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Packaging the product: a case study of verbal and non-verbal paratext in Chinese-English translation

Valerie Pellatt, Newcastle University


This paper argues that publishers and editors make certain assumptions about the readership of books and manipulate the translation and the readers by exploiting the non-verbal and verbal layout and presentation of paratextual elements. The term ‘paratranslation’ is used to denote the varied manifestations of translated paratext. The examples cited show how a publication is presented very differently to Chinese and non-Chinese readers. The article demonstrates how the domestic and anglophone audiences are targeted, and how a different message is sent across geo-political space.

The second part of the paper focuses on one work, a memoir. The book jacket and blurb, the illustrations, the prefaces, postscripts, chapter headings, and the layout differ between the source text and the target text. The reasons for this can only be speculated upon, as there is no explicit justification from the publisher. However, the nature of the differences shows very clearly what motives the editor and/or the publisher may have in mind when creating what appears to be a different book. While in the end the reader reads a similar narrative, he or she is primed by the visual aspects of the publication to expect and receive a different message.


Manipulation, paratext, verbal paratext, non-verbal paratext.

The roles of paratext and paratranslation

More than ever, the printed word is a commercial commodity. Publishers are now multi-national companies dealing in a variety of media. As we become more globalised, we seem to become more sensitive to difference, and localisation proceeds alongside globalisation (Cronin 2003: 86–87). Works of fiction and non-fiction that have to cross spatial or temporal culture boundaries are often perceived to require at least an introduction, if not other elements of paratext (Genette 1997), designed to give the target reader optimal background knowledge.

In this article, the focus will be on peritext, that is, “the zone that is the direct and principal (…) responsibility of the publisher” (Genette 1997: 16), rather than epitext, which is “any paratext not materially appended to the text” (Genette 1997: 344). Peritext is not only the responsibility of the publisher, but also a privilege: it enables propaganda, including justification and promotion of the author and the work; it may also subtly shift the focus of the work by suggestion. In this article, discussion will centre on visual, non-verbal aspects of the paratext. Among the aspects of paratext that Genette recognised, but did not elaborate upon, was illustration: he regarded it as “an immense continent” (1997: 406), justifiably, for its impact is as great as that of the written word, and as commentary, it has the potential to alter and shape readers’ perceptions. A consideration of the importance of the visual in publication of reading matter includes not only illustration, but elements such as layout, typeface and punctuation – what may be termed ‘mise-en-page’ (Stratford 2012: 152). Paratext becomes more complex when translated or when attached to a translation. Tahir-Gurçaglar takes issue with Genette’s suggestion (1997: 405) that translation is itself paratextual, but believes that “extratextual and paratextual material can reveal translational phenomena that are absent or only implicit in translated texts themselves” (2002: 44).

Translation is the primary and most obvious localisation activity which brings a work of literature to a new public who do not read the language of the source text. For centuries now, translators, editors and publishers have striven to exercise right judgements in translation of texts: they must find the right words in which to carry the text across to the new audience. Yet there are wider implications in translation of works destined for publication, that is, in the physical and ideological packaging of the text. Researchers at the University of Vigo have coined the term paratranslation “to analyse the time and space needed to translate any paratext that surrounds, wraps, accompanies, extends, introduces and presents the translated text” (Frías 2012: 118). As Frías points out, paratranslation informs and elucidates, revealing information about a range of manipulation strategies and about the translator’s subjectivity (Frías 2012: 118–119).

Genette defines paratext as “a zone between text and off-text, a zone not only of transition but also of transaction” (1997: 2). He points out that items such as the Preface may be addressed to only “certain readers” (Genette 1997: 5) and this is germane to our discussion of paratranslation. A translation is addressed to certain Other readers, and addressing a target text reader seems to require, rightly or wrongly, paratext which is different from the paratext addressed to a source text reader. The necessity, or otherwise, and the features of paratranslation are hotly debated. Frías, for example, insists that, if, as Genette argues, paratext is necessary to the reader, there cannot be “translation without corresponding paratranslation” (Frías 2012: 118). McRae champions the translator’s introduction or preface on the grounds that it will aid readers’ understanding and transmit the translator’s “fascination with and affection for the source culture” (2012: 72).

