How China can counter translation bias

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Illustration of the great translation movement: Chen Xia/GT

In recent years, Western public opinion has often been subject to mistranslations, omissions, additions and twisted interpretations of some key China-related issues and events.

There are two prominent examples of this phenomenon.

First, objective constraints, especially mistranslations in the absence of political and economic contexts and appropriate career paths, make it difficult to understand unique Chinese concepts. As a resource that draws on experience to understand and represent meaning, language is distinctly systematic, with the precise encoding and decoding of a concept requiring the support of a whole set of linguistic resources. At present, the international community generally lacks systematic knowledge about China’s political and economic backgrounds and traditional Chinese culture, and naturally faces difficulties in understanding some unique Chinese concepts.

Moreover, China’s rapidly developing social practices constantly give rise to new concepts and expressions. For example, many foreign media have been puzzled by the “zero-COVID in the non-quarantine public”, which means stopping community transmission in epidemic prevention and control, which has been translated confusingly by “zero social COVID” in the April 9 BBC report.

Then we encounter subjective motives, that is, omissions and translations intentionally designed to stigmatize China, deliberately blocking and distorting Chinese information out of necessity for international political competition. Some countries and regions have been waging a public opinion war against China in recent years through a series of projects, and China-related translation is an important part.

Based on their own ideological positions and political interests, some Western politicians, media and academics selectively choose which documents to translate and take their meaning out of context. An example is a line attributed to Ren Zhengfei, CEO of Huawei, who was originally “finding his way out of a difficult situation”, but the line was inappropriately translated by Western media as “go forward, kill as you go, to blaze a trail of blood on us.”

Translations aimed at stigmatizing China are multiplying and becoming more systematic. Judging from the tactics of the anti-China forces, it is quite normal to see the strategy of selecting extremely typical online comments to be translated and reposted on social media at home and abroad in order to to create clashes between China and other countries and to tear communities apart. There are also foreign accounts that have started the so-called great translation movement, translating extreme comments made by internet celebrities or domestic netizens into foreign languages ​​to defame China. This tactic has now become a typical strategy for some anti-China media outlets to gain audiences.

Moreover, stigma has increasingly appeared in machine translation with the use of translation algorithms. Due to the rapid development of big data, cloud computing and other technologies, as well as the explosive growth of multilingual information corpora, especially the application of neural models, the quality of machine translation has rapidly improved. . Machine translation has been widely used in international communications. For example, international mainstream social media platforms such as Twitter have partnered with Google to provide instant translation services. With today’s technological limitations, machine translation is essentially literal translation. Its accuracy still needs to be improved, and it is unable to accurately represent the emotion the original text intended to convey in context.

As a result, technical errors involving the Chinese-related translation appeared one after another. For example, in Chinese political discourse, we often say jiaqiang guanli, which means “to improve management”. But that literally translates to “improving management.” In the English context, such a translation has a strong implication indicating that those who are ruled must obey and are deprived of individual liberty or free will.

Language studies theory suggests that languages ​​are produced and disseminated by naming things and providing explanations. The right to name and the right to interpret are central to the power of discourse, as they presuppose the position and perspective of vision and interpretation issues, which affects social cognition and the audience’s value judgment.

Therefore, the chaos in Chinese-related translation internationally has caused a serious “Babel effect” in our dealings with the outside world, that is, misunderstandings, misjudgments and even conflicts caused by language barriers have seriously hampered the construction of China’s international image and the enhancement of the power of international discourse.

As the weak side of international public opinion, China should take the lead in translating key China-related concepts, play a leading role in building international discourse on China-related issues, actively participate in the translation of international common expressions related to China and provide public translation services to the international community.

Specifically, we can establish a special keyword database for political speech. We can set up an online library, in particular for current political speeches with strong implication and open it to the international community. It is also suggested that we work with relevant departments and enterprises to correct discriminatory translations regarding historical events and provide translations of important speeches, publicly available documents and reports of Chinese Party leaders and organs, governments and military in the world more currently. . At the same time, we should use the voluntary forces on the Internet to find and correct various problems in Chinese-related translations in order to maintain the objectivity and impartiality of international public opinion.

The author is a professor at the School of Journalism at Fudan University. opinion@globaltimes.com.cn

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