was not until the late 1970s, to be more exact, in 1978, the year of
reform and political opening-up, that the real market-oriented
translation appeared in mainland China. By market-oriented translation
I mean a kind of translation service which every individual or
organization can access. Before 1978 China was relatively closed, only
open to socialist and Third World (Chairman Mao's term) countries.
International cultural, economic and technical exchanges were not
frequent. As a result, there was little need of translation services.
The basic pattern of the then translation market was self-sufficient in
the sense that the government departments and state-owned enterprises
had their own full-time salaried translators whose service was provided
only for their own institutions. As for the freelance translators, they
were actually part-timers and always affiliated with a certain
governmental organization doing a certain civil service work; their
number was quite limited. In one word, the market at that time was not
norms and strategies are not at all fixed, but always change with the
times, with the political, economic, and socio-cultural shifts.
the reform policy of 1978, especially after China's entry into WTO in
2001, translation agencies and companies sprang up like mushrooms due
to the ever-increasing exchanges in economy, culture, science and
technology, etc. between China and other countries. By translation
agency I mean a small organization which has only one or two people who
keep the routine working of the agency, and which serves as a link
between a client and a freelancer and charges a service fee. A
translation company is a relatively large organization, which consists
of a staff such as a project manager, a group of quality control
personnel, engineers, secretaries, etc. It deals with small and large
translation projects, and is generally located in big cities. One thing
which must be pointed out is that, academically or theoretically, there
is no marked distinction between these two kinds of institutions in
China, both of which are labeled translation companies or localization
companies and whose service is open to the whole society, including
individuals and organizations, domestic or international. Their
appearance has brought some substantial changes to the field of
translation activity. In the following paragraphs we will focus on the
discussion of the change of translation norms and strategies together
with the possible causes by following a socio-cultural and
I will restrict my investigation mainly to the client-translator
model of translation service, especially when I mention the concept of
loyalty (Nord 2001). It is somewhat different from the
client-agency/company-translator model but is strongly influenced by
it. I certainly do not exclude the consideration of the
client-agency/company-translator model at some crucial points. "Client"
here is an umbrella-term, and may mean an individual, government
section, enterprise, mass media, etc. The term "translator" refers to
either a full-time or part-time, in-house, or freelance translator.
With the emergence of translation companies in China the norms
governing translating and translation strategies employed by
translators have undergone a drastic change.
Change of norms
Norm is a sociological category. It refers to a rule or
standard of behavior shared by members of a social group. Norms may be
personal--i.e., incorporated within the individual so that there is
conformity without external rewards or punishments, or they may be
enforced by positive or negative sanctions from without. Translation,
as a social activity, has its own universally acknowledged (?)
standard, i.e. norm which defines what a translation is. Certainly
under this big umbrella there are various kinds of sub-norms which
Gideon Toury (1978/1980) and Andrew Chesterman (1993) have discussed in
Toury first introduced the norm concept into Translation Studies. He classifies translation norms as preliminary norms
which concern the existence and nature of a translation policy in terms
of the choice of source text types, individual sources, authors, source
languages, etc. and the directness, i.e. a particular society's
tolerance or intolerance towards a translation based on a text in an
intermediate language rather than on the source language text, operational norms
which concern decisions made during, rather than prior to, the actual
act of translation. Operational norms can be further divided into matricial norms
which have to do with the way textual material is distributed, how much
of the text is translated, and any changes in segmentation, for example
as a result of major omissions, and textual-linguistic norms
which concern the selection of specific textual material to formulate
the target text or replace particular segments of the source text.
Chesterman's classification includes professional norms and expectancy norms.
The former emerges from competent professional behavior and governs the
accepted methods and strategies of the translation process and can be
sub-divided into three major types: accountability norms which are ethical and call for professional standards of integrity and thoroughness; communication norms which are social and emphasize the role of the translator as a communication expert; relation norms
which are linguistic and require the translator to establish and
maintain an appropriate relation between source and target texts on the
basis of the understanding of the original writer's or commissioner's
intentions, the projected readership, and the purpose of the
translation. The latter is established by the receivers of the
translation, by their expectations of what a translation should be
like, and what a native text in the target language should be like.
The appearance of translation companies since 1978's reform policy
has changed all the above norms, to a lesser or greater extent. (For
the sake of the convenience of my discussion, I use "past translators /
translations" and "present translators / translations" respectively to
refer to the translators / translations before and after 1978.)
Change in preliminary norms. Let us just take
translation imports for example. Past translators used to translate
"revolutionary" or socialism / communism-related literary and political
texts, generally from former Soviet Union, other socialist and Third
World countries as well as friendly Western countries such as France.
Present translators have gradually acquired the freedom to choose any
text from any country or region on any subject. As for the directness
of translation, indirect translation was relatively more common before
1978 than after 1978.
