To “Face the Powder” or “Powder the Face”? Contemporary Metaphor Theory and the Art of Chinese to English Translation

Published In

Metaphor and Symbol

Document Type


Publication Date



In this article, we examine how cognitive metaphor theories might contribute to the theory and practice of poetry translation. We focus on translations from Chinese to English by Xu Yuanchong, both because he is regarded as one of China’s premier translators and because he has published a detailed theoretical framework and justification for his translations. We argue that Xu’s theory and practice of translation is based on a traditional approach to figurative language in which metaphor is regarded as purely decorative, adding no independent meaning. By identifying underlying conceptual metaphors and potential perceptual simulations in both the original Chinese and Xu’s translations, we show that the metaphors Xu substitutes for those in the original poem (often in place of sparser, more ambiguous language), changes and limits potential meanings in ways that are sometimes subtle but in other cases quite striking. We argue that contemporary cognitive linguistics theories, particularly Conceptual Metaphor Theory, and Perceptual Simulation Theory, can contribute in important ways both to creating and to evaluating translations of Chinese poetry into English.


© 2020 Taylor & Francis Group



Persistent Identifier