Missing vs. “Disappeared”: NYT Translation on Detained Chinese Citizens Blurs the Line

In Few Clues in Chinese Editor’s Detention, Didi Kirsten Tatlow reports on the recent arrest and detention of Caixin Media editor Xu Xiao (徐晓) and NGO staffer Liu Jianshu (柳建树).

Both went missing for at least five days before it was learned that they had been arrested and are now inside Beijing Number 1 Detention Center.

Here is how Tatlow reported on these events:

No one has been allowed to see Ms. Xu since she was taken into custody on Nov. 26. But she isn’t the only one to suddenly disappear recently. Also on that day, Liu Jianshu, 28, an N.G.O worker and movie enthusiast, was “disappeared,” his wife, Zhao Sile said on Wednesday.


Readers fluent in Chinese will note that Liu simply “disappeared,” in the neutral sense of “went missing,” while Tatlow’s original implies a “forced disappearance,” placing him in the now-infamous category of “desaparecidos” coined during Argentina’s “Dirty War.”

Tatlow’s use of “disappeared” here is questionable, since the term — strictly speaking — refers to a person who has been abducted or imprisoned, “followed by a refusal to acknowledge the person’s fate and whereabouts, with the intent of placing the victim outside the protection of the law.” (Wikipedia) She doesn’t say how “friends and family” came to learn of Xu Xiao’s current location, so we don’t know if the Chinese authorities intentionally released this information.

Whatever the case, Tatlow has chosen an emotive, political term — “disappeared.” One would therefore expect the Chinese to read “被失踪,” a phrase created several years ago and frequently seen on (uncensored) parts of the Chinese-language Internet.

Footnote Factoids: How Many Needed to Russify Mo Yan?

In 译莫言作品看中国文学, Mo Yan’s principal Russian translator, Igor Aleksandrovich Egorov (Игорь Aлександрович Егоров), reports that his translation of 丰乳肥臀 (Большая грудь, широкий зад, Big Breasts and Wide Hips) has been a best-seller since 2013.

Egorov advocates amply footnoting Mo Yan’s text, because the overwhelming majority of Russian readers are almost totally unfamiliar with either ancient or post-1949 Chinese culture. His count for three novels he has translated:

  • 300+: Life and Death Are Wearing Me Out (生死疲劳, soon to be published)
  • 260:   Большая грудь, широкий зад (丰乳肥臀, Big Breasts and Wide Hips)
  • 200+: Страна вина (酒国, The Republic of Wine)

To learn about Chinese translations of Americana and footnotes, see Stephanie Meyer Red Hot in China: Could it Be the Footnotes? Or take a look here at Footnotes, where Chinese-to-English poetry translator Lucas Klein delves into the subject in greater detail, with 16 meaty comments altogether in the thread.

The Fine Art of Selective News Translation

In Lost in Translation, veteran journalist Nailene Chou Wiest comments on how airbrushing foreign news articles in the name of China boosterism prevents serious discussion of real issues:

Translators in China are not neutral message conveyors but active censor-oriented rewriting hacks. Their job requires the sensitivity of knowing the parameter. Foreign news is not used as a means of national self-reflection, but an adjunct to domestic propaganda. Veteran translators are infuriated by the accusation that they are accomplices to an authoritarian regime. They point out that the core issue is not how to translate, but how to translate and get published. Publish or perish is the rub.

How the translators hew to the adaptation and rewriting is often an indicator of where the publication stands in the Communist Party-condoned ideological spectrum. Reference News (Cankao Xiaoxi) was founded in 1931 as an internal publication to provide the party leadership with an idea of how the world perceived China. When it turned into a mass circulation paper in 1985, translators were given the mandate of selecting passages from world press and adapting a propaganda agenda. Boasting a daily circulation of 3 million, Reference News is influential and profitable. Global Times, a tabloid subsidiary of the People’s Daily, routinely mangles foreign news articles to bolster its nationalistic stance. But when ThePaper.cn was launched this summer, hopes ran high that it would set itself apart to attract weary online readers. There is a sense of betrayal that it commits the same sin of translating only the positive while blocking passages critical of China.