Paratranslation is not restricted to linguistic translation of paratext, but affects all verbal and non-verbal elements of the core source text. It may consist of omission, re-ordering of elements, re-design of layout and the insertion of additional explicatory elements and illustrations. All the verbal elements of paratext, such as introduction, preface, postscript, chapter headings, sub-headings, and chapter or section synopses require positioning and design, factors which may subtly alter the approach of a reader. Translation of these elements, that is, paratranslation, may radically alter the look and tone of the work and the meaning it conveys. “Judicious introduction” and “judicious interventions” (Lefevere 1996: 147), including the omission or re-ordering of both verbal and non-verbal components of a text, have the effect of adapting or toning down. Even what is not included, in other words, zero paratext and zero paratranslation, may be as powerful as the words they represent or mask.
Cheung makes a strong case for the power of what is not said or shown in translation. While she is not intentionally talking about paratext or paratranslation, it is clear from her analysis of early Chinese renderings of Uncle Tom’s Cabin that omission creates a different work, to the extent that omissions may be categorised (1998: 131). It could be said that omission itself is a strong paratextual statement: in the case of Lin Shu’s version of Uncle Tom’s Cabin, one category of omission is religious passages. The Christian faith that underpins Beecher Stowe’s writing is excluded from the Chinese version. Zero paratext may have various effects: in certain circumstances, omission is tantamount to censorship, or denial, and a chosen silence may become a forceful statement, as we will see in the case study. Furthermore, McRae’s notion (above) that a translator’s introduction may help the reader may only be true up to a point, for readers are intelligent beings, they understand context, and they bring with them background knowledge. A translator’s silence allows readers to bring their own understanding to the text.

The re-ordering of components of a text is tantamount to a statement of changed priorities. The text will have been laid out in certain ways decided by the editor or publisher, and there may be illustrations or visual decoration such as illuminated lettering and flourishes at the beginnings or endings of paragraphs, chapters or sections. Finally, the physical object is bound in a cover which of necessity is subject to design. The text producers may feel that a reading public unfamiliar with the source language and its related culture or history needs some guidance towards effective understanding of the text. They will also, perhaps more importantly, want to market their product: packaging sells the goods, and customers have to be targeted. In some cases they will have ideological motivations: they will be sending overt or covert political messages to the target reader.

Paratext and paratranslation can never be objective. They invariably add to or change the text in some way, and shape the reader’s perceptions of the text. Hermans exemplifies paratextual effect in translations of Hitler’s Mein Kampf and in Lin Shu’s statement disclaiming devotion to religion in his translation of Robinson Crusoe (2007: 57–60). These are overt examples of text producers’ desire to distance themselves from a text, or elements thereof, that they do not approve of. Text producers may be unconscious, blatant, or consciously subtle in the messages they send.

In analysing paratranslation and paratext, we need to understand not only the production processes, but also the reception processes. When processing the written word, readers apply schemata, based on knowledge they have already acquired, to new information. Carrell and Eisterhold note that both top-down and bottom-up processing are involved in reading: top-down processing is conceptually driven, while bottom-up processing is data-driven (1988: 76–77). The visual aspects of paratext and paratranslation with which we are concerned become the first bottom-up ‘triggers’ to which the reader is subjected. Graphic material such as the dust cover and illustrations could in some circumstances trigger schemata built on cultural stereotyping (see O’Sullivan 2005).

1.1 External paratext: the dust jacket

Publishers are at liberty to exercise choice over the design of a book cover. Certain styles carry connotations for the buying public. For example, even though we may not read them, we are acquainted with what is popularly known as the ‘airport novel’: even before we pick up the book, we have certain expectations about the content. More ‘serious’ books may be uniform and subdued in colour and presentation – the dust covers tell us to expect reading of a quality that we will want to keep on our bookshelves for many years. The so-called ‘plain cover’, bearing zero information, is usually a strong statement of forbidden or restricted material. Powers confirms the impact of cover design on marketing, in making the book attractive, and conveying important information (Powers 2003: passim); the cover may even be seen as “a symbolic stand-in for the book itself” (Powers 2003: 135). He notes that “a cover that is too attractive is thought to demean an important message” (Powers 2003: 6): jacket design contributes to the status and significance of the book. It is a crucial part of marketing, not only of original texts, but also of translations. Publishers may change the cover design of bestsellers over the years, in order to attract a new audience, and tasked with selling a strange book about an unknown culture, the publisher will endeavour to find a design that will appeal to a new reader. Julian Barnes, accepting the Booker prize in December 2011, paid tribute to the designer who had made his book “a beautiful object” (Hughes 2011: 2). Hughes notes that with the increasing popularity of electronic publications, “the book has become a precious object once more” (2011: 2).

