October 17, 2010

By Ofer Tirosh

Chinese Government vs. the Western World's Translation of 2010 Nobel Peace Prize

While the Chinese to English translation of Charter 08, co-authored by 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner Liu Xiaobo, is seen as active efforts toward peaceful resolution by most of the western world, the ruling government and authorities of China have translated the Nobel award to Xiaobo as "interference," and have made it clear that they do not appreciate the award to someone who they view as a "dissident" and a "criminal." Quite clearly, the word "criminal" translates differently from culture to culture, country to country, and language to language. What the Chinese government has deemed criminal activity, has been awarded as heroic efforts of peace, by the Nobel Prize Committee.

In response to this, a new letter has surfaced, released late Thursday, Oct. 14 and posted online. So far no official Chinese translation has been reported or detailed; only very general comments which sum up to say that the letter is a petition signed by 120 activists who demand the release of their comrade and 2010 Nobel Peace Prize winner. It is reports like this that cause a translation company to pause and wonder how much is missing, or how much has been added, from the original Chinese petition, since there is no official document translation yet available - journalism and news article translation sources are not usually reported along with the article or news source they're published in. However, there is an official Chinese to English translation of Charter 08, which is the very thing that cost Xiaobo his freedom, but also granted him worldwide honor. Translated by the Human Rights in China, it can be found here:


So the questions begs, is the Chinese to English translation of Charter 08 something positive, or something detrimental? On one hand, it has invited English speaking peoples and countries of the world to support efforts of democratic civil activism within China. On the other hand, it has caused imprisonment for Liu Xiaobo, at least in part. It's caused harsh political friction between Norway and China, as well as several other western countries, because of the award of the Nobel Peace Prize to Liu Xiaobo. It is times like this when document translation holds an important role in the history and current events of the world, but it does cause one to wonder if that role is always a positive thing.

While change and progress often come only after periods of opposition, and even oppression, the role of Chinese to English translation, and certainly the accuracy of that translation, is an extremely important one within this matter - whether for better or worse.

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