I’ve been following Reference News (参考消息) now for five years or so. To see how it repackages foreign news reports to make China look better — and feel better about itself — please visit China Media.

Literary Translation: The Collaborative Approach

Co-translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin

Co-translated by Howard Goldblatt and Sylvia Li-chun Lin

In the Aug 2014 edition of The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation, Chinese-to-literary translators Sylvia Li-chun Lin (native Chinese speaker) and Howard Goldblatt (native English speaker) reveal how they work together:

Sylvia does the first draft, placing emphasis more on conveying the meaning of the original text than on finding the exact words/phrases in the translation. The rough quality of the text, necessitated by speed, is easily compensated for by first-impression impulses that capture meaning beyond the words. Howard takes over then, reading the first draft against the original, marking spots with different interpretations, possible translations, or ambiguities, and checking reference material where necessary.

This is fascinating stuff, and I recommend you read the entire text (see below for the link).

But when both translators are highly fluent in the source language, that doesn’t mean that the first draft is necessarily carried out just by the native speaker of the source text.

For example, here is how Jane Weizhen Pan (native Chinese speaker) and Martin

Co-translated by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan

Co-translated by Martin Merz and Jane Weizhen Pan

Merz (native English speaker) translated Wang Gang’s English (see full translator Q & A):

Each of us would translate alternate parts of each chapter and swop our raw drafts. Our raw drafts of these parts would be reviewed, changed (sometimes ruthlessly) by the other party. Every day, before working on a new draft or reviewing Martin’s draft, I would read the revised translation done the day before and then the entire chapter again.

Since I was in Australia and he in Hong Kong, we went back and forth over these changes and

commented on each other’s translation over Skype. We then left it to “brew” while working on the other parts of the chapter. The “revised version” would be reviewed again once we finished translating that entire chapter. We reviewed our translation of the entire book twice before sending to the editor.

The Art of Empathy: Celebrating Literature in Translation is published by the National Endowment of the Arts in Washington D.C. For the full text of The Collaborative Approach, click here, and look for The Collaborative Approach in the Contents Page.

Infrastructure for China Soft Power Inc.: Newly Established China Academy of Translation

In a move to get the infrastructure on the ground for China’s re-emergence on the international cultural scene, the China Int’l Publishing Group has founded the China Academy of Translation (中国翻译研究院). Read about it here in Chinese, and here in English.

This is definitely a state-run body founded to serve China’s strategic interests, a “translation think tank” focusing on translation out of Chinese, if you will. But there are a few aspects of interest to translators of Chinese in general. The academy will:

  • Periodically release suggested translations — one would assume mainly from Chinese into English — for “culture-loaded” expressions “with Chinese characteristics”
  • Host training programs for domestic and foreign translators
  • Promote translation education for non-European languages, such as certain languages indigenous to Africa and Southeast Asia

There were several but vague references to a “platform” at the inaugural ceremony, which imply that there will be one or more web sites, including a database, run by the academy.  For some info on an existing one listing translators, see New Kid on the Block.

Ideas about how to train up the next generation of Chinese-to-English literary translators have recently been discussed in Open Letter and in The People’s Daily (建立驻地翻译基金). Oh yes, and here’s how to sign up for a training course in China scheduled for September: CELT Rides Again.

徐穆实受访:人民日报海外版转载 “建立驻地翻译基金” 的建议

Humes Proposes Translation-in-Residence Fund莫言获诺贝尔文学奖、麦家小说在海外畅销,外国翻译家功不可没。他们以优美的本国语言、适合西方人阅读的视角进行翻译,将中文图书接引到彼岸并焕发出神秘光彩。

最近,美国中文翻译家徐穆实(Bruce Humes)在个人网站上刊出公开信,就中国有关机构近年来推动的文学外译提出若干具体建议,将中国文学“走出去”的战略落到实处:






Osnos, Vogel and China Censorship Percentage Stats

But when can I get my uncensored Chinese edition?

But when can I get my uncensored Chinese edition?