O’Sullivan notes that in the case of translations of Italian detective novels, the covers “fortify” certain effects: there is a “contract of trust between reader, writer and publisher” to which paratext contributes (2005: 65). Gerber, in an article about translations of Australian literature, notes how translations into German are often packaged in a book jacket which is completely different from that of the source text (2012: 54). This may in part be due to copyright, but appears to have implications of cultural stereotyping: “For German audiences, a visual paratext that deploys instantly recognizable cultural stereotypes has been favoured and (…) fulfils certain presuppositions held by the market audience about Australia” (Gerber 2012: 55), or, at least, presuppositions that publishers or the translators believe the target audience to hold. Knowledge of and attitudes towards culture are, however, complex. A new edition of Plath’s The Bell Jar published in 2013 caused a furore (Topping 2013), as pundits, loyally defending Plath’s memory and reputation, rushed to condemn the choice of an image of a young woman applying lipstick as the cover design. Readers acquainted with the book would have known, of course, that the image was a fair reflection of much of the plot of Plath’s autobiographical novel.

It is possible that we read too much into cover design – designs may be random, fashionable, economical, or may simply reflect house or series style. Nevertheless, it is clear that the way a book is presented affects the purchaser’s decision, and will trigger his or her initial perceptions, and perhaps stereotypes, of the author, the content, and the narrative. We buy the book because the cover creates an image of what is inside, and we respond to that image.

1.2 Verbal external paratext


The title, displayed on the front cover and spine, the title page and the semi-title page, and sometimes also on the back of the book, is the powerful vanguard of the text. Genette attributes to the title four distinct functions: designating or identifying; description of the work (content and genre); connotative value; temptation (1997: 93).


The cover nowadays also carries explicit verbal signals about the content of the book, which many readers rely on to support their decision to buy. These signals include the blurb on the back and perhaps author bio-notes on the inside flap of the cover, part of the “graphic and iconographic mass” (Genette 1997: 55–56). The blurb gives selective, instantaneous, swift guidance, aiding that split-second decision at the check-out.


The blurb also acts as endorsement. Just as the well-known name at the end of the introduction or preface instils confidence in us, so does the name or title of the publication, and much more so if the name carries political or ideological weight.

1.3 Non-verbal internal paratext


In addition to the content information delivered by verbal paratext, readers need easily identifiable layouts that guide their reading. Stratford notes the deictic function of the ‘mise-en-page’, highlighting and linking sections visually (2012: 152).

Illustrations and decorations

Illustrations are the visual supports that help us to ‘get inside’ the protagonists and understand their location in time and space. Like the dust cover, the images and graphics in a publication are key to retrieving and building the background knowledge which will aid comprehension and inference.

1.4 Verbal internal paratext

Prefatorial material: preface, foreword, and introduction

Prefaces are generally much shorter than introductions. They are often allographic and laudatory: the preface writer will use this space to praise the work of the author or translator, and justify the publication in terms of time, fashion, relevance or sheer excellence. The distinction between preface and foreword, also likely to be allographic, is often blurred. Both preface and foreword, while shorter than the introduction, may have equal or greater clout, and the signature will act as endorsement.

The introduction, either authorial or allographic, may be quite substantial. Where the translated text is especially succinct, old, abstruse or otherwise impenetrable, the introduction may be larger than the text it introduces. An introduction will supply essential historical and biographical information, will set out any relevant political background, will discuss characteristics of the text which pertain to specific aspects of the source culture, and will almost certainly go into some depth of discussion regarding style, discourse, linguistic difficulties or translational problems.

As we noted above, some translators are eager to promote the use of the translator’s preface or introduction (McRae 2012: 72), the most visible and transparent element of paratranslation. Some readers eschew introductions to source texts, but welcome introductions to translated texts (discussion with Frances Weightman July 2010). Obviously, while providing helpful background information, the introduction also provides ample opportunity for the expression of political and personal bias, and in academic fields, a chance to exhibit scholarly knowledge. An introduction may become a scholarly work in its own right, a part of the body of metatext or literary criticism in a given field. The introduction can act as a simple map, signposting the different chapters or sections of the book, yet it is also an opportunity for the translator to win over the reader to a certain viewpoint.

Chapter headings/contents pages

These crucial elements in the structure and layout of the text are categorised by Genette as intertitles or internal titles, and “make sense only to an addressee who is already involved in reading the text” (1997: 294). While consisting of words or characters, the title is a distinct component of the visual design. The title of the whole work is the apex of a hierarchy of titles which form the structure of the whole. Each one acts as a signpost to the text that follows (Pellatt and Liu 2010: 21). A chapter heading’s reduces the content of the chapter into one short clause or phrase. Its function is to indicate the content to the reader, to trigger an appropriate schema and set the scene for the reading which is to follow. Titles are the first step in localisation: a superb example may be found in Alex Bellos’s recently published Alex’s Adventures in Numberland: Dispatches from the Wonderful World of Mathematics, which was published in the USA as Here’s Looking at Euclid: a Surprising Excursion through the Astonishing World of Math (Bellos 2010). The UK English title and the USA English title suggest differences between two apparently similar cultures: while Bellos’s original allusion is to nineteenth-century literature, the translated title alludes to twentieth-century film.

