Saturday, June 26, 2010

On Translation of "Mob Mentality"

Yesterday I received an email from Beijing, which mentions in passing that a Chinese translation of my two articles (here and here) is circulating on the internet.  I took a look and saw that the translation was originated from China Digital Times (here and here). 

There is an error in the translation I'd like to correct. Before going there, however, I must say I have tremendous respect for China Digital Times, which has done a great job relaying China-themed news and commentaries between the English and Chinese worlds.  It appears to me that the translator of my articles is a young member of a Beijing voluntary translator group called 译者. I recommend you check out the 译者 website because it has rich, up-to-date information on China's current affairs.

The translation in question could use some polishing but is acceptable for the most part. One can't demand too much from volunteer work, which I appreciate very much.  As such I'm only going to address one error that, left uncorrected, makes parts of the article incoherent.  I've tried to contact the translator, but because the translation has been circulating extensively on the Chinese internet and can't be all corrected, I feel the need to post it on my blog.

Here is the part of the Chinese translation on China Digital Times I'm talking about:
毕竟,文革的一代中,没有几个人是完全清白的。 文化大革命是一场全民运动。 在那个时期,极少有人能逃脱思想煽动 即便是今天,一想到那时如果我岁数够大,可能也会铸成什么令我悔恨终生的大错,就会出冷汗。
作为一个作者,比起对当时的人们指指点点的评论,我总是对了解当时的思想煽动更感兴趣。 为了了解当时的情况,我们必须不断的挖掘历史真相。 我认为我们挖掘的还不够深,了解的还不够多。 今年早些时候,我听说当很多人指责张艺谋新排的贺岁片很蠢时,这位著名的导演声称中国人民有着太多像文革那样的沉重话题,他们所需要的是一些轻松的电影。 张艺谋只从自己这一代人的角度看问题的狭窄眼界让我非常震惊。 难道他没发现当代的年轻人对文革和1989年一类的事件完全无知么? 思想煽动这件事上,他们并未从父辈那儿接受任何教训,现在,因特网上已经开始出现新式思想煽动的苗头。
And here is my original text:
After all, few of the CR generation were completely innocent. The Cultural Revolution was an all-people movement. It was a time that few escaped the mob mentality. Even today it gives me cold sweats with the thought that, if I were old enough then, I could have done terrible things that I would regret for a lifetime.
As a writer, I’ve always been more interested in understanding the mob mentality than pointing fingers. To understand we have to keep digging through the past. I don’t think we have dug deep enough, have understand enough. I heard that, early this year, when Zhang Yimou made a New Year movie that many deemed too stupid, the famous director claimed that Chinese people had enough heavy topics like the CR, what they needed now were light-hearted, relaxing movies. It surprises me that Zhang’s sight is this narrow, from only the viewpoint of his generation. Has he noticed that today’s young people are very ignorant of the recent past such as the CR and 1989? Without learning the lessons from their parents, new signs of mob mentality have already began to show on the internet.
As you can see, the phrase "mob mentality," which means "暴民心态", is wrongly translated as 思想煽动 (meaning "thought demagogy"). A totally different concept.

Again, I really appreciate the volunteer work of those young people and their interest in the CR history.  Perhaps the error occurred because "mob mentality" is an unfamiliar concept to the young generation of Chinese, which in turn might partially explain why mob mentality has been commonplace on the Chinese internet. If so, I hope this post may serve as stimulation for young people's interest in studying, and recognizing, mob mentality.

And I hope the promising translator will not be discouraged by this. To become good at translation requires lots of practice, so this should be just one small experience.

By the way, I rather like this translator's translation of my book title, "酝酿中的道歉",which literally means "apologies in fermentation." I hope one day my book will have the opportunity to be published in Chinese, and this would be a good title for it.  

Update (6/27):  I received a kind email from the translator who says they'll fix the error on their website. I appreciate it.

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