Change in operational norms. Past translations,
especially literary translations, were to be directed towards the broad
masses as an educational tool of ideological reformation. Present
translation audiences have gradually got a heterogeneous nature. That
is to say, the translated text may be done for a single person, a group
of people, or the general public. Past literary translators were to
translate from beginning to end without anything noticeable added or
omitted in the translated work, while present translators are allowed
to translate relatively freely.
Change in professional norms. Past translators were to
translate responsibly, while present translators may translate in
whatever way they prefer. As for the translator's role, past
translators had to deal with the entire process of translating but
present translators just do their translating, especially in the
context of translation companies. It seems that they have been again
marginalized by the localization industry and are considered as just
another translation tool. Past translators had to be take into account
both the ST author and the target-language readers, while present
translators, in many cases, need not be faithful to the source text and
they do not care about target readership but are only responsible for
fulfilling the contract with a translation company. In the past, the
translator was selected on the basis of his fame or prestige; today,
financial considerations prevail.
Change in expectancy norms. Past readers held that a
translation should be faithful to the ST, and was retain all the
features in the ST; present readers hold different opinions on the
relationship between ST and TT. In other words, past readers were
idealistic, wanting to get a real and complete picture of the ST, while
present readers are practical, hoping to get just what they want from
Change of translation strategy
Strategy involves a process. Translation strategy concerns
the translation act which revolves around such questions as "why
translate," "what to translate," and "how to translate." The first two
questions concern the selection of the source text, which is strategy
on the macro-level. The third question concerns two types of strategy:
those strategies dealing with the processing of the whole text which
may be labeled intermediate strategies, and those with translating a
specific morpheme, word, phrase, sentence, etc., which are micro-level
strategies. Here we will focus on the intermediate strategies because
this is where the major changes have occurred.
Translation norms govern the process of a translator's act, and
translation strategy changes with the norms. With the change of
preliminary norms the global strategy has changed. As mentioned above,
past translators had only a limited freedom to choose ST. Their choice
was restricted in almost all aspects including the country of
provenance of the text, period of time, author, subject, etc.
As for ST processing, past translators generally adopted the whole-text strategy. By whole-text translation
I mean a type of translation with no drastic change of ST sequence and
no additions and omissions above sentence level. It is the traditional
and most common form of translation practice in human history. Present
translators take the policy of combining whole-text strategy with
part-text strategy. By part-text translation I mean a type of
translation of a heterogeneous nature, which may be the translation of
a part of ST, or the editing / summarizing and then translating of
several STs, or the full-text / partial-text translation together with
paraphrase / narration / comment / writing. It does exist in past
translation practice but now it is much more frequently employed by
Chinese translators in the market with translation companies and it has
gradually become an established form of translating, both
professionally and academically, enjoying almost an equal status with
traditional whole-text translation.
In some sense the decisive factor in present translations is the
client's expectations, i.e. translation specifications in skopos-theory
terms. Present translators frequently use such strategies as
editing-translating, selecting-translating, narrating-translating,
abridging-translating, translating-writing, translating-commenting,
summarizing, imitating, etc.
Now let us explore the possible causes behind these changes.
The political and ideological factors
In my research I will restrict my investigation of China's
translation market to the period between 1949 and 2007. The dividing
line of the period is the year 1978, which is most crucial in the sense
that before that year China practiced planned economy and after that
China has been pursuing market economy. Great changes have taken place
in all fields. including the field of translation.
In 1949 the People's Republic of China was founded under the
leadership of Chairman Mao and his Communist Party. China sided with
the former Soviet Union and other socialist countries to form the
socialist camp against the capitalist camp with the USA as its leader.
The USA, Britain, and their allies held a strongly antagonistic stance
toward China, practiced the policy of containment and used every
possible means to subvert the new "Red Power," including instigating
and financing a handful of counter-revolutionary groups inside and
outside China to dethrone the new power. Facing a serious situation,
the Communist Party of China assigned a high priority to class struggle
and ideological reformation. The feudalistic and capitalist way of
thinking had to be replaced by the socialist and communist way of
thinking. This became the most basic guideline of the government. All
activities had to conform to this political line, including literary
and artistic work and translation.
So, in this general political atmosphere, any translation between
Chinese and a foreign language was to serve as a means to achieve the
Party's general goal. The selection of the ST became a very important
thing. Only those authors and texts which exposed capitalist or
old-society's inhumanity or dark side such as exploitation,
suppression, class struggle, high unemployment rate, racism, etc.,
could find their way onto China's translation market. Most texts were
imported from former Soviet Union such as Nikolai Alexeevich
Ostrovsky's How the Steel Was Tempered (<<钢铁是怎样炼成的>>).
Almost no text was imported from major Western powers. France was the
first major Western country to recognize the founding of the P.R.
China. China has always had a friendly attitude toward France, which
led to a number of translations including those of Balzac's works by
the famous translator Fu Lei.
