Lost in translation

I’ve my reservation on those China-hands, I wonder just how much do they truly understand China and Chinese, not just the ability to speak the language.  I’m amused to read couple of excerpts from The Private Life of Chairman Mao by Dr. Li; and Edgar Snow, one of the earliest if not the biggest China hands or Mao hand:

Page 120:

Mao described himself best. I am heshang dasan 和尚打伞, he told Edgar Snow in 1970, literally meaning “a monk holding an umbrella.” But heshang dasan is only the first half of a couplet. The second, most important and meaningful, half, wufa wutian 无法无天 – is always left unsaid. The sound wufa wutian, meaning ‘without hair, without sky,” is the same as an expression that means “without law, without god” – a man subject to the laws of neither man nor god. Mao’s interpreter that day was a young woman without a classical education, and she translated the Chairman’s self-description as “a lonely monk walking the world with a leaky umbrella.” Edgar Snow and numerous scholars after him concluded that Mao had a tragic, lonely view of himself. Nothing could have been further from the truth. Mao was trying to tell Edgar Snow that he was a god and law unto himself, wufa wutian.

I’m surprised at Snow needing a translator – how much had lost in that process?  So his bestseller Red Star over China was a fluke, because of uniqueness and relatively uneducated audience at the time – the First?  I only read tiny part of the book, more for the antidotes than the historical significance becasue there isn’t many legit book available during that period of time, mostly are yeshi 野史.  So I tend to view those books by non Chinese – although lack depth or true understanding (you should be able to filter that out – be a sensible reader), but do provide something of value.  After all, he did sit face to face with Mao – he had many privilege and access that most Chinese didn’t have or won’t have – even knowing Chinese like to put up a good face to impress the West – silly but it’s true.

Page 532:
By December 18, 1970, Mao’s health had improved sufficiently that he was able to meet with American journalist Edgar Snow, who had first interviewed the Chairman in Baoan in 1936, had written the classic bestseller Red Star over China, and had remained a friend of China’s over all those years. “I think Snow must be working for the Central Intelligence Agency,” Mao told me at the time of the visit. “We have to give him some inside information.”

Believing that Snow would pass the information on to his superiors in the CIA, Mao used the meeting to further U.S.-China relations, conveying his willingness to invite Nixon or any other ranking American official to meet with him in Beijing. He also took the occasion to warn the CIA of the deeper conflict within Chinese politics. “There are three types of people who shout ‘long life’ to me,” Mao told Snow. “The first type really means it. There aren’t too many of these. The second type is just following the crowd. Most people fall into this category. The third type are those who shout the slogan but really want me to die early.Not too many people fall into this category, but there are some.”

I had lived in the United States for some time before realizing that Edgar Snow was a pariah in his own country when he visited China in 1970 and that his message to the American government was delivered too late, well after direct channels between China and the United States had been established. And Snow probably never understood whom Mao was talking about when he said that some people wanted him dead even as they shouted, “Long live.” Mao was referring to Lin Biao.

I have to LOL .. Li’s assessment was right that Snow probably didn’t have a clue whom Mao referred to.  Thinking Edgar Snow worked for CIA, made me chuckle just as Putin insisted that Bush had Dan Rather fired – their limited knowledge or bias view on how American journalists or how America in general work.  I don’t doubt there are CIA agents under the guise as journalists or other professionals.  But Snow was a highly unlikely candidate.
.
____________________
China hand: well said on China Hand!
Truth, Still Inconvenient, written by Ian Johnson, Zhang Jing contributed research
A wonderful translation
Elaine Chao on foreign experts in China
 

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11 Responses to Lost in translation

  1. 無言 says:

    日期:2007-05-18
    作者:章含之
    來源:解放日報

    美國人翻譯出了「殊途同歸」,給了我們當頭一棒,說到底還是缺少了文化底蘊

    再告訴大家一個例子。尼克松訪華的時候,我們一個很大的勝利是都用了我們的翻譯。外方有翻譯,但當時我們認為美國人懂什麼中文,所以就堅持翻譯都要用中方的。美國人同意用我們的翻譯,他們帶的翻譯就坐在後面旁聽。

