Exchanging faces, matching voices. Dubbing foreign films in China
Journal of Chinese Cinemas
Year of publication
This article is part of a larger project on dubbed foreign films, which were the Chinese people’s ‘window to the outside world’ during the Cold War era. Between 1949 and 1994, when Hollywood’s path to China was blocked by Cold War politics, the Chinese Communist Party dubbed and screened over one thousand films from the Soviet bloc, Western Europe, and beyond. In this article, I argue that despite the appearance of ventriloquism, dubbing is fundamentally analogous to Schleiermacherian literal translation in that dubbing requires bending domestic voices to match foreign lips and bodies. The Chinese dubbing practice, with its emphasis on synchrony or ‘matching voices’, produced voices within the Chinese soundscape that were uniquely ‘foreignized’ and ‘embodied’. The dubbing actors distinguished themselves from mainstream voices by focusing on the body instead of on articulated messages and emotions; their voices were rare instances of geno-voices amid the chorus of pheno-voices during the Maoist and post-Mao years. In the second part of the article, I examine ethical issues in the representation of the Other in the context of Chinese dubbed foreign films.