So much for the invisible translator. With the launch of his Chinese renditions of classics whose copyrights had expired (新译本), such as The Old Man and the Sea (老人遇害) and The Great Gatsby (了不起的的盖茨比), Li Jihong (李继宏) has managed to infuriate a host of fellow translators, hommes de lettres and even would-be readers.
Partly due to the aggressive advertising campaign accompanying the launch that claims these are “the finest translations to date,” and partly by bringing up the very vulgar, very touchy subject of $ earned for literary translation work.
And the numbers are rather telling: many English-to-Chinese literary translators are paid around 1 US cent per word, while Li Jihong claims to be earning something like 20 US cents per word for his latest much-advertised works. The Shenzhen Shangbao report (报酬标准十几年没变) doesn’t fully explain the discrepancy, but it appears that Li’s figures are based on a fairly generous upfront payment of royalties, while most publishers are not only not offering royalties, they are exploiting translators by paying per official rates set by the copyright authorities . . . back in 1999.