    有一天談判的時候,尼克松講了一句話,拿中文來說就是:「我認為我們美國和中國在國際事務當中的利益上是parallel(中文意思為『平行』)。」當時不是我翻的,是另外一位翻譯。我們的翻譯就翻了:「我認為我們兩國之間的利益是平行的。」

    這個其實翻得一點都沒錯。這時候尼克松的翻譯弗里曼突然說:「總理閣下,我能不能做一點評論?」
    總理就很奇怪,說,「好啊,你有什麼評論?」
    弗里曼說:「我認為貴方的翻譯剛才翻得不夠確切。」
    「哦,為什麼不確切?」總理也懂英文,「怎麼不確切?」
    弗里曼說:「貴國翻譯把我們總統的話翻成『我們兩國的利益是平行的』,『平行』這個詞在中文裡的意思是永遠不相遇的,就像是雙槓,雙槓永遠是兩條槓子,永遠不會碰在一起的。我們總統的意思是,雖然是不同的目標,不同的方向,但是最終是有共同點的,所以用『平行』這個詞不合適。」
    周總理就很有興趣,「那按你說應該怎麼翻?」

    我當時在旁邊我也想不出來,我想「parallel」不翻「平行」翻什麼?

    結果他說:「如果我來翻的話,我會說我們總統的意思是我們兩國的利益是殊途同歸的。」(全場感嘆,鼓掌)
    他說,我們是從不同的地方出發,最後匯集到一起。所以這個parallel的意思是平行地發展到一個方向去了,並不是永遠不相遇。

    為什麼我們的翻譯就不會用「殊途同歸」這樣的詞呢?我覺得就是因為缺少我們自己文化底蘊的東西。「平行」是很簡單的詞語,初中生學英文也會說「平行」,但是要翻出「殊途同歸」,沒有經過一定的文化訓練,可能就翻不出來。這件事情當時讓我們中國的翻譯挺受刺激的,因為本來我們特別自豪用我們自己的翻譯,結果被一個美國翻譯當頭給了一棒。

    後來過了兩天,到了上海,發表了《上海公報》,這是一個里程碑,是中美兩國破冰的里程碑。那天晚宴上,大家都非常高興。周總理對美國的翻譯說,你在什麼地方學的中文?結果他說在台灣。總理當時就很感慨,對著我們這些翻譯說,「你們看看台灣地區,把中華文化傳統保持得要比大陸的好。」這事給我們的刺激特別大。後來周總理就對翻譯說:「章含之的父親是位大學問家,82歲完成一部巨著《柳文指要》,我現在讓她送你一套。」周總理又說,「我想她看不懂她父親的東西,你看得懂。」(全場大笑)所以好幾次,總理真的是給我當頭一棒。
    ——————————————————
    弗里曼 is Freeman, Charles Freeman, the Charles Freeman who recently angrily withdrew his nomination to the Chair of the National Intelligence Council. He was 29 when he accompanied Nixon to China.

  2. 来我家串门不能无言 .. 百花齐放 🙂

    哑口无言 yakou wuyan (be rendered speechless) or 无言不语 wuyan buyu?

    Hi, thank you for sharing. I enjoyed reading it.

    I met Charles Freeman (http://www.ireneeng.com/?p=2467) last November and enjoyed his comments at the forum very much.

  3. 無言 says:

    美國國務院裡,再小的官,在我這無名小卒眼裡,都是高高在上的天人,更何況是Freeman這種大官?妳能與他平起平坐,想來也是大有來頭的人物.

    還請恕我孤陋寡聞,以前未曾聽聞妳的大名.我是今天於網上查尋毛澤東和尚打傘這件公案,才找到妳的網誌.

