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Translating - a vital historical mission
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In addition, there are relatively few Chinese works translated into other languages compared with the great number of foreign works that have been translated into Chinese. Consequently, Chinese culture remains largely unknown for many outsiders.

Before the 20th century, foreign missionaries did most of the translations of classical Chinese works. Japanese envoys came to China during the Tang Dynasty and translated Chinese classical writings into their own tongue. Matteo Racci, an Italian missionary who came to China during the Ming Dynasty, was the first to translate the four major Confucian classics into Latin -- The Great Learning, The Doctrine of the Mean, The Analects of Confucius and Mencius. James Legge, another missionary who came to China during the Qing Dynasty, was the first to translate these four classics into English. And the famous American poet Ezra Pound translated some Tang-dynasty poems into English. In contrast, the number of Chinese translators working from Chinese into English were few; recognized names like Gong Hongming and Lin Yutang were even fewer.

Since the founding of the People's Republic in 1949, and particularly since the1980s, China has made huge efforts to translate classical and modern writings into foreign languages. Among the translated works are The Analects of Confucius, Tao Te Ching (Classic of the Way and Virtue), A Dream of Red Mansions, Outlaws of the Marsh, and Romance of the Three Kingdoms, plus a large number of Tang, Song and Yuan dynasty poems. Recent promotional initiatives include "the International Promotion of Chinese Books in Foreign Countries" and "Chinese Culture and Civilization." Both projects are huge, incorporating classical and contemporary Chinese writings in an attempt to rouse interest across the globe.

According to statistics from the General Administration of Press and Publication, China's copyright exports represent just 10 percent of copyright imports. Even so, China has a big shortage of translators working from Chinese into foreign languages. Many Chinese publishers are seeking to engage foreign partners in the editing and polishing process. This certainly adds to costs, but is necessary to meet the standards of foreign readers.

China's translation training is inadequate, for many schools and institutes have no translation courses. Translation skills in the legal, medical, and technological realms are particularly weak, as are many other areas involving specialized terminology. Project management skills are also lacking. So far, only the Translation Institute of Guangdong University of Foreign Studies provides training for those specializing in legal and commercial business translation. Laudable efforts to remedy this situation include the summer workshop jointly organized by the TAC and the Monterey Institute of International Studies in the U.S., and the interpretation training course jointly provided by the EU and the University of International Business and Economics through the Sino-EU Interpreter Training Center in Beijing.

With the increasing number of foreign businesses coming to China, the need for translations from foreign languages into Chinese is greater than ever. Many foreign translation services have made efforts to establish ties with a Chinese business partner and the Internet has made multinational cooperation more feasible. But the question of how to find a trustworthy partner in China remains.

Translating is a tough and demanding job that often entails much responsibility. Mistranslations can have unpredictable consequences, from simple misunderstanding to major diplomatic incidents. Given the potential pitfalls, and the many linguistic barriers that exist between the world's diverse nations and cultures, the historical mission on translators' shoulders is immense.

(China.org.cn June 25, 2008)

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