Peter (柯益友) (peterintaiwan) wrote,
Peter (柯益友)

Difficulty in Translation (from the China Post)

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs is one government agency that loves to make translation extremely difficult, if not impossible, for translators.

Let's cite an example. When the International Olympic Committee (IOC) wanted to seat China to the exclusion of Taiwan, a genius in the Waichiaopu came up with a very honorable-sounding name, Chinese Taipei. Ours was named the Chinese Taipei Olympic Committee, which remains an IOC member. That name has gained popularity: Taiwan is represented as Chinese Taipei in the Asian Development Bank, the World Trade Organization, and the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation forum; and so will it be in the World Health Organization, if President Ma Ying-jeou has his way.

That honorable name, mutually agreed upon by Taipei and Beijing, is a small nightmare for the people responsible for translating it into Chinese. Finally, the title was translated as "Zhong-hua Taipei (中華台北)" in Taipei and "Zhong-guo Taipei (中國台北)" in Beijing. Zhong-hua and Zhong-guo both mean China or Chinese in English, the only difference being "hua" stressing "flower" against the "country" for "guo." Participants in the Olympics from Taiwan call themselves representatives of Zhong-hua Taipei, but are addressed by the Chinese as those from Zhong-guo Taipei. Confusing? Well, it's just politically correct gobbledygook.

Our diplomats in Taipei have concocted more politically correct mumbo-jumbo. All missions abroad were told in a circular that they should describe all foreign VIP visits to Taiwan as "fang Hua (訪華)" instead of "fang Tai" (訪台) in their official correspondence with Taipei. The two terms in Chinese are causing unofficial translators more than enough trouble in rendering them into English (no official English translation is available). "Fang" causes no trouble, of course. It means a visit. "Hua" which is the same as the "hua" in Zhong-hua, well, means China or Chinese in an abbreviated form. Can an unfortunate unofficial translator translate the first term as "visits to China" or "Chinese visits?" That makes no sense whatsoever. A compromise, a breach in the golden rule of faithfulness in translation, is to describe it as "visits to the Republic of China." And if he wishes not to confuse readers, the translator must add "in or on Taiwan" to "the Republic of China." "Tai" defies translation. It may be the abbreviation of Taiwan or Taipei. The politically correct foreign service personnel mean the former, while free translators may think the latter is the right term to be used. Then another problem arises. What's wrong with foreign VIP visits to Taipei? Nothing.

What the diplomats did may be part of an unannounced de-Taiwanization campaign, a sort of counterattack against the de-Sinicization of the previous Democratic Progressive Party administration. Names mean little in real life, however. Officials had better call a spade a spade.


Tags: articles, beijing 2008
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