• Sijin Xian

Translation Appreciation Log: Poetic Flair

I've mentioned before that translators need to be connoisseurs of words who improve their taste through savoring and critiquing works by other translators. Reading the Chinese edition of the New York Times (纽约时报中文网 国际纵览) is my favorite way to do so. It provides not only the Chinese translations of the newspaper's top-notch coverage of China's latest events, but also an option to read the English original and its translation side by side.

Whenever I do this, I make a series of notes on a Word document. I note particularly inspired translations, propose my own alternatives to mistranslations, and offer variations on translations so that they could flow more smoothly and elegantly. I had the idea today to create a series called Translation Appreciation Log to share my observations with the greater Chinese-English translation community. So here's my inaugural entry.

Original English title: China’s Xi Jinping Arriving in U.S. at a Moment of Vulnerability

Translated Chinese title: 内忧外扰并不妨碍习近平强势访美

Dual-language texts link: http://cn.nytimes.com/china/20150921/c21xijinping/dual/

My rating for the translation: 4.3/5.0


1. “President Xi Jinping of China looked regal…” (Paragraph 1)

Instead of simply translating “regal” into “如帝王一般 (like a King),” the translator uses the

phrase “气度威严” and spells out the magnificence and dignity implied by the word. While the former is certainly acceptable, I appreciate the translator’s poetic rendition.

2. “… A sharp contrast with the image of unruffled control he projected…” (Paragraph 3)

The poet strikes again here: “unruffled control” is translated as “胸有成竹,” an idiom to describe someone’s strong confidence. “气定神闲,” meaning relaxed calm, can be another good choice to echo with “unruffled.”

3. “Mr. Xi’s…approach was meant to ...” (Paragraph 9)

The translator uses “意在” for “be meant to,” and the savvy makes me smile. Like its English counterpart, the “purpose” meaning of “意在” is a derivative from “意,” which is “meaning.” I love it when perfectly parallel translations occur. “意在” is much better than “目的是.” Another example is “China’s economy has slowed more abruptly than policy makers have appeared ready for.” (Paragraph 2) “超出了…预料” and “more…than” in the original make a most pleasant match.

4. “Analysts say Mr. Xi’s recent setbacks will only reinforce his reluctance to offer concessions under pressure…” (Paragraph 6)

Amateurs would probably translate “reinforce his reluctance” directly into something like “加重了他的迟疑.” Expert translators, like the one for this article, use structures that are more inherently Chinese. “让他更不愿意,” meaning making him less willing to, is an excellent choice. Another example is “Mr. Xi is also not expected to…” in paragraph number 21. It would be uncustomary to say something like “习近平被期望.” While “外界猜测” is not a bad choice, I will suggest use “外界预计” to stay more closely to the original meaning.


1. “…including an effort to revive a bloated state sector…” (Paragraph 2)

I would change “膨胀的” to “臃肿的” because the latter is a more customary adjective to describe a swollen bureaucracy. I would also replace “国有企业” with “国有部门” to completely match with “state sector.”

2. “…emphasizing China’s resurgent role in the world.” (Paragraph 14)

I'm disappointed by the translator’s aberration from his or her poetic flair with the translation “中国在世界上的角色提升了.” Moreover, it’s a mistranslation to equal “rising” with the English original “resurgent.” Resurgent stresses the revival after a hiatus of inactivity. Therefore, I would translate it as “中国的世界影响力重振雄风” to accurately and elegantly convey the nuanced “comeback” meaning.

3. “The evidence seems to be accumulating that Xi is a leader…” (Paragraph 25)

"所有这些迹象似乎都在显示 (all the evidence seems to show)” is also a mistranslation. The “evidence” the original text refers to is not the evidence the essay has been discussing, as the translation wrongfully implies. I would translate this assertion as “越来越多的证据似乎在显示.”

#Translation #TAL

China · translation · research · policy · advocacy · publications © 2015-2020 by SIJIN XIAN.