Chapter synopses

These are now rare, but when they do occur have considerable impact, and are a kind of extra-long sub-title, enabling the translator to summarise the chapter for the benefit of the reader. A synopsis can be a potent tool, for it depends on the judgement of the translator in selecting what he or she considers salient aspects of the text. Like the title, it gives a reduced version of the text, but it is more than a signpost. It is sufficiently extensive to highlight some parts of the text and omit others, and thus inevitably reflects the approach and attitudes of whoever has written it. Like the title or sub-title, a chapter synopsis will be presented in a font distinct from that of the body of the text.


Ideally, footnotes and endnotes provide information which is relevant to the main text, but not central: information which takes the reader beyond and behind the text. Footnotes and endnotes added by the translator appear not to be part of the text, but subtly present an altered view. In both the case of the source author and that of the translator, they illustrate their perception of the extent of knowledge of the target language reader; they frequently suggest vanity — the translator is simply displaying his or her knowledge in adding notes which are at best tangential to the central text; they may be symptomatic of insecurity: the translator is not quite sure which solution should be used. Paratranslators may, conversely, reduce or modify the information originally provided, by removing end- or footnotes or displacing the information contained in the notes.


While the preface or introduction may prime the reader, the epilogue or postscript is a variety of preface (Genette 1997: 237) which would appear to have a greater value to the reader than a preface: by the time the reader reads the postscript, he or she will have read the core text, and will be in a better position to understand, judge or interact with the prefatorial material (ibid.).

2 Repackaging: the paratranslation of Zhao Ziyang’s memoir

Two books, published in 2009, provide an example of the manipulation of verbal and non-verbal paratext by means of paratranslation. They are改革歷程:完整錄音,還原歷史 by 赵紫阳 [The Course of Reform: the Complete Recordings, the Original History by Zhao Ziyang, published in Hong Kong by New Century]; and the English translation of the book, Prisoner of the State: the Secret Journal of Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang published by Simon and Schuster. In 1989, at the time of the Tiananmen Incident in China, Premier Zhao Ziyang tried to mediate between the protesting students and the Chinese leadership. At the time, he was a figure of world renown, as he appeared to hold the key to a more liberal, open China. He was placed under house arrest. During his period of captivity, he produced an audio-diary recorded on cassette tapes, which, after his death, was transcribed. The diary provides insights into the political background, and the events as they unfolded in Tiananmen Square. The two publications are edited versions, in Chinese and English, of the audio-diaries.

The Chinese and English versions of the book appear to have been published more or less simultaneously, by overlapping editorial teams, headed by Bao Pu. These ‘twin’ volumes constitute a complex work, stemming from audio-journals transcribed and edited in Chinese, then translated and edited in English. Even prior to translation the work is multi-layered in its passage through oral recording to transcription, editing, translation and further editing.

2.1 The cover: outer packaging

The Chinese version (paperback) is in muted sepia tones, and shows a portrait-style photo of Zhao speaking at a microphone. The title and author’s name are pushed to the top of the layout, and the subtitle and names of the contributors of the Foreword (‘forward’ in the front papers) and Introduction are pushed to the bottom, so as to give an unencumbered picture of the man. While the pose is not that of a funerary photograph, the colouring is. The back of the cover is in similar colours, and depicts two dew-covered magnolia blossoms. Above the blossoms is the English subtitle of the book The Secret Journal of Zhao Ziyang. This version of the source text cover appears to be the only Chinese one to date (Bing).

The English version (hardback) is predominantly red. The front cover has as background the Chinese flag, with relatively small photos of Zhao, Deng Xiaoping and Peng Zhen. Deng and Peng are backgrounded, and wear ‘Mao’ jackets; Zhao is central, wearing a Western suit and tie, and is picked out in black and white against the red. We learn more about the significance of the clothes in the preface, for they illustrate the vestimentary regimes that parallel political regimes (Finnane 2007: 15): Deng and Peng apparently representing the Maoist era, Zhao’s suit representing his allegiance to reform. The title and author’s name are in bright white and yellow, and take up just over half the space of the cover. The back cover, still in red, is the by now clichéd photo of a young man trying to stop the forward movement of tanks during the Tiananmen events in 1989.

The muted, two-tone Chinese cover suggests respect for the late statesman, and recognition of his life. It exudes traditional Chinese understatement and discretion. The brash red, yellow and white English version seems to invoke the politics of China, and not so subtly, the reactions of ‘Western’ observers to the events of 1989. Are the editors expecting the English-reading audience to be more politically motivated, or are they simply targeting the politically motivated? Either way, the attention-grabbing cover of the English translation is very distinct from the understated respect of the Chinese cover.