As for operational norms, past translators had to translate
faithfully, trying their best to keep the revolutionary spirit of the
ST which could not be distorted in any way. This is very true in the
translation of the works of the "revolutionary teachers" such as Mao
Zedong, Marx and Lenin. The ideological propaganda went so far that the
spirit of faithfulness was distorted in quite a few translations. For
example Li Jiye's (李霁野)
translation of Jane Eyre by Charlotte Bronte replaced some politically
neutral terms by ideologically colored terms. A good case in point is
that the ST verb phrase "wake up" was translated as "觉悟" (become revolutionarily conscious) (Zhang 2004).
After 1978 the focus of the governmental work was shifted from
emphasis on the class struggle to economic development. Developing
China through science and education has become a national policy.
People's minds have gradually been freed and the government has greatly
reduced its control over publishing as well as over people's thought.
Translators and publishers enjoy much greater freedom to choose ST.
They can select whatever text from whatever country on whatever
subject. Relatively, technical translation has become a very important
part of the translation sector due to the government's emphasis of
The economic / market factors
As market economy was gradually established after 1978, the
Chinese, like Westerners, have gradually become business-minded. Most
state-owned enterprises were sold to individuals through privatization.
More and more government officials who had been held in awe and enjoyed
exclusive privileges before 1978, have been quitting their positions,
and "plunging into the business sea" as described by a popular Chinese
expression, so as to earn more money. The pursuit of communist ideology
has given way to commercial pursuits. And translators are no exception
in a market dominated by translation companies.
The implementation of the open-door policy since 1978 resulted in a
higher and higher frequency of international exchanges in all fields
including politics, economy, culture, science and technology.
Translation services became more and more needed. As a response to this
demand, translation companies began to make their debut in the
translation market. Some of the companies developed out of the
translation department of the government or state-owned enterprises. Or
they were established by bilingual individuals or university teachers
of translation or former full-time translators in government
institutions. The new-style translation career began to open to
everyone and in recent years it has become a very profitable industry
due to the accelerating globalization and increasing exchanges between
China and other countries. In today's market there are three forms of
translation services: freelancer, translation section of the government
or enterprises, and translation company.
Up to the present day statistics show that there are over 3,000
registered translation companies. The total turnover of translation
services in China reached nearly 30 billion RMB in 2007. The ever
growing "cake" is making the competition fiercer and fiercer in the
translation market. Slow high-quality translation has almost
disappeared in today's market, and translators are becoming
business-minded. The fierce competition gives rise to a lot of shoddy
translations. The client who is generally not a bilingual is usually in
the dark about the quality of the translation or pretends to be blind
to the quality because he is more interested in the low price.
Today's translation market is in a disorder. The price war has been
damaging the image of translators as a whole and slowly undermining the
clients' confidence in translation. However, in order to win over more
clients, some companies claim that they can provide the "most
competitive price" and the "best quality." The price might be "most
competitive" to a knowledgeable customer but the quality can never be
"best" if it is a below-cost price. Although the government issued two
regulations of translation services--The Regulations for Translation
Services (2004) and The Requirements for the Quality of Translation
Services (2005), things have not yet improved satisfactorily.
The socio-cultural factors
Before 1978 we never saw or heard of Kentucky Fried Chicken,
hamburgers, MacDonald's, Coca Cola, the Beatles, etc. in our mass
culture. What we knew were red uniforms (worn by Chairman Mao's Red
Guard), Mao's quotations, revolutionary / communist ideology and the
like. We knew very little about foreign things except a few names in
the former Soviet Union's novels and movies such as Paul Cocking (保尔·科察金) and Youth Guards (<<青年近卫军>>) through
translation, subtitling and dubbing. At that time our pop culture was
monolithic and barren because the country was almost completely closed
and foreign cultures could not find their way to China. As a result,
translation activity was reduced to a minimum.
With the implementation of the open-door policy and the shift of the
governmental work focus on economic development in 1978, everything has
changed, including pop culture. New and fresh exotic things have been
and are being introduced to Chinese people through translation. For
example, the American Pepsi Cola Company introduced the advertisement
of its drink like this:
Original English version:
"Give up my Pepsi? Don't even think about it."
