China's translation industry, big but not strong: experts

2004 November 10
China's translation industry, big but not strong: experts

Having published 10,000 translations a year for nine consecutive years and offering a more diversified translation market fueled by increased international communications, China can now claim to be a translation giant. Many translation experts, however, recently expressed concern over the unsatisfactory level of literary and day-to-day practical translations, and said China's translation industry is «big but not strong.»

According to the China Bibliographic Library, China had published 28,500 kinds of translated works between 1978 and 1990, while the number spiked to 94,400 between 1995 and 2003.

But, Ren Jisheng, an official with the Publishers Association of China, said, «substandard translation is still a headache for translators of foreign literature.»

Some publishers have flocked to the profitable area of retranslation of foreign literary works. But the finished products are usually far from satisfactory. Some even commit plagiarism in the deadline rush, Ren said.

Xu Jun, dean of the Department of Western Studies in Nanjing University, said China witnessed a surge in retranslating in the mid-1990s.

Since China's acceptance of the Berne Convention -the international copyright treaty- in 1992, the Chinese can no longer translate foreign works without buying their copyrights. Many publishers therefore turned to foreign classics, and for a time, the market was imbued with new translations, Xu said.

«Retranslating involves a recreation of the original, and it should be conducted when new understandings, attempts and expressions are made,» Xu said.

China now has at least 26 translated versions of Stendhal's the Red and the Black, and more than 10 of Miguel Cervantes's Don Quixote of La Mancha. Some of them are of poor quality, though, and some are plagiarized, he said.

Lin Wusun, vice chairman of the Translators Association of China, said mistakes in translation can be easily spotted in daily life, including tour brochures, product introductions and signposts in the street.

The lack of translation professionals is a key factor in the unsatisfactory overall translation level in China, according to Lin.

Though the country has 60,000 professional translators and interpreters, and the number of people who actually practice translation is closer to 500,000, it still cannot meet the surging demand.

Huang Youyi, deputy director-general with the China Foreign Languages Publishing and Distribution Administration, said that in view of China's fast economic growth and increasing influence in the world, there is a shortage of 90 percent of the number of qualified Chinese-foreign-language translators.

According to Lin, both literary and practical translation should be improved, and training of translators should be enhanced. A certified translator examination system will also benefit the standardization of the translation industry, as it may better ensure its credit and quality.

Many noted translators see the China Aptitude Test for Translators and Interpreters, introduced last year, as major progress. So far, about 30 percent of the 4,600 examinees have passed the exam, Huang said.

- Article published in People's Daily (PRC), November 10, 2004