Dust-cover design changes. At the time of writing in 2013, there appear to be seven versions of the dust cover of Prisoner of the State (Bing). The English versions are all similar in design, with yellow stars on a red background (suggesting the Chinese national flag), and the same image of Zhao Ziyang placed centrally. Peng and Deng have been removed from one edition and shaded out in another. There is one English edition which shows a standing Zhao, without Peng and Deng, and with the English title back-translated into Chinese. Generally speaking, there is no significant change in design, except for the removal of Peng and Deng, a move perhaps made to appease the Chinese authorities. The Amazon website shows only four versions, and it is possible that some of the seven covers are pirate editions. The Chinese source text still appears in only one format, as described above.

The title

Titles aimed at an audience from a different culture are regularly reconfigured. The translation of Zhao’s memoirs provides a perfect example of perceived, received wisdom about the expectations of the foreign audience. The Chinese title, 改革歷程完整錄音,還原歷史 could be translated ‘The Course of Reform: complete recordings, the real history.’ The English version Prisoner of the State cannot be said to be a translation of the title, but rather a transcreation. It is not unreasonable to suppose that the motive for this re-writing is sensationalism. The subtitle 完整錄音,還原歷史 [Complete Recordings, the Original History] is translated as ‘The Secret Diaries of Chinese Premier Zhao Ziyang.’ The English subtitle contains the word ‘secret,’ and perhaps the diaries were secret at the time of writing, but the editors have not felt it necessary to use this word in the Chinese title or subtitle. When we read the preface to the Chinese version, which is absent from the English version, we see that the diaries were not so secret (see below). Moreover, one can only suppose that the editors think that the target language readers do not know that Zhao was a Chinese premier, why otherwise would they add this rather superfluous information? The word ‘secret’ appeals to our curiosity — it constitutes intellectual titillation.

The cover flaps

The flaps of the covers are used differently in the two versions. In the Chinese version, the front flap is blank, and the back flap is used for a note explaining that Zhao’s children planted the magnolia tree depicted on the back cover in memory of him in 2005, an obvious nod to Confucian principles of filial piety. The Chinese cover sustains the minimal, understated style even on the flaps, giving the impression of a serious, respectful work. The English version, however, uses the flap space to the full. The front flap notes begin: “How often can you peek behind the curtains of one of the most secretive governments in the world?” This is overtly sensationalist and political. It targets China-watchers and opponents of the regime. The notes continue in this vein. The back flap is used for brief bio-notes on the translators and editors, who are described as a “human rights activist,” an “eye witness to Tiananmen crackdown” and an American journalist for Time magazine and Wall Street Journal. The former constitute an endorsement in terms of somewhat anti-China sentiments, and the latter constitutes an endorsement in terms of the authority of an international publication.

The flaps and the cover are chosen as sites for key words which will prime the reader to expect a certain type of story: ‘secret,’ ‘secretive,’ ‘peek,’ and ‘eye witness’ all suggest revelations of wrongdoing, or at least of undercover, or suspicious, activity. The cover of the book has been exploited by the publishers to offer, in Genette’s term, “temptation” (1997: 93).


The back cover carries a blurb, but in each version it is completely different. The Chinese version has two- and three-line excerpts from the Foreword, the Introduction and the Epilogue (i.e. meta-text by persons other than the author). The English version carries a ten-line excerpt from the translation of the central text (ostensibly by the author), which has a tenuous connection with the tank photo, mentioning the students and the fate that was in store for them. This quotation is centred, and picked out in bright white print. While the Chinese source blurb centres on Zhao, his book, and China, the blurb on the English version centres on the student protest.

2.2 Non-verbal paratext: the illustrations

All the illustrations in both Chinese and English versions are black and white photographs. This is probably not a choice, since until 1979 China was not a wealthy country, and personal and family photos would generally have been black and white. In the Chinese version there are 24 photos of Zhao, alone and with other people, and in the English version there are 13, as shown in the table below:

Chinese version only

English version only

Common to both versions

Zhao with Heilongjiang farmers in field in 1980

Zhao at 19 years old, already a county administrator

Zhao playing golf (x 2)