新事可乐 旧事可乐 小事可乐 大事可乐 祝您百事可乐！
translation: New things make us happy. Old things make us happy. Little
things make us happy. Great things make us happy. May you be happy with
one hundred things [i.e. everything])
(Tian & Yang 2007:264)
A first glance at the bi-text suggests that the Chinese version,
semantically, has nothing to do with the original version. Is this a
translation or self-translation? Anthony Pym pointed out that
"self-translation would thus raise many problems with standard notions
about translation as passive representation." (2006:9) On the one hand,
traditional meaning-based view of translation denies it is a
translation. It is more of an "original" work or an outcome by one of
part-text translation strategies--imitating, something like John
Drydon's imitation which means radical departures from the ST,
including additions and re-interpretations. By imitating I mean a
translation retains some features of the ST. For advertisements one of
their most important features is the advertising effect which centers
around memorizing and attention-getting. I think the Chinese
advertisement has successfully achieved the original effect. In other
words, it is like a Chinese advertisement. And what's more, it caters
for the traditional Chinese cultural psychology by selecting such words
as "新事", "百事"and "可乐" because it was launched on one Chinese New Year's Day. In form "事" and "可乐" are repeated and in pronunciation "可乐" and "百事可乐"
sound similar to "Cola" and "Pepsi Cola", which is well in accordance
with the aesthetic tradition of the Chinese. In one word, the Chinese
advertisement is easy to remember and pleasant to hear. On the other
hand, if we take some special forms of original writing like
self-translation as one of the objects of Translation Studies, then we
can expand its scope, and more importantly, we can reflect upon the
nature of translation, the relationship between writing and translation
and the unique contributions by (pseudo-) translators to the enrichment
of human culture and civilization.
With the increasing emphasis on science and technology in economic
development by the Chinese government, technical translation has become
a very important part of the market, which is intimately linked with
the importation and exportation of technologies. In today's world,
science and technology are developing so fast that it is very difficult
for translators to introduce the latest sci-tech information in a
timely manner by using the whole-text strategy. Whole-text translation
and its publication requires a relatively long period of time, which
cannot satisfy the needs of scientific workers: they want to know a
certain theory or technology right away. Moreover, one text usually
cannot cover the major achievements in a specialized field. Copyright
is another problem for translation. These problems can be tackled by
part-text strategies. For example, the translator can select the most
important part(s) of a newly published text to translate, for we know
that for many books not all pages contain the crème de la crème
of human knowledge. This is so called selecting-translating. If the
achievements of a new technology are contained in several books and
articles, the translator can first edit, then translate, which is
editing-translating. For a lengthy publication the translator can
compress it into a small article of 1,000-2,000 words, which is
abridging-translating. The translator can even add her / his own
opinion of the new technology in question, which is
translating-commenting. In one word, part-text translation strategies
give translators much more freedom, avoid some troubles, meet the
practical needs and in some way subvert the traditional perception of
Let us finally look at one of the major market factors--the client.
Before 1978 there was no real-sense client because the translation
market was almost closed. The government departments, state-owned
enterprises and publishers were actually pseudo-clients. Those in-house
translators got their regular pay and provided their service for the
departments and enterprises. The publishers employed some well-known
bilinguals including writers to translate a limited number of literary
and political works. These bilinguals were not freelancers but
part-timers, whose service was not open to the society. In this sense
we say the publishers were not real clients though they gave
translators a reward in the form of royalties.
The emergence of translation companies after 1978 gave the market
its real meaning because any individual or organization can now access
them to get anything translated. That is to say, real clients came into
being. They have become a decisive factor in the context of
money-oriented translation. As Christiane Nord put it, the target
receiver becomes the most important yardstick of translational
decisions (2001:123). In the market the client may be a combination of
author, customer and reader. The client may give the translator her/his
own translation instructions. The translator's power has been reduced
to the minimum and the translator has been turned into a translation
tool. S/he has to be loyal to the client. In the case of the
client-company-translator model of translation service, loyalty is
still there, although it is very weak. True, freelancers are free to
choose translation companies. The only yardstick is money. On the
surface freelancers seem to have no fixed relation with translation
companies and thus they need not be loyal to the latter. Anyhow, once a
contract is signed between a freelancer and a company, a temporary
relationship has been established between them. The translator has to
be loyal to the company, and indirectly to the client, for the duration
set by the contract. We may see the fulfillment of a contract as a kind
of loyalty to the other party of the contract. In the final analysis,
the translators' loyalty is to money, not to a human individual such as
author, client or reader in the context of the market.
Among the three causes discussed above, the political / ideological
one is the most important because the changes in China's policies have
brought about those radical changes in economy, society and culture.
This paper has compared the translation markets before and
after 1978 in China, arriving at the conclusion that the appearance of
translation companies has resulted in a change in translation norms and
strategies, as well as in the nature of translation services. The major
causes for the change are political / ideological, economic and
socio-cultural, with the political / ideological as the root cause.
Therefore, I propose that translation norms and strategies are not at
all fixed, but always change with the times, with the political,
economic, and socio-cultural shifts. In my future research I will focus
on the 1950s market without translation companies and the 1990s market
with translation companies, to show the similarities and
dissimilarities between them, based on which, perhaps together with the
empirical data to be collected, the changes and their causes can be
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by Tian Chuanmao
Universitat Rovira i Virgili
article was originally published at http://accurapid.com/journal/toc.htm