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Monash experts help decode Chinese text at Ballarat library

Monash University 2 mins read

Monash University experts are set to embark on a groundbreaking translation project centred around the works of esteemed Chinese scholar and cultural critic, Zhu Dake. Supported by the Xin Jin Shan Library in Ballarat, the largest library in the southern hemisphere, this initiative marks the first-ever English translation of Dake's writings.

While Zhu Dake enjoys widespread popularity in China, the English-speaking world, particularly Australians of Chinese heritage who are not fluent in Chinese, often encounter barriers due to the intricate cultural references and language-specific metaphors present in his texts.

Dr. Marc Xu, Senior Lecturer in Linguistics and lead researcher of the project, said the project will foster intergenerational connections within the Chinese communities of Ballarat and Greater Melbourne.

"Ballarat boasts a vibrant Chinese cultural legacy, stemming from the descendants of the Chinese gold rush migrants of the 1850s. Many have a deep interest in Chinese culture and mythology, but language barriers have hindered their access to the works of this prolific author until now," Dr. Xu said.

He further underscored the project's role in enhancing social cohesion within the Ballarat community and across multicultural Australia by promoting the study of Chinese language and literature, particularly given the significant Chinese-speaking population in Ballarat dating back to the gold rush era.

The project, Exploring the Texts, Contexts, and Paratexts of Zhu Dake’s Works, will focus on translating two of Dake's notable works: ‘The Burning Maze’ and ‘Big Barrel’. ‘The Burning Maze’ is one of Dake's earliest works on Chinese cultural criticism. ‘BIg Barrel’ is one of his latest works completed during the COVID-19 pandemic, and is on the list of Asia Weekly’s Top 10 Novels of 2022. It is a mythological story based on the Stone of Tizoc in the midst of the rainforest in Central America.

Co-investigator Hailan Paulsen, an Assistant Lecturer in Chinese Studies, highlighted the project's aim to decode ‘Zhuspeak,’ a distinctive literary genre named after the author's surname.

“We’ve had the extraordinary opportunity to engage directly with Zhu Dake himself, gaining invaluable insights into his works and his masterful use of language to convey cultural nuances,” said Ms. Paulsen. 

Both researchers express their gratitude for the tremendous support from the Chairperson, Mr. Haoliang Sun of the Xin Jin Shan Library, who initiated the project, and the Faculty of Arts of Monash University for providing a SEED grant for developing the current project.

Beyond translation and textual analysis of Zhu Dake’s mythological work, the researchers intend to create a bilingual Chinese-English website and a corpus. They also plan to explore methodological issues related to AI and human translation of Zhu Dake’s distinctive literary genre.

Zhu Dake’s profound exploration of Chinese mythology and culture will offer communities across Australia and the Asia-Pacific a deeper understanding of the intricate tapestry of Chinese literature.


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