With Heilongjiang farmers in meetings in 1980

With Reagan under umbrellas at Whitehouse

Seated, in discussion with Deng at time of 13th Party Congress

Shaking hands with Deng Xiaoping

With Gorbachev, both gesturing ‘after you’1

‘Crackdown’ meeting 1989

Shaking hands with Chen Yun

With grandson on outing, with guards in attendance

With students, holding megaphone 19.5.89*

Group with Hu Yaobang, Deng Xiaoping, Li Xiannian, Deng Yingchao, Peng Zhen

Seated, under house arrest, with caption referring to secret tapes

With wife and grandchild playing Chinese chess under house arrest 1992

With Reagan at Whitehouse fireside

Playing golf under house arrest 1993

Shaking hands with Thatcher at Joint Declaration 1984

3-generation family group 2005

View of hall at 13th Party Congress

Zhao speaking at 13th Party Congress

Passing note to Deng at 13th Party Congress

Group with Yao Yilin, Qiao Shi, Li Peng, Hu Qili

With general public in Weihai

With Gorbachev*

Family group under house arrest 1990

Family group under house arrest 1991

Reading in 1994

Front gate of No. 6 Fuqiang Hutong (location of house arrest)

Portrait-style photo, 1989

Table 1. Comparative list of illustrations

With such small numbers of photos it is not possible to carry out any objective, meaningful analysis, but at first glance it would appear that the photos in the Chinese version are predominantly of Zhao in the role of statesman, meeting other leaders, meeting the general public or engaged in public speaking. The first photo in the set shows him with farmers in a field, and alludes very strongly to similar pictures of Mao Zedong. In the English version, the majority of the photos show him alone or with his family. The first photo is of him as a young man of 19. The last shows him as an elderly man seated in his study, thus giving a rather more biographical slant to the set of photos.

In the Chinese version the photos are front matter, so the first page we turn to shows Zhao as a leader among the people. In the English version, the photos are placed in the centre of the book, so our first visual cue to Zhao is delayed, and when it comes it is more personal. The visual priming of the reader of the Chinese version is through images of a traditional, dignified statesman, while that of the reader of the English version is through sensational pictures of others, for example, the young man facing the tank, and personal images of Zhao.

2.3 Layout

In spite of its overtly Oriental cover, inside, the Chinese version seems to be hinting at ‘westernness,’ having its chapter titles set out horizontally. The English version, with its overtly sensationalist cover, inside, seems to be hinting at ‘Chineseness,’ with its chapter headings set out vertically. This horizontal-vertical contrast which presents the chapter titles in the opposite way to that which one would expect, could be a manifestation of Occidentalism on the part of the Chinese version, and Orientalism on the part of the English version. The editor, Bao Pu, is an educated Chinese, well-attuned to American culture. He could be consciously using both approaches to entice the two target readerships.

2.4 Front matter and end matter

It should be noted, perhaps obviously, that while the main text was created by Zhao Ziyang in audio format, it has been transcribed, collated and edited as a book by other people. This is recognised on the frontispiece of the Chinese version: “編者按:本書正文中的標題、副標題以及全部註解為編者所加.” [Editor’s note: the titles, subtitles in the main text of this book and all the notes have been added by the editor.] This editorial note is not given a page of its own in the English version, but appears embedded in the English Preface, and is much longer, explaining that in order to avoid repetition and for the sake of readability, Zhao’s own text has been rearranged and trimmed (Ignatius, Preface: xi). Ignatius also explains that material has been added “to provide added clarity” (ibid.).

The structure of the two versions is as follows:

Chinese version

English version

Preface 序

by Du Daozheng杜導正: 歷史是人民寫的 (History is written by the people)

Preface [no specific title]

by Adi Ignatius


by Bao Tong鮑 彤: 趙紫陽錄音回憶的歷史背景 (The historical background to Zhao Ziyang’s tape-recorded memoirs)

Foreword [no specific title]

by Roderick MacFarquhar

Epilogue 代後記

by Roderick MacFarquhar, translated Bao Pu

Epilogue [no specific title]

by Bao Pu

Appendix 1

Stand-alone recorded material by Zhao


Appendix 2

Speech by Zhao at 1989 AGM of the Asia Development bank

Appendix 3

Impromptu speech 19th May 1989 in Tiananmen Square

Appendix 4

Self-explanatory speech made at the 4th session of the 13th Party  Congress

Biography of Zhao

Biography of Zhao

‘who was who’

‘who was who’

Table 2. Comparative structure of the source and target texts

It can be seen from the table that there is major re-packaging, indeed reversal, of the front and end matter. The Chinese preface by Du Daozheng, who worked in Zhao’s ministry, does not appear in the English version. It is a model Preface, explaining the scope, intention, and method of the work. Du claims that it was he who instigated the journals in the face of Zhao’s initial reluctance, and that a group of three other colleagues were involved in taking Zhao’s dictation. Shortly thereafter, another colleague provided a tape recorder and tapes. Zhao had exclusive personal and political knowledge and experience of this period, and Du wanted him to transmit this to later generations. In addition to the scope, intention and method, Du adds some intimate reflections on Zhao, and makes the point that only the people can judge; only the people can write history. None of this appears in the English version. The appendices, Zhao’s speeches, which would be officially sanctioned pronouncements, are all removed from the English version, depriving non-Chinese readers of significant contextual material.