In what a publicist would judge a savvy approach to pre-launch marketing of one’s book, Evan Osnos recently wrote a much-discussed NY Times Op-ed in which he explained why he won’t be releasing his new Age of Ambition: Chasing Fortune, Truth and Faith in the New China in Chinese in the People’s Republic any time soon.

In a word, because Osnos doesn’t want a “special edition” of it — with chunks of the original deleted — customized for Chinese readers. That would, he maintains, “endorse a false image of the past and present.”

In her June 20 piece about the brouhaha, Slippery Slope, Dinah Gardner cites two statistics several times: 10% and 25%. The 10% is a reference to the amount of text that Ezra Vogel claims was deleted from his Deng Xiaoping and the Transformation of China when published in Chinese. And 25% is an estimate of what one Chinese publishing agent proposed cutting from Osnos’ Age of Ambition.

Based on my knowledge of editing and censorship in China, however, if Vogel actually believes that 90% of his work was faithfully transmitted via the final Chinese text, then he is deluding himself. Or, more charitably, he is much more knowledgeable about Deng Xiaoping than he is about publishing in China. [Read more…]

June Training Sessions: Authors of Five Major non-Han Languages Meet their Translators

During June 5-9, Nationalities Literature Magazine (民族文学) organized an intensive “editing/rewriting training course” (改稿班) that brought together the magazine’s editors with twenty-plus Kazakh writers and their translators. Mandarin and Kazakh aside, the magazine appears in Mongolian, Korean, Tibetan and Uyghur, and training sessions for writers and translators of the latter four languages are also scheduled to take place within June, according to the article (改稿班).

We can expect that this will—eventually—lead to fiction written by non-Han authors in their own tongues being published in English. The first step is to get their writing into Mandarin, possibly via Nationalities Literature Magazine, or People’s Literature (人民文学). It will then stand a good chance of appearing in Pathlight, a magazine dedicated to Chinese literature in English translation that is jointly produced by People’s Literature and Paper Republic.

In fact, the Spring 2014 edition of Pathlight will feature writing solely by ethnic writers: fiction by Alat Asem (阿拉提·阿斯木, Uyghur), Ayonga (阿云嘎, Mongolian), Jin Renshun (金仁顺, Korean), Guan Renshan (关仁山, Manchu), Li Jinxiang (李进祥, Hui), Memtimem Hoshur (买买提明·吾守尔, Uyghur),Ye Guangqin (叶广芩, Manchu) and Yerkex Hurmanbek (叶尔克西·胡尔曼别克, Kazakh);  poetry by Artai (Mongolian,阿尔泰), Aydos Amantay (艾多斯·阿曼泰, Kazakh), Jidi Majia (吉狄马加, Yi-Nuosu), Luruodiji (鲁若迪基, Pumi), Ma Huan (马桓, Hui) and Nie Le (聂勒, Wa); and non-fiction by Patigul (帕蒂古丽, Uyghur), Ye Fu (野夫, Tujia), Ye Mei (叶梅, Tujia) and Tenzin (丹增, Tibetan). The full contents aren’t up online yet, but the cover, contents page and link to purchase should be here soon. [Read more…]

建议:建立 ‘驻地翻译基金’,积极征募外国翻译家到中国短期居住

我发表 Open Letter to China Literary Exports, Inc. 之后,《中华读书报》采访了我。欢迎访问:

翻译家徐穆实呼吁:中国文学 “走出去” 的战略要落实到实处

有意思的是,在临时发表之前,下面带 “-” 的文字被编辑删除:



Open Letter to China Literary Exports, Inc.

Ever since Mo Yan received the Nobel Prize for Literature, a lively discussion has ensued among China’s soft power apparatchiks, bodies such as the China Writers Association, and writers, academics and translators—including some who, regrettably, were not born Chinese.

The topic? How to ensure greater success for the “campaign to take Chinese literature global.”

As a translator of Chinese fiction and books about traditional Chinese culture, I’d like to add my two cents worth here. My suggestions for “maximizing exports” of Chinese literature in translation in 2014 and beyond:

  • Recognize that a person’s nationality and mother tongue are not the key determinants of his or her ability to help bring Chinese literature to the rest of the world;

[Read more…]