  4. Any finding on “毛澤東和尚打傘這件公案”? What’s this all about? Care to share it?

  5. 無言 says:

    我多年前聽到的版本是翻譯錯譯.初聽聞時,不太相信,心想:「中國人會不懂得和尚打傘的意思嗎?不可能吧?翻譯錯譯的可能性太小了.」

    後來發現,翻譯者唐聞生乃生於美國,七、八歲時才回大陸.有了這項資料,心想:「well,錯譯的可能性增加了一點.」

    前幾天查時,找到下面網頁,文中言道唐先是直譯,後來又解釋「和尚打傘」的真正涵義.若我們相信該網站資料無誤,那責任就在 Snow 身上了.他何以直譯?只有他自己知道.Snow仍活著嗎?若已逝世,那這件公案就永無水落石出的一天了.

    http://book.qq.com/a/20080102/000026.htm

  6. Snow passed away the week before Nixon landed in Beijing

    http://www.ireneeng.com/2009/03/27/edgar-snow/

    I don’t think born in US would hinder Tang Wensheng 唐聞生’s ability in anyway, even linguistic wise. Actually it would have been an advantage. An interpreter’s might is solely rests on that individual’s ability n knowledge.

    Look at Chas Freeman or John Fairbank as examples

    I just had this sneaky feeling that Edgar Snow was a good writer but not a meticulously scholar or journalist. Combined with his access to Mao and the timing, he was in China before Mao was somebody. So scores of China hands looked after him. As I said, he might just be a fluke.

  7. 無言 says:

    喔!已經逝世了.算來也差不多.能到延安訪問毛澤東者,如今年齡該有一把了.若仍在世,應有百多歲了.

    我一直到前幾年,蔣夫人及張學良相繼逝世之後,才無奈地承認二次世界大戰那一代終於離我們而去,終於進入歷史.然而,一轉瞬,我們也即將步入他們的後塵.唉!真是「大江東去,浪淘盡千古風流人物……」

    Freeman會講出「殊途同歸」一詞,我實在訝異非常.我想,他頂多學了兩年的中文吧,竟然能有如此造詣,真不簡單.

    我覺得他很誠實,且頗勇敢.美國政治人物敢聲援巴勒斯坦者,實不多見.連Obama於去年競選時,都討好猶太人/以色列,主張耶路撒冷城歸於以色列.

  8. 無言 says:

    「紫禁城」譯成 “The Forbidden City” 是否也是 Lost in Translation?

    有一次與一洋人女孩聊天時,提到 The Forbidden City.她聞言滿臉詫異,一雙眼睜得好大,驚道:「為什麼叫 The Forbidden City?」

  9. What did she think the name should be?

  10. 無言 says:

    這我倒是沒問.我見她那麼緊張,趕忙解釋道因為那兒原本是皇宮,常人禁止入內,故稱為「禁城」.我既未問她該譯成什麼,也未問她何以如此訝異.

    我從她的表情推測,”The Forbidden City”一詞的意思可能不是「禁止入內之城」,好像是「禁止存在之城」,有doomed city的味道,不知是否如此.

    由”The forbidden city”,想到以前有一部電影,叫”The forbidden planet”,黑白科幻片,最後該星球炸毀,真的是doomed.

  11. The Wikipedia’s explanation is very straightforward and fitting.

    (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Forbidden_City#Name) –

    The common English name, “the Forbidden City,” is a translation of the Chinese name Zijin Cheng (Chinese: 紫禁城; pinyin: Zǐjinchéng; literally “Purple Forbidden City”). Another English name of similar origin is “Forbidden Palace”.[3]

    The name “Zijin Cheng” is a name with significance on many levels. Zi, or “Purple”, refers to the North Star, which in ancient China was called the Ziwei Star, and in traditional Chinese astrology was the abode of the Celestial Emperor. The surrounding celestial region, the Ziwei Enclosure (Chinese: 紫微垣; pinyin: Zǐwēiyuán), was the realm of the Celestial Emperor and his family. The Forbidden City, as the residence of the terrestrial emperor, was its earthly counterpart. Jin, or “Forbidden”, referred to the fact that no-one could enter or leave the palace without the emperor’s permission. Cheng means a walled city.[4]

    Today, the site is most commonly known in Chinese as Gùgōng (故宫), which means the “Former Palace.”[5] The museum which is based in these buildings is known as the “Palace Museum” (Chinese: 故宫博物院; pinyin: Gùgōng Bówùyùan).

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