The preface of the English version, by Time magazine journalist Adi Ignatius, does not appear in the Chinese version. Crucially, Ignatius’s take on the ‘method’ is that the taped diaries were a secret even from Zhao’s immediate family. Bao Pu has acknowledged the assistance that Du mentions in his Chinese Preface (Canaves 2009). In addition to the “intention and method” roles of the Preface, Ignatius’s Preface functions as a scene-setting instrument, giving anecdotal glimpses of the ups and downs of Zhao’s political life prior to his premiership. Ignatius goes further and uses the Preface to bring in China issues only current after Zhao’s death, such as SARS and Charter 08. It is arguable that this kind of material is not entirely relevant to a translation of Zhao’s diaries. As noted above, the re-structuring of the whole work is justified in this Preface.

The Introduction to the Chinese version is written by Bao Tong, the father of Bao Pu, the main editor of the work. Bao Tong himself was imprisoned for his support of the reform movement, and knew Zhao intimately. His Introduction lays some emphasis on the continuity of Chinese history, and on the importance of the Chinese people in judging that history. It contains some extremely frank views on the causes and effects of twentieth-century Chinese history, and goes into some detail on numbers, for example of deaths from famine. Yet, at the same time, it shows loyalty to the Chinese people and the Chinese state, only laying blame on the Party. In the last 30 years, information about the history of the years of the Great Leap forward and the Cultural Revolution has been consistently excised from the Chinese consciousness for political reasons. The omission of Bao Tong’s introduction may be to do with this prevailing attitude, or may be based on an assumption that foreigners would not have an understanding of the period.

Bao Pu’s Epilogue, which only appears in the English version, lays more emphasis on the personalities in the course of reform, and is more evaluative: he uses expressions such as “it was a rocky period” (2009: 277) and talks of “rising stars” and “squabbling.” He frequently uses inverted commas to highlight terms such as “class enemies,” “capitalist” and “reform,” all of which draw the reader’s attention, and even seem to belittle the political language of the pre-reform period.

The Foreword to the English version is by Roderick MacFarquhar. This is translated by Bao Pu as the Epilogue of the Chinese version. The transposition from Foreword to Epilogue is noted. While the content of MacFarquhar’s contribution remains more or less unaltered, the repositioning creates an entirely different function for it. As a Foreword, it would serve to prime the reader, but relegated to the end of the book, becomes an afterthought or comment for a reader who has already formed his or her own schema.

2.5 Footnotes

While the Chinese version carries numerous footnotes, the English version transfers the information in the footnotes to parenthesised comment in the body of the text; for example, in Chapter 7, a note on Nobel prize-winner Tsung-Dao Lee (李政道). This example, omitting the date of Lee’s birth and his academic affiliation, is typical of the English parenthetic notes, which tend to be somewhat reduced in spite of Ignatius’s claim that material has been added for the sake of clarity (see above).

The editor/translator of the English version has, however, chosen to add footnotes on, for example, the Cultural Revolution and the May Fourth Movement, events which might be general knowledge to readers interested in China. The omission of Bao Tong’s Introduction and the addition of unnecessary notes might suggest that the editor has misjudged the knowledge base of the non-Chinese reader.

2.6 Chapter Synopses

There are no chapter synopses in the Chinese version. In the English version each chapter is headed by at least a paragraph, and sometimes a page of comment and summary of the chapter. These additional chunks of paratranslation are quite unlike the innocent ‘intertitles’ described by Genette (above). They have the effect of adding another layer of editorial comment to the text: for example, to say that the events of 1989 constituted “one of the defining moments of Zhao Ziyang’s career” (2009: 3) is at best an understatement, and at worst reiterating Zhao’s own message. Are these synopses designed for people who do not want to read the whole text? Or is this a misguided attempt to explain Zhao’s message, which is, in fact, crystal clear?

2.7 Acknowledgments

These appear only in the English version. First and foremost, the editors acknowledge Bao Tong (Bao Pu’s father), Zhao’s staunch supporter and former aide, who was imprisoned for siding with Zhao. This compensates to some extent for omitting Bao Tong’s Introduction. After appropriate thanks to numerous editors and advisors in the publishing process, the last words of the book are reserved for the “many who must remain unnamed who have worked behind the scenes from inside China” (2009: 306).


This paper offers an initial analysis of the source and target versions of the verbal and non-verbal paratext of one text. The evidence reviewed in this paper shows to what extent editors and translators paratranslate: they re-arrange, change and omit verbal and non-verbal paratext to address different audiences from, I argue, potentially stereotypical viewpoints.

