Teaching Comparative Government and Politics

Monday, September 21, 2015

Translation troubles

The first sentence of this Xinhua (government news agency) article is very confusing: "A rethinking of China's human rights merits out of a forum in Beijing is based on the country's adherence to the principal of peaceful development."

What does that mean? As a topic sentence, what is it introducing?

The rest of the article clarifies the confusion, but what happened in that first sentence?

Translation, translation. That sentence was probably first written in Chinese and might have gone through several translators before it ended up at the beginning of this Xinhua report.

Did you ever play "telephone?" A message is given to one person, who repeats it to a second person, who repeats it to a third person… and so on down a line of people. And what happens at the end? You can probably guess if you have not played the game. The message heard by the last person is vastly different from the message that started the game.

If a simple introductory sentence can be mangled by translation(s), imagine how difficult cross-cultural communications can be, especially when the original message is one of self-congratulations.

Rights forum underscores China's commitment to peace
A rethinking of China's human rights merits out of a forum in Beijing is based on the country's adherence to the principal of peaceful development.

The 2015 Beijing Forum on Human Rights, which concluded on Thursday, highlighted China's role in defending the right to peace and development…

One unnoticed aspect, some say, is China's contribution to the right to peace.

Participants in the forum believed peace is the basic premise for enjoying other basic rights.

The right to peace is an important connotation on human rights and should be prioritized among all affairs, said Bem Angwe from the Nigerian state human rights committee…

Li Junru, vice president of the China Society for Human Rights Studies, said that world leaders must discard the cold-war mentality and zero-sum game thinking. "We need to adopt the wisdom of a 'community of common destiny' to address our threats."

China held a parade earlier this month to commemorate the war dead and celebrate peace.

"No matter how much stronger it may become, China will never seek hegemony or expansion. It will never inflict its past suffering on any other nation," [President] Xi said in his V-Day speech…

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