TM2: Boya Li

Translating Feminism in ‘Systems’: The Representation of Women’s Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights in the Chinese Translation of Our Bodies, Ourselves

Boya Li
Institute of Feminist and Gender Studies, Faculty of Social Sciences, University of Ottawa

Abstract: From an interdisciplinary perspective, my research examines the travel of a feminist health book from the ‘centre’ of knowledge production to the ‘minor’ context. It both acknowledges the contribution that feminist translators made to local feminist knowledge and the challenges facing them during the process of translating and adapting Western knowledge for their local context.
Methodologically, my study is based on comparative textual analysis, discourse analysis and oral history. I examine the translation of Our Bodies, Ourselves (OBOS), a collection of American women’s testimonials on their sexual health and reproduction, into the Mandarin Chinese language. As a successful feminist story in the US, OBOS has been translated into different languages and introduced to different non-US contexts (Davis 2007). Its influence has expanded to many minority cultures both within and outside the Western world.
Chinese women had been marginalized in the production of public health discourse, but the opening up of Chinese society in the late 1970s created new opportunities for their self-awareness and self-organization with regard to sexual and reproductive health (Min 2017). From 1993, a Chinese women’s organization started working on a Chinese adaptation of OBOS in the hope that it will be a great resource for Chinese women in a time of transition. The translated personal narratives in OBOS offer a women-centered approach to sexual health and reproduction issues in China. However, problems such as the social taboo on dissident sexualities and changes in local gender and health politics affected its production. When the book was published after 5 years, it has been ‘sanitized’—certain material has been removed. My study tries to determine how well the feminist tone of OBOS was passed on by the 1998 Chinese edition under various constraints.
Drawing from feminist and translation theories, this study proposes to uncover how feminist discourse becomes globalized through translation and the challenges that emerge from the local context into which feminism is translated.

Bio: Boya Li pursues a Master’s Degree in Feminist and Gender Studies at the University of Ottawa, and her research project examines the translation and dissemination of Western feminist discourse in other social and linguistic contexts. She obtained an Honours Bachelor’s Degree in Gender/Women’s Studies at the University of Victoria in 2016. Her research includes include the impact of globalization on knowledge production, feminist translation theories and practices, gender and reproduction politics in Mainland China, and translation as a social phenomenon.