The visual presentation of the Chinese text and its English translation differ radically, apparently in order to adapt the work for an audience from a different cultural and educational background. The presentation of the Chinese text in muted colours, with minimal blurb, with political rather than personal photos and without chapter synopses or footnotes could be interpreted as an Orientalist approach. The presentation of the English translation appears to target an audience which is attracted by brash colours, sweeping value judgements rather than facts, and images of a personal rather than a political nature. This could be interpreted as an Occidentalist approach. Both volumes reflect Gerber’s observation that cover art and blurb text show that books are marketed according to “dominant ideas about the source culture” (2012: 45).

In a similar vein, the illustrations inside the book differ fundamentally: in the Chinese version Zhao is depicted as statesman, a man of the Chinese people, interacting with Chinese leaders; in the English version, he is depicted as a family man and a career man.

Do translator-editors have a right or responsibility to make substantial changes to the presentation of different versions of the text on the basis of their assumptions about the respective readerships? Here we appear to be dealing with what Lefevere calls “hidden makers of what to many people does indeed become a living canon” (1996: 140). Lefevere is talking about anthologists, but editors have the same privilege of selection as anthologists. The target audience is unaware of the parameters of the source text: the text that they see becomes the authoritative text in their reading community.

It is notable that Bao Tong’s Introduction is missing from the target version. It is a very frank statement, and it is tempting to speculate on possible motives for protection, or at least for concealing certain things from the target audience for political reasons. While his views are available to Chinese readers in Hong Kong (the book may be somewhat less accessible to mainland readers, since it is in traditional characters), there may be some reluctance on the part of the editors to reveal all to a ‘Western’ audience. This is an example of zero paratext or paratranslation as a powerful statement of denial, in this case, possibly intended to shore up the notion that the diaries were ‘secret,’ or to conceal the atrocities of the mid-twentieth century. There is no substantial evidence of Occidentalist attitude, but the apparent dumbing down of the entire paratranslation, in terms of layout and sequence, suggests a degree of condescension on the part of the editors.

The multi-layered nature of Zhao’s source text, together with the translation, begs a further question. Tymoczko makes the point that it is becoming increasingly difficult to “keep the source text and the target text distinct” (2009: 402). Given that, in this case, both versions have been edited by the same person, Bao Pu, readers might ask to what extent writers and editors plan a target language version of the text in advance, and indeed, whether that target version is dominant in their planning. How often now are publications multi-lingual creations, rather than straightforward source and target texts?

When the target text appears more or less simultaneously with the source text, and is re-packaged to produce an extremely different image, we might speculate whether the editor’s intention is actually for the target text to be regarded as the authoritative original (Hermans 2007: 19–21): in other words, was it aimed at an English-reading audience all along? Is the Chinese-reading audience considered of secondary importance?

This case study provides some evidence of a comprehensive manipulation of the presentation of a source text to an Other audience. It shows how an editor or publisher may use visual and cultural stereotypes to appeal to the Other audience, and at the same time patronisingly restrict the amount of information supplied. The editor of Zhao’s memoirs admits that changes have been made for the benefit of the target reader. It may be tempting to see this approach as an example of the new Orientalism, “a repackaged Western superiority (…) a new kind of Orientalist discourse which is created by none other than the Chinese themselves” (Mao 2009: 269). On the other hand, their approach to the packaging of the English version seems somewhat Occidentalist. I would argue that readers of what purports to be the same book in English could be provided with a text which has undergone minimal paratextual modification in/to its target text version to which they can bring their own knowledge, schemata and judgement.

The two complementary volumes described above are packaged in stereotypically auto-Orientalist and Occidentalist fashion: the Chinese version presenting an understated, dignified, slightly romantic cover image perhaps representing the Chinese editor’s wish to present Zhao Ziyang as a typical, revered Chinese statesman; the English version presenting brash and sensational images which perhaps represent the way China sees ‘the West.’ Inside the two volumes, paratextual items have been re-positioned, deleted and added according to an apparent auto-Orientalist/Occidentalist editorial agenda. The two volumes exemplify Carrier’s observation that:

[A]cademic anthropologists and the people they study construct stylized images of the occident and orient in the context of complex social, political and economic conflicts and relationships. (…) these stylized images are not inert products. Rather, they have social, political, and economic uses of their own, for they shape people’s perceptions, justify policies and so influence people’s actions (1995: 11).
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PellattValerie Pellatt is a Senior Lecturer in Chinese Translation and Interpreting in Newcastle University School of Modern Languages. She is a co-author with Eric T. Liu of Thinking Chinese Translation.

Note 1:
In these cases, there are two different photographs, but they appear to have been taken at the same event, only split-seconds apart.
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