China and Inner Asia
Organized Panel Session
Translating Dai Jinhua is a maddening task. Riddled with reference points ranging from critical theories to pop culture, Dai Jinhua’s writings have a maze-like quality, making transferring them to another language feel like a futile brain exercise to make the “chaos” coherent. Translating Dai Jinhua is, at the same time, an exhilarating undertaking. It leads one to trace faithfully how she reveals the cultural unconscious of post-Mao China via close readings of films, literature, cultural phenomena, and social movements. Always with her finger on the pulse of post-socialist China’s involvement in global capitalist processes, Dai’s works showcase what the art of cultural critique can achieve—taking readers to task for our collective inaction in response to the crisis of our time, namely the failure of capitalism.
This paper uses “translation” as an analytical tool to cast light on Dai Jinhua’s methodological engagement with texts. It traces how Dai’s early exposure to critical theories via translation (by others and her own) in the 1980s has informed and shaped Dai’s approaches to reading texts in their specific contexts. Becoming attuned to how theory and texts travel from one context to another, Dai has tackled texts not only at face value but also through mis-readings, dislocations, and misrepresentations. As her writings become more available in English, this paper also asks how Anglophone audiences should engage with Dai Jinhua. If we learn anything from her, a short answer is that her writings should be interpreted and reinterpreted constantly with rigor and wit.