Travelling Back via Translation: Alai, Lijiang and Minority Literature


  • Duncan Poupard The Chinese University of Hong Kong



Naxi script, minority literature, travel writing, Alai


Abstract: Tibetan author Alai’s Chinese essay, Yi di shui jingguo Lijiang (一滴水经过丽江 [A drop of water passes through Lijiang]) is a piece of travel writing that describes the city of Lijiang (home to the Naxi minority of Yunnan province) and its environs from the perspective of an anthropomorphic drop of water. The essay has been subsequently translated back into the minority Naxi language of Lijiang by Naxi scholar Mu Chen, and both versions are presented as a lapidary inscription in a tourist square. Writing travel from the reverse perspective, i.e. translating the writing from the minority perspective of the place being travelled, is perhaps a way of counteracting the genre’s inherently epistemic appropriation of the ‘other’. I believe that a comparative approach can act as an antidote against the monolingual, ethnocentric tropes of travel writing. In this essay it will be observed that through back-translation of the travel writing into the Naxi culture being observed, cultural specifics can be reintroduced into a text, and a minority culture can reclaim the power to speak for itself.


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