Anachronic Translations:
Urbanisme’s First Chinese Translation and Its Afterlives

Masters thesis, Columbia University, GSAPP, 2016

Timeline showing the years in which major architectural book translations (from European languages into Chinese) were published as well as the key built works completed in China, against the history of translation in China and other landmark historical events.

This thesis focuses on Lu Yu-Tsun’s 1936 translation of Le Corbusier’s The City of Tomorrow (from Frederick Etchells’s English translation), during a time when Chinese book translations of the architectural or urban planning genre were unheard of.

The cover of Le Corbusier's Urbanisme (1925) in French. The book was later translated into The City of Tomorrow and Its Planning by Frederick Etchells in 1929.

Much attention and care is invested in the reproduction of Le Corbusier's book, evident in the foldout pages of Lu Yu Tsun's translation of The City of Tomorrow (1936).

The bulk of the thesis is structured into four main chapters, each forming its own individual arc which inspects this cultural remnant from four distinct angles. The first chapter, “The First Translation,” asks why this book might have attracted translation at that particular moment in history. The second chapter, “Forensic Analysis,” looks for clues in the visual, material and textual elements, and asks how they have been remolded through the entire production process, and what new meanings have emerged from it.

Lu Yu Tsun observing the model of his underground bunker design in his Taiwan studio, circa 1950. The bunker was a secret project commissioned by Chiang Kai-shek in anticipation of Chinese Communist invasion. The constructed bunker was discovered in 2011 in Taipei.

The third chapter, “An Operative Theory,” analyzes the connection between the translation and the prevailing intellectual concerns during its era; and the last chapter, “The Forgotten Translator,” situates the translation within the biography of the translator. The case study is followed by an epilogue that traces the subsequent translations of Le Corbusier’s work, setting them against the on-going evolution of China’s architectural publishing and translation mechanism, as well as the changing intellectual environment from Maoist rule to the present day.

A diagram showing the current translation ecology of architectural / cultural books in China, involving both the formal and informal sectors.