Surviving in violent conflicts: Chinese interpreters in the second Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945)

  • Ting Guo

    Student thesis: Doctoral ThesisDoctor of Philosophy


    In the past decade interpreting studies has gradually adopted a sociological perspective, taking into account social and cultural factors that affect interpreters actual behaviour in different settings. However, there have been few studies of interpreters practices as forms of social interaction, especially of the ways in which they become professionals and operate as social agents. Drawing upon Pierre Bourdieus theory of practice, this thesis aims to offer a contribution to the history of interpreting by examining the professional training and practices of Chinese interpreters during the Second Sino-Japanese War (1931-1945).
    On the basis of Bourdieus concept of field, this thesis reconstructs three competing fields dominated by three political and military powers: the Chinese Kuomingtang (KMT) government, the Chinese Communist Party, and the Japanese forces. By investigating interpreters training, employment and practices within these three fields, the thesis examines how the interpreting profession was affected by shifts in foreign policy, and how interpreters professional habitus were formed through their training and interaction with other social agents and institutions. It then highlights the interpreters active position-taking in pursuit of individual interests by examining particular interpreters career development through case studies of two interpreters, Xia Wenyun and Yan Jiarui, who served the Japanese forces and the Chinese KMT government, respectively.
    The study shows that the practices of the interpreters were broader than the scope of language transfer. In order to survive violent conflicts, interpreters often intertwined their interpreting with other political and professional activities. For them, interpreting was not a mere linguistic practice, but a strategy for self-protection, a route to power, or just a chance for a better life. Frequently crossing social, political and military borders, interpreters sometimes played a crucial cushioning role by protecting local residents from loss of life and property during the war.
    Date of AwardJul 2009
    Original languageEnglish
    SupervisorKathryn E Sturge (Supervisor)


    • professional habitus
    • embodiment
    • military interpreter
    • interpreter
    • socialization
    • Chinese interpreting history

    Cite this