The Art of War in retranslating Sun Tzu: Using cultural capital to outmatch the competition

Zhongwei Song*

*Corresponding author for this work

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    7 Citations (Scopus)


    The field of translation is a battleground on which, according to Bourdieu, cultural reproducers compete over cultural capital synonymous with higher social status and greater power to control texts and attribute meaning to them.On the surface, the struggles are about defending ideas and satisfying tastes, but they are also about how to control cultural capital and how to eventually convert it into economic capital.Against this background, this article explores the issue of retranslation of classic texts, using Bourdieu's sociological concepts to analyze why The Art of War is frequently chosen for retranslation, how a challenging translator qualifies himself as someone more capable than his predecessors of doing full justice to the classic text, and, more importantly, what strategies are used to compete against the most respected translators in so doing.The article concludes that retranslating classic texts is a social practice whereby individual translators are inclined to use as their common strategy all kinds of cultural capital (embodied, objectified, and institutionalized) to outmatch the competition not merely within textual practice but also well beyond it.

    Original languageEnglish
    Pages (from-to)176-190
    Number of pages15
    JournalTranslation and Interpreting Studies
    Issue number2
    Publication statusPublished - 2012


    • Classic texts
    • Cultural capital
    • Retranslation
    • Sun Tzu
    • The Art of War
    • Translation


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