A Chinese version of Jack: Straight From the Gut, published by China International Trust and Investment Corporation (CITIC) Publishing House, sold 600,000 volumes in China and won several national awards, but it is now facing ruin. About two thousand translation flaws were pinpointed by an English professor, Zhang Weizu, from Capital Normal University.
During the following two months, vital quality problems were unveiled in a couple of translation works, including Character Education in America's Blue Ribbon Schools: Best Practices for Meeting the Challenge and The Education of Karl Witte. Maybe now it is time to take action on the irresponsible rendition of important works.
The translation quality problem began with a literary classic translation, Le Rouge, Le Noir, which illustrated the tip of the mistranslation iceberg. In 1998, the Publishing Association of Foreign Literature inspected six publishing houses, and checked out 23 kinds of falsifications. In the translated version of The Nation-State and Violence by Anthony Giddens, published by Joint Publishing Co. in 1998, the Chinese philosopher Mencius was translated into a foreigner's name, while Stephen King's new book On Writing was translated as "Touching Terror", while the content was also mistranslated.
As for Jack: Straight From the Gut, "According to my statistics, in this 385,000-Chinese-character translation work, there are 780 mistakes in sentences, more than 1,000 mistakes in words and phrases, 50 unaccustomed names of people and places, including some very childish mistakes like translating July into June, north into west," Professor Zhang said.
In the book Character Education in America's Blue ribbon Schools: Best Practices for Meeting the Challenge, 20 mistakes were found in the preface and in the first three chapters, such as translating "intern" into "houseman", "biographies" into "picture book", and "sound character" into "healthiness".
In addition, Jinghua Publishing House forged a book after the name "The Education of Karl Witte", copying two previous Chinese books, Education for Early Period and Genius, and Liu Yiting, A Harvard Girl. In fact, the forgery has little relationship with the original.
The reason for the translation problem lies in the following three areas:
Poor professional ethics. This is the most important problem. Both professor Zhang Weizu and Tan Chuanbao, vice dean of the School of Education, Beijing Normal University, expressed deep concern over professional ethics in this sector, "Maybe the irresponsible translators are innocent legally, but they should be blamed by their conscience," Zhang said. "Some publishers just use college students to do translations - I feel so sorry about that," Tan said.
At the moment, some strange unexplained things exist in the translation field, said Li Jingrui, secretary of Research Association of Foreign Literature, former chairman of Yilin Publishing House. Some who are poor in Chinese dare to do literature translation, Layman of a speciality is ready to do translation, with some translating according to their imagination; some hiring unqualified students and friends to do their own work and putting their signature on the cover.
To curb the spread of bad quality translation, a batch of experts and scholars appeal to strengthen "translation ethnics". In a recently held symposium on translation quality, Wang Ning, doctorate tutor, and division chairman of Foreign Language Department of Tsinghua University, said, "As far as I am concerned, an English translator has to know three foreign languages, i.e. English, French and Spanish, because many origins in English derive from these languages. And a qualified translator has to have a very good command of Chinese, and must do sufficient preparation on the subject or discipline."
Publishers rush for quick success and instant benefit. Since 1990s, some publishers began to import foreign bestsellers. These books usually achieve and maintain popularity within a short period, maybe one or two years or even less. After initial fever, the selling of the books will stagnate. To occupy the market, many publishing houses urge translators to finish their work as quickly as possible by issuing extra rewards. Consequently, the market is fed by inferior and clumsy translation works.
For instance, the original version of Jack: Straight From the Gut was published in September 2001, in New York. Following that, CITIC Publishing House generated its Chinese version in October that year. That is to say the whole process of translation and publishing of a 380,000-Chinese-character book was done within one month! "In general, the translation work of this kind of book will take at least half a year. If CITIC polishing house finished it in a month, the quality is not expected to be guaranteed," said Liu Wei, vice general manager of the People's Publishing House of Jiangsu Province.
The irresponsible activity of the publishing houses may undermine their reputation among readers. One reader swears he will never buy books from the CITIC Publishing House after he saw pages and pages of corrections from Jack: Straight From the Gut by Professor Zhang. Fame can be achieved by one book and destroyed by another.
"The publishing houses should be less short-sighted; pursuing instant success will not bring but undermine long-term benefits," said Feng Wei, a senior reporter from China Publishing News. "In foreign countries, manufacturers withdraw bad-quality mobiles: why don't we withdraw bad books? Publishing houses should have the courage to withdraw their books," some others say.
Poor supervision and law enforcement. Up to date, standards of censorship and examination of publishing products are only applicable to Chinese books. According to Regulations on Book Quality, issued in 1997 by the Press and Publication Administration, the mistake rate in a book is not permitted to exceed 0.01 percent. However, in translation, no specific regulations exist. "It's an empty field in this regard, no regulations explain how many mistakes deserve punishment," an official from Beijing Municipal Press and Publication Administration said. "The quality is being maintained via the self-discipline of publishers. We expect that they can be faithful to the origin and loyal to readers." Obviously, self-discipline does not work in a market without restrictions.
From late last year, the compiling of the Regulation on Translation Service has been under way. Unfortunately, the regulation applies only to translation service agencies and organizations, not to publishing houses. But this is considered progress. "It's certain that there will be national standards applied to translation publication," Jia Yanli, vice general manager from China Translation and Publication Corporation.
The failure in credibility of translation works affects readers who trust publishing houses. It is impossible and unnecessary for them to check the translation work from its origin and they feel humiliated after finding out the truth. The book Jack: Straight From the Gut was regarded as a Bible for Chinese CEOs and it is said that almost every Chinese CEO owns a copy of Jack: Straight From the Gut and believes it as classic. Now they are being told their "classic" has two thousand translation flaws! Some others begin to worry about similar problems in official documents, which may lead to more serious losses.
Urgently, a draconian code is needed to rule on the translation of publications.
(China.org.cn by Li Liangdu May 15 , 2003)