Whether you’ve actually been on a trip to China or simply scrolling down popular websites, you’ve probably had a good laugh at the inadequate, often ridiculous mistranslations of various signs, t-shirts, maps and menus around the country. These occurrences are the result of low-quality, unreliable translations from Chinese to English and have caused mixed feelings around the world, with many finding them of cultural interest while others being concerned with their impact on China’s reputation and business ventures.
The odd melding between English and Chinese languages has become both a tourist attraction and a concern for the authorities, as China’s Standardization Administration and General Administration of Quality Supervision have issued a national standard for the use of English in public. The standard will take effect on the 1st of December 2017, aiming to improve the quality of translation within the public transport, financial, medical and entertainment services.
The need of translation
With the increasing number of international tourists and the globalization of Chinese markets, local and national businesses have seen the need to provide translation alongside their services. Мany of the enterprises don’t have the resources to use a professional translation service and resort to the option of machine translation in the form of free online software. The odd mistranslations are considered by the Chinese authorities as humiliating for the Chinese culture and heritage and preventing the formation of a multilingual society, according to the People’s Daily newspaper.
Government’s response to mistranslation
The Government’s growing concern regarding the impact of the funny but sometimes offensive translations on China’s international image has prompted them to take drastic measures. Efforts towards the removal of multiple examples of impropriety, such as the infamous “Racist Park” sign pointing to the Park of Ethnic Minorities, have been undertaken since the Expo 2010 in Shanghai. The new restrictions on using direct translation, rare vocabulary words, and expressions that can be discriminatory or hurtful come with the increased economic and market globalization China is currently going through. The influx of foreign tourists into the country and the desire to make the country more appealing to Western businesses have been a prerequisite for more bilingual signs being put in public places. The new initiative is considered as an important public service which, according to the ministry’s statement, would elevate China’s soft power and make the country more appealing for foreign investors. The new translation guidelines come just when China is promoting a new infrastructure initiative, which would involve more than 60 countries from Europe, Africa, and the Middle East.
The other side of the matter
However, there are those who believe in the certain value and appeal of the phenomenon. As Jeffrey Yao, who is an English translator and teacher at the Graduate Institute of Interpretation and Translation at Shanghai International Studies University argues, the improper translations are actually a window to the Chinese mind and offer a piece of culture that is unique and that can be expressive and elegant.
So, would the new guidelines for the translation of Chinese signs abolish the controversial but also loved mixture of translation mistakes? While the national policy for correcting translations is much needed in order to improve the country’s quality of tourism and international relations, the infamous mistranslations have become a part of China’s charm and contemporary culture, so, for many people, it might be difficult parting with this odd but unique language.
Only time will tell if the new regulations on the translation of Chinese signs will be effective. The success of this initiative depends largely on the skills of the translators, who have been assigned with the task of making meaning out of the erroneous mistranslations.
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