A Displaced Western Heroine in China: Laura M. White’s Chinese Translation of Romola

Dr. Tin Kei Wong3

3The University of Adelaide, Adelaide, Australia

At the turn of the nineteenth century, American Protestant women believed in the superiority of the Anglo-Saxon race and hence their obligation to export the advanced American womanhood. Many of these women became missionaries and sailed to China to ‘save’ their ‘heathen sisters’ from ‘uncivilised’ social customs. Laura M. White (1867–1937), one of them, used translation as an avenue to bring ‘the spirit of womanhood’, essentially ‘the spirit of service’ in her own words, across the national boundaries. This paper examines this notion in Luanshi nühao (1923), White’s Chinese translation of George Eliot’s (1819–1880) Romola (1863). With examples from a comparative textual analysis, this paper illustrates how White rewrote the original image of the fifteenth-century Florentine heroine Romola to amplify her spirit of female sacrifice intensively. I argue that White’s translation displaces Romola and constructs this Western heroine in the Chinese context as a paragon of feminine virtue for May Fourth Chinese women. This is to convey the missionary translator’s key message — a successful nation is constructed upon women’s self-abnegation — intended for the May Fourth Chinese women activists who fought for gender equality.


Tin Kei Wong received her PhD degree at the University of Queensland. Her doctoral thesis studies the Chinese translations of English fiction by American female missionary Laura M. White. She will start her appointment as a Lecturer in Chinese Studies at the University of Adelaide from Feb 2020.


The Asian Studies Association of Australia (ASAA) is the peak body of university experts and educators on Asia in Australia. Established in 1976, we promote and support the study of Asia in Australian universities and knowledge of Asia among the broader community. Our membership is drawn mainly from academics and students, but also includes industry and government Asia experts. We take a strong interest in promoting knowledge about Asia in schools and in contributing to state and Commonwealth government policies related to Asia. We provide informed comment on Asia to a broad public through our bulletin, Asian Currents, and specialist research articles in our journal, Asian Studies Review. Four book series published under our auspices cover Southeast Asia, South Asia, East Asia and Women in Asia.

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