impact on Western literary culture. His translations of classical Chinese poems won him the Queen’s Medal for Poetry in 1953 and were not only well received in the academic world but also highly praised by prominent contemporary poets such as Yeats, Pound, Woolf and Mervin. Indeed, his versions of Chinese poems were ranked highly as English poems in their own right and included in several popular anthologies and ESL textbooks. Furthermore, his English translations proved popular enough to be translated into various other Western languages and set to music. Both academic and commercial publishers competed for the right to publish his translations, which sold well and enjoyed high circulation in both university and public libraries. Thus, Western authors and scholars became accustomed to citing his translations, while poets looked to them as an important resource in their poetic compositions. In addition to the prevalence and canonization of Waley’s translations in the West, Waley’s translation is notable and significant when we contemplate the confluence between the East and West, the process of cultural globalization, and the role that literary